Onward with the music countdown! We’re counting down my favorite holiday songs this month. (Find previous posts here.)
14. (Everybody’s Waiting for) The Man with the Bag (Kay Starr; Brian Setzer Orchestra)
I don’t have much information on this song, I’m sorry to say. But I love it for its humor, swing, and sassy attitude.
The first version I heard was sung by Kay Starr. It’s upbeat, maybe a little rocking and rolling. I still think of this as the definitive version.
Recently though, I’ve also become enamored of the version by the Brian Setzer Orchestra, which has big band feel spiced up with Setzer’s rockabilly/boogie woogie style.
Brian Setzer may be a better guitarist than singer, but his singing is still mighty fine.
13. Fairytale of New York (The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl)
There’s a lot of backstory for this song. It was written by Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan of the Pogues, and originally the female vocal was to have been sung by Cait O’Riordan, the band’s bassist. She left the band though (having struck up a relationship with Elvis Costello, who had been producing the band’s albums), and the song sat unfinished. But the band’s new producer, Steve Lillywhite, asked his then-wife Kirsty MacColl to record a guide vocal for a demo, and the band liked her contribution enough that they asked her to sing on the album version. The title of the song was chosen after the recording was complete, and comes from J. P. Donleavy’s novel, A Fairy Tale of New York.
You don’t need to know any of that though to appreciate the song. But how to describe a song that starts like this:
It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank.
An old man said to me, "Won’t see another one."
And then he sang a song, a rare old mountain tune.
I turned my face away, and I dreamed about you.
It’s coarse and melodic, bittersweet and rich, a short story in musical form.
You can find "Fairytale of New York" on the album on which it first appeared, If I Should Fall from Grace with God and various compilations. I have it on The Edge of Christmas, which is a crazy mix of holiday tunes — perhaps more crazy than this countdown even. I recommend it.