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Oh Santa!, various artists (Yep Roc)

This rootsy independent label rolled up a bunch of Christmas-oriented tunes from its artist roster for 2007. The subtitle is "New and used holiday classics from Yep Roc Records," and indeed some of these items have slipped out elsewhere, like The Apples in Stereo's "Holiday Mood," Marah's "New York is a Christmas Kind of Town," "Holiday Twist" by Los Straitjackets and Rev. Horton Heat's "Santa on the Roof." Indeed, when you pull this disc up in iTunes it gives the album title as Redeye Christmas, suggesting either a pilot title or a previous release. Anyway, if that number of doubles doesn't dissuade you, there are rewards here. Th' Legendary Shack-Shakers cross Tom Waits with Dick Dale in their unique "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," The Moaners rail against a commercial Christmas in "Something Funny in Santa's Lap," and though the American Princes' "This Business of Christmas" threatens to cover the same territory, it's more about Christmas spirit. Jason Ringenberg with Kristi Rose take things into the country with "Lovely Christmas," Chatham County Line brings us the title song, Cities bemoans that it's "So Cold This Christmas," and Minus 5 pours us a helping of "Your Christmas Whiskey." If we're dealing with Yep Roc, I'd sure like to hear takes on the holiday from John Doe, Robyn Hitchcock and Nick Lowe, but all told this is worth having.

Santastic III in 3-D, various artists (djBC)

The label is also the artist in this case, who compiled, and in some cases masterminded some of, this collection of mashups and parodies for 2007. This is the third year and the third collection in this vein, but I'm just catching up now. "You Shook Me All Noel" by djBC starts out with some "Peanuts" clips but segues quickly into a killer mashup of AC/DC and Sarah MacLachlan. He also takes on the classical "Four Seasons" in three parts, featuring Lauren Hill, Wyclef Jean and Jay Z's mom at various times. "Elvis' Christmas Turkey" by Go Home Productions lays the King over a reggae backing for "White Christmas," and Elvis returns with Atom for "Santa's Pre-Boarding Announcement," which features a litany of goodies layered in over Elvis' "Here Comes Santa Claus." Divide and Kreate's "Velvet Santa" combines Michael Jackson with some heavy Lou Reed riffing on "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." "Brave Bells of Scotland" by Martinn gives us some latter-day Chipmunks action with Frank Sinatra, a Celtic rock band and bagpipe tunes all doubletimed over "Jingle Bells." Andy Williams meets the Yellow Magic Orchestra in Apollo Zero's "Do You Hear Rainbows I Hear," Mojochronic's pair of "Yuletide Zeppelin" cuts turn up here, and A Plus D Christmases up the "SNL" classic bit as "Xmas Dick in a Box." Two Hanukkah Alerts are included here too, with Voicedude stealing the Three Weissmans' "Jingle Bells," Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song," the "Dreidel Song," Allan Sherman and South Park to make "Dreidel All the Way," and DJ Flack gives us "Hanukkah-In-Dub," a cut-and-paste of various appropriate original sources over a Matisyahu performance. "Safety Bells" by DJ Earlybird mashes Smokey Robinson with Men Without Hats, David Hasselhoff is fodder for "Alala Falala Hasselhoff" by DJ Freddy King of Pants, "Last Christmas Twist" by Fettdog puts some hard-rock crunch on top of the Wham tune, and Voicedude returns to "Imagine Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" with John Lennon on top of the familiar carol. Projects like this have a tendency towards excess, but I think a lot of folks not familiar with the mashup world could listen to this all the way through and enjoy it. While you're at the site downloading this, click on the Give link and remember a fine charity in exchange for the music.

A Very Standard Christmas, various artists (Standard Recording Company)

Indie label Standard sicced its roster on Christmas for 2006, plus a few folks who aren't on the label, and this compilation is the result. Liner notes say they were still mixing this in November 2006, which makes me think this might be the first full holiday season this has been available. BIGBIGcar gets things rolling with a falsetto reading of "All I Want For Christmas," the Mariah Carey one, followed by Everything, Now!'s medley of "Jesus Christ" with Sun Ra's "Nuclear War," for you space jazz freaks out there. Those of you who attended college during the recessions of the 1970s might get a nostalgic glow from Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band as it renders "Plasma For Christmas," as in "I'll be giving plasma for Christmas this year." Red Queen Hypothesis recalls a "Crockpot Barbecue" and Elephant Micah reprises "Jesus Christ," a more ethereal synth 'n strumming rendition here. Arrah and the Ferns go all pedantic with "Merry Christmas, Not Xmas," and Harley Poe brings the horror aspect to "It's Christmas Time Again," with this deathless couplet: "The big red man called Santa Claus/Will chop you up with knives and saws." And Dean Plays Hardball's "Little Retail Boy" starts out as "Drummer Boy" but pushes the point a little farther. This is a nice collection for those of you who like their alt-rock on the down-low, budget-wise.

