Twelve Songs of Christmas
”Christmas Jollies” with Bill Adler

”Christmas Jollies” with Bill Adler

October 21, 2021

The impulse to share my findings while collecting Christmas music led me to this podcast, and it led Bill Adler to Christmas Jollies, an annual Christmas mix that he has made and distributed to family, friends, and folks in the music industry since the mid-1980s. 

Adler started his career in the music industry as the director of publicity at Def Jam Records and Rush Management from 1984-1990, so while his tastes are much broader than simply hip-hop, hip-hop Christmas music by Kurtis Blow and Run-DMC play a meaningful part in his own Christmas music story. 

We talk about their Christmas songs today, along with the self-imposed parameters that anyone who makes mixes will recognize immediately. We also talk about some of the songs that he has and hasn't included on mixes in recent years including songs by Joey Ramone, Irma Thomas, and Aaron LaCombe. 

The episode ends with a track that I incorrectly identified in the episode as "Santa Rap." I have thought of the song as "Santa Rap" for so long that it didn't occurred to me to check the title of the Treacherous Three's track from from the Beat Street soundtrack from 1984. If I had done so before I packed up my recording gear, I might have correctly identified the song as "Xmas Rap."

In the episode, I said that you can email me to get a special, listeners-only 2021 Christmas mix. Send me an email at alex@myspiltmilk.com and I'll send one your way. 

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

October 14, 2021

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band has worked to be more than just the jazz band your parents knew. Creative Director and tuba player Ben Jaffe has worked to ensure that the New Orleans musical institution has a place in the contemporary music conversation. That has led to some choices that purists have questioned, but it also means the band still has a presence in the culture, unlike many of its peers.

This week, I talk to Jaffe about the hall’s holiday traditions and its own Christmas recordings, including a collaboration with singer Irma Thomas for the 2013 Holidays Rule compilation, and four Spotify Sessions recordings that the band did for the streaming service with previous 12 Songs guests Big Freedia, Boyfriend, and PJ Morton.

In this week’s episode, I also talk to Alexandra Scott about new Christmas music from Norah Jones and calypso Christmas music from Mighty Sparrow, Lord Nelson, and Lord Kitchener.

This week on the pod, I announced that am making a special listeners-only Christmas mix. If you wish to receive a copy, email me at alex@myspiltmilk.com.

If you haven't already done so, please do what you have to do to get Twelve Songs in your podcast feed. You can find us at Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPandora, and Spotify. 

 

A Family-Friendly Christmas with Dan and Claudia Zanes

A Family-Friendly Christmas with Dan and Claudia Zanes

October 6, 2021

We met Dan Zanes as the singer of The Del Fuegos in the first generation of America's indie underground in the mid-1980s. As he explains in our conversation, he discovered after the band broke up that people were more interested in a cassette he made of family-oriented folk he made with his daughter, her friends and their parents in mind than they were in his solo album. That set his course, and he has been working in the family-friendly field for more than 20 years now. 

We talk about family-friendly music, folk music, and how his Christmas album, Christmas in Concord, fits in to that musical world.

His wife and musical collaborator Claudia is part of the conversation as well, even though she wasn't with him on Christmas in Concord. She is on their new album, the social justice-oriented Let Love Be Your Guide.

This episode also inaugurates a change as singer and friend Alexandra Scott joins to talk about Christmas music with Alex, this week focusing on Kelly Clarkson's new "Christmas Isn't Cancelled (Just You)" and her biggest Christmas song to date, "Underneath the Tree."

If you haven't already done so, please do what you have to do to get Twelve Songs in your podcast feed. You can find us at Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPandora, and Spotify. 

 

Santa Baby

Santa Baby

September 23, 2021

"Santa Baby" has gone through some changes. When Eartha Kitt recorded it in 1953, it was controversial because women--and particularly black women--didn't talk about desire so bluntly. It was a cool artifact from one of Christmas' back rooms until Madonna covered it in 1987, and that seemingly put the song on the radar of a generation or two of women performers including Arianna Grande and Kylie Minogue.

