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Grunge rock's greatest videos

It sounds weird, but this is the music I grew up on. It's amazing to me how dated it seems only fifteen years later -- the shaggy yet carefully-coiffed hair, the Doc Marten boots that went halfway to the knee, the closets full of nearly identical flannel shirts and ripped, stonewashed jeans -- and the guttural snarl and overprocessed guitars. Yep ... grunge. It also happened to be the era, in my humble opinion, when MTV really started to come into its own; perhaps one day we'll remember Grunge by its dark, frenetic music videos the way we remember the Civil War by its blurry daguerreotypes. Now here they are, grunge's ridiculous, according-to-us best-of:

Alice in Chains: "Man in the Box"
In this rough-edged gem, the Grim Reaper stalks the barnyard. No one captured the brooding self-loathing of grunge quite the way Alice in Chains did. They never wrote a happy song, and this is certainly no exception.

Temple of the Dog: "Hunger Strike"
This grunge-rock supergroup featured Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and soon-to-be Pearl Jam rockers Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready. In this video for their big hit, they're all standing on the same wheaty island (let's assume it's off the coast of Seattle), but they're all standing apart from one another: typical "in my own Hell"-style grunge rock isolationism. (Kids in the Hall's movie Brain Candy featured a right-on-the-money grunge parody song, the lyrics of which go something like "Some days it's dark / Some days I work / I walk alone ...") These guys definitely walk alone.

Mother Love Bone: "Stardog Champion"
Mother Love Bone's Andrew Wood would've ruled the grunge scene had he not OD'd in 1990. If he hadn't, however, band members Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard might not have gone on to form Pearl Jam, and then where would my childhood be? But seriously: MLB sounds like Robert Plant if Robert Plant was born in Singles-era Seattle.

Primus: "Tommy the Cat"
Is Primus grunge? Inasmuch as they defy easy classification, I'd argue that they're also very much a product of the grunge era, though their downright silly style stands in sharp contrast to the constant grimace worn by most grungers from 1989-1994. It's just a shame that Tom Waits, who voices "Tommy," declined to be in the video. (Secret fact: I bought a fretless bass in high school because of this song.)

Stone Temple Pilots: "Wicked Garden"
Sporting the weirdest band name in grunge, "STP" was initially just the letters -- like the motor oil -- until the guys decided they needed more than an acronym. They played as Stereo Temple Pirates for awhile, until their label pressured them to change it (though singer Scott Weiland does sound a little like a pirate ... "I wanna run through your wicked gaaarrrden!")

Soundgarden: "Black Hole Sun"
Is this an ad for Botox? Seriously, though: while the effects may look a little tame by today's standards, the "Black Hole Sun" video was really a watershed moment for MTV (and for grunge), marking the beginning of serious computer-generated special effects in videos, and signaling a move toward shiny, hypercolor creepiness rather than dark, gritty creepiness (a la the "Man in the Box" video, for instance). And by the way, that little girl still gives me nightmares. (Then again, most do.)

Pearl Jam: "Jeremy"
Unique among the videos portrayed here -- with the possible exception of "Heart-Shaped Box" -- "Jeremy" doesn't feel dated. Perhaps it's because, other than being a rockin' tune, in it Vedder portrays someone besides himself feeling angry and isolated; it's got a nice specificity to it where other grunge songs feel general. The video reflects that.

Nirvana: "Heart-Shaped Box"
Santa on the cross! Mechanical crows! Krist Novoselic's impossibly lavender pants! Maybe the best song of the grunge era, and certainly the best video. It takes the saturated colors and freaky religious imagery of "Black Hole Sun" and makes it into art rather than just a freakshow.

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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