Christmas Carols
December 9, 2009 4:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm miles away from my Christian upbringing, but goddamn I love me some Christmas music in three-part harmony.
posted by lholladay at 4:50 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Roches with Linda Ronstadt and Philip Glass. Not Christmas music, but it's pretty good anayway.
posted by doctor_negative at 4:52 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

This makes me uncomfortable.
posted by greta simone at 4:55 PM on December 9, 2009

I'm Jewish and loved these anyway. Frankly, if we edited all good music and art to stay away from strong religious themes, we'd decimate most of the Western oeuvre. These arrangements are great.
posted by bearwife at 5:07 PM on December 9, 2009

Just please stay away from their Frosty the Snowman ( link, apologies in advance for anyone who can't listen, or anyone who can.).

(This message brought to you from me when I was fifteen, and my mom played this song every Christmas, making my skin crawl with embarrassment on behalf of anyone who was involved with its recording. The more you know!)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:25 PM on December 9, 2009

The Roches' Hallelujah Chorus is a monument of Western Civilization... and the rest of their ouevre ain't bad either. They thought being on the "Tonight Show" in the 1970s would change their careers, but it turned out to be a "Big Nuthin". (Here's a transcript of an interview on NPR.)
posted by Faze at 5:26 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Aw, I love those guys. Hallelujah Chorus is the pick of the litter -- I love their jazzy little hip and hand moves and, of course, that magnificently twisted final Hallelujah.
posted by ottereroticist at 5:28 PM on December 9, 2009

when I was fifteen, and my mom played this song every Christmas
What? Weren't you fifteen? It lasts for years.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:33 PM on December 9, 2009

"Not Christmas music, but it's pretty good anayway."

I don't know doctor_negative, I think the lyrics have a pretty good Christmas message :)

They brush lightly by, these lovers.
They pass. Never touching.
These passing lovers move through his room.

The man is awake now
He can't get to sleep again.
So he repeats these words
Over and over again:
Bravery. Kindness. Clarity.
Honesty. Compassion. Generosity.
Bravery. Honesty. Dignity.
Clarity. Kindness. Compassion

And yes iholladay, I'm a sucker for harmony too. There is something about the harmony in sibling groups that is always special.
posted by vronsky at 5:39 PM on December 9, 2009

My favourite version of Frosty the Snowman is by the Cocteau Twins - almost as fabulous as their version of Winter Wonderland.

And, ooh, wow, I don't think I've seen this since the Whistle Test Pick of the Year 1980, although I did tape the soundtrack, so I've listened to it many times. For some reason I thought it was vaguely apocalyptic at the time. Don't know now, though.
posted by Grangousier at 5:52 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Saw them perform the Hallelujah chorus live at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. It was almost a religious experience. Also of note, their arrangement of this Paranoid Larry song, Jesus Shaves.
posted by The White Hat at 6:31 PM on December 9, 2009

Wow, that sure brought back some warm and fuzzy memories.
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 6:32 PM on December 9, 2009

Haven't watched the videos yet (computer issues) but I wonder if the SNL clip is the one that had Robert Fripp sitting there quietly doing his Frippertronics in the background as the Roches performed. That really surprized me when I caught it back in the day.
posted by metagnathous at 6:41 PM on December 9, 2009

Wonderful! Thanks for this. Great harmonizing.

I still have the chorus to "We" running through my head, decades after hearing it:
"We are Maggie and Terre and Suzzy; we spell our last name R-O-C-H ... EEEEE"

..and I just found the video!
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:44 PM on December 9, 2009

I don't think that was the video metagnathous, but I swear now that you mention it I saw the same thing.

They did used to put on an annual xmas show in nyc that was famous for drawing the downtown arts and music crowd though (Laurie Anderson, Chuck Close, Schnabel, Lou Reed etc...)
posted by vronsky at 6:59 PM on December 9, 2009

yeah here it is. They really have an interesting history -- "We happened to live in the West Village and there were a couple of clubs that were just starting to get going again," Maggie went on to explain. "This whole hotbed of creativity began to spring in these two clubs. Everybody was starting to write great songs and it was a very rich time."

The Roches were finding new confidence and more importantly were cultivating their now-trademark sense of irreverent fun. "We started playing Kenny's Castaways over on Bleecker Street, and we'd do both places."

In a strange way, The Roches bridged the gap between the very separate worlds of folk and the more literate, Americanized form of punk rock, known at the time as new wave. Quickly, The Roches went from being opening acts to headliners. Around the same time, British avant-garde guitarist Robert Fripp had disbanded King Crimson, his influential art rock group of the early 70s, and was in New York.

"He claims he came down to the club several times and we refused to speak to him," Suzzy recalled. "I don't remember that, but nothing would surprise me."

Maggie continued: "We really weren't familiar with the music of King Crimson, but we got to know Robert and did a couple of records together. You wouldn't have really thought of the match at first, but I think we shared certain sensibilities together."

"He would play with us whenever we were together at a gig. He was a riot; we were a strange combination," Suzzy said.

