You need to watch the video in its entirety for this to make sense.
This song landed on my “Eggnog” list when I went through my top-five beloved, hated, “eggnog” (guilty pleasure), and “terrible to bearable” lists of Christmas songs back in 2014.
The original is still on my “Eggnog” list. It’s weird but I kinda love it. If there were an Island of Misfit Christmas Songs, this track would be voted President for Life.
Where to begin? The juxtaposition of Doctor Who-style synthesizer with jingle bells? The weird constellation person? The fact that the constellation person suddenly summoned a party of people dancing and drinking and singing along with a charismatic central figure who’s the focus of the…
This is “Must Be Santa” all over again, isn’t it?
Paul McCartney appears via cosmic magic (?) and starts the party in that older couple’s living room. Everyone’s going nuts, including the previously staid house owners. As he’s singing, suddenly you see that Paul (or his doppelganger!) is singing simultaneously on the television, and we are transported to that jam session. Everyone’s face is stretched with a sort of manic glee. It’s clearly sorcery.
So the question we must ask: Are Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan both Christmas wizards? Are they aware of each other? Are they IN LEAGUE with each other? Are they different classes/degrees of wizard, like Gandalf and Radagast? Or is it more like Gandalf and Saruman, since Dylan seems more chaotic and reckless, while McCartney is more playful?
Also, SPACE KEYBOARD HANDS! STAR PEOPLE SINGING! FLYING LIGHT ORBS! A HORSE! IN SPACE!
I mean, the revelers are dancing around a bonfire singing, and at one point, Paul is singing back and forth with a doppelganger. There are angels leaving Christmas graffiti on walls. It’s pretty much a fever dream. (Come to think of it, the pre-roll ad that YT assigned to this song was for a chewable supplement that was made using that wacky tobaccky, so draw your own conclusions.)
I gotta admit, though, Paul’s bowler-and-scarf combo are pretty snazzy (and vaguely Tom-Baker-ish).
Bottomline: The video is wild, the song is an inane puff of peppermint cotton candy, and I don’t care. I’m simply having a wonderful Christmastime, too.
All of that said, here’s a fantastic version of the song, featuring another great scarf:
Let’s start off with the baseline: on its own, when performed in a traditional, choral way, this song gets on my nerves.
The droning bass part of either “Drum, drum, drum, drum” or “pum, pum, pum, pum.” The dragging tempo. The tediousness of the lyric. I just don’t care for it in its basic/classic form.
That said, I don’t hate the idea of the song, so I’m down with versions that change things up. So, here are some of the versions I enjoy the most or have discovered recently that I dig:
Bowie and Bing’s Duet is classic TV and I don’t acknowledge the parody
The pre-song patter is sometimes considered cheesy and unnecessary, but it seems fitting for an era of musical/variety television, so it’s a nice time-capsule of that moment. And I legitimately love the weaving of the two melodies by two master vocalists. I’ll find myself suddenly humming the Bowie part as I’m going through my day. This clip is wholesome and I love it.
For King And Country, because of course
It’s a song about a drummer. It’s practically an international crime not to include these drum-centric songsters. The cinematic nature of the music video is also pretty rad.
Johnny Cash sets his own tempo, you hear me?
It’s so strange, but I still dig it. All the extraneous “pa-rum-pum-pums” are gone, the whole thing’s a little off-kilter, and the image of the little drummer boy opening his mouth to speak and Cash’s voice coming out is just bonkers, and I love it.
ETW – Drummer Boy (from Yo Ho Ho)
Okay, here’s the deal: I love this track for many reasons, but 3 come to mind immediately: 1) You have that nice harmony on the initial chorus, giving you a little Boyz II Men throwback vibe; 2) Once the beat drops, you can clearly hear some Run-DMC influence; and 3) there are a ton of samples from my favorite (and arguably, the best) Christmas movie of all time, It’s a Wonderful Life. While the title track of the album is a lot of fun, I think this one is actually the star at the top of the early-90’s CHH tree.
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 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.
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!
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 edginesscoming 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:
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:
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):
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?