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August 2009 Archives

kranks.jpgI haven't made a big effort with holiday movie soundtracks because the vast majority of them consist of either background music or they rely mainly on stuff you've heard a thousand times before, from Bing and Frank right up through the present day. This one isn't necessarily a stop-the-presses release, but it is notable for the attempt the music supervisors made to use more unique tunes like The Raveonettes' "Christmas Song," The Charms' "Frosty the Snowman" in the Phil Spector arrangement, The Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)," Davie Allan and the Arrows' "Feliz Navidad," The Chesterfield Kings' Chuck Berry-ized "Hey Santa Claus" and Jean Beauvoir's "Merry Christmas to All the World." The Butties do "Joy to the World" in an arrangement they apparently nicked off the Fab Four's CD. UPDATE: Mark Humble of The Butties writes to tell us their song dates back to 2000 and was first released on an EP in 2001, a year before the Fab Four's version. It's also on the compilation Ho Ho Ho Spice. He's willing to mark up the coincidence to great minds thinking alike. Also on this CD, Dan Aykroyd gets a couple of cuts and Joey Ramone reappears with his solo "What a Wonderful World." The producers throw in Brenda Lee and Elvis Presley, along with some background music. Most of this stuff is available elsewhere, but not all of it as far as I know.
sclause2.jpgA decent soundtrack to the 2002 sequel that has been described as an improvement on the original movie. There aren't any great surprises, starting with the presence of "Lizzie McGuire" star Hilary Duff, a Disney Channel star at the time this movie was made. But her "Santa Claus Lane" actually isn't bad, although kid voices do tend to creep some people out. An impressive outing from SHeDAISY on "Santa's Got a Brand New Bag," but if this is country music then I'm Arlen Specter. Brian Setzer and the Orchestra's "Jingle Bells" makes another appearance here, as does Eddie Money's duet with Ronnie Spector, "Everybody Loves Christmas." Evergreens like Brenda Lee's "I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus," Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run" and Louie Armstrong's "Zat You, Santa Claus" are always welcome, along with a classic by Smokey and the Miracles, "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." That carol is reprised in a straight lounge reading by Steve Tyrell. A comparative rarity is "Blue Holiday" by The Shirelles (I've never heard it before this, anyway), and it's a bluesy belter. Unwritten Law joins Sum 41 for "Unwritten Christmas," a solid contemporary rock ballad with lots of crunch. Not bad, especially for a soundtrack album.

Jingle All the Way, original soundtrack (TVT)

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jinglatw.jpgHowever you may have felt about the 1996 holiday movie featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad (?), the producers made a fairly good stab at providing listenable incidental music, although it skews a bit toward lounge music and away from rock 'n roll. Still, there are some bonafide classics like Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run," Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby," Clarence Carter's "Back Door Santa," Bobby Helms' "Jingle Bell Rock," along with pop standards like Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song" and Johnny Mathis' "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." To round out the show, they brought in the Brian Setzer Orchestra and guest vocalists Darlene Love and Lou Rawls. Lou croons Setzer's own "So They Say It's Christmas," while Darlene rocks "Sleigh Ride" in a different arrangement than on the Phil Spector album and shows an affinity for jazz-pop on Sammy Hagar's "Deep in the Heart of Xmas." Setzer kicks off the album singing "Jingle Bells" and the rest of the album features non-holiday music from the soundtrack's composer, David Newman. It's not a bad album overall, but if you already have the classic tunes here it's up to you whether to buy it for the Setzer Orchestra's performances.
stimpy.jpgPeople either love Ren and Stimpy or hug the toilet when they come on, and this album, the soundtrack to their 1997 holiday special, is a Christmas gross-out par excellence. There's no plot, they just wander around, bumping into recurring characters like Muddy Mudskipper, Stinky Wizzleteats and Wilbur J. Cobb and singing about something called Yaksmas, and Yak Shaving Day, and so on. There are some originals and others are new lyrics set to old familiar favorites with that Ren and Stimpy, er, flair. "What Is Christmas," "We're Going Shopping" and "I Hate Christmas" are cuts that stand alone if you're making a mix tape; taken all together, it's a hoot on its own terms.
nitemare.jpgBefore Danny Elfman became a soundtrack music maven, he was involved with Oingo Boingo, a new wave outfit that sounded like Devo crossed with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. This 1993 outing, written and produced as the soul of Tim Burton's stop-animation extravaganza, puts a nice twist on the holiday -- and isn't bad as Halloween music, either. Danny and fellow cast members Catherine O'Hara and Paul Reubens (SCTV and Pee Wee, respectively) do a knockout job on "Kidnap the Sandy Claws" and "Oogie Boogie's Song" with Ken Page and Ed Ivory is a bluesy romp. However, soundtracks do suffer from songs that don't travel well away from the movie or play, and this one's no exception. But the two songs above are almost worth the whole album. UPDATE: For 2007, in conjunction with the re-release of the film in IMAX 3D, there's a "Special Edition" of this album with a second disc of bonus cuts featuring versions of the soundtrack's songs from Marilyn Manson, Panic at the Disco, Fiona Apple, Fall Out Boy and She Wants Revenge, plus some of Danny Elfman's demos of those songs.
allyxmas.jpgI've got a bone to pick with the producers of this album. In the first season of the show, Vonda Shepherd did a cool slow version of "Christmas Time is Here" aka "The Chipmunk Song." They recorded additional tunes to fill out this album but they couldn't find room for that? OK, maybe the rights weren't available, too expensive, etc. Having said this, I give this album a conditional OK, in that fans of the show will love it and even Ally-haters should find a few tracks on here to enjoy, especially Macy Gray's "Winter Wonderland." Vonda does credible versions of "This Christmas," "The Man with the Bag," "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve," and "Please Come Home for Christmas," but her torchy "Let It Snow" is just slow. Jane Krakowski does serviceable versions of "Run Run Rudolph" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," and Lisa Nicole Carson is good on "Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney." Calista Flockhart takes a risk doing "Santa Baby," as Eartha Kitt casts a long shadow, but she just manages to get away with it. The real revelation here is Robert Downey Jr., who acquits himself well on Joni Mitchell's "River," sounding somewhere between Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger.
grnchmov.jpgThe 2000 live-action movie got mixed reviews, but the soundtrack does all right by me. It contains a large helping of the movie's instrumental score, but there are as many songs on the album as there are on most song-only soundtracks. Needless to say, there are two versions of the Grinch's signature song, a rap version with Busta Rhymes that Jim Carrey tags with "I wanna give a shout out to the west side of Whoville," and later Carrey does a more conventional version. Gems include the Barenaked Ladies with their own "Green Christmas," not the Stan Freberg song; Little Isidore and the Inquisitors with "Christmas of Love"; Ben Folds with "Lonely Christmas Eve"; "Better Do It Right" by Smash Mouth; and "Christmas Is Going to the Dogs" by the Eels. There's also a surprising "Perfect Christmas Night" from Trans-Siberian Orchestra, although it segues into an overture-like tune called just "Grinch" that is more like their usual fare. Tunes by N'Sync and Faith Hill are just there to snag casual shoppers, in my opinion.
melisaCD.jpgI'm not so sure there's as much new to this 2008 album as Melissa would have us believe, but then I say that as someone who has been compiling Christmas music "for the rest of us" at this site for a decade now. In the liner notes, she references the ancient solstice celebrations and talks about the season of change, a theme she follows in the majority of the six originals on this disc. "Christmas in America" is a more traditional tune that was part of her greatest hits album a couple years ago, a "bring my baby home" lament. "Ring the Bells" is a duet with Salman Ahmad, and it, like "Light a Light," is an attempt to evoke holiday spirit without directly referencing Christmas. "Glorious" is a pastiche of familiar carols, and "O Night Divine" builds on "O Holy Night," with a hard rock instrumental of the carol serving as an extended introduction to the song. "It's Christmas Time" has the flavor of her big hit "Bring Me Some Water." And she does a nice job on the evergreens "Blue Christmas," "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Merry Christmas Baby." Too bad she didn't include her oft-bootlegged medley of "Happy Xmas/Give Peace a Chance," though.

