Twelve Songs of Christmas
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. 

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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. 

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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.

The Polyphonic Spree

The Polyphonic Spree

June 2, 2021

The Dallas-based Polyphonic Spree formed in 2000, and the 22-person band seemed inconceivable. Former Tripping Daisy member Tim DeLaughter pulled together a band that gave him strings, horns, a harp, and host of voices to sing along. At the time, the band's look including choir robes and Dallas' proximity to Waco prompted the British press to speculate on the band's cult-like tendencies. DeLaughter talks about that including the origins of the robes in this week's episode. 

In 2012, The Polyphonic Spree released Holidaydream: Sounds of the Holidays Vol. One, and it successfully merged the band's maximalist sensibility, its tendency toward psychedelia, and songs people can sing. It emerged from the band's annual holiday extravaganza in Dallas, which DeLaughter says will return in 2021. 

We also talk about the band's new album, Afflatus, which also emerged from a live show. The Polyphonic Spree were scheduled to play a show of covers in March 2020, but decided that it wasn't safe hours before the show. As DeLaughter explains, they decided to record the songs that night to document the arrangements, and this spring he decided to release those versions of songs by Rush, INXS, The Bee Gees, Daniel Johnston, The Monkees and more. For my story on the album, go to MySpiltMilk.com.

This week's episode also includes my favorite band from this year's Eurovision Song Contest. Iceland's Daði og Gagnamagnið. This weekend, I discovered that they recorded a Christmas song in 2020, "Every Moment is Christmas with You." I've included that song in this week's episode and close with the Icelandic version of it, "Allir Dagar Eru Jólin Með Þér."

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George Winston

George Winston

May 26, 2021

In December, I talked to "folk pianist" George Winston about his then-new Christmas single, "Silent Night," which he released to benefit Feeding America. His version was inspired by electronic artist Joseph Byrd and New Orleans piano player Professor Longhair, and at the time I ran part of our interview. 

This week, I'm running the interview in its entirety, as he talks at length about his affection for New Orleans' piano players then and now, and another pianist who influenced him--Vince Guaraldi. Through the conversation, we see Winston as a fan and as a technician, someone who methodically hears things in others' performances that he can repurpose for his own music. He also, understandably, talks about his own best-selling December and the challenges it posed. 

In this episode, I also share my love of honky tonk hero Dale Watson, his Christmas album Christmas Time in Texas, and my favorite track on it, "Santa and My Semi."

In the episode, I mention the Ranking the Beatles podcast, which this week examines the closest thing to a Christmas song The Beatles recorded, "Christmas Time is Here Again." Jonathan and Julia from Ranking the Beatles appeared on 12 Songs last holiday season to rank The Beatles' Christmas fan club releases including "Christmas Time is Here Again." 

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Christmas on Death Row

Christmas on Death Row

May 19, 2021

The 1996 album Christmas on Death Row has always stood out because it seemed so improbable. Death Row Records made its name on indo-fueled g-funk telling gangsta stories from the 'hoods of Los Angeles, and nothing in that sound or subject matter conjures up warm fuzzies. Digital wise guys writing listicles in the 2000s during the holiday season inevitably slagged it as a bad idea or a cynical one.

According to John Payne and Danny Boy, the story is far more complex, and they suggest that the album is better understood as a sign of what might have been had the label's signature stars and personalities not left Death Row in the months before, whether voluntarily (Dr. Dre), in handcuffs (Suge Knight) or murdered (Tupac Shakur).   

Payne was one of Death Row's founders, and he is currently helping to shepherd the company through its 30th anniversary celebration, which involves reissues, releases of music from the vaults, and the creation of DeathRowExperience.com, a digital, gameified Death Row gallery. 

Danny Boy was a 15-year-old singer from Chicago when he signed with Death Row, and he sang three songs on Christmas on Death Row. During our interview, he was in the process of going through an airport, and the interview gets a little extra sonic texture as a result. 

This episode also includes a favorite from the 2005 Merry Mixmas on Capitol Records--Lou Rawls' version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," remixed by awayTEAM.

Lindsey Stirling

Lindsey Stirling

May 13, 2021

In 2018, violinist Lindsey Stirling released her Christmas album, Warmer in the Winter, and although she doesn't usually sing on her songs, today she explain why she decided to sing the title track. 

