It’s an intriguing idea, one that stands as a chance of turning the listener on to new sounds while simultaneously giving a glimpse into the inner workings of the artist himself. In this spirit, here’s my suggested holiday playlist. No, you may not like it. No, it may not fit exactly into a half-day span. But I’m going to do it anyway. Enjoy.
Miles Davis: In A Silent Way
The opening moments of “Shhhh/Peaceful” are a beautiful way to start any day, let alone Christmas morning. With a stellar cast of players that included keyboardists Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter on soprano sax, guitarist John McLaughlin, bassist Dave Holland, and Tony Williams on drums, In A Silent Way not only presented a statement that jazz would never be quite the same afterwards, but that it didn’t have to work off of frenetic rhythms and serpentine changes to make a point. It could take its time, meander through ideas and moods thoughtfully, and in some ways carry the listener on a journey with more depth and emotional resonance than almost any other Davis album. Not at all “background music,” though easy enough to hear while doing other things, In A Silent Way is the kind of musical journey that encourages the listener to look inside while observing all that’s around them, and maybe find new ways to appreciate the things they see.
Beatles: Rubber Soul
So now you’re awake, the day is upon you, and hopefully there’s a mountain of elegantly wrapped gifts just waiting to be discovered. Knock back another cup of joe and let “Drive My Car” be your soundtrack to an episode of wrapping paper carnage. I’ve listened to this album so many times that hearing any Beatles “best of” package sends me into vertigo; if I hear “Michelle” NOT followed immediately by the rockabilly bounce of “What Goes On” I just get woozy and disoriented. Rarely has a recording been so perfectly sequenced, at least in my book. Harrison’s ever so painfully gorgeous Vox amp tone and phrasing on “Nowhere Man” makes me stop in my tracks every single time I hear it. Beyond that, Rubber Soul is such a ridiculously enjoyable collection of songs (OK, maybe “Run For Your Life” is a little creepy, but still ...) that it embodies the vibe of rambunctious festivity without even trying. And if you must, it’s perfectly fine to toss Lennon’s Merry Christmas (War Is Over)” and McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time” into the mix as well — it’s almost an obligation.
Joe Satriani: Surfing With The Alien
No, no no. It’s not just because I play guitar, or that Satriani left an indelible mark on me at a very early and impressionable age. It’s because right about now, in our hypothetical day, lunchtime has arrived, lots of ripping and tearing and saying “Wow, you shouldn’t have ...” has occurred, there’s probably a table full of food waiting, and you may need the boost that a stout dose of high-tech musicality can deliver. Also, this is the 20th anniversary of Surfing’s release, and possibly you were wise enough to ask for the anniversary edition of the album as a stocking stuffer, seeing as how it comes with a bonus DVD of Satch and band tearing it up at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in 1988. Chock full of utterly stunning guitar playing, crafty compositions and — surprise surprise — memorable, even hummable melodies, Surfing With The Alien gave many guitarists something to think about twenty years ago. It still does today. Extra points for not dropping a forkful of mashed potatoes in your lap in shock when the otherwise somber “Circles” goes completely haywire in the middle.
Vigilantes Of Love: Summershine
OK, so now you’re stuffed, the place is a mess and the egg nog (and couch) is beckoning seductively. You could toss some inane collection of holiday dreck on the player, or you could opt for one of the sunniest, most thoughtful collections of power pop jangle released this decade. Summershine is just one of “those” albums for me; inspiring lyrics that posses an honesty and fragility hard to find in music today, gorgeous arrangements and melodies that draw from classic Brit pop as much as American “college” rock, all delivered by the singular personality and voice of Athens, Ga. singer/songwriter extraordinaire Bill Mallonee. From the opening clang and chime of “You Know That” to the gorgeous “Galaxy” all the way to “Sailors,” this album runs the gamut of feels and ideas, happy and sad and every point in between. One of the best, without a doubt.
Admittedly four CD’s isn’t exactly a full day’s worth of music. But I lack both the self-editing skills and space to keep going for the long haul. I choose these particular recordings because they never, ever fail to make me feel something- joyful, heartbroken, euphoric, angry ... whatever. If nothing else, I encourage you all to surround yourselves with the sounds you love this holiday season, be it the melody of your favorite song or the sounds of your children’s voices. Have a wonderful Christmas.