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By Chris Moore:
It’s official: the Christmas season is upon us yet again! I, for one, found it difficult to concentrate on the work I brought home this weekend, choosing instead to listen to Christmas music — specifically that on Bob Dylan’s new 2009 holiday album Christmas in the Heart (see my review here!) — and playing some of my favorite seasonal songs on acoustic guitar. One of my new favorites is a song written by Hal Moore and Bill Fredricks titled “Must Be Santa.”
Now, before you get too excited, I should begin by making it very clear that tonight I am covering Bob Dylan’s rendition of “Must Be Santa” and NOT the performance “popularized” by Mr. Music and the Cool Kids Chorus.
Please don’t be disappointed…
Seriously, though, if you would like to hear that rocking version, you’ll just have to download it for yourself. Or the versions by Mitch Miller, Raffi, Point Sebago Resort, Glen Burtnik, Miss Lisa, Miss Molly, The Friel Brothers, The Angel Choir, The Holly Players Orchestra, The Hit Crew, Mary Lambert, Bob McGrath, Kids Sing’n, the Pokemon Christmas Bash band, or Lorne Greene with the Jimmy Joyce Children’s Choir — good luck finding that last one.
If you’re craving a good polka, then don’t miss out on the Brave Combo version (which, ironically, is the closest in style and arrangement to Dylan’s).
And who could forget the Kids Rap’n the Christmas Hits version?
These cover songs range from boring to funny to vomit-inducing and back again. This brings me to the Bob Dylan version, which is a breath of fresh air when played beside these other covers. Dylan’s “Must Be Santa” is a frantic, polka-inspired three minutes of Christmas spirit, accordions, and bright choral vocals built up around Dylan’s gruff lead. Recorded nearly half a century after Mitch Miller first recorded the song in 1961, it is interesting to see how our image of Santa and the general sound and style of Christmas music (i.e. both sets of chord changes as the song progresses a la so many other seasonal favorites) really haven’t changed much in all this time.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Dylan’s album — and his recent work in general — is an homage to a simpler time in American popular music.
That is perhaps why Dylan’s new album, time-ravaged vocals and all, has slipped in so quickly among my favorite Christmas albums of all time. Although it was recorded earlier this year, there is a sense of nostalgia and even timelessness in each of its tracks. Somehow, he has managed to record the songs in a style that seems very natural from his current studio band. Indeed, Dylan has seemingly reached further and further into the past for the styles of his past several albums. In this sense, 2009 was the ideal year for him to record an album of traditional favorites and holiday songs from earlier in the century.
I don’t think any music will ever usurp the positions that The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album and the Moody Blues’ December currently hold in my heart. The Barenaked Ladies’ Barenaked for the Holidays, Brian Wilson’s What I Really Want For Christmas, and America’s Harmony are certainly the next runners up. Some of my attachment to this music is admittedly due to my own personal memories, such as listening to the Beach Boys each year as my family decorated the tree and attending a Moody Blues Christmas concert with two of my dearest friends several years ago. That being said, there is also a universal element to the music on these records that I can’t imagine any fan of rock music being able to deny. Somehow, these aforementioned bands have managed to incorporate religious hymns, classic rock Christmas songs, and originals into unified works that I look forward to dusting off each and every year.
For now, I’m wading into the music of season via this new Dylan album. After all, this is the punchline of a joke I’ve been making for as many years as I’ve loved Bob Dylan — “Imagine if Dylan recorded a Christmas album!” My friends and I would laugh, but I was always privately jealous that their favorite bands — the Beach Boys, the Moody Blues, etc. — had recorded Christmas albums or at least a Christmas song or two.
Now, I have my secret wish, and I couldn’t be happier!
Yes, Dylan’s voice is rugged, and truth be told, I was a bit hesitant to embrace this album when I gave it one listen upon its release a month ago. However, it only took a second listen for me to get hooked.
Whatever music you may enjoy listening to at this time of the year, I hope you’re enjoying it, and I hope you’ll come back throughout the week for Jim’s music video tomorrow, a guest session(!) on Friday, and another installment of Weekend Review.
See you next session!