tAKE #1: For 2020
reviewed by NADJA DEE
WARNING: SOME VIDEOS & TEXT MAY CONTAIN PROFAINITY NSFW
KEY to thESE SONGS
(Hint: The closer to center white, the more Power Pop)
No (few) genre buttons will appear on this review as these selected songs run the gamut from Power Pop to Traditional with other genres thrown in for good tidings. Most of them are Power Pop-ish, but they're all Holiday songs which puts them in their own category.
Don't let genres get your Christmas stockings in a bunch!
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It's 2020 and although it's been one Polar Bear of a year, so many musicians have been busy, using the downtime to write, record and publish music. The events of 2020 may have put a stop to most of the world, but it certainly afforded artists time to experiment and pump out new music.
This review will attempt to include some of the new Christmas songs as well as focus on some older, non-denominational, holiday song favorites. You won't be reading about Bing Crosby's White Christmas here, or Roger Whittaker's classic Christmas album. Nope, sorry, there's plenty of that music out there in the world already. (Just do a search for Christmas music, or religious Christmas music, if that's your thing.)
And, here's a big warning: There's no way to include ALL of the Christmas/Holiday songs on here. It's just not possible, there's not enough hours in the day, hence this is Take #1. So, if your band has a Christmas song, it's probably NOT included here. I did my best, but it's just a starting list of some of the ones we like to spin during the holidays.
This review is going to focus on our favorite holiday songs, silly songs, Power Pop Christmas songs and some not very Power Pop holiday songs but ones we love.
Sure, we could start off with the Beatles Christmas songs, you know those Christmas albums that they sent out if you were lucky enough to be a member of their official fan club (I wasn't, didn't even know it existed till it was too late), and of course the Beatles solo Christmas songs. Even after The Beatles broke up, every single Beatle (solo) had a Christmas song, or even a whole album of holiday tunes.
Christmas Time (Is Here Again) by The Beatles
Happy X-Mas (War Is Over) by John Lennon and Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band
Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reggae by Paul McCartney
Ding Dong, Ding Dong by George Harrison
I Wanna Be Santa Claus Album by Ringo Starr
I know that there's a lot of disdain for Paul McCartney's Wonderful Christmastime. I don't need a Venn diagram to understand why, I get it. It's a simple tune, with a lot of repetition, I mean a lot of repetition, a lot of repetition, a lot...just kidding. It could be that in 1979, with The Beatles broken up, maybe Paul and Linda really were just simply having a wonderful Christmastime, simply having a wonderful Christmastime, simply having....again KIDDING!
I like the song. It's no more repetitious than The Three Wise Men's (-aka- XTC) Thanks For Christmas song.
And although, Wonderful Christmastime is often spoken about with vitriol, I prefer to think of another Christmas song of his, Pipes Of Peace, from the 1983 Pipes Of Peace album.
You may be thinking, "Wait, that's not a Christmas song!" But, hang on, don't fire at me, let me explain. You see the song is based on the famous "Christmas truce of 1914." You see, on December 7, 1914 Pope Benedict XV called for a temporary hiatus between Germany and England, in honor of Christmas. The warring countries refused to comply, but then a miracle happened, and it happened on Christmas morning.
Just as dawn was breaking, the troops themselves decided to stop fighting. There was singing and caroling from both sides, plus many heard the sound of brass bands joining in the songs. It was said that it was the German side who braved the trenches first, walking across the center area, known as "No Man's Land." The English side, at first, thought it was a trap, but when they heard "Merry Christmas," spoken by the Germans in English, and were visibly unarmed, they too braved out of their trenches like reluctant groundhogs looking for their shadow. Turns out it wasn't a trick but a gesture of peace and harmony.
Thanks For Christmas
(XTC as The Three Wise Men)
…and the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame,
and on each end of the rifle we’re the same”
— John McCutcheon, “Christmas in the Trenches”
It was this famous story that Paul McCartney based his song, Pipes Of Peace, upon and I think of it as a lovely Christmas song, much better than the much lambasted Wonderful Christmastime. A song that I like but I understand the hatred too, it's the epitome of a divisive song.
