031: The Beach Boys, ‘Little Saint Nick’

Posted by on Dec 23, 2021 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week |

I live in the only non-Christian country in the Western world, so come Yuletide, things are pretty normal out on the streets (well, ‘normal’ by local and Omicron standards). It’s quite a shock for visitors, how conspicuous Christmas is in its absence. And take into account that I live about 85 kilometers (52 miles) from the original manger. That’s easily traversed on camelback in two days.

As close as it is, it’s a rather foreign event here. But I grew up in a wholly Christian world, so I feel pretty comfortable about the whole thing, just a bit distanced from it. There have been years when I haven’t even noticed the holiday beyond a mention or two on the local news. But since the great majority of SoTW readers abide in The Big World Out There, I figured it would only be proper to dedicate this week’s posting to the good old red-and-green.

The world would be a poorer place without Christmas music. So much of our Western tradition revolves around it, from Liturgy’s Greatest Hits to Bob Dylan’s (some would say ‘bizarre’, others ‘unfortunate’ “Christmas in the Heart”). What is Christmas music for me? Well, of course, it’s Nat King Cole, and Bing Crosby. But there’s a lot of my high school Ensemble in there, too. We had a whole repertoire of holiday songs, many of which I can still sing through without blinking, and we’d perform every night in December, it seems.

So every year around solstice time I treat myself to some of my Chrismas favorites.

Kurt Elling’s wonderful album “The Beautiful Day” is always there.  I’m not going to give up the religion of my forefathers, but boy he paints a very attractive picture, Kurt does.

And we’ll visit some suitably solemn music, such as “O Magnum Mysterium” by Morten Lauridsen, as performed by the Nordic Chamber Choir. I had never heard of any of the three until recently. It’s a beautiful, spiritual, sacred motet, a cappella. Morten is a USC professor and 3-time Grammy nominee. And it turns out that he is currently “the most frequently performed American choral composer”. Well, how about that? Well, I’ve been away for a long time. Give a listen to that Nordic Choir. Just about perfect, I’d say.

And what would Christmas be without my buddies The Real Group? Hark, The Herald Angels Swing.

Two of my favorite chanteuses wrote great songs about the dark underside of the holiday — Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’ (check out this very, very beautiful treatment by the Danish rhythm choir Vocal Line. Heaven.) and the great Yuletide cheer-killer, Laura Nyro’s moving ‘Christmas in My Soul‘.

And then there’s that paragon of spiritual uplift, Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift for You”, featuring such gems as The Ronettes’ ‘Frosty the Snowman‘.

But the chestnut roasting on my imaginary fire, polished all candy-apple red, grinning, waiting to be bop — The Beach Boys “Little Saint Nick“. I’ve written about Brian Wilson and his band often and with a pedant’s gravity. But what the heck? Who can resist an ebullient hot-rod carol?

Just a little bobsled, we call it old Saint Nick
But she’ll walk a toboggan with a four speed stick
She’s candy apple red with a ski for a wheel
And when Santa hits the gas, man, just watch her peel.

Now that’s holiday spirit.

So to our readers all over the world, from the whole staff of Song of The Week, y’all have a good holiday — everyone, everywhere.

 

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7 Comments

sarah
Dec 23, 2011 at 10:38 am

hey jeff, been ages. i’ve been really busy. after my return from the states, yoram’s mother passed away, and there was all of that. (they got up from shiva last fri.) i hope we can get together soon. enjoy what’s left of chanukah. i have tons of christmas memories (good ones) and love the carols ! we weren’t allowed to hear them as kids – you think that had something to do with it ?
shabbat shalom !


 
jeff
Dec 23, 2011 at 11:28 am

In my HS singing group, we were about 1/3 Jews. One year the dozen of us went out caroling. We had nothing else to do on a Christmas eve, and we had this great repertoire…


 
Susan Hadash
Dec 23, 2011 at 11:54 am

I come from a mixed marriage and was raised in a Unitarian church that celebrated Christian and Jewish holidays, among others. As a lifelong choral singer I have always loved the beautiful Christmas repertoire. I love all of the songs you deliberated over, and as for choral singing, both the Beach Boys’ harmonies and the sublime Nordic Chamber Choir do it for me – thanks, Jeff, for introducing me to them and Lauridsen (I’ve heard other versions of O Magnum Mysterium).
Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy 2012, and whatever other holidays any of you may be celebrating.


 
zelio schmidt
Dec 23, 2011 at 3:01 pm

.היי ג’ף,תודה על מייל מקסים, אני בחופשה אצל הבן שלי במיאמי, כל טוב לך ומשפחתך. זליו


 
mike
Dec 14, 2013 at 11:30 am

And what a white-almost-xmas it turned out to be!
I guess Magnum is mysterious.

Happy Holidays, M.


 
Kevin Hodgkiss
Jan 3, 2015 at 1:45 am

For me Joni Mitchell’s Blue is classic American music. Each song is personal and deep, which defies it’s musical simplicity. “River” from that collection has become a revered Christmas classic even though it’s less about the holiday than it is about heartbreak and remorse. It’s been done to death, and as Joni herself said (and I paraphrase) about “Both Sides Now”, as it’s mother I should have prevented it from going certain places…. It’s a gorgeous song that no one has even come close to it’s own “mother’s” version. That being said “Little Saint Nick” does extol the elements of a great Christmas classic. Bells jingle, harmonies abound. It’s the Beach Boys for Christmas’ sake! Ha! However nothing sings Christmas to me like Phil Spector’s Christmas album. The Ronettes, the Crystals and especially, what will become the voice of Christmas, the wonderful Darlene Love. That’s what Christmas sounds like to me. As a collector of Christmas music so much of today’s tracks uses Mr. Spector’s sound to Chrismasy it up. And of course all the Motown Christmas classics, but especially The Supremes and Stevie Wonder. That’s what Christmas means to me, my love! HAPPY NEW YEAR JEFF!!! Thanks for the conversation.


 
ellen levitt
Dec 25, 2021 at 5:51 pm

Confession: I love Christmas music..


 

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