As luck would have it, both The Roches and Fripp had just signed contracts with Warner Brothers, which made it a natural step for him to produce the album simply known as The Roches. Fripp took the wonderful quirkiness of the sisters' acoustic sound and added light, spacious arrangements with the addition of Peter Gabriel keyboardist Larry "Synergy" Fast, future Crimson bassist Tony Levin, Jim Maelen on percussion, and Fripp's own unmistakable floating, moaning guitar playing and tape loops.
posted by vronsky at 7:20 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I heard The Roches a few years back on NPR (Fresh Air, maybe?) doing Christmas songs. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Great stuff here, and thanks for posting it!
posted by jquinby at 7:31 PM on December 9, 2009

I kind of don't want to listen. My whole Christmas antipathy against my mom is based on her repeated playing of their version of "Deck the Halls," and why risk ruining THAT tradition?
posted by Madamina at 7:39 PM on December 9, 2009

Oh I'm with you on that one madamina -- and on the Frosty version mentioned above. I would hit ff if those songs came on too. They were that kind of group. Occasionally irritating, but more often than not, they could, with those sweet harmonies, and that quirky charm, hit that sweet spot, and give you the shivers, or make you want to cry.
posted by vronsky at 7:51 PM on December 9, 2009

Excellent, vronsky. Thank you for digging up that link. I'd always wondered about that connection.
posted by metagnathous at 8:20 PM on December 9, 2009

Adeste Fidelis has a pretty bad pitch drift from beginning to end. Which I only noticed because I pressed replay so many times.
posted by ctmf at 8:25 PM on December 9, 2009

What a great Xmas treat… the Roches, Fripp, Gabriel, the Cocteau Twins: a very 80's holiday!

My whole Christmas antipathy against my mom is based on her repeated playing of their version of "Deck the Halls," and why risk ruining THAT tradition?

My Dad used to play Bach's Toccata in Fugue in D minor every Xmas. Yikes! However, I think you will find that you'll miss those antipathetic songs when your folks are no longer around.
posted by jabo at 8:41 PM on December 9, 2009

Everybody in the laundromat is equal.
posted by matildaben at 8:43 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

We Three Kings is our family's "Christmas Album". It will be played mostly non-stop on the drive from Seattle down to my in-laws place in Ashland. Simply an amazing piece of work.

Oh, and Hammond Song is pretty great as well...
posted by Windopaene at 9:38 PM on December 9, 2009

Seconding We Three Kings as a Christmas favourite. Lovely choice of title, too!
posted by sagwalla at 11:49 PM on December 9, 2009

Thanks to this post, I finally get that episode of Tiny Tune Adventures with the all female group "The Roaches" (who apparently were also voiced by The Roches).
posted by champthom at 2:50 AM on December 10, 2009

I love The Roches. The first album I heard from them was Keep On Doing (I still think Losing True is probably one of the most perfect songs ever written), lent to me by a girl I was dating then, and it so impressed me I felt compelled to write my first and last fan letter to a band. The response arrived some weeks later in the form of a hand-written letter from Suzzy Roche. It was an actual letter, too, i.e., both side of the page, speaking frankly, informally, and a bit self-deprecating (I'd asked where I could find their first album, Seductive Reasoning, and she'd responded that "You could probably find that one in the 99¢ bin at Sam Goody's"). I was absolutely blown away. If there is one group of musicians I associate with sincerity, it's the Roches. God I love 'em.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:06 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

In your Easter bonnet
With all the frills upon it
You'll be the only snowman in the Easter parade.
posted by pracowity at 3:19 AM on December 10, 2009

I love the Roches. I love this post. I love all you guys.
posted by Jofus at 3:59 AM on December 10, 2009

Take the Roches as the starting point for a contemporary folk / singer-songwriter genome map: Suzzy Roche has daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche by Loudon Wainwright III, who is the brother of Sloane Wainwright and has son Rufus and daughter Martha by Kate McGarrigle. And if you include 'frequently plays with' as a 'degree of separation' you're quickly on to Teddy Thompson (through whom Richard Thompson, Linda Thompson, Fairport Convention, Kamila Thompson), Antony Hegarty, and on and on it goes...
posted by degreezero at 4:09 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have We Three Kings as my "get in the Christmas mood" album.

My absolute favorite that I can endlessly loop is Star of Wonder.
posted by lysdexic at 7:54 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Love 'em, by Zeus! And Married Men is the bestest.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:56 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Going through their discography, at seems all my favorites were composed by Maggie Roche. I'm going to have to check out her solo material.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:58 AM on December 10, 2009

What a cool story Marisa :) I had something similar happen to me with the one and only fan letter I have ever written. I was probably 16 or 17 and crazy at the time about the writer Annie Dillard. I wrote her a long, probably pompous and way too serious, teenage angst ridden letter after reading Teaching A Stone To Talk, and a week later I got a lovely handwritten, 3 page long reply from her that was surprisingly personal and deep. I remember being on cloud nine reading that thing over and over for days after. It was pretty cool to get such a heartfelt, touching letter from a Pulitzer prize winner.
posted by vronsky at 11:23 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I was pretty touched. The only other semi-famous musician encounter that even comes close is the time I saw GWAR at this super tiny club (no costumes or props, they played as RAWG). After the show, I approached Beefcake the Mighty and asked him to sign my T-shirt. He smiled broadly, said, "Sure, kid" and spun me around, scrawling on my back. I thanked him and rushed back to my friends to show it off. I turned around for them and they busted out laughing - he had written "I AM A RESTROOM RENT BOY" in large block letters.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:51 AM on December 10, 2009

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