Ghosts of Christmas Past: Chantons Noel, various artists (LTM)

This compilation originally hit the streets in the vinyl era, 1981 to be precise, and has been reissued a couple of times with different lineups of songs. It was originally put together by Les Disques du Crepuscule, a Belgian independent label whose name, near as I can tell, means "records in the dark." The label's roster featured post-punk and "new wave" artists like Paul Haig, Wim Mertens and Tuxedomoon, who are represented here along with artists from such labels as Factory and Postcard. This 2007 reissue gathers up all the different songs that have been part of the album over the years, along with the various bits of cover art in which they were housed. Some more unkind folks might consider this a representative sample of early to mid-80s mope rock, but I say this stuff is well thought out even at its most obscure. The Swinging Buildings do their best Depeche Mode on "Praying For a Cheaper Christmas," Paul Haig's "Christiana" is a relationship song involving an appropriately named woman, while his "Scottish Christmas" is a more upbeat instrumental, and Aztec Camera goes all Django Reinhart on "Hot Club of Christmas," a swingy acoustic guitar medley of carols. Durutti Column contributes a pair of ethereal instrumentals, "One Christmas For Your Thoughts" and "Snowflakes." The French Impressionists try their hand at an American funk arrangement of "Santa Baby," and Hillcrest Club take an XTC approach to the instrumental "Breakfast at Christmas." Hawaiian Christmases are considered twice here, with Magazzini Criminali's "Honolulu 25 Dicembre 1990," though I'm at a loss to make the connection through the quasi-free jazz and Italian whispering, and Antena's "Noelle a Hawaii," which gets a bit of spaghetti Western guitar going against ocean sounds before shifting into synth-pop. This is a fairly eclectic grouping with not a lot of obvious holiday connections, possibly off-putting to some and right up others' alleys. Gotta say this stuff holds up pretty well for being a quarter-century old, too.

Alternative Rock Xmas, various artists (Capitol)

This is mainly a trip through the vaults, but it's not bad for all that, even though fans probably have large numbers of the cuts on here. I personally have several copies of the Smithereens' "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," Dandy Warhols' "Little Drummer Boy," Sinead O'Connor's "Silent Night, Jimmy Eat World's "Christmas Card" and "12/23/95," and The Alarm's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." But I definitely didn't have the two Decemberists' cuts here, "Angel Won't You Call Me" and "Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)," Luscious Jackson's Gap commercial "Let It Snow," or The Specials' instrumental "Holiday Fortnight," which sounds more calypso than ska to these ears. Also on here are Marcy Playground's "Keegan's Christmas," Relient K's "In Like a Lion (Always Winter)," Starflyer 69's "Christmas Time Is Here," The Thrills' downtempo version of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," Dada's "My Baby Fell for Old St. Nick" and Everclear's male-voice take on "Santa Baby." Those without the resources to do mix discs could do worse than to grab this.

A Very Magistery Christmas, various artists (Le Grand Magistery)

This 2005 collection came whipping out of left field just after Christmas via iTunes; I couldn't even find a mention of this at the Le Grand Magistery website, the label from which this emanates. Needless to say, this is a grouping of the label's artists performing contemporary rock/pop Christmas music. There's a fairly wide selection of original tunes here too. Baxendale's "Flash Gordon" is a fairly offbeat take on the holiday through the eyes of the sci-fi radio hero. Mascott and Dave Derby give us a coming-home waltz in "This Christmastime," Stars offers its very own original "Christmas Song," not Mel Torme's, let alone the Raveonettes', and they return at the end of the album with a philosophical "A New Year." Alexander's Festival Hall takes a shot at its own "Silent Nites," a mellow bit of electronica. Pas/Cal throws us a couple of covers, a completely deconstructed lounge-y "Jingle Bell Rock" and a more conventional version of Wham's "Last Christmas." The Moth Wranglers go garage-lounge on us with a rhythm box-organ rendition of their own "Dear Santa," Cidermill Drive give us a pop-rock "Suzy Snowflake," and Cigarbox Planetarium go all faux-cornball on a guitar/organ instrumental of "Jingle Bells." This is pretty listenable all the way through and comes highly recommended.

Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus, Volumes 1&2, various artists (Sympathy For the Record Industry)

This is a recompilation of a pair of '90s punk-rock collections that were originally issued on 10-inch vinyl in 1993 and 1994. The CD edition fills two discs and adds six tunes not on either of the originals. Not everything on here is an amped-up, speeded-up take on the holiday, although that would describe a fair number of cuts, but there are plenty of other approaches. Rocket From the Crypt do "Cancel Christmas," a downtempo rocker, the Shitbirds do poppier punk on "Christmas Is a-Comin' (And God Bless You)," International Language angle for a bit of Big Star pop on "Christmas Will Be Magic Again," and attention is paid to roots with Spectrum's "Santa Claus" by the Sonics, the Devil Dogs' version of "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday," the Beatles' "Christmastime Is Here Again" by Satan's Cheerleaders, and Junkyard Dogs' "Brand New Bike," which is just a rewrite of Elvis Presley's "Santa Claus is Back in Town." The Phenobarbidols punk us with a sincere "O Holy Night," waiting until near the end to rock it up. Man Or Astro-Man do a "Tequila" on "Frosty the Snowman" and El Vez's "Feliz Navi-Nada" makes another appearance here. The Muffs go giftless with "Nothing For Me" and the Go-Nuts' "Snackin' Santa" is a 50s-style talk-rocker about the jolly elf's bottomless appetite. Too many acts to list here, but if you like a little punk in your diet, this collection is likely to yield at least a few favorites.

Merry X-mas Dammit From the Double Down Saloon, various artists (Wood Shampoo)

The saloon is a real place, or should I say places, with locations in Las Vegas and Manhattan, and this is a collection of bands that play either or both saloons doing both records. The bands featured here are a mix of hard rockers and bar bands (in the best sense of the term), and the disc obviously is meant as a branding exercise for the saloon. Murphy's Law kicks things off with a horn-laden cover of Bob Seger's "Sock It To Me Santa," the Lonesome Spurs get a bit country on "Jingle Bells, the Dirty Panties thrash out "Santa Baby," the Las Vegas All-Stars do an "X-Mess Medley" of familiar carols, The Peccadilloes hammer out "Nuttin' For Christmas" and The Real Shames cover The Sonics' "Santa Claus." Some items released elsewhere appear here too, like Richard Cheese's "Christmas In Las Vegas" and Evil Beaver's "Blue Christmas." And for those looking for something a bit more transgressive, the Double Down obliges with The Vermin and the Ramones-ish thrash of "Santa Was a Cross Dressing Nazi," The Clydesdale redneck things up with "Imo Shoot Me a Reindeer," Suite 666 says "Santa Blow Me," and 1/2 Ast sings of a "Gay Christmas."

That 80s Christmas Album, various artists (Bowie Group Entertainment)

There's a whole series of these at Best Buy for $6.99, one each for the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, but I've only seen the 70s and 80s version so far. The latter two lean heavily on middle-of-the-road artists, but I bring this one up mainly because I'd never seen Tommy Tutone's "Santa I Got Your Number," which is a holiday remake of their one hit "867-5309." nor had I encountered the Motels' version of "Santa Baby," which is at least as good as Madonna's if not better. Most of the other notable cuts have been mentioned elsewhere on the site, like Billy Squier's "Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You," the Peter Cetera/Alison Krauss "Deck the Halls," Jethro Tull's "Holly Herald" and Heart's "O Holy Night," originally released by Wilson sisters' side project Lovemongers. The rest, as mentioned earlier, is just MOR stuff.

Monster Ballads Xmas, various artists (Razor & Tie)

Another lunge up out of the primordial ooze from the hard rock segment, though marketing trumps music this go-round, as a fair number of these songs were recycled from 2003's hair-metal semi-classic, We Wish You a Hairy Christmas. Billy Idol's "Christmas Love" from his recent CD is here, and the Twisted Sister Christmas CD also contributes a cut, the version of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" done with Lita Ford. Songs by Danger Danger, Enuff Z'Nuff, L.A. Guns and Faster Pussycat are the repeats from Hairy. There remain nine unique cuts, enough to recommend this to fans of the genre. Jani Lane of Warrant and Tom Keifer of Cinderella offer takes on classics, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Blue Christmas." Winger's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" starts out a faithful cover but gradually metals things up along the way, Queensryche's "White Christmas" is kind of hammy in the way a Bob Rivers parody might be, and Nelson's "Jingle Bell Rock" takes things uptempo in a fairly refreshing way. Stryper throws down live with their version of "Winter Wonderland," heavy on the bass drums, and Firehouse's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" takes a similar approach. For those who didn't get enough from Hairy, this will take pride of place in their collections.

