Rating the Greatest Christmas Songs

By Michael Stevenson

20. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” Jimmy Boyd (1952)

Jimmy Boyd was only 13 when he recorded this naughty little gem. The Catholic Church condemned the song for implying even a “tenuous link” between sex and the religious holiday,” and radio stations in several markets (including Boston) banned it for some time. Under the mistletoe, Mommy not only kisses Santa, but “tickles” him. And Daddy never suspects a thing – pathetic cuckhold that he clearly is. Or…?

19. “Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth” Bing Crosby and David Bowie

Bowie hated “Little Drummer Boy” and insisted on infusing the “Peace on Earth” tune to create this beautiful medley. Bing was a complex guy –  a lousy father and skirt-chasing boozer – but as an old man, he was hip enough to sing a Christmas medley with Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie. Love this still!

18. “Baby Its Cold Outside” (Duet by Ray Charles/Betty Carter)

This is such a great song, and there’s been lot’s of fine versions over of the years, including over the end-credits of the sometimes-hilarious movie “Elf.” But no version can touch this one by Brother Ray and Betty Carter. I particularly love Betty’s vocals on this. Are the lyrics offensive in the year of #METOO ? #perhaps

17. “Carol of the Bells”

This song is based on a pagan folk chant welcoming Winter Solstice. It was Christinitized by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1904. Awesomely cool song, and Ukranian-cool, which is the best kind of cool.

16. “Feliz Navidad” (Jose Feliciano 1970)

Might be the best known and most sung Christmas song in the world. And as Steve Buscemi’s character says in Fargo, “with Jose Feliciano, you’ve got no complaints.”
This song also contains all the Spanish words I know.

15. “Thank You Very Much” (from “Scrooge” 1970)

From my favorite film version of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” this song was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Song in 1970. Strangely enough, the original “Scrooge” soundtrack was never released on CD. Great cockney voices, great dancing, and a great lyric: “And if I had a bugle I would blow it / To add a sort of ‘ow’s-your-father touch/ But since I left my bugle at home  /I’ll simply have to say / Thank you very, very, very much!”

14. “Winter Was Warm”  Jule Styne (music) and Bob Merrill (lyrics) sung By Jane Kean

Sad, beautiful song from “Mister MaGoo’s Christmas Carol,” which is a Stevenson family holiday cartoon staple. What a great idea – winter was warm. This tune always brings a tear to my eye, and in the cartoon it brings a tear to MaGoo’s eye (the ‘good’ eye that MaGoo could occasionally will to open)

13. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” – sung by Darlene Love

The best of Phil Spector’s Christmas recording. Darlene Love has performed the song every year since 1986 on the final new episode before Christmas of Late Night with David Letterman.

12.  “Merry Christmas From Ken Griffin”

As a kid, this severely-scratched LP was among the most-played at Christmas time. Ken Griffin’s organ brought pleasure to many during the holiday season (perhaps even multiple pleasures.) Ken died of a heart attack on the road in 1956, but left behind this “Moby Dick” of organ music, complete with all the Christmas standards, from “The First Noel” to “Jingle Bells” (I prefer Griffin’s version of “Jingle Bells” to Ella Fitzgerald’s… and I am not at all kidding.) Listen in HIGH FIDELITY here (sounds best when playing with your toys, such as Rock’em, Sock’em Robots)

11. “My Favorite Things” (John Coltrane, 1961) The wintertime imagery of the lyrics had made this tune from “The Sound of Music” a holiday standard by the early ’60s. But I like it best with no lyrics voiced, and only John Coltrane blowing away on soprano sax.  My dad would bring home a free multi-performer Christmas album when he purchased new snow tires from the local Firestone dealer. Vic Damone, Dinah Shore, Dennis Day, Jerry Vale and the usual suspects. But Coltrane was never on the annual Firestone Christmas LP.

10. “Happy Christmas” (aka “War Is Over”) – John & Yoko.

“War is over, if you want it…” We want it. I wonder if there has ever been a Christmas without a fucking war going on somewhere? Some of the images in this video are hard to watch, but that’s what make them so appropriate.

