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September 2007 Archives

"Christmas Reindeer," The Knife (Rabid)

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"Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," The Fray (Sony BMG)

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thefray.jpgThe makers of the CD How to Save a Life made like the authors of this classic tune and threw together a recording session with a kids' choir to get this sucker down -- and they did so on Dec. 3, 2006, just days before it got out on iTunes. Currently unavailable anywhere.
sprague.jpgI would assume there's a lot of love for the original British Invasion among the folks who visit here, some gleaned from original experience and some from determined fandom among the younger visitors. So I'd expect Sprague would have a strong constituency here for an album such as this one, released in 2006. He hits a fair variety of Merseyside readymades in these 11 songs -- you'll hear bits of the arrangement from "And I Love Her" in "My Love Will Grow," for example, and a taste of the original bands' love for period R'nB in "Christmas Time." Frank, however, sounds most to these ears like Gerry and the Pacemakers, which is not a bad thing but it contributes to the whole album sounding a bit samey-samey throughout. Several of the later tunes on the album tend more toward Christian rock done Mersey style, for what that's worth to you as a listener. There's a 12th song, "For the Wings of a Dove," which is his lyrics over a Felix Mendelssohn melody accompanied only by organ, followed by three hidden tunes, two of which are the same song, one as a solo guitar demo and the other a Merseybeat version, none of which have much to do with Christmas. A bit of a mixed bag overall, but there are plenty of good mix disc opportunities on here. In 2007, Frank came back with another Christmas album, Merry Christmas: Traditional Carols Arranged as Traditional Rock Songs, which sets antique carols to mostly Merseyside arrangements, except "Joy to the World," which borrows liberally from The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again."
stetienn.jpgThis was a 2006 fan-club single, featuring "Winter," a synth-poppy love ballad, and "21st Century Christmas," a mid-tempo pop rocker that is a Cliff Richard cover. The band is on record with other Christmas specialties, going back to 1993's single "I Was Born on Christmas Day," which also included the Billy Fury cover "My Christmas Prayer," and, in 12-inch single guise, adding "Snowplough" and "Peterloo." 1995 brought fan club members Xmas '95, a disc with "A Christmas Gift to You," "Driving Home For Christmas" and "Message in a Bottle." The fans also were privvy to Xmas '98, released in January 1999, featuring "I Don't Intend To Spend Christmas Without You" and "Kofi Annan." Then came fan club EP Xmas 2003, featuring "Come On Christmas," "Snow," and "Marcie Dreams of Deptford." The band played a 2006 gig, not recorded, with a mini-set of Christmas favorites, mostly chosen from the above songs but also including "New Year" by the Sugababes. Finally, lurking on a fan club compilation called Asleep at the Wheels of Steel, is the song "Christmas 1936." Nearly all the above Christmas songs turned up on 2010's limited release CD A Glimpse of Stocking, which added seven new Christmas songs to the band's holiday playlist. And none of them are currently available unless you're willing to pay collector's prices. These folks are quite coy about Christmas. 

"Christmas," Sofia Talvik (Makaki)

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A freebie single for download from this young Swedish chanteuse, the song is a deeply melancholy story of a woman found dead in the snow. The downbeat sentiments are belied by the bright major-key melody, setting up a nice tension between words and music. A "naked" version dispenses with the rhythm section and a radio edit shaves a minute and a half off its length. Of course, Christmas really is the darkest time of year in Scandinavia.... 

fallujah.jpg"We came here to Fallujah to win your hearts and minds/But when we bombed your building your family was inside." Couldn't come over any more on the nose than that in this season of the Iraq Study Group. Pepper is described at his website as a songwriter of two decades' standing, but this is his first album, released originally in 2005. This alt-rock-country album isn't all Christmas oriented, but songs like the country lament "Bethlehem PA" are good to cry in your eggnog over. "Christmas Tree" uses the season as a metaphor for the life and death of a relationship, "Deceived" is about learning there's no Santa Claus, and "Plastic Illuminated Snowman" is a pretty good metaphor for what a country does to its returning soldiers after a war. And as for that title song, well, you'll want a little John and Yoko as a chaser after that one.
HotPantz.jpgThey're talking about a gift of course, so get your minds out of the gutter. This British duo put this snappy little pop rocker out for 2004 and have reissued it for 2006. The girls, Shelley and Kelly, are produced by Barry Upton, who also wrote the song with an eye toward a Ronettes/Roy Wood hybrid. I wouldn't describe it that way myself, but it's good fun nevertheless. (You must understand that the Brits hold Roy's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" in very high regard.) The B-side starts out to be an excessively reverent "Silent Night," but then the girls kick it up several notches into your typical punk-rock version. Can't find out much more about the group, as the Wikipedia entry only lists this record among their achievements. Oh, what the heck, here's the video:


cetera.jpgI've been looking a bit suspiciously at latter-day Christmas CDs by original album-rock era performers, simply because, well, they're my age or older and quite a few of them are happy to be middle-aged and mellow. So I approached this 2004 CD by the former Chicago bassist/vocalist carefully. (I'd heard about it earlier but hadn't actually run across a copy until recently.) It's not particularly rocked out in any meaningful way, definitely contemporary middle-of-the-road music. Still, we'll give him props for putting some thought behind this endeavor, with three originals and some outside-the-box approaches to arrangements. Not a trace of Spector on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," for example, but this version is a distinctive one nevertheless. "Deck the Halls" gets a bit of antique folk on the arrangement and a harmony vocal from Alison Krauss; he also duets "Blue Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland," this time with daughter Claire. The title song, an original, lacks only a horn section to take its place alongside Cetera's Chicago work. "Something That Santa Claus Left Behind" is a little sappy, but in the current era, "Alone For the Holidays" will ring true for a lot of women.
halloats.jpgThe boys from Philly have been trading on their version of "Jingle Bell Rock" for the past couple of decades as far as the Christmas scene goes, at least until this 2006 release. It's short, 10 songs plus a newly recorded "Jingle Bell Rock" that's not a lot different from the original (of course, RCA/BMG probably still holds the rights to that one). Two originals are solidly in the H&O tradition, the title song by Daryl, T-Bone Wolk and Greg Bieck, and John's "No Child Should Ever Cry on Christmas," both soulful mid-tempo numbers, though "Child" is just a tad sappier than "Home." The duo lets the hired string section get way out of hand on a lugubrious "Overture" leading into "The First Noel" and again on the closer, "O Holy Night." Two gospel numbers, "Children Go Where I Send Thee" and "Mary Had a Baby," bring some life to the proceedings, the cover of the Band's "Christmas Must Be Tonight" is not bad but unfortunately the soul classic "Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday" ends up way too middle of the road. This definitely has its moments.

A Christmas Album, Bright Eyes (Saddle Creek)

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brightey.jpgThough I trade on my Web affiliations with Amazon and iTunes, as a music fan I still enjoy pawing through the stock at a well-kept independent record store because I've always ended up finding things I might not have otherwise. Take this 2002 CD by alt-wunderkind Conor Oberst under his better-known band de plume, quietly released to benefit the Nebraska AIDS Project and listed on his label's website as an Internet-only album. Nevertheless, I found a brand-new copy of this in the stacks at Record and Tape Traders in Towson, MD over Thanksgiving weekend, and Amazon currently links to a limited number of copies of this disc. As to the music, well, this is 10 of your better-known carols plus a dramatic reading of "The Night Before Christmas," all slapped together bull-session style in Oberst's basement with a cast of friends and collaborators. The leader's lo-fi style predominates, particularly on a rendition of "Little Drummer Boy." An uptempo "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is as rocked-out as it gets -- the rest is a kind of mellow chamber-folk, though the performances are more spontaneous and less polished. For fans of the artist only.
carrack.jpgPaul Carrack is one of those well-loved rock 'n roll journeymen performers, first heard singing and writing the band Ace's hit "How Long" back in 1974, then taking lead vocals on Squeeze's "Tempted" from 1981 before hooking up with Mike and the Mechanics on the way to going solo. In between, he played with such disparate acts as Roxy Music and Nick Lowe, the latter underappreciated hitmaker producing Paul's first solo album Suburban Voodoo and its hit single "I Need You." With such a storied rock history, it saddens me to report that Paul went all Rod Stewart-"American Songbook" on his first Christmas CD, so far released only in Europe in 2005. A perfectly predictable array of standard holiday pop songs, plus the Louis Armstrong "What a Wonderful World" and a reprise of Carrack's 1997 solo hit "Beautiful World," the latter as close to rock as things get here, is what you receive for your euro here, all played in pop orchestra ballad/swing arrangements. If Sinatra, Bennett, Goulet, or for that matter Michael Buble are who float your boat at Christmas, you'll be right at home here; Mistletunes regulars, I predict, will be disappointed.

Happy Holidays, Billy Idol (Cyber Corps)

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billidol.jpgIf the Twisted Sister disc is precisely what you might have expected had they recorded it back in the day, Idol's is the exact opposite of that. The former lead singer of Generation X and the guy who brought us "Dancing With Myself," "Rebel Yell," "White Wedding" and "Cradle of Love" has all but dispensed with his signature sound, presenting a Christmas album that owes a lot more to Vic Damone than Idol's own "Yellin' At the Xmas Tree," which isn't even on here. He does 15 standard Christmas songs and carols, fattening it up with two originals, "Happy Holiday" and "Christmas Love," both of which are pretty lounge-y. The two rock classics he does, Elvis' "Santa Claus Is Back in Town" and "Run Rudolph Run" at least, are worthwhile, and his "Winter Wonderland" at least has some rhythm and guitar riffing going on, and "Jingle Bell Rock" is at least on a par with Hall and Oates' version. But sincere versions of "Silent Night" and "Auld Lang Syne" really don't add much to the rock canon. This 2006 album was originally only sold at Billy's website and Best Buy, but it's in neither place right now, leaving eBay or Amazon independent vendors with pricey import copies. There are two different covers for the import and the original version.
twissis.jpgOh, dear God. I suppose I should have seen this coming, what with We Wish You a Hairy Christmas coming out a couple of seasons ago. Give 'em credit, though, if you had to imagine Twisted Sister doing Christmas music, then you'd have imagined exactly this -- they haven't missed a beat from their heyday to this day. The opening gambit has the band members playing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" on acoustic guitars, only to have one of the guys do a takeoff on the old Tina Turner spoken bit from "Proud Mary": "We do everything nice ... and TWISTED!" Lita Ford stops in to duet with the band on "I'll Be Home For Christmas," and along the way they also beat "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Silver Bells," "Let It Snow," "Deck the Halls" and "The Christmas Song" into submission. Closest thing to an original idea on here is "Heavy Metal Christmas," done to the tune of "12 Days of Christmas." At the end, they wish us a Twisted Christmas, too, Bob Rivers notwithstanding. From 2006.
thirdday.jpgThis Christian rock band leaps into the fray for 2006 with their own holiday platter. It's a solid offering, blending nine classic carols with four originals and also mixing live and studio performances. The lead singer sounds a bit like Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam, though instrumentally they're a perfectly mainstream rock band, sort of like Vertical Horizon. The originals, not surprisingly, are strongly religious. "Born in Bethlehem" is the Nativity story at ballad tempo with strings; "Jesus, Light of the World" is a midtempo reflection from the modern day; "Chrismas Like a Child," recorded live, seeks to recapture the childlike reaction to the holiday; and "Merry Christmas" is a kind of magnum opus that contrasts our homes of plenty against orphans in China. The hidden cut is "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," group-sung a cappella. UPDATE: For 2011, the album is reissued with a live DVD included.
crscross.jpgBest known for the Top 40 hit "Sailin'," Cross was always most comfortable in that "adult contemporary" mode, which was radio-speak for easy listening aimed at younger audiences than the old masters like Sinatra and Bennett. This 2007 disc is solidly in that tradition. Cross puts two originals into the mix, "Does It Feel Like Christmas" and "A Dream of Peace at Christmastime," and throws in the old standard "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep." A good gift for a parent or a much-older sibling but nothing to get worked up over. Originally available only from his website, it was reissued as Christmas Time Is Here for 2010 as an import. Amazon has both versions, which differ only in cover art.
lilriver.jpgThe long-running Down Under band shows up for 2007 with this new holiday collection, and it's actually not too bad, though it definitely fits in the "rock for grown-ups" genre. The traditional "Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child" rocks things up nicely, the title song is a nice bluesy take on Keb'Mo's song, and they do serviceable versions of Kenny Loggins' "Celebrate Me Home," Neil Diamond's "You Make It Feel Like Christmas" and Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmastime." Noting for the record that the song choice seems to have been heavily influenced by Nashville, the town in which this album was recorded, but they manage to steer clear of actually making a country album, so they get points for restraint, too. Originally for sale only through their website, you can track hard copies and downloads to Amazon now.