Elton John's Christmas Party, various artists (Starbucks)

I realize a lot of folks are offended by the coffee grinder's attempts to appropriate the listening experience to move more beans, but I say anything that distracts folks from buying yet another Rod Stewart "classic songbook" album has to be a good thing. In this case, we have a Starbucks-only Christmas collection for 2005 curated by Elton John that puts some hard-to-find goodies alongside some all-time favorites on a single disc and throws in an exclusive duet with Joss Stone, "Calling It Christmas." We get Elton's "Step Into Christmas," a couple of cuts from the Phil Spector album, Bruce Springsteen's "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," the Eagles' "Please Come Home For Christmas," Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run" and the Beach Boys' "Man With All the Toys." Along with that, Elton gives us "It Doesn't Often Snow at Christmas" by Pet Shop Boys, "A Change at Christmas" by Flaming Lips, "December Will Be Magic Again" by Kate Bush and "Spotlight on Christmas" by Rufus Wainwright. And don't forget "New Year's Day" by U2 and "St. Patrick's Day" by John Mayer (huh? Oh, OK, never mind). Update: I've seen this on the shelves at regular stores for 2006. Further update: Catherine Livingston lets us know the updated edition of this compilation is shy six tunes: Bruce and the Eagles, the two Spector album cuts, John Mayer and Outkast. The latter two might be the harder ones to track down, but most folks probably have the other four. Thankfully, the otherwise-rare Pet Shop Boys cut remains.

Do You Hear What I Hear, various artists (Nettwerk)

The label that brought us the Maybe series of Christmas compilations featuring mostly Canadian bands appears to have decided to skip physical copies for 2006 in favor of this download-only album. They kick off with Barenaked Ladies' "Jingle Bells" from their holiday CD and swing into Adrienne Pierce's "Joy Is Within Reach," a bit of a cross between Enya and Nellie McKay. "Welcome Christmas" from the "Grinch" special gets a bluegrass arrangement from the Clumsy Lovers, and Sarah McLachlan was holding out on us with "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," not on her new Wintersong CD. Martha Wainwright's "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" from the McGarrigles' holiday CD is here too. There's a lot of more conventional sounding stuff on here too, like a typical jazz take on "Baby It's Cold Outside" from Gabe Dixon and Leigh Nash and a few others, ending with the Mediaeval Babes' antique approach to "The Holly and the Ivy." A mixed bag as a full album, but you can always download what you like best.

It's a Team Mint Christmas Vol. 2, various artists (Mint)

Don't bother looking for the review of Vol. 1, as I haven't found a copy of it, though some of the songs from 1 are on 2. This Vancouver, B.C. label is home to an interesting batch of alt-rock-country Canadian musicians, who came together to make this record for the benefit of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which is dedicated to helping people living with AIDS in Africa. The latest tune on here is copyright 2004, so we'll assume that's when the CD first came out; other songs date back to 2000. John Guliak kicks off with the country classic "Daddy's Drinking Up Our Christmas," and we hear "The Blizzard" from the Buttless Chaps, which is not particularly holiday oriented but the band and song names do draw an interesting word picture. David Carswell and Megan Barnes give us a nice poppy "I Wanna Kiss You This Christmas," Young and Sexy throw out a bit of sour grapes with "Santa Claus Likes Rich Kids Better," and Carolyn Mark makes her mark twice with "Song For the Girl with Two of Everything" and "The Christmas Song," a nice pair of gin-soaked originals. "Old Man Davie's Christmas Kingdom" by Duotang is a great riff on the holiday obsessive who builds elaborate Christmas villages every holiday season. The Tennessee Twin gives us "X-mas Is Past," a country lament with lots of twangy guitar and mandolin. And the entire cast and crew of this CD came together to record their own version of Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmastime." Update: Randy Paske punches in to bring us the scoop on Vol. 1 — it was a 7-inch vinyl single, which likely means the Vol. 1 songs are making their first CD apperarance anywhere.

Taste Of Christmas, various artists (Warcon/Fontana)

Some time back I glommed onto a version of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" by Street Drum Corps on iTunes, only to discover later that it was merely the lead cut on this 2005 compilation CD. So yes, that review stands — a perfectly good cover of John Lennon's holiday classic, a song that needs to be heard every Christmas season — and we add to it a wide array of tunes by 21st century hard rockers on this CD. Skindred dabbles in dancehall on "Jungle Bells," not the kids' holiday song but one of their own. "Miracle of Christmas" by Funeral For a Friend has a touch of U2 about it, though as done by a cover band, perhaps. Most of the songs are originals, though Roses are Red hammers Wham's "Last Christmas, The Smashup lulls you with a straight acoustic "Coventry Carol," slamming into overdrive halfway through, Amped gets exactly that way on "We Three Kings," and My American Heart throws some electric guitar drone on "The First Noel." Emery's original "The Last Christmas" is a nice change of pace, "No Smiles on Christmas" by Bleed the Dream is your basic hard rock band's ballad, and Plain White T takes us out with the acoustic rocker "Season of a Lifetime." Other bands taking part include The Used, Opiate For the Masses, Like Yesterday, Black Halos and Gatsby's American Dream.

