Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas beer soundtrack

Yeah the economy is in reverse, the R-word was just used for real the other day, and Detroit’s Big 3, like Wall Street, was back in the cash soup line that formed at the doors of the US Capitol.

The retrograde certainly makes enjoying the holidays quite a challenge. But the bounty of great Christmas and winter beers on the shelves and brewpub taps can still lift your spirits, or at least give you a reason to tipple this season, if the economic cratering hasn’t already driven you to drink.

But beer is about more than just aroma and taste. It’s about other senses, too, whether it’s conversation or taking in the arts while you imbibe.

With that in mind, here’s a short list for a holiday/winter beer soundtrack, a collection of tunes – gems from Christmas past to be sure – suitable to trim trees by and sip those big, hearty ales.

Polka, polka
Think you don’t like polka? Check out Brave Combo, the Texas ensemble that ingeniously has fused a number of music styles (polka, samba, cumbia, ska) for nearly 30 years, and polka-played some rock standards (Purple Haze) with a straight face. Their score for the Yule is hip-cool:

Christmas in July … An up-tempo number that opens with the economy in a slump, and the president, who calls Santa up, knows just what will pick things up. Yep, it’s Christmas in July. (Lyrics here). Hey Mr. President-elect, your next Cabinet announcement/newser going to feature St. Nick?

Must Be Santa ... You’ll be singing along before this 2 1/2 minutes of accordion-fired call-and-response is over, especially if your wassail bowl has one of those 12% brews in it.

• Santa’s Polka … “Santa don’t get cold when he dances at the old North Pole-ka.” Nope, he don’t.

Jingle Bells … A double-timed, instrumental version of the secular standard that was copyrighted under the title “One Horse Open Sleigh” 150 years ago. Finishes as quickly as it starts for an apt turn upon the well-worn. Let Babs Streisand plod through all the verses.

Tchaikovsky, anyone?
Nut Rocker … Sometimes a starchy, classic melody yearns to breathe and cut loose. Think Nut Rocker, B. Bumble and the Stingers’ twist on Tchaikovsky’s March of the Wood Soldiers from the Russian composer’s celebrated Nutcracker ballet. Nut Rocker topped the British pop charts 40-plus years ago, while hitting 23rd in the US. It’s a quirky tune, instantly recognizable, but ends too soon. Still, the rumbling, bouncy piano lines alone justify the space on your iPod. Those bombastic prog rockers Emerson, Lake & Palmer, jumped on the Stingers’ hit at the start of the 1970s, with Keith Emerson banging out the keyboard lead on clavinet. Go with the Stingers' version, though.

Tin drums for Christmas
Soca Santa … Find your palest, lightest Christmas beer and pair it with this catchy, sunny number by soca/parang artist Machel Montano. “Soca Santa don’t want to ride no sleigh, in a big-time Toyota galavanting all day!”

Whither the weather
Baby, It’s Cold Outside … It doesn’t mention Christmas in the lyrics, but no matter, the legendary smooth crooner and Rat Packer, Dean Martin himself, put this classy duet on a holiday LP. (Sadly, Dean checked out of this mortal world on Christmas Day in 1995.) A standard from the 1940s, anyone’s version is worth a listen.

Get your mojo working
Good King Wenceslas … Mojo Nixon was a little like Frank Zappa – irreverent, bawdy lyrical social commentary – only Zappa’s inner musician was a serious composer and virtuoso guitarist and way more stylish than the psychobilly Mojo. Still, it’s worth having Mojo Nixon & The Toadliquors’ rendition of Good King Wenceslas. La la la la la la la/la la la la la la.

Speaking of kings
Blue Christmas … Yeah, looks that way with every RSS feed that’s filed. But we got beer and things to listen to, Elvis, so it’ll be all right.