The Gift of Christmas, Juice Newton (OJM)

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juicenew.jpgI initially steered clear of this, as Juice, despite crossover success, is best known by country fans. But there's plenty of pop and rock on this 2007 disc, and even the mellow stuff tries to steer clear of the line-dancing crowd. A handful of standards mix with three originals that include two rockers, "Santa Can Dance" and the semi-rap "Shining Star," though "Christmas Wish" is definitely country. A blues-influenced "Auld Lang Syne" wraps things up.
psychostk.jpgThose of you whose life paths carry you a little too close to the retail sector might well be sick of Christmas already. If that's you, these guys might well be your holiday soundtrack, assuming metal crunch with a side order of laughs is your favored genre. On this 2007 disc, "Holiday Hate" brings the bitch list with its "Consumers gotta BUY" chorus, its declaration that Santa doesn't exist and its complaint that Christmas goodies make us fat. Despite the fact that Santa doesn't exist, he turns out to be a "Jollly Old Sadist" who doesn't come through on the wish lists unless you really wanted a shirt box full of socks. "Jingle Bell Metal" is pretty much as advertised, "Silent Night" is nothing of the kind, though it's only 25 seconds long, "Red Snow" is Rudolph's snuff-horror fantasy, causing Johnny Marks to roll over in his grave no doubt, and how else to cap off the festivities than with "Happy F- New Year."
barenakd.jpgI have to say up front as a Ladies fan I had high hopes for this 2004 CD, and overall I'd say they were met. A lugubrious take on the opening track "Jingle Bells" quickly morphs into something more upbeat and fun -- including the rarely-used "Batman smells" verse. BNL's previous holiday offerings, "Green Christmas" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings" featuring Sarah McLachlan, are included here, both newly recorded for this album. The 20 tracks mix classic carols with recent pop covers like "Wonderful Christmastime" and "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and the band throws in a helping of originals like "Hanukkah Blessings," which heralds a triple Hanukkah alert as the Ladies also perform "Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah" and "I Have a Little Dreidel." They also wrote "Elf's Lament," a witty look at the holiday from behind Santa's work tables; "Snowman," a ballad by the title character; "Footprints," a faux-country weeper about following your love around in the snow; "Christmastime, Oh Yeah," your basic Norman Rockwell holiday tableaux in song; and "Christmas Pics," a mild jazzer about posing for whoever had a new digital camera under the tree. "O Holy Night" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" are instrumentals that sound like they were recorded in the organ showroom at a mall, and the Ladies do a scat version of "Sleigh Ride." And of course, they sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus, just before the near-obligatory production number of "Auld Lang Syne." Good clean fun, and you'll enjoy playing it all the way through.

My Favorite Carols, Robin Gibb (Koch)

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robngibb.jpgThis is pretty much as advertised. The former Bee Gee goes it alone for the holiday in 2006 with 10 antique carols, no latter-day pop standards or originals, backed by a one-man band in pop-rock-pomp style with the occasional help of adult and children's choruses. It's well performed but strictly middle of the road. There's a "making of" DVD that accompanies the album. Gibb does throw us a curve on "Noel," in which the traditional "First Noel" chorus is swapped out for something a bit more pro-child and anti-war. Don't let the warbloggers find out. Oh, and import copies have an 11th track, "Mother of Love," which was performed live at a recent charity performance.

The Gift of Rock, Smashmouth (self-issued)

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smshmuth.jpgOne minute their song "Walking on the Sun" is everywhere, the next they're an oldies band. Nevertheless, Smashmouth is still alive and kicking, and they did a holiday CD for 2005, available only at their website or on iTunes at first, but if you click the album jacket you can download it from Amazon too. They didn't put a lot of elbow grease into this, as nearly everything on it is rock 'n soul covers, but they exhibit pretty good taste nevertheless -- they cover the Raveonettes' "Christmas Song," rock up the O'Jays "Christmas Ain't Christmas (Without the One You Love)," Ringo Starr's "Come On Christmas," the Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)," the Sonics' "Don't Believe in Christmas," the Kinks' "Father Christmas" and the Spector album's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." They also take on "Snoopy's Christmas," "Zat You, Santa Claus" and throw in a pretty cool original, "Baggage Claim." There's not a lot of variety in approaches -- this rocks out from start to finish. That's a very good thing.

Tidings, Allison Crowe (Rubenesque)

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Tidings.jpgThis Canadian singer is more of a rock belter than her countrywoman Sarah McLachlan, and this 2005 album has more of a spontaneous feel to it, with only her piano, bass and percussion for backing. There are no originals, and indeed she even picks some non-holiday tunes for their complimentary tone, so we get things like Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," the Stones' "Shine a Light," McLachlan's "Angel" and the Beatles' "Let it Be" and "In My Life." Regulars include Joni Mitchell's "River," "Silent Night," "In the Bleak Midwinter," "First Noel" and "O Holy Night." There's something to be said for this unadorned approach -- for example, you might just feel comfortable playing this all year round. Maple Music kindly threw in a DVD of her playing live, but you have to be in the fan club to get this.
ReliaK2.jpgUpdated entry: These guys are Christian rockers, and this album came out originally in 2003, minus seven new cuts, on Gotee as Deck the Halls, Bruise Your Hand. As with a lot of today's Christian acts, you can't really tell from a cursory listen; only on the original ballad "I Celebrate the Day" do you get any explicit Savior talk. Much of this 2007 CD is thrashed-out carols like "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Deck the Halls," "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Hallelujah Chorus" and "Nuttin' For Christmas," very cleanly performed. Their pop sensibilities give us energetic covers of "12 Days of Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," along with a lounge-like "Sleigh Ride." Other originals include "Santa Claus is Thumbing to Town," more frenetic tempos conveying the story of Santa's workshop burning down, and mellower items like "In Like a Lion (Always Winter)," "Boxing Day," a medley of "Silent Night/Away in a Manger" and the original "I Hate Christmas Parties," a downtempo relationship lament. They wrap up by doing a Four Freshmen version of "Auld Lang Syne," and on the new album there's a hidden cut with a bit of goofing around. The original was lots of energy, lots of fun; the extended version more of the same.

Spirit of Christmas, Les Fradkin (RRO)

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lesfradkn.jpgThis felt so familiar on first listening that I assumed it was mostly covers, but no, seven tunes are by Les and Loretta Fradkin and two more are co-written with Les by Raven Kane and Diana Haig. The three covers are the Roy Wood and John Lennon classics plus the rarely covered "Ding Dong" by George Harrison. What's really familiar is the 70s pop-rock pomp, a Spectoresque wall of sound channeled through Jeff Lynne's mixing board. I had the feeling that Les was a one-man band kind of guy, and it turns out I was right, but what I didn't know was that he had a long pedigree in the business, working with everyone from Edison Lighthouse to the Godz (yes, the ESP Disk Godz), and a long stint in "Beatlemania" as George to boot. By the way, Edison Lighthouse was part of a continuum of late 60s-early 70s top 40 hits done by Flying Machine, Brotherhood of Man and White Plains. And you could easily justify this disc based on the nice job he does on the aforementioned songs, but his originals like "Say You Love Me For Christmas," "Christmas Sleeps Tonight," "Hello Christmas (Goodbye Year)," "Jangle Bells" and the lightly Caribbean-flavored "Christmas Vacation" argue for you to grab a copy via a click on the album art.
jennowen.jpgThis is a snappy little rocker from somebody I hadn't heard of before this, with a story of a relationship going south in time for Christmas 2007. "Here's to wishes that'll never come true," indeed. A bit of holiday anti-cheer for those who need to cry in their eggnog. A great mix disc change-up, though one should be warned before tracking down this Jersey girl's non-holiday work, which sometimes carries a Parental Advisory warning.

Peace at Last, Hem (Waveland)

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hempeace.jpgIn 2006, Sally Ellyson joined with Mike Mills of R.E.M. for a cover of "Jesus Christ," and now for 2007 her band put together a three-song EP with the original title ballad featuring holiday sentiments, a cover of "Somewhere" from "West Side Story," non-holiday of course, and a slow version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The latter also turned up on this year's Starbucks compilation, but as so much of that disc is available elsewhere, you can get this instead of that if you need some holiday Hem. More on the mellow side, but it should be welcomed by the band's fans.
porngraf.jpgThese critical faves from Vancouver slipped out this holiday EP for 2007 on iTunes, and it's an interesting collection. "Joseph, Who Understood" and the title song are originals, the latter from their CD Challengers. As for the third tune, a medley of "Arms of Mary" and "Looking At a Baby," the former is by Iain Sutherland of 70s British folk-rockers The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver via fellow Canadian band Chilliwack, the latter originated with The Collectors, according to the Matador Records blog. Dense and interesting; with such a sensibility, the Pornos would be capable of a really good full holiday CD at some point, if they're interested.
pearlfshr.jpgI can't even remember how I stumbled onto these guys, a Scottish band with roots back in the 1980s under such names as Chewy Raccoons and Hearts & Minds before becoming The Pearlfishers in 1989. This Christmas CD came out in 2004 (my copy is German, btw), but it can't be too obscure: the track names come up when I pop the disc into iTunes. The Pearlfishers are from that school of pure retro-pop rock, think late Sixties, Burt Bacharach-Beach Boys influenced. They take their influences and deliver seven cuts of poppy Christmas goodness with a bit of modern-day influence layered over it. Songs include "Snowboardin'," an ode to the popular sport; "Snow plus Christmas," an uptempo bid to spread holiday love; "Blue December (In the City)," a wistful ballad; the fantastical allegory of "Snow Lamb"; and the title song, performed almost simultaneously with "Away in a Manger" and very much in the mode of that classic carol with a "Pet Sounds-Surf's Up" approach. The hidden cut throws up some Brian Wilson-style a cappella singing. Some will find the full effect a bit cloying, but the individual songs are worth a berth on your mix discs. UPDATE: For 2009 the band issued an extended version with five additional songs, and it is to that version that the cover art links to at Amazon.
hollygo.jpgHolly's a prolific British vocalist with a venerable American name, and this bit of fun is three holiday songs for download on iTunes (only two on Amazon, "Christmas Solo" being unavailable there). The title tune has a bit of Brenda Lee in it, teetering dangerously toward country, but who can object when the Christmas tree is burning the house down on Valentine's Day? "Christmas Solo" is a light holiday blues with vibrato guitar; woe to him who loses the Christmas ham on the way to dinner, as he will be smote with a dirty word. And "Hear My Call, Here" is a mournful waltz. This is also on a 7-inch vinyl picture disc, according to her website. Just checked out her website, turns out she previously did a Christmas single in 2002 with the Greenhornes called "Little Stars." That's on A Damaged Christmas Gift To You as well.

My Holiday, Mindy Smith (Vanguard)

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mindysm.jpgMindy Smith is a singer/songwriter with one foot in Nashville, one foot in folk and one foot in the adult alternative genre. OK, too many feet, but these three genres suggest an artist that's not going to rock out in the Mistletunes-approved way. And that's pretty much the case. All three genres predominate in ballad style throughout the album, though Mindy's original songs do recommend a second listening, some written solo and some with fellow Nashville-ite Chely Wright. Alison Krauss stops by to harmonize on "Away in a Manger" as well. The traditional carols offer few surprises in style, though "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" throws a bit of soft jazz into the mix, as does "It Really Is (A Wonderful Life.)" A bit of rock, of the Christian variety, creeps into the playlist at the end with the sprightly "Come Around."
I've not come across Shawn Lee before, but he's apparently a prolific bandleader doing this kind of 70s-funky instrumental jamming, and this is the approach applied to a dozen Christmas tunes (well, 10 if you don't count "My Favorite Things" and "What a Wonderful World," which I consider debatable) for 2007. Highlights include "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" done with the guitar figure from "House of the Rising Sun," "O Little Town of Bethlehem" with the melody played on wah-wah guitar, "Little Drummer Boy" with an electric sitar lead part, and a heavily syncopated "Jingle Bells." It's just mellow enough to use as background music, but these songs can also serve as pace-changers on your mix discs.
jarssong.jpgThese Christian rockers came out about a decade ago with a single of "Little Drummer Boy," which is rerecorded for this new disc in a similar arrangement but with a bit more orchestration. After the instrumental "The Gift of St. Cecilia," they launch this 2007 CD with Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime," a slightly different arrangement that leaves Sir Paul's slapdash approach behind. The poppy "Love Came Down at Christmas" is built on an Irish folk melody and is eminently singable, "Hibernation Day" is about slacking off with your baby in the wintertime, "Winter Skin" is a musical haiku and "Peace is Here" puts a martial beat to a holiday sentiment. Among the other covers are "Gabriel's Message," very much like Sting's, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" gets a long build into quick strumming over cellos, "O Little Town of Bethlehem" is given a slightly synth-pop arrangement, they add a bit of R'nB to "Christmastime is Here," and set downtempo arrangements to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and, no surprise, "In the Bleak Midwinter." Taken in total, it's a fairly mellow listening experience, but there's plenty of highlights for you disc mixers out there.

Wintersong, Sarah McLachlan (Arista)

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sarahmc.pngSarah's had her Christmas feelers out for a while. Her version of Gordon Lightfoot's "Song For a Winter's Night" goes back to 1994, she doubled up with the Barenaked Ladies for "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings" at the turn of the decade, and now she's back for 2006 with a full album. The queen of Lilith Fair offers few surprises, as this fits snugly into her personal discography, which means there's a lot of mellow moments here, her piano and guitar set against Pierre Marchand's wall o' synths, and not much rocking out. She starts out strong with faithful covers of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" and "River," plus a good original, the title song. She reaches for a live string section on "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Her medley of "The First Noel/Mary Mary" is interesting, as she goes for some India-style riffing on strings against tabla percussion, and it's probably the most rocked-out thing here. She closes with a little help from Diana Krall on "Christmastime Is Here."
sufjan.jpgStevens is perhaps best known for his stated desire to record an album about every state in the union; so far, he's only done Illinois and Michigan, though The Avalanche is composed of outtakes from Illinois. In the meantime, he's done a private release of Christmas EPs every holiday since 2001 (except 2004) and for 2006, he's made a box set including this year's entry. Yes, I said a box set. Don't worry, it sells for about the price of a double-disc set. But five discs' worth of this quirky performer, especially in home studio demo mode, may be a bit much for most folks. It's a lower-fi version of what he's currently known for. It's educational in its way, since every song is lovingly annotated with its composer and lyricist, and there are lots of old carols, some obscure ones, hiding among which are some of the performer's originals. For that matter, hiding among the 42 songs are several repeats, including three versions of "O Come O Come Emanuel" and a few music-box renditions of such things as "Angels We Have Heard" and "Hark The Herald Angels." My inclination is to focus on the originals, of which there are 17 counting the instrumentals "Ding Dong" and "The Incarnation." They get more accomplished as he goes along, sounding willfully primitive on the 2001 disc and getting more arranged and intricate as he goes along. "Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time!" and "Come on! Let's Boogey To the Elf Dance!" may be the most fun, and "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever" may be the most affecting of the batch. The box offers a "singalong" conceit, in that there's a booklet that not only has lyrics but chords to all the songs. All told, I'm impressed with the sincerity and scope of this album, but I think a single disc of Sufjan's originals given the attention of one of his regular albums would have made a stronger artistic statement.
Aimee's been creeping up on a Christmas CD for several years now, as you may have been following on this very website. The odd cut turned up from time to time, and in 2005 she put a four-song collection on iTunes. For 2006, she sat down to record an entire 10-song CD from scratch. From her own MySpace posting, she says, "I don't like to hear the modern stuff. I like a good old-fashioned Christmas record that has the chestnuts roasting and the really standard Christmas songs. ... The songs have old-fashioned arrangements but are played with a smaller combo that gives them kind of a modern twist." So this is actually a bit mellower than the Mistletunes standard of rocking out Christmas. Still, we like Aimee here, and in terms of creating something with a longer shelf life, her choices are probably the most astute ones from a commercial standpoint. She's done some of the tunes before, like the Mel Torme "Christmas Song," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and Michael Penn's "Christmastime," but these are all new performances and arrangements, though not wildly different from their predecessors. The most noticeable change is that "Christmastime" is now a solo piece rather than a duet with Penn. The one new song on here is "Calling On Mary," which could fit seamlessly on any of her past few albums, a lonely search for love at the holidays. Grant Lee Buffalo guests on "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," a combination spoken word and sung version that renders the book's text alongside the familiar song. Jimmy Webb's "Whatever Happened to Christmas" kicks off the CD, setting the tone, and the rest of the songs are classic carols like "White Christmas," "Winter Wonderland" and "I'll Be Home For Christmas," all rendered in Aimee's patented poison-valentine delivery. Not exactly the soundtrack for a Martha Stewart Christmas, but OK by us here.

"Mistletoe," Colbie Caillat (Universal Republic)

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colbical.jpgThe very model of a modern MySpace phenomenon, Colbie's known for her hit "Bubbly," but this 2007 Christmas single is a little less so, a medium tempo ballad expressing mixed but ultimately positive feelings upon the approach of the holiday. As is the modern-day custom for singles, this remains downloadable.
birdNbee.jpgThis guy and gal duo, a couple of self-professed jazz nerds, nevertheless have made a bit of a name for themselves in the pop realm with their self-titled album and a couple of EPs, including their hit single "F-ing Boyfriend." This classic carol gets a Sixties pop-chanteuse treatment from them for 2007. It's a downloadable single on iTunes and Amazon.

The Last Noel, The Automatics (Dork)

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automatk.jpgThis is an original British punk-era band that has essentially persisted to the present day under the auspices of original lead singer and songwriter David Philip, though it's been an L.A.-based band since about 1987. After trickling a couple of holiday cuts out over the years, Philip decided to sit down and write an entire ceedee's worth of holiday tunes, and this 2007 album is the result. The whole shebang started out with "Peace on Earth," a midtempo rocker featuring former Sex Pistol Steve Jones on guitar. This has been around for a while but I'm just finally hearing it, and it's definitely a holiday single. There's really not much of the punk sneer about this album -- it's simply a hard-rocking ode to the holiday season. I don't know if Philip has any second thoughts about having two different songs titled "Ring Out Your Christmas Bells" and "Let the Bells Ring Out For Christmas," but then I'm probably the only one who will notice. "Come On Santa, Hand it Over" is a nice uptempo rocker, echoing "Father Christmas" in that there's a stickup involving Santa in the chorus. There's also two versions of the previously released rocker "Merry Christmas." Note to iTunes purchasers: half the song titles were mixed up when I downloaded the full album from there; I've linked the album art to Amazon, but you may wish to check that anyway.
eyamin.jpgThis disc marks a brief truce between me and former "American Idol" performers. Originally a Target special with eight songs for 2007, the 2008 re-release added two more songs. The performances are quite good in a blue-eyed soul vein. Yamin's an excellent singer, though he's way too influenced by Stevie Wonder -- gotta find an original voice, son. That said, strong outings are a shuffling "Jingle Bells" not too dissimilar to Lisa Loeb's arrangement, a faithful "This Christmas," a slow-jams take on the Mel Torme "Christmas Song," and the uptempo original "A Very Merry Xmas." The other songs are good enough to carry a listener through to the end.
kttunstl.jpgThis 2007 EP will probably be more easily recognized as The KT Tunstall Holiday Collection, as that's what it says on the piece of cardboard Target glued over the front, but the title I used is on the real cover and comes up when I play the disc in iTunes. This was part of an NBC/Target "Sounds of the Season" promotion, so it was only available at the store in question at the time. It's still not easily available, but there is an Amazon page for it. The "Suddenly I See" belter doesn't get real creative with song selection, picking four contemporary tunes and two classics, and her versions of "2000 Miles" and "Fairytale of New York" are basically cover-band workouts. But she gets points for a sprightly rhythmic workout on "Sleigh Ride," with KT on toy piano, a rocked-up "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," a stylish version of "Mele Kalikimaka" and a melancholy take on "Lonely This Christmas," originally made by 70s British pop band Mud. Nice work, could be improved with a few more songs and a general release.
jacnalor.jpgDon't worry, Jacqui's not ankles-up in the eggnog; the "smashed" in the title refers to her musical trademark of smashing together jazz and rock by setting rock songs to jazz arrangements and vice versa. Actually, she doesn't do quite so much of this on her first holiday album, just out for 2007, which is a shame, given what she came up with. "Silver Bells" is sung over "Every Breath You Take," "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is set to the arrangement of "Sweet Home Alabama," "We Three Kings" is layered over Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" and, the killer cut from this album, "Santa Baby" meets Zep's "D'yer Maker." Unfortunately, the rest of the disc wavers among adult contemporary and jazz, as in her "relaxed" versions of The Kinks' "Father Christmas" and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." She brings four originals to the table, "Thank You Baby," the ballads "Celebrate Early and Often" and "Winter" and the syncopated "Christmas Ain't What It Used to Be." Good talent, but next time around keep the "smash-ups" coming.
danbanho.jpgWe had their double-sided single "I Wanna Rock U Hard This Christmas," featuring Parental Advisory and clean versions of the song, and now they've stretched it into a whole album of rockin' Christmas originals, sung mostly in satirical voices. That's in keeping with their reputation as a comedy show band that features guys singing songs originally written for women to sing. The single is here, unexpurgated version only, and to that we add "Mrs. Claus," in which the singer has decided the jolly elf's wife never gets her due, even throwing a few words from "I Am Woman" into the mix; the triple title song "Ho Ho Ho," an R'nB-flavored ode to an actual lady of the evening who ends up on Santa's payroll; the self-explanatory hoedown "Get Drunk & Make Out This Christmas," followed later by the sappy country takeoff "Christmas Flip Flop," in which a child begs for one flip-flop for his mom who has a wooden leg; "Chrismakwanzakah," in which the various year-end festivals get blurred in the singer's mind; the hip-hop carol "Not on Christmas Eve," in which a jealous singer gets all gangsta until the presents arrive; and the slow jam "Please Don't Bomb Nobody This Christmas," which hopefully will set a few important pairs of ears to burning. There's lots of PG-13 language on this disc, for those of you who worry about such things, but full props for a rock 'n roll Christmas record with a fair number of laughs.

Snow Angels, Over the Rhine (Red Eye)

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snoangle.jpgThis 2007 CD is actually the Cincinnati band's second Christmas album; they made one called The Darkest Night of the Year a decade ago. Going back to 1990 as a typical four-piece band, the current incarnation is married couple Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist plus a changing cast of supporting players playing alternative folk-pop. This album is all about the songwriting, mostly Detweiler with help from Bergquist, relying only upon "One Olive Jingle," a jazzed-up "Jingle Bells," and "Little Town," a revised melody and reimagined lyrics based upon "O Little Town of Bethlehem," from the canon. Holiday melancholy is the name of the game here, as the title song tells of a spouse lost to an unnamed war at Christmas, "All I Ever Get For Christmas Is Blue" and "New Redemption Day" being self-explanatory, "Little Town" a meditation on the strife in the historic cradle of Christmas, "Here It Is" offering the singer's love to someone who may not deserve it, and more like this. More hopeful thoughts are nestled into "Snowed In With You" and "We're Gonna Pull Through." The vibe is not too dissimilar to Low's Christmas album, though without that group's primitive approach; these guys stress musicianship and show more obvious influences from folk and jazz. Nothing uptempo here, but that's to be expected since this disc is all about its message of the holiday and its effects on people.
raulmalo.jpgMalo always sounded to me like a throwback to the Roy Orbison era on his non-holiday work, so this 2007 CD took me aback with its relentless lounge vibe. I realize that for a lot of readers this is a feature, not a bug, but considering Malo normally plays to the Americana/alternative audience, hearing him yell out "let's swing it now" during "Jingle Bells" is a bit disconcerting. Apparently this is a direction he took with his recent album After Hours and he's clearly found a groove he's not ready to relinquish. For all that, he sings so well and with such personality you really want to try and overlook the Vinnie's Boom-Boom Room atmosphere he lays down here. Song selection is in keeping with the musical style, from the title song through the Great American (Christmas) Songbook, the exceptions being "Blue Christmas," the big-orchestra blues of "Santa Claus Is Back in Town" and a fairly faithful-to-the-original version of "Feliz Navidad." A live version of "Blue Christmas" was added to the disc for Amazon buyers only, mainly distinguished by his Elvis-ing up the vocal live, but that version of the disc is out of print. Not bad, but I personally wish he'd taken a more Orbison-like approach to this album.

Santa's Playlist, Sister Hazel (Rock Ridge)

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sishazel.jpgThe popular Gainesville, Fla. band stepped up to the Christmas bar in 2007 with this solid collection, heavy on familiar tunes rendered in their roots-rock style. The classic "Merry Christmas Baby" gets the E Street Band arrangement, "Little Drummer Boy" is done in a blues shuffle, "White Christmas" gets the white-boy reggae treatment, but later Joni Mitchell's "River" becomes a medley reprising "White Christmas." A Hanukkah alert for "The Dreidel Song," which becomes a hoedown here, and the original "Christmas Time Again" swings into hip-hop territory. Other originals are "It's a New Year (Just Get Along)," which could be Rodney King's theme song, and "There's Something in the Air (At Christmas)," which resorts to the kids' chorus before swinging into a bit of Salvation Army tuba. We're wondering if the band has visited Mistletunes, as their rocked-up version of Stevie Wonder's "One Little Christmas Tree" responds to our review of the original. Rounding things out are solid, if conventional, readings of "Run Rudolph Run" and "Please Come Home For Christmas." A really nice job here, enough to make non-fans seek them out when the holidays are behind us.
The boys from Jersey have had their "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," based on the Cadillacs' arrangement, in my personal Christmas hit parade going back nearly two decades now, so word of a full CD of their version of Christmas for 2007 was greeted warmly around these parts. For the most part, it's exactly what I was expecting. Three originals join nine covers to create a full CD of rockin' Christmas goodness, though "Rudolph" isn't here, nor is their "Blue Christmas" from a 1994 EP. But "Waking Up on Christmas Morning" from that disc is here, likely re-recorded but maintaining that characteristic Smithereens sound. (Jim Babjak also played this tune on his side project Buzzed Meg's Christmas EP.) "Christmas Time All Over the World" does the same, and "Christmas (I Remember)" is a nice 60s-ish look back to that decade, including the year the singer unwrapped copies of Shut Down Vol. II and Rubber Soul under the tree. The makers of those two albums are represented among the covers with a faithful take on the Beach Boys' "Merry Christmas Baby" and an extended meditation on the Beatles' "Christmas Time Is Here Again." A bit of jazzy drumming accompanies a reading of "Twas the Night Before Christmas," and the boys take on the Who's "Christmas" from Tommy. They also take the tempo down a smidge for the Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)" and take a bluesier approach to Elvis' "Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me," but rock it out for "Run Run Rudolph," "Rockin Around the Christmas Tree" and "Auld Lang Syne." A once and future classic.

Acid Xmas, various artists (Streetbeat)

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acid.jpgHouse music tends to have one use and one use only -- to rock the house. Dance and drone. As a result, theme house records are kind of redundant. Nevertheless, here we have a 1997 Christmas record from a dozen mixmasters, beatboxes to the fore, thudding and droning their holiday greetings. It's all a bit samey-samey, especially when they throw away the familiar melodies of the Christmas songs they're doing and just hammer on one phrase. Still, it can be fun to zone out to all these old analog synthesizer sweeps and whooshes; having listened to this all the way through, I'm now a little nostalgic for my old Kraftwerk records.
darkside.jpgThere's not that much to do with Pink Floyd on here beyond the title and cover art homages. Apparently, this 1990 album is a compilation of an EP from 1981 by The Space Negroes, a 1985 single by Magic Mose and His Royal Rockers, a Christmas album by The Jethros, and a couple more tracks by Erik Lindgren. There's very little cohesion among all these disparate tracks from different times and places, although some of the same people are on many different tracks. The Space Negroes kick off the album with back-of-the-hand anti-caroling like "Jingle Hell" and "We Wish You a Lousy Xmas," although they at least get in some social commentary with "Deck the Halls (With Poison Sumac)." Magic Mose bats .500 with his two contributions, the better one the satirical "Have Yourself a Groovy Little Solstice." The band falls flat with "I'm Dreaming of a Noir Xmas," but at least they were shooting for something with this Christmas crime story. Most of the rest of the album is The Jethros with instrumental versions of popular carols, cutting across dozens of genres. "Frosty the Snow Plow" is a kind of industrial-sound version of the song, and there are some hints of Spike Jones, but there are also some bits here and there that are simply undistinguished. Maybe this was supposed to be soundtrack music for a Christmas movie. Lindgren's "Ho Ho Ho" closes the album with 12 minutes of the title. Don't be fooled by the publishing company's name being Foot Foot; there's nothing of The Shaggs on this CD. Amazingly after all these years, this is still available as a disc or download.
eveother.jpgRewritten entry. The band Savatage, as noted in the entry devoted to them, created "Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24," a progressive rock rendition of "Carol of the Bells." When the band dreamed up the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concept, they re-recorded that song with full orchestral backing. This is the version that has come to be known as the soundtrack to that famous YouTube video of one guy's outdoor Christmas light display. As to the rest of what is TSO's first album, the whole concept is similar to the dreaded Mannheim Steamroller, but with a bit more crunch. It's mainly symphonic hard rock versions of existing Christmas music, so if your tastes run to those British Rock Orchestra albums of classic rock tunes that occasionally pop up, you'll love this. More of the same is available on their Christmas Attic album. TSO now employs two separate ensembles to tour their holiday shows, an indicator of how popular they've become by providing an updated rendition of pomp and circumstance in a holiday setting. For us at Mistletunes, it's all a bit much, as we're fonder of smaller-scale celebrations with the only thing being big is the beat. (Originally we suggested they should cop some of the attitude from Emerson, Lake and Palmer's version of "Nut Rocker," but Wikipedia notes they actually did cover that song with Greg Lake on bass, so props to them on that score.) Can't leave TSO without debunking the widespread Internet rumor that Metallica has something to do with TSO. They do not. Metallica did not perform on any version of "Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24." All of those Google links to "Metallica/TSO" are mistaken. Ron Alley wrote to tell us that Metallica actually did do "Carol of the Bells" live with the San Francisco Symphony once, but Google provides no indication that such a performance took place; probably all of the links to a "Metallica" version of "Carol of the Bells" are to TSO's performance.
dwdicon.jpgRewritten entry. This band was not widely known under this name, its original monicker, but this 1995 number, from their Dead World Dead concept album about Bosnia, started the band's evolution into the entity now familiar to listeners as Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The song is a progressive rock take on "Carol of the Bells," which was re-recorded with an orchestra under the TSO name. The success of TSO, obviously, led to the eventual demise of Savatage. By the way, Metallica has no association with either Savatage or TSO; more about this in the TSO listing.
gonzo.jpgThose who are fans of Jerry Jeff know his predilection for the word "gonzo," but I'm afraid there's nothing I would consider gonzo about this 1994 Christmas album, which is basically a country-western swing Christmas album, nicely performed but mostly non-rock. This album also commits the common Christmas mistake of letting kids sing one of the songs slightly off key, in this case "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." I assume one of the kids, Django Walker, is related to Jerry, but schmaltz is schmaltz. There is some rock involved in the performances of "Here Comes Santa Claus/Up On the Rooftop" and "Jingle Bell Rock," thankfully, but the rest is as un-gonzo as I can imagine given the wealth of items you can find elsewhere on this site that do fit the description.
keith.jpgBen was a top pedal steel player with longtime ties to Neil Young (RIP 2010, see link), and Neil's credited as co-producer on this 1994 album, along with sometime guitarist, pump organist and lead vocalist on two cuts. This is as close as it comes to a Neil Young Christmas effort, although it's Ben's show all the way. But this is pretty much a straight country album. Half the cuts are instrumentals featuring Keith's pedal steel in the melody position and many of the vocals are from a children's chorus. Neil shares the lead with Johnny Cash and Nicolette Larson on "The Little Drummer Boy" and with Nicolette and the children's choir on "Greensleeves." This really doesn't stand out from the pack of country Christmas albums in any meaningful way, and there's not much that's uptempo or fun about it in the way that Mistletunes looks at things. But fans of the above folks might want this in their collections all the same. This album has been reissued as Christmas At the Ranch, but it's the same disc and cover, with only the title text changed; Amazon offers both versions of the disc for sale.
redred.jpgFrom the 1997 album of the same name, I single out the title song because it's the only remotely Christmas-oriented tune on the album, a sort of Middle Eastern electric folk rock ballad asking Jesus to give out with some luck at the gaming tables. A little dark perhaps, but so is midnight mass. The band is mostly broken up today but its members still work together, and their albums remain available.

"Xmas Lights Spin," Mark Eitzel (Matador)

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eitzel.jpgEitzel, the former light behind American Music Club, snuck this onto his 1998 album, Caught in a Trap and I Can't Walk Out Because I Love You Too Much, Baby. It's a dark little number in which St. Nick leaves his bag of toys in the bar, although the point behind the song remains obscure to me after a few listenings. An acoustic guitar and vocal performance, it probably won't jump out at you on a mix tape.
money.jpgAfter a long silence, Eddie Money returns with a Christmas single and brings Ronnie Spector along to help him sing it. I have a single, which says it's from a new album, Shakin' With the Money Man. Eddie and Ronnie previously did a a duet of "Take Me Home Tonight" back in 1986 and this 1997 offering is similar to that, with a little bit of jingle bells thrown on top of the Springsteen-Southside Johnny sound and Phil Spector wannabe production. Derivative, but fun to listen to.

Snowed In, Hanson (Mercury)

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hanson.jpgI was saving up insults like "the 90s answer to David Seville and the Chipmunks" and now I have to toss them aside. This 1997 album's not bad at all, especially if you have no preconceptions about this once-overexposed brother act. We here at Mistletunes certainly can't complain about a lineup of tunes that could have been chosen after a visit to this very website, can we? The boys grab Bruce Springsteen's arrangement for "Merry Christmas Baby" and the little guy in the group sounds a lot like Michael Jackson singing it, which is good or bad depending on your taste. Other astute choices for covers include "Little Saint Nick," "What Christmas Means To Me," "Run Rudolph Run," and they even manage not to butcher Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." There's a few original tunes as well, like "At Christmas" and "Everybody Knows the Claus." Former Hudson Brother Mark, the producer, obviously knows the ins and outs of recording a brother act. The album was reissued as a 20th Century Masters edition on Universal, but that's the same album as this.
yesvirgn.jpgThis Delaware band issued a rock 'n roll Christmas disc every year covered in the title, taking a 70s mainstream rock approach to tunes from the Christmas canon, both popular and obscure. They also throw in two non-Christmas tunes that are frequently passed off as holiday tunes, "My Favorite Things" (separate vocal and instrumental versions) and "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," no doubt because that song featured in the Bill Murray movie "Scrooged." Mainstream 70s stuff was never my favorite genre, but these guys do a great job. Out of print, though the band does stream some stuff on their MySpace page, linked above. By the way, there's a North Jersey band that works under the name Yes Virginia but doesn't appear to have any Christmas songs, just so you're aware if you're trying to chase these guys down.

Merry Christmas, Mariah Carey (Columbia)

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mariah.jpgYeah, I used to rail against this 1994 album because of my extreme distaste for this formerly ubiquitous, leather-lunged diva. I decided that was not the mature path to take, about a few minutes before I found a copy of this marked way down in the used-record bin. So let me make up for lost time in being just the tiniest bit fairer to this than I have been. You've read me using the term "diva moments" in other reviews on this site, sometimes in a derogatory fashion, and believe me there are plenty of diva moments here. Essentially Mariah fits in with other R'nB artists in the approach she takes to singing, lots of over-the-top trilling that escalates as the song goes on. So I still don't recommend the ballads on this CD, like "Silent Night," "O Holy Night," "Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)," and especially skip "Jesus Born on This Day," with the obligatory kiddie chorus. But she gets credit for going to the Phil Spector well in covering "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" and his version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," and both songs are done well. The closer, "Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child," is a good gospel rave-up and "All I Want For Christmas Is You" is a solid, and popular, original that has stood the test of time. She returned to the Christmas well in the next decade, and we covered that here at Mistletunes as well.

Rock 'n Roll Christmas, Dion (The Right Stuff)

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dionxmas.jpgOne of those semi-misleading entries in holiday lore, Dion did not record this back in his heyday with the Belmonts, but in 1993. The approach, though, is not unlike his great hits of the doo-wop era, an interesting choice on his part when you consider his mid-career transformations from group singing star to folkie ("Abraham, Martin and John") bluesman and even Christian popster. On this, he takes the rock band approach, although the overall sound is just a degree more mellow than it should be. Dion picks up a little Spector on the way, covering "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," doing that version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and even going spoken word in the middle of his "Silent Night." Not surprising; Spector produced an album for him in the mid-70s. The doo-wop "Jingle Bell Rock" is worth the whole album, and he puts a little Cajun into "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." He also pays his respects to Charles Brown with "Please Come Home for Christmas" and an uptempo "Merry Christmas Baby," not to mention his album opener "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" having that "Wanderer" feel. There are a lot of classic rock acts doing Christmas albums nowadays, but this album actually is classic rock.
loudon.jpgThose of you who remember Loudon probably only recall his 70s single "Dead Skunk" or his brief, one-season stint as the folk-singing Captain Spaulding (a nod to Groucho Marx) on "MASH." Either way, you know he's got a fairly corrosive sense of humor, and this 1993 single reaffirms that assessment as he sings, "Suddenly it's Christmas/Right after Halloween." Recorded live. From the album Career Moves. UPDATE: Bob Bailey points us to a further LWIII Christmas tune, "Christmas Morning," from the 1999 album Social Studies, featuring The Roches on backing vocals.

Seminal Twang, Shonen Knife (Virgin)

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shonen.jpgTwo of three cuts on this 1991 EP are Christmas-themed, "Space Christmas" and "Christmas Message '91." This Japanese all-girl rock trio is known for its slightly out-there, Ramones-style delivery and comic book themes, and this tune fits right in with their style. The second cut starts out with an acoustic version of "Space Christmas," and then follows up with a list of thank-yous from the band in pretty decent English. The remaining cut is "Bear Up Bison." This song has only turned up on this CD and on an out-of-print album called Birds & B-sides. Shonen Knife's other Christmas song is "All I Want For Christmas," from 2005, with lyrics by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore; that one's similarly hard to find. 
mojo.jpgThe patron saint of good time barflies everywhere applies his charm and mediocre singing voice to holiday music on this 1992 album, with rockin' results. Most are covers, though Mr. Mojo claims credit for "Little Man Song" and "It's Christmas Time." The production gives the impression this whole shebang was thrown together over an afternoon and a half, and if it wasn't then kudos to the producers. Mojo's got good taste in covers, "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch," "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus," "Run Rudolph Run," "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday" and "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto" among them. Another one that could use a Parental Advisory sticker, by the way. Mojo has been variously retired and unretired from the music business and has been most often heard on satellite radio in recent years as a talk show host.
judybats.jpgSomewhat downtempo, but definitely in character for the Judybats. Lots of guitars and violin set the tone, reflective lyrics match the musical mood, and call-and-response vocals help drive the message home. Less holly-jolly and more wistful, but a good change of pace. This was a CD single in 1990, and unless it turned up on a compilation somewhere, I don't think it's otherwise available.