But, let's get to the Power Pop Christmas songs.
I have a confession, I'm not a fan of Christmas. I'm certainly no Grinch and I do not wish to steal anyone's Christmas. When you work retail, and when you've seen the worst that Christmas, the greed of the consumer and the anger, aggression and awfulness that the holiday season can bring out in others, then you start to lose love of this stressful season. For retail workers, like me, I've seen fistfights over items and I saw a couple break up over a Beanie Baby.
It was 1998 and I was working at the University bookstore, and we were about to open to sell the new Beanie Baby plushie to the public. Back then, Beanie Baby's were HUGE! People would wait in line to purchase the new ones, like they do today for the newest X-Box. Yes, for a stuffed animal!
Well, this young couple had been waiting in line until we opened to get their hands on the new ones. The doors open and the female in the couple rushes in and makes a beeline for the Beanie Babies. She picks one out and hands it to your boyfriend, and continues shopping. The next thing I hear is the couple fighting, very loudly, the girl is furious at her boyfriend. Turns out, while holding her precious Beanie Baby, he had inadvertently opened the cardboard heart tag to read the details about this animal. This is Ground Control to MAJOR MISTAKE!! Apparently, these items are considered financial investments and by (un)creasing the tag, he has now "devalued" the toy. Yup, you got that right. Just by reading the tag, opening up the cardboard, he has scratched her new Lamborghini. She read him the riot act and words were exchanged and I believe they broke up right then and there.
I say good riddance buddy. You probably just saved yourself from a lifetime of hurt. Today, Beanie Babies are not worth very much and you can find many of them in the discard bins at your local Thrift Store. I think people buy them mostly as dog toys today.
So, yeah, I'm not fond of Christmas. It's much like surgery, I just need to get through it. That's not to say that I agree with Eric Idle's Christmas song, F**K! Christmas.
But, I do like a good, non-religious holiday song. I think when a lot of people hear that a person dislikes Christmas, they immediately think of The Grinch, Ebenezer Scrooge or at least Duck McScrooge. It's not like that at all. Just like some people don't understand the love of Halloween, I didn't get the gene that likes Christmas. After my family disowned me, I was never allowed to join their big family Christmas get togethers. My best friend actually HATES CHRISTMAS, with a red hot passion. Part of it is that she lost her Grandmother at Christmastime. That sort of thing changes a holiday for us.
I like the break, after Christmas gives us front line workers, the downtime. I like the slower pace that the season affords us at home. I like the pretty lights. I don't like the holiday guilt, I don't like the expense, I don't care for the pressure of buying gifts, the expectation of gift giving or receiving. Plus, not everyone celebrates Christmas. There's many different beliefs around the world:
Chinese New Year
St. Nicholas day
St. Lucia's Day
Dia de los Muertos
Chung Yeung Festival
and don't forget Festivus for the Restivus!
With all of that said, we celebrate a Nightmare Before Christmas type of Christmas. I have a black tree with purple lights that I love. There's a scene in the movie, where all the members of Halloween Town try to make Christmas decorations and everything they try to make turns out looking like spooky Christmas. I love that. Not red and green but purple and black. Not paper snowflakes but paper spider webs. That's the sort of Creepmas I love.
I felt like it was important to start this Power Pop Christmas with the song Power Pop Santa by legendary Power Pop Punkers, The Pointed Sticks.
Power Pop Santa is a fun way to start this review, since it mixes Power Pop and Christmas all together, in an extremely Power Pop song. (Watch your toes because the name dropping is heavy). The Pointed Sticks, from Vancouver BC (Really close to us!) also released a 2nd Christmas song on the same 7"called X-Mas Time Again.
Which brings us to the first favorite Power Pop Christmas song.
