Our list of the best holiday songs ruffled a few feathers when it was discussed internally. Much of the discussion concerned the only song that appeared on the list twice-“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”. Several folks hotly debated whether Darlene Love’s original was superior to U2’s just as well-known 1987 cover. The debate was so hot that we decided to do a cover convo on it, and we brought along Mike Duquette, the man who has more writing jobs than a Jamaican in front of a typewriter. He curates the reissue site The Second Disc, moonlights as one of my Popdose brethren and pops up here from time to time, all while feeding a family of eight and serving part time as an adviser to President Obama. OK, I’m kidding about that last part. Or am I?
Anyway, read on: Duquette, Blerd and Gonzo had a spirited conversation, and this may be the only place where you get to read about Tommy Mottola’s (alleged) mob connections, contemplate whether a conversation like this is complete without Justin Bieber, and witness a brief debate about whether Rosie O’ Donnell has male genitalia.
Gonzo: Well, bust my buttons!
Blerd: I’m not sure what that might be a euphemism for. I might need an adult.
G: It’s from “The Wizard of Oz.” Get your head out of the gutter!
B: But it’s fun in the gutter!
G: Preaching to the choir, my friend.
Mike: You crazy kids!
B: Says the youngest of the three of us.
M: Alright, then – you crazy olds!
B: So are we ready to do a brand new, special 3-way Cover Convo?
G: Speaking of the gutter…
B: This is a special Christmas edition, and we have invited Mike Duquette to play along with us this time.
G: Nothing says holiday spirit like a three-way!
B: There will be lots of halls decked, tons of gay apparel, and plenty of fa la la in your la la la la.
G: I can’t wait until we fig the pudding!
M: and trim the Christmas bush! Wait, am I doing this right?
B: Oh, close enough! So on with our first entry:
G: No joke, I probably listened to this 5 times in a row in the car on Saturday night.
B: Did you sing along?
G: I did sing along in anticipation of karaoke that evening, but it quickly became clear that Darlene Love and I are in totally different planets vocally.
B: I’ve heard you sing. You can’t hang with the Darlene Love?
G: Not without going falsetto.
B: Then go falsetto dammit!
M: Is this the sole Phil Spector-produced sound where you can actually pick out more individual instruments than usual?
B: I’m not sure i know enough Spector songs to really tell.
G: The Phil Spector xmas album is fantastic. They just reissued it a few years ago.
M: It’s bizarre that an album so good has such a spotty history on CD
Of course, it was plagued from the start, being released on November 22, 1963.
B: So I must admit, this wasn’t the first version of this song i ever heard.
G: Gremlins notwithstanding, I’m pretty sure that’s true of me as well.
B: I suppose I saw Gremlins before 1987, I just don’t remember this song being in it.
M: It might’ve been a toss-up for me. Gremlins was an early teenage favorite. My parents taped it off HBO.
G: I saw Gremlins at the drive-in. Paired with the fucking Goonies.
M: That is the Spielbergest double-feature ever, maybe.
B: At any rate, one of the very first tapes i bought was a compilation called “A Very Special Christmas” containing this little ditty
And boy, that first volume of A Very Special Christmas was pretty grand. I loved it when my mom had it on cassette, and I recently tracked down a vinyl copy.
B: Christmas In Hollis!! Whitney singing Do You Hear What I Hear. Um…what else?
M: The version with Bon Jovi’s “Back Door Santa” instead of “I Wish Every Day Could Be Like Christmas.”
G: Mellencamp doing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”
M: That miser Sting contributing a two-year-old B-side instead of a new track.
B: I believe Stevie Nicks bleated some song or other.
G: Annie Lennox did a take on “Winter Wonderland” as well.
M: the Jerseyan has to mention BRUUUUUUUCE too!
G: That franchise (A Very Special Christmas) got real questionable after volume 2.
M: My two major thoughts on the U2 version, besides what I wrote in the list:
Bono awkwardly laughing during the last verse, and my realization that, even though it’s a symbol of all that would go wrong with U2 in the next year, I want to earn the right to wear that hat like Bono’s.
B: A couple years later that would become a Color Me Badd outfit. And I don’t hear the laughing.
M: Around 1:42. He starts to laugh on “I could hold back these tears” and more so on “But it’s Christmas Day”
B: I swear I never noticed.
G: Me either.
but wait, there’s more…
G: You beat me to it, you ass!
B: (grins broadly)
G: This version sounds rhythmically stiff…and that’s not because of the holiday number Mariah’s wearing on the cover.
It does sound a little less loose by comparison, but this was when Mottola had her on the leash. If she’d recorded this two years later, it would’ve been all over the place. And probably would have had a guest rap by the ODB.
G: Christmas is for the children!
M: As someone who’s often seen Mariah’s sex appeal as kind of alien…whoo boy, does she bring it in the liner notes!
Speaking of, this song is a liner note geek’s wet dream. So many killer session players on this song alone.
M: Greg Phillinganes, Lenny Pickett, Randy Jackson, Omar Hakim, and super-producer Walter Afanasieff
I had totally thought it was Clarence Clemons playing bari sax on this one, but nope, it’s Pickett.
Sony Music = Tommy Mottola’s mob $
G: Well shit, Blerd. I can’t let that last move go unanswered.
B: What is this? Oh, fuck you, Gonzo!
G: Hey, it’s a three way. I’m playing rough and dirty.
M: I’ve never heard this one before, but starting with the bridge is kind of irking me.
B: Is that a drum machine? automatically disqualify.
G: No way. It’s the littlest Hanson!
B: Sounds to me like Zac has some electronic assistance. It also sounds like Taylor is in that weird Peter Brady time to change stage on this song.
M: As someone who lived through both, I can’t believe how much Hanson could pass for the Jonas Brothers.
B: Well…main difference…Hanson is actually enjoyable these days.
OK, this isn’t so bad, just kinda threw me for a loop.
Nevertheless, that was dirty pool. So…
G: Fuck me.
B: BAM, SUCKA!!!!
G: Holy shit. This must have been circa “Do You Believe in Life After Love.”
M: Waiting for the autotune in 3…2…
G: AND THERE IT IS!
Wait, is this that Rosie O’Donnell?
B: There’s another Rosie O’ Donnell?
G: Somewhere, I bet.
B: Well yes. But one big enough to do a record with Cher?
G: I just never expected her to be guesting on a pop song, and doing so in a fairly earnest manner.
M: This is when everyone loved Rosie, all flinging Koosh balls into the audience of her talk show, and lusting after Tom Cruise.
B: I won’t say anything bad about Rosie. a) she was very nice to me the one time I met her, and b) she probably has a bigger dick than I do.
(room goes silent)
B: And the room goes silent.
G: Sorry, I was busy googling “Rosie O’Donnell penis.”
M: This has to be the newest version:
B: Buble sounds so…Canadian.
M: Everything I’ve heard from this album is a snooze.
He makes Josh Groban look like he’s about to go H.A.M. on America.
G: Yeah, this sounds really sanitized. Even moreso than Hanson, for fuck’s sake.
B: It’s totally dentist’s office.
M: Here’s another if you wanna pour another out for these guys:
B: Oh crap, this is REM?
G: This has to be Mike Mills singing
M: Yep, Stipe was apparently too busy?
G: This also sounds pretty middle of the road to me. Granted, it was 2010 REM.
M: I’m looking up all the R.E.M. Christmas fan-club singles; you could totally make a full album of holiday songs. But I shouldn’t say that too loud, lest Warner Bros. get their CD pressing machines into overdrive.
B: Oh shit, Mike Mills, drill that falsetto!
OK, so what’s that, six? seven?
M: Six! Six bands a-laying down versions of this song!
G: Well, this whole conversation was spurred by a friendly debate about Darlene Love vs. U2.
I’m guessing those are still the two main contenders here.
M: Most of the others are patches on those two – even R.E.M.
B: So im gonna say-and i figure you both are already aware of my feelings-U2 recorded the better version.
G: Well I’ll say this. I was pretty defensive in our initial conversation, but heard the U2 version a few days later, and remembered how much I loved it.
But I still have to go with Darlene Love. Maybe it’s my penchant for girl groups, the wall of sound, etc.
M: It’s funny, Gonzo, because I almost changed MY mind.
I love the Wall of Sound more than most people my age, but that yearning in Bono’s voice takes me to a period where he was earnest, rather than the rodeo clown in sunglasses he is today. Although that piano riff at the end of Darlene’s version: siiiiiiick.
B: Darlene sings backup on the U2 song. It’s like a 2 for 1 deal.
G: I didn’t know she was on the U2 cut.
B: So…i’m for U2, G is for Darlene..and Mike…you’re on Team U2 right?
G: I DEMAND A RECOUNT
B: Hahaha…you’re outnumbered, bub.
M: LOSE GRACEFULLY, DR. GONZO
G: Merry Christmas, bitches!
M: Didn’t Bruce sing that?
B: Oh man, that would be awesome!
M: So glad Island Def Jam didn’t foist this song on Justin Bieber.
B: They’ll leave that for the Christmas Album Part 2.
Justin Bieber’s Christmas: The B(ieber)-Sides
M: “Over The Mistletoe.”
And to all…a good night!
B: Noel and shit!
M: Ho ho ho!
Blerd Decision: U2
Dr. Gonzo Decision: Darlene Love, although we almost got him to reconsider and vote U2.
Duquette is the tie-breaker, and he decides: U2!!
Bono wins! Not like his head can get any bigger, anyway!!
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