A Drive-By Christmas, various artists (Legion)

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driveby.jpgNot to be confused with the compilation on Drive-Thru Records, this is a 1997 disc of really hard rockers doing mostly original Christmas tunes, with a few covers thrown in for good measure. Driveway's "Heatmiser" is a fun take on that classic, The Homeless push the thrash into sixth gear with "Homeless For the Holidays," Drop Kick Jesus punks out on "Holly Jolly Christmas" and Jay Foucher Project's "6 String Medley" is a straight rock instrumental delivering a melange of popular carols. Rudimentary Paste takes us back to the 80s with "Spirit of Getting," though they seem a little too happy to get that Gary Numan box set. Hamlet Idiot has an early lead for title of the year with "It's Christmas (You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself)." Grooveworks heads for the hard-rockin' blues with "Santa, What'cha Bringin' Me Tonight," featuring strong blues-mama vocals. And Dogboy throws a little Tim Burton into the holiday with "Christmas Time Again." No Amazon listing, only available at CD Baby.

"Mistress For Christmas," AC/DC (Atco)

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acdc.jpgDo I really even have to describe this one? It's AC/DC, for crying out loud. It's called "Mistress For Christmas." And it's from the 1990 album The Razor's Edge. I doubt you'll need a lyric sheet for this one.
careyzig.jpgNear as I can tell, this CD single from this Maryland act is from 1996 but a fair number of Maryland-area record stores still seem to have copies, at least around Christmas time, anyway. Nobody else does, it doesn't even show up on Amazon, though a couple of Ziegler's other releases do. "That's What Christmas Used To Be" is a nostalgic mid-tempo rocker. "Country Fryed (sic) Christmas" leads in with a bunch of deliberately bad banjo picking and faux-sincere narration before launching into a rap tune about the holiday. The futzing around at the beginning detracts from the song, in my opinion. But then, sound editors can help you mix-disc makers with that problem. The final track, "Heavy Metal Christmas," is as advertised. UPDATE: Bob Bailey notes that two members of Crack the Sky, Rick Witkowski and Joey D'Amico, played on this record. And as Carey's website noted he joined that group in 2010, not a big surprise.
keen.jpgA modern classic by the alt-country songwriter about a latter-day real-life rural Christmastime, with nods to RVs, AA, convenience stores, Mexicans, families extended by multiple marriages and much more in just four minutes. I'm partial to Jill Sobule's cover for its higher pop sensibility quotient, but the original artist's performance is more than adequate to get the various points across. If you need a little help with that, Keen has released a quasi-children's book based on the song, with lots of appropriate illustrations coordinating with the witty lyrics. Looks good on the coffee table that way. The song was originally released on the Gringo Honeymoon album on Sugar Hill from 1994. UPDATE: Bob Bailey reminds us that Keen went back to the Christmas well in 1998 with "Happy Holidays Y'all," with lyrics depicting the morning after the holiday: "There's a Barbie doll in the gravy boat on Mom's TV set...." It's from the CD Walking Distance on Arista.
tractors.jpgWe're bumping up against all-out country music with this 1995 release. I steered away from this deliberately for years until my wife found it in a dollar store precisely because I've ruled out country from this site. But my conclusion is that there's enough rock to include it here; it's not too difficult to filter out the Okie in these guys from a lot of the cuts. They definitely tread hard on the line between rock and country, as seen in their cover of Buck Owens' "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy." And they sometimes fall off that line into straight country, as in the originals "Baby Wanna Be By You" and "The Shelter." Most of the tunes are original in fact, led by "The Santa Claus Boogie," "Jingle My Bells" and "Santa Claus Is Comin' (In a Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train)" in terms of good rockin' tunes, and if you like swing, there's "Swingin' Home For Christmas." The piano solo of "White Christmas" is a little different and would be at home on the Blue Xmas album. "Silent Night, Christmas Blue" closes the album with a medley of the classic and an original tune that is a stately stomper. A great country Christmas album, but rock fans will find some cuts of interest. The Tractors went Christmas in 2002 again with Big Night, and I imagine it's more of the same as this one. Bob Bailey concurs: "More rock and roll than the first. Includes some re-arranged covers ('Run Rudolph,' 'Santa Claus is Back in Town'), some country/western swing covers, and some originals. Worth the price for 'Bo Diddley Santa Claus,' in which Bo helps out by driving Santa's sleigh."

Home For Christmas, N'Sync (RCA)

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nsync.jpgIt's easy to dismiss anything coming from a group whose average fan is a 12-year-old girl, especially one as visible as N'Sync. But quality standards for teen idols have gone up over the years, and the group delivers a solid, though unremarkable, Christmas compilation. This 1998 album is a typical effort by a popular group: a handful of standards ("The Christmas Song," "The First Noel" and an a cappella "O Holy Night") combined with originals typical of the group's non-holiday output. There's also the obligatory New Year's concluding tune, "Kiss Me at Midnight." The group operates in the modern R&B idiom, and like other such groups they fall back into soft jazz when doing slow-tempo tunes. Performances are solid, but the original songs just aren't that memorable. Consumer note: Six songs from this album were recycled on the group's The Winter Album, which also included six non-holiday songs on first release; subsequent issues dropped some of the non-holiday tunes.

This Christmas, 98 Degrees (Universal)

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98degree.jpgIf the Backstreet Boys are the late-90s boy band Beatles and N'Sync the Rolling Stones (tenuous, I know, but bear with me) then 98 Degrees is ... the Beau Brummels? Anyway, this 1999 effort is their grab at the Christmas ring, and it's pretty perfunctory. While N'Sync at least stays close to the R&B thing, these guys go mostly pop with just the faintest of soul touches. Song choice may be the problem, as they went with mostly slow tempo stuff all the way through. There are only three originals, and we get two nearly indistinguishable versions of "This Gift," the second billed as the "Pop Version." "The Christmas Song" gets a vintage soul treatment, and they start out "Little Drummer Boy" as a slow jams version, although it loses that edge once they get into the song. Traditional numbers like "Silent Night," "Oh Holy Night" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" are way too reverent. They do get props for straight a cappella versions of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "Ave Maria," but again, not much innovative going on here.

Too Many Santas, The Bobs (Rounder)

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bobs.jpgI've always had a soft spot for a cappella music, and non-instrumentalists The Bobs are possibly the most inventive such group out there, especially if you include their snarky original songwriting, something few such groups attempt. Here, they take their own twisted stabs at a few rock standards, transforming James Brown with "Santa's Got a Brand New Bag," turning Mack Rice's "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" into "Mrs. Claus Wants Some Lovin,'" and taking the Beach Boys' "Little Saint Nick" a bit farther south and changing it to "Rasta Reindeer." There's also a more faithful cover of "Christmas In Jail." The rest are originals in the group's irreverent mold; those familiar with such songs as "Bus Tour to the Outlet Mall" and their bumper-sticker litany "Kill Your Television" will know what to expect from "Yuleman vs the Anti-Claus," "Fifty Kilowatt Tree," the title song and all the others on this 1996 disc.

"Jesus Christ," Kristin Hersh (Rykodisc)

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hersh.jpgThis 1995 EP The Holy Single features Throwing Muses leader Hersh on the Alex Chilton holiday tune, a more acoustic and Christmas-like arrangement than the Big Star original. She also does "Amazing Grace" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," although there's nothing special or Christmasy about those. A non-holiday tune, "Sinkhole," is kind of interesting. "Amazing Grace" also appears on Xmas Marks the Spot from Rykodisc, as they opted to use the Big Star version of "JC."

Ho! Ho! Hoey, Gary Hoey (Surfdog/Virgin)

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hoey.jpgI don't know much about Hoey except what is obvious from this album -- that he's a first-rate rock guitarist. And that's not strictly fair to him, either; according to the liner notes, he played all instruments on this album. This 1995 album fills a Christmas music vacuum that has existed since the days of the Ventures, in terms of rock guitar instrumental Christmas albums. Those who combine this comparison with the name of the record label may be disappointed, however; this is not surf music, but contemporary rock guitar sound and technique applied to 11 holiday standards. No originals, and the choices are fairly obvious -- "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Silent Night," Christmases white and blue, and so on. There are some variations in tempo and approach, though, with acoustic takes on "Little Drummer Boy," "Away in a Manger" and "O Come All Ye Faithful," for example. If you've already glommed onto Hoey and you like this sort of thing, 1997 brought us Ho! Ho! Hoey 2, 1999 brought us a third installment and there's also a Best of Ho! Ho! Hoey now, too. There's also a double-disc compilation of the who-ho-hole oevure just released in 2003, and since the individual albums are out of print, the album cover art links you to this collection.
jarsclay.jpgAn alternative slash Christian rock act, the Jars take an original tack to their arrangement of the popular holiday tune, straddling power pop with a mildly world music-esque rhythm track. Then they do "The Grinch Mix" of same, dropping out most of the melody instruments in favor of the rhythm. The first is a bit more radio and personal mix-friendly. I usually steer clear of Christian rock myself, but in this case I would have deprived myself of something very nice. From 1995. UPDATE: Bob Bailey tips us that this also appeared on a 1995 EP on Brentwood Records called Drummer Boy, featuring an acoustic "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and the non-holiday cut "He." As it happens, the Amazon link takes you to the full EP. The Jars went the full Christmas album route a decade later.

"Always Winter, Never Christmas," XTC (Geffen)

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xtc2.jpgAbout nine years after "Thanks For Christmas," XTC returned to the Christmas fold, quietly, with this tune. Actually, Andy Partridge does; this is a home demo, released only on the CD single of "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" from the 1992 Nonesuch album, the group's last studio album until their acclaimed Apple Venus and Wasp Star swansongs. It's a little quirkier sounding, with a loping bass line, but it still has that trademark XTC flair for melody. Not currently downloadable; the Amazon link is to remaining copies of the original CD single.

"Christmas Wrapping," The Spice Girls (Virgin)

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spice.jpgA personality-oriented song like the Waitresses' original of this practically begs for comparison when somebody does a cover. Particularly when the culprits are the Spice Girls, doing what appears to be a slavish copy on the back of their 1998 "Goodbye" single. Poor Patty Donahue; bad enough for her to be dead without having one of her great performances strung up and tortured by this flock of screech owls. They also take a halfhearted stab at Phil Spector's "Sleigh Ride" on a couple of compilations. That song appears to be downloadable, but "Christmas Wrapping" is not, to my knowledge.

Hey Santa, Carnie and Wendy Wilson (SBK)

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wilsons.jpgAfter listening to this 1993 release, I think I understand why my wife doesn't like The Beach Boys, especially if you consider the old saying that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. The two oldest daughters of Brian Wilson obviously picked up something from him, but his love of early rock 'n roll apparently isn't it. This is strictly middle-of-the-road pop music, even if it does draw from musical cues pioneered by their father's group. Everything on here is overdressed, pumped up with musical introductions that ladle on the schmaltz before they even hit the first verse of several of these songs. This technique absolutely ruins the title song, which is otherwise the most listenable tune on here and the most like something Brian might have done. Beach Boys obsessives might want this for Carl Wilson's appearance on "Hey Santa," the reunion of The Honeys as backing singers on "Rudolph," and Brian's performance on piano on "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," which is the album's mandatory singing-kids performance featuring various Wilson and Love children and grandchildren, with the actual Beach Boys themselves singing backup to the brats. Shoulda asked Dad for more help on this, girls. Carnie also cut a solo Christmas album in 2007, Christmas With Carnie, on which Wendy guested, but the above review, minus the famous guest appearances, holds for this album in spades.

What's In That Bag, Chuck Leavell (Capricorn)

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leavell.jpgKnown for his piano work with the Allman Brothers Band and the Rolling Stones, Chuck stepped up to the mike for this 1998 holiday outing. He's no Greg Allman in the vocal department but he does all right, supported by the Muscle Shoals Horns. He mixes up the styles on "Joy To the World," going from gospel to boogie, duets with Lisa Fischer on "Please Come Home for Christmas," steals Bruce Springsteen's arrangement for "Merry Christmas Baby," goes New Orleans on the original "Hey Santa," and straight blues on "Even Santa Gets the Blues." He also gives us piano instrumentals of traditionals like "O Christmas Tree," "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," "We Three Kings" and several others. "Away In a Manger," surprisingly, is done on guitar. Bob Bailey points out that the album apparently started out as a home-grown project in 1996, as A Homemade Christmas from Charlane Plantation. "That's the name of the Christmas tree farming operation, in central Georgia, that he and his wife run when he's not on the road with the Allmans or the Stones," Bob adds. He notes that some of the songs were re-recorded and a few new ones were added, but the official version is otherwise not too different from the self-produced one.
wayne.jpgYou have to go back to "Santa and the Satellite," or at least "A Spaceman Came Traveling," to find another outer space Christmas song. This 1997 alt-pop tune is a killer, with lines like "I want a little green guy who's three feet high with 17 eyes that knows how to fly." The "flip side" (you don't turn CDs over, you know) is "The Man in the Santa Suit," in which the streetcorner Santa gets no respect. There's a two-line tune about "Hanukkah under the stars" tacked onto the end of this, but it's too short to issue a full Hanukkah alert. All of this single is now available on FoW's odds-n-sodds collection from 2005, Out Of State Plates.