9. “Dah Who Doraze” (aka “Fah Who Foraze”)

From “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” – Do you think The Who’s would concern themselves over the phony Fox News ‘War on Christmas’?  …No. They would say, “Christmas day is in our grasp , so long as we have hands to clasp.”  Who knew.

8. “If We Make It Through December” – Merle Haggard

“I don’t mean to hate December | It’s meant to be the happy time of year
And my little girl don’t understand | Why daddy can’t afford no Christmas here…” God Bless him,Haggard was one of the greatest. With the exception of this beautiful song and Brenda Lee’s gleefully goofy “I’m Gonna Lasso Santa Claus,” I pretty much cannot stomach country Christmas songs. Sorry.

I7. “Fairytale of New York” -The Pogues

The line “I’ve got a feelin’ this year’s for me and you” nearly makes me cry every time I hear it. Rest in Peace, Kirsty MacColl. Sláinte to Shane Mac, Christy Moore and to the boys of the NYPD.

16. “O Holy Night” – Rickie Lee Jones with the Chieftains

This version is from the Chieftains’ splendid “The Bells of Dublin.” Rickie’s lead vocal,  almost whispered at times, coupled with the dissonant uilleann pipes, provide a beautiful contrast to the grandiose “fall on your knees!”  lyric. (Though I can dig it grandiose, as well)

5. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” 1984 performed by Band Aid

Far groovier than “We Are the World” and a great 80s-era rock artifact, I only wish Joe Strummer had contributed vocals on a verse (wonder if Geldolf asked him?) The song has raised more than $24 million to feed the world.

4. “Christmas Time is Here” (from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”)  Vince Guaraldi Trio

The entire Charlie Brown soundtrack is the perfect antidote to shitty Christmas music (which is to say, most Christmas music.) I love the dancing at the Christmas party in the cartoon, with Schroeder rocking-out to Vince Guaraldi’s piano

3. “The Christmas Song” (written by Mel Torme) best performed by Nat King Cole

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” Mel, you had me at hello.

2. “White Christmas” (written Irving Berlin)

Best versions are of course by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, and although I generally dislike R&B treatments of Christmas songs, I’ve grown to love the version by the Drifters (featured in “Home Alone”) perhaps best of all!

1. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” 1944 (written by Hugh Martin)

There’s wonderful versions of this Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Chrissie Hynde and Cat Power, but Judy Garland’s screen performance from 1944’s Meet Me In St Louis stands alone.
Why is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas my favorite Christmas song? I think it is the sadness in the song. First, I’m mostly Irish and the poet Yeats said, “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” On top of that, I find this song deeply spiritual. “Next year all our troubles will be miles away”  is more of a request than an affirmation (like Shane MacGowan singing “I’ve got a feelin’ this year’s for you an’ me,” or Haggard telling himself “If we make it through December, everything’s gonna be alright”). Is there a sadder, more beautiful Christmas prayer than asking that “next year all our troubles will be far away?”

– Listen to an excellent radio interview about the beauty of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on National Public Radio

You can hear all these songs on my Spotify Christmas Playlist

Lady Bird, John Hartford and Jimmy Dean

By Mike Stevenson

I finally saw Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird at a matinee show yesterday. Loved it.

I enjoy going to the movies at weekday afternoon shows. The theater is usually near-empty, tickets are a bit cheaper, and I usually sneak in a glass of wine and a bite to eat. I don’t mind being alone for a movie – in fact I think I prefer it. It’s becomes a  relationship – just me and the film. I offer the movie a sip of wine and nibble of cheese. She politely says, “No, you have it.”

A few thoughts about Lady Bird:

  • I was so blown-away by the inclusion of the John Hartford song “The Eve of Parting” in the movie. Hartford has been a favorite of mine since my late twenties, when a used-record store purchase satisfied my curiosity about the brilliant composer of the classic “Gentle On My Mind.”  It’s always a bit disconcerting when a popular movie or tv show features an obscure tune or artist that belongs secretly to you (or is this a me thing?) “Curse the thought of your existence… Loving every flaxon hair…” wow. Hartford was such a great lyricist. Is it selfish of me not to want to share John Hartford with the masses ? Probably.

