I can try to wax poetic and write something deep and meaningful here, but I realized that these entries don’t all have to be Big Important Statements. The truth is, it’s good just to be thankful for the simple joys and blessings of our lives. That’s what this whole #ThirtyThankfuls thing was originally meant to be about this year. Simple joys.
Today, as I’m slammed with work in advance of taking a little time off, I’m thankful for a chill, festive, instrumental soundtrack.
Merry almost-Christmas, friends! It’s that time of year when more and more radio airplay is filled with the holiday classics we have come to know and love…or despise, in some cases. (Truth be told, “Christmas music season” started on November 1st, so we are more than halfway through it!)
While I’ve discussed in past blog posts the Christmas songs I love, hate, and maybe hate that I love, this year (to save me some tears) I thought I’d try something a little different.
So here’s my “Terrible-to-Bearable” List*–five songs that have been moved from the Naughty List to the Nice List (barely)**, thanks to a cover/remake that salvages them from the coal bin. They’re not necessarily my least favorite Christmas songs of all time, but they certainly could be considered “skip-worthy” when they come up on Pandora.
Hope you enjoy these recovered classics–or at least hate them a little bit less now!
Honorable Mention: “Donde Esta Santa Claus?” by Guster
I’m not putting this on the list officially because I was first exposed to the song via this version, which I find oddly charming. The original was sung by 12-year-old Augie Rios back in 1958–and I’ve discovered that I usually don’t enjoy Christmas music sung by any child not named Macaulay Culkin. The other reason this one doesn’t make the cut is that the song is essentially unchanged–it’s just sung by adults.
Honorable Mention: “Wonderful Christmastime” by Jars of Clay
I almost didn’t include this track; it made my “eggnog” list from 2014 specifically because of this version. I’ll admit, I’m even coming around on Paul McCartney’s trippy original (have you seen the original music video? Yikes…), but for a while there, I hated it, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. So this Jars of Clay cover demonstrates that the bones of a really nice (non-partisan wintery) song are there, if you strip away the synthesizers.
#5: “I’m Getting Nuttin’ For Christmas” by Relient K
The best way to fix annoying jokey Christmas songs sung by children is apparently to speed them up to a pop-punk beat and shout them into the microphone. Because as grating as the original is, I can’t help but bop along to this one.
#4: “The Chipmunk Song” by Hawk Nelson
Again, speeding it up (and not being chipmunks) makes this a bit more enjoyable. This high-energy pop-rock cover removes the tedious waltz-rhythm of the original, so that the whole thing is done in 2 minutes without the “Aaaaaaaaaaalllllvvvvviiiiiiinnnnn!” discussion after each chorus. Definitely an improvement.
#3: “Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth” by Bing Crosby and David Bowie
Okay, folks, this is a safe place here, so let’s be honest: “Little Drummer Boy” is a song that gets tiresome REALLY quickly. (Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) It doesn’t have a lot to say in terms of the story. (Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) I mean, it’s nice that there’s a message of bringing your best to Jesus, whatever it is. (Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) But I don’t know if it’s worth dragging each line out to get there. (Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) (Rum-pum-pum-pum.) (Rum-pum-pum-pum.) So how do you improve on a Christmas classic that isn’t going anywhere soon (or fast)? You have two amazing vocalists duet in counter-point to each other, in a one-of-a-kind performance that is gently arresting.
#2: “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Jamie Cullum
A surprise entry to the list (it was just released today!). Yes, the original song also made my 2014 “Eggnog” list, due to sentimental reasons, but man oh man, it has become ubiquitous. Not even watching my 1-year-old dancing around to it a few weeks ago could redeem it in my mind. It’s over-played, and everyone thinks they can sing it well (though not one of us can). But then in walks Jamie Cullum and the magic returns. If you’re not familiar with Cullum, you should check him out. He’s like a better and less-well-known Buble, with a dash of Scott Bradlee and Billy Joel. And he brings a fresh energy to this track (which he learned and recorded in an hour?!?). Great cover.
Before we get to my Number One Terrible-to-Bearable pick, a few extra links and comments :
Okay, okay, let’s get to it. My Number One “Terrible-to-Bearable” Christmas cover is…
#1: “Christmas Shoes” by FM Static
I think I’ve gone on record enough with my intense dislike of “Christmas Shoes.” It’s shamelessly manipulative, cloying, and cliched. At times, it has made me viscerally angry. So, as I was researching this post, I thought, there’s no way that this, the most despicable of schlocky Christmas tunes, could be ameliorated by a cover version. That would be like finding a unicorn–discovering a mythical creature, imagined but never realized.
