Christmas Songbook Day 13*: “Yo Ho Ho!” by DC Talk

Travel back in time with me to the long-forgotten era of 1990.

The US was on the precipice of war with Iraq in Kuwait. Cheers, Roseanne, and A Different World dominated the TV airwaves. And somewhere in the great state of Texas, little 4thDave was in 4th or 5th grade, discovering Christian Hip Hop for the first time right around Easter.

My favorite cassette tapes on constant rotation were DC Talk’s self-titled debut album and Nu Thang. I was getting into fellow Forefront Records artists ETW (End Time Warriors). (This would be the extent of my childhood rebellion until my high school years when I was smuggling mixtapes into the house with Collective Soul and the Cranberries on it.)

My parents didn’t get my fascination with hip-hop but, according to my mother, “at least it’s not the Beastie Boys,” which were her reference point for secular rap. (Not that I think she could even name one BB track, because she certainly never ch-ch-checked it out.)

So, imagine when to my wondering eyes did appear a Christmas album heavily featuring my two new favorite hip-hop groups. Enter Yo Ho Ho.

I love this album cover. And yes, I still have the functioning cassette tape.

I should let the song just speak for itself, but I want to highlight just a few key things:

  • Dig that pure late-80’s drum-machine and synthesizer beat. I mean, I’m *thisclose* to breaking out in some Cabbage Patch or Kid-n-Play steps. This was the era of “fun” hip-hop and Fresh Prince, right?
  • I appreciated that DC Talk was explicitly Christian in their lyrics. I mean, they always were to some extent, but there’s just no embarrassment about it in their early stuff.
  • The ad-libs! So many ad-libs!
  • The breakdown when the drums fade out, and it’s just the vocals and the synth. Love it.
  • The “little drummer boy” call-out at the end before the fade-out is actually a teaser of the next track (and our next entry in the songbook!).

So, without further ado, let’s keep this party going with one more track from this musical masterpiece.

Advertisement

Well…stink.

Missed my window to post today, and it’s now past midnight. I’m not gonna cheat and backdate a post I’m not even starting until the next day, so my posting streak ends here. Oh well.

I’m just under the gun in a lot of ways right now, gang. I have a list of posts to write in this #ChristmasSongbook series, but at the moment, my holly-jolly is being swallowed up in a sea of not-so-fun responsibilities.

At this point, I may not even be able to put together a Wednesday post, so you’ll just get a stack of music posts at some point a bit later in the week. Hope that’s okay.

In the meantime, here’s a fitting send-off for missing my (self-imposed) blog deadline.

Christmas Songbook Day 11: “Mary, Did You Know?”

Hey friends, quick post today, something different.

I had the privilege of preaching at our church this morning. My text for the day is Luke 1:26-56. My sermon title was the song’s title.

Here’s the video of the morning service, including our worship team’s cover of the song. I hope the service and sermon are an encouragement for you. If you watch it and have questions or comments, feel free to share those below!

Thanks for reading and watching. See you tomorrow!

Christmas Songbook Day 10: “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” by Thurl Ravenscroft

Alternate title for this post: “Sympathy for the Grinch (Hoo, hoo)”

Let’s be honest: Grinches aren’t always born; sometimes they’re made.

In college, I used to say that this was one of my favorite Christmas songs. I think that was just my 20-year-old edginess coming to the fore. I did always enjoy the Grinch TV special, though. But this year, as I heard this track while driving somewhere, I was struck with an alarming realization.

The song’s lyrics are bitingly cruel, such that anyone on the receiving end of such a barrage is almost assured to turn to villainy.

Consider what the Grinch is called by the narrator during this theme: a mean one, a heel, cuddly as a cactus, charming as an eel, bad banana (with a greasy black peel), monster, heartless, brain full of spiders, soul of garlic, untouchable, foul, ugly termite-ridden smile, disposition of a sea-sick crocodile but less desirable, rotter, king of sinful sots, dead/rotten heart, disgusting and poisonous, foul, nasty, stinky, gunk in the soul, stink-stank-stunk.

