Ho ho ho! Just like the jolly old elf himself, The Van Burens are BACK! Catch us this Friday night at the Middle East Corner Bar for the VBs’ Boxing Day Extravaganza, a night of music and merriment to cure every yuletide hangover. Saturday will find us spreading good cheer and wassailing our little butts off when we return to the Dutch Treat in Franconia, NH for an evening of North Country revels. Annnnd, coming very soon: the Van Buren Family Roadshow every Tuesday in January at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge! The Roadshow will feature the extended VB family caroling, cracking jokes, and cavorting like crazy people. Every show will include a different theme and set list, so be sure to catch this variety act the likes of which has ne’er been beheld by human eyes and ears!
Every Christmas, the people of this great nation are bombarded in the ear-holes by holiday music, and the Van Buren blog is here to answer the age-old question: is this music awesome as eggnog or dreadful as fruitcake? We’ve touched on almost every angle imaginable; you can read the VB take on the Worst Christmas Songs, The Oldest Christmas Songs, the Raciest Christmas Songs, the Funniest Christmas Songs, the Best Christmas Album, the Best Christmas Songs, and an entire post devoted to Band-Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmastime?” Catch up on your holiday tunes with some quality peanut-gallery commentary with P. Bear ‘n’ the gang!
Today, in a spirit of thankfulness and giving, we return again to look on the bright side of holiday music with tunes we treasure and look forward to this season. While the Justin Bieber + Busta Rhymes “Little Drummer Boy” induces us all to vomit candy canes into a toys-for-tots collection bin, these songs on the other hand make our hearts grow three sizes bigger.
Speaking of which, the song “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” from the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a stone-cold classic holiday number about the grinches and scrooges and Bill-Murry-from-Scrooged‘s we all experience during the holiday season. Some folks just aren’t built for yuletide cheer! The song itself is a creepy, slinky tune featuring a jazzy arrangement, fantastic Suess-meets-Shakespeare lyrical insults, and an awesomely scary bass vocal performance from Thurl Ravenscroft, better known as the original Frosted Flakes pitchman Tony the Tiger. Heeeeeeee’s great! And while the song has been covered by artists as varied as Cee-Lo, Aimee Mann, and Brian Setzer, nothing tops the original.
“Do You Hear What I Hear” is a gorgeous, idealistic holiday song written in 1962 as a call for worldwide peace during the tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis. While the lyrics invoke the nativity scene, the piece is a critique of modern inhumanity that gives hope for a future of universal brotherhood. In essence, “Do You Hear What I Hear” looks to the lessons of the New Testament for assintence in the trials of a more contemporary age; few songs capture “the true meaning of Christmas” quite so well. The melody supporting the titular line is a wonderfully jumpy, catchy hook based on the sound of chiming bells, and the B-section (“a star, a star, dancing in the night…”) brings a feeling of wistful nostalgia by way of minor chords and child-like imagery. Bing Crosby’s 1963 recording established the song as a timeless classic, and his unmistakably smooth croon on top of lush early ’60’s production is the sound of a hot mug of cocoa in front of a warm winter fire.
It’s been said that Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is the only Christmas song of the past fifty years to achieve canonical status. Check out this excellent music nerd article from Slate explaining how the multitude of jazzy chords in the song lend the song a classic tin-pan-alley vibe a la “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire).” This old-school songwriting combines with the astonishing vocal virtuosity of early Mariah to create music that really does make its modern Christmas song peers sound bland by comparison. We’re looking at you, “Christmas Shoes”! Plus, I mean, 1994 Mariah Carey….I, uh, wouldn’t mind meeting her under the mistletoe if ya know what I mean! (Watch for Mariah playfully tussling with Santa in a winter wonderland. He is LOVING IT!)
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” perhaps more than any other X-mas song perfectly encapsulates the bittersweet ambivalence of the holiday season. It’s a song of reflection, a song for the moments in between the joyous celebrating and raucous reveling where happiness begets sadness. This is a tune for dying embers and sleepy children and a quiet home covered in tinsel and wrapping paper and pine needles. Originally sung by Judy Garland in the 1944 film musical Meet Me in St. Louis then made more popular by Frank Sinatra, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is a pristine diamond of music and lyrics, featuring a melody both soaring and melancholy, intimate and universal, immediate and unforgettable. Here’s one of the breakout singers of 2014, Sam Smith, with an achingly beautiful rendition.