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When I asked, on Facebook and Twitter, for suggestions of Christmas music by Minnesota artists, the call was met with stone silence. For all the strength and diversity of our local music scene, Christmas music really isn’t something Minnesota artists are particularly known for. I was left, then, to do my own brainstorming and research; here’s the result.
Each song below features a link to a recording on YouTube; click here for a complete playlist. What songs is this playlist missing? Please add your suggestions in the comment section.
1. Tom Waits, “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis.” No, Tom Waits isn’t from Minnesota—but this 1978 song was just too obvious not to include. At a concert in 1985, Waits described the song’s inspiration: “I was in Minneapolis. It was 200 degrees below zero—I know, you think I'm bullshitting, no, I swear to God, I was wearing just a bra and a slip and a kind of dead squirrel around my neck. He was colder than I was. The police cars would go by and they'd wave…merry Christmas, merry Christmas, merry Christmas. Anyway, I got caught in the middle of a pimp war between two kids in Chinchilla coats, they couldn't have been more than 13 years old. They're throwing knives and forks and spoons out into the street—it was deep. So I grabbed a ladle, and Dinah Washington was singing ‘Our Day Will Come’ and I knew that was it.”
2. The Trashmen, “Dancin’ with Santa.” The Minneapolis garage rockers are best known for their #4 hit “Surfin’ Bird” (1963); they never again cracked the Top 10, but a string of follow-up singles included this groovy holiday release from 1964.
3. Bob Dylan, “Must Be Santa.” That year, 1964, this Hibbing native released Another Side of Bob Dylan, an album that included “My Back Pages” and “It Ain’t Me Babe.” After he finished redefining the poetic potential of popular music, then releasing a series of searing personal albums, then becoming born again as a Christian, then playing in the Traveling Wilburys, then returning to peak form with a streak of powerful comeback albums…then, in 2009, Bob Dylan was ready to release his Christmas album. Ho ho ho!
4. Alexander O’Neal, “Our First Christmas.” The Minneapolis Sound is all over this slick 1988 track produced by legendary local duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
5. Garrison Keillor, “The Sons of Knute Christmas Dance and Dinner.” After representing the urban sound of Minneapolis, it’s only fair to pay homage to Greater Minnesota in this story-song from Keillor’s 1994 holiday concert album.
6. Sounds of Blackness, “Soul Holidays.” For over 40 years, the Sounds of Blackness have been rocking local stages—and, not infrequently, the airwaves. This seasonal song comes from the group’s 1992 album The Night Before Christmas…A Musical Fantasy.
7. Dale Warland Singers, “Coventry Carol.” He’s never played First Ave, but Dale Warland, a choral director with a gift for lucid arrangments, cemented his place in Minnesota music history with his eponymous world-renowned, Grammy-nominated vocal ensemble. This recording was released in 2005, a year after Warland—now 80—broke up the group to go freelance.
8. The Blenders, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” For millions of Minnesotans—including your mom—the smooth sounds of this Minneapolis a capella quartet are an indispensable part of the holidays. This track is from their 1997 release Nog.
9. Ari Herstand, “Carol of the Bells.” If Robert Zimmerman can get into Santa season, then why not the man TC Jewfolk calls “one of Minnesota’s hottest Jews”? Herstand plays every instrument on this 2011 recording of the 1916 carol that’s based on a pre-Christian Ukrainian chant.
10. The Waterbury Studios All-Stars, “Christmas in Minneapolis.” It’s not on YouTube, but you can stream this cheerful (and hyperlocal) 2012 ditty on Bandcamp—or buy it for a buck, with proceeds supporting Toys for Tots. Vocal duties are courtesy of Sarah Morris and The Chalice’s Claire De Lune and Lizzo, with Big Cats! on beats and Eric Blomquist sipping some sweet sax. How merry can you get?