Media Potluck’s Holiday Feast Volume 2 (2009)
Hey guys, Cap here. As some of you may know I have a side project called Media Potluck. It’s actually what propelled me into this wacky world of internet journalism in the first place, and is one of my favorite projects. Media Potluck‘s goal is to discover and share eclectic or forgotten media of all kinds – music, movies, comics, even advertising – everything. If it’s amazing, funny, or both we bring it to light and if we can, investigate the whos, hows, and whys behind it. As of late, Media Potluck’s been in a temporary hibernation while other projects get into gear, but while the Potluck slumbers, its efforts continue with Audio Archaeology, a spin-off article series over at Consequence of Sound.
Two years ago I started a tradition of making an eclectic holiday compilation and I wanted to share it here. It’s not 100% nerdy, at least not obviously, but scan over the track list and the write-ups and I think you’ll get the idea. This is the last present to unwrap from the Media Potluck tree this year. Happy Holidays Nerds!
Ah, another Media Potluck Holiday Feast: an album-length podcast of holiday tunes freshly compiled with a big-shiny bow on top to make your winter celebration merry and bright. This year’s Holiday Feast has some crazy surprises. As always, we strive to collect holiday tunes that won’t make you want to put a yuletide bullet in your brain. There are astounding renditions of old classics, fun new holiday tunes revitalizing tired Christmas concepts, awesome instrumentals, songs about the season, never mind the reason, and even some cussing – oh boy!
So, nestle up close to the yule log crackling on the television, settle into your leopard print Snuggie, and let your ears sip deep on this hot toddy of audio awesome.
1. Jon Anderson – “Three Ships”
As Cap promised in Media PODluck: A Christmas Evening Together, this year’s Feast opens with Yes vocalist Jon Anderson’s rendition of the classic Christmas track. It’s a Mannheim Steamroller-style synth explosion with subtle extraterrestrial implications. …Okay so maybe the only certain implication is in the album art and the music video (see below). 3 Ships, the Anderson album this track hails from, was out of print for ages and only on CD in Japan until recently. Now everyone can experience the heavenly combination of Anderson’s angelic voice and Christmas synths.
2. Jim Dooley – “Change of Heart”
This instrumental track comes from the score to the Brain Fuller television series Pushing Daisies. Dooley’s score to the amazing (and canceled before its time) series is nothing short of breathtaking. Never has there been a more cinematic and diverse score for a network television show and “Change of Heart” is a perfect example of this. The track is a winter-themed arrangement from the season one finale, “Corpsicle”. It combines sleigh bells, a choir, and a distorted version of The Nutcracker Suite with a full orchestra for an effect that would make Danny Elfman weak in the knees.
3. Jethro Tull – “Birthday Card at Christmas”
This is one of the few new compositions featured on The Jethro Tull Christmas Album. Most of the tracks are either new recordings of older songs or Tull versions of Christmas tunes. Ian Anderson wrote this cynical song with his daughter in mind: “My daughter Gael, like millions of other unfortunates, celebrates her birthday within a gnat’s whisker of Christmas. Overshadowed by the Great Occasion, such birthdays can be flat, perfunctory and fleetingly token in their uneventful passing. The daunting party and festive celebration of the Christian calendar overshadows too, some might argue, the humble birthday of one Mr. J. Christ. Funny old 25ths, Decembers…”
4. The Ocean Blue – “Frigid Winter Days”
The Ocean Blue are a dream rock band that we did a short article on a while back. They’re a 2nd generation dream rock band fueled by a love of Morrissey but without all the depression and self obsession. “Frigid Winter Days” is charged with a superb energy and rustic feel that embodies how much fun it can be to be a kid during the wintertime.
5. The Specials – “Holiday Fortnight”
From their 1980 album, More Specials. The politically-charged champions of the late-70s British ska movement, find the time to work in a jolly instrumental for all your merry holiday mayhem.
6. The Kinks – “Father Christmas”
Unlike many rock band Christmas singles, The Kinks’ doesn’t compromise. It’s rockin’, it’s in the spirit, but it tackles some serious issues: namely the class struggle. In the song a fella playing Santa is stuck up by some young punks who aren’t interested in toys. Their parents don’t have jobs, life is hard, and all the world is merry and bright while theirs is in the gutter.
