'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through this blog
Odienator was passing out, drunk on eggnog.
Well, not quite. Or rather, not yet.
If you've been nice this year, leave this blog immediately and go read my Christmas Meditation over at Tales of Odienary Madness. If you've been naughty, however, stick around and stay tuned for Big Media Vandalism's Christmas Special! I truly wish I were good with a camera, because I'd do my own Rankin-Bass inspired animation, featuring Steven Boone as Rudolph and me as Hermy the Coming Out of the Closet Elf. (Wait, you actually thought he wanted to be a dentist? Don't you know dentist is code? Have you listened to any blues records about dentists?)
Alas, my artistry lay elsewhere, so I thought we could have a series of Christmas song parodies. That piece started out well, but quickly denigrated into "lump of coal in Odie's stocking" territory. Don't believe me? Bear witness:
Fuckin' around the Christmas tree
Get a glass bulb in yo' ass.
If you make sure the kids don't see
Everyone will have a blast.
This could only end badly. You don't wanna know what I did to poor Frosty.
And then I thought: Why don't I just share my Christmas Eve traditon with you? No, it doesn't involve screwing under the Christmas tree (that's a Christmas Day tradition). My Christmas Eve tradition involves wrapping my presents while sipping eggnog and listening to Christmas music. Old school ghetto favorites fill the air while I use wrapping paper and Scotch tape with the skill of a 3-year old. It's chock full of holiday spirit and good cheer.
Surrey down to our Stone Soul Christmas Picnic and sample our Christmas playlist. Merry Christmas to the Christians, Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish audience, and Happy Kwanzaa to the folks who are Blacker than I'll ever be.
If we're going to do a Soul Christmas Eve, we gotta start here:
1. This Christmas, by Donny Hathaway
If you're my age and the owner of a troublesome kitchen that terrified an Ace comb, you are familiar with this song. Written and recorded in 1970 by Donny Hathaway, This Christmas is the quintessential 'hood Christmas record. It's the rare Christmas song we 'hood rats can lay claim to, and while I'm sure it's appreciated by others, I have yet to hear it played on any station that doesn't specialize in R&B/Urban Contemporary. I mean, there's a radio station here that's been playing 24 hours of Christmas music and I haven't heard This Christmas on it once. And they've been doing this agonizing Christmas shit since October!
So ingrained in my nappy soul is this record that it does NOT feel like Christmas until I hear it. 'Tis a great irony that I as an adult did not own a copy of this song until 2004. An even bigger irony is that the copy I own is on the Friday After Next soundtrack. Avoid at all costs any remake.
2. That's What Christmas Means To Me, by Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder Christmas songs, brilliant as they may be, are DEPRESSING. Have you ever listened to Someday at Christmas? Or this song about a Christmas tree? Jesus, I'm bawling my eyes out right now. Thankfully, we also have this song by the genius known as Steveland Hardaway Morris, with its Funk Brothers bass line that dares you to sit still. I linked to Wonder's live performance at Disneyland (because, come on, it's Stevie Wonder singing live) but I'm partial to his original recording.
3. Silent Night, by The Temptations
There are actually two versions of Silent Night by the Temptations. I believe this is the later version. The original version is on that Friday After Next soundtrack, and while it's a decent rendition, it doesn't hold a candle to this. This version of the standard written in 1859 is the only other song I had to hear before I could truly get into the holiday spirit. I have spent the last thirtysomething years trying to make my voice as deep as Melvin Franklin, the Temptations' resident bass, especially when he says "Merry Christmas from the Temptations" at the end. It will take thirtysomething more.
4. Santa Baby, by Eartha Kitt
This is why I'm going to Hell. I follow a deeply spiritual song about Jesus' birth with this, a ditty raunchy enough to turn Santa's face as red as his suit. When I did my Eartha Kitt remembrance here at Big Media Vandalism, I wrote:
When Kitt re-emerged on my radar in the 80’s, I learned that she was a singer. She had been singing long before I existed, but remember, all I knew of her was Catwoman. I wasn’t aware at the time that she was willing to fuck Santa Claus in exchange for lavish gifts. Santa Baby, her 1953 hit, is the original golddigger song, with Kitt implying with her voice what the censor wouldn’t allow her to say: At her house, trim is a noun during Christmas.
