Sunday, December 12, 2004

Sing we now of lame Christmas music...

Jethro Tull
Ring Out Solstice Bells 7" EP
Chrysalis Records, 1976

From reading today's Post article on all the Christmas releases, it appears that 2004 will see yet another crop of crappy Christmas records. Crappy Christmas records come in a number of varieties -- first there's just the comatose-inducing new-age stuff like Trans-Siberian Orchestra or Manheim Steamroller. I remember my old man getting into the latter only because Rush Limbaugh played it incessantly every Season. If only he knew the screwball pothead hippies behind the music, he'd literally have a cow on the front seat of his car. I mean really - there would be a big fucking moo-dog sitting in the front seat serving egg-nog. But I'm not going to tell him.

Then there's the "flavor of the moment" just milking their soon-to-be-forgotten-but-now-overly-exposed status - this year has a slew of 'em, that stupid Jessica something girl, that Clay Asshat - there's even a record just of Reality TV losers singing stupid songs in that lame American Idol style that everyone hates. What's next - a crooning Donald Trump in a Santa cap? (quick, copyright that idea).

Then there are the re-releases. The Post sort of stupidly notes that Sammy Davis Jr. never had a Christmas album like we missed something. Hello? He was Jewish - give the guy a break. Dean Martin, for all his great attitude (a bonhomie fuck-you-all persona just right for the holidays) put out a lot of schmaltz in his day and Christmas was no different -- so do we really need to re-release his Christmas crap again? Will we have to rediscover Perry Como or Andy Williams next year? And Frank Sinatra had a load of crapola released during Christmas, the greedy fuck, can't we just remember him for his great music?

Finally, the lamest ones are those hippy secular rock stars who, while they would never get near a church on Christmas eve or any other day, are more than happy to do their own cashing in on the season. This year we have James Taylor (James Taylor!?!) offering what the Post calls a pretty awful set of limpdick ostensibly Christmas songs for whatever remains of the over-50 ex-hippies who still buy into his crap. Can anyone imagine Diana Krall snuggling up to Elvis Costello as Christmas carolers regale them in whatever mansion they live in? There's also a slew of indie-rock collections out, wherein we get ironic twists on old favorites and some lame attempts at new songs - y'know for the royalties. Should the Flaming Lips really be spending their time on ironic Christmas carols? Shouldn't they be chained to their instruments and bongs thinking up the big follow-up to Yoshimi rather than snarfing down egg nog and playing with jingle bells? And while I'm on the subject, does anyone really want a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy Christmas record? Where and when exactly are we supposed to play this - during the Christmas swing dancing ritual?

Well, as it is in 2004, so it was in 1976. Who needs Christmas when you can sing about solstice? And why not pad the single with three other songs -- two of which have nothing to do with Christmas ("March, the Mad Scientist" and "Pan Dance" ) and the other imaginatively entitled "Christmas Song." The latter is no Christmas song, though, its actually a scalding rebuke to anyone who would have the temerity to celebrate Christmas "when your own mother is starving." My Mom just calls that a diet, but whatever. In response, I propose the "Jethro Tull Contract Rider Song"
How can you serve me chicken on Wednesday?
My contract rider said I specifically wanted pork
I don't see the Evian, you'll hear from my lawyer
A contract rider is not something to spurn
Sooo... I don't really know how this record came into my possession. I did have a roommate who had all the Jethro Tull albums, even the very lousiest of them so I think this might have gotten into my collection somehow. I think he went off with my Reptile House single -- talk about a lopsided trade. I still bring up this loss with my therapist.

For awhile, the title song, "Ring Out, Solstice Bells" would get played on all the Classic Rock stations during the holidays. For all I know, they still play it. It was lame then and it is lame now. First let's get the major problems with Jethro Tull out of the way. The nasally voice, the over-production, the pseudo-fey "middle ages" instrumentation - it's all here. We even get some snooty liner notes that inform us that the Winter Solstice was originally a pagan festival and that "perhaps there are those today who acknowledge the origin of the Christmas Festival!" Well, gosh I didn't know that, let's go sacrifice some children!

But it's the lyrics that are the most fun to mock. First comment is on the chorus and title -- what Solstice Bells? Pagans didn't know how to make bells. They generally walked around in circles in the moonlight hitting skulls, I think.