I think I was wrong, folks.
Is the FM Static version of the song actually better? Lyrically, no. It’s still terrible. It’s still manipulative and corny and syrupy. But I realized as I have listened to this version that FM Static eliminates two of the main elements that make the Newsong version so awful in my opinion:
Newsong. That sounds mean, doesn’t it? Too bad, because it’s true. The overwrought, growly vocals of the original artist are ridiculous. While FM Static’s knock-off-Rivers-Cuomo vocals in the verses aren’t the greatest, it’s still a VAST improvement over Russ Lee’s emoting.
Children singing. This is definitely a thing for me; apparently, I can’t stand children singing in Christmas music. When the original song brings in the children’s choir to sing the reprised chorus and then the twee little urchin sings the last line about his dying mother, the producers are trying their best to wring out your tears. Well, Mr. Producer, you have failed. I will not give you a single tear. I refuse.
Instead of leaning on emotional manipulation, FM Static goes to the other extreme. There is no sentimentality in their cover. Not to say it isn’t sincere and played straight; there is not snark or cynicism in their approach. What’s fascinating is that the actual melodic line of the song becomes clearer and cleaner, and I’m able to appreciate that it’s not a bad song and it has a pretty good hook to the chorus. I even (and I hate to admit this) caught myself humming the chorus yesterday. No other proof is needed, I feel. Well done, FM Static. Well done.
There you go, folks. Five (okay, seven) songs that are improved to one degree or another by a cover or remake. Did I miss any of your favorites? Want to argue my picks? You can comment below!
Thanks for reading! Be sure to “like” the post if you enjoyed it, share it on your favorite social platforms, and subscribe in the box on the right (or below) if you’re not following already. I’ll see you next week!
*I almost called this the “Toothless Bumble List” in honor of the Abominable Snow Monster in “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” that chills out after a round of non-consensual dentistry–but I figured the reference was a bit too esoteric. Nevertheless, I share it now with you, the loyal footnote-reader. Buon Natale and Meli Kalikimaka.
**My alternative title was “Terrible to Tolerable” but I decided to go with the rhyme instead of the alliteration. These are the pointless decisions I wrestle with, as I write this blog. *shrug*
I had heard your name a few times but never really dug into your work until the last few years. (Ironically, I’m pretty sure I heard you perform almost 20 years ago at an outdoor music festival in Kansas City. Your name’s on the back of my souvenir t-shirt, at least!)
A few years back, some friends from church gave my wife and I tickets to Behold the Lamb of God, and we were blown away. What a powerful show that was! We were so moved and so blessed by it that we have made the concert a Christmas-season tradition ever since (and I’m pretty sure that both the studio and live performance CDs of the show now permanently live in our van’s CD changer). Since then, I’ve picked up and enjoyed several of your albums. Resurrection Letters, Volume 1 is my current favorite.
On top of that, this year we have discovered the absolute joy that is The Wingfeather Saga. I can say with no exaggeration that your books have supplanted The Chronicles of Narnia as my favorite children’s series of all time–no small feat, considering I read the Narnia books three or four times through in my grade school years, and once or twice as an adult.
Your lyrical and prose writing is eloquent, playful, soul-stirring, and sincere. Your songs are honest, true, and moving. “Is He Worthy” makes me cry every single doggone time.
Thank you for sharing your stories and your songs, and for reminding us that art can be worshipful, and that even children’s fairy tales can be True in the best sense of the word. I look forward to reading the Wingfeather books to my daughter (currently one year old and not much for sitting still) and all the brothers and sisters who may come after her.
Teens are Flocking to Youtube to…Study?: If you’re a computer-based office worker like me, one of the most important elements of your workday is background music to drown out the sound of your coworkers loudly calling out to each other. Especially your boss, who has no sense of–oh, that’s just me? Sorry. So yeah, background music is essential. I sometimes listen to podcasts, but when I need to focus just a bit more on the less-data-entry-like aspects of my work, it’s distracting. That’s why this article turned me on to what is becoming a lifesaver in my particularly slammed workdays: lo-fi streams on Youtube.
