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Peg legs and chip­munks: the sounds of Christ­mas

Ten years ago this week, I wrote in this col­umn a list of my Top 10 fa­vorite Christ­mas songs, which may have been based on a pre­vi­ous ver­sion that was pub­lished about a decade be­fore that.

Ev­ery­one’s tastes change a lit­tle through the years, but look­ing over that list, I’ll stand by those se­lec­tions. I still play those songs at home and on my ra­dio shows ev­ery year.

But there is lots of great Christ­mas mu­sic

out there. So here’s a new list of my fa­vorite Christ­mas songs that I cher­ish al­most as much as the ones on the old list.

1. “Santa Doesn’t Cop Out on Dope” by

Sonic Youth. The band made up of Thurston Moore, Kim Gor­don, Lee Ranaldo, and Steve Shelley has never been known for its hu­mor. So it’s not go­ing out on much of a limb to declare that this is hands down the fun­ni­est song they ever recorded. It’s a Martin Mull tune, orig­i­nally recorded by the singer-comic in the mid-’70s as a par­ody of smug moral­ists try­ing to use “hep lingo” to rap to the youth about drugs and such. Sonic Youth adds a few lay­ers of ab­sur­dism, not to men­tion crazy noise.

2. “All For Glo­ria” by Elas­tica. This is a rock ’n’ roll reimag­in­ing of “Glo­ria in Ex­cel­sis Deo” by a pre­dom­i­nantly fe­male band that burned out way too quickly in the ’90s. The record­ing is from a John Peel BBC Christ­mas show, which ended up on an al­bum called Elas­tica: The Ra­dio

One Ses­sions. But I bet most Amer­i­can fans first heard it on Just Say Noël (on which it was called “Glo­ria”) — the same 1996 Gef­fen Christ­mas col­lec­tion that fea­tured the Sonic Youth song men­tioned above. On Ra­dio One, Elas­tica also does a pretty cool ver­sion of “We Three Kings” called “I Wanna Be a King of Ori­ent Aah.”

3. “Must Be Santa” by Brave Combo. Bob Dylan took Combo’s crazy pumped-up polka ar­range­ment of this old kid­die song for his Christ­mas al­bum last year (and made a hi­lar­i­ous video that was an in­ter­net sen­sa­tion). I like the orig­i­nal bet­ter.

4. “White Christ­mas” by Otis Red­ding. No­body should have even at­tempted to sing this Christ­mas ch­est­nut af­ter Red­ding worked it over. Like he did with prac­ti­cally ev­ery­thing he ever recorded, the man just sang his guts out.

5. “Eg­gnog” by The Rockin’ Guys. The Guys are a punk band from Con­way, Arkansas, which I never would have dis­cov­ered ex­cept for the good­will of a for­mer col­league who’s an Arkie ex­pat. The song is a ten­der rem­i­nis­cence of the singer’s “poor old peg-leg pappy” and how the fam­ily would get to­gether at Christ­mas and “dec­o­rate his stump.”

6. “Blue Christ­mas Lights” by Chris Hill­man & Herb Ped­er­sen. Buck Owens co-wrote and recorded this sad Yule­tide honky-tonker. But Hill­man & Ped­er­sen, who cov­ered it in the ’90s, make it haunt­ing with their har­monies.

7. “Christ­mas in the Trenches” by John McCutcheon. This is a touch­ing bal­lad about the fa­mous 1914 Christ­mas truce dur­ing World War I. Bri­tish and Ger­man troops spon­ta­neously laid down their arms to sings carols and cel­e­brate the hol­i­day be­fore get­ting back to the se­ri­ous work of killing one an­other the next day.

8. “Can Man Christ­mas” by Joe West with Mike “The Can Man” Bur­ney. Bur­ney — who col­lects alu­minum cans around the Lone Butte area for re­cy­cling — nar­rates a cou­ple of anec­dotes in­volv­ing his Santa Claus suit as West and his band play a slow, sad melody.

9. “Star of Won­der” by The Roches. Unac­com­pa­nied, sis­ters Mag­gie, Suzzy, and Terre sing oth­er­wordly har­monies on this tune writ­ten by Terre.

10. “Christ­mas Boo­gie” by Canned Heat with Alvin & The Chip­munks. Yes, a meld­ing of two great bands. Gui­tarist Henry “The Sun­flower” Ves­tine is amaz­ing, even in a weird nov­elty like this. And Bobby “The Bear” Hite learns not to call chip­munks “mice.”

In the spirit of Christ­mas re­cy­cling, here’s my De­cem­ber 2000 Christ­mas Top 10.

1. “Lit­tle Drum­mer Boy” by Joan Jett and the Black­hearts. Jett wasn’t the first rocker to do this song. Re­mem­ber David Bowie’s duet with

Bing Crosby? I don’t think Der Bin­gle would have at­tempted this ver­sion.

2. “Merry Christ­mas From the Fam­ily” by Robert Earl Keen. A lov­able if some­what dys­func­tional fam­ily — with all its ad­dic­tions, prej­u­dices, and stepchil­dren — sits down for a hi­lar­i­ous Yule­tide feast.

3. “Fairy­tale of New York” by The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl. A saga of a love gone wrong: a boozy Ir­ish im­mi­grant lands in the drunk tank, haunted by the curses of his fed-up wife (“Merry Christ­mas, my ass. I pray God its our last!”) and the carols of a po­lice choir.

4. “We Three Kings of Ori­ent Are” by The Beach Boys. The Beach Boys’ Christ­mas

Al­bum, recorded in the early 1960s, con­tains some raw dreck, but the boys’ trade­mark har­monies on this tune are near-mys­ti­cal.

5. “Old Toy Trains” by Roger Miller. This song, writ­ten for his son Dean, who was a tod­dler at the time, is a rare pub­lic glimpse of Miller’s sweet side.

6. “2,000 Miles” by The Pre­tenders. The grand fi­nale to Learn­ing to Crawl, the group’s last great al­bum, “2,000 Miles” is a sad but beau­ti­ful win­ter song.

7. “Fa­ther Christ­mas” by The Kinks. Santa, bring me some class war­fare!

8. “Santa Can’t Stay” by Dwight Yoakam. On one level this tune is hi­lar­i­ous: a drunken fa­ther dons a Santa suit and barges in on Mama and her new beau as the mys­ti­fied chil­dren look on. But any di­vorced guy who can re­mem­ber his first Christ­mas af­ter the split-up can’t help but feel pangs of horror lis­ten­ing to this.

9. “Merry Christ­mas Baby” by Elvis Pres­ley. “Blue Christ­mas” is much bet­ter known, but this is Elvis at his bluesy best.

10. “The Chipmunk Song” by David Seville and The Chip­munks. Dang, I can ac­tu­ally re­mem­ber when this first came out one Christ­mas sea­son in the late 1950s. It was the very first sin­gle by Alvin and his broth­ers, and it has a cer­tain youth­ful in­no­cence lack­ing in the group’s later work. Af­ter all, this was when The Chip­munks were young and hun­gry — be­fore they sold out.

▼ The Steve Ter­rell Christ­mas Spe­cial: Hear a bunch of these songs and so much more at 10 p.m. to mid­night Sun­day, Dec. 19, on KSFR-FM, 101.1 FM.

▼ En­chi­ladas roast­ing on an open fire: More mu­sic to ruin any Christ­mas party! Hear my pod­cast Christ­mas spe­cial at www.bi­gen­chi­ladapod­cast.com. ◀

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