We apologize for posting this blog a day late. We thought we’d celebrate the day after Christmas in the old-fashioned way: by staying as far away from work as we could get.
The thought came to us over the weekend that it’s been a long time since we wrote anything about travel music. It’s sort of strange, since travel has almost always been conducted to a soundtrack, whether it’s Judy Garland warbling her way down the Yellow Brick Road or a million Dylan, Springsteen, and CCR songs, cranked to the max with the windows down and the in-car singers belting along without a hint of shame.
Given that it’s also still the holidays, and there’s still a compulsion to play the old holiday tunes before they’re mothballed for another 11 months, we thought we’d combine the two topics and provide a list of 11 holiday songs that fit the requirements of good automobile music without deviating from the holiday theme. Feel free to contribute more as you see fit.
The Kinks, “Father Christmas”: Once described as the best modern Christmas song, “Father Christmas” adds bells and crunchy guitars to a nicely snarky Ray Davies lyric about beating up Santa in a parking lot – and if that’s not entirely perfect, it’ll do until something better comes along. Note: Don’t confuse this with Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “I Believe In Father Christmas,” which has many merits, but absolutely zero extortion.
Bruce Springsteen, “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”: The one song on this list that stands a risk of being played to death, it’s still a hoot each time it comes on because of the sheer exuberance of the thing. Springsteen and his band are on top of the world and having the time of their lives – and if exuberance and joy aren’t what Christmas is all about, they’re a start. And how about the Big Man on sax?
Freddy Fender, “Frosty The Snowman”: An obscure cut off a really obscure album – A Tejano Country Christmas – this might be the version that makes you appreciate the wonders of the Zombie Precipitation Monster once and for all. Fender’s bilingual lyric is matched stride-for-stride by Flaco Jimenez’s killer accordion. The rest of the album’s a mixed bag of coal and chocolate, but for one cut at least Fender rules.
Chas and Dave, “Auld Lang Syne”: Two half-cocked cockneys singing “Auld Lang Syne” over and over again. Doesn’t sound like much fun, but the pub-rock beat, barrelhouse piano and the relentless energy of the thing finally wears you down and wins you over. Featured on an absolutely great soundtrack album from an absolutely abysmal movie (Party Party, if you must know).
Chuck Berry, “Run Rudolph Run”: The one and only Christmas song by the poet laureate of the duck walk. “Out of all the reindeers you know you’re the mastermind”: Where does he come up with this stuff?
Nick Lowe, “Christmas At The Airport”: Elvis Costello’s first producer may have over-mellowed himself since his “Cruel To Be Kind” days, but he redeems himself temporarily on Quality Street (2013), a cornucopia of Christmas delights that includes this absolute gem. How can you argue with any song that includes the lyric, “Don’t save me any turkey/I found a burger in a bin”?
The Ronettes: “Frosty The Snowman”: We apologize for being duplicative, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell that the Freddy Fender version and Phil Spector’s magnum opus contain any of the same DNA. Ronnie Spector’s version off of the seminal A Christmas Gift For You album features tambourines big as windmills and vocals recorded at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. It’s the most dramatic “Frosty” ever, and if that strikes you as a little silly, don’t think; just listen.
The Turtles, “Santa and the Sidewalk Surfer”: A goofy near-outtake that’s buried on a couple of Turtles compilations, though you can dredge it out of Spotify once you know what to look for. A poorly disguised Flo (or is it Eddie?) imitates Santa over a surf-guitar beat while a little kid begs him for a Waimea Bun-Buster Surfboard – oh, and some Band-Aids. Because when he busts his buns, he’s gonna need ‘em. A glorious hoot.
The dBs, “Feliz Navidad”: Looser and poppier than the original – neither of which is a bad thing – this version by new-wave vets Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple captures the singalong sprit that makes Latin pop’s gift to the Christmas canon such a holiday earworm.
Stevie Wonder, “What Christmas Means To Me”: Absolute irrepressible Motown Christmas joy.
The Pogues, “Fairytale of New York”: The best dysfunctional Christmas song ever, but also a song you can beller any time of year. Shane MacGowan slurs the verses, Kirsty MacColl nails the bridge, and everyone joins in on the chorus. This song had us at “It was Christmas Eve, babe/In the drunk tank.” It always will.