Doing the Christmas Shuffle, Volume 7

It’s just another day in our hall-decked-but-still-essentially-random universe, wherein I pull out my whole laptop Christmas library, throw it in the air, and see what comes down first. Look out below.

“A Warm Little Home on a Hill”/Stevie Wonder. A charming holiday scene in waltz time. Like many of the original Christmas songs concocted by Motown songwriters, it flirts with terminal sappiness, but there’s something about Wonder’s delivery that keeps it from the edge of the ledge.

“The Mistletoe and Me”/Isaac Hayes. From a Stax compilation dated 1982, which features two versions of the great “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’,” by Mack Rice and Albert King, plus the Staple Singers’ “Who Took the Merry out of Christmas?,” all three of which have more going on than this holiday bedroom ballad.

“Kitty Cats Christmas”/Leon Redbone. Before the world was baffled by Bob Dylan’s Christmas album, I was baffled by Leon Redbone’s. (It occurs to me, however, that bafflement is part of the reaction Redbone means to provoke. Dylan, too.) Christmas Island was released in 1987 and reissued in 2003 with “Kitty Cats Christmas” as a bonus track. Despite the presence of a children’s chorus, it’s not awful.

“The Christmas Song”/Vince Guaraldi Trio. If this song is heard anywhere in A Charlie Brown Christmas, I’ve missed it the first 44 times I’ve watched the show, but I promise to pay extra-close attention the 45th time, which may be as soon as tonight.

My Christmas Card to You”/Partridge Family. I must have known about the album A Partridge Family Christmas Card at its release in 1971, given that I was a fan of all things Partridge that year, yet I have no recollection of it. I would almost certainly have bought it if my brother didn’t, but he didn’t, and I didn’t. I recall being surprised to learn of it, which wasn’t until I saw it in a used bin at some point during the 1980s. (Did I buy it then? Hell and yes.) Partridge Family records were always heaped with sugar, but their Christmas album is especially sugary. If you’ve got a high tolerance for that sort of thing, “My Christmas Card to You” probably won’t hurt you.

“Swingin’ Silent Night”/Asleep at the Wheel. Lots of artists become paralyzed in the face of certain Christmas songs—afraid to mess with them and therefore, incapable of bringing anything new to them. The thing about “Silent Night” is that it’s both simple enough and beautiful enough to withstand new approaches, like the Western swing take of Asleep at the Wheel, recorded in 1997.

“Christmas Blues”/Canned Heat. Cut as a single sometime in the late 60s, “Christmas Blues” has appeared as a bonus track on a couple of different Canned Heat re-releases, and it’s been anthologized quite a bit. What hasn’t been anthologized quite so much is “Christmas Boogie,” which features a guest appearance by Alvin and the Chipmunks. I shit you not.

“O Holy Night”/Green Pajamas. The Green Pajamas are the living embodiment of indie: 20-some albums in 25 years and never a major-label deal. They cut their gorgeous version of “O Holy Night” in 2006, and it’s become a Christmas essential around my house.

“Christmas Time”/Jimmy McCracklin. Like Charles Brown, Jimmy McCracklin left the South (St. Louis, actually) for California after World War II and found his place in the blues scene out there. The only release date I can find for “Christmas Time” is 1961, but it sounds older than that.

“Little Drummer Boy”/Duke Pearson. From Merry Ole Soul, another of the classic Blue Note albums produced and engineered by Rudy Van Gelder, whose studio was actually in his house. The album is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and it would be a fine candidate for Blue Note’s ongoing series of remastered reissues. It’s a keeper.

“Swingin’ Silent Night”/Asleep at the Wheel (buy it here)
“O Holy Night”/Green Pajamas (I don’t know if you can get this or not; the band’s website is here)

Never Jump Into a Pile of Leaves With a Wet Sucker

It’s 50 years this week since Charles Schulz introduced the Great Pumpkin in his Peanuts comic strip, and it’s 43 years tonight since It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was first broadcast on CBS. Every time I watch the show, I wonder how much of it goes sailing over the heads not merely of today’s kids, but of their parents’, too.

“I don’t see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look around and there’s not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.” Never mind the vocabulary itself; today, placing such high stakes on sincerity versus hypocrisy seems about as quaint as worrying about the commercialization of Christmas, which is the point around which A Charlie Brown Christmas revolves.

There’s a lot to love about The Great Pumpkin—the early scenes featuring golden fall leaves are gorgeous, and all throughout the show the backgrounds are rich with shades of gray and purple. And of course, there’s the music. Like A Charlie Brown Christmas, the soundtrack features of Vince Guaraldi’s cool, contemporary jazz. The choice to score the Christmas special with jazz hadn’t pleased CBS when that special was first delivered, but its success ensured that all future specials would feature the same sort of thing.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was the third animated Peanuts special, following A Charlie Brown Christmas and the little-seen Charlie Brown’s All Stars, and like its two predecessors, it was among the highest-rated programs on television the week it aired—nearly 50 percent of the viewing audience watched the show that night. It won’t draw that kind of numbers when it’s rebroadcast on ABC tonightWednesday night, although it does well enough. If you plan to watch tonight, keep in mind that when the show was originally produced in 1966, it ran 25 minutes. The standard for commercial TV today is 21 or 22, and sometimes less in “children’s” programming, so you won’t be seeing the whole thing. According to Wikipedia, ABC once cut out the scene in which Lucy tries to get Charlie Brown to kick the football, one of the classic bits in the history of the Peanuts strip. That’s like trying to shorten “Stairway to Heaven” by taking out the guitar solo.

Recommended Reading: Speaking of holiday perennials, on Halloween night 1968, WKBW Radio in Buffalo broadcast a version of The War of the Worlds updated for the Top-4o era. They thought nobody would panic—but they were wrong. Also, at This Week in Rock History.

“The Great Pumpkin Waltz”/Vince Guaraldi (buy it here; buy It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown here)