X-Mas Time Again
(The Pointed Sticks)
Pipes Of Peace (Paul McCartney)
F**K! Christmas (Eric Idle)
Jack Skellington tries his hand at paper snowflakes
Power Pop Santa (Pointed Sticks)
SONG #1: My favorite Power Pop Christmas song is "I Want An Alien For Christmas," by Fountains of Wayne. It also happens to be writer Steven King's favorite Christmas song too and starts his personal holiday playlist.
I Want An Alien For Christmas
(Fountains Of Wayne)
I miss Adam Schlesinger.
Fountains of Wayne also released another Christmas song on the Fountains of Wayne Christmas single, The Man In The Santa Suit. It's a fun, yet sad song about a man who works as a Mall Santa and gets teased by kids who think he looks like Jerry Garcia. I still prefer the alien song more.
SONG #2: The 2nd Power Pop Christmas song is A Christmas Toast by The Wellingtons from Melbourne, Australia. If a Christmas Toast is like cookies, then I Want An Alien For Christmas is the milk. Even the Wellington's lyrics mention Fountains Of Wayne.
You fell in love with the boy from overseas
And it wouldn't be long till you packed up to leave
Because you both listen to Fountains Of Wayne
And the way you felt was never gonna change
The song was released on The Wellington's Christmas Cheer EP (2013) and contains several other excellent Christmas tracks. A Christmas Toast is so good that it could almost be a lost Fountains Of Wayne song.
SONG #3: I love this song by Michael Penn and Aimee Mann called Christmastime, it's one of the only duets the couple has recorded together (They've also recorded covers of The Beatle's Two Of Us, and The Beach Boys I Just Wasn't Made For These Times).
On a side note, there's too many songs with the term "Christmastime" in the title. Can't we come up with other takes on this word, even if it's just making it a slightly different title? From Christmas Time Is Here Again (Peanuts Vince Guaraldi), Christmas Time (Is Here Again) (The Beatles), Do They Know It's Christmastime? (Band Aid), (Because) It's Christmastime (Chicago), It's Christmas Time (Dana Countryman), to Wonderful Christmastime (Paul McCartney). At least the three songs on the new Big Stir Singles: The Yuletide Wave new album have three songs with the word(s) "Christmastime/Christmas Time" in it. The Brothers Steve released a song with the word Christmastime in it, but they titled their song I Love The Christmastime, as did The Stillsouls with Wasting All Her Christmas Time. See, it's different enough to know it's now just another cover of The Christmastime song(s). Though I have to admit I thought It's Christmas Time Again by The Forty Nineteens was also a cover because the title is so close to those other songs.
It's just a fun, silly song about wanting an alien for Christmas. The lyrics are fantastic, immediately sing-a-long-able and it's an infectious tune.
I don't need any ugly sweaters
And I don't play much basketball
But there's something kinda special
That I want most of all
I want an alien for Christmas
Bring me an alien this year
I want a little green guy
About three feet high
With seventeen eyes
Who knows how to fly
I want an alien for Christmas this year
I'll always keep him company
He'll never be alone
And we can hang around the house all day
And watch the Twilight Zone
A Christmas Toast (The Wellingtons)
With the popularity of Baby Yoda from The Mandalorian, I bet a lot
of kids are getting an alien for Christmas this year!
Aimee Mann's Christmas album
One More Drifter In The Snow (2006)
(Michael Penn & Aimee Mann)
Power Pop Christmas Song #3 has to go to Christmas Time by Michael Penn and Aimee Mann. It's a Power Pop song in spirit, though it's softer and uses acoustic guitars. It's rich in the flavors of Power Pop, because Michael Penn bleeds melodic Power Pop songs in his talented veins.
If you didn't already know, they're married. A Hollywood, celebrity couple that's been married for 22 years and they can write and perform together and still remain happily married. There's your Christmas miracle folks.
Michael Penn & Aimee Mann
If the photo looks familiar, it should. It's from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan album
Aimee Mann and Ted Leo released a few Christmas songs together as The Both, which are worth mentioning. One is Nothing Left To Do (Let's Make This Christmas Blue), but my favorite song they did together is called The Gift.
