Christmas pageant, David Woodard, Dil Bourbonridge, Eux Autres, Fascinations Grand Chorus, Frank Lee Sprague, Game Theory, Happy Crimble, Juliana Hatfield, Laura Cantrell, Marshall Holland, Martin Newell, Michael Shelley, Mike Doughty, Peggy Sue, Sloan, The Fisherman and his Soul, The Hi Risers, The Kavanaghs, The Krayolas, The Martial Arts, The Radio Field, The Rockyts, The Rosebuds, The Ventures, The Weisstronauts
I didn’t grow up in the Christmas pageant tradition. December 25th was more a social than religious sort of thing around my house. But is that going to stop me from launching my own poprock holiday pageant? No way. Get ready to feel the season with a righteous review of some off-the-beaten-path holiday tunes.
Let’s begin by setting the scene with Fascinations Grand Chorus and their Spector-ific proclamation of the season on “Holidays Are Here.” It’s from the Silent Stereo Records Christmas Spectacular collection but sounds like a great lost missing cut from Spector’s classic seasonal LP A Christmas Gift For You. Rochester’s The Hi Risers attempt to throw off their past Christmas blues in favour of getting into the spirit of things with the hooky “Christmas Lights.” The lovely melodic twists and turns make for a great tune and standout chorus! I almost feel like Juliana Hatfield “Christmas Cactus” was some sort of late night drinking game challenge. “Write a song about a Christmas cactus,” someone slurred after a few too many rum and eggnogs. But Hatfield delivers. The song is a subtle earworm, decorated with a host of endearing musical adornments. I loved Mike Doughty’s “I Hear the Bells” the first time I sort of heard it in the background of a Veronica Mars episode. It’s got an addictive dirge-like quality. It was so captivating that I only just noticed there’s hot make-out scene two-thirds of the way through. Definitely PG 13 Xmas tune-age. The late Frank Lee Sprague put a bit of Mersey into everything he recorded, most obviously on his Merry Merseybeat Christmas album. “Christmas Carol” draws on obvious influences but somehow makes it all sound timeless. Dave Woodard put me on to Dil Bourbonridge and the amazing story of his song, “The First Christmas Snow.” Based on a story written by his grandfather during WWII a teenage Dil fashioned it into a DIY holiday single in 1965. Despite being 56 years old, the song sounds like some new indie jangle-band release. Glasgow’s The Martial Arts add some much needed hooky drama to our proceedings, channeling some 1970s pop vibes on “Stockings.”
Speaking of drama, can’t be a holiday without some dysfunctional family dynamics. That means it’s time to bring the family, in song of course. Laura Cantrell and Michael Shelley go all nuclear family with their cover of George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s “Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.” It’s a delightful rendition that conjures up an idyllic 1940s Christmas movie. Martin Newell takes us out of the city centre with “Christmas in Suburbia” from his amazing 1993 album The Greatest Living Englishman. The record was produced by XTC’s Andy Partridge who clearly contributes to teasing out the melodic genius of the song. I somehow missed a gem of a seasonal song from power poppers Sloan in 2020, “Kids Come Back Again at Christmas.” But it’s never too late to catch up on holiday hooks. Getting a bit more specific, Eux Autres highlight the adolescent impact of all things merry on “Teenage Christmas.” It’s from their charming 2009 holiday EP Another Christmas at Home. Hm, sounds more like 2021 … The Krayolas add some gravity to this pageant on “Christmas with my Dad,” a bittersweet testament to loss, laughs and memory. The song title really should be “Christmas without my Dad” – that’s what they sing and sing about. The impressive thing here is how the sadness of loss is made to sound so uplifting.
Now it can’t be holiday event without some traditional tune-age, but we’re taking a rather broad interpretation of ‘tradition’ here. I spent my twenties listening to Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas, that’s my holiday tradition. Game Theory add just a hint of menace to the familiar bop of “Linus and Lucy” in a creative re-interpretation, defined by some loud guitars. On the 1960s Ventures Christmas album they meld their holiday faves with distinctive riffs and guitar rhythms from other songs. For instance, their take on “Sleigh Ride” mashes the tune with their own hit “Walk, Don’t Run.” Mucho fun! I don’t know which is funnier, the album cover of wiaiwya’s 50,000 Elves Fans Can’t be Wrong or the girlish chatter in the middle of The Weisstronauts otherwise instrumental “Silent Night” listing off everything in the store and then some. Here’s another classic: David Woodard gives the power pop treatment to the traditional hymn “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and it works. Meanwhile Peggy Sue put the brakes on the Elvis classic, “Blue Christmas.” More Orbison than Presley really. Last up, Canadian teen rock and roll sensations The Rockyts pull the melody to “Winter Wonderland” in all sorts of new and creative ways. Full marks for managing to do something different with an old reliable.
One last gasp of holiday spirit, that’s what our final clutch of tunes offer. The Kavanaghs love holiday tunes and want you to love them too, providing “A Song We All Can Sing.” It’s from their 2019 Complete Christmas Singles package, for those looking for more. Another ‘full marks for Christmas tune creativity’ winner is Marshall Holland with his inventive “Laughing All the Way.” He manages to create a wholly new song from something old and familiar while also interspersing a “Charlie’s Angels Theme” motif here and there. I did not see that coming. Taking an even more creative leap, Münster, Germany’s The Fisherman and his Soul (featuring The Radio Field) crank up the amp and expand our sense of appropriate holiday topics on “Santa’s Bat.” I love the punky elan coming off this tune. My holiday post tradition very much got started with The Rosebuds’ Christmas Tree Island album. It reinvents the sound, sounding old and contemporary simultaneously. This year I went back to the island, specifically the “Oh It’s Christmas” track digging its swinging, breezy feel. Ok, time for the show closer and this year is has to be the title track from David Woodard’s fab new holiday EP, Rocking Around the Power Pop Tree. If this pageant really had a story it would somehow lead to this hooky denouement – David really says (and plays) it all.
John Lennon famously made up a lot of nonsense words and phrases, like our post title, so it seems an appropriate send off for this bit of nonsense. Happy Crimble everyone! Don’t forget a present ($) for your fave musical artists this season.
The Martin Newell cut does sound a bit XTC with a different voice-nice. I don’t know how you find and collate all the material! Used to have that Ventures disc in the long ago…. I was thinking, what a different world we live in now. A happy, healthy holiday to you and yours Dennis!
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Dennis Pilon said:
Chris Troyka said:
Christmas in Suburbia is a long time favorite of mine, especially the toy piano.
The last few years I’ve been really enjoying Tracy Thorn’s album, Tinsel and Lights. Not really power pop, but really fine, nonetheless.
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Dennis Pilon said:
I love Tracy Thorn! Those first few Everything But the Girl albums defined my early 20s.
Chris Troyka said:
I had the good fortune to see them touring behind their second album
Dennis Pilon said:
What? I’m so jealous!