7. The Three Wise Men (Aka XTC) – “Thanks For Christmas”
Following the Kink’s social crit Christmas single, we have a fun and catchy, but certainly schlocky, holiday tune from an unlikely source: XTC. The new wave band released this single under the pseudonym of “The Three Wise Men” and no hint to the actual band appears anywhere on the original single. Presumably the anonymity was to maintain their good name as edgy rockers and not suffer the flak and regret as Squeeze did with their 1979 single, “Christmas Day”. The song was credited to “Blathazar/Kaspar/Melchior”, actually written by front man Andy Partridge, and produced by “The Three Wise Men and the Good Lord”, the “Good Lord” being producer, David Lord. Strange and sentimental Christmas pop from the band who would, three years later, release the scathing atheist single, “Dear God”.
8. Reel Big Fish – “Mele Kalikimaka”
A goofy 50s novelty tune made goofier by ska greats, Reel Big Fish. Loud and crazy Christmas tunes are in short supply and this track more than makes up for their absence. Interesting note: “Mele Kalikimaka” is a transliteration, not a translation, of “Merry Christmas” – so in essence it’s just a ridiculous nonsense word.
9. Jimmy Eat World – “Last Christmas”
If there’s one stand-out Christmas single from the 1980s it’s Wham!’s “Last Christmas”. It has its charms, certainly, but let’s be honest – it’s pretty flimsy. Lots of potential, more than enough to keep it alive, but not enough to give it any true longevity. In 2001 Jimmy Eat World brought “Last Christmas” to full bloom. Not only is the song given a much needed boost in energy, but every bit of the melodies that gave the original its staying power have been beautifully reproduced and layered into a wonderfully full sound.
10. Corky and the Juice Pigs – “Christmas Dreams”
Sappy Country-Western tearjerker ballads are cut to shreds by this hilarious parody. You may recall our article earlier in the year on the amazing talent of this Canadian comedic music trio, now savor their laugh gravy drizzled delicately over your Christmas ham. Alcoholism was never so funny.
11. The Long Winters – “Christmas With You is the Best”
A Christmas love song, but no sappy stuff here. This is a song for holiday cynicism and a “non-traditional, non-denominational celebration” with your loved one… you know… intercourse. Be sure to listen for the really funky mid-song keyboard breakdown.
12. Gil Mantera’s Party Dream – “Brave New Christmas” Buy here
Party Dream does what they do best: dark, danceable synth rock – but this instrumental jam from their debut CD Bloodsongs has sleigh bells in it. Party. Christmas bonus.
13. Tenacious D & Sum 41 – “Things I Want”
A powerhouse X-Mas Rock ballad from two incredible bands. Jack Black takes the vocal chores and wields his rock expertly against the intense backing provided by Sum 41 and K.G. The lyrics are classic D material that will make you lust for another album (put that on your wish list). The song was originally composed for KROQ-FM’s 2001 Christmas compilation, Swallow My Eggnog.
14. I Fight Dragons – “I Want an Alien For Christmas”
This track is brand-new to the 2009 holiday season and comes from NES-infused pop rockers I Fight Dragon’s mailing list. This is a cover of a little-known Fountains of Wayne track from 1997, spruced up with IFD’s expert chiptunes accompaniment. Don’t know who I Fight Dragons are? Check out Nerdy Show’s first interview with them, Cap’s interview with frontman Brian Mazzaferri, bonus nerding out with Brian featured on Nerdy Show, and then sign up for the mailing list, they give out fun tracks like this all the time.
15. PFFR – “X-Mas Time”
From the production company/ art collective/ electro rock band that brought you Wonder Showzen, Xavier: Renegade Angel, and Delocated comes… this. Best not to explain it. Suffice it to say that it’s a beautiful track and you’ll be forever changed.
16. Luscious Jackson – “Let it Snow”
A fast and fun return to a holiday staple from Luscious Jackson. This track is best known for being a part of the Gap Jeans ad campaign between 1998 and 1999. The campaign featured popular bands (such as Aerosmith) performing short songs against white backgrounds. This is a different and longer version of the song than the one featured on the Let it Snow Gap ad. Check out this video for another one of their 30-second songs, “Stone Fox”.