Kasio Kristmas, Kasio Kristmas (Blue Thumb)

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kasiokrs.jpgAvailable as a disc or a download, this 2008 holiday album proudly proclaims that it was cut entirely with vintage Casio keyboards and video game sound effects. While the musos among us probably wouldn't be surprised -- they might even pick out sounds by model number -- one should not forget that Casio was a pioneer in bringing digital synthesis to the masses, filling discount warehouses throughout the Western world with their tiny keyboards that had some fairly big sounds. Indeed, "Casio bass" was often cited on 80s rap, R'nB and rock records, as the CZ models especially could shake the house when attached to the right amplifiers. So you shouldn't be surprised to discover that this disc, though evocative of instrumental electro-pop and dance music of the 80s, is well made and quite listenable. "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" especially maintains the attitude of the original, even sneaking in a bit of Addams Family music near the end. The quasi-exotica version of "Mele Kalikimaka" features a guest shot from Ikey of The Mars Volta. The rest of the songs are familiar carols spruced up with patented Casio bleeps and bloops, wrapping up with a Chipmunks-inspired version of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." The whole thing at once might feel a bit samey-samey, but there's plenty to like on this disc.
garage1.jpggarage2.jpgGarage rock has a long and fondly remembered pedigree in the rock 'n roll pantheon, going back to the Pacific Northwest bands of the early to mid 60s, continuing through the Nuggets bands in the later part of the decade, only to be revived by younger acolytes to that rough and ready sound in the 1980s and again in the early part of this decade. What we have here is a bunch of music biz veterans, some of whom go back to those halcyon 60s days, who have been brought together to record fresh Christmas songs for 2008 release. Up front, I should warn you that avid garage rock fans won't hear much of the garage ethos on these two discs, they're too cleanly produced. But you'll hear plenty of above average rock 'n roll Christmas music, and that's why we're here, right? Volume 1 kicks off with iconic garagers The Shadows of Knight, assisted by Henry Gross, he of "Shannon" and Sha Na Na, on the original "Rudolph's Off His Rocker," in which the famous reindeer is spurned by Santa in favor of a shiny new airplane. Gross returns later with another original, the adult pop-rocker "What a Christmas." Tommy Frenzy of Tuff Darts offers another original, "Cocktails With Santa," featuring the jolly elf with a snootful. Glen Burtnik, formerly of Styx, takes on the classic "Must Be Santa" with a crunchy arrangement that might well fit on Metal Xmas, and here it should be mentioned that Burtnik is quite the Christmas rock freak. Pat Horgan and Thunder Road do Foghat's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" and the Albert Carey Project offer the old blues tune "Trim Your Tree." John Wicks and the Records -- yeah, the New Wave-era British pop-rockers, but Wicks is the only one left -- offer the original "Star of Bethlehem," something that might fit better on the Moody Blues holiday disc. On Volume 2, the Shadows of Knight return with "Celebrate Chicago (The Christmas Version)," with a taste of cheap organ for the garage fans, Vince Martell of Vanilla Fudge does an original, "Bronx Christmas Blues," which is as advertised, and Badfinger's Joey Molland offers his own "King of Kings," a low-key ballad. Nazz featuring Stewkey (original singer of the band that launched Todd Rundgren) goes Caribbean with "Rasta Santa," Burtnik returns with a live hard-rocking "Winter Wonderland," and Lee Brovitz's ballad "That's Why They Call It EXmas" tells a story of lost love over the holidays. Wooden Hobo goes country with a version of "Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk For Christmas)" and the Albert Carey Project rocks the house with "Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)," a tough blues that isn't the Elvis tune. The title of these two discs probably qualifies as false advertising, but classic rock fans will still get their money's worth from either or both.