SONG #4: I was lucky enough to be at an Aimee Mann concert when Sean Nelson debuted my Power Pop Christmas Song #4, Sometimes You Have To Work On Christmas to the audience. He made a joke about every Christmas song uses sleigh bells, that's how you know it's a Christmas song. I knew immediately that I loved the song, especially since I had to work on Christmas that very year.
I think Harvey Danger is one of those great bands that never got a fair shake. Sure, their song Flagpole Sitta got them noticed but some bad PR and decisions quickly made them fall off the college radar circuit as soon as they rose. Sean Nelson is obviously beloved by all the great Power Pop musicians that have our respect. It's not uncommon to see Sean Nelson hop on stage during a Michael Penn, Posies or Teenage Fanclub show. He seems to know everyone and they all respect him. I think he's a brilliant singer-songwriter and this Christmas song is a great example of his talent.
They also did Christmas shows
in support of it
You're A Gift
(Aimee Mann & Ted Leo)
Sometimes You Have To Work On Christmas (Sometimes)
SONG #5: Power Pop Christmas Song #5 is Give Me A Second Chance For Christmas by Mike Viola and The Candy Butchers. It's just more Mike Viola Power Pop goodness, the same quality that you hear in That Thing You Do! (Singing of course) and all Mike Viola's solo and Candy Butchers tunes.
Give Me A Second Chance For Christmas (Mike Viola & The Candy Butchers)
The thing about a Mike Viola song, is that it's always good. It's like an Adam Schlesinger song in a way, great melody, great singing and memorable. He also did this great song called Here We Go, It's Christmastime.
SONG #6: There's this great compilation from 2013, called Yuletunes: A Collection of Alternative Pop Christmas Songs. A Legendary Power Pop band Shoes put out our pick for Power Pop Christmas Song #6, This Christmas, on the collection.
This Christmas (Shoes)
Here We Go, It's Christmastime (Mike Viola)
The Yuletunes collection has many great Power Pop artists:
and Shoes plus more!
Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight)
This list has to include a Power Pop or Punk Christmas song that's just about everybody's favorite, I'm talking about our pick for Song #7: Joey Ramones' Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight).
The official video of the song makes me miss them so much.
Song #8 is Kids Come Back Again At Christmas by Power Pop darlings, Sloan. It was released as a Christmas single in 2016.
The flip side of this Christmas single is December 25, another great Christmas song by Sloan.
Song #9 is a song that's in the keyboards part of Power Pop. Softer Power Pop for sure, like some of the songs by Eric Barao, Tiny Volcano and The Lickerish Quartet, but it's a beauty. It's Santa Don't Go by Farrah.
It was released as part of a 2008 holiday compilation called Christmas Present, which contains The Wellington's I Guess It's Christmas.
Kids Come Back Again At Christmas (Sloan)
from Sawyer Sessions Live
December 25 (Sloan)
Santa Don't Go (Farrah)
The 10th Power Pop Christmas Song that completes our list is from The Monkees Christmas Party album from 2018. It's a potpourri of Christmas Power Pop and classic Christmas songs. The original songs range from Power Pop royalty like: Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Peter Buck (REM), Andy Partridge (XTC), Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, The Minus 5) and our 10th Favorite Power Pop Christmas Song House Of Broken Gingerbread by author Michael Chabon and Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne, Tinted Windows, Ivy).
House Of Broken Gingerbread
(The Monkees, Written by Michael Chabon & Adam Schlesinger)
The album was released after the passing of Davy Jones, but prior to losing Peter Tork. It was also Co-Produced by Adam Schlesinger who turned everything he touched into Power Pop gold. I know for some folks, the album was too bubblegum, too syrupy sweet for some tastes, but I love it. It's certainly more bubblegum rock than Power Pop, yet some of those songs have become Christmas staples in our house and I sure it is in yours too.
