Thursday 1 December 2016

Pump Up The Volume: Xmas Drinking Songs

So let's cut to the chase: I'm talking about songs with the word wine in the title and which contain numerous references to that drink, such that I can play them festively over the Christmas period in order to get me through that particular nightmare. That's all I'm interested in. No, not quite - Days Of Wine And Roses, for instance, the Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer classic, is a great tune in its way, but not what I'm after. Ditto Little Old Wine Drinker Me - sung by Dean Martin, it passes the time and there's never a good reason not to listen to Dean Martin, but all the same: it's too effortless, it lacks urgency. To say nothing of Paul Anka's A Steel Guitar And A Glass Of Wine. Or, for that matter, UB40's take on Neil Diamond's Red Red Wine. No, in these troubled times I need something up, something elemental. And these are my top six up, elemental, wine songs. Or seven.

Wine Woogie - a tearaway 1952 r'n'b swinger from Marvin Phillips & His Men From Mars, jam-packed with sax and containing the line I can drink wine, baby, like no-one else can, a commitment we can all, I think, relate to. Likewise the legendary Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson with their magesterial Wine-O-Baby Boogie from 1949. First thing Big Joe says is When you see me sleeping, baby, please don't think I'm drunk. About the last thing is Better stop stealing my money baby, and buying that bad green wine. There you have it: the human condition in the space of two and a half minutes, and when Big Joe puts it down, you better get hip and pick up on it.

Something more recent? I'm going to go wide and choose PassThe Wine (Sophia Loren) an out-take-that-made-it from The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street of 1972. If you can stand Mick's cheesy Americanisms, this boils down to Pass the wine, baby, and let's make some love, all things being equal in an imperfect universe. Is it that close to being one of The Stone's more half-assed numbers? Yes, but I like to think there's enough horn section and sassy female backing singers in the mix to get it across the line into sheer dumb good-time listenability.

No doubts, however, about Drinkin' Wine Spo-dee-o-dee, in all its manifestations. This hymn to excess, with its half-gallons of cheap red wine, its references to constant fistfights and wanton destruction of property, its New Orleans setting, has everything the lifelong wine drinker needs to celebrate his or her favourite beverage. So many great versions to choose from, but I'm going to stick with Winehead Swing by James 'Smokestack' Tisdom (1950). This begins with him yelling Aw, you winehead fool and Gimme a drink so I can play this thing and spreads outwards from there, with the assistance of James's intense guitar work and a harmonica player in the last throes of delerium. The YouTube version's a bit fuzzy, but it gives you a sense. Him, or The Sugar Creek Trio. I have a feeling the trio aren't playing these days, but a couple of years ago they were hardcore Rockabilly madmen of the most uncompromising kind, playing both Las Vegas and the greater Oxford region. Their take on Drinkin' Wine defies you to sit still for longer than five seconds, if at all. Drinkin' that mess with delight is the essence of the encounter and the guitar player is on fire. Stick this on while you're basting the turkey and everything is going to turn out fine. Oh, and I'm going to capriciously throw in The Moonglows' Hey Santa Claus, just because it's so good - and, yes, I know, it doesn't use the word wine once.

To calm down? The conversation-stoppingly lachrymose Tears And Wine from Dusty Brooks & His Tones, recorded in 1953. Tears and wine to help forget, they groan, because laughter and love are uneasy bedfellows at the best of times and if you can't be depressed at Christmas, when can you? Equally, if you're like PK and your Christmas is spent wearing a quilted smoking jacket and an Edward VII beard while inhabiting a world where certain timeless verities apply whatever else is going on outside, then you might decide to celebrate your largely insane otherness with, say, The End Of Me Old Cigar, the Harry Champion music-hall classic. Not wine, no, but a related activity, and I'm going to include it. You can get Harry himself performing the song, but I've got to confess to a partiality for the version by the great Adge Cutler & The Wurzels. This is, in fact, what PK listens to non-stop from Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day; and it pretty much captures the essence of the man. Seriously, it does.


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