Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits/Wee Hairy Beasties
The 12 Shopping Days Till Christmas
Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits (1955-Present) (Rhino '89)
"Present" was a misrepresentation even in 1989‑-nine of these 10 songs in 27 minutes were hits between 1956 and 1964, and will presumably mean more to those who were young back then. I was, and I play this record with pleasure every "holiday season," cough cough. Between the mildly defiant rock and roll compromises of Bobby Helms and Brenda Lee, the kiddie novelties proved durable even though you never liked the Chipmunks and never heard of Barry Gordon, the Drifters' alternative "White Christmas," Charles Brown and Elvis Presley sexing it up, and the secular piety of the Harrys Simeon and Belafonte, it's a testimony to pop culture's eternal need to put mildly untraditional twists on the holy holy holy (and why the hell wasn't there a "Twistin' Santa"?). Then there's the capper and chronological ringer, Elmo 'n Patsy's 1983 smash "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer"‑-a cornily deadpan, cheerfully macabre tall tale that will have romantics idealizing the old weird America for as long as Christmas is commercialized. A
Wee Hairy Beasties: Holidays Gone Crazy (Wee Beatz '08)
Kiddie music risks ick even when a curmudgeon like Jon Langford is cleaning the snot off its nose‑-cf. too much of 2006's Animal Crackers (although not "I'm an A.N.T," sung to the tune of Muddy Waters's "I'm a Man"). My theory is that by the time of this follow-up, he had a kid old enough to ask, "Hey Dad, what's that little arm sticking out of your bellybutton‑-looks like there's a little man . . . " There is, and he's "not known for his liberal views," unlike Rick Cookin' Sherry, whose interjected P.S.A.'s warn of the dangers of shoveling snow and eating your vegetables‑-dangers that pale before those of "Dinosaur Christmas": "Wrapped up in her stocking/There's a human for a pet." That Langford‑-always with the sense of history. A MINUS
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If you want proof that happiness takes strength, look at South African township music. Now listen to For Emma, Ever After (as I did last night), recorded under the hard, demanding condition of waiting out your mononucleosis in your family's remote cabin with nice recording equipment. Hey, Justin Vernon! **** you!
And I suppose younger people with those different histories I was talking about in re Abebe might argue that Bon Iver's sadness speaks precisely to their historical condition.
Wasn't "Ode To Billie Joe" by Bobbie Gentry?
sadness as component of musical work, lyrically or musically/rhythmicallyI love Layla, My Life (which definitely would have been on my 15 most pleasurable listens list last post if I had made one and if I were sure listening to misery could be defined as pleasure) and 808s and Heartbreak, which are all pathetic and miserable and beautiful and amazing to me. My Life is even slow. I just think it is good where Elliott Smith isn't. I would have to listen to him more to explain why, but I don't feel like listening to him more. So I have to end my analysis at "Iris Dement is good, and Elliott Smith isn't," which really is not at all good analysis. Not being able to really listen to things I don't at all enjoy is a reason I could never be a good rock critic.
the captivating "Needle in the Hay", stained by Wes Anderson (who pilfered it for the Serious Moment in his first clueless movie)See, that to me is the perfect use of a Smith song. Oops.
Not at all, Bradley. I think you've nailed the key component we've been talking around.
And I always thought that that famous Nirvana/Robert Johnson -- Beatles/George Clinton dichotomy in the Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea review hinged on exactly that.
Am I alone here?
an explicit emphasis on personal sadness is bad for art.
I don't think it's sadness that's a problem in art. Plenty of excellent music is sad. But sometimes sad music, or genteel music, lacks wit and cleverness, and if I can single out any consistent thing that Bob seems to treasure above all else in art, it's some combination of wit and cleverness. Elliott Smith writes beautiful melodies, and pessimistic but competent lyrics. But he's not at all clever, neither lyrically nor musically. I've heard a lot of Bill Evans; he plays beautifully, but hasn't a trace of wit. Nick Drake--none at all. And I don't mean lyrics and jokes, etc. Musical wit is a very real thing, and lyrics both simple and complex, personal and fictitious, can be clever. I can't think of a single Christgau pick that isn't in some way clever. These qualities are very difficult to talk about, but Bob does a pretty solid job of it. Am I alone here?
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
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