Verse 1:
Now is the solstice of the year,
winter is the glad song that you hear.
Seven maids move in seven time.
Have the lads up ready in a line
And is winter REALLY the glad song that YOU hear? I dunno about you but when I hear "winter" it ain't a glad song, it's generally a slushy, bitingly cold, depressingly dark song. And come to think of it, isn't summer also a "solstice of the year". Where's the Summer Solstice song, Ian? Or would that not sell?

Now as for these "seven maids" - Ian, haven't we moved beyond patriarchal constructs? Weren't the pagan societies of old matriarcha (snicker)l? Should not this line be updated to:
Seven strapping Chippendales move in seven time
Have the maids line up with dollar bills
Moving on.

Verse 2:

Join together beneath the mistletoe.
by the holy oak whereon it grows.
Seven druids dance in seven time.
Sing the song the bells call, loudly chiming.
Holy Oak, Batman! That's a big... mistletoe you have there. And let's pause and reflect on that great Christmas image Jethro Tull paints for us -- seven middle aged Druid priests in hoodies dancing around and "loudly chiming." What? no blood dripping off their blades? Wait, come to think of it, I remember a few Christmases like that in the Baltimore Marble Bar.

Cor, as my English friends say,... I've had about enough - I'm starting to feel like Lileks when confronted with bad window dressings. Download it if you dare - snarky comments are welcome.

My Christmas music needs are simple and my solution even more so. It includes great memories of singing snowmen with guitars, flying reindeer with red noses and kindly gents with white beards. So this Christmas - grab a hot toddy, crank up the fireplace DVD and spend some time with the Zen Master of The Holidays. Wait, I meant this guy.

"Ring Out, Solstice Bells" - Jethro Tull

- 2004 Christmas Releases - Washington Post (bugmenot login:
- The Jethro Tull Contract Rider via The Smoking Gun
- More Cowbell has an indie Christmas Bittorrent mix here (make a New Year's resolution to learn how to use and set-up BT if you haven't already -- I suspect I may transition to that in the coming year)
- No, I am not in therapy over my lost Reptile House single but if anyone has it in MP3 format, please drop me a line.


Frank Realitos said...

"I mean really - there would be a big fucking moo-dog sitting in the front seat serving egg-nog."

Fucking brilliant...

_wyneken_ said...

It is to laugh. While I confess I do not share your extraordinarily low opinion of Mr Anderson's work, I must say I chuckled all the way through your brilliant acidic commentary. And when I actually loaded the track into my playlist and discovered that the Genre tag read "Lame Christmas Classic Rock" -- which is indeed a bona fide genre, by anyone's account -- I was ready to leap up and sacrifice a child straightaway, only I found none lying about nicely trussed and annointed. Maybe on Beltane then.

Jim H said...

Actually, I don't have a low opinion of all of Jethro Tull. I like the early bluesy stuff and I would probably like Aqualung and Living in the Past more if they hadn't been so incessantly overplayed by US "Classic Rock" (not that I listened to it but everywhere you went in the '80s and early '90s it seemed that shite was playing and I had friends who listened to it).

I own that "Living in the Past" compilation and I remember digging "Too Old to Rock and Roll" -- but I think it started going downhill for Tull with Tales from the Wood -- "Ring Out" first appeared on that album.

By the way, Tull now has a full collection of Xmas songs - when this was released he only had two (but padded it with these other songs)... but please no smoking or eating while listening to it.

Thanks for the comments.

Eric said...

He swiped your Reptile House 7"? Yep, you got the short end on that one.

I had to laugh when you mentioned ol' limpdick James Taylor. That yuletide CD was one of the 'secret santa' gifts at our department Xmas party. I feel sorry for the poor bastard who had to take that thing home.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should consider your own animosity towards what is essentially a nice, enjoyable Christmas collection and Jethro Tull Album.

Long time coming on this rebuttal.

Anyhow, yes, Ian Anderson can sound pedantic in his liner notes. But it is not he who is riffing on "sacrificing babies" but you. Solstice and Christmastime coincide, and if Anderson is a bit pedestrian in his scholarship, I think he and his bandmates are far more than "fey" and "pseudo" in their musicianship.

Whatever. Appreciate it for what it is, just as you might appreciate Brian Setzer's Christmas CD. Never shall the twain meet, but each artist represents his unique idiom.

Jim H said...

Oh lighten up and have a mug of Grog.