The Trophy: An Essay on Fatherhood: As the daddy of an…almost-one-year-old [*choking back tears*], essays about fatherhood hit me hard. Goins’ posts are always a good read, including this one.
A Choose-Your-Path Twitter Fairy Tale: This is SO GOOD that I furious with myself for not thinking of it. Every so often, there’s a moment–one shining moment–where we all stop and realize, “hey, social media is actually a pretty cool invention that can bring people together in an interesting way.” I think this is one of those moments.
Your Turn: Any cool stories or blog posts you want to recommend? Throw ’em in the com-box below!
For this week’s #FridayFive, I wanted to do something fun, so we’ll take a listen to five superhero/comic-book-themed songs. There are lots of good choices, but here are five I enjoy:
“Superman Song,” by the Crash Test Dummies — CTD is most well known for their 90’s hit single “Mmm Mmm Mmm” and lead singer Brad Roberts’ bass-baritone growl. However, a friend pointed this track out to me a few years ago, and I found it heart-wrenching and gorgeous. This live performance, years after the band had their big hit and faded into semi-obscurity, seems to carry an extra layer of feeling.
“Web-slinger, Hope-bringer” by Kirby Krackle — I just discovered this guy’s music recently, and I’m becoming a fan. This song is not only a great tune about Peter Parker’s burden of guilt and internal conflict, but it’s just a great rock song.
“Rise Above” by Reeve Carney, Bono, and The Edge — This song is a track from the much-maligned Broadway show, “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark.” While the staging and production turned into a bit of the fiasco, some of the music was fantastic, and this track is a great example of that. Carney’s experience as the front-man of his eponymous band gave him the vocal chops needed to be a Broadway singer, and the tune is pure late-90’s/early-2000’s U2 goodness.
“The Ballad of Barry Allen” by Jim’s Big Ego — What I love about this song, other than the fact that it sounds so much like the music I loved back in college, is that it perfectly captures the frustration of Barry Allen (The Flash)–he will always experience life differently from anyone around him, and they’ll never understand how he sees the world.
“Superpowers” by Ookla the Mok — Okay, the last few tracks have been kinda down, so let’s close out with something a little goofier. You want a rock song jam-packed with a ton of both familiar and obscure comics references? Here you go. I was first introduced to this song by Steve Glosson on the “Geek Out Loud” podcast (which you should definitely check out, if you haven’t before). It’s a hoot.
More than 20 years ago, when I was in ninth grade…
[Pause to wipe away silent tears as I type those words]
…I had a friend named Chad who was a year behind me. Chad was into much cooler music than I was–though I should quickly clarify that we were both on that “Christian music ONLY” tip, at least at that time. So, Chad was into cooler *Christian* music than I was. In those days, I was still rocking out to early DC Talk (DCT fan since “Nu Thang,” y’all), Carman, MWS, and some of the late-80’s/early-90’s Christian hair-metal-type bands like White Cross, Petra*, and Whiteheart. I know–REAL hardcore.
Meanwhile, Chad was into the nascent Christian alternative scene in the 90’s, as well as other random fun things. While I had heard of this strange beast called “ska” not too long before, Chad bought me my first Five Iron Frenzy CD. He would sometimes mention bands I would pretend to recognize.
Well, Chad made me a mixtape of stuff he thought I would like, and while I remember some stuff on it (FIF, MxPx, Dime Store Prophets, etc.), there was one song I REALLY liked. It was a fun, silly rocker, no deep meanings, just something fast and loud to jam out to on your Walkman. (Remember the Walkman? Classic.) I probably wore that part of the tape out, rewinding and replaying over and over. (Remember tapes? Remember rewinding?!? Good times.)
Fast-forward to maybe ten years ago. I was trying to recall the song. I could remember random lines of lyrics, but despite my best google-fu, was unable to find the song. We were now in the Youtube era, and I was hoping to find it SOMEWHERE. I had no idea who the band was, and I could only assume on the title. Well, a few years ago, I found it. And as it randomly came to mind today, I pulled up the video.
So, here you go. Please to enjoy, “I Take U Everywhere I Go” by Pushstart Wagon (and I recommend you turn it WAY up):
Is there a point to this story? *shrug* Not really. I just like this song. Maybe you will, too. And if you don’t, that’s cool.
[*Yes, yes, yes, Petra started much earlier–I’m talking about the John Schlitt, “Beyond Belief” era Petra here.]