Christmas songs are as big a part of the season as crowded shopping malls and spiked eggnog, but there are only so many times you can hear “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” without wanting to wretch just a little. Here are some suggestions for compiling a Yuletide playlist that perhaps isn’t quite so musty. Much of the music can be purchased or ordered locally at Guestroom Records, Size Records and the like.
Record Store Day (RSD) has become an audiophile’s Christmas since its inception in 2008, celebrating independently owned record stores with exclusive titles and limited-edition releases from everyone from The Beatles to Arcade Fire.
Old Billy Joel songs fit like a glove — a baseball glove, in the case of
“Live at Shea Stadium,” a recording of the Piano Man’s 2008 concerts at
the iconic New York stadium before it was destroyed the following year.
Knowing these were to be the final musical performances at the Shea, Joel pulls out all the stops, playing to the crowd like it’s one big party. So what if they’re a little slow to pick up on which hit the band tackles before exploding into gracious applause? At least they’re appreciative. Joel even toys with them playfully, breaking away from opening notes of “My Life” to burst out a quick rendition of “Yankee Doodle,” or seguing from the Tin Pan Alley classic “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” into his own “Piano Man.”
The two-disc lineup is heavy on early hits with workingman appeal, including “Allentown,” “Captain Jack” and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” His “Innocent Man” of the MTV era is represented only by minor hit “Keeping the Faith,” while his final albums get more play with “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (which is begging for a 20-year update), “Lullabye” and “The River of Dreams,” the latter of which connects with a cover of The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.”
Speaking of Beatles, one of them — Paul McCartney — joins Joel for a limp “I Saw Her Standing There” and the closing “Let It Be.” Other guest stars appear, too: Tony Bennett, Garth Brooks and John Mayer, none to great effect. Perhaps sensing gimmick overload, duets with John Mellencamp, The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler are contained only on the package’s bonus DVD.
Ballads like “She’s Always a Woman” and “Goodnight Saigon” deflate the atmosphere a little, but when Joel kicks into rock gear, we’re reminded of his pop songwriting genius. Much like Shea to Mets fans, you’re sorely missed, Bill. —Rod Lott