So am I! Last week I wrote a Blog about 6 Lost and Forgotten albums you must hear. It seemed to get a pretty good response from readers, so I decided to follow a similar trend and compile another list. We are knee deep into holiday season now, and as we all know, we will be bombarded with an almost endless flurry of holiday songs everywhere we go. Some people absolutely adore them. Me, I am not the biggest fan of them. Some of the holiday songs are actually pretty darn good, but I just get sick of hearing all the same ones ALL THE TIME. I decided to whip together a little list of 5 great, non-traditional holiday songs (no Silent Night, Jingle Bells, or Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel will be found here). My goal was to stay away from the typical classics we all know of. Maybe Macy’s, Target, Nordstrom, Wal-Mart and everywhere else that overplays holiday music will try to mix it up a little sometime.
1. Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas
Some love her, others don’t. She’s been a mega-successful artist for over two decades. Has sold more than 200 million records worldwide. According to the RIAA, Mariah Carey is the third best selling female artist in the United States, with 63.5 million albums sold. Like many successful artists before her, Mariah made a Christmas album. Is recording a holiday album a rite of passage for major recording artists?? Released in 1994, Mariah Carey’s holiday album ‘Merry Christmas’ went on to sell almost 5.5 million albums in the United States, and over 15 million units worldwide. The biggest song featured on the album is a Carey self penned “All I Want for Christmas.” The song went on to be a smash, even relegating itself to become a traditional Christmas standard that now can be heard all over the world in major department stores, supermarkets, and other mass populated commercial shopping destination during holiday season. This is one of the few holiday tunes that pops up often which I can actually tolerate, and also rather enjoy. Maybe because it is relatively new and I did not have to sing it during my elementary school holiday shows! She recently re-recorded the song in 2011 with Justin Beiber. Like I said, I am not a big holiday song fan, but this song is definitely a gem. Sung during Carey’s peak, the song is about someone who does not care about Christmas presents or lights. All they (or she in this case) really wants for Christmas is to be united with her lover for the holidays. Why don’t more people feel this way?
2. Wham – Last Christmas
Sung by British pop group, mostly known for being the original group George Michael was in. Written and produced by George Michael himself, “Last Christmas” was a smash when it was released, and continues to sell and re-chart each year. For a song originally released in 1984 to continually land back on the UK and Billboard Charts is amazing (on December 13th, 2011, the song re-entered the UK Singles Chart at number #26. The song also re-entered the Billboard Holiday Chart, peaking at #10). “Last Christmas” is so beloved by many other recording artists that is has been covered about 100 times by other major artists all over the world. This is more of a sappy love song than a Holiday classic…that’s what makes this so good. Totally has that awesome 80’s music vibe that still draws many music fans back to 1980’s music. Plus, it has a very tasteful, and non-tradional use for the percussion instrument Sleigh bells. If you have not seen the CLASSIC (albeit dated) video before, give yourself an early Christmas gift and check it out. All around great song! Makes me want to fall in love during the holiday season.
3. Adam Sandler – The Chanukah Song
Growing up I really thought actor/comedian Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song” was super lame. I did not find it that funny, but all my fellow Jewish friends seemed to love it. Being Jewish myself, ironically I just did not find the humor or musicality in it. It just didn’t seem like a good song. Remember if you have read any of my other blogs, you must put into persepective I only was listening to hardcore rap music at the time. The song is clever yes, but for YEARS I just never cared for it. I just thought it was kind of corny. Growing up, it was always a bummer that so many great contemporary artists would sing Christmas songs, but there was never Hanukkah songs or Hanukkah albums being released by any of my favorite singers. All we had were the traditional classics. Us Jewish children always felt alienated over the fact that during the holiday season we did not have any songs to call our own or to play when we would celebrate our holiday. As Sandler says in the intro, “this is a song, that uh, there’s a lot of xmas songs out there, but not too many about hanukkah, so I wrote a song for all those nice little jewish kids who don’t get to hear any hanukkah songs…” Overtime I started to find the charm in Sandler’s tune, and I especially love how he lists Jewish celebrities (both real and fictional). “When you feel like the only kid in town without a x-mas tree, heres a list of people who are jewish, just like you and me: David Lee Roth lights the Menorrah, So do James Caan, Kirk Douglas, and the late Dinah Shore-ah. Guess who eats together at the Carnegie Deli, Bowzer from sha-na-na, and Arthur Fonzerrelli. Paul Newman’s half Jewish; Goldie Hawn’s half too, Put them together–what a fine lookin’ jew!”
Sandler has since gone on to update this holiday classic in 1999, and 2002. Adding a slew of celebrities both full and half Jewish. A classic line I dig in his 1999 version is “Mary Tyler Moore’s husband is Jewish ’Cause we’re pretty good in the sack.” In 2002 he adds clever lines like “Houdini and David Blaine escape strait jackets with such precision, but the one thing they could not get out of: their painful circumcision.” One of the greatest things about Sandler’s satire on Hanukkah is the fact that people of all religions seem to dig it!
4. Run DMC – Christmas in Hollis
There are not too many rap songs out there about the holidays. But if you had to pick one, why not pick the one from the pioneers of rap music… “Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC. Relased in 1987 and included on 2 Christmas compilation albums featuring various artists. “A Very Special Christmas,” and “Christmas Rap”. A&M Records originally released the song as a single in 1987 off of the “A Very Special Christmas” album. The track was produced by one of the biggest music producers today, Rick Rubin, who is actually Jewish. Run DMC rapped about Christmas in their hometown, Hollis, Queens, New York. How could you not love the line about Run finding Santa’s wallet with $1 million in it? D.M.C. did not want to be outdone, he spit a verse that gives props to his mom’s collard-greens, and mac’ n cheese annual Christmas dinner.
