(Above: A man who has sold a lot of product.)
December 6th is the Feast of Saint Nicholas. The story “A Visit from St. Nicholas” has been a longtime Christmas classic. From these events, we got Santa Claus, who has had an important role in the marketing of the Christmas season. Santa has also figured prominently in a lot of Christmas music for obvious reasons.
When he comes to town, it is celebrated in song. On the subject of him coming to town, I cannot decide which is the best version of that song – so here’s our first fight-starter of the holidays. (It wouldn’t be a holiday gathering without someone getting ticked off at someone else, right?) I’m inclined to point to the Crystals as heard on the Phil Spector Christmas LP. This gets a slight nod over the legendary Bruce Springsteen version since the Boss freely appropriated the arrangement. (Now, if we’re talking about the longer, bootleg version where Bruce talks about meeting Clarence – “some Christmas!” – then Springsteen wins.) But the problem arises in where to rank the Jackson Five version. Say what you will about Michael Jackson, but damn, could he sell a song convincingly from an early age. Other versions by the Supremes and Four Seasons figure prominently in Oldies radio, but I’d rank them behind these others.
Now, if we’re simply announcing that Santa is coming, Gene Autry is the standard bearer. (I have always been confused by the line “Let’s give thanks to the Lord above ’cause Santa Claus comes tonight.” Well, yes. The two events are directly related.) The fact that he’s back in town is best reported by Elvis.
What if we create a list of characteristics about Santa, and repeat it to the point of annoying the audience? That’s “Must Be Santa.” First popularized by Mitch Miller, it rivals only the Twelve Days Of Christmas and its various iterations in terms of patience-testers. Bonus points for the Bob Dylan version, which is ridiculous in every possible way (and I like Dylan).
Sometimes Santa gets in trouble. If he’s not running over Grandma, he’s had too much to drink and given a DWI. He also tends to drag race and is going to lose his license if he is not careful. (Note: the only other version of “Little Saint Nick” besides the Beach Boys that is possibly acceptable is the Muppets. Anything from John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together is acceptable.) He also fools around on occasion, with both Mommy AND Daddy, as it turns out. I’d eliminate either of these versions when programming, simply because I don’t think anyone ever asked for anything but the Ronettes‘ take on it. (Honorable mention for grating: the John Mellencamp version that ends with his kid singing.)
Be careful dressing up to play Santa. You are likely to be knocked down by angry children. The Kinks covered that well. I used to love – LOVE to throw this in on stations I programmed just to see who was paying attention.
But – if we’re going to cover the topic of Santa, the discussion has to conclude with Cheech and Chong. When I got to program stations that allowed for a little “edge” at Christmas, I’d supplement the Kinks with this one. The phrase “a little more for Santa Claus,” especially when salting a bowl of popcorn or mixing a cocktail, remains in my vocabulary. (Bonus points for Augie Rios, whose 1958 classic wondering where Santa is was borrowed on this record.)
You’ll need to include Santa on any Christmas playlist. Did you make a list, check it twice, and think of one that I missed? Feel free to add it in the comments below.