Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Song Writing 101: Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas From The Family" [UPDATED]

Welcome to yet another semi-regular feature here at History Lesson Pt. 2!  From time to time, I'll be showcasing what I regard as parless song writing with "Song Writing 101" entries.  Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas From The Family" is the perfect place to start.

At some point, I will give in to my urge to embed a holiday music play list at this blog.  You'll notice that the selections betray a few important things about my tastes in holiday music:

  • At Christmastime, even more than usual, jazz is king with big band music not far behind.
  • With only a few exceptions, the old standards you sang at midnight mass (and possibly on the way to midnight mass) are really all you need.
  • I don't go in for a lot of new music.  I know that at the end of each year, a ton of Christmas music floods the market.  I never actively seek it out.  As a result, I'm more or less listening to the same Christmas music stylings I listened to as a young lad pining for the latest Fischer-Price Adventure People set.
Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas From The Family" is one of the exceptions.  I was hipped to it about four years ago, and it is now one of my favorites.  It's the perfect balance of humor and sentimentality.  I love the "Christmas card from the wrong side of the tracks" feel to it.  It captures some of the oddness of family gatherings but it never portrays it's subjects with disrespect.  Listen to the original here (this live version is even better than the studio version), and enjoy the Creekdogs cover below.
Here are the lyrics:

Mom got drunk and Dad got drunk at our Christmas party
We were drinking champagne punch and homemade eggnog
Little sister brought her new boyfriend
He was a Mexican
We didn't know what to think of him until he sang
Felice Navidad, Felice Navidad

Brother Ken brought his kids with him
The three from his first wife Lynn
And the two identical twins from his second wife Mary Nell
Of course he brought his new wife Kay
Who talks all about AA
Chain smoking while the stereo plays Noel, Noel
The First Noel

Carve the Turkey
Turn the ball game on
Mix margaritas when the eggnog's gone
Send somebody to the Quickpak Store
We need some ice and an extension chord
A can of bean dip and some Diet Rites
A box of tampons, Marlboro Lights
Hallelujah everybody say Cheese
Merry Christmas from the family

Fred and Rita drove from Harlingen
I can't remember how I'm kin to them
But when they tried to plug their motor home in
They blew our Christmas lights
Cousin David knew just what went wrong
So we all waited out on our front lawn
He threw a breaker and the lights came on
And we sang Silent Night, Oh Silent Night, Oh Holy Night

Carve the turkey turn the ball game on
Make Bloody Mary's
Cause we all want one!
Send somebody to the Stop 'N Go
We need some celery and a can of fake snow
A bag of lemons and some Diet Sprites
A box of tampons, some Salem Lights
Hallelujah, everybody say cheese
Merry Christmas from the Family
Felice Navidad

A note about the Creekdogs version:  I did this last year.  I was responsible for the recording and post production.  That's why it sounds kinda sucky - I'm still learning.  Still, I'm quite proud of it and I love hearing it.  I think it's a testament to the musical prowess of my band mates and Robert Earl Keen's songwriting skillz.
(Kevin pointed out to me that the version I uploaded earlier today was not, in fact, the final version of the tune.  The lap steel track was slightly out of sync.  This is the most up-to-date, in sync track.)

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