Holidaze / by Helen Zouvelekis

Kristen texts Kurt: Hey, wanna do another music blog with me? Holiday…

Kurt: Cynicism allowed?

Kristen: Yes!

After reading Kurt's choices, however, I felt they should stand on their own. So, without further ado…songs on Kurt’s holiday playlist.

Kurt: Ah, Kristen, holiday songs. I guess some people must like them because we keep hearing them every year. So many songs of faith and good cheer for the Linuses of the world, songs of parties for the Violets, and shopping for the Lucys, and of course, songs of Santa for the Sallys. Even Kyle Broflovsky got a tune about being left out. But so few songs for the Charlie Browns.

A few do come to mind, though. Let’s start right at the bottom of the bottle.

Tom Waits released “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis” on his 1978 album Blue Valentine. It’s a wonderfully down-on-her-luck little parable that almost has a happy ending. When he performed it live, he often interpolated it with “Silent Night” and “Goin’ Out of My Head.”

Kristen: Jeez…bottom of the bottle indeed! Pour me a whiskey to wet my whistle so I can sleep in heavenly peace.

Kurt: Joni Mitchell’s 1971 song “River” (from her masterful Blue) is a heartbreaking song of holiday heartache built around “Jingle Bells” transposed to a minor key. It’s hard not to imagine her sitting in California missing Canadian winters when she sings “It don’t snow here / It stays pretty green.” Hardly a joyous carol, it still strikes enough of a chord that more than 600 people have recorded versions of it—including Herbie Hancock, who included it on his album River: The Joni Letters. In 2008 Joni joined him onstage to sing it.

Kristen: I forgot about her lovely, clear voice, dare I say…ahem…like a bell?

Kurt: Joni’s biggest fan, Prince, wrote a particularly dire holiday song for the flip side of his hit single “I Would Die 4 U.” Unlike the A-side, however, the death here isn’t speculative. “Another Lonely Christmas” is sung to a lover who died on Christmas day. Staying true to the lyrics, he only performed the song—which starts with the line “Last night I spent another lonely Christmas”—once in concert, on December 26, 1984, in his hometown twin city of St. Paul, MN. Prince often recorded long jams to edit down into tight pop songs. If you’re feeling lonely, here’s a full 22 minutes of him working through the tune.

Kristen: You weren’t kidding about that Charlie Brown feeling. I really do need that thimble of whiskey now.

Kurt: In 2013, Nick Lowe—the singer who put the cruel into kind—released a record of Christmas songs, including his own contribution to the canon, “Christmas at the Airport.” There’s even a charming, animated, elven video to go with it. Lowe also curated a holiday playlist on Spotify that includes an unplugged version of his seasonal neo-classic.

Kristen: Fun. Makes air travel almost seem tolerable, at least for elves…

Kurt: But I can’t let everything be all sad and lonely. The couple in “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (written in 1944 by Broadway mainstay Frank Loesser) might be playing a bit of tug-of-war, but you just know she doesn’t end up going out into that frigid night. The song has been recorded numerous times. Five different recordings of it have topped the singles charts. Ray Charles and Betty Carter’s 1961 version barely cracked the Top 100, but there’s no version finer.  

Kristen: Never heard this version before. Class act.

Thank you Kurt and Seasons Greetings to all!

Kristen Persinos, Marketing Director

Kurt Gottschalk writes about music for a variety of publications and hosts the radio show Miniature Minotaurs on WFMU. He is also an author and playwright and all around swell guy.