bachman.jpgThe title song from this collection has been knocking around for a few years now, an enjoyable retinseling of the 70s hit "Takin' Care of Business" by its creator, the former Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive guitarist, singer and songwriter. The rest of the album comes to us for 2008, a collection of classic carols and popular songs with one more original from Randy, "Shop Till You Drop," a nicely rocked-out anthem to the commercial side of the holiday. And though the rest of the songs reflect a fairly conventional take on the holiday, the journeyman rocker puts plenty of effort into it, keeping the whole thing nicely uptempo all the way through. "Frosty the Snowman" is a particularly driving number, and he puts a mild reggae beat behind a spaghetti-Western instrumental take on "Sleigh Ride." He even trots out "Merry Merry Christmas Baby" in a crunchy BTO-styled take on the old doo-wop classic. If you haven't thought much about Bachman since his big hit days, you'll pick up right where you left off with this.
tentenn.jpgThis is essentially a musician's club featuring 10 Nashville musicians who have banded together to get their alt-pop-rock music heard in a city that specializes in two other kinds of music. They have a couple of compilations out of their non-holiday music, and now they have this one for 2008. Aussie transplant Butterfly Boucher kicks things off with her own "Cinnamon & Chocolate," a ballad of holiday hope; Jeremy Lister's "Santa's Lost His Mojo" has the jolly elf dealing with job burnout; Katie Herzig does a folkie "Silent Night"; "Raise the Tree" is a nice holiday ballad by Trent Dabbs; K.S. Dabbs asks "Why Are Mom and Daddy Fighting on Christmas?"; Erin McCarley renders a downtempo and portentious "Little Drummer Boy"; Andy Davis strums out a nice original, "Christmas Time"; Tyler James borrows the martial beat McCarley wasn't using on her performance for his own "Sentimental Christmas"; Griffin House puts a mildly country spin on "O Holy Night"; and Matthew Perryman Jones does an almost David Lynch treatment on "O Come O Come Emanuel." This is a listenable collection from people we hope we'll hear from again.
ohhush.jpgThese guys are a MySpace phenomenon based as much on their refusal to divulge much about themselves as on the music. The band is supposedly the side project of people from other bands we've heard of. This EP features five holiday songs, "Last Christmas," "Here Comes Santa Claus," "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Silent Night" and "Sleigh Ride." "Faithful" and "Sleigh Ride" are hard rockers, "Last Christmas" and "Santa" are more synthesizer pop-rock, and "Silent Night" is a folky rendition with a female singer. Nice work, and I'll update if we learn any of this band's secrets.
weezxmas.jpgThis band had a pair of Christmas originals out for many years. For 2008, they dished up this group of carols, apparently for use in the iPhone game "Tap Tap Revenge" but available for download separately as well. This time around, they left the songwriting pen in the quill, opting for half a dozen classic carols in the inimitable Weezer rock 'n roll style. This EP includes "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "The First Noel," "O Come All Ye Faithful," "O Holy Night," "Silent Night" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."
goldblad.jpgThis vinyl single from 2008 marks a return for X-Ray Spex's lead singer Poly Styrene, who joins this Manchester band for a punk rock duet with just a taste of spaghetti western backing for the holiday. There's a little bit of the approach to Poly's best-known single "Oh Bondage Up Yours" as well. It's a British import, can't download it as far as I know, but you can listen to it on MySpace.

"Christmas Tree," Lady GaGa (Interscope)

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ladygaga.jpgLots of hip-hop attitude in this pastiche of carols and single-entendres, all told, pretty good fun without getting into Parental Advisory territory, though there's never any doubt what she's actually singing about. The dance diva and singer-songwriter put this out for 2008.

newell.jpgI've had this little number since its 1993 release and completely forgot about it until I saw a mention of it on the Power Pop blog the other day. The poet and author is also a power popper, and this sweet little bopper is from his first solo album, The Greatest Living Englishman, produced by Andy Partridge, who knows a thing or two about Christmas singles himself. Points for mentioning "saturnalia" in a song otherwise about a too-conventional holiday just outside the city.

"Run Rudolph Run," Joe Perry (self-issued)

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joeperry.jpgThe guitarist from Aerosmith pulls a Keith Richard and puts this version of the Chuck Berry classic up for a free download at the band's website. Near as I can tell he appears to have played all the instruments, and if so he did a great job. Even if he didn't, most rock fans will like this a lot, as he puts his own stamp on what otherwise appears to be an attempt to recreate the original arrangement.

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