  •  Lois Smith is really excellent in a small supporting role as Sister Sarah Joan. I wonder if young Saoirse Ronan chatted with the octogenarian actress about her experience acting with James Dean in 1956 East of Eden?
    Lois Smith as Sister Sarah Joan

    Like most guys my age, I was crazy about all three of James Dean’s movies, especially East of Eden, and I was smitten with Lois Smith in her very small role as the saloon girl (she sweetly says to Dean/Cal, “Yer just a kid, ain’t ya?”) Here’s Lois Smith’s screen test with Jimmy. She is strikingly beautiful here, at about the same age as Saoirse Ronan is today.

  • Lady Bird’s mom – Laurie Metcalf – steals the movie and will a Best Supporting Actor award. She made me cry, and I love to cry alone at the movies.

Trump, Weinstein and ‘pestering’ predators: Your time’s up

By Michael Stevenson

I read today that a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll found that 91 percent of women (in the U.S.) called workplace sexual harassment a problem, along with 81 percent of men.

This must change, and I am not going to write that I am a husband and father to a young woman, because if I were father to a male hedgehog, I would still demand that women should be able to work and live their lives without being sexually harassed.

It is disgusting that in Donald Trump, America elected a president who boasted of assaulting women.

Actress Emma Thompson recently spoke out about predators Harvey Weinstein and Trump: “I didn’t know about these things, but they don’t surprise me at all, and they’re endemic to the system,” Thompson, said during an interview with BBC Newsnight.

“What I find sort of extraordinary is that this man is at the top of a very particular iceberg, you know he’s — I don’t think you can describe him as a ‘sex addict,’ he’s a predator. But what he’s, as it were, at the top of the ladder of is a system of harassment, and belittling, and bullying, and interference, and what my mother would have referred to in the old days as ‘pestering.’”

“‘Is he pestering you?’ That’s the word we used to use in the olden days, if you recall. This has been part of our world, women’s world, since time immemorial. So what we need to start talking about is the crisis in masculinity, the crisis of extreme masculinity, which is this sort of behavior, and the fact that it is not only OK, but it also is represented by the most powerful man in the world at the moment,” Thompson added, seemingly referencing Donald Trump.
Bravo to that, Emma!

Not only Hollywood actresses, but thousands of women around the globe are now speaking out about sexual harassment and they are holding accountable the reputation of employers and entire industries.

What a great lesson it would be to hold accountable the most powerful predator in the United States – Donald Trump? He has been ‘pestering’ for too long. His time is up.

Who Killed Charleston Hartfield?

by Michael Stevenson:

Charleston Hartfield died yesterday, at 34 years old. He was an off-duty Las Vegas police officer, gunned down by a madman in Las Vegas, one of 59 people murdered for no reason.

As well as being a son, a husband and a father, Hartfield was a military veteran. But there will be no outrage expressed by Republican politicians who typically fetishize U.S. war veterans.  There will be none of the anger these people displayed when football players protested racism and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.

More than 500 Americans were injured in the Las Vegas massacre. Most are still being treated in hospitals. In America, the victim’s medical care is not a “right” but a privilege. The person who brought 20 guns including military-style assault weapons into a Las Vegas hotel – he has “rights.”

Nevada law does not require firearms owners to have licenses or register their weapons, nor does it limit the number of firearms an individual posses. Automatic assault weapons and machine guns are also legal in the state.

President Trump and the NRA-controlled congress offer prayers, but not even a single proposal, nevermind solutions, to stop the insane gun violence in America.

Keep your prayers.

Who killed Charleston Hartfield? Who saw him die? Who caught his blood? Who’ll make the shroud? Who’ll dig his grave?

“I,” said the National Rifle Association.  Shares of gunmakers jumped more than 3% on Monday after the massacre.