I’m in a bit of a funk today and casting around for topics. The answer is, as the Muppets would say (channeling Auntie Mame), “We need a little Christmas right this very minute!” Yes, it’s time for me to go back to my astoundingly large, amazingly eclectic and somewhat embarrassing collection of Christmas music and pull out more undiscovered gems to augment those I told you about in this post and this post.
So forthwith, the latest installment of The Greatest Christmas Songs You’ve Never Heard: The Dance Party Edition. Guaranteed to counteract that millionth Celine Dionne or Boy Band retread of the old, the tired and the obvious.
My criteria for this list was songs that get you moving, up and dancing. Everyone. Kids, adults, the family dog and, even Grumpy Old Uncle Bernie who stopped dancing after he couldn’t find any more live cha cha bands. I think these songs will fill the bill.
1. Papa Noel by Brenda Lee
Like your Christmas turkey blackened Cajun style? You want some catfish, jambalaya and gumbo with that, Ma Cher? Then this upbeat Cajun number will push all your Bayou-lovin’ buttons:
“Hey Beau, let’s go and get pirogue and push-pole down the bayou/I want to see the Christmas Tree, dance o- fais dodo./Have a big time and cut a shine, where all will be gay-o /Oh, Santa Claus will come tonight, down on the bayou”
And because it’s Brenda Lee, you know it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.
2. Christmas Every Day by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
Speaking of dancing, can’t go wrong with Motown and Smokey. ‘Nuff said. This number will get your Holiday party in the right mood.
3. Boogie Woogie Santa Claus by Andrea Strehli
Another gem I picked up from one of those Pottery Barn holiday collections. This will have you swingin’ and jivin’ around the tree for sure. Particularly love the sax solo and Big Band sound.
4. Cha Cha All the Way by The Capitol Studio Orchestra
Move into Cha Cha position with this nifty number from the Christmas Cocktails Part Three album.
5. Dig That Crazy Santa Claus by Ralph Materie and His Orchestra
Moving further into the Fifties, how about this nugget chock full of hep, hipster talk, smokin’ sax and great lyrics like “All the little hep cats jump for joy.” If Jack Kerouac and the Beats had been party-going types rather than drink alone types, I bet this is the Christmas song they would have requested.
Note: Friends have told me Brian Setzer and His Orchestra do a great version of this, but I’ve found out it was also done by Oscar McLollie & His Honey Jumpers. I have to find it, just to own a CD by a band of that name!
6. Soulful Christmas by James Brown
As the joke goes, nobody, even his band, knows what James Brown is saying, but he is the Godfather of Soul. You’ve gotta love a Christmas song that includes his trademark growls, “Uhhhs”, “Owwwws” and “Good Gods!” After two cups of eggnog, I always take it as a personal shout-out when James thanks his fans:
“You bought my records, come to see my show/That’s why James Brown love you so/You come to see my show/That’s a debt I’ll always owe”
And a Merry Christmas back atcha James, wherever you may be.
7. El Cha Cha Cha de la Navidad by Celia Cruz
I used to be very traditional about Christmas music leaning toward the German which is what the American and British Christmases mostly based on. But since moving to California, I’ve realized Latinos, any Latinos — Mexican, Cuban, Central American — have the BEST Christmas music and some of the best Christmas traditions. I’m always on the lookout for more of it. Frankly it was hard to chose just one song off this, one of my favorite Latino Christmas albums, Mambo Santa Mambo. There are faster songs with a more definite beat on the CD. Take “We Wanna See Santa Do The Mambo”. But this song won out because the smoky, incomparable voice of the great Celia Cruz takes you right back to Old Havana. Light up a Cuban cigar and start that tropical sway.
8. The Night Before Christmas by Eek-a-Mouse
I love my Reggae Christmas collection (yes, it is possible to amass such a thing.) While there is Bob Marley and then there is everyone else, Eek-a-Mouse is still one of Jamaica’s premier Reggae artists, so he gets the nod for this collection. It’s not a hard reggae beat, more a soft Rock-Steady, proto rap sort of tune. Perfect for after dinner when you’ll be lighting up that large…um…Christmas candle.
9. Walkin’ To Jerusalem by Mahalia Jackson
I debated before adding this to the Dance Party Edition. It’s a classic ringing Gospel number by arguably one of the greatest Gospel singers ever. Soon, I’ll compile my Religious Christmas Songlist to counteract all these secular ones. And this will probably have pride of place. But, like all good Gospel, this one really gets everyone moving, waving hands and jumping up and down. After all, Christmas is a religious holiday. So let’s slip a little Come to Jesus moment in there. Especially when it’s this much fun. Even as famous an atheist as Bill Maher would be testifyin’ when Mahalia gets in full lung power.
I‘ve got a different version with a full Gospel chorus, but this will
give you an idea how Mahalia can get ANYONE jumping.
10. Gettin’ in the Mood (for Christmas) by the Brian Setzer Orchestra
Originally, I put Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer here because its obnoxious, faux country twang always got people laughing, playing bad Country air guitar and jumping around. That’s before I picked up Brian Setzer’s Christmas Rocks! album. The whole album is great and you have to admire someone with the chutzpah to mix Rockabilly with Big Band. I chose this song because it’s one that Setzer helped pen, so you are unlikely to find it overcovered. Full disclosure: there is a warm spot for Brian Setzer around this house because my husband once beat him at Asteroids in a London Pub back in the 70s. But that’s another story.
Merry Christmas Season and watch this space for more lists of undiscovered Christmas tuneage.