5. John Lennon – Happy Xmas War is Over
Released in 1971 shortly after the Beatles broke up. One of the MANY anti-war songs released during the height of the counterculture movement and to protest the US’s involvement in the Vietnam War. It is a heart wrenching song, especially considering the passionate performance from John Lennon and the backing choir. Recorded during the early stages of John’s controversial Primal Scream Therapy. The song was the culmination of more than two years of peach activism by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Their peach activism begun with their much publicized bed-ins, held during March and May 1969. The song gained international notoriety with numerous multimedia campaigns launched by John and Yoko, starting in December 1969. The multimedia campaigns primarily consisted of renting billboard space in 12 major cities around the world to display various black and white posters that stated “WAR IS OVER! If You Want It – Happy Christmas from John & Yoko”. It’s produced by Phil Spector and features children from the Harlem Community Choir on backing vocals…as well as Yoko Ono’s ‘unique’ vocals accompanying John. Despite the social commentary and questions it raises, the song has become a Christmas standard heard worldwide during the shopping madness many people endure. Probably not what John intended it to be…Ironic huh?!
Here are a couple more for good measure:
Darlene Love – Christmas Love (Baby Please Come Home)
Great song! Released on Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift for You” album from 1963. Has the signature ‘Wall of Sound’ production Phil Spector was known for. Darlene Love told Rolling Stone Magazine a few years ago something absolutely interesting, and quite funny about her loved classic. “It took three Jews (Phil Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich) to write it.” ‘Christmas Love (Baby Please Come Home)’ has had an amazingly enduring quality to it. It’s been covered by artists likeU2 and Leighton Meester.
Beatles – Christmas Time Is Here Again
Little known song, aside from hardcore Beatles fans. Between 1963 and 1969 The Beatles treated their enormous and dedicated fans to a special gift at Christmas, given exclusively to members of their fan club. They recorded a special holiday record that was unavailable elsewhere. Coming in at about 6 minutes, “Christmas Time is Here Again” wasn’t officially released until 1995 as part of the ‘Anthology’ series. Released on the ‘Free As A Bird’ CD single, this version gets edited down to three minutes. At the end, “Auld Lang Syne” is played on the organ as John Lennon reads one of his original free-versed poems. This is one of the few songs credited to all four band members as writers. Ringo recorded his own version of “Christmas Time Is Here Again” on his 1999 Christmas album, “I Wanna Be Santa Claus.” In 2000, R.E.M. released a cover on a Christmas single, ironically for their fan club. The Smithereens also covered the song for their 2007 album “Christmas with the Smithereens”. It was also covered by Terry Draper (from the group Klaatu) on the 2002 compilation “Takin’ Care of Christmas.”
Eazy –E – Merry Muthaf—in’ Xmas
After Dr. Dre left the seminal rap group NWA, Eazy-E was a bit lost. He did make some stellar music, but had a few stumbles on the way…maybe not stumbles, but he took some interesting risks. His first release without having Dr. Dre at the helm producing was Eazy’s EP/Maxi Single ‘5150.’ The album had a few solid tracks. It closed with his own “traditional Christmas carol,” or more like it non-traditional holiday song with Eazy-E’s typical flair added to it. ‘Merry Muthaf—in’ Xmas,’ is a VERY explicit, dirty, and also hilarious interpolation of “Jingle Bells.” Not for the faint of heart at all! A little bit of music trivia for you…the song features an artist named ‘Will 1X’ of Atban Klan. Will has gone on to become Will.i.am from the successful pop/hip-hop group ‘Black Eyed Peas.’
Kanye West – Christmas in Harlem
Only Kanye West can create such a grand statement about Christmas and the holiday season, with his song “Christmas in Harlem.” The modern day urban Christmas Carol features Louis Vuitton Don, Big Sean, and Pusha T from Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music record label. Yeezus (as he calls himself now) also included fellow rap stars like Cam’ron, Jim Jones, Vado, Musiq Soulchild, Cyhi da Prynce and Teyana Taylor to assist in his grandiose holiday ‘party.’ Produced by Hit-Boy, the 6:32 track found each of the rappers giving a different take on the holidays. Yeezus plays the ‘Bad Santa,’ and recounts an explicit and intimate moment he shared with a woman on December 25th. Jim Jones spends tons of cash on a shopping spree. Sounds intense, but almost anything Kanye West does today is. Ironically, it works. A must hear for any rap fan…
Matisyahu – Happy Hanukkah
Sung by Jewish American reggae artist Matisyahu, who found success in 2005 with the Top 40 single “King Without a Crown” from his “Live at Stubb’s” release. “Happy Hanukkah” was released on November 20, 2012 on Fallen Sparks Records, and is a charity song. All proceeds from the date of release until end of Hanukkah celebrations on December 16, 2012 would be donated to Hurricane Sandy Relief charity via The Jewish Federations of North America and the Robin Hood Foundation. Produced by Kojak, “Happy Hanukkah” continues the tradition set by Matisyahu in launching recordings about Hanukkah songs, the first being his single “Miracle” in 2010. Great song! Not only cool to see some contemporary artists singing about Hanukkah, but this is actually a pretty well written and produced song.
Have some holiday favorites of your own? Let me know, I would like to hear them. Either way, have a safe and happy holidays!