Fred Schneider of the B-52s is sick of Christmas music. In that respect he’s just like many of us – a scary thought for the many of us who are not The Fred. But Schneider and his side project The Superiors have done something about it – they’ve created an album of alt-Xmas songs called Destination Christmas. Like the film maker John Waters, whose album A John Waters Christmas came out a couple of years ago, this is not a record you’ll be playing for the kids as they’re texting their friends when they’re supposed to be helping you trim the tree.
So what do you do if you want something to play at home that doesn’t tell the story of flying reindeer or talking snowmen, and also doesn’t make your kids (or your parents) ask what that line about the female elf and the candy cane means?
I find that some of my favorite holiday music isn’t seasonal at all. At least, not intentionally. I often end up playing Mike Oldfield’s early piece Hergest Ridge on my other program, New Sounds, around Christmas. Oldfield wrote this album-length piece before his famous Tubular Bells in the early 70s, and he described it on the program once as being about hearth and home and family – a pretty good description of what most of us like best about the holidays. Part 1 of Hergest Ridge is a pastoral soundscape that ends with a 7-minute musical sleighride. It sounds like winter, and snow, and comfort, with perhaps a suggestion that a nice pint of warmed ale might be in the offing. That sounds like Christmas to me.
On a very different note, Wynton Marsalis’s Crescent City Christmas takes familiar holiday songs and presents them in a big New Orleans arrangement. It’s a fun, swinging record that goes into heavy rotation in the Schaefer house each holiday season. So too does the great Vince Guaraldi soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. I know this has become so overplayed that it threatens to become part of the white noise in the malls at Christmas time, but really, how cool is this score? The CBS executives practically killed the TV show when they first heard it, thinking the music would be too much for the kids (and their parents).
Anyway, there are lots of other ways to celebrate the holidays with music, from Rob Halford of Judas Priest to Placido Domingo and a host of other opera stars. But these three work for me. How about you? What do you do to reclaim the sound of the Holiday Season? Leave a comment.