Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Music: The Five Artists that Need to make a Christmas Album

Tom Jones and Cerys - hilarious "Baby it's Cold Outside" - Tom Jones was born to sing the sexual aggressor in this, the greatest date-rape-themed song ever.

OK. I've ranted numerous times about Christmas Music, and you can read what I've said before here, and especially here, for the main jist. And here's a playlist of some Christmas music that actually rocks. So here's my angle this Christmas:

The five bands that would make friggin' AWESOME Christmas Albums

-I've said before that one problem with Christmas music is that the artists who SHOULD make it, usually don't, and the artists who SHOULDN'T, usually do. I'm talking to you, Hanson.-

Of course, if an artist actually HAS made a Christmas album, he/she/they are disqualified from the list, so here's a moment to recognize that sometimes, the artists who should make Christmas music actually do: Emmylou Harris, thank you. Sufjan Stevens: THANK YOU. Diana Krall: Thank you. Frank Sinatra/Rat Pack: Thank you. Whitney Houston: Thanks.

So here are the top five artists I'd love to hear make a Christmas album, and a track of theirs that makes me think they'd make a good one...

but first, to have some fun, and take some cheap shots, the three groups that would make the world's three worst Christmas Albums. Each name includes a link to a song that makes my case:

In third place: Billy Corgan - the guy from Smashing Pumpkins. This Christmas album would make me want to kill myself. I can't imagine him writing a single song happier than something titled "It's Christmas and I'm Alone"

In second place: They do what they do, and they do it well, but Guns'n'Roses just wouldn't be able to sell me a Christmas album. The band responsible for Paradise City might make songs that help me get out of bed, might write songs that help me get in the mood to slaughter the turkey, but won't get me in the mood to drink egg nog with my family.

Before first place: imagine the acid-trip of a Christmas album Jimi Hendrix would have made. How about a Silent Night improv.

In first place: Nickelback. I don't even feel like I need to explain this. At least Guns'n'Roses was a good band in their heyday, and had enough integrity to never make a Christmas album... Nickelback might even actually try one. Imagine an album of Christmas songs that all sound the same, and all sound like this.

OK then. Yikes.

And now: the five bands that really need to make a Christmas album: last time I talked about this, Brian in JND suggested Richard Hawley. That's a good choice, but here are my top five (plus a bonus artist)

Fifth: tie between Regina Spektor and Neko Case. Regina Spektor first: I often compare Regina with Feist, and Feist would make a good Christmas album, too, one that's fun and listenable, but Regina Spektor would bring a little more sincere emotion, as well as a bit more wit and humor, and a comparable pop sensibility. She could break your heart with longing in the Advent songs... and then charm you with some original tunes that were catchy but warm.

And she'd write a few songs that were genuinely funny, not in that "Walking Round in Women's Underwear" way -- novelty Christmas songs are like The Onion: read the title or headline, and that's pretty much all the humor in the whole thing.

Also fifth: Neko Case - I want to hear her miraculous voice singing the most beautiful Christmas songs ever. She'd break your heart, twice, she'd lift you up, she'd reassure you, she'd make you feel like the only person in the world, she'd blow your Christmas wide open, however she wanted.

She's already made one Christmas song: see later in the post for her cover of Tom Waits' "Christmas Card from A Hooker in Minneapolis"

Fourth: Jack White should produce a Christmas album. What the hell? Jack White, from The White Stripes? Yeah. The White Stripes shouldn't make a Christmas album, but Jack White should. Outside the noisy, jubilant stuff from The White Stripes, Jack White's actually done some interesting stuff rooted in folk and rootsy blues in his solo career, including interesting productions of some traditional tunes. But I want Jack White to make a Christmas album as a producer/collaborator, not as the sole voice of the project. He's a really good collaborator, so he'd call in some cool musicians, get right down to the roots of some classic Christmas songs, dig up some obscure old ones, and write some tunes that fit in, tone-wise, with the traditional ones. Then he'd find just the right vocalist or musician to bring the song over the top, with a production that was fresh and vital - full of life - and never ever ever cheesy.

There'd be a few funny moments, and no cringe-inducing sanctimonious ones. As a producer, he knows when to thunder, and when to grumble, and when to mourn, and he never overdoes things , which is the bane of most Christmas albums (get your hands on Van Lear Rose, like, now, if you don't believe in Jack White's chops as a producer). That's why he'd produce an amazing Christmas album, probably for charity, with some of his musician friends. Somebody please suggest this to him. (He's already done one Christmas song)

Portland Oregon - Loretta Lynn, produced by Jack White

Third: Alicia Keys. She could bring it slow for O Come Emmanuel, and then she could bring it high and give us all chills for Joy to the World. She'd hit a Christmas album out of the park. She also rates as, other than Nickelback, the artist mentioned in this post most likely to actually make a Christmas album.

Second Place: The Flaming Lips. An odd seeming choice at first, but here's the thing about The Flaming Lips: they are odd and interesting, and they'd make a Christmas album that sounds like nothing you've ever heard. The sweet parts would be an entire wall of sweet... yet somehow they pull that off... the fun parts would be giddy and goofy and noisy as a drunken Christmas Party... the serene moments would be otherworldly - they have a full, complex sound that creates a whole landscape, and for a holiday as loaded and cluttered with traditions, foods, symbols, clothes, slogans, ads, and frantic people, The Flaming Lips "Christmas On Another Planet" would be the perfect balm. Their latest album demonstrates a sound that is fully realized -- they're creating soundspaces more complete than ever, and balancing spare with complex beautifully - and isn't that exactly what Christmas does? Even more than that: they're fun! Flaming lips are always so loaded with good energy, you KNOW they'd make an awesome Christmas album.

They already made one Christmas song: come on. You want to hear more, don't you?

Finally, the number one artist who would make an awesome Christmas Album is Tom Waits. In my opinion, Tom is the best songwriter working today, and the strength of his songwriting comes from the way he can tell a story (the singer in this link's not Tom, but the song is), and make a character breathe. His Christmas album would be sad, yeah, but it would stay in your head, and it would make you want to phone your mother. It'd make you want to volunteer at the soup kitchen, and hug your kid. There's be funny moments, tender ones, ones that see Christmas perfectly through a kid's eyes, weird ones, stories and songs and some ballad that would turn into a modern classic, and one really, really great spoken-word track.

Even better, one of the great things about Tom Waits' songwriting: his songs lend themselves really well to being covered by other artists, which means that if Tom Waits made a Christmas album, we'd get a dozen or so awesome new Christmas songs for artists to cover, instead of having to sit through quite so many crap songs every December.

Tom Waits already wrote "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" (nope, his Christmas album wouldn't quite be for kids)... and Neko Case made it into one of the loveliest covers I've ever heard. Wouldn't you love there to be ten more Christmas songs this good?

Listen to Martha: doesn't this already sound like a Christmas song? Sure it does.


Jens said...

I was hoping Tom Waits would be at the top of the list. Jack White and Neko Case would be great, too.
I wrote and recorded what might be a Tom Waits Christmas song a few weeks ago:

mrsbecker said...

regina spektor? really? we saw her live on jimmy fallon when we were in new york. and that was enough for one life time.