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The Ultimate Christmas Playlist

Today is the day after Thanksgiving here in the United States of America. You’re officially allowed to start listening to holiday music now. To get you started, I compiled a playlist of what I consider to be 100 of the best Christmas songs. Okay, 98 songs, a stand-up routine and a skit. It’s a mix of standards, versions of standards with which you may not be familiar, and obscure but delightful tunes.

Enjoy!

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Throwback Thursday – 1962

Some time in my teen years I feel in love with the girl group sound. My favorite was The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel.” The music and the vocals hooked me. The singer tells of how others don’t approve of the boy she loves as he’s a non-conformist, but he treats her well and that’s all that matters.

The story behind the record is as interesting as the record itself. The song was written by Gene Pitney, who had several hits of his own, including “Town Without Pity” and “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valence.” “He’s a Rebel” was slated to be the debut single for Vikki Carr, but when Spector heard Pitney’s demo he knew he wanted it for one of his acts, The Crystals.

He needed to record it quickly in order to challenge Carr’s version at the stores. The Crystals, however, were on the road in New York and unable to make the recording sessions in Los Angeles. No problem. Spector hired a local group called The Blossoms, led by Darlene Wright, to record the song. Wright was paid $3000 for the session. Spector released the record under the name The Crystals, as his label owned the name. The actual Crystals first learned of their new hit song when they heard it on the radio. It became their first #1 single, meaning The Crystals had to learn this song so they could perform it at their shows. The group’s lead singer, Barbara Alston, could not match Wright’s vocal performance, so fellow Crystal LaLa Brooks moved into the lead vocalist slot. Coincidentally, the week The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel” was #1, Gene Pitney was #2 as a singer with “Only Love Can Break a Heart,” a song he didn’t write.

As “He’s a Rebel” was so successful, Spector needed to get a follow-up single out quickly. Again, he turned to The Blossoms to record “He’s Sure the Boy I Love.” Wright, however, was angry that her name was not on “He’s a Rebel” and told Spector she would only do this song if she were singed to a recording agreement and was properly credited for her vocals on the track. Spector agreed, changing her name in the agreement to Darlene Love. He released “He’s Sure the Boy I Love.” It was credited to The Crystals.

Spector used the money he made from “He’s a Rebel” to buy out his business partners in the Philles Records label. In addition to the financial settlement, Spector had to give his two ex-partners a share of the royalties of the next Philles single release, so Spector got the real Crystals into the studio and recorded “(Let’s Dance) The Screw,” a silly number clearly not intended to be a hit. A copy was sent to one of the ex-partners. No royalties were generated.

Tunes du Jour celebrates Throwback Thursday with twenty great hits from 1962, kicking off with “He’s a Rebel” by “The Crystals.”


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Old Time Rock & Roll Xmas, With Jews!

In 1958, 13-year-old Brenda Mae Tarpley went into a recording studio with famed producer Owen Bradley and cut “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree,” written by Johnny Marks (Jew!). Released as a single for that year’s holiday season, it bombed. That really isn’t surprising. Tarpley, better known by her stage name, Brenda Lee, was virtually unknown at the time.

In 1959, her record label reissued the single. It bombed. That really isn’t surprising. Lee hadn’t dented Billboard’s Hot 100 all year.

In 1960, her record company released it yet again. Third time lucky. Coming off two #1 singles, “I’m Sorry” and “I Want to Be Wanted,” plus two other top ten hits, “Sweet Nothin’s” and “That’s All You Gotta Do,” Lee’s Christmas record peaked at #14.

Winston + Brenda Lee
For years the hits kept coming for Lee. She placed 55 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100, including twelve top tens. These days she is perhaps best-remembered for “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree,” a holiday staple.

Johnny Marks, the Jew who wrote the song, also wrote “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Holly Jolly Christmas,” and “Run Rudolph Run.”

He’s not the only Jew to have written Christmas standards. Also written by chosen people? “White Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Santa Baby,” “Sleigh Ride,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Let It Snow Let It Snow Let It Snow,” “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),” “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and “Give the Jew Girl Toys.” Oy gevalt!

Today Brenda Lee turns 70 years old. Our playlist today includes her classic version of “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree” as well as nineteen other holiday tunes from the early days of rock and roll, before The Beatles took over the United States in 1964. Some were written by Jews, some were not. Some get a lot of radio airplay this time of year, some deserve more (specifically “Christmas in Jail” and “Trim Your Tree.”). All put me in the mood to rock around my menorah.

More holiday music can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

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An Atheist Jew’s Guide To Christmas Music, Part 4

In the grocery store yesterday I heard the most joyless version of “Joy to the World.” I heard a dull version of “White Christmas” that made me glad it was 77 degrees outside. I heard a rendition “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” so lifeless it would make Kris Kringle say “Fuck this – I’m staying home.”

My fourth and final Christmas playlist for 2013 includes more festive fare. Mostly it consists of Christmas songs that have not been overplayed. Some of the holiday classics are represented – “The Little Drummer Boy” as performed by Iggy Pop and RuPaul’s twist on “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” in which mommy is not the parent doing the kissing.

Enjoy!

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Der Fuehrer’s Face

“Der Fuehrer’s Face” was the first hit song for Spike Jones and His City Slickers, a pre-rock & roll Ylvis. The wacky recording, on which Hitler gets razzed, was written for an Academy Award-winning Walt Disney cartoon originally entitled Donald Duck in Nutzi Land. The song hit #3 on the pop charts in 1942.

I was introduced to the song by Dr. Demento, whose radio show initially existed to present rare old recordings, but morphed into a showcase for novelty records after listeners requested such tunes repeatedly.

Jones’ orchestra is best-remembered for their Christmas evergreen “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” written by an elementary school teacher named Donald Gardner, who upon asking his students what they want for Christmas noticed that most of them were missing teeth.

Jones, who passed away in 1965, was born on this day in 1911.Today’s playlist is inspired by him and includes other songs that were popular on The Dr. Demento Show with some stand-up comedy thrown in.

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