At the Murphy's Market not far from my house this past Sunday, I got to chatting with Noah there about rock music in general and he made the astute point that Christmas seems to be the only holiday that is also a music genre. Christmas music for some may sound like Bing Crosby or Johnny Mathis, or it may sound a bit more like muzak played in a department store without the balls of a backbeat to keep it going. Countless artists we love and cherish have recorded Christmas songs or even full albums (I've been told to stay away from Bob Dylan's). As I had the gall to recommend an unprovoked Thanksgiving playlist a few weeks ago, I had been thinking about a Christmas rock playlist that deviated from the tried and tested. So with my thanks to Noah for his recommendation to include Yes into this playlist, and without any further ado — and in no particular order due to laziness — here are some recommended songs for this Christmas holiday (sorry, Hanukkah!).
At the front of my mind was Jethro Tull's "Christmas Song." Now the title makes it an obvious choice — don't worry, I'll try and get to even more obscure choices soon enough — but the instrumentation of sleigh bells, mandolin and galloping snare drum make it a perfect backdrop to some rather nontraditional yuletide lyrics. While we're at it, Tull's "My God" should make an appearance later in the night's playlist. With some biting and sarcastic references to the Church of England, plastic crosses and the "God of nothing," perhaps wait until your mass-attending grandmother leaves for this one. Yes' "I've Seen All Good People" is a bit of hit your family will recognize. The organ and harmonies during the "Your Move" section are beautiful and give them just enough for a holiday inclusion. Let's stick in the prog-rock vein here for a while longer. There were a few Genesis songs that popped into my mind but I ended up settling on "Stagnation," a tale of desired salvation and inheriting a world to come. From the rock opera Tommy, The Who's "Christmas" reminds us that being different (not knowing who Jesus was or what praying is) does not preclude a deeper wisdom from within.
Lightening things up a bit here, we move along The Beatles' "Christmas Time is Here Again" which brings a smile. A fitting follow up would be John and Yoko/Plastic Ono Band's "Happy Christmas" which is that little bit of honey to our dream of togetherness (war is over if we want it). Although the song is about some young'uns beating on a shopping mall Santa, The Kinks' "Father Christmas" is a fun one and, if nothing else, reminds us that physically abusing hourly employees is no laughing matter. Thin Lizzy's "Whiskey in the Jar" sneaks its way into my playlist, although probably toward the end of the night. Songs dealing with the afterlife get into this playlist for perhaps no other reason than that. The Talking Heads declare in their song "Heaven" that nothing really happens there so let's focus on our time we're guaranteed now eh? This subject matter yields to a good segue with Queen's "Who Wants to Live Forever?" which we could perhaps follow up with Pink Floyd's "Absolutely Curtains." Although this could sound like the end of the night, we can bring things back to a bit of a classical/renaissance vibe with Deep Purple's "April," which, to me, always sounded much more wintery and dark than its title implies, and parts of it are easily imagined as being performed by Sir Robin's minstrels in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. John Lord's Hammond organ provides the thread to then reconnect with Floyd on "Atom Heart Mother," which could give your guests the hint that it's time to go. The Rolling Stones' "Winter" is a sublime track bringing things down to a gentler level and pairing well with Van Morrison's "Slim Slow Slider." I'll leave you with Neil Young's "Birds" for a kind look to the cold past and anticipation of a warmer tomorrow. We could all use a little warmth right now. (Editor's note: Andy has omitted "Fairy Tale of New York" by The Pogues and Stevie Wonder's "That's What Christmas Means to Me" because he thinks this is some kind of game.)
It's going to be a sparse weekend of music as we prepare to celebrate/observe/binge drink our way through Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and/or Festivus. If you want to get your pre-holiday party on, tonight's probably the night to get out there in that ugly-ass sweater of yours. The Mad River Brewery is hosting the String Chickens, a group of Humboldt State University alumni (many musicians up here are) who play fiddle songs and old timey tunes. I'm told their bass player also happens to play a pickle bucket bass. So there's that. As with most shows at the brewery, it's a 6 p.m. start, free and all ages. Also free and all ages, the accordion sounds of Squeezebug will be wafting through the enchanted forest of Cafe Mokka tonight at 8 p.m. Sit by the fire, sip some coffee, and listen to the frogs join in on the tunes. For something completely different (which the band names should tip you off), head to the Siren's Song Tavern in Eureka at the same time for some pre-Christmas metal. Locals Ghoulhand (darkwave soundscapes) and SoHum atmospheric black metal rockers Zelosis welcome fellow black metal-ers Void Omnia from Oakland. It's $5 for this metal fest and maybe leave the Xmas sweater at home (unless it's black and shredded up a bit).
Local heavy-hitters The Mojo Rockers are doing their thing at the Bear River Casino tonight 'round 9 p.m. If you've seen them before, you know they bring the blues, rock and funk to your earholes with some tasty covers thrown in for good measure. Dust off your mojo for this free show.
So you survived the holidays and called in sick to work yesterday — good on you. Now that you're feeling a bit rested and ready to get back out there, you can ease into it tonight up at the Mad River Brewery for some jazz courtesy of Blue Lotus Jazz, which will be starting at 6 p.m. and playing for free.
Didn't get enough jazz in last night at the Mad River Brewery? No sweat, you've got another chance tonight with the RLA Jazz trio. You know the drill, 6 p.m. and for free. Sip on a porter or a stout.
Full show listings in the Journal's Music and More grid, the Calendar and online. Bands and promoters, send your gig info, preferably with a high-res photo or two, to email@example.com.
Andy Powell is a congenital music lover and hosts The Night Show on KWPT 100.3 FM weeknights at 6 p.m. Bonus points for working Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis" in somewhere.