Merry Madness — The Tournament of Holiday Music (Part 4). The Southwest.
Halfway through our first round eliminations, lets mosey on over to the Southwest bracket and see who we can’t give the stocking to. If you need a refresher, or are just joining us, check out the preview, and parts 1–3 before you go any further. I think you can do all that by clicking on my face — technology that, I assure you, does not work in real life.
As usual, we start in order of seeding disparity. “The Christmas Song” as performed by Nat King Cole is also known as “Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire.” It’s a specific visual and olfactoric reference that I’ve never had the pleasure to enjoy in person. But don’t really need to. To me, the lyrics exist in such a lasting imaginary memory, actual sight and smell couldn’t possibly compete. Also, olfactoric is not a real word, but that’s the cool thing about words; you can use them into existence. Oh yeah, #1 beat Faith Hill’s “Where are you Christmas?” by 54 points because if your song starts with asking where the game is going to be played…you’re in for a long day.
#15 is Ella Fitzgerald’s “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” I also enjoy the Dean Martin version of this song as both bring the swing we end up seeing as a recurring pattern in a lot of strong holiday contenders. This one will get stuck in your head. Unfortunately, it got stuck in it’s own tracks and was steam-rolled by #2, “Silver Bells.” Ella found herself outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered and out-planned by Carol Richards and her right hand man...da Bing.
I would like to say that #3 and #14 had a surprisingly tight battle, but it’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by The Carpenters, for Christmas’ sake. Sorry, Slade. I do love me some “Merry Xmas, Everybody.” It’s a must-listen every year and a rare, enthusiastic-but-tender entry from a glam rock band. Oh, important note. Don’t, no matter what…ever…confuse that song with “Merry Christmas Everybody” by Shakin’ Stevens. Do, however, please check out the link to that video. Then try sleeping at night.
And yes, (The?) Carpenters should be represented in this tournament more. That’s another album you can’t possibly go wrong with. Oh, Karen. Best voice.
Okay! #4 and #13. I’m sorry, but Brenda Lee showed Otis Redding no respect as “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” was always two steps ahead of “Merry Christmas, Baby.” This was a true Battle of the South as Soul and Country danced up and down the floor. #4’s saxophone and guitar matched up so well against #13's guitar and horns that this was anyone’s game if Otis could just catch a break. Alas, no such luck. But they should both be on your permanent playlist. Brenda — 97, Otis — 96.
I have a confession to make. I had to use a lifeline for this next matchup. Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (#5) vs. Wham!’s “Last Christmas” (#12). It was so tough, it earned it’s own graphic. Here:
With classic orchestration, the subtle jingling of bells and an old-timey instrumental verse / chorus that teleports you back through time, Gene Autry’s version establishes itself as the song to beat. It exudes a dominance that feels completely invincible. So what does Wham! do? They don’t try the old tactics, they use synthetic instrumentation and, instead of violins and cellos, they play on your heartstrings with a story of unrequited love. Personally, I remember looking forward to Christmas just to hear this song (this was before I knew you could own music and play it whenever you wanted). Our car radio was tuned in to 103.5 and I knew that my patience would be rewarded. That said, and seriously attempting to ignore personal attachment, I really believe “Last Christmas” is the better song and the one that makes me (and the handful of friends I called) think of Christmas more than any high-flying reindeer with a mutated schnoz. Wham! — 69, Rudy — 62.
Dean Martin’s attitude toward bad weather in “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” will make you wish you could attack any of your problems with such nonchalance and don’t-give-a-shit-ery. He’s basically saying that there’s a woman and enough booze to sink the Bizmarck in the cabin, so who cares what the weather does. He also pretends that he’ll be walking home later. hahahahahahahahahaha. Yeah right. This guy…?
Dean Martin is so overconfident, he completely underestimates The Drifters (featuring Clyde McPhatter). He should have heard them coming from the very first “ba-do-da-d0” “doh-doh, doh-doh-doh” of their insanely iconic reimagining of “White Christmas.” Drifters — 78, Dino Martino — 49. Something tells me he’ll find plenty to do in the off season.
Jose Feliciano and “Feliz Navidad” had some mala suerte when they drew The Ronettes in the first round. Anything coming out of the Phil Spector’s Christmas Gift album league is going to be a tough out. The international delight found out the hard way as Jose unwittingly stepped onto the wrong path and didn’t see what hit him. The Ronettes ran him over with “Sleigh Ride.” 86–66.
Finally we witnessed “Winter Wonderland” vs. “Silent Night.” To be honest, I feel like “Silent Night” snuck into the tournament on the pedigree of its name more than the merit of its actions. And when I was picking versions to choose between, I really tried to hear them all. I even listened to the Kelly Clarkson / Trisha Yearwood / Reba McEntire offering in hopes it would prove to be the female answer to that one time Bryan Adams, Sting and Rod Stewart teamed up for “All For Love.” Boy was I disappointed. Kelly and Trisha hold their own, but (and take a listen for yourself if you don’t believe me) Reba just Rebas the whole thing at 2:08 stretching one vowel into 2 or 3 way too many times. It’s enough to make a baby jump out of a manger. So yeah, I actually like Jordan Smith’s version, but it was really hard to find anyone who can compete with the Holiday spirit that “Winter Wonderland” instantly imparts. Again, MANY versions to choose from here (Eurythmics, Bing, Martina, Tony! DARLENE LOVE!) but I opted for the Connie Francis version because of its timeless orchestration, stroll-like pace (we are “walking” after all) and the smile you can hear her break into at 2:00. Oh, and listen to the Burl Ives version if you want to hear a leprechaun singing!
Over all, “Winter Wonderland” wins. As a song. 65–59.
And with that, I give you another quarter of the bracket. One more post and we’re into the Round of 32. Are you in the spirit yet? I hope so. Merry Christmas!