The Monkees Christmas Party Ad
There's quite a few Christmas Compilations out there, enough to fill your Christmas stockings, but one that you have to get this year is from Big Stir Records called The Yuletide Wave.
The Yuletide Wave and it's jam packed with TWENTY FIVE tracks, one for each December Day leading up to Christmas. It's kind of like a musical advent calendar!
This album is filled with original, fun Christmas and Holiday songs. One of our favorites is the super Power Pop tune I Love The Christmastime by The Brothers Steve.
And there's two tracks from Kai Danzberg, a track from 2018 which has already made it's way to annual Christmas playlist. The happy tune, If Santa, is a song about if Santa was a girl that he liked and of course we love gender play.
Kai also collaborated with the amazing Scott McPherson (Liar's Club, Tiny Volcano, McPherson/Grant) for the trippy, holiday song The Day Before Christmas.
Seattle girl, Irene Peña contributes a full on, surf rock, peppy Christmas song about a sad, but common subject matter, heartbreak and love.
One of my personal favorite songs isn't a Power Pop song at all. It's a ukulele song called All I Want For Chanukah Is A Ukulele by Alison Faith Levy. Like George Harrison, I love the ukulele and I own 8 of them, plus I've taught ukulele to many students. George Harrison said it best, "Everyone I know who is into the ukulele is 'crackers,' and he's 100% right!
I Love The Christmastime
(The Brothers Steve)
If Santa (Kai Danzberg)
The Day Before Christmas
(Kai Danzberg & Scott McPherson)
Will You Turn Up (For Christmas)
Actual hand written George Harrison letter
All I Want For Chanukah Is A Ukulele
(Alison Faith Levy w/Karla Kane)
This adorable song about Chanukah also features Karla Kane (The Corner Laughers) which is a perfect match for Alison Faith Levy. I hope they put out more music together, it would be amongst my favorite ukulele/guitar female duos like The Ditty Bops, Garfunkel and Oates or even The Girls Guitar Club.
There's great songs from Dolph Chaney Jingle Bells (A near perfect take on Van Halen's Panama), a Monty Python feeling Christmas song Revels Without A Claus by Spygenius and a fifties rock number All I Want Is You For Christmas by Kimberley Rew & Lee Cave-Berry that will have all your guests up on their feet.
I gotta give props to Nick Frater for blending the horror that is 2020 with Christmas in the song, Wash Your Hands Of Christmas, which warns Santa to wash his hands and not to super spread his "Christmas Cheer." Eww! Good advice for everyone if they want to have a SAFE an Merry Christmas.
Riki Lindhome (Garfunkel) and Kate Micucci
Amanda Barnett and Abby DeWald
are The Ditty Bops
A Roy Wood inspired music video by Nick Frater
Pop Garden Radio (Adam Waltemire) released a compilation of artists covering one song, Jingle Bells. That's right, just Jingle Bells, a song written by James Lord Pierpont in 1857. Did you know the song wasn't originally called Jingle Bells? Nope. It was titled One Horse Open Sleigh.
Just the one song, over and over, you ask? Yes, but they allowed each of the artists to record their own versions of the song, in any style of their choosing. Many of the artists on this compilation are recognizable names: Kai Danzberg, Blake Jones and Trike Shop, Ken Sharp, Marshall Holland, Rick Hromadka, Dolph Chaney and Lisa Mychols and Super 8 to list a few.
So, with that many musicians, given reign to choose their own style, the album is a lot of fun and never gets boring.
The other nice thing is that proceeds from the album are being donated to Access Charter School, a school for autism spectrum disorder folks from 11-22, in Orlando, Florida.
Another Power Pop Christmas Compilation to check out is Japan based, The Power Pop Academy Christmas albums: This Christmas Time Volumes 1-4 have many great Christmas songs that range from Power Pop to WTH was that?
Artwork: Marshall Holland
One of my favorite artists, Lisa Mychols, has released a whole lot of Christmas music, lately, she releases Christmas & Halloween tunes every year. Back in 2007, she released an album of Christmas music with The Wondermints called Lost Winter's Dream.
