Humming Along with the Holidays
Some suggestions for holiday tunes, some with queer spice. Includes holiday faves from people you know. Plus Sandra Bernhard gets moody, and JD Doyle gets festive. EXPANDED FOR THE WEB
In the Tuneful Spirit (folks you know talk about songs that put them in the mood)
JD Doyle’s Queer Music Heritage holiday radio show
Have you ever been to a holiday party where the music was so lame you wanted to run screaming from the room? Did you ever wish that you could load up your iPod with the coolest new holiday tunes and share them with your hosts and the other party guests? Here are a few suggestions for holiday music, most with queer spice, for a variety of tastes:
“(Christmas) Baby Please Come Home,” Darlene Love’s early 1960s holiday hit, remains the cornerstone for all rock-and-roll carols that followed. The combination of Love’s stunning vocals and stellar production by the currently not-convicted Phil Spector are simply hard to beat. Love, who turns 70 next year, is still in good voice on her new CD, It’s Christmas, Of Course (Shout! Factory). Some 40 years have passed since she recorded “(Christmas) Baby Please Come Home,” and there is a considerable pool of more recent material from which to choose. Among her best choices on the album are her interpretations of Tom Petty’s “Christmas All Over Again,” NRBQ’s “Christmas Wish,” James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” the Pretenders’ “2000 Miles,” Billy Squier’s “Christmas Is the Time to Say ‘I Love You, ‘ ” and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” featuring guest vocals by Cissy Houston. A new track, “Night of Peace,” was co-written by frequent Cyndi Lauper collaborator Jan Pulsford.
Speaking of the Lennon/Ono classic, which has become a holiday staple, Celine Dion includes a cover version of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” on the expanded reissue of These Are Special Times (Columbia/CMV/Legacy). The remastered 16-track CD showcases Dion’s trademark belting on traditional selections as well as other newer tunes including “Feliz Navidad,” “Blue Christmas,” and a couple by a pair of nice Jewish girls—“The Prayer,” co-written by Carole Bayer Sager, and the title tune by Diane Warren. Dion’s 1998 CBS special of the same name can be found in its entirety on the previously unreleased bonus DVD and features a surprising “Do You Hear What I Hear?” duet between Dion and Rosie O’Donnell.
Like Celine Dion, Alvin & The Chipmunks also made an impact on TV. In the early 1960s, following the success of a novelty hit in which sped-up vocals resulted in a charming (to some) high-pitched sound, Alvin, Theodore, and Simon, and their long-suffering manager Dave became cartoon characters. As you might expect, Christmas with the Chipmunks (Capitol) includes the holiday hit “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late).” The release also expands on the Chipmunks’ holiday legend with the addition of a 1968 collaboration between the Chipmunks and Canned Heat (yes, you read that right) on a Christmas boogie number.
On the compilation Memories of a Winter’s Night (Capitol), his third holiday CD, openly gay smooth jazz saxophonist (and nice Jewish boy) Dave Koz puts a brassy shine on an array of festive favorites, including “Deck the Halls,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “O Tannenbaum.” Special guests join in, including Brenda Russell on Leon Russell’s “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,” American Idol ‘s Kimberley Locke on “Please Come Home for Christmas,” and recent concert tour-mate Kelly Sweet on “White Christmas.” Koz also includes the original title track with the parenthetical phrase “A Song for Hanukkah.”
How can you not love a Christmas music compilation that kicks off with Elton John’s “Step Into Christmas” and follows that with the Dolly Parton medley of “Winter Wonderland/Sleigh Ride”? Such is the case with Christmas #1s (Hip-O), a 17-track collection that also includes Brenda Lee and Burl Ives, Gene Autry and the Jackson 5, and much more merriment.
Clean-cut piano man Jim Brickman returns with another CD of Christmas music, Homecoming (SLG). More than half the tracks are Brickman’s arrangements of traditional compositions. The remaining tracks are originals, including “My Angel (Christmas),” featuring vocals by the late rhythm-and-blues crooner Gerald Levert. The song “I’m Coming Home for Christmas” appears on both Brickman’s CD and on If Every Day Could Be Christmas (Loremoma), the solo debut from Lubbock-born Richie McDonald, former lead singer of the country band Lonestar.
Evangelical emo band Relient K shows remarkable restraint and respect on the recognizable holiday tunes they reinterpret on Let It Snow Baby…Let It Reindeer (Capitol), including “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” and “12 Days of Christmas.” Of course, they save their musical ministry work for originals such as “Merry Christmas, Here’s to Many More” and “In Like a Lion (Always Winter).”
Modern country diva Mindy Smith has recorded an album of originals and covers, My Holiday (Vanguard). On it she adds her own distinctive touch to familiar numbers such as “The Christmas Song,” “Silver Bells,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Away in a Manger” (with harmony vocals by Alison Krauss), and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” Her own Christmas compositions, including the gorgeous “Santa Will Find You,” the bluegrass ballad “Follow the Shepherd Home,” and the rocking “Come Around,” are welcome additions to the ever-growing canon of Christmas music.
