Phil-Spector-ChristmasIf you have a window near, go ahead and look outside. Chances are, there are some Christmas lights up somewhere within view. In the coming weeks, you’ll probably frantically brave mall crowds and horrific parking lot jams for last-minute gifts, wondering why it is that you avoid the mall for an entire year only to finally cave when it’s impossibly chaotic, deafeningly loud and smells something like garland draped across a junior-high locker room. Nearly 50 percent of you have already seen It’s A Wonderful Life this month, and roughly 92 percent of you will catch at least one of the 22 available viewings of A Christmas Story that will run every two hours from Christmas Eve night up through the morning of the 26th. These things are undeniably Christmas. Other things are too, but somehow, the meaningful stuff is more distinct. But nearly everyone seems to live the lights, the movies and the malls. And the songs, of course.

Well before I planned to write about Phil Spector’s Christmas Album (or whichever name you prefer to call it), I was actually wondering how these holiday staples came to be–like Hermey, the elf who wants to be a dentist, or a Red Rider BB Gun, and most specifically, a song. Most of the jingles we carol are pretty old. Hell, “Jingle Bells” is 150 years old, while the 1930s and ’40s seem to be the heyday of holiday tradition. I guess they wouldn’t really be traditions if they weren’t old, and we like to keep them that way, apparently. Consider that Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” (1942) is the best-selling single of all time, of any music, not just holiday music. (His “Silent Night,” from 1935, is third all time.) That’s not to say new traditions can’t be created, it’s just that many of them reside somewhere below the lofty status held by these longstanding customs, and I wonder if it’s even possible to create a Christmas classic anymore.

I think Phil Spector probably wondered this, too, only he was in a position to do something about it. His curated mix of holiday tunes pushes the limits of Christmas music–whether it’s tweaking the lyrics of “White Christmas” or writing his own in Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). Spector, a Jew born on Christmas day, did what few were or are capable of doing. He made the largesse–both genuine and contrived–of Christmas even bigger.

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It’s the second week of December. The egg nog is spiked, the Christmas tree is trimmed, and if you grew up in the 80s, Jim Henson’s 1977 holiday epic, Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, really needs no further explanation. Unsanctioned soundtrack and video after jump. Welcome to Frogtown Hollow.

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In December of 1978, Tom Waits recorded an episode of Austin City Limits. The now-mainstay music program was in its relative infancy – only its fourth season – and had built a solid fanbase of Americana music enthusiasts. As the ACL website notes:

“…the show came in through the back door, so to speak. Terry Lickona, who became producer in Season 4, was trying to book singer Leon Redbone. Redbone and Waits shared a manager, who promptly requested that Terry book his other client as well. In order to make sure the Redbone show happened, Terry agreed, even though he was nervous that the roots-oriented audience ACL had already built in its previous three seasons might think that Waits’ avant-garde gutter poetry was too radical for the show.”

The rest is history. Waits put on a stellar performance mixing songs from his then recently released Blue Valentine, some older material, and debuted “On the Nickle” which wouldn’t see a proper release until 1980’s Heartattack and Vine. If you’ve never seen the full televised performance, it’s worth seeking out.

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Haul out the holly!! Put up the tree before my spirit falls aga…” Nope, just kidding, none of that here. Conversely, Lit Up Like A Christmas celebrates the, er, other side of seasonal tidings — holiday esoterica from the far corners of vintage twang, fuzz, scuzz, r&b, blues, country, garage, lounge and beyond. So, in the spirit of the season (!!) both volumes have been re-upped. Stuff your stockings, after the jump.

We’re not sure who the mysterious folks behind the Bolan Boogie Bandcamp are, and even less sure how we missed the 4-track T.Rexmas! EP they uploaded last December, but here it is.

T.Rexmas! is mainly built around the stomping woulda-been hit “Christmas Bop,” recorded in 1975 for an aborted single that would have been paired with “Telegram Sam” and “Metal Guru.” It’s glammy, with a strong whiff of the disco and soul influence he was picking up from girlfriend Gloria Jones. The rest of the collection is devoted to Bolan esoterica, including a folksy 16-second track from 1971 (recalling the acoustic Tyrannosaurus Rex sound), and a 1972 message produced by Tony Visconti for the Bolan Fan Club (released on flexi-disc), which alternates between good tidings from the band and loose jamming before wrapping up with a blast of “Solid Gold Easy Action,” featuring Jeff Lyne of ELO on guitar.

“Christmas Bop” popped up in Target ad last year, but the song remains an elusive get for T.Rex fans. Grab it quick, and here’s wishing a “Super Funk Christmas” to you and yours. words/ j woodbury

Download: T.Rexmas! via Bolan Boogie Bandcamp, HERE. . .

From 1963 to 1969 the Beatles issued limited edition Christmas fan-club singles on 7 inch flexi-discs. All very relaxed and off the cuff, it’s interesting to note how the cover art changed, along with the music, as the sixties rolled along. Details after the jump….

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