Joy: A Holiday Collection, Jewel (Atlantic)

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jewel.jpgI was afraid of this. Jewel is an excellent singer with great chops and no shortage of sincerity, but her records work best when the songs challenge her out of that granola-fed folksinger riff she can do in her sleep. Which means a Christmas album by her is going to highlight all the sappiest aspects of her performing side. This 1999 CD is exhibit A for the prosecution. It really doesn't belong on this site; in fact, Atlantic is missing an opportunity if it doesn't push this CD through its Nashville wing. For that matter, there is enough of the religious side of the holiday to push it to Christian radio too. The only thing that really rocks out here is a performance of "Go Tell It On the Mountain," but that gets smooshed into a medley of Jewel's "Life Uncommon" and the Bette Midler tune "From a Distance." She duets with her mom on "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in a performance similar to one that ran on VH1 though she manages not to work in any yodeling with her dad. And there's a more reverent version of her hit "Hands" to close the album. Obviously, there was a lot of forethought and effort expended here, including the period-appropriate "enhanced content"; too bad it's all so conventional in the end.
colvin.jpgYou have to give Shawn credit for putting a lot of thought into this 1998 album, making a point of choosing less well-known tunes for her first holiday album, "Silent Night" being the exception. And the Maurice Sendak cover art compliments the concept. Her previously recorded version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," with its swingy piano-driven sound, was a little bit more of what I was hoping for, but that tune didn't fit the concept, so it's not here. The album does make a good Christmas gift for new mothers (like Shawn herself at the time), but this doesn't really rock out in any meaningful way.

Gift, Cheap Trick (Not Cool)

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cheaptrk.jpgFrom 1995, this mail-order single was a one-off to raise money for charity in the band's home town. The two songs are "Come On Christmas," a holiday-ized version of their standard "Come On Come On," and "Christmas Christmas," a rocker that featured members of Robin Zander's family on background vocals. "Come On Christmas" remains available on the box set Sex, America and Cheap Trick, while "Christmas Christmas" has turned up on the 2010 collection Rock 4 Xmas Vol. 3. They're individually downloadable as well.

We Three Kings, The Roches (MCA)

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roches.jpgThis sister singing group suffered the fate of being better known among other performers than the general public, but they managed to make a number of albums together, separately and in various combinations over the years. Their regular material was quirky original folk-pop, and their various influences are all on display here. While this 1990 CD is a tour de force of music-making, it's definitely not Mistletunes material. The vast majority of this is traditional carols in mostly traditional arrangements, with lots of classical and madrigal influence. Well-known carols get fairly conventional arrangements, like the title tune, "Deck the Halls" and "Away in a Manger," but they loosen up a bit more with pop tunes like "Frosty the Snowman," "Jingle Bells, "Sleigh Ride" and "Silver Bells." Suzzy Roche wrote the ballad "Christmas Passing Through," which is pretty good, and Terre Roche contributed the a capella "Star of Wonder." You might want to slip this into the collection of someone whose idea of Christmas music is the Michael Bolton album. Was reissued in 1994 by Rykodisc.
cyndi.jpgCyndi already had a bit of history with Christmas, having previously recorded "Early Christmas Morning" and "Feels Like Christmas." Both of these are here on this 1998 collection, along with several other co-written or written by herself. Of the originals, "Early" is one of the better holiday rockers to incorporate a children's choir, and the most party fun will be had by those who cue up "Christmas Conga" and "Minnie and Santa," the former self-explanatory and the latter a great bit about a woman who sets out to seduce the jolly elf. And succeeds; no wonder The Bobs changed Mack Rice's tune to "Mrs. Claus Wants Some Lovin'." There are some covers too, including "Three Ships," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "Silent Night." Overall, Cyndi strikes a fair balance between party fun and holiday balladry on this album, though I personally prefer the former. There's a budget version of this album called Feels Like Christmas that leaves off several songs, including "Early Christmas Morning," and substitutes a couple non-holiday items.

"Jingle Balls," Korn (Epic/Immortal)

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korn.jpgHaving not followed Korn very closely, I've only got this single, which originated in Germany or The Netherlands, to go on. Based on the lead track, "Falling Away From Me," from the album Issues, we're looking at your basic hard rock crunch circa 1999, not bad. There's also an a cappella mix of that track, in which the lyrics are more understandable, although the lengthy breaks in between verses are jarring. But the track which brings this single to this site, "Jingle Balls," is just silly, taking the familiar carol down to a sludgy tempo and hammering every beat while the singer growls the lyrics in the lowest, most incomprehensible voice. I'm inclined to write this off as a bit of Spinal Tap-level goofing around rather than a serious performance. This song ended up on The Essential Korn.

Here Is Christmas, The Lovemongers (2B)

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lovemong.jpgHeart fans know this 1998 album by Lovemongers is actually Ann and Nancy Wilson with several friends doing something more pop-oriented than their more famous group. In fact, the title song was credited to Ann and Nancy when it was released as a single in 1989. "How Beautiful" was also donated to A Home for the Holidays benefit album, and the rest are heard here for the first time. Fellow Lovemonger Frank Cox takes a solo on "Last Noel" and the group takes on several familiar carols in traditional arrangements, including an a capella "Oh Holy Night" and an instrumental "Bring a Torch." The sleeper on this album is "Christmas Waits," a serious stab at Burt Bacharach -- including a touch of Carpenters! -- that would be a hit in a perfect world. For 2002, this album was reissued as a Heart album, called A Lovemongers Christmas. UPDATE: For 2004 the album has been re-released again, this time with two new songs, "Mary" and "Let's Stay In."
spongetn.jpgThese guys must really love the holiday. Besides appearing on two well-regarded compilations, Optional Art's Cool Yule and Black Vinyl's Yuletunes, the band sent out holiday-themed novelties to its fan club from time to time, and all those tunes are compiled here for your Christmastime pleasure on this disc from 2002. The best-known tunes here are from the two compilations mentioned above, "Christmas Boy" and "Christmasland." Added to that are a rocked-up "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," "Carol of the Guitars" rather than "Bells," a live "Blue Christmas" complete with Elvis impersonation, a solo guitar "The Christmas Song," the original "Merry After-Christmas" as a duet with a helium-influenced voice, "The Merry Wiped-Out Drummer Boy," the treatment of which should be obvious from its title, a little Tennessee Two action backing the "Killer Wolves" on "Jingle Bells," a version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" done as the whistled theme from "The Andy Griffith Show," and a countrified version of "We'll Have the Brightest Christmas" from "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." An original ballad, "There's a Star," caps off the CD. The rest is brief goofs and greetings from band members. A fun collection, though the best songs are available elsewhere.
tori.jpgTori slips this little number onto the British EP single of "Spark" from her 1998 album from the choirgirl hotel. A ballad version, played sincerely but with very little bombast; mostly piano but with some atmospherics in the background. The EP features another number, "Purple People (Christmas in Space)" that has nothing to do with Christmas. This seems to have slipped into the ether, unless you'd like to pay collector's prices for the EP. The preacher's daughter previously did a live version of "The Little Drummer Boy" for You Sleigh Me, a benefit CD mentioned elsewhere on this site, and a couple of years ago went the full Christmas CD route, mentioned in another entry.

"Christmas Ride," Fight (self-issued)

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Fight.jpgOriginally from 1994, this is former Judas Priest singer Rob Halford's one-off holiday single, and the sound will take you JP fans right back to their heyday. Rob's had an interesting ride since he left the band, but by making this available again he's serving notice that some things never change. This isn't on Halford's more recent Winter Songs CD, but he does put it back up on his own site during the holidays.
thirdeye.jpgFrom around 1997, a short uptempo goof-around cut with the chorus "...that we spend in bed." Lyrics do a double-entendre around the idea, or perhaps a single-entendre. Doesn't appear to be on any of the band's albums, but it's downloadable by itself, just click on the disc art. I originally got this song from the defunct CDnow.com as a Liquid Audio download for $1.49. Remember Liquid Audio, one of the many proprietary formats for digital music with limitations that turned off Internet users so badly that they rushed to mp3 as soon as it was available? I originally ranted about this issue when I posted this song, but that's really old business now, so this post is edited. Steve Hansen lets us know this song turned up on a Kevin & Bean KROQ-FM compilation, A Family Christmas In Your Ass, which turns up on eBay and Amazon from time to time.

Holidayland, They Might Be Giants (Restless)

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tmbgep.jpgRabid TMBG fans might have all these tunes one way or another, but this 2001 EP is a good way to get them all in one place. There are only five songs, one of which is "Careless Santa," actually by Mono Puff, a side project, and one of which is, Hanukkah alert, "Feast of Lights" from the Festival of Light 2 album. The rest are "Santa's Beard," "O Tannenbaum," and a cover of The Sonics' "Santa Claus." Good stuff; wish the Johns would flex their considerable brainpower on a full-blown Christmas album someday. "O Tannenbaum" was on a single in 1992 with the B-side "Christmas Cards," which does not appear to be available here or anywhere else.

I Wanna Be Santa Claus, Ringo Starr (Mercury)

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ringo.jpgRingo and his producer Mark Hudson (remember him from the Hudson Brothers and as Hanson's producer?) strung together a lot of ready-mades in putting this 1999 CD in the racks. You'd be disappointed if he didn't do "The Little Drummer Boy," right? Beatles fans would want to hear "Christmastime Is Here Again," so it's here, despite the fact it's not much of a song and was only ever intended for use as background music. Ringo's not the kind of singer who makes you wish the album was longer. And there's lots of post-Revolver pilfering for arrangements. Still, nobody went home early from making this album; six of 12 cuts are originals and the performances are sharp, even inspired. "Come On Christmas" is straight out of the Gary Glitter discography, "The Christmas Dance" out-McCartneys Paul in the music hall department, "Winter Wonderland" percolates on the lick from "Rockin' Pneumonia" and Ringo indulges his love of country on "Blue Christmas." "White Christmas," a song that seldom gets a fresh arrangement, goes all tropical on us with a light reggae rhythm, Hawaiian guitar and steel drums. And how did George Harrison miss out on performing the album's closer, the India-influenced "Pax Um Biscum (Peace Be With You)?" This disc was reissued with a new cover and a different title as part of Universal's 20th Century Masters series for 2003, but it's the same album.

Joyeux Mutato, Mark Mothersbaugh (Rhino)

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devoxmas.jpgThis 1999 album is as close as we'll ever get to a Devo Christmas album, as Mark was a member of the Akron spud-boy ensemble. Today, he's better known for writing soundtrack music for the likes of "Rugrats" and "Duckman," among others. Listening to this, we at Mistletunes suddenly realized we're partial to lyrics over music, as we were initially disappointed at the instrumental nature of the album; only "I Don't Have a Christmas Tree (Soylent Night)" has conventional vocals, although they are mutated somewhat. But the music slowly started to work its magic. Mark's modus operandi is to work in all electronic instruments, grab something familiar and then go off on a tangent. The opening track, "Blue Joy," takes off from "Joy to the World" and builds into something melancholy yet Christmasy. "Midnight Wind-Up Toy" takes phrases of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and evokes ricky-ticky toys that work on tightened mainsprings. And so it goes through 12 tracks and 79 minutes. The music was originally created to accompany an art installation and was packaged in an outrageous felt Digi-Pak with suitably deranged cover art in a limited edition of 3,000. But it's been reissued in a less lavish package, although all versions appear to be out of print at this time.
malone.jpgThis Georgia-based singer-songwriter is known mainly as a roots-rocker with Bonnie Raitt tendencies -- she even plays slide guitar -- but this Christmas album has more of a jazz and blues feel, as piano takes the lead here and Michelle leaves her guitar on its stand for the duration. This is from 1992, which might explain the departure from current style. I'd originally heard of Michelle through one of the Flagpole compilations where she did "Santa Baby" backed with guitar and bass. This version is a different performance, as the whole album was recorded live. No originals, just a quick trip through the canon, including a recitation of "A Visit From St. Nicholas" to trio backing. Great personality, great singing, though rock fans might like her more recent non-holiday work. Still available (barely) through Amazon.