This week, I'm joined by three strong women to discuss what makes Kitt's track special, and what changes when others perform it. Journalist and critic Alison Fensterstock contributed an interview with Rickie Lee Jones to Mojo earlier this year, and she is a regular contributor to NPR.org among other places. Singer Dayna Kurtz's passion and passions are clear in her work, whether the projects explore her personal life, her musical life (as part of Lulu and the Broadsides), or her activist life (as in the case of "What Would Jesus Say"). Alexandra Scott appeared on 12 Songs last year to talk about Dolly Parton's "Hard Candy Christmas," and singer Alexandra Scott has always made songs that sound like direct communications with the listener, whether the lyric reflects her innermost thoughts or something more fabricated. Even musical exercises sound meaningful when she sings them. 

In the episode, I talk about Pearl Bailey's "Ten Pound Box of Money." That's the song from 1958 adjusted for inflation. When Bailey recorded it, the title was "A Five Pound Box of Money." Sorry for the confusion. Maybe a 10 pound box of money reflects my needs and desires more than Bailey's since that's the lyric I sing in my head when I think about the song. 

This episode also starts to pay attention to the releases scheduled for the 2021 Christmas season starting with Brett Eldridge's "Mr. Christmas." The album by the same name won't be out until November, but the title track is out and we give it a first listen. 

If you have any questions, suggestions, or favorites you want to share, I'm at alex@myspiltmilk.com.

If you haven't already done so, please do what you have to do to get Twelve Songs in your podcast feed. You can find us at Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPandora, and Spotify. 

 

A Blues Christmas with Alligator Records

A Blues Christmas with Alligator Records

August 26, 2021

Bruce Iglauer didn’t plan to celebrate Alligator Records’ 50th anniversary the way he has. Iglauer started the blues label in Chicago in 1972 and intended to load up a bus with musicians from the label’s past, present and future and play around the country. Unfortunately, the Delta variant made that unsafe, so instead he has had to celebrate with an anniversary compilation, 50 Years of Genuine Houserockin’ Music, and talking about the label and the stars who defined it on shows like this one.

Iglauer’s here because Alligator has released two albums of new Christmas music, 1992’s The Alligator Records Christmas Compilation, and 1996’ Genuine Houserockin’ Christmas. He tells stories about some of the artists who cut Christmas music including Koko Taylor and Gatemouth Brown, and talks about the world that led him to form Alligator in the first place. Iglauer starts, though, by talking about how the COVID that forced Alligator to change its plans is affecting musicians. 

If you have any questions, suggestions, or favorites you want to share, I'm at alex@myspiltmilk.com.

If you haven't already done so, please do what you have to do to get Twelve Songs in your podcast feed. You can find us at Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPandora, and Spotify. 

 

Grant-Lee Phillips

Grant-Lee Phillips

August 19, 2021

Singer Grant-Lee Phillips is the first 12 Songs guest to have worked as a mall Santa. The solo artist who rose to fame in the alternative rock band Grant Lee Buffalo had Christmas songs talks about that experience this week, as well as what he learned about songwriting from Christmas songs. 

In 2020, Phillips released the Winterglow EP, and he talks about the role the Gilmore Girls television show played in the title track, as well as how he selected the infrequently covered songs he also recorded for it.

In the episode, Alex also talks about the Texas Western swing band Asleep at the Wheel and music from their two Christmas albums, Merry Texas Christmas Y'all and Lone Star Christmas Night.

If you have any questions, suggestions, or favorites you want to share, I'm at alex@myspiltmilk.com.

If you haven't already done so, please do what you have to do to get Twelve Songs in your podcast feed. You can find us at Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPandora, and Spotify. 

Big Freedia and Boyfriend

Big Freedia and Boyfriend

August 11, 2021

Think of this as a remix. Last year, I interviewed New Orleans bounce artist Big Freedia for an episode about his Christmas music including the EP he released last season, Smokin' Santa Christmas.

In early January, I interviewed New Orleans' founder of "rap cabaret" Boyfriend about Amy Grant's A Christmas Album. We also talked about her work with Big Freedia--a part of the conversation I saved because the Amy Grant conversation was a full episode on its own. (Boyfriend has also appeared on the show to talk about her love of The Carpenters.)

So this week, I've pulled the two interviews together, combining highlights of the Big Freedia interview with Boyfriend's behind the scenes point of view, and I've included a short digression into Boyfriend's first Christmas song, a version of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

This episode also includes another call-back. When I interviewed Calexico's Joey Burns, we talked about the Spanish language Christmas song, "Mi Burrito Sabanero," which they performed with singer Gabi Moreno on their Seasonal Shift.

This week, I go through some of the recorded highlights of the song's history, though they really don't make it any clearer why that song has developed a seasonal following in Miami. 

If you have any questions, suggestions, or favorites you want to share, I'm at alex@myspiltmilk.com.

If you haven't already done so, please do what you have to do to get Twelve Songs in your podcast feed. You can find us at Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPandora, and Spotify. 

A Punk Rock Christmas with The Myrrhderers

A Punk Rock Christmas with The Myrrhderers

July 1, 2021

This week, Jamie Hilsden and I have a meeting of the minds about how punk's meaning and associations have changed over time, and his punk Christmas EPs--The Myrrhderers Slay Christmas and The Myrrhderers Slay Some More--give us the place to start that conversation. 

Hilsden brings a very interesting perspective to the conversation as a Canadian Christian who grew up in Israel just a few miles from Bethlehem and started working up the demos for these songs while on tour with a band in Poland. 

We chew on the challenges involved in converting Christmas songs to to punk, and which songs simply didn't interest him. We also talk about the record that served as proof of concept that Christmas punk could be good as punk and Christmas music.

You can find both EPs on his Bandcamp page.

In this episode, I also talk about a modern Christmas classic, Nick Lowe's Quality Street. I talked about the album and Lowe a bit with Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets back in 2019, and other artists have talked about finding it reassuring because it proved that they could be themselves and still make seasonal music. 

If you like what you hear or are curious, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts—Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPandora, or Spotify.

 

Cheap Trick

Cheap Trick

June 24, 2021

Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Cheap Trick weren't sure a Christmas album was a good idea when asked by their label to do one, but 2016's Christmas Christmas worked out, and it's better when bassist Tom Petersson makes clear the thoughts behind some of their versions. They revisited the rock 'n' roll Christmas canon and made those songs rock more. No small feat in some of the cases. 

We got time to talk because Cheap Trick has a new album, In Another World, which took on unintended meanings since it was finished in 2019 before COVID-19 hit. Petersson talks about what it's like to be a band that lives to tour when you can't tour. 

If you like what you hear or are curious, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts—Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPandora, or Spotify.

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas with Larry Weinstein

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas with Larry Weinstein

June 9, 2021

In 2017, filmmaker Larry Weinstein shot Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas (available to stream on iTunes) for the Canadian Broadcast Company. The documentary starts in a fictional Chinese restaurant in 1967, and a number of music video-like performances set in that restaurant give structure to an exploration of the Jewish relationship to Christmas. The documentary is built on the fact that many of the Christmas classics were written by Jews--the same writers who wrote many of the great American songs. 

Our conversation deals with the way that Christmas crosses cultural lines, and one additional line we talk about is Weinstein and the musicians he includes being Canadian. While much of the film is about the experience of Jews in America, we talk about how that experience was the same and how it differed in Canada. 

In the episode, I included Bing Crosby's "White Christmas," The Platters' "Winter Wonderland," "The Little Drummer Boy's Bolero" by the University of Texas at El Paso Wind Symphony & Ron Hufstader, Lou Reed's "September Song" from the Hal Willner tribute to Kurt Weill, Lost in the Stars, and Lena Horne's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." 

I also ask Weinstein about a video by Rob Kapilow during which he argues that there are specifically Jewish musical choices made by Irving Berlin in "White Christmas." Here is that video

The episode also features two Johnny Cash songs, "Merry Christmas Mary" and "Christmas as I Knew It." 

In the conversation, I talked to Weinstein about musical director and producer Hal Willner. Last October, I interviewed producer Mark Bingham, who also worked with Willner.

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