And what’s holiday cheer without a little, you know, holiday cheer? Promising “yuletide cheer throughout the year” is the Ultra Lounge compilation Best of Christmas Cocktails (Capitol). Break out the martini shaker, kick off your shoes, and dance into the wee small hours to chilled numbers such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo” by Billy May, “Happy Holiday” by Peggy Lee, “The Merriest” by June Christy, “Jing-A-Ling” by The Starlighters,” and “(Everybody’s Waiting for) the Man with the Bag” by Kay Starr. Holiday cheers!
Gregg Shapiro interviews The Cliks, performing in Houston on December 15, in this issue (“Making the Cliks Clik”).
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Darlene Love’s thunderbolt voice is as embedded in the history of rock-and-roll as Eric Clapton’s guitar or Bob Dylan’s lyrics,” according to the New York Times. Now Love brings that vocal gift to her first holiday CD, It’s Christmas, Of Course. On December 24, Love makes her 22nd consecutive Christmas Eve appearance on The David Letterman Show on CBS (KHOU Channel 11 in Houston). Love is the talk-show host’s favorite Christmas performer, he has remarked. If you are spending the Yuletide season in New York, check out Love’s annual Christmas concert on December 17 at Lincoln Center.
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IN THE TUNEFUL SPIRIT
(EXPANDED WEB VERSION)
For me, the holidays haven’t begun until I hear Mariah Carey warble “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Yep, I’m gay. We wanted to know what a few musically inclined people in the community liked in their holiday music. So we asked them, What song makes the season bright for you?—Tim Brookover
JD Doyle, producer/host of the Queer Music Heritage segment on KPFT Queer Voices (see sidebar)
“Jimmy James, as Bette Davis, “Feliz Navidad,” on Have Yourself a Jimmy James Merry Christmas. Note for out-of-key note, this song probably gives me the most smiles each year…It’s pure Xmas camp.”
• Have Yourself a Jimmy James Merry Christmas (JimmyJames.com, 1999)
Melissa Murry, entertainer and co-chair of the transgender Community Advisory Board
“’Silver Bells’ by Bing Crosby. It just sums up the whole Christmas spirit for me… busy sidewalks, people laughing, soon it will be Christmas day—all that good stuff!”
• The Voice of Christmas: The Complete Decca Songbook (MCA, 1998)
Madalyn Sklar, founder of GoGirlsMusic.com, the independent online source for independent musicians
“ My favorite Xmas song would be from Annette Warner, our editor at the GoGirlsMusic.com web site. She is based in Wilmington, North Carolina. Her song is ‘Ole Ms. Kringle.’ You can take a listen at http://www.myspace.com/annettewarner . It’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.”
• “Ole Ms. Kringle’ single (AnnetteWarner.com, 2004)
Cindy Pruitt, member of the band Fluff the Kat
“I am a Beatles freak, and the holidays aren’t happening until I play the CD Xmas! The BEATMAS! by The Danish Beatles tribute band, Rubber Band. My favorite tune is ‘White Christmas,’ set to the Beatles melody ‘Ticket to Ride.’ But all the tunes are fun. The CD is hard to find, but a real treat for any Beatles fans, and certainly a very cool change from the usually holiday fare!”
• Xmas! The BEATMAS! (Isba Records, 1996)
Jack Varsi, OutSmart entertainment writer
“Of the countless versions of ‘Sleigh Ride,’ my favorite has always been the Ronettes’ version, originally released as part of Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift for You,” first released in 1963. That legendary Christmas album came out within days of the John F. Kennedy assassination. I don’t know if there’s a connection.”
• A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (Abkco, 1963)
Abel Rodriguez, co-founder and executive director of Gay and Lesbian Latin Organization (GALLO)
“One of my Christmas favorites is ‘Christmas to Christmas,’ the Jay Perez version originally done by Toby Keith. Jay has that unmistakable voice that says Merry Christmas, mi amor. Second would be the ‘Carol of the Bells’ by none other than Mr. Raul DiBlasio, the Piano of the Americas. If you want the Latin flavor in your Christmas, try a little Raul in your holiday.”
• A Jay Perez Christmas (Ce Distributors, 2004)
• Christmas (Sony International, 1999)
Darrin Brindle, Houston-based music producer
“For me, it wouldn’t be Christmas without hearing these two songs! Dean Martin’s ‘Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!’ and Brenda Lee’s ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,’ both from Now That’s What I Call Christmas. ”
• Now That’s What I Call Christmas (Utv Records, 2001)
DJ Rocky B, named Favorite Female DJ in the OutSmart 2007 Gayest & Greatest reader poll
“’Let It Snow,’ by Boys II Men from the album Christmas Interpretations. ”
• Christmas Interpretations (Motown, 1993)
Alan Lett, performer and music producer
“ My favorite Christmas song is ‘Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.’ It’s an old hymn that we used to sing in church and not only do I love the words, the haunting melody takes me to a place where I really understand what Christmas is about.”
• OutSmart recommends: Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, Anthem: The Music of Edward C. Bairstow (Koch International Classics, 1993)
Gregg Shapiro, OutSmart music writer
“’The Truth About Christmas,’ written by David Friedman, as sung by Lea DeLaria on Winter Moon: A Celebration of Gay and Lesbian Singers and Songwriters…and Friends.”
