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HO HO WHO: Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, covering American composer Katherine Kennicott Davis’ 1941 standard, and not for the first time. Jett and her band were among the many artists who breezed through Spotify’s New York studio to record a track for the streaming service’s holiday playlist, along the likes of Miley Cyrus (“Sleigh Ride”), Demi Lovato (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”), and Tony Bennett and Diana Krall (“Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town”).
YOU DRIVE ME MILD: Jett first included a “Little Drummer Boy” on early pressings of I Love Rock ‘n Roll, which dropped just before Christmas 1981. One likes to think Davis would’ve approved: Working as a grade-school music teacher, she wrote “Carol of the Drum”—the song’s original title; it was renamed in 1958—as a song in which every part could be sung by an all-girls choir. Jett’s electrified version throbs along a pulsating rhythm for the first three minutes as she works through the lyrics. But it’s in the minute-long breakdown where she truly opens it up, shredding into the fade. The Spotify 2018 version mostly recreates her 1981 Yuletide rebellion, though the coda feels a little less aggressive.
HEY, JACK. DO IT SLAP?:For a few years, an important debate’s raged every holiday season about “Little Drummer Boy:” Do it slap? As with many songs with dozens of versions compiled over more than a half-century, the answer contains multitudes. The “original” 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale does not, nor does Johnny Cash’s. Stevie Wonder’s 1967 take slaps a bit; The Temptations’ 1970 version slaps harder and funkier. Dolly Parton, The Supremes, and Josh Groban do not slap. Dwight Schrute beatboxing the refrain slaps. The Pentatonix version that stores and dental offices have had in heavy rotation for the past few years does not slap because Pentatonix is a cappella and a cappella, by definition, cannot slap. Mary J. Blige and Bad Religion slap that “pa rum pum pum pum” hard. As for Joan Jett? It’s a split decision: her performance of the verses is sharp and competent, but not quite enough to grab the room. That coda, though dialed back since ‘81, still has it.
CHEER FACTOR: 6/10. The verses are shred-by-numbers, but Jett’s still a great performer, and rips the song apart as it closes out.