Today's conversations is largely about versions of songs--the hows and whys of picking one version over another. It's an issue in her case because she has released two versions of "What Child is This?" including one from 2020 with Darius Rucker, and this year she has released an electric and an acoustic version of a new song, "Lose You Now." Christmas music is all about versions, and Stirling talks about how some choices highlight her musicality while another reflects her faith. 

We also talk about touring because she announced this week that she has an American tour that starts July 3 in Kansas City. 

Before I talk to Stirling, I quickly trace the journey of "I Wish it Was Christmas Today" from Saturday Night Live sketch to unlikely rock Christmas anthem with versions by Julian Casablancas, Cheap Trick, and at the end of the show, the Italian indie band Mikhail y Julio. 

Christmas mp3 blogs with FaLaLaLaLa.com’s King of Jingaling

Christmas mp3 blogs with FaLaLaLaLa.com’s King of Jingaling

May 5, 2021

Starting in the mid-2000s, mp3 blogs were a way to share a musical passion and find the community that shares it. I wrote about two such mp3 bloggers who share their love of Louisiana music for 64 Parishes, and this week on the show I talk to Brad Ross-MacLeod, also known online as the King of Jingaling at FaLaLaLaLa.com

He has shared his love of Christmas music since 2004, for much of that time digitizing old Christmas albums that were never released on CD or in digital form. For the most part, he focused on albums that come with a heavy side of nostalgia, or those where the holiday marketplace led to such improbable projects as strings or vocal groups adapted for the season to the trappings of pop music. 

Ross-MacLeod's interests aren't simply retro though, as he shows in our conversation. He makes some unlikely connections and embraces a lot of music, not only the offbeat and mercenary. 

In keeping with the mp3 blog mode, I also feature today a song I found on an mp3 blog on African funk from the 1970s. "A Groovy Christmas and New Years" by Ghana's Pee Pee Dynamite is awesome, and I'll let the blog that led me to him tell what story there is to know. 

In the episode, I mention that there are other Christmas music mp3 blogs that I like. Since copyright holders began cracking down on mp3 blogs, I haven't visited them much in recent years and can't vouch for what you'll find there these days--a quick scan says YouTube videos have replaced the downloadable tracks in a lot of cases--but since these people's work helped me find a lot of Christmas music, I want to recognize them and share their sites in case you want to go digging too.

Santas Working Overtime

Hi-Fi Holiday

Ernie (Not Bert)

Christmas a Go Go

Christmas Underground

 

The Bird and The Bee

The Bird and The Bee

April 28, 2021

Singer Inara George and producer Greg Kurstin are The Bird and the Bee, whose stylish, semi-electronic pop draws influences including a few that came to be lumped--inaccurately, I'd argue--under the "lounge" umbrella. The results are far snappier than that implies, but Kurstin has access to a battalion of retro keyboard sounds at his disposal that, paired with George's cool voice, make every song sound hip and well-dressed.

Last fall, they released Put Up the Lights, their first Christmas album but not their first recording of Christmas music. Roofers banged around above her while George talked about the theory behind their Christmas music and how they made the album during the pandemic.

We also talked about how the album related to their "Interpreting the Masters" series, for which they recorded albums of covers of Hall and Oates and Van Halen. We also talked about how she as a woman related to songs written by David Lee Roth. 

This week, I also talk about a Spotify playlist--repository, really--of Japanese Christmas songs that I recently found, and I feature two songs that particularly caught my attention: a cover of "Last Christmas" by Cano Caioli and "Koibito ga Santa Claus" by Seiko Matsuda.

A Chiptune Christmas with Doctor Octoroc

A Chiptune Christmas with Doctor Octoroc

April 21, 2021

There's a whole body of chiptune music--music created by manipulating the programmable sound generator in videogame consoles. People once observed that if something exists, there's a porn version of it on the Internet, and if music exists, there's likely also a chiptune version of it as well. Levi Buffum, who records under the name Doctor Octoroc, made a chiptune Christmas album in 2008 when he released 8-Bit Jesus

This week, Alex talks to Doctor Octoroc about the hows and whys of chiptune music and about the challenges associated with it, which are not only plentiful but for him, part of the appeal. We also learn which contemporary Christmas act he likes, and though it's not one you'd expect, it makes sense. 

This week, Alex also shows a little love to Luther Vandross' "The Mistletoe Jam (Everybody Kiss Somebody)" and Nancy Wilson's "The Christmas Waltz."

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