The Christmas Tunes Experiment: Results

So, what are the results of the Christmas Tunes Experiment? I've had a playlist of the songs on the Jefitoblog Holidy Mix Tape (plus a few other things) locked into the iTunes Party Shuffle while I work on the computer at home. At work, I stuck with the usual four-and-five-star playlist in the lab, because, well, the lab is not the place to debut new music.

The results were pretty mixed, but not as bad as I feared it might get. The list, with commentary on each song, is reproduced below the fold.

  • Les Brown And His Band Of Renown - I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (Psapp's Lady Remix). I have to say, I don't really get the whole "remix" thing. All too often, it just seems like they took a perfectly servicable song, stripped out the bass and drums, and plugged in a drum machine. Other times, like this one, I can't really tell what might've been done. This is a low-key jazz sort of thing, and it's actually pretty good.
  • The Weepies - All I Want. Pretty good indie style Christmas tune. All that the singer wants is apparently "to be Neko Case," but there are worse ambitions.
  • Squirrel Nut Zippers - Winter Weather. A vampy little number from one of the swing revival bands from the late 90's. Inoffensive.
  • Peggy Lee - I Like A Sleighride (Jingle Bells). You know, there just really isn't much that you can do to make "Jingle Bells" not be stupid.
  • Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody. So, imagine, say, Whitesnake circa 1992 sitting down and trying to write John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War is Over)." You get the idea.
  • Nancy Wilson - The Christmas Waltz (Away Team Remix). This is a drum-machine sort of remix. It's not particularly good or bad.
  • Barenaked Ladies - Hanukkah O Hanukkah (live). A live recording of a song attempting to elevate a rather minor Jewish holiday to major status, in order to make living in North America a little more tolerable.
  • Aretha Franklin - Winter Wonderland. This is not one of the more successful updates of an older song that I've ever heard. The update to "as we grooooooove by the fire" is pretty cringeworthy.
  • Jethro Tull - Ring Out, Solstice Bells. This is pretty much what you'd expect from asking the guy behind Aqualung to write a Christmas tune. It's rather pointedly a solstice song, not a Christmas one, and other than that sounds like Jethro Tull.
  • Ella Fitzgerald with The Frank Devol Orchestra - What Are You Doing New Year's Eve. Sounds like, well, Ella Fitzgerald. It ought to be set over some black-and-white movie footage.
  • The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping. Still a world of pain.
  • Deegan DeWitt & The Sparrows - Christmas Light. Another sort of low-key indie-ish singer-songwriter kind of song. Pretty good, as far as it goes.
  • Charles Brown - I'll Be Home for Christmas (Ohmega Watts Remix). Much better than the description "re-inventing the song you're thinking of to involve looped verses and a thumping hip-hop beat" would make it sound.
  • Zakk Wylde - White Christmas. Back in college, my friend Paul had an answering machine message that was about three minutes worth of classical guitar, after which he said "Isn't acoustic guitar swell? Leave a message after the beep." That's what this makes me think of.
  • The Nat King Cole Trio - All I Want For Cristmas (Is My Two Front Teeth) (MJ Cole Remix). This is one of the bad kind of remixes, where they took scratchy thirty-year-old vocals, and put them over a generic drum machine beat. Nat King Cole had enough style that if you don't pay close attention, you don't realize the sheer horror of what he's singing.
  • Fats Domino - Frosty The Snowman. This has a "remix" sound to it, but isn't listed as one. There's this odd little hitch in the lyrics, though-- sort of a one-second gap between lines every now and then-- and the drums sound almost synthesized. I'm surprised that it's not.
  • Don Dixon - I Saw Three Ships. Sounds enough like Dream of the Blue Turtles era Sting that I had to check the artist name the first five times I heard it.
  • Booker T. And The M.G.'s - Jingle Bells. Remember the scene in The Blues Brothers where they go to collect the keyboardist and rhythm section, and they're playing a Holiday Inn as "Murph and the Magic Tones"? That's what this sounds like. Which isn't surprising, as the rhythm section was basically the MG's, but it's not a glowing recommendation.
  • The LeeVees - Nun Gimmel Heh Shin. A breathy, creepy, dreidel song. Whee.
  • The dB's - Christmas Time. It has a sort of Eighties cheese quality that isn't all that bad-- think "Our House" by Madness-- but the lyrics are pretty insipid.
  • Shakin' Stevens - Merry Christmas Everyone. Kate listened to about half a verse of this, said "This is awful," and made me skip to the next track. I liked it better than that, but not all that much more.
  • Twisted Sister - Deck The Halls. It's, well, a straight-up hair metal rendition of "Deck the Halls." Pretty funny the first time you hear it, but it doesn't age well.
  • Sarah McLachlan - Wintersong. This is pretty much a standard Sarah McLachlan song, that just happens to mention Christmas. Which isn't a bad thing.
  • Billy Pilgrim - Auld Lang Syne. Country-ish rendition of the song that you're thinking of, with jingle bells in the background, and occasional trumpet flourishes.
  • Gary Hoey - Silent Night. An instrumental electric guitar version of "Silent Night." Really, that pretty much says it all. You almost don't need to listen to it.
  • Fountains Of Wayne - Have A Swinging Hanukkah. Useless filler.

I also purchased a handful of songs based on things people said in the comments:

  • Darlene Love, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). This works really well because rather than giving some classic song the Phil Spector treatment, they just wrote a good Phil Spector girl-group song that happens to be about Christmas. It's been covered by about a billion people, including:
  • Death Cab for Cutie, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). Surprisingly, re-inventing this song as a Death Cab for Cutie tune also works. I'm not sure what that tells us about music, but it's a surprisingly good cover.
  • Eels, Christmas Is Going to the Dogs. I faced a moral dilemma regarding this (which was on somebody's iTunes Christmas mix): by buying it, I think I sent a nickel to the people responsible for the live-action Grinch movie. On the other hand, I like the Eels, and it's a Christmas song written from the point of view of a dog, which is kind of amusing.
  • Marvin Gaye, I Want to Come Home for Christmas (1990 Box Set Version). It has that classic Marvin Gaye sound, but the lyrics are some Vietnam-era POW thing, and haven't aged well.
  • Marvin Gaye, Purple Snowflakes. I picked this up because the guys in the AV Club dialogue that kicked this off raved about it, and I just don't quite see it. He's going for some sort of Latin type effect, and it doesn't really work for me.

Between these and what I already had, I can at least put together about two hours' worth of holiday music that doesn't make me want to stick an icepick in my ear, which is a Good Thing. I've been hitting the "next song" button more and more frequently of late, though, so I think it's time to change up the Party Shuffle source, and declare this experiment over.

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