17. Gordon Lightfoot – “Song For a Winter’s Night”
Gordon Lightfoot is certainly a well-known musician, but he doesn’t get the attention he deserves these days (at least not in America). His folk music transcends its genre and slips into an unclassifiable place reserved for heartfelt, beautiful music much like his more famous contemporaries Simon and Garfunkle. So ease back and listen to one of the great musicians of our age paint you a winters night with melodies and words. This song was originally recorded in 1967 on his second album The Way I Feel. The version included on the Holiday Feast is a re-recording from 1975 from his hits album, Gord’s Gold and features a string arrangement.
18. Marcy Playground – “Keegan’s Christmas”
Marcy Playground are a brilliant band who have been long over-looked. Their second album, Shapeshifter is one of the greatest albums of the 90s, but the curse of their not particularly inspired hit single, “Sex and Candy” remains. “Keegan’s Christmas” doesn’t go toe-to-toe with most of the band’s material, it’s a simple tune, but its recollection of a child’s impatience for Christmas to finally come is wonderful. Marcy Playground released their fourth LP, Leaving Wonderland…In a Fit of Rage in 2009 and an amazing remixed version of that album in 2010. Check it out.
19. Mike Oldfield – “In Dulci Jubilo”
A rollicking instrumental from Mike “Tubular Bells” Oldfield. This was a holiday single in 1975 and made it to #4 in the UK charts. The traditional Christmas tune is very skillfully rendered with a full arrangement of modern instruments including synths and Oldfield’s distinctive electric guitar work.
20. The Cast of Twin Peaks – “The Twelve Days of Christmas”
What would a Christmas CD be without another oddball rendition of this classic Christmas tune? Last year we had Bob and Doug McKenzie’s Canadian hoser version, and this year something entirely different… a body… dead… wrapped in plastic. Many of the Twin Peaks cast including Kyle McLaughlan, Jack Nance, Kimmy Robertson, Dana Ashbrook, Frank Silva, and Robert Bauer as the seldom seen Johnny Horne appear on this oddball track. Fans of the series will be delighted others might be… confused. Do yourself a favor and watch the show. The song contains what some might consider spoilers. It’s pretty vague, so new viewers – just don’t dwell on it too much and you’ll be fine. The track is another made especially for one of KROQ’s Christmas compilations.
21. R.E.M. – “Christmas Time (Is Here Again)”
Every year, just as the Beatles did before them, R.E.M. releases a Christmas song to their fan club. It’s only appropriate that eventually they got around to covering the Beatles’ Christmas tune, “Christmas Time (Is Here Again)”. This is their offering from 2000, a hap-hazard cover featuring an untuned horns section. Hilarity ensues.
22. Monty Python’s Flying Circus – “Christmas in Heaven”
The grand finale of the final Python film, The Meaning of Life. Graham Chapman parodies Tony Bennett and the entire production is full of Vegas-style theatricality. This isn’t what you’d call a typical Christmas song by any stretch of the concept, but it does play on some common themes such as consumerism and wish-fulfillment. An excellent specimen of the Python’s brilliant humor.
23. Emerson, Lake, & Palmer – “I Believe in Father Christmas”
A direct confrontation to the rampant consumerism of the holiday season. Alan Lake originally recorded this track as a solo effort in protest of Christmas’ commercialization, this is a re-recorded version with all of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. It’s often mistaken as an anti-religious son to which Lake replied: “I find it appalling when people say it’s politically incorrect to talk about Christmas, you’ve got to talk about ‘The Holiday Season.’ Christmas was a time of family warmth and love. There was a feeling of forgiveness, acceptance. And I do believe in Father Christmas.”
24. Crash Test Dummies – “In the Bleak Midwinter”
Another track from the Crash Test Dummies’ amazing Christmas album, Jingle All the Way. A rare treat among CTD songs is having band member Ellen Reid on lead vocals. Reid’s voice is beautiful and she delivers the most soulful rendition of this somber Christmas tune that you’re ever likely to hear. Her 2001 solo album, Cinderellen is amazing – expect to see a Potluck article on that someday.
25. George Harrison – “Ding Dong, Ding Dong”
It’s not often that New Year’s gets songs devoted to it. Okay, there’s U2’s “New Year’s Day”, but an actual holiday track not so much. This 1974 George Harrison single is the perfect peppy sing-along to musically bridge December 25th and the new year. See you on the flip side.
Happy Holidays from Media Potluck!
Other Media Potluck Christmas Wishes: