To spread some friendly holiday cheer, I spent what felt like a very long while thinking about what kinds of Christmas songs aren’t an abomination to listen to. Some might, and very frankly have, argued that Country Christmas is not the exception to the mall music rule, but I get it, I get it, goofy moralizing and cheeseball sweet songs aren’t for everyone. It’s fine. I do get it. But blues and jazz Christmas have been done very well without me, R&B Christmas has also been mixed and re-mixed…and then! Like a beacon of light from Yonder Star, a regular Thursday Facebook k-hole bottomed out into the Texas Tornados’ version of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” a Christmas miracle, the day is saved!
The Tornados were a supergroup of longtime collaborators Augie Meyers (Texas Hall of Famer and collaborator with, among others, Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers), Doug Sahm (dreamboat spearhead of the cosmic American blend of rock, folk, soul, funk, blues, and Tejano music that I think Bob Dylan, among many others, has emulated his whole life), Flaco Jiménez (accordion wizard and long-acclaimed father of Conjunto music), and Freddy Fender (see, also, his Tejano version of “It’s Christmas Time In Texas,” track seven on this mix). Hearing “Rudolph” in high-velocity Spanglish is not to be missed, and it got me thinking: the trick to Christmas You Can Listen To is probably a genre so intentionally patchwork-style hybrid that pulling in multiple genres is like pulling out different pitches in an equalizer, it changes everything and at each new emphasis makes the music into a different, fuller version of itself. So: for blues-laden pop-heavy rock ‘n’ roll, R&B-soul, funk, folk, and that sweet-spot borderland of Mexican and American music that is Texas country, a mix of cosmic American Christmas songs!
I could go on forever about these tunes: Paul “Fat Daddy” Johnson—“Santa Claus with soul”—singing a swampy doo-wop “Fat Daddy Christmas” just before The Band’s beautiful “Christmas Must Be Tonight,” Willie Nelson’s simple “Christmas Blues” instrumental and John Prine’s ambling paean “Jesus The Missing Years,” Phil Specter’s arrangement for Darlene Love’s endlessly catchy “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and the Jive Turkeys funky “Get Down Santa” (released in 2010), Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris’ honeysuckle duet for “The Sweetest Gift.” I couldn’t help it, I slid in The Monkees’ live performance for the 1967 Christmas episode of their eponymous TV show of the Spanish villancico “Ríu Ríu Chíu,” nonsense syllables that sing the nativity of Christ and the Immaculate conception by imitating the predatory call of the kingfisher.
Please, for the love of Christmastime, watch the video. Glory in The Monkees vibing off each other in in silks and with Christmas tree, incense clutched in hands. Then listen extra to Christmas Spirit’s “Christmas Is My Time Of Year,” the real star of this music show. A 45” recorded in 1971 as a one-off group comprised of Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman (both of The Turtles), Gram Parsons (the grievous angel himself, coiner of the “cosmic American” moniker, musical genius, total babe), yet to be super-famous Linda Ronstadt (queen of LA!), and what sounds like anyone else who was hanging out in the studio. “Christmas Is My Time Of Year” was released by the Turtles’ label, White Whale, in 1968. It failed miserably, but don’t let that deter you—it’s a lot like “Hippie Boy,” the irreverent and solemn panacea that rounds of GP and Chris Hillman’s first collaborative album, The Gilded Palace of Sin, as The Flying Burrito Brothers, released just a year after this weird rock-country Christmas 45 in 1969. In the service of jamming as hard as they do, turn up and tune in.
Hope you’re opening presents, high-fiving your family, and taking food-induced naps, maybe even to the tune of these cosmic grooves. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Note: Thanks to Steven Thompson, whose comment is the foundation for all my information about Christmas Spirit’s huge tune.