In 2016 she sang lead on a cover of I'll Be Home For Christmas by The Fabulous Playground Family
She also had the song In Love With Love (Winter Song) which although being released around Halloween, was very much a Christmas song. It was part of the Christmas Without Cancer Compilation by Vandalay Records.
And in 2017 Christmas EP Winter Is Here is jam packed with wonderful Christmas songs.
And last year released Ringing Bells On Christmas Day.
But don't think she's slowing down any this year. In addition to her 2020 releases, the album of the summer Lisa Mychols & Super 8, plus her Halloween songs Bones & Trap Door, she's also launched her Christmas 2020 songs, Little Bird (Lisa Mychols & Super 8) and the appropriately titled Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day a cover of a Brenda Lee song.
Winter's Colder (When You're Gone)
I Just Want A New Song For Christmas
The Brixton Riot has a few awesome Christmas songs, they released Winter's Colder (When You're Gone) in 2018, and then I Just Want A New Song For Christmas and 100,000 Christmas Lights in 2019...and guess what? Although they're on the POWER end of Power Pop, they're all completely safe to play at work! A Christmas miracle indeed. Plus, they're available on Bandcamp at Name Your Price.
Winter Is Here (Lisa Mychols)
In Love With Love (Winter Song)
Ringing Bells On Christmas Day (Lisa Mychols)
Little Bird (Lisa Mychols & Super 8)
Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day (Lisa Mychols)
My Favorite Kind Of Gift (Dear Stella)
Written by Stefanie Drexler and Joel Pack
Nobody can say that Lisa Mychols isn't a busy girl!
There's a few Christmas songs that are favorites yet they don't fall in the center of Power Pop circle. However, they're worth a mention:
Starting with an original Christmas song by Dear Stella's Stefanie Drexler, My Favorite Kind Of Gift (Christmas Song). It's a song from 2016 and it's smooth and fun.
I once made a 4 CD Christmakkuh "Mix tape" called Don't Trad On Me, consisting of non-traditional Christmas songs and gifted it to my co-workers. I even designed the cover art. I broke the songs up as:
Discs 1 & 2 had some of the songs I've already mentioned here. Disc 3: Milk & Cookies was made of songs that were extremely family friendly, feel good songs, songs that you could safely play in the store. Disc 4: Rated X-Mas was made up of songs that were not safe for work.
A song like My Favorite Kind Of Gift (Christmas Song) by Dear Stella would have been put on Disc 3: Milk & Cookies. Once again, it's Stefanie Drexler doing what comes naturally to her, writing top notch, family friendly songs that would be right at home on any Disney soundtrack. (In fact, why aren't they? C'mon Disney...what are you waiting for? Give the girl some money!)
I realize, there's still a whole bunch of Power Pop Christmas songs to go over, but maybe at a later time, that's why this is only Take #1! Please don't email me and say hey you left off The Kinks Father Christmas, The Smithereens Waking Up On Christmas Morning, Big Star's Jesus Christ, The db's Holiday Spirit, Graham Parker's Still Got My Faith, The Grip Weed's Christmas Dream, Hanson's Finally It's Christmas, Jet's Back Door Santa, Mimi Betinis A Christmas Song, The Mockers (What's A Better Present) At Christmastime, Spongetones Christmas Boy, Strawberry Whiplash Santa Needs A Holiday, Vegas With Randolph's Snow Day, or any other song you think should have made it here! I'm sorry, it wasn't personal.
Don't Trad On Me
Disc 1: Power Pop
Disc 2: More Pop Rock
Disc 3: Milk & Cookies
Disc 4: Rated X-Mas (NSFW)
I do have a day job too!
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DISCLAIMER: HOP ON POWER POP doesn't give stars, a grade or any sort of quantifiable rating. What HOP ON POWER POP does is let you know what H.O.P.P. thought of the music by the band at this particular time. If an album isn't to our liking or fitting into the Power Pop genre enough, we simply won't review it.
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