Santacular Christmas Countdown – #12 – John Mellencamp

John Mellencamp –  “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” – In 1987, Mellencamp was at the height of his musical trajectory.  His “Lonesome Jubilee” album synthesized rock, country, folk and old-timey instruments into a peculiar (though accessible) piece of art.  The shows that supported the record put on display one of the best bands I have ever seen live, and I’ve seen hundreds, both great and crappy.  I saw John first in ’85 at Detroit’s Cobo Hall during the “Scarecrow” tour and it was my first real taste of what kind of power a band that behaved like that could have;  it was the combination of 60’s Mitch Ryder-like  rock and roll, Kinks-via-America blue collar lyrical poetry and really loud guitars and drums.  Two years later,  in ’87, that same band had become even more nuanced without losing its power or its garage rock backbone, while adding a fiddle and accordian to the mix.  So when I found myself deep in the lawn at Pine Knob Music Theater (again, Detroit) for the second leg of that tour,  the intensity, James Brown-ish polish and the momentum of a bunch of radio singles made it one of the best five shows I have seen in my life.  The “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” video was recorded during  that tour, before one of the shows.  It captures that unique-for-the-times Mellencamp sound – rustic, rootsy rock and roll.  I would call it brilliant.  It is a Mellencamp era that I miss to this day. 

He’s had a helluva career, still does what he wants – with integrity –  and has moved into a more traditional rock sound for his live shows, though the fiddle still plays an important part in defining the Mellencamp concert sound.  Rewind to a era captured on video, of an Indiana punk grown up just enough to build himself one of the great, underrated live bands of the rock era, successfully reinventing a holiday classic.

Santacular Christmas Countdown – #14 – Beach Boys

“Little Saint Nick” gets points for withstanding the test of  time; an early hyper-produced-yet-simple rock tune –  almost 40 years old  – and still heard today because of the uniqueness of the Beach Boy vocals, unmatched and never duplicated all these years later.  Ripped the melody from “Little Duece Coupe”, but added the great repeated harmony refrain “…Run Run Reindeer” to the tune, among the other lyric changes.  Not a great song; instead a nugget of 60’s pre-Beatles rock preserved forever.  The Beach Boys were huge in America, and splintered because of death, family fights and Mike Love’s cheesiness. 

Santacular Christmas Song Countdown – #16 – Rusty Bladen

You will notice, if you are a longtime reader, I throw in a fair amount of unsubstantiated opinion on my way to passing along facts. In reality, if you have read the blog posts over the past year, you already know – via these little nuggets of insight that roll out of my brain, into my fingers and onto the computer – what I like. And trust me, this has everything to do with the song at #16.

If you listed the six (I needed six – five wasn’t enough) musical sounds/songs/albums/artists that are the influences behind this here Rockforward site, it would read like this:

1. The trio of Mellencamp albums in the mid 80’s – “Uh-Huh”, “Scarecrow” and “The Lonseome Jubilee”. Anyone who is 35+ that likes the music we do should recognize how much these albums – especially “Scarecrow” – influenced tons of Americana and roots-rock bands and fans.

2. Tom Petty. Anything Tom Petty.

3. Those late 80’s bands that came on the heels of Petty and Mellencamp (including Gear Daddies, Uncle Tupelo, BoDeans, Del Fuegos, Georgia Satellites, Jason & The Scorchers, Lone Justice, and regional/Indiana artists like Larry Crane, Duke Tomatoe, The Hammerheads, and Henry Lee Summer. That is some and there are more ) Alt-country before they called it that. Heartland rock at the time.

4. Springsteen – for the majesty of the rock and roll, the brilliance of the lyrics, and the passion of the live show. And for the lineage to bar band rock and R&B  (like the outstanding J. Geils Band)

5. Power Pop. I think Cheap Trick is woefully underappreciated. Rick Springfield’s “Working Class Dog ” album should be considered great power pop/rock. The Cars debut album is one of the best records in the rock music era. Matthew Sweet’s “Girlfriend ” record was killer. I saw the Romantics live at a bar in 1989 and they were loud, into the performance, and rocked hard, fast and righteously.

6. The current crop of bands that carry on the sounds: Bottle Rockets, Todd Snider, James McMurtry, Cross Canadian Ragweed, and Will Hoge among many more…

So that’s where I come from. And it leads to #16 on our countdown of 20 Christmas roots-rock songs. Indiana’s Rusty Bladen has been working for the past 20 years in the bars, clubs and parties throughout the state. I’ve known him that long, first meeting him when I was a radio jock down at WORX in Madison, Indiana – I was just out of college and had a Sunday night radio show and eventually did mornings for a couple years. He was just starting his solo career after a few years in cover bands. He now plays mainly solo live shows that are always high energy. His sound hits all of the influences I already cited.  His writing is blue collar.

About a year ago, he released “Feels Like Christmas”, a holiday album of 11 classic Christmas songs and one original – the title cut. That’s the one we have here. Mellencamp drummer Dane Clark produced the effort, and made it all sound really good.  A great country rock/heartland/Americana record. The record is simply my favorite Christmas album of all time. Overstatement? Nah.  Listen to the album.

Here’s the song, with it’s  fun, quaint, and homegrown video.

Santacular Christmas Countdown: #17 – U2


From the uber-successful “Very Special Christmas” album (the first one), our earnest boys of U2 take the Darlene Love/Phil Spector classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and give it the echo-and-Edge treatement. 

(Did You Know? –  Love provided backing vocals for the cut).

Recorded during the height of their initial powers, just after “The Joshua Tree” release, the group adds enough drama and bombast to keep up with the exquisite original.  Gotta admire U2 for their ability to take on anything (song, idea, sound) and end up giving it their own stamp.  Not as much a staple of rock radio at Christmastime as it should be. Recorded July 1987 during a sound check at a stop during their Joshua Tree Tour in Glasgow, Scotland.  The video was filmed in Baton Rouge, LA.  Though just 2:18 in length, enough time for Bono to fully rock the hat. 

Christmas Song Santa-tacular Rock and Roll Countdown ’09 – #20

Can anyone put together a santatacular set of rock and roll/Americana/roots-rock/whatever Christmas songs?  Hell, yeah someone can.  I’m your guy.

Between this moment and when Santa comes down your metaphorical chimney, we’re gonna take a look and a listen to the best, oddest, dustiest, loudest, semi-legendary holiday rock music.  Stuff you can sing along to everytime you hear the damn thing, and stuff that should have been more than a just a holiday lost classic – but then again, a lot of lost  songs have been found again on YouTube.

That’s our deal.  Tell your friends over at the Facebook franchise.    The holiday party’s right here.  Free beer. It’s the Christmas Song Santa-tacular Rock and Roll Countdown ’09.

So, as Casey Kasem (psst, kids – he’s an old radio guy) would always say:  “And the Countdown rolls on…”

In the 1970’s in England, there weren’t many bands bigger than Slade.  Goofy, bubblegum Chuck Berry-ish guitar rock and roll with a whole bunch of shouted choruses.  America never thought as highly of them.  Here’s what wikipedia says: They were the first act to have three singles enter at #1, and had six  chart-topping stompers.  Their best selling single, “Merry Xmas Everybody“, sold more than 1 million copies worldwide.

Best known in the US for influencing and sharing songs with Quiet Riot at the initial blast of the  heavy metal era in the early 80’s. They had a couple MTV hits (“Run Runaway” probably the best remembered). 

At #20, its “Merry Christmas Everybody”, in all it’s lip-synching, live-action cartoon glory.