[1 December 2010]
OK, so it’s that time of year again. Along with the blinding strings of lights, creepy elf window displays, and other symbols of commercialism gone wild come the dreaded holiday playlists. Weary of Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” for the 567th time? I know I am. So, I humbly offer the following “alternative playlist”, a collection of songs with a positive bent promoting peace and goodwill towards all men and women and embracing the joy of life. As you get together with your family and friends, consider spinning some of these tunes. You can consume this list without overdosing on nauseating sentimentality.
#10: James Taylor - “Shower the People”
This is the most obvious and overplayed mainstream track on the list. However, I cannot deny the power of the song’s simple message coupled with Taylor’s soothing vocal. I particularly recommend the live version, which features a moving chorus of soulful backup singers. “Shower the people you love with love / Show them the way that you feel / Things are gonna be much better if we only will”
#9: Stevie Wonder - “I Wish”
Stevie waxes nostalgic on this track from Songs in the Key of Life. Longing for the innocent days of childhood is a universal feeling around the holidays. Wonder manages to recapture those times, though, without sappy sentimentality. Did I mention that it’s an incredibly funky track as well? “Looking back on when I was a little nappy headed boy / Then my only worry was for Christmas what would be my toy / Even though we sometimes would not get a thing / We were happy with the joy the day would bring”.
#8: Sufjan Stevens - “Futile Devices”
Alt-folker Sufjan Stevens’ new record The Age of Adz is filled with lots of noise. However, it opens with a simple track expressing the beauty of domestic familiarity. This soothing song feels perfect for a cold winter night spent with someone you love. “It’s been a long, long time since I memorized your face / It’s been four hours now since I’ve wandered through your place / And when I sleep on your couch I feel very safe / And when you bring the blankets I cover up my face / I do love you”.
#7: John Coltrane - “Welcome”
I won’t be quoting any lyrics on this one, since it’s the only instrumental track on the list. When I think of being thankful, Coltrane’s jazz masterpiece A Love Supreme, an undeniably profound ode to music and God, comes to mind. However, the movements of Supreme work better when played together as a whole. So, for your holiday playlist I recommend “Welcome”, a track that captures the spiritually of Supreme with a shorter running time. This tune, found on the Transition album, conjures up the image of walking into a room where you are known and loved by everyone.
#6: Death Cab for Cutie - “Soul Meets Body”
Death Cab’s indie anthem about getting the most out of life and moving beyond the “clutter” of the day is the perfect soundtrack to a peace-filled holiday. It helps, of course, that the track’s intro employs sleigh bells. “I want to live where soul meets body / And let the sun wrap its arms around me / And bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing / And feel what it’s like to be new”.
#5: The Roots - “The Fire”
I was less than impressed with Wake Up!, the Roots’ collaboration with John Legend. However, this track from How I Got Over is simultaneously inspiring lyrically and engaging musically. Legend and Black Thought talk intelligently about reaching your full potential and improving yourself. It’s more heart warming than The Christmas Song any day. “There’s something in your heart, and it’s in your eyes / It’s the fire inside you / Let it burn”.
#4: The Hold Steady - “We Can Get Together”
The Hold Steady, one of the most energetic live bands working today, captures the transformative power of music on their latest record. The sense of communal joy the group facilitates at itsr live shows is reflected on “We Can Get Together” from this year’s Heaven is Whenever. “Heaven is whenever we can get together / Sit down on your floor and listen to your records”.
#3: Wilco - “Either Way”
Jeff Tweedy, often accused of making morose music, stays positive on Sky Blue Sky. The record’s opening track “Either Way” sets the overall mood for the whole album, a reflection on making the best of life’s circumstances. Tweedy tenderly states that all things happen for a reason. “Maybe the sun will shine today / The clouds will blow away / Maybe I won’t be so afraid / I will try to understand / Everything has its plan / Either way”.
#2: The Beatles - “Dear Prudence”
What better time to listen to the Fab Four’s most enduring track than during the holiday season? Lennon’s passionate plea for Prudence to embrace life and nature resonates no matter what time of year. However, it seems especially appropriate during a moment in which people are particularly cognizant of the beauty surrounding them. Not to mention the fact that this song contains the strongest Beatles drum track Ringo never played. “The wind is low, the birds will sing / That you are part of everything / Dear Prudence / Won’t you open up your eyes?”
#1: Animal Collective - “My Girls”
Animal Collective blew everyone away with its 2009 album Merriweather Post Pavilion. I have to admit that I haven’t fully recovered from it yet. In a season when holidays promoting peace and spirituality are deluded by the corruption of rampant commercialism, Noah Lennox’s Thoreau-like appeal to “simplify, simplify, simply” seems especially apt. I strongly recommend listening to “My Girls” while opening gifts on Christmas morning. “There isn’t much that I feel I need / A solid soul and the blood I bleed / But with a little girl, and by my spouse / I only want a proper house / I don’t need to seem like I care about material things / Like a social status / I just want four walls and adobe slats for my girls”.