• Winter Moon: A Celebration of Gay and Lesbian Singers and Songwriters…and Friends (Streeter Music, 1995)
Allen Hanks, singer
“Little Drummer Boy. This song to me has a lot of meaning, but the one that stands out to me the most is because of my grandmother. I remember her playing this song for us and expressing to her grandchildren the importance of it to her. Even though my Grandma Hanks is gone, when I hear this song, it takes me back to being a five-year-old boy, sitting in her lap while she sang this song, and giggling at her rumpa-pum-pums. ”
• OutSmart recommends: Vanessa Williams, Silver & Gold (Lava, 2004)
Blase DiStefano, OutSmart creative director
“ Over the holidays, I love listening to The Supremes’ ‘Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town’ from their 1965 Merry Christmas album. My favorite part of the song: the background vocals by Mary and Flo—‘Look out, Santa’s comin’ comin’. Look out, Santa’s comin’ comin’.’ Get your mind out of the gutter—they didn’t mean that kind of comin’…or at least I don’t think they did.”
• Merry Christmas: The Supremes (Motown, 1965)
Rev. Dwayne Johnson, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church pastor
“My favorite holiday song is the Heartland Gay Men’s Chorus (Kansas City, Missouri) rendition of ‘Deck the Halls.’ They sing the line ‘. . .now we don our gay apparel’ with a memorable combination of camp and conviction!”
• A New December (Heartland Men’s Chorus, 2005)
NOW TELL US YOUR FAVORITE
Click here to send us a note about your holiday music fave.
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Sandra Bernhard gets unexpectedly serious for the holidays with “Miracle of Lights,” a track on the compilation CD Breaking for the Holidays. Written by Bernhard and Mitch Kaplan, her longtime musical director/pianist, the song is a plea for peace in a conflict-torn corner of the globe.
“I wanted to do something that was in keeping with Hanukkah, but I didn’t want to do something schmaltzy and silly,” the actress, comic, and performer told the CBS entertainment program The Showbuzz. “So I thought, What would I really like to achieve through the holiday message? And that was to put out a word to the Middle East between the Palestinians and the Israelis and say, ‘Who’s gonna like step back, who’s gonna like make the first move towards relinquishing all of this ego and this stress and tension and hatred?’
“You look at the Israelis, you look at the Palestinians, and, first of all, so many of them look exactly alike. I mean, we are cousins. It’s such a fine line between our culture and our history. It just seems a waste that we can’t mend that gap.”
Bernhard’s new song is one selection on the CD from the gay-owned music company Breaking Records. Breaking for the Holidays was quietly released at the very end of 2006, but the independent label, which relies on consumer buzz, is rolling out its first holiday product again. “It was a very soft release because we didn’t have the set-up time we needed,” Breaking Records vice president Sherrie Fell explained to OutSmart. “We’re sort of considering it a 2007 release, and people seem to be just discovering it. Since we’re indie, our marketing has been very word-of-mouth.”
JD Doyle included Bernhard’s new song in his holiday-edition Queer Music Heritage program in 2006. You can check out video of Bernhard performing “Miracle of Lights” on the New York CW 11 morning program on YouTube (enter Bernhard’s name and Miracle of Lights in the search field at the home page, www.youtube.com).
In preparing to record “Miracle of Lights,” Breaking Records asked Iranian superstar singer Sussan Deyhim to provide additional vocals. Deyhim’s haunting chant underscores the lyrics and deepens the mystical air of the song. “Sandra’s idea was to make this song a song of peace,” Fell says. “And due to our troubled times in the Middle East, she had us seek out a Middle Eastern female singer to be a part of this song.”
More info: www.breakingrecords.com.
This month, Bernhard is touring the United Kingdom in support of her decidedly non-seasonal comedy release, Everything Bad & Beautiful (also on Breaking Records.) “For years Sandra Bernhard has scandalised America with her bisexuality and savage wit. And she’s not letting up on her latest tour,” The Independent of London reported last month. And that’s a holiday gift for us all.
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Holidays on Air
Every December, JD Doyle’s Queer Music Heritage segment on the Queer Voices radio show is one of the highlights of the season. Doyle, the renowned GLBT music historian and enthusiast who lives in Houston, once again promises “Christmas music you won’t be sick of by then” for his annual extravaganza. In 2006, the three hour-long shows included queer carols you would never hear during the Sunny 99.1 holiday-music marathon. These included Sandra Bernhard’s Hanukkah song “Miracle of Lights,” “Frosty the Snowman” performed by the delightfully twisted cabaret act Kiki & Herb, two songs from Roger Kuhn’s Happy Holidays EP (pictured), and the Pansy Division track “Homo Christmas.” Doyle promises similar tasty Yuletide treats for his 2007 shows.
The Queer Music Heritage holiday show will air on Monday, December 24, at 9 p.m. on KPFT 90.1FM. Doyle generally offers special Internet-only content (which includes saucy holiday fare not suitable for the public airwaves) at his website, www.queermusicheritage.org.