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.
I am not a father. Nor do I harbor plans of becoming one anytime soon.
I’d like to spawn a kiddo sometime in the next eight or more years,
although the technicality of finding a lady nice enough to want to help
me out with that is kind of a wild-card factor. Makes such things
difficult to predict.
In the meantime, however, I’m already learning that I’ll likely come to embrace the kiddified pop culture that surrounds modern child rearing, thanks to thesethreeCDs
from the “Rockabye Baby!” crew, whose previous instrumental-only work has covered everybody from Smashing Pumpkins and Led Zeppelin to Björk and The Flaming Lips.
Most songs are as simple as a vibraphone melody accompanied by quirky, dreamy instrumentation (think lots of kalimbas, Fisher-Price pianos and those little, oblong, scratchy percussion things you fooled around with in elementary music class), and are as soothing as they are plentiful. Currently, 42 albums are listed on the website.
Without investing much effort, they’re a lot of fun to play Guess the Song to, even if you may want to modify that little game to How Quickly Can You Guess the Song, depending on whether or not you were a teenager in the 1980s. Being present for only two of those years, but raised on a steady diet of classic-rock radio, I tagged all but the more obscure hits by their melodies in a respectable amount of time. (I’m not sure if I’ve ever even listened to the original versions of “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” “I’ll Wait” or “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.”) I don’t think I’d make it into a party game, but it’s certainly a novelty worth sharing with friends.
I think what I like best about these albums is how they pare away everything about the music that doesn’t sound naive or somehow wondrous. The oddball tempos and changes in timing remain in “Hot for Teacher”; “Every Breath You Take”’s enchanting, hypnotic quality is somehow preserved despite the lack of bass; and the lyrical sleaze that characterized Def Leppard is completely forgotten.
“Rockabye Baby!” also earns serious points for not including a single Van Hagar song, ostensibly because even infants can tell that the band wasn’t worth listening to after “1984.”
To top it off, a frog croaks midway through “Roxanne,” right before where Sting would squelch, “I know my mind is made up!” which just about killed me, it was so cute.
So are these “Rockabye Baby!” albums convincing enough for me to stop by the adoption agency after work and pick out a little rugrat of my own? No, but I certainly am looking forward to listening to them while I cradle Eddie Van Halen Carney in my arms until he falls asleep someday.