There should be a law, or at least one of those don't-wear-white-after-Labor-Day social dictums that prevents any human, no matter how merry he or she happens to be, from publicly playing Christmas music until... how about, December 15? Yeah, that sounds about right, giving those who love jingling and/or belling 10 full days of sugary music before the actual holiday.
The current acceptable practice is to begin pumping these glittery sounds through the speakers of stores, restaurants and car stereos about 15 minutes after Thanksgiving dinner has been completed. This is akin to playing "The Monster Mash" beginning in late September until the last mini-Snickers bar has been handed out.
Clearly, I subscribe to the "less Christmas music is better" school of thought and I would like to introduce some legislature to make that December 15 date legally binding, but that didn't stop me from listening to more than a week straight of holiday tunes, including a nerve-rattling three-hour radio session during an otherwise uneventful cross-Cascades car trip. The vast majority of it made me want to kick Santa Claus in his chubby, ruddy nards, but there were a nuggets of pleasure mixed in. Here are a few Christmas albums you should keep around so that you can have something to toss on the stereo should, for example, try to play that damn Mariah Carey record.
Christmas in the Heart by Bob Dylan
Scrolling through my digital music library the other day, I noticed a record I'd been given by a publicist, but never actually listened to - Christmas in the Heart by Bob Dylan. You're reading that correctly, Bob Dylan recorded a Christmas album in 2009 for reasons that continue to confound even the most diehard of Dylan disciples. During my weeklong foray into holiday music, this one stuck out to me, not because the mostly classic songs are arranged with any degree of originality (they really aren't), but because, well, this is Bob Dylan. "Little Drummer Boy" gets a classic Dylan treatment full of the low-register growl the patron saint of folk music has been using for the past couple of decades and it's weirdly awesome and actually a little on the haunting side. In fact, most of the tracks lack any sort of necessarily cheery vibe that gets pumped so heavily into most Christmas tunes. And again, it's Bob freaking Dylan.
Jingle all the Way by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
I've attended exactly one holiday concert in my adult life and it was last year's appearance in Bend by banjo wizard Bela Fleck and his band, the Flecktones. Before they arrived, I talked to him about his band's unlikely Christmas album. Here's what he said: "When we started making this album, we knew we weren't going to do a cheesy Christmas album. We looked for ways to make a record that our audience wouldn't think of as a cheese-ball thing." This quirky album features plenty of classics that Fleck and his band morphs into almost unrecognizable renditions that will probably piss off the less-adventurous folks at your Christmas party. But don't worry, that's their problem... you're the one just trying to play some pleasant holiday music.
A Charlie Brown Christmas by The Vince Guaraldi Trio
Hey, even I have a heart, OK? I've been a fan of this one since it used to spin on my parents JVC turntable with more frequency than any other album in their collection other than Thriller. Of course. Guaraldi's piano chops still have the ability to tug at the strings attached to my aforementioned heart and remind me of the best Christmas mornings of my childhood. The brilliance in his album is that it's largely instrumental, so we can forgo the hyperbolically happy lyrics we're inundated with during the holiday months.
A Very She and Him Christmas
Here's something about me: I think Portland producer M. Ward is one of the most innovative men in music and I believe Zooey Deschanel very well may be the most delightfully gorgeous (and talented) woman to ever hit the Earth. But when this pair - who record together as She & Him - put out a damn Christmas album, I was ready to jump ship. Then I heard Deschanel's old-timey voice crooning "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Silver Bells" and realized that this duo was built to make stuff like this.
Beach Boys' Christmas Album
A few years ago, my wife and I made a stop in a record store, as we're wont to do, and she informed me that she'd like to purchase some Christmas music. She picked out something from a guy I'd never heard of named Josh Groban (but have since seen on a hilarious episode of The Office) while I dug through the vinyl and found a beat-up copy of the Beach Boys' 1964 classic. I put this on late one night last week and was reminded of how special the Beach Boys were back in those golden days of the mid '60s. "Little Saint Nick" has now made its way back onto the very short short list of my holiday favorites.