Nick Lowe came of age in London during the heyday of punk and new wave, producing albums for Elvis Costello and writing biting, yet humorous songs like Costello's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" and his own hit "Cruel to Be Kind." So when his record label asked him to make a Christmas album, he thought it was "a bit naff."
"It's a slang word for uncool or a bit vulgar," Lowe explained. "I thought no wonderful artist of my stature could dirty his hands on something as vulgar as a Christmas record. ? Then I thought 'Wait a minute. This could be really good fun. Why don't you have a go and see if you could make one that doesn't have the same 10 songs everyone seems to do?'"
Lowe did exactly that with "Quality Street," which was released last year. In addition to Christmas obscurities, it includes a ska-influenced take on "Silent Night" and two Lowe originals, "Christmas at the Airport" and "I Was Born in Bethlehem."
The first one was written while Lowe nursed a hangover at Zurich airport and thought about someone being trapped there for Christmas.
"Then this other idea [for "I Was Born in Bethlehem"] cropped up," he said. "The idea was that you found yourself sitting next to Jesus on a plane ride, started chatting and asked him 'Actually, what did happen on that day?' It's as if he was telling you the story over cocktails on a plane."
Despite his initial hesitance to tackle the genre, Lowe and his family are huge fans of Christmas music.
"Round about the end of November we start playing it," Lowe said. "We have compilations like 'It's a Country Christmas' or 'It's a Rockabilly New Year.' There's one record we really love, which is the Hall & Oates Christmas record. It's really fantastic."
If you go: 'Nick Lowe's Quality Holiday Revue' is at Bowery Ballroom on Sunday at 8:30 p.m., 6 Delancey St., 212-533-2111, $35. The show is also at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Dec. 20 at 8:30 p.m., 66 N. Sixth St., Williamsburg, 718-486-5400, $35.