Ah, Thanksgiving has come and gone, and you know what that means? It's Christmas time, all the time! Gargantuan plastic snow-globes will start popping up on your neighbor's lawn, and the Beach Boy's Christmas album gets put back on the Ipod, because you never know when you'll be at a holiday party that needs Christmas music that's almost impossible to listen to.

Countless attempts have been made, some more successful than others, at making a 'cool' Christmas album. One that won't make your ears bleed candy-cane-red, but will make you think of reindeer paws on crest-fallen snow, sleigh rides, silver bells, and chap stick in your stocking (my family is very practical in their gift-giving.)

This Christmas, though, why not surprise eggnoggers with Christmas tunes that come from unexpected places? Every now and then, an artist buries a song within an otherwise secular album that just really nails it.   

A perfect example is Jeff Beck's virtuosic performance of Greensleeves, a concert favorite he threw into his 1968 solo debut, Truth.

[ mp3 ]: Jeff Beck - Greensleeves


There's been a lot of posts recently about  CFCF's cover of Fleetwood Mac's Big Love. Big Love is from their '87 record Tango in the Night, the last 'Mac album Lindsey Buckingham would be involved with. (Until they all got back together for The Dance.) I went looking in Dad's stacks for Big Love, and instead, I pulled out Tusk. Probably because it's a double-album, which makes it much thicker.

Fleetwood Mac
was one of those bands that was constantly doing it with each other - Lindsey Buckingham was with Stevie Nicks, then they broke up and she started canoodling with drummer Mick Fleetwood, meanwhile John and Christine McVie were filing for divorce, and I'm sure the guy who drove the bus was sleeping with all of them. All this internal turmoil peaked during their massive hit, the aptly titled Rumours, and by the time Tusk rolled around, Buckingham and Nicks were so estranged, the record became like a child in joint custody - they split it down the middle.

Usually, splitting it down the middle can lead to a confusing mess (or a deranged child), and that's exactly what Tusk is. Songs jump from Buckingham's jangly, earthy pop to Nick's beautiful, well, um, Stevie Nicks-like songs.  The Ledge is the second track on the first record, and could easily pass as the hippest Appalachian jug band you've ever heard.

[ mp3 ]: Fleetwood Mac - The Ledge

I could listen to a whole album that sounds like that, (and you probably could put together a full album selecting from the twenty tracks in this sprawler) but then Stevie Nicks chimes in with great songs too, like Sara. This is the original vinyl press, so this version of Sara clocks in at just over six minutes. When Tusk was re-released on CD, they edited Sara down to fit the entire two album set on one CD. Of course, the six minute version is way better. Listen for the build of the backup vocals. Really great stuff.

[ mp3]: Fleetwood Mac - Sara


Loads have been written about Leonard Cohen over the years, touting his poetic lyrics, craftman-like song writing, and his general all-around pimpness. But it wasn't until my very good friend Virginia Whittington forced me to watch I'm Your Man, the 2005 documentary about Mr. Cohen, that I began to really understand and appreciate the man and his music.

When I asked my father if he had any Leonard Cohen LPs, he was sure he did, but admitted to not having listened to them very often. Sometimes, you just don't jump on board with something. Like, I'm sure Devendra Banhart would just blow my mind, but I'll pass. (Although, if he's today's version of Leonard Cohen, I guess that makes Natalie Portman Janis Joplin?)

Anyway, Songs From a Room was Cohen's follow-up to his critically acclaimed debut, Songs of Leonard Cohen. While not nearly as complete as his first record, Songs From a Room contains some real classics. The first cut, oft covered, is probably the best on the album.

[ mp3 ]: Leonard Cohen - Bird On A Wire


My early teen years were spent living in fear. In fact, they prepared me quite well for life in post 9-11 America, but at the time I wasn't scared of dirty bombs or ricin attacks on the subway. No, back when I was thirteen I had much greater fears. Would I really have to switch to wearing boxers, or should I tuck in all my shirts so other kids couldn't 'check?' Was I ever going to have the courage to try to kiss the girl I was 'going out with,' or would I be an awkward coward for the rest of my life? But the biggest fear I lived with was the fear that someday soon, my dad was going to say we needed to talk, sit me down, and start with, "when a man and a woman love each other very much..."

Oh, the birds and the bees talk, what a horrifying threat lies within you! While you mark an important rite of passage from child to puberty monster, you also mark the first time we have to sit down and allow our parents to wash wave after wave of shame and embarrassment over us. You haunt us, threatening to unfurl during any pregnant silence. Sooner or later we all have to suffer through you. Unless.....

Unless your parents spare you this embarrassment by skipping the conversation entirely, and avoiding any situations in which the conversations would have to occur. I guess that's why my dad never said, "Hey, why don't we listen to the second side of The Psychedelic Furs classic Talk, Talk, Talk. There's a track I think you should hear, and then we can talk about what the song means."

[ mp3 ]: The Psychedelic Furs - I Wanna Sleep With You


If you've never heard of Nick Lowe, it's time to learn how to walk on your hands - this guy won't just knock your socks off, he will blow up your feet, leaving you with bloody stumps and a giddy smile. This is some serious sonic happiness people. The first time my dad played this for me in 2008 (thirty years after its release) it was the best record I had heard all year. Is your hyperbole meter spiking yet? Well then, non-believer, listen to the first track: