At WERU community radio station, “On the Wing” host Elaine Shute says there are so many wonderful alternatives to what she calls “commercial schlock.”
If you’re like WERU disc jockey Elaine Shute, you get tired of having your ears “constantly assaulted by schlock” during the Christmas season.
Think “The Chipmunk Song” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”
Shute says there are so many wonderful alternatives.
“There are a lot of great versions of traditional Christmas songs in the jazz genre,” she said. “For instance, Duke Ellington and his orchestra do an entire jazz version of the ‘Nutcracker Suite,’ which is really cool. And Oscar Peterson has some nice, mellow versions of traditional Christmas carols.”
Shute’s taste in music, including Christmas music, is broad and eclectic, to say the least. For example, she recommends the Tom Waits song “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis.”
“It’s a beautiful tune; it’s somebody who’s down and out singing about being uplifted at Christmastime,” she said. “I’m not fond of Tom Waits’ voice, but Neko Case does a lovely version of it.
“In a similar vein, there is Paul Kelly’s ‘How to Make Gravy’ about somebody who’s coming out of prison at Christmastime and getting back with their family. It’s a very sentimental, heartwarming song.”
Shute also likes some of the old standards that were commercial successes when they were released and remain popular today, like Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “any of Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett’s Christmas albums.”
“I really like ‘Step Into Christmas’ by Elton John,” she said. “I’m never bothered by hearing that song on the radio.”
It’s a happy, rocking song with a chorus that goes like this:
Step into Christmas
Let’s join together
We can watch the snow fall forever and ever
Eat, drink and be merry
Come along with me
Step into Christmas
The admission’s free
Andrew Bird released an album of Christmas music last year called “Hark!”
“Some are original songs; some are songs from Vince Guaraldi’s ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ album that he has set to lyrics,” Shute said. “It’s a great one in the Christmas jazz vein.
“And an album called ‘Christmas Blues’ has some great cuts on it by Allison Moorer and Coco Montoya.”
Some songs that are heard mostly at Christmas don’t actually refer to Christmas, but more generally to winter, such as “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”
Shute said there are other “pretty songs about winter and cold weather that will put you in the mood.”
“Kate Bush, a fringe art-rock artist, has an album that evokes winter very well called ‘Fifty Words for Snow.’”
Shute also recommends “Cold Weather Blues” by Muddy Waters.
The host of Maine Public Radio’s “Down Memory Lane” program since 1979, Toby LeBoutillier said he isn’t a big fan of Christmas music with “jingle bells and singing reindeer and all that silliness.”
“But I do like the ones that have a nice sentimental theme without being commercial.
“Perry Como’s ‘Home for the Holidays’ has a real lilt to it. ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ by Harry Belafonte is a wonderful, sedate tune.”
LeBoutillier also likes Eartha Kitt’s “sexy delivery” of “Santa Baby.” And, like Shute, he has Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” high on his list of holiday favorites.
LeBoutillier recently went through his music archives and dug out some of the most popular Christmas songs from 1907 through 1967 (See Page 12). The earliest was “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted” from Handel’s “Messiah,” by Harry MacDonough.
“Christmas Time at Pumpkin Center” was a big hit for Cal Stewart in 1919. The Andrews Sisters topped the charts in 1946 with “Christmas Island.”
The most popular Christmas songs in the early 1960s included “Child of God” by Bobby Darin, Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home for Christmas,” “Baby’s First Christmas” by Connie Francis and Ray Stevens’ “Santa Claus Is Watching You.”
Steve Peer, drummer for the Maine-based band The Crown Vics, said he spent years “mining for Christmas-song diamonds, proving that not all festive music is horrible.” For a number of years, instead of sending Christmas cards and gifts, he shared mix tapes of his favorite holiday music.
Like Shute, his taste is eclectic in the extreme, ranging from beloved classics like Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” (“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”) to “The Night Santa Went Crazy” by Weird Al Yankovic.
Peer’s list of favorite holiday songs includes Otis Redding’s R&B Christmas standard “Merry Christmas, Baby” and Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.”
And who can forget “I Want an Alien for Christmas” by Fountains of Wayne?
I want a little green guy
About three feet high
With seventeen eyes
Who knows how to fly
I want an alien for Christmas this year.
Then there’s the heartwarming “I Farted on Santa’s Lap” by Little Stinkers.
For high-energy fun, Peer offers “The Season’s Upon Us” by the American Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys. (The music video is a riotous hoot.)
There’s bells and there’s holly, the kids are gung-ho
True love finds a kiss beneath fresh mistletoe
Some families are messed up while others are fine
If you think yours is crazy, well you should see mine
Peer’s list also includes a rollicking rockabilly song by his own band, the Crown Vics, called “It’s Christmas Time in Down East Maine Again.”
Wondering what each present will hold
The kids are lying safe in their beds
It’s Christmas Eve, Santa is near
Let’s hope that his reindeer are fed
Families in town this time of year
I’ll need another beer (or two)
It’s Christmas time in Down East Maine again.