The Grinch is laid low by this litany BEFORE HE DOES ANYTHING BAD in the special. When we first see him, the Grinch isn’t harming anyone. He’s just an introvert, a somewhat-cynical hermit, living with a devoted and (by all appearances) well-cared-for pet. He just wants to be left alone. But the Whos fill the valley with their noise-noise-noise, and the sad, lonely, unwanted Grinch finally snaps.

I would propose, dear reader, that while the Grinch is clearly guilty of B/E and burglary, he is not a violent offender but rather the victim of a constant barrage of emotional mistreatment by both his thoughtless neighbors and a heartless narrator who seeks to prejudice the opinion of the TV special’s audience with an opening song that is not just well-poisoning but outright slanderous.

We assume that the Grinch is all these things that the narrator describes because we are conditioned to trust the omnipresent, all-knowing baritone voice in our heads telling us what the characters are thinking.

But can we trust this narrator? Hmm? More importantly, SHOULD we?

These are the hard questions we need to ask, friends.

In the meantime, I have just one final statement: JUSTICE FOR THE GRINCH! DOWN WITH NARRATIVE TYRANNY!

=====

Nevertheless, Sixpence None the Richer’s version of this track is a banger, so here ya go:

Christmas Songbook Day 9: “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey

The OG version. Keep your Biebers away from this song.

Yep, we’re doing this.

So I’m pretty sure I remember exactly where I was when I first heard this song. It was November/December 1994. I was sleeping over at a friend’s house. In the morning, over breakfast, I listened to his younger sister and her best friend (whom I would later have a bit of a crush on) obsessing over Mariah Carey’s new Christmas album. I was admittedly more intrigued by the album artwork, because I was a 14-year-old boy in need of sanctification.

Over that Christmas and the next, every time I heard this song, I would think about that girl (the sister’s friend) whom I grew to admire from a distance and only got the courage to ask out once (to Homecoming–about a day after someone else asked her out). I will admit, to my great embarrassment, that no small amount of overwrought poetry was written in her honor.

The lyrics of this song are saccharine-sweet, pure teenage exuberance — essentially, I don’t want presents or treats or toys, I just want you, you would make my Christmas wish come true, oh baby baby baby. (I guess it makes sense that Justin Bieber eventually intruded into this song.)

I can imagine that Mariah Carey eventually got tired of singing this song for 30 years. (Or maybe not. Let’s be real, the royalties off this track alone have probably set her up for life financially.) I doubt anyone (Carey included) anticipated that it would become a cultural touchstone during the Christmas season, both deeply loved and also much maligned.

Personally, I don’t get why the track inspires the vitriol it sometimes does. Of course, it’s cheesy; so is “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and you don’t see people freak out when Little Michael and his brothers start belting that out.

Maybe I’m just prone to enjoy cheesy music more than the average person. The whole “Whampocalypse” thing makes me chuckle, too, because “Last Christmas” is obviously silly and shallow but I’m not going to get mad about it. (There are only a few Christmas songs that really get under my skin; and yes, Michael, I am going to address that particular one before the month’s out.)

So hey, if you love the Mariah Carey track, or if you hate it, you have to at least acknowledge that it’s super catchy, it’s easily singable, and it’s got a degree of timeless wholesomeness that has kept it around for the last 3 decades.

=====

Since you know how much I adore unique covers, I’ll leave you with two for this song.

The first, by (4thDaveBlog favorite) Alex Melton, plays up the overwrought emotion with an emo-pop-punk take on the track:

And the second, from the criminally under-appreciated Jamie Cullum, brings a jazzy playfulness to the song that I really love:

Centennial.

Pausing the #ChristmasSongbook tonight, as we had a neighborhood Christmas festival to get to and I have too much to do the rest of the evening.

However, today marks my 100th* post in a row, so I didn’t want to break the chain. Don’t worry, you’ll get a double-dose of merriment tomorrow (Lord-willing) to make up for it.

This is the longest posting streak I’ve ever had. I have to say, I’m pretty proud of this. Hopefully, it’s not been too annoying for those of you subscribed by email. Once we get to the New Year, I’ll fall back to a 2-3 posts per week pace. I’m thinking something Bible-teaching-related on Mondays, a book review or something literary on Wednesdays, and maybe a fun video or more “silly” post on Fridays. We’ll see how that works out.