"I Hate December," Ivy (Seed)

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IvyHate.jpgFrom the 1994 EP Lately, this deep melancholy ballad offers a bit of a curative when the happy side of the holiday gets a little too oppressive. This band features vocalist Dominique Durand plus Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, who did a fair amount of songwriting for this band just as he does for the Waynes. And between these two bands and Stephen Colbert's Christmas special, he's got a pretty good holiday track record as well.
chinese.jpgThis one's been bubbling under my radar for a couple of years and I finally latched onto a copy of this 1997 Christmas classic. There's nothing Chinese about these guys, although there are five of them; try rockabilly/folk/country fusion on for size, then consider they wrote all but one of the tunes on this album, and you've got the ingredients for a jumpin' Christmastime. Great titles, like "Rockin' In the Manger," "The Fruitcake Song," "Missing Miss December," "Christmas on Interstate 80," and "Department Store Santa Claus Strike," and they're supported by good songs and good performances. "Making Angels in the Sand" is for those of you spending the holiday in the sunnier climates.

Christmas, Low (Tugboat)

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lowxmas.jpgLow, the lo-fi trio from Duluth, Minn., gave us this 1999 album with only a modicum of notice at the time, but over the years it has evolved into one of rock 'n roll's iconic holiday entries despite the band's mostly low-key approach. Their original "Just Like Christmas" is the "hit" off this album, and they cover "Blue Christmas" and "Silent Night" in their inimitable style. "Blue Christmas" and their original "If You Were Born Today" were on a 1997 single on Wurlitzer Jukebox Records that is pretty rare. Though the band has never been considered particularly radio-friendly, The Gap was interested enough in their version of "Little Drummer Boy" to feature it in a Christmas commercial back in 2000.

Christmas, Rockapella (J-Bird)

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rpella.jpgThe popular a cappella group best known for their work helping to track down Carmen Sandiego give us a holiday album for 2000. A couple of years ago, they put an original Christmas tune, "Hold Out for Christmas," on a non-holiday album, and that one's here, along with two more originals, "The Hope We Hold" and "Christmas Without You." The rest are well-known chestnuts like "Silver Bells," "White Christmas," "The Christmas Song," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and so on. An homage to the Mills Brothers, "Glow Worm," segues into "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas." And they pull out all the stops for a very contemporary version of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." Overall, there's a kind of samey feeling to the whole album that is the group's downfall, although I suspect they sell this material a lot better live.
arrogant.jpgThese crazy Canadians knocked out a whole CD of original novelties for 1998, with great titles like "Santa's Gonna Kick Your Ass," which is probably what a lot of people's dads really said to them between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Of course, they balance the karma on this with "Dad Threw Up On Christmas Day," an ode to gluttony, viruses and food poisoning, which eventually takes us to the story of "Vincent the Christmas Virus." Other holiday ailments covered in song include "Christmas Hangover" and "Christmas Blues." Even the main course has "Christmas Turkey Blues." And imagine waking up to discover "Oh God, I'm Santa Claus!," complete with Wild Man Fischer touches. This is sure to yield a few good change-of-pace nuggets on your holiday mix tapes and discs.

Christmas Island, Jimmy Buffett (Margaritaville)

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buffett.jpgI occasionally hear from the Parrotheads in the audience that their boy is unjustly neglected here at Christmas Music Central. While I've never drunk the rum-flavored Kool-Aid (with an umbrella in the glass) in regard to Buffett, I have to give him his due, in that a lot of rock fans I grew up with have gravitated to his music over time. So here he is on his 1996 holiday CD, pointing out he was born on Christmas Day the same year W.C. Fields died on the holiday, for what it's worth. If you're familiar with the Buffett sound, there will be no surprises -- mellow tropical grooves overlay everything, right down to the steel band accompaniment on John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." The title song is the classic done by such folks as the Andrews Sisters and Leon Redbone, and other familiar songs include "I'll Be Home For Christmas," a rocked-out "Up On the Rooftop" and "Run Rudolph Run," plus "Mele Kalikimaka" and "Jingle Bells," though the latter seems to clash with the tropical vibe here (snow, sleighs, etc.). Capping off the CD are three originals, "A Sailor's Christmas," "Ho Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rhum" (that's how he spells it), in which Santa takes that overdue vacation in the islands, and "Merry Christmas Alabama (Never Far From Home)," which swings perilously close to a country ballad. A little too mellow for me overall, but I know it's just the right speed for some of you.
flamlips.jpgThe cult faves from Oklahoma put this number on their Clouds Taste Metallic CD, an ode to zoo animals getting set loose for Christmas, only to say "Thanks but no thanks." This group apparently likes Christmas a lot, as you can see by the fact we have multiple listings at Mistletunes for them. Wayne Coyne of the group apparently is a Christmas compilation maker, like many visitors to this site, according to a story at ChartAttack.com. The Lips did a single with two versions of "White Christmas," one side of which wound up on the British charity compilation It's a Cool, Cool Christmas.

Star of Wonder, Trolley (self-issued)

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trolley4.jpgThis Milwaukee-based band contacted us to make sure we knew they were out there with this six-song holiday EP, apparently first released way back in 1997. Despite all the time gone by, they're still worth knowing about, bringing us a fine variety of jangly guitar pop-rock that keys off original Sixties sources like the Beatles and the Byrds by way of later power poppers -- their "Christmas in the Marketplace" has a definite resemblance to Murmur-era R.E.M., for example. They get just a touch of surf music into their "We Three Kings," their original "It's Christmas" keys off early Beatles, and then it's Byrds-to-R.E.M. for "Describe Eternity." They cap things off by power-chording their way through "I'll Be Home For Christmas." Highly recommended. If the Amazon link fails you, check out the listing at CD Baby.

"Christmas," Cowboy and Spin Girl (Parasol)

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cowspngr.jpgFrom the 1994 album Odds and Bobs, I'm surprised this never turned up on one of the Parasol compilations. A chunky Chuck Berry rhythm carries this short but catchy number along, buoyed by some odd vocals on the chorus and some crunchy lead guitar. Good fun.
petshop.jpgSomeone thoughtfully forwarded me a snippet of this, no doubt inspired by the briefer mention of it on the site earlier. Still don't have much background on it other than the fact that it was originally released only to fan club members. But it's a good uptempo club dancing tune with appropriate lyrics. I found a few references on Google to Pet Shop Boys' 1993 "A Very Merry Christmas Card," which sells at music auction sites for ridiculous amounts of money, but the descriptions are unclear as to whether this is just a collectible piece or whether a CD with this song is included. Fortunately, the song became more generally available on Elton John's Christmas Party. On their 2002 album Release, there's a song called "Birthday Boy" that alludes to the guy whose b-day is Dec. 25.
graham.jpgUPDATED ENTRY: This 1994 CD EP has been long out of print, but Parker recently uncovered several unsold boxes of this brief classic containing three original holiday tunes, "Christmas Is For Mugs," "New Year's Revolution" and "Soul Christmas," the latter featuring co-vocalist Nona Hendryx. If anybody should have the attitude to do a rockin' Christmas record, it's Graham, and these are solid. Demos of the three songs also are included on the CD. The full story behind the original recording and release of this EP is related at Graham's website, and while you're there check out the other rarities and reissues from the more recent years of his fine, fine, superfine career. My copy is the British edition, released on Demon. Anyway, when the current batch of these discs is sold, that's probably it -- back to eBay and auction prices. The disc cover links to an Amazon page that has new copies available. UPDATE: Graham branched out to another holiday on his 2004 Your Country CD with "Almost Thanksgiving Day."

"Candy Cane Children," The White Stripes (V2)

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wstripes.jpgA white-vinyl single, the song is originally from 1998 and was reissued in 2002. "Candy Cane" is what you're used to from the Stripes, with a guitar figure evoking Neil Young and lyrics addressed to "candy cane boy" and "girl." Not bad at all. The throwaway B-side has Jack reading the Gospel of Matthew on the story of the Magi, followed by Meg singing "Silent Night" a capella, at least until she forgets the lyrics. Can't seem to find this anywhere except at collector prices. Stripes obsessives may want to track down 2003's "Cold Mountain" movie soundtrack, where Jack performs "Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over," although that's a Civil War-appropriate folk performance rather than a Jack 'n Meg kind of thing.
costello.jpgNot a rocker, but an actual Celtic folk tune, which is to be expected, as this originally appeared on the Chieftains' own 1991 Christmas album The Bells of Dublin. Co-written with Paddy Moloney of the group, the lyrics are unmistakably Costello, taking a typical Christmas celebration to the title's grim conclusion. For you non-Brits, Dec. 26 is St. Stephen's feast day, historically celebrated as Boxing Day -- for noblemen to "box up" gifts for the servants, as goes the legend, and also marked as a holiday. (Costello did do a song called "TKO (Boxing Day)" on Punch the Clock, but the holiday reference is merely a pun; the metaphor for a troublesome relationship has to do with actual pugilism.) St. Stephen was reputedly one of the first martyrs of Christianity, stoned to death not long after the Crucifixion, which lends a certain gruesome appropriateness to Costello's lyrics. If you're more a Costello fan than a Chieftains fan, this is one of the bonus cuts on the two-disc Rhino reissue of Mighty Like a Rose, an oft-overlooked but worthwhile Costello album that features two co-writes with Paul McCartney and a few cuts from his seldom-seen "Unplugged" show. UPDATE: Costello's The Delivery Man CD from 2004 contains a song called "Bedlam," which he often precedes in concert by saying it's the story of the Nativity. And it kinda is, if the desk clerk at the inn is named Rumsfeld.... FURTHER UPDATE: Costello tries to make the Nick Lowe classic "What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding" into a Christmas song by offering it on Stephen Colbert's Christmas special. He also performs, with Stephen, "There Are Much Worse Things To Believe In," a more explicitly Christmas tune co-written by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne.
lisamych.jpgI first heard Lisa thanks to Dan Pavelech's Hi-Fi Christmas Party CDs, which each feature a tune from this album. What we have here is a comparative rarity in rock 'n roll Christmas world: a single artist's conception of an original Christmas album with all original tunes. Actually, "Jack Frost" is a cover, but it's such an obscure one that it doesn't hurt the premise. It's a song from a Russian film, "Morozko (Father Frost)," supposedly based on a Russian fairy tale that mashes up various bits of "Cinderella" and the parable of talents from the Bible. "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" fans probably recall the episode in which this film was parodied. But let's not lose sight of Lisa's achievement here, first recorded in 1990 and released in its current form in 2002. With the help of Wondermints Darian Sahanaja and Nick Walusko, she knocks out a power pop masterpiece that has been criminally overlooked even for being a Christmas album by an American artist that's only available as an import. (Currently out of print as of the date this entry was updated, but I left the Amazon link in anyway.) Bangles and GoGos comparisons are a bit too facile; she's clearly learned from the same original sources as those bands without turning this into a spot-the-influences party. You'll certainly hear 60s girl groups and garage rock, Phil Spector, Beach Boys, ELO/Wizzard, 80s power pop and even a bit of Rimsky-Korsakov with balalaikas ("Jack Frost" again) through the 12 songs of this CD. You'll also hear some melancholy in the songwriting, but that just adds more depth to her performance -- I'll let you track down her website for the inspirations behind this album. We've mentioned the title song and "Listen to the Bells Ring" elsewhere on the site, so I'll skip to the funky "Closer to Jerusalem," which could be the soundtrack to a "happening" in a 60s hippy movie; the poppy "We Will Look Away," a bubblegum anthem with just a hint of Partridge Family; "Bernie's 3rd Christmas," a garage-pop workout; the ballad "Christmas Came Too Soon," drenched in a variety of acoustic and electric guitar sounds; and the cello-led climax "Pure and Simple." This is very nearly the Pet Sounds of Christmas albums. UPDATE: The CD is out of print, but Futureman Records has an expanded version of the album available for download. The expanded version has a few 60s covers that are not Christmas, demos of a couple of the album's original songs, and a cover of the Beach Boys' "Santa's Beard."
jonnyq.jpgThis came out in 1981 at the height of the early 80s rockabilly revival, and is pretty much as advertised. I never heard of JQ before or since this record, but it's a sprightly performance, very much in the vein of those old "let's write a song about Elvis Presley" records. I don't think this ever turned up on a Rhino Christmas compilation, strangely enough. UPDATE: Carolyn Stuart reports that Que is still an active performer. She also said the song is on iTunes, but I couldn't find it there or anywhere else.

