Bob Dylan Reads “ ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” On His Holiday Radio Show (2006)

Allow me to name just a few of the peo­ple I want to hear host­ing and curat­ing radio shows—former Sex Pis­tol’s singer John Lydon, for­mer Clash front­man Joe Strum­mer, for­mer Woody Guthrie imper­son­ator Bob Dylan.…

Luck­i­ly for me, this ain’t just fan­ta­sy base­ball; at var­i­ous times, and with vary­ing lev­els of com­mit­ment, each of these tastemak­ers has host­ed a pro­gram show­cas­ing their own favorite artists. In Dylan’s case, the com­mit­ment was pret­ty sub­stan­tial. His show, Theme Time Radio Hour, ran for almost three years—once a week from 2006 to 2009—on satel­lite radio.

Each episode cen­tered on a gen­er­al theme, hence the title, but the selec­tions were all over the place—more or less what you’d expect from Dylan: an eclec­tic col­lec­tion of folk, blues, gospel, soul, coun­try, mod­ern pop, and rock ‘n’ roll mixed with old­time radio jin­gles, nov­el­ties, and pro­mos, and the host’s odd­ball com­men­tary and hokey humor. Record­ed while Dylan was on the road, then edit­ed togeth­er with pho­ny “lis­ten­er calls” and emails, Theme Time Radio Hour aimed, Dylan said, “to expand the musi­cal taste” of his lis­ten­ers. That it did, even in its most tra­di­tion­al episode, name­ly the hol­i­day spe­cial on Christ­mas and New Year’s, or as Dylan calls it, “a Yule­tide extrav­a­gan­za.”

In his 2006 Christ­mas broad­cast, above, Dylan bounces from Bob Seger to the Sta­ples Singers to Lord Nel­son, “uncrowned king of Soca,” and Mabel Mafuya, who plays “a Mora­bi style, sort of like South African rag­time.” The wide vari­ety of well- and less­er-known artists—all play­ing Christ­mas music—combined with Dylan’s wry inter­jec­tions, makes for delight­ful­ly weird lis­ten­ing. But when it comes time for his own con­tri­bu­tion, he goes for the obvi­ous and recites Clement Clarke Moore’s “’Twas the Night Before Christ­mas.” You may not have thought much of this the first time you heard it, much less the mil­lionth. But in Dylan’s read­ing, the stock­ings sound like they were hung with care in some dim, smoky beat­nik cof­fee­house and the sug­ar plums dance to the fin­ger-snap­ping bop rhythms of jazz poet­ry while a harp­si­chord plays “O Tan­nen­baum” in the back­ground.

It’s a very cool ren­di­tion, in oth­er words, of a very corny piece of writ­ing. Through­out the spe­cial, Dylan dis­plays a real knack for suss­ing new sounds and angles from old, tired hol­i­day clich­es. His exten­sive knowl­edge of hol­i­day tunes may place him in the com­pa­ny of John Waters and the many oth­er “men who love Christ­mas music” pro­filed in the new doc­u­men­tary Jin­gle Bell Rocks! Whether he is a col­lec­tor or just an avid lis­ten­er, I do not know, but by the time you’ve fin­ished lis­ten­ing to his 2006 Theme Time Radio Hour Christ­mas spe­cial, you will find your appre­ci­a­tion for the hol­i­day genre thor­ough­ly expand­ed. See the full playlist here, with occa­sion­al anno­ta­tion from Dylan’s com­men­tary.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bob Dylan’s Thanks­giv­ing Radio Show: A Playlist of 18 Delec­table Songs

The Top 10 New Year’s Res­o­lu­tions Read by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan Reads From T.S. Eliot’s Great Mod­ernist Poem The Waste Land

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (5) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (5)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.