TMS Music: A John Waters Christmas

December 09, 2009 | Comments (0) | by Adam Blank

I love Christmas. I love Christmas music. And I'm one of the biggest John Waters fans around*. So a Christmas compilation handpicked by the Pope of Trash should be essential holiday listening for me, right? Fuck yeah it is.

Because A John Waters Christmas is one of those rare Christmas CDs with a parental advisory sticker on it, you might assume that it's just another entry in the overpopulated subgenre of anti-Christmas novelty songs. That's not the case. A John Waters Christmas serves as a musical orphanage for Christmas songs that the 20th century didn't want to own up to. It's a tender and earnest attempt to put listeners in the holiday spirit; sort of like a choir of mentally challenged children slogging their way through "Silent Night."

The album is book-ended with songs about black Santa Clauses. Setting the tone for the entire compilation, the opening track, "Fat Daddy," is a lighthearted R&B ditty sung by Fat Daddy, the Baltimore DJ who was Waters' inspiration for the Motor Mouth Maybelle character in Hairspray. Fat Daddy proclaims himself "Santa Claus with soul," and who are we to argue?

The much more surreal "Santa Claus Is A Black Man" closes this collection. Sung by an African American child with a lisp, the boy discovers the truth about Santa. This may be the only Christmas song to mention somebody having an afro. The chorus is sure to be stuck in your head well into the New Year, unless The Man has anything to say about it.

No whacky Christmas compilation would be complete without efforts from Tiny Tim & The Chipmunks. Tiny Tim's rendition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is so syrupy that you'll need to keep a dose of insulin on standby. The Chipmunk's interpretation of "Sleigh Ride" is, surprisingly, one of the best versions of the song I've ever heard. The aggressive nature of the sped-up vocals captures the true essence of the song.

"Happy Birthday Jesus" is a poem recited against a backdrop of "Silent Night." Little Cindy, the young girl who reads the poem, has a southern drawl and a voice so high that it makes Tiny Tim look like a baritone. This song was obviously recorded in one take, as Cindy flubs her lines but continues on, probably with an angry adult glowering at her in the recording studio. Fortunately, the other kid-sung track, "Sleigh Bells, Reindeer and Snow" is a decent country tune that accurately captures the magic of Christmas Eve in the minds of children.

"Here Comes Fatty Claus" is the track that warrants the parental advisory sticker. A redneck posse, upset that they go into debt every Christmas, sings their rallying cry to trashy white people everywhere, culminating in a chorus of "Here comes Fatty with his sack of shit, and all them stinkin' reindeer." You can't make this stuff up.

"Little Mary Christmas" is a story set to music abut a poor girl whose parents died when she was a baby. She happens to be named Mary Christmas, and is rotting in an orphanage, just waiting to be adopted. Even though she hobbles around on crutches, she holds out hope that someone will give her a new home. This song exploits everything we're taught to feel about the holidays. It doesn't tug at the heartstrings but instead tries to yank them out at the root.

"I Wish You A Merry Christmas" is a legitimate R&B track sang by Little Eva of "The Loco-Motion" fame. It's a wonderfully upbeat holiday song that seems like it fell of Phil Spector's Christmas album and somehow landed here.

We get some old school country in "Santa Don't Pass Me By," about a broken-hearted man trying to get home for Christmas by hitching a ride with Santa.
Fun Fact: the singer, Jimmy Donley, committed suicide!

"Christmas Time is Coming" is a classy a cappella song that lacks the trashy pop aesthetics of the other tracks, making it seem woefully out of place on this album. The group, Stormy Weather, hails from Hammond, Indiana; the same town that A Christmas Story sprang from.

Without a doubt, the true gem on this album is "First Snowfall," an instrumental track featuring, of all things, a Theremin. Without words, sleigh bells, church bells, or any other typical holiday motif, it manages to capture the dream-like wonder of the holidays. Performed by the Chicago-based "garage jazz" band, The Coctails, this song would enlarge the Grinch's heart and make Scrooge understand the true meaning of Christmas; all without uttering a fucking word.

*I accosted John Waters at the Biograph Theater in 2002!