Rocking Around the Foil Tree

Mining the mid-mod sonic stylings for our annual list of seasonal songs that don’t suck

foil_tree_playlist_by_cierra_pedro_WEBOf all the Christmas traditions—decorating, shopping, spending time with family—my absolute favorite is, without a doubt, getting blasted on eggnog.

My second favorite, though, is combing through the stacks to make a killer Christmas mix. It’s a disease, and I’ve learned to live with it. I’ll be handing out red-and-green awareness ribbons at the corner of the Boulevard and Flamingo later this week.

Close your eyes and picture Christmas in Las Vegas. Does it include big-finned rides cruising down the Strip and kidney-shaped pools behind the hotels? Of course it does, because we could no less divest that association between mid-century modern aesthetics and Vegas than the history-loving heroes of the Neon Museum could divest themselves of La Concha. It’s sort of possible, but you’d be ashamed if they did.

So let’s get conceptual, and lay out a Christmas mix that dodges the obvious Frank and Dean, and gets to the creamy center of weirdo mid-mod goodness. Bust out those Shiny Brite ornaments and hang ’em from your aluminum tree, sister.

“Christmas Party” by Brendan Hanlon & the Bat-Men. The late ’60s might be a stretch here, but this rocker would be the title track if Quentin Tarantino ever made a Christmas movie. Also, why has Quentin Tarantino never made a Christmas movie? What, is Samuel L. Jackson too good to play a foulmouthed elf leading a bloody revolution against Santa? Of course he’s not. He was in The Spirit, for God’s sake.

“Seymour the Beatnik Elf” by Larry Barton and the Freebees. So now let’s backtrack to our temporal wheelhouse. Instead of making toys, Seymour liked to play the bongos. He’s essentially the anti-Hermie. Sure, he might have ended up on the Island of Misfit Toys, too, but he would’ve been way too cool to hang out with a Charlie in the Box.

“Big Red and the Cool Yule” by Jimmy Bowman. What’s that? More jazzbos spitting archaic slang? Well, OK. If you insist. Big Red, in this case, does not refer to gum. Santa delivers albums of rhythm, blues and bop, suggesting Santa may actually be Thelonious Monk. Have you ever seen Santa and Thelonious Monk in the same place at the same time? Are we sure the naughty and nice list isn’t really the cats and cubes list?

“The Office Party” by Jim Backus. The skit sorbet of our decadently rich 12-course all-fruitcake meal. If mid-mod were a character doing a thing, it would be Backus’ Thurston Howell III knocking back something that involves eight kinds of rum and a coconut mug. Which explains why Frankie’s Tiki Room has a cocktail named after him.

“Jing-A-Ling-A-Ling” by Wayne King and his Orchestra. How this song hasn’t been deployed by some dreary, tiresome blowhard documentarian in an ironic way to underscore the evils of holiday-themed capitalism, I don’t know. What I do know is I’ll crawl through the Interstellar black hole to get to a ’50s-era mall and shop to this. With a chorus line of girls in Santa suits behind me.

“Space Age Santa Claus” by Patty Marie Jay with the Hal Bradley Orchestra. And now we get to the heart of it. Santa Claus in a space suit, driving a rocket sled. This song was retro-futuristic five seconds after it came out and nothing has made me want to join NASA harder in my life. This is the happiest thing ever put to wax and makes Pharrell’s cut from last year sound like Joy Division trapped in a pediatric oncology ward. It is definitive proof that everything has been getting worse since 1961.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo” by Billy May with Alvin Stoller. Have you ever heard someone describe a song as “boozy” and wondered what they meant? This is what they meant. The only reason more ’50s cocktail parties didn’t end in more knife fights was because they had the imported strains of exotica to soothe their gin-soaked nerves.

“Silent Night” by Scott Weiland. The Stone Temple Pilots frontman did an admirable job recapturing the “screw it, just add a bossa nova beat” aesthetic of the era from this cut off his 2011 platter The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. You will not be surprised to learn this is the only decent jam off the album.

“Jingle Bells” by Esquivel! Speaking of boozy, Esquivel! was the king of “Space Age bachelor pad” music. He was in the thick of it in the day, but didn’t turn out a Christmas record until 1996. This gem includes lyrics like “Zoo zoo zwee, boink boink, pow.” Esquivel! is possibly the Black Eyed Peas’ spirit animal.

“The Merriest” by June Christy. If you already know anything on this list, it’s probably this one. This song uses your face like a speed bag for relentless optimism. This song is scientifically proven to cause 50 percent of people to buy random strangers a drink.

“Dominick the Donkey” by Lou Monte. Hailing from an era when WASPs still talked about the Eye-talians, there is no way this song, if it came out now, wouldn’t inspire a hundred insipid self-flagellating think pieces about the nature of anti-Italian prejudice endemic to Christmas music. We’re the absolute worst.

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