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
One thing the country could use and will not get is some sort of Works Progress Administration version 2.0
Jason: I completely agree. And the stories directly from the workers whose lives were essentially saved by having gainful employment that they could point to with pride as the years went by. This has been so blanking obvious for so long that it is beyond understanding how it has not happened.
One of my favorite records of 2011 was Rivulets' We're F*cked, which is very much in the tradition of "lonely depressed man with guitar," and Tiny Mix Tapes ripped it a new one, claiming pretty much that it's absurd to make such a dour album about how everything is hopeless when you're receiving grants to make the album and such. It seems churlish to pretend that things from the musician's life should bear on how one assesses it (and detached from its exterior circumstances, the album is as wrenching as anything Nick Drake recorded at his lowest point), but intellectually I suppose there's something to that.
Civil Wars record
Now you old folks (if you really want to help us younguns like Joey and me and Jock and Irene) go out and create us some jobs with all that money and experience you have. Or retire.
I'm more confused about the general objection to slow, emphatically atmospheric music.
The Blasters -- I suppose "American Music" is too obvious but I sure love the sly Elvis reference. My favorite Bill Bateman drumming is "Jubilee Train", also top notch for capturing an era with such detail. "Marie Marie" and "No Other Girl" are great back-to-back album and concert openers, and "Dark Night" is a welcome addition to an important American musical tradition and political topic.
Being an Oregonian, I saw Elliott Smith several times. The first was when Heatmiser opened for The Mekons on their RnR tour. The band sound ruined the . . . I guess I want to say delicate sound that he did so well. Another time he had the band back him again, including Sam Coomes on bass, and it was the same deal. He just couldn't carry the power that kind of presentation needed. When he came out for his encore, my foot was literally in mid air on the first step up the stairs and out the door when he started singing solo and acoustic. I hit the brakes, turned around and heard the best four songs of the night. I thought the song quality fell off drastically from Figure 8 on, but love the crap out of Either/Or and XO. And his Oscar performance on the night that fiching Celine Dion pounded her chest was "extraordinarily affecting" (Ryan's term) for his unstated but clearly obvious "How the hell did I get here?" energy.
And this sentence from Ryan is pretty dang perfect --
Not because I'm a sucker for morbidity or mortality, but because the beauty of honestly articulated human struggle compounds the very attractive music in every case and equates, for me, really stirring achievements in human expression rendered all the more vital as last gasps.
I don't hear ghostliness in Robert Johnson. I hear presence, a singer who is right there.
word! exactly. its the commitment to the performance, the there there, that can make you gasp in slack-jawed wonder.
never got that sense from listening to any ES myself.
really luv that depressive sh!t, too (well, just so long as i get the inkling that the work at hand--say Closer, or Metal Box, or Dummy--is doing something beyond merely wallowing in its own self-regenerative misery just for the sake of it, that is). (also, genius helps--therefore Polly.)
2) sadness as component of musical work, lyrically or musically/rhythmically -- I'm not implying that Xgau or his protoge[accent]s bear a particular bias against artists who choose to set their personal pain to thematically appropriate slow & low musicking, but I do have that suspicion, just as I have the suspicion that there's a strand in this school of criticism that dictates that if it doesn't get your blood pumping, it doesn't rock, ergo it's not as good. I know and would never suggest that the analysis isn't more complex than that. But sometimes I really can't tell. The fundamental objection I'm theorizing here, never mind Lester Bangs' James Taylor murder fantasy (& **** James Taylor), seems to be established in Xgau's memorable This is Our Musicpan, boiled down in more yeah-man fashion with his one-line Missing Foundation smackdown.This is Our Music may not be good music , but a refutation of that music, which is hardly required in the CG format but always welcome, is substituted with a bottom line that seems to suggest that maybe an explicit emphasis on personal sadness is bad for art. Again, not attempting to put any words in our host's mouth -- he'd probably substitute "risky" for "bad" at least. But I do wonder if maybe philosophies of life (or psychology) and art are being at least partially conflated here. (This ties into a big part of that Pitchfork objection, too, which I generally concur with. I'm not mean fan of sad slow white kids either, but if they're good at their sadness slowness and whiteness...) "I'm not inclined to revere suicides" is dandy and understandable as a personal preference, but I can't be alone on these grounds in finding the Drake of Pink Moon (the others are arch, silly, woozy or boring) or the Elliott of Either/Or compelling the same way I find the Jay Reatard of Watch Me Fall or the Vic Chesnutt of At the Cut compelling. Not because I'm a sucker for morbidity or mortality, but because the beauty of honestly articulated human struggle compounds the very attractive music in every case and equates, for me, really stirring achievements in human expression rendered all the more vital as last gasps. Records with ****ing stakes, not just narratives for narratives sake. So that's that.
And candidly, I'm more confused about the general objection to slow, emphatically atmospheric music. Like why Bill Evans is bunk. Coz he lacks audible passion? Coz he's too studious-sounding for a jazz guy? Or coz he doesn't rock? Not all crawly tempos need be slandered as boring, but it's hard to find many around here that are celebrated. I tried to bring this up ages ago, all good intentions as always, with Xgau's objections to Blessed (which I still haven't heard), but we got caught up in my errors of word choice (something I'm sure all this is rife with).
So the whole Elliott Smith objection, which is widespread in, you know, This Kind of Crowd (& does this crowd have any cousins), keys into a couple of consistent resistances I've never necessarily understood, and here's what they are:
1) atmosphere-via-method-of-recording -- you can't tell me "Come On In My Kitchen" would work half as well, even if it'd still work, were the ghostliness not compounded by the distance of its brittle primitive audio. Or rather, you can't tell me that you're totally combating the feeling said distance induces while operating your Critical Radar. It does factor in, and why not? The examples of records that feel like a totally different, atmospherically (or conceptually, emotionally, depends on the thing) richer experience from sounding like they were cut in a garage or a well or a box goes on and on and on.The Anthology, or Nonesuch field recordings. White Light/White Heat. The Fall. The first four Pavement records (not to mention those EPs). Pebbles and any (and every) underground garage scene, the glorious feckless sonic thicket of which draws a huge portion of its crowd in on accounta the mess. Definition is a grand old thing, but distortion of that definition can be just as aurally compelling, even if it has absolutely nothing to do with the artist's intentions. Typically, this sort of thing makes more of a splash in the narrative-wringing Marcus School than the effort-evaluating Christgau School, which makes sense. But I don't understand why the late-night broken-guy-in-a-bedroom fuzz that encases the quite pleasurable tunes in Elliott Smith and Either/Or can't be acknowledged as moving, or why most Smart Critics (my assumption being that all the smart folks are over here) resist, refuse or simply don't subscribe to such an acknowledgement. Or even if they acknowledge it, why that doesn't make them admire the stuff (the early stuff, anyway, not the stuff on the Pitchfork lists or paid tribute in the mural) a little bit more.
Apparently this is still too long. So...
I find E Smith terribly dull. Impressively dull. I don't have the words to express how dull I find him.
Education is a great thing -- it certainly made me a better person, even if I was a better student after I graduated. Who gives a sh!t if I don't earn any money from my Lit degree? Is that all that matters in life?
Favorite Blasters song: "Red Rose," in part because it was the first I ever heard, but mostly because of that remarkable lyric.
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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