John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

NRBQ’s “Christmas Wish” Is a Classic

It’s Beatlesque, borrows from Brian Wilson, but is pure NRBQ.

By - Dec 21st, 2015 03:06 pm
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email
NRBQ

NRBQ

In almost every category, over many decades, NRBQ has displayed a stellar sense of joy, with just the right amount of naughtiness to keep things interesting. The classic line-up of Terry Adams, Joey Spampinato, Al Anderson and Tommy Ardolino were together the longest and, most would agree, created the bulk of their great work. There is a new band now, led by Adams, who always seemed to be the ringleader. They keep the spirit alive and play many of the old songs flawlessly — don’t miss them if they are anywhere near you.

On the records that the classic foursome made, they achieved a perfect balance of inspired nuttiness, master-class chops and a Beatlesque sense of pop beauty. No other band has come as close as them when it comes to capturing that magic. When Joey was singing, he could easily convince you he was the best pop singer in the country, if not the world. With a smooth and relaxed style he delivered many of their best ballads. He could also rock, but his shining and unforgettable moments came on songs like “Beverly” and “I Love Her, She Loves Me.”

With their combination of naughty and nice, they probably confused Santa Claus. You’d expect them to have a perfect Christmas song in their quiver, and they do.

Christmas Wish, seen here in an odd and sometimes funny fan video, shows they kept an eye on that other great pop group, The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson would, I think, gladly claim this one. The arrangement tosses off little bits of that group’s signature licks, including the snare cadence from the end of “God Only Knows.” The chord progression is pure Brian, too — it features oddly tense suspensions and a melodic bass line that comes easier to pianists than guitarists. Then there’s the slightly strange bridge in a completely different key. The oddness of that section makes the return to the main body of the song feel like home. Again, Wilson-ish. The repeating chords at the end? Right out of “God Only Knows”

This says more about the influence of Brian than it does about NRBQ. They stole voraciously from every source they could. But you can’t steal musical ideas if you don’t understand them. In the School Of Rock you could consider this their thesis, proving not only their mastery of the form, but their ability to transform it into something totally their own. A lot of credit for that must go to Joey, who glides as if on ice skates, from one end to the other without one false moment to deliver this fine, sentimental lyric:

Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas
It’s the time of the year
When all good dreams come true

I look at all the toys under the Christmas tree
It makes me think about the way things could be
If people all over the world could just see them too

Every Christmas, every Christmas
There’s a magic in the air when the holiday spirits true

I listen to the voices as they float my way
It must be the music that the angels play
If people all over the world could just hear it too

If we open our hearts, our wishes would come true
They’d come true

I listen to the voices as they float my way
It must be the music that the angels play
If people all over the world could just hear it too

Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas
It’s the time of the year
When all good dreams come true

I look at all the toys under the Christmas tree
It makes me think about the way things could be
If people all over the world could just see them too

If people all over the world could just see them too
people all over the world could just see them too

© Joey Spampinato

This song is beautifully written. It has what the old-timers call “heart.”  Yet it doesn’t exist anywhere but in theory until someone sings it. There is a version by She & Him on their Christmas disc that is pleasant enough, but not really necessary. The word definitive applies to this version and almost anything sung by Joey. He is going through a rough stretch right now, battling cancer, and we wish him the best. This song is not as well-known as some, though it should be. It sure makes my holidays better and I hope it does for you.

One thought on “Sieger on Songs: NRBQ’s “Christmas Wish” Is a Classic”

  1. K Sebesta says:

    Probably the inspiration to start my Christmas “best” playlist back when it was only 20 tracks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *