In our MKE Music Rewind series, we revisit notable Milwaukee music that was released before Milwaukee Record became a thing in April 2014.
In recent years, Milwaukee’s collective catalog of holiday music has grown immensely. While many of those recent entrants to the Cream City Christmastime canon are impressive, enjoyable, and absolutely deserving of a spot on your seasonal playlist, there’s still one Milwaukee holiday song that has sustained as the region’s finest festive composition for the past 35 years and counting. The song we’re referring to, of course, is “Santa Claus Skips Cudahy.”
The band responsible for this classic is Couch Flambeau. The punk trio has long been known for its sarcastic songs with sneering vocals and predominately funny song subjects. Originally formed in 1981 as the Couch Potatoes, the Jay Tiller-fronted outfit became Couch Flambeau the following year and went on to earn a reputation as one of Milwaukee favorite acts to the ’80s. During that fruitful decade, they played with the Violent Femmes, The Replacements, Butthole Surfers, and many more as they became a fixture at local clubs. Along the way, they released a slew of recorded material.
Couch Flambeau’s 1985 album, The Day The Music Died, features songs with patently goofy names like “Psychedelic Lawn Chairs” and “The Zoo Is Cool.” Also on the album is a little number about Father Christmas’ aversion to a certain Milwaukee suburb.
The sub-90-second song gets right to the point, taking potshots at the oft-maligned community with lyrics like “You don’t have to be good / You can cry all day / You can be really rotten / Cause Santa Claus skips Cudahy” and imagery of the jolly gentleman’s sleigh flying right over the city on Christmas Eve. To be honest, the musicianship is far from groundbreaking and the lyrics leave a little something to be desired, but there’s just something about a band committing an entire song to making fun of Cudahy that has helped this lighthearted recording stand the test of time.
Two years later, Couch Flambeau followed that holiday diss track with a standout song on 1987’s Rock With Your Socks On called “You Must Be From Cudahy.” Like its predecessor, the under-two-minute offering also takes aim at the city. However, it appears as if the jabs were all in good fun.
“Someone told us dumb people came from Cudahy, so we believed them,” Tiller said in a 2004 OnMilwaukee interview he did in accordance with the release of Couch Flambeau’s 37-song anthology, I Did A Power Slide In The Taco Stand. “We really do like Cudahy though.” Both Cudahy-centric songs are on that compilation.
In the more than 15 years since putting out that comprehensive album, Couch Flambeau—with Tiller as the only original member left—has only put out a few songs. One of the band’s few new recordings was released December 3. And as chance would have it, that song also bears a connection to the holiday season. “Funky Christmas” clocks in at 104 seconds worth of brash vocals and blistering guitar work. Much like the song Tiller and company put out 35 years earlier, “Funky Christmas” also references Cudahy.
Santa’s on his way
Tremendous trash is in his sleigh
If you’re from Cudahy
He’s skipping you today
Just as Milwaukee’s music scene has changed and evolved through the years, so has Cudahy. Even though we’re happy to report the city is no longer the southeast Wisconsin punching bag it once was, it’s strangely comforting to know that Couch Flambeau making fun of Cudahy continues to be part of the holiday tradition as the years roll on.