I don’t really like Christmas music. I did when I was a kid. Like a lot of kids, I suppose, I was always pretty happy when the calendar pages flipped up to the point where it was reasonable to pull the worn copies of Christmas albums out of the stacks and starting giving them regular airplay, usually on the big console stereo of my grandparents, the one that allowed for six or seven big black discs to be stacked up on top of the spindle, waiting for their chance to plummet to the turntable and start spreading cheer. That affection faded as I got older, and by the time I was a college freshman working at the student-run radio station, I had little interest in holiday songs, even when they were reworked in semi-ironic versions by the left-of-the-dial bands that I was happily pledging my allegiance to in every other season.
Still, I believed that being a good DJ involved sometimes playing music that didn’t personally thrill you, and that part of building a god radio show that time of the year involved mixing in that sort of material. So I played the Primitives version of “Silent Night,” and U2’s version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” and the Ramones steamrolling their way through “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight),” but I was always happiest when I could find a song that fit the season that wasn’t explicitly a Christmas song, especially if the song was the product of one of the favored artists of the station.
The self-titled album from Will & the Bushmen, the band’s major label debut (although “major” might be a bit of a stretch for the relatively short-lived label SBK, which had more to answer for than there was to be proud of) came into the radio station in 1989. It was exactly the sort of thing that our staff connected with: catchy, full of exemplary songcraft, perhaps not incredibly challenging, but rich with the sort of inviting energy that made you long to see the band play a live show that involved them being wedged into the corner of a favorite local bar. It made you want to raise a beer bottle as you sang along.
The lead single from the record was called “Blow Me Up” and featured the following lyric repeated on the chorus: “She’s better than, much better than Christmas.” That was good enough for me. We never put this album in the special “Christmas rotation” we put together in the booth every December, and I didn’t go out of my way to call it to the attention of other DJs, but when I played this song on the air while the snow was coming down and the clock bolted to the board that also told us the outside temperature displayed frightening low numbers (and then increasing high numbers with a minus sign in front of them), I knew that Santa’s sleigh was gradually getting loaded up. This song, with no references to chestnuts or presents of trees adorned with colorful lights, always managed to put me in the Christmas spirit.
(Disclaimer: Will & the Bushmen’s self-titled album is out of print, has been for a long time, and isn’t an especially likely candidate to find its way to CD again. Will Kimbrough does have a nice handful of solo albums available for purchase (and one old Will & the Bushmen CD) so there is a way to get hard-earned American dollars into the pocket of the man who lent his name to the band. This song, however, is posted with the belief and understanding that it’s not available through a means that will fiscally support the artist. If anyone with due authority to do so asks for its removal, I will gladly comply.)