Thanks for being along for the ride. I appreciate it and hope it’s continuing to be entertaining and encouraging.

See you tomorrow!

===

*Okay, “technically,” it wasn’t a pure 100-day streak. There was one day where I started writing the post, then was pulled away by family duties throughout the evening and couldn’t get back to writing until after midnight. I went ahead and gave myself grace by backdating the post to 11:59pm. This isn’t a competition, and I’m not going for any records here, so I let one slide. I’m still counting it as 100 days. Don’t @ me, as the kids say.

Christmas Songbook Day 8: “In the Bleak Midwinter”

The Gettys make every song better.

This track is a bit of a Christmas deep cut these days. Most popular “holiday music” is focused on the traditions and memory-making and the joy of family and friends, and even our Christmas hymns are carols are more celebratory than contemplative. Today’s selection goes in the opposite direction: full of Nativity imagery, this song quietly focuses on the simplicity and humility of the Incarnation. It sounds most like “Silent Night”–a lullaby hummed over a slumbering newborn.

The song began life as a poem by Christina Rosetti, published in 1872, and was set to music about 30 years later by Gustav Holst (the composer most famous for The Planets). Even if most of the 5 verses are unfamiliar to you, you probably know the last one: “What can I give Him, poor as I am? / If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; / If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; / Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

The second verse is my favorite, however, because it not only combines the transcendence and immanence of God, demonstrated in the Incarnation, but it also looks ahead from the first coming of Jesus to the second: “Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain; / Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign. / In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed / The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.” A beautiful tribute to the Eternal Son, who didn’t consider equality with the Father a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself of glory to take on the humble form of a servant.

I think I need to work this song into my musical rotation more often. Good, good stuff here.

=====

Here’s one more version of it, for a slightly different flavor. The Getty’s are great, but I also dig this arrangement (though, interestingly, he changes “Almighty” to “Incarnate” in verse 2):

Christmas Songbook Day 7: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Death Cab for Cutie (orig. Darlene Love)

I don’t have a lot to say today, to be honest. This month is just beating me up a bit, in various little ways. Nothing major, I’m doing okay. Just a lot of load and not a lot of margin. Lots of people counting on me. I don’t feel up to the task.

Anyway, here’s a track I like. Besides Darlene Love’s original from the 60’s, the most popular versions of it are by “Rattle and Hum”-era U2 and the Christmas queen of the 90’s, Mariah Carey.

That said, I really like Win Butler’s plaintive drawl in this version. It sells the longing of the lyric, and doesn’t sound as cheery as the other versions do. In a sense, it almost sounds closer to a 60’s era crooner (think Frank Wilson of “Last Kiss” and “Tell Laura I Love Her”) than his later-era counterparts.

That’s it, that’s all, folks. Here’s a 2000’s indie band covering a song from the 60’s that was arguably covered better in the 90’s. How’s that for Christmas tradition?

Christmas Songbook Day 6: “Immanuel” by Michael Card

In 1988, the Christian musician Michael Card released a two-CD album called “The Life,” which chronicles the life of Christ. My parents purchased this one in a fancy cardboard box with two individual jewel cases holding each CD, along with a large booklet, in which the entire story of the life of Jesus was relayed in narrative form.

This album was a regular part of my childhood, but because about 10 of the almost 30 tracks had to do with Jesus’ birth narrative, I always associated this album with Christmas. As an adult, I was able to pick up my own copy of it and have listened to it regularly as part of my Christmas celebration.

As the album was written more than 30 years ago, the music may sound dated to younger ears. However, it’s the lyricism and the heart behind this project that make it shine. Plus, Card’s pure tenor vocals are a treat for the listener, leaving no doubt why he should be considered one of the icons of the 1980’s Christan music scene.

There were several tracks I could have chosen, but I really like how “Immanuel” weaves together the prophetic words of Isaiah with the powerful assurance of God’s presence and love from Paul in Romans 8.

If you’re able to get your hands on a copy of “The Life,” I would highly recommend it. Plus, I’m sure there are a few versions of it uploaded on YT and other streaming sites, so if you like this track, definitely seek out others. (“Celebrate the Child” and “The Final Word” are also fabulous.)