Last year I wrote about my two favorite Christmas Albums from back in the day; “A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records” released in 1963 and “A Motown Christmas” released a decade later. These two albums are a must for the collection of anyone of a certain age.
But they don’t cover the waterfront of all the great Christmas Tunes out there. I remember the plunk plunk western sound of Gene Autrey’s “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.” What Christmas would be complete without Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” or Perry Como’s “I’ll be home for Christmas.” I have always had a soft spot for the Christmas tunes from the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Elvis Presley’s iconic 1964 album “Elvis' Christmas Album” is another favorite. Those songs include; "Santa Claus Is Back in Town", "White Christmas", "Here Comes Santa Claus", "I'll Be Home for Christmas", "Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)", "O Little Town of Bethlehem", "Silent Night" and "Blue Christmas!" Blue Christmas is still one of the most requested Christmas songs on my shows today as is Alabama’s Christmas In Dixie.
But there are some Christmas songs that I feel don’t get their due. So here goes with some of my favorite relatively unknown Christmas tunes.
The first is "All I Want for Christmas Is You," by Vince Vance and the Valiants was initially released as a single in 1989. The song charted several times on the Billboard country singles charts around Christmas time, but for some reason it never broke into the Billboard Hot 100. It features lead vocals from Lisa Burgess Stewart, who now records under the name Lisa Layne. In it Lisa, explains that she does not want Christmas decorations, or gifts from Santa Claus. Instead, all she wants for Christmas is her lover. The melody used in the song is based on Bobby Vinton's number 9 pop hit single from early 1964, "My Heart Belongs to Only You", with a few minor alterations. You can’t listen to this one without getting into the Christmas Spirit.
John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas, War is Over” did not chart on the Billboard top 100, but it did reach number 36 on the US Cash Box Top 100 in 1972. It was performed by the John & Yoko / Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir. The lyrics, by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, are set to the traditional English ballad "Skewball". "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" was the culmination of more than two years of peace activism undertaken by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
Then, there is "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" is a novelty Christmas song written by David Seville in 1958. This is one of those love or hate Christmas Songs. It was the follow up to "Witch Doctor" by David Seville, which did not identify the Chipmunks but used the same recording technique. In “The Chipmunk song” as usual, Alvin, the lead Chipmunk singer was too full of himself and wound up messing up the tune with a big discussion at the end.
Another of my favorites is “The Little Drummer Boy” by Ben E. King. This rock and roll version of the classic tune written by Katherine Kennicott Davis was first recorded by the Trapp Family Singers in 1951. The song was further popularized by a 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale; and was re-released successfully for several years since. Ben E King’s toe tapping version features a horn section that is second to none.
I can’t let this discussion go without bringing up a psychedelic Christmas song. You may remember, The Electric Prune’s “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night.” Well this same group had a version of “Jingle Bells!” It starts off with a spoken word into over a fuzzy guitar riff, claiming that Christmas is a psychedelic time of year complete with colored flashing lights, a guy flying around the sky with animals, elves and then those bells, followed by a pretty straight up interpretation of the song. Just when you think this is going to be nothing special, it turns on you with the words “Help me, help me! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up for Christmas!” spoken over full blown psychedelic guitars. Boom! Mind sufficiently blown! When I played this tune on the radio the other day, an audience member commented that that was the strangest song I’ve ever played.
By the way in case you are wondering if this was the first time the words “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” were used in the modern lexicon, the answer is probably not. “Jingle Bells” by The Electric Prunes was released in the 2008 Album “Christmas A Go Go” by Little Steven. Allmusic.com does not list any other release of the song.
So there are some of my “alternative” Christmas songs. Well, at least for this year. I hope you enjoy them and your favorites as well. Oh MY!