"Run With the Fox," Yes (Atco)

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yes.jpgOriginally a single in 1981, this Yessong by Chris Squire, Alan White and Pete Sinfield is a fairly straightforward holiday tune. Most folks think symphonic-length compositions when they think of Yes, but this tune tops out at just over four minutes; it has the high vocal harmonies and arrangement with ship-in-a-bottle detail you would expect, but it's uptempo and kind of catchy. Still available on the Yesyears box set. Squire had a full holiday CD in 2007 under the sobriquet "Chris Squire's Swiss Choir," on which this song is included; except for this song, it's a baroque classical outing with a chorus, all very authentic sounding. The choir is overdubbed on the choruses of "Run With the Fox," so it's not exactly the same performance from the original recording, but it's close enough for government work.
fishbone.jpgThis holiday EP from 1987 has been excerpted on a number of compilations over time, mainly the title tune and "Slick Nick (You Devil You)." The title tune is a clattery rave-up of the kind that Fishbone made famous on their regular albums, playing off the classic Jimmy Stewart movie, while "Slick Nick" is an organ-led ballad castigating the jolly elf for his carousing ways. The uptempo "Just Call Me Scrooge" tells Ebenezer's story in a danceable way. Rounding out the EP is "Iration," a swaying reggae prayer that is not necessarily holiday-related. Nice stuff, and pretty hard to find -- my copy is a Japanese import. A double-disc odds 'n sods collection has all four songs from this EP on it.
xmess1.jpgI just unearthed this 1984 collection out from under a pile of vinyl. My copy is cheaply packaged with photocopied liner notes and cover art and not even a way to tell which is the A-side, at least not in a faintly lit room, anyway. Whether this is a promo copy or the actual final release is probably lost in the sands of time. UPDATE: Definitely a promo, just found the full-color cover art at left. End update. Nevertheless, there's good 80s vintage indie music in these grooves. The early 2000s wasn't the first time there was a fad for retro 60s garage rock, as most of this album attests. Plan 9's "Merry Christmas," Yard Trauma's "Christmas Tyme (Baby)," "Forget It" by Nadroj and the Wolrats, "Schizophrenic Xmas" by Suburban Nightmares are all in this vein, as well as the album's best cut, "Gloria (In Excelsis Deo)" by The Tryfles, a witty combination of "Angels We Have Heard on High" and Them's "Gloria." Think about it for a second, it'll come to you. Elsewhere on the LP, we get power-pop from Wednesday Week on "Christmastime Here (Could Never Be Like That)," the Dogmatics on "Xmas Time (It Sure Doesn't Feel Like It)" and The Point with "On Comet," Cheepskates give us a pop-rock "Christmastime With You" and a surf instrumental "Last Minute Rush," Johnny Rabb goes garage on "Christmas Dance" and rockabilly on "Gotta Get Lucky for Xmas," and Screamin' Jay Hawkins (the very same) gives us a blues piano take on "It's Xmas (A Time For Giving)." And there's a nod to Phil Spector with the Droogs' version of "Silent Night" to close the album. A few of these cuts have trickled out on other compilations over the years, but I think this collection could stand the test of time as a CD reissue. FURTHER UPDATE: Sean Delany writes in to tell us that this album was just volume 1, there was a volume 2 in 1986 and volume 3 in 1987. Randy at Hip Christmas has some more info, including track listings for all three LPs.

3 Ships, Jon Anderson (Opio Media)

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3ships.jpgOrignally from 1985, and out of print for years, it turned up again in Europe for 2007 as a 22nd anniversary edition, which is now available domestically through Amazon's manufactured-to-order service. It's been remastered from the vinyl days and it includes five bonus tracks, which are interspersed through the running order rather than grouped at the end. As to the actual music, well, it's not unexpected if you're familiar with the work of Anderson's former band Yes, though it's arranged more for orchestra than for small combo. Anderson writes the bulk of the material, though a fair number of classic carols are part of the set list, including the title song and the Mozart version of "Ave Maria." Much of Anderson's music, in fact, takes its cue from the antique carols, and there's very little rock going on here. One might consider this a forerunner of Mannheim Steamroller and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, though with far less bombast than those two. Though it's Jon's show, he's assisted by sometime Yes-men Trevor Rabin and Vangelis, the latter of whom contributed a full song and a co-write, and, for you trivia buffs, Elliot Easton of the Cars performs on electric and acoustic guitars.

"Christmas," The Buzz of Delight (DB Records)

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sweet.jpgPost-new wave jangly pop-rock from Matthew Sweet, who wrote and performed most instruments on this tune from the 1984 EP Soundcastles, co-produced by Don Dixon. Sweet's vocal is buried, so it's tough to parse the lyrics; I detect a relationship song hung on the Christmas peg. This tune was also a single, and I'm guessing the original vinyl versions are pretty rare. Fortunately, they're on a Sweet rarities disc titled To Understand -- The Early Recordings of Matthew Sweet, on Hip-O. Matthew also performed "Baby Jesus" on the seminal Yuletunes compilation from 1991, which is available again.

"Stop the Cavalry," Jona Lewie (Stiff)

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jona.jpgThis actually was a Top Ten hit in Great Britain and made no. 1 in several European countries upon its single release in 1980. It's a soldier's holiday lament, fusing synth-pop and martial music to create its mood. For some reason it appears on Dr. Demento's Holidays in Dementia, although it seems not particularly demented to me. Of course, if the good Doctor hadn't compiled it I would have never known that Jona started out in the British blues scene -- and for sure you never would have guessed it from his recordings for Stiff. He was part of the second-wave Live Stiffs tour, along with Lena Lovich, Rachel Sweet, Wreckless Eric and Mickey Jupp, and his other hits included "You'll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties" and "God Bless Whoever Made You." This has become a staple of British holiday music in recent years, as noted in Thea Gilmore's "That'll Be Christmas," with its lyric "Jona Lewie on the radio."

Christmas Wish (Deluxe Edition), NRBQ (Clang!)

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nrbq.jpg
This originally was an eight-cut vinyl EP on Rounder in 1986, in fact, I have a copy of that but never got around to posting an entry on it until now. The liner notes do a pretty good job of tracing the history of NRBQ and Christmas, and this deluxe edition adds a number of cuts from over time, starting with a cut from a different 1978 EP and ranging through to 1995. The band, a critics' favorite that never had a real live hit, essentially broke up in 1994 but various reunions and regroupings took place over the years, and Terry Adams is now touring the band with mostly new members. Their original Christmas song, "Christmas Wish," has turned up on a few compilations over the years and was covered in 2007 by Darlene Love. It turns up three times here, in the original version, as a reprise, and in a "TV version" that is an instrumental. Overall, this CD, which started out as a slapdash EP project in the vein of Beach Boys' Party and Christmas Time Again by Chris Stamey and friends, is a little too slapdash, with the vast majority of the 19 songs being under two minutes and a fair number being live bits of goofing around with traditional carols. Terry Adams' "Electric Train" and "Holiday are the only other original tunes, all of which date back to the first issue of the EP. This is probably more for NRBQ fans and completists, though the title song remains an overlooked gem.

stamey.jpgOriginally released in 1985 on Coyote as a 12-inch EP with seven songs, a 1993 CD re-release on East Side Digital ballooned it to 17 tracks, though it deletes another Stamey track from the original, "Something Came Over Me." For 2006, Collectors Choice reissues this CD with six new tracks. As to the album itself, it remains a fairly slapdash affair that evokes the spirit of the Beach Boys Party album, with a cast of characters that is mainly power popsters from the right coast: Stamey and his former partners in the dBs, Alex Chilton and his former band Big Star, Syd Straw, Caitlin Cary, Marshall Crenshaw, Don Dixon, Ryan Adams with Whiskeytown, and a number of other folks. The original EP had the feel of something that had been slapped together on Christmas Eve over double eggnogs, but the additional cuts detract from that feel a little bit. Still, if you were a fan of the dBs, this feels almost like a lost dBs album. Top cuts include the title song, the dBs' "Holiday Spirit" and their silly take on "Feliz Navidad," Big Star's "Jesus Christ," Cathy Harrington's girl-groupy "Sha La La" and Ted Lyons's "The Only Law Santa Claus Understood," a hilarious recasting of Santa as a Wild West reprobate. Syd Straw gets points for a Christmas pun in the form of a cover of Blondie's "I'm Always Touched by Your Presents, Dear." The new songs are "Lonely Christmas" by Marshall Crenshaw, "Home For the Holidays" by the dBs with Cary, "I Saw Three Ships" and "Christmas is Saturday" by Don Dixon, "Christmas Time Is Here" by Thad Cockrell and Roman Candle, and Whiskeytown's "Houses On the Hill." Some of the other tunes on here are a little too earnest to suit me, but the good cuts make it worthwhile. If it keeps growing like this, by 2052 it will be a box set and around 2200 or so it will have subsumed all the songs mentioned on this site. UPDATE: The reissue gives, and the reissue takes away. Missing from the West Side Digital release are Syd Straw's song, "Occasional Shivers" by Chris Stamey and "Silver Bells" by Kirsten and Brent Lambert.
bandaid.jpgBob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats is widely credited with drawing the music industry's attention to the famines in Ethiopia. He organized this ad hoc group of mostly British rock stars in 1984 and wrote the song with Midge Ure of Ultravox to raise money for food relief; its success was copied by the artists of several other countries, including USA for Africa, and that all led to 1985's Live Aid concerts. As for the song, well, it's a little dated-sounding, but it's still fun to listen to and try to pick out who's singing lead at any given time. You need the 12-inch single to see who all is involved with the record, though; good luck scaring up one of those at collector prices. UPDATE: There was a Band Aid II version in 1989, although I can't seem to scare up a list of the cast of characters. Meanwhile, a new recording with current stars under the Geldof/Ure auspices was released for 2004. FURTHER UPDATE: Thanks to Jim from basicrep for additional information on Band Aid II -- it was produced by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, hot pop producers of the late 80s, and the artist roster was mostly folks whose non-holiday records they produced. They were: Bananarama, Big Fun, Bros, Cathy Dennis, D-Mob, Jason Donovan, Kevin Godley, Glen Goldsmith, Kylie Minogue, The Pasadenas, Chris Rea, Cliff Richard, Jimmy Somerville, Sonia, Lisa Stansfield, Technotronic and Wet Wet Wet.
xtc.jpgAKA XTC, this lovely little slice of power pop came out circa 1983, about the time of the Mummer album. Although it was originally issued only on a single, its goodness is proven by the fact that lots of 90s-era Christmas compilations have unearthed it. It's also reissued on the Rag 'n Bone Buffet album, along with the B-side, "Countdown to Christmas Party Time," a bit of 80s-era dub/dance goofing around. This is remarkably hard to grab a copy of lately, however; click on the single sleeve and it will take you to a listing for a Rhino compilation that's out of print but still available.
bruce.jpgOf course there can be too much of a good thing, as Bruce probably discovered from the incessant requests for an official release of "Santa." At some point, he switched his holiday allegiance to another rock chestnut, "Merry Christmas Baby." The tune first turned up as the B-side to his version of Edwin Starr's "War," from the 1986 live box set, and was also donated to A Very Special Christmas. Bruce's rendition is more on the upbeat side compared to most versions of the song. Note that all of Bruce's officially released Christmas songs are live concert recordings, including the latest one on The Promise DVD, "Blue Christmas."
bruce1.jpgReleased officially in 1981 for the children's album In Harmony 2, the release is actually the end of the story. Bruce, musicologist that he is, played this song in concerts that fell within the holiday season going back to at least 1974, and the tune was widely bootlegged until the official release. In fact, until the record industry began cracking down on the practice, the tune occasionally turned up on the radio at Christmas time as disc jockeys would bring in their own bootleg copies to play. The fact that there were a number of different versions, recording quality bad to reasonably legible, coupled with the fact that audiences really liked the song, probably led to the official release. A promo single was serviced to radio stations, but as far as I know was never released to the public. Note that Bruce used the Phil Spector arrangement for his version, although without backing vocals. UPDATE: Jeff and Erin Fitzpatrick-Bjorn point out "Santa" finally got a single release as the B-side of "My Hometown" in 1985 and got re-released as a CD single in 1994. FURTHER UPDATE: Louie Sherwood says that version was different from the one mentioned at the start of this review, with more audience singing. He also says the original version snuck out on a 1975 Columbia compilation called Christmas of Hope. Of course, it's now easily available as a single download.
killers2.jpgIt's the second year in a row this Las Vegas-based band came up with a Christmas single, this time based on the proposition that failure to be a good boy could cost you a lot more than the loss of that Nintendo Wii. Reminiscent of that song from the Chris Stamey album, "The Only Law Santa Claus Understood." Proceeds from this single/download benefit Project (RED), the charity that fights AIDS in Africa.

"A Great Big Sled," The Killers (Island Def Jam)

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killers.jpgOne of that big batch of flavor-of-the-month garage bands from a couple of years ago, they do a bang-up job on this 2006 single, rocking out behind chimes and jingle bells while getting a bit of guest vocal action from Toni Halliday. The single's a benefit for Product [RED], the AIDS-fighting charity, and it's still downloadable from Amazon.

"Holiday Mood," The Apples in Stereo (Yep Roc)

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apples.jpgMellow and poppy in a mid-60s bubblegum way, more summer radio sounding than Christmasy, but lyrically it makes its case pretty well. These power-poppers have been around for almost two decades, so you might want to check them out in the off-season too. Not seeing much evidence of this 2006 song as a single, but it did turn up on Yep Roc's Oh Santa! and a 2008 Redeye Holiday Sampler.
millsely.jpgThe R.E.M. bass player teamed with Hem singer Ellyson in 2006 to cover the Big Star tune for the benefit of the Red Apple Foundation, a charitable group that gives grants to programs that improve the lives of children. The song is a bit mellow compared to the original, but collectors will go crazy. Especially since it's not currently in circulation, though it could easily turn up somewhere like a future compilation or even resume being available for download. Meanwhile, here's a video someone made.

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