I have no gift to bring, except the gift of a history of Viper holiday recordings of heterogeneous provenance & widely varying sonic quality.
If you’re a “lay back” consumer of mass culture, then just click on the playlist above and let the sounds carry you off on their Valkyrie wings, like you’re listening to a Maxell cassette tape. Or just crank up the following YouTube playlist for a somewhat abridged version of this list.
But if you’re a “lean in” listener, then lean in, Macduff, and read about, listen to, and (if you like) download the songs in the rest of this post.
The Yodeler’s Christmas
Still something that the band considers a “new” song — and I guess it is, given the geological timeframe in which The Viper & His Famous Orchestra lives and breathes — this song actually had debuted at Nino’s Steak & Seafood, on December 21, 2010, at a solo gig that my Mom booked for me playing at the annual Christmas luncheon of the American Association of Retired Persons, Sheboygan (Chapter 338).
The video above is a rehearsal track recorded at the Viper’s home in November 2013, and the audio track below is from our February 2014 appearance on Milwaukee radio station WMSE’s Local/Live program (entire show can be listened to here, with my textual transcript of the first half here).
Written by my daughter, then 6, in a language more or less of her own invention (“Feliz” excepted), this song has been performed live maybe only once: at the same AARP luncheon noted above, where I attempted to lead a sing-along — always best attempted with a song no one has heard before in a language that nobody knows.
But the audio below is the real deal: triple-tracked Irene Vipersdottir in a nicely spooky round with herself.
Christmas Time Is Here
The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s theme music from A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). The video above and audio below are both the same December 2010 performance from my lower flat rental on Hi Mount Blvd. in Milwaukee, but the audio version is juiced up with interface effects that seemed like a good idea at the time. Hope you like your Christmas music melancholy, because that’s what yer gettin’.
Heyse Latke Kalte Latke
Play along with the bouncing music — right there on the screen! — in the video above, or just listen to The Viper & His Famous Orchestra playing this Hanukkah answer to the old-time classic “Hot Corn Cold Corn” live at Mike N’ Molly’s in Champaign, IL, in August of 2009 (recorded by Nick Hennies). The bowed bass solo is Riley Broach, the trombone is Rob Henn, and while the Viper plays cümbüş, he’s doubled on electric mandolin by Kip Rainey.
The Christmas Waltz
Maybe my favorite Christmas song (by Sammy Cahn & Jule Styne), the video and audio were both recorded on probably the same day with the same banjo ukulele on the same staircase in the same rental house on 59th Street, right off Milwaukee’s great Vliet Street. I interpolate a little bit of the Pogues’ “Christmas in New York,” because my motto is: if it ain’t broke, break it!
The Hanlon Christmas Song
Every year in December, or November if it’s taking too long, my in-laws all get together to exchange gifts. Each adult is only responsible for one other adult, which is somewhat a necessity since my spouse is the oldest of 7. Last year, I drew the name of her brother Johnny, himself the father of an exceedingly large group of Hanlons. My gift was a song that I imagined as a Christmas song that the Hanlons might all get together and sing, called “The Hanlon Christmas Song.” It goes like this:
Linus and Lucy
The other Vince Guaraldi song you probably know, also from the 1965 Charlie Brown Christmas special. But you’ve probably not heard it played on a thumb piano hacked to allow for a flatted 7th. Until now.
Christmas Time Is Here (v. 2)
There are some songs you just can never get enough of. And then there’s The Viper’s versions of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here,” this time done in High German Schroeder-style on a toy piano.
Hermie Wants to Be a Dentist
Though unknown to The Viper at the time, he and His Famous Orchestra were recording this homage to elf individuation for a holiday compilation that Edward Burch pulled together called “Santa Is Real,” featuring a number of Champaign-Urbana resident or affiliated bands and musicians. It’s a cover of a John Papageorge-penned tune from my undergraduate Madison, WI band, Kissyfish. Here’s both versions.
Save Me a Krampus (For the Holiday)
One of the two songs for which I’ve created a piano/vocal/ukulele sheet music arrangement (available here), this song tells the tender tale of the St. Nicholas fellow traveler who stuffs naughty children into a sack and steals their oranges.
download mp3 of “Save Me A Krampus (For The Holiday)”
I wrote this song. Or I wish I did, since people seem to really like to sing it. And here’s Irene Vipersdottir doing it in her inimitable style at age 5. The “Chocolate Rain”-like thing you’ll see her doing with her fingers is measuring the distance I’d told her to keep between her mouth and the microphone.
And that’s it – happy holidays!