TERRELL’S TUNE- UP
Yule tidings for yokels Trucks, trains, prison, Mama. And Christmas. These are some of the things that make a great country song. Indeed, some of my favorite Christmas songs happen to be by country or alternative country (whatever that is) artists. Country singers have loved singing about the holiday season for longer than I’ve been around. Some folks don’t realize that “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” started out as a hillbilly tune, written and first performed by a singing cowboy named Gene Autry.
Here is a list of my personal top 10 country Christmas songs, in no particular order. (Warning: As noted above, some are probably considered “alternative.”) Though none are as famous as “Rudolph,” in my book, they deserve to be. this song helped cement Merle Haggard’s reputation as a workingman’s troubadour. It’s the story of a guy who got laid off from his factory job right before Christmas. “Now I don’t mean to hate December, it’s meant to be the happy time of year/And my little girl don’t understand why Daddy can’t afford no Christmas here.” His situation, of course, doesn’t get resolved by the end of the song. But there’s hope that the family will be “in a warmer town come summertime.” 6. “Nothing But a Child” by Steve Earle. The late1980s duet with Maria McKee of Lone Justice starts out by telling the story of the three wise men following the star to the manger in Bethlehem: “They scarce believed their eyes, they’d come so many miles/And the miracle they prized was nothing but a child.” But this isn’t really a song about the baby Jesus. It’s about the miracle of all babies. “Now all around the world, in every Iittle town/Every day is the Holiday Inn/Is that the light from a stable I see?/ No, it’s a sign that says ` No Vacancy.’ ” The guitar break is based on “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” 8. “Six Bullets for Christmas” by Angry Johnny and the Killbillies. Even murderous cretins love Christmas, and from the deepest backwoods of Massachusetts comes Angry Johnny, with this twisted holiday tale. Angry knows all those things that make Christmas the most wonderful time of the year: Santa Claus, drinking, snow, depression, gunplay, jingle bells, and homicide. In other words, all the elements of a good Angry Johnny song — plus all the Christmas trimmings. “Six Bullets” is on Angry Johnny’s 2010 Christmas album, Bang Bang Baby Bang Bang Merry Christmas, which is full of similar Yuletide musical mayhem.