Kitt has another tie to Christmas Day: She died on December 25, 2008. I hope she went to her final resting place without ever hearing Madonna's version of this song.
5. Give Love on Christmas Day, by The Jackson Five
Years ago, my cousin told me that Mike was singing "Give it up on Christmas Day." Like a dolt, I believed her. So gullible a child was I! While my cousin's mondegreen would make a great parody (and I wrote one before I ditched the concept in favor of this), it's clear that Mike is asking you to give love from your heart on Jesus' birthday. Or is it? Maybe we ARE supposed to give "the man on the street and the couple upstairs" some ass. Listen and decide for yourself.
6. Merry Christmas, Baby, by Otis Redding
This is the first Otis Redding song I ever heard. Like that song Kanye and Jay-Z sample, Merry Christmas Baby is a remake that Redding manipulates, making it his own. (Just like Aretha Franklin did to Redding's Respect.) Oddly enough, I hadn't heard this in a while, so revisiting it was a joy. Also a joy, and far, far, FAR better than that hideous cover of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, is Bruce Sprngsteen's cover.
7, Do You Hear What I Hear, by Whitney Houston
Yes, I'm always making fun of Whitney Houston here at Big Media Vandalism, but I never said she couldn't sing. It's a testament to the former spouse of the King of R&B that she takes a song I've always disliked and makes me want to hear it again and again. Her version is also the only one that doesn't make me think of Gremlins.
8. Christmas in Hollis, by Run-DMC
This was a hard choice for me, as I had to decide between this, Kurtis Blow's Christmas Rappin and the Beat Street Santa Claus Rap by the Treacherous Three. I chose Run-DMC because it's become shorthand for feeling pride in celebrating Christmas in your 'hood, whether that 'hood is Hollis, Jersey City, Mount Vernon or some ritzy suburb where only rich White folks live. Their kids love this song too, you know!
9. The 12 Days of Christmas, by John Denver and The Muppets
I admit that The Twelve Days of Christmas is the Chinese Water Torture of Christmas songs. The repetiton of the lyrics alone has been known to drive people insane. But I can't help myself; I love this version of it. The Muppets have fun with it, from Fozzie forgettig his line to Miss Piggy going "Ba-da-bop-bop!" after her lyric (you can guess which day this diva gets). If you think including this was me indulging my bad taste, to quote the singer of The Help's unofficial theme song, "you ain't heard nothin' yet."
10. Santa Claus is a Black Man
I think I was four years old the first time I heard this song. My Mom used to tease me by changing the lyric to "Santa Claus is a Black Lady." (She was right--at least for me.) The song remained tucked in an obscure corner of my brain until many years later when I was doing a radio show. We dug it up on the Internet, burned it, and brought it to the station. It was Christmastime, so we played it.
"You know," I said, "I want to play this again."
After I repeated the song, the radio station phone rang. It was one of our 3 or 4 listeners.
"Duuude, what was that," a young, somewhat stoned voice asked me. "That was Santa Claus is a Black Man," I told him. "John Waters says it's his favorite Christmas song."
"Can you play it again?" asked the voice on the phone. "I got some friends here that didn't believe me when I told them about this!"
His wish was granted. This time, I started singing along, trying to imitate the cute little voice on the record. (I sounded like Elmo on crack.)
For shits and giggles, I said over the air, "I know y'all are out there singing along. Call me, and I'll put you on the air."
I didn't think anybody would have the balls to--holy shit, the phone rang!
"Hey, man!" said the inebriated voice on the phone. "Can I sing Santa Claus is a Black Man?"
'Sure!" I said.
"Um, I'm White. Is it still OK?"
"Of course," I said. "Santa Claus loves all his nice boys, even the White ones."
"Dude, I'm so naughty right about now."
"Aren't we all?" I said to him.
I played the record again. To his credit, the guy sang. To my credit, I put him on the air. He was joined by a few other people in the background. I could only imagine what this looked like on the other end of that phone.
All in all, I played Santa Claus is a Black Man 8 times in a row. Five of those times, I had drunk, stoned suburban college kids singing along, over the air and into the universe. This may be the greatest thing I've ever done on the radio.
Click that Youtube clip. You know you want to. And sing along, because, gosh-darn-it, it's catchy as hell and "really out of sight." Hell, I'm singing it now. You'll thank me later!
Happy Holidays everybody!