December 2012

Jane’s Addiction – “Jane Says” – (1988)

“Jane Says” was the first single from Jane’s Addiction – a mediocre rock band formed in L.A. in 1985 that received way too much attention about ten years ago when they got back together to release a new album that wasn’t that good. Some introduction, eh? They did put out a few songs that were okay though, and this is one of them. Gotta love a song whose title references the name of the band – doesn’t seem too terribly creative when it’s your lead single, but thankfully they had other hits that showed they weren’t “all about Jane.”

U2 – “Sunday Bloody Sunday” – (1983)

Some bands take it upon themselves to be the torch bearers of some political cause. Usually it’s just annoying. But Bono manages to take it to a new level of annoying. And it isn’t just a recent thing. This song is one of the more political songs U2 ever recorded. It’s about the Bloody Sunday incident in Northern Ireland when British troops opened fire on protesters and bystanders. And it was on an album titled War. It was a top ten hit in the U.S.

The Beach Boys – “Our Prayer” – (1969)

This a cappella tune was written by the Beach Boys – okay, so there is a piano or something in the background being struck, so it isn’t strictly a cappella. It’s a weird a cappella song though, because it has very few lyrics. Most of the song consists of The Boys humming or making sounds but not actually saying something. Then, for like a brief 20 second spell – they sing something and then it’s over. As weird as it sounds, it’s actually very mellow and quite good. Something different and light for the day after Christmas.

Percy Faith & His Orchestra & Chorus – “We Need a Little Christmas” – (1966)

“We Need a Little Christmas” is a song that was written for the Broadway musical Mame. It was first recorded by Angela Lansbury, the star of the original Broadway production. But, honestly, her voice is so grating that her version of the song is nearly unlistenable. It’s way to show-tune-y. This is a fairly popular rendition with a simple choral arrangement instead of one booming female voice. Likely, this is the one that’s been playing on the radio since Thanksgiving.

Bruce Springsteen – “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” – (1985)

This awesome live version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” was released by The Boss in 1985. It’s one of my favorite tunes by him. The song was originally written in 1934 by John Frederick Coots & Haven Gillespie and first performed on Eddie Cantor’s radio show. It was an overnight success and has been recorded by everyone under the sun ever since. This is the best version – with that blaring sax and Bruce’s raspy lyrics. All the best Christmas songs have saxophone solos, it seems. This is good stuff.

Chuck Berry – “Run Rudolph Run” – (1958)

Well if it’s a rockin’ Christmas you want, look no further than one of the masters of rock-n-roll, Chuck Berry and his most famous Christmas tune. It has been covered a billion times – as have all Christmas songs by this point, but it was a solid hit for Berry in 1958 – charting at #69 on the Hot 100. It appeared in the U.K. in 1963 and went to #36. It found a second life in movies, having appeared in Home Alone, among others. And, without the lyrics, you wouldn’t be able to tell this is a Christmas song – but you would definitely know it is Chuck Berry.

Vaughn Monroe & His Orchestra – “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” – (1946)

Well this is one of the best-selling songs of all time. It was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in 1945 – in July. In California. On one of the hottest days ever recorded. Vaughn Monroe recorded it later that year and it became a smash hit in 1946 – in fact, hitting #1. Strangely, even though this is always played during Christmas and is widely regarded as a Christmas song, it never mentions Christmas. It’s our association of snow and Christmas that makes it a “Christmas song.” Many people have recorded this song, but this was the first – and remains the definitive version.

Joni Mitchell – “River” – (1971)

From the beginning piano notes that are reminiscent of “Jingle Bells” to the first line of the song that talks about Christmas and cutting Christmas trees. I don’t think Joni Mitchell set out to write a Christmas song – but that’s more or less what this is. She’d call it a folk song about a relationship falling apart during winter. This is one of her most famous songs and one of her most covered. The song is simple and nice. A swell Christmas tune, although not your standard fare.

Kenny G – “Winter Wonderland” – (1994)

Kenny G’s “Winter Wonderland” – as with most of Kenny G’s Christmas music – evokes sounds of New York to me. I guess it’s because I grew up watching Christmas movies that take place in New York City and depending on the decade in which they were released, featured a saxophone-laden Christmas-themed score. It’s soft, sit-by-the-fire type Christmas music. This is from Miracles: The Holiday Album, the best-selling holiday album since 1991 and perhaps of all time – it’s gone platinum 8x.

Adam Sandler – “The Chanukah Song, Part II” – (1999)

While the original “Chanukah Song” has kind of become a Christmas music classic, Part II doesn’t receive quite as much airplay (at least, not anymore). I don’t think anyone saw it coming – but, as you can hear in its first live performance – everyone knows some of the reused lyrics. It’s the list of people that has changed. There’s some fun to be had, like when he references himself as Happy Gilmore and that O.J. Simpson is “still not a Jew.”

Pitbull feat. Chris Brown – “International Love” – (2011)

Well here’s two popular performers that people don’t seem to like all that much. The reasons are very different. People don’t like Chris Brown as a person and Pitbull has recently garnered his own special sort of disdain. That is, his unoriginality. He has taken song sampling to a whole new level. Granted, he has been very successful and has made a lot of money – and I kind of like his unique voice. This song doesn’t have any samples in it, but recently it seems that Pitbull (and Flo Rida, who has made a career out of it) just take popular electronica or dance tracks and then rap over top of them. This was a big hit in the U.S…. and well, internationally.

4PM – “Sukiyaki” – (1995)

Like 90s slow jams? Because here’s an average one. “Sukiyaki” was a #1 single in 1963 for Kyu Sakamoto. It had been covered man times over the years, but in 1994 it was covered by 4PM (which stands for “For Positive Music” and not a time). The lyrics were in English and had been written for a different cover done in 1981. The song has an a cappella feel – the music is very light and there’s a lot of finger-snapping and harmonizing. 4PM is not Boyz II Men, though they’re trying.

Nu Shooz – “I Can’t Wait” – (1986)

If you like synth-heavy 80s tunes, this track is for you. It’s a dance song all the way, hitting #1 on the Hot Dance Singles chart while only managing #3 on the Hot 100. If you asked me to name a song to play at an 1980s dance club, I would either say this or a particular song by Chaka Khan. As 80s as this song sounds, the music video is 80s-horrid and very bizarre. It was Nu Shooz’s first charting single and by far their biggest.