Seasonal Favorites Vol. 1, various artists (Double Crown)

This Bellingham, WA record label specializes in garage/surf bands, and this CD had been previously compiled in 2000. We missed it then, but we have it now, reissued for 2006 with three additional cuts over the original. As we've compiled a number of surf-oriented Christmas tunes over the life of this site, we're not particularly surprised that several items, like Jon & the Nightriders' "Sleigh Ride," Urban Surf Kings' "We Three Kings," Death Valley's "Carol of the Bells" and "Little Drummer Boy" by The Bonesharks, have been done in similar ways by other artists elsewhere. But with 19 tracks to choose from, that's not necessarily a disqualifying point. Some of the more fun tracks on this CD are the Tacoma 4's "Christmas is a Drag" and The Boss Martians' "It's Christmas Time," the latter previously on the Santa's Got a GTO compilation, both in the non-Beach Boys car/surf vein; "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto" by Frigg A Go Go, a straight rock version of the James Brown arrangement; "Hang On Rudolph," a witty appropriation of the "Rudolph" and "Sloopy" songs by The Ebeneezer Scrooge Appreciation Society; The Firebirds' "Living Doll," a plea for Santa to bring a girlfriend; and "Rocknuts," The Lunatics' version of "Nutrocker" done entirely with surf guitars. Also notable is "Sigue Sigue X-mas," an upbeat surf "Jingle Bells" with spoken word samples ladled over it from old TV shows, and yes, of course from "It's a Wonderful Life." "Jingle Bells" returns in a spaghetti Western version from The Bitch Boys, and the whole thing wraps up with The Surfites' "Santa Claus Goes Surfin'," a straight-up surf instrumental worthy of Dick Dale or The Surfaris.

Seasonal Favorites Vol. 2, various artists (Double Crown)

The surf and garage rock authorities at DC are back for a second go-round in the Christmas realm in 2007. The 20 cuts on here are heavy on the surf guitar and the instrumentals, but they manage to mix things up pretty nicely for those inclined to listen all the way through. Pollo Del Mar kicks things off with their "Carol of the Bells," a fairly stately rendition two-thirds of the way through before the drums start double-timing things. "Drums For Christmas" by the Pete Curry Orchestra is as advertised, heavy on the jungle drums, and The Pyronauts bring a bit of "Pipeline" to "O Come All Ye Faithful." Give musicologist The Incredible Mr. Smith props for surfing up the German carol "Leise Rieselt Der Schnee," Surfin' Santa with the Meshugga Beach Party covers the Ventures' version of "Sleigh Ride," and The Dusty Warren Complex's "Little Drummer Boy" goes all Sandy Nelson drum-wise, with a hint of "Wipe Out." Mustn't give short shrift to the vocals on this disc, though, with the winner being The Barbary Coasters' "I Want a Monkey For Christmas," its fanciful lyrics set to Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven." The Icicles are right in there with their 60s girl-group take on "Snowman," Speedball Jr. knows "Rudolph's Secret," and The Daytonas want to keep "Christmas Time For Fun."

A CD Tales Christmas, various artists (Warner Special Products)

Here's another Elton John-connected holiday collection, this one distributing half the funds from its sale to Elton's AIDS Foundation. CD Tales apparently is in the business of putting together music compilations, and this appears to be their first holiday effort. Elton's "Step Into Christmas" appears here, along with Better Than Ezra's "Merry Christmas Eve," Remy Zero's "Someday at Christmas," "I Want an Alien For Christmas" by Fountains of Wayne, XTC's "Thanks For Christmas," The Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping," Sun 60's "Mary X-mess," "25th December" by Everything But the Girl, and other cuts by Chris Stamey, Cocteau Twins, Pretenders and Matthew Sweet, d.b.a. Buzz of Delight. Not a particularly rare bunch of tunes, but if you don't have them, they're all here.

Cool Yule, various artists (Optional Art)

Finally got my hands on this often-asked-about underground classic from 1996. A squib on the back cover indicates the artists and record company took their inspiration from the 1991 compilation Yuletunes, and indeed The Spongetones cross over from that compilation to this one with their tune "Christmas Boy," a mid-tempo folk-rocker with lush vocals. Inviting comparisons is always a tricky business, but Cool Yule more than lives up to its role model. Like Yuletunes, it's a collection of power-poppers putting their chops into an array of original Christmas songs, no covers, and definitely no filler. Monsters Under the Bed give us "Christmas at the Cabin," a snappy album opener about getting away for the holidays. Squires of the Subterrain sneak up on the dBs with "Christmas Time." John T. Baker contributes two songs, "On Saturdays," which has just a tiny taste of Television to it, and "The Night Before," a nice uptempo look at Christmas Eve anticipation. The Whirligigs go semi-unplugged on "Bless the Less," highlighted by some nice slide guitar work. "Unto Us" by Cool Blue Halo is an upbeat Biblical history with lots of guitars and vocal harmonies. "Song for the Christ Child" by Bill Retoff also takes us into church, complete with a brief Latin hymn interval and lots of cheesy electronic chimes, but the song still oozes with pop sensibility. Rich Arithmetic kicks off the upbeat, jangly "Seeds in Snow" with a nod to "Andy Partridge in a pear tree," then closes the album with "A Shepherd's Reminiscence (Yeshua, I Love You)," a pop-psych song cycle with a lengthy instrumental coda reminiscent of something the later 10cc might have done. Arithmetic Monsters, which is Rich with Monsters Under the Bed, do "It's Christmastime," a poppy number with cello that evokes ELO and snatches a few sounds from "I Am the Walrus" as well. No longer available through ordinary means, the album fortunately remains available through Optional Art Records, P.O. Box 22691, Seattle, WA 98122 for $12 U.S.

The O.C. Mix 3: Have a Very Merry Chrismukka, various artists (Warner Sunset)

Fans of the Fox TV show are familiar with the children in the blended Christian/Jewish family creating "Chrismukka," their very own unique holiday observance. This collection of alt-rock-pop is in keeping with the show's frequent use of such material in the soundtrack, although the material ends up much more Chris than Mukka. Much of this material has been heard before, including Leona Naess' "Christmas," Ron Sexsmith's "Maybe This Christmas," Low's "Just Like Christmas," and Jimmy Eat World's cover of Wham's "Last Christmas." Other contributions include "Rock of Ages" by Ben Kweller, Rooney covers Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody," "Christmas With You Is the Best" by the Long Winters and "Christmas Is Going To the Dogs" by the Eels.

The Central PA Christmas Compilation, various artists (Susquehanna Entertainment)

A gang of acts local to the central and eastern region of Pennsylvania put this album together for 2004. It's a mixed bag of styles from current rock to country and bluegrass, but it's nicely done. Emily's Toybox rocks and skas through "O Holy Night," rockabilly boys The Martini Bros. cover the Leiber-Stoller classic "Santa Claus Is Back in Town" and The Jellybricks, previously heard on the original "We'll Be Together" from Hi-Fi Christmas Party, contribute a solid version of the Kinks' "Father Christmas." Negative Space contributes a smart original, "I'll Be Home," Poptart Monkeys keep ramping up the tempo on "Mele Kalikimaka" and Plus 3 take a shot at "The Chipmunk Song," complete with band chatter. JR Mangan grumbles through "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" on acoustic guitar with a little help on kazoo. Another original comes from Bobby and John Tombasco, "Next Christmas Day," an Everly Brothers-sounding waltz. Darcie Miner combines with Sweet Pea Felty for a country version of "Blue Christmas," and while we're on that thread The Corral does a modern country original, "Working Elf's Blues," and the Lykens Valley Bluegrass Boys cap things off with "Christmas Time's A-Coming." If you're not from these guys' neighborhood, you can track this down to the fine folks at It's About Music, whose own It's About Christmas collection was favorably reviewed here.

A John Waters Christmas, various artists (New Line)

Yes, the very same John Waters who gave us "Hairspray" and "Pink Flamingoes" sits us down for a session of his personal favorite Christmas music. Anybody who has seen a movie or two by Waters knows he loves cheesy pop, novelties, unclassifiable oddities, doo-wop and anything that reminds him of Baltimore. The latter kicks off this 2004 collection with "Fat Daddy" by the legendary Baltimore DJ of the same name, letting everybody know that he's the real Santa Claus in this Fifties-sounding number. Spoken word gets a workout with "Happy Birthday Jesus (A Child's Prayer" by Little Cindy, a child's poem that itself gets a spoken introduction by an adult male voice, and "Little Mary Christmas," by Roger Christian (I don't think this is the surf music guy), about a crippled little orphan girl on Christmas Day, with all the schmaltz that setup implies. Familiar novelties include "Rudolph the Red–Nosed Reindeer" by Tiny Tim and "Sleigh Ride" by Alvin and the Chipmunks, and less-familiar ones include "Here Comes Fatty Claus" by Rudolph and Gang, a more jaundiced view of the holiday, and "Santa Claus is a Black Man" by AKIM and the Teddy Vann Production Co., a funky update of the "I Saw Mommy Kissing..." story for the African-American audience, complete with Kwanzaa reference. (I have to admit I first thought they were going in the "Mandingo" direction with this one, but that's just my twisted mind running ahead of the story.) John also rustles up the Big Dee Irwin and Little Eva version of "I Wish You a Merry Christmas" and throws in "First Snowfall" by The Coctails, a sappy theremin-led instrumental. Now you, too, can have a copy of John Waters' Christmas mix CD.

Electric Ornaments, various artists (Idol)

This 2000 collection somehow slipped by me -- great alterna-pop-rock collection featuring a fair number of original tunes among the seasonal repertoire. Mag Seven opens the proceedings with a kickin' "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," Vibrolux does a waif-y "I'll Be Home For Christmas," followed by Chomsky's upbeat take on "Christmas Time Is Here." The Falcon Project gets all modern on "Little Drum'n Bass Boy," Viva Maxitone thrashes "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" and Crash Vinyl continues the TV theme with a rocked-out "Snow Miser." In the rock cover field, [Daryl] updates the synths on Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" while Pinkston does a faithful version of the Kinks' "Father Christmas." Among the originals, Deathray Davies' "I Got Coal" starts out sounding like Iggy's "The Passenger" a bit before explaining why he got the bad present. Slowride does a fast shuffle on its original "The Christmas Song," Adventures of Jet does a 70s synth/guitar take on their "Waiting For Christmas," Jasper Stone twangs along on "Saddlin' Up Christmas Morning," Darlington does a punk "X-Mas," Valve recalls a New York Christmas with "Lincoln Square," and Centro-Matic's "Fuselage (It's Starting To Look Like Christmas Once Again)" … well, I haven't quite sussed that one out just yet.

Christmas Calling, various artists (Epic)

An excellent, though little-promoted, 2003 collection of the Sony-associated label's talent performing Christmas tunes. Macy Gray's third holiday tune, "What I Want For Christmas," is also her first original, and it's solid neo-soul. Brit-poppers Travis take a fairly straight shot at Joni Mitchell's "River," Fuel puts some acoustic crunch into "We Three Kings," Fiona Apple channels Burl Ives with her "Frosty the Snowman," and the Thorns do an impromptu "Silent Night." Tenacious D joins with Sum 41 to tear it up with their own "What I Want," which includes such lyrics as "I want all the Beatles' copyrights/I want to chop Florida right off the map." Phantom Planet does an instrumental "Carol of the Bells," Keb'Mo contributes the original "We Call it Christmas," Kaki King emotes on "O Holy Night" and teenage blues-rocker Shannon Curfman rips through "Please Come Home For Christmas." Rock fans will be happy to play this one all the way through, and there's something for just about everyone here.

We Wish You a Hairy Christmas, various artists (Koch)

We've got genre collections out the wazoo on this site, so I guess we have to admit the hair band Christmas anthology was way overdue. Koch remedies this oversight for 2003. LA Guns take on "Run Run Rudolph," Warrant does a smackdown on the Kinks' "Father Christmas," Tuff crunches "Jingle Bell Rock," once and future Gun and/or Rose Gilby Clarke hammer-strums "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," though he quits the story in the middle -- short attention span, perhaps? Faster Pussycat does "Silent Night," Roxx Gang takes on Elvis' "Santa Claus Is Back In Town," laying a little Chuck Berry guitar over it, and there are originals like "Naughty Naughty Xmas" by Danger Danger, "Happy Holiday" by Enuff Z Nuff, "Everyday Should Be Like Christmas" by Bullet Boys, Pretty Boy Floyd's "Happy Family" and "Won't Be Home For Xmas" by Every Mother's Nightmare. Not being an aficionado of the genre, I still have to admit it's a pretty solid collection, especially if this is your favorite flavor.

Merry Christmas From Drive-Thru Records, various artists (Drive-Thru Records)

I had to jump through the hoops thrown down by Sony Connect to get my hands on this (hint: don't bother clicking without Internet Explorer 6 and Windows) since regular CD copies were sold out by the time I found out about it. Anyway, this 2004 compilation was worth the trouble — it offers a fairly wide range of pop-rock styles across its eight selections. Self Against City kicks things off nicely with "All Alone On Christmas Day," followed by Home Grown's driving take on Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad." Hidden In Plain View's "Christmas Song" has lots of fun with vocal effects and a fast shuffle beat, An Angle does a fairly serviceable cover of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," Day at the Fair's "Here Lives Our Holiday" is an example of the stately rock ballad genre, and Jenoah's "Rites of Winter" is a hard rocker with lots of Keith Moon drumming throughout. The Track Record does "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in a similar vein, though it throws in a bit of token reggae on the refrain. Hellogoodbye takes us out of this album with a cheap-keyboard-and-percussion version of "Winter Wonderland." I think Sony Connect still has it, otherwise it's eBay for a hard copy.

Happy Christmas Vol. 4, various artists (Tooth & Nail)

No sooner did I post my wildly belated review of Happy Christmas Vol. 3 than I discovered 2005 would bring us a Vol. 4, although the franchise has moved from BEC Recordings to Tooth & Nail this year. Nevertheless, the concept remains the same: Christian rockers and their best Christmas tunes compiled in one place, with the preachiness kept to a minimum. Emery brings Santa Claus into the equation with "(Ho Ho Hey) A Way For Santa's Sleigh," Anberlin puts a little crunch into the Spector classic "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," Reliant K lends "I Celebrate the Day" from their own Christmas CD, Starflyer 59 throw in electronic bleeps and bloops on "Christmas Time Is Here" but otherwise keep the standard ballad arrangement. Aaron Gillespie and Kenny Vasoli combine for an original, "Yule Be Sorry," a hard rocker. Copeland's "Do You Hear What I Hear" makes another appearance here, Hawk Nelson covers Wham's "Last Christmas" and Mae does your basic hard rock version of "Carol of the Bells." Two religious-themed tunes wrap up the album, Number One Gun's "Of Two Bearded Men" and John Davis' India-influenced "God is Real (Jesus is Alive)," although the latter forgets to squeeze in the holiday. Another strong entry in this series.

Happy Christmas Vol. 3, various artists (BEC Recordings)

In keeping with the previous volumes in this series, this is modern rock-pop from a bunch of bands best known in the Christian rock realm. But as with the previous volumes, this 2001 collection has plenty to offer the less Christian, or at least the less observant Christians, among us. O.C. Supertones start off by covering Sarah Masen's "Heaven's Got a Baby," which she performed on Vol. 1 of this series in a ballad version, but the O.C.s rock it up a bit more. Relient K contribute a track from their own Christmas album, "Santa Claus is Thumbing to Town." Joy Electric makes it three volumes in a row with the oldie "Mrs. Santa Claus" in that band's electro-pop style. Earthsuit do Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" in a version that sounds a lot like the original remixed and beat-boxed to death, but that's a good thing. "O Come O Come Emanuel" gets a rockish treatment from Kendall Payne and Hangnail thrashes up "Do You See What I See." Skyline Drive simply does a U2 on "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," and Matthew Thiessen and the Earthquakes take us out on a downtempo note with "I Hate Christmas Parties." Seems to me BEC is overdue for another one of these.


It's About Christmas, various artists (It's About Music)

This Philadelphia-area label puts up what appears to be a selection of regional artists for 2003. I'm guessing regional based on the triple appearance of Philly alt-popsters Grey Eye Glances, covering "Little Drummer Boy" in a multi-percussionist world music mode and providing two originals, "On Christmas Night" and "Our Own Place and Time," a nice pair of mid-tempo holiday tunes. Two tunes by the Swarthmore College Alumni Gospel Choir, a jazzed-up gospel "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and the original "Road to Calvary," also highlight the Brotherly Love connection. Huffamoose generates a conditional Hanukkah Alert from its rewritten "Winter Wonderland" called "Hanukkah and Christmas Hand in Hand." Motorbaby lulls us with "Silent Night" before rocking it out about halfway through. It's Only Roy appears twice with "Santa's Bag," in which the Beach Boys meet Phil Spector, and the DX7 piano ballad "Glad to Be Home for Christmas." Kyf Brewer's "Christmas in New York" rocks out some light social commentary, "Sing For Christmas" by Andy Pratt lightly evokes a bit of Roy Wood and Cliff Hillis gives us the mid-tempo "On a Day Like Christmas." Other original ballad takes on the holiday include "Pax" by Jake Holmes and "Bells" by Ben Arnold. And The Contes give us a faithful cover of the Kinks' "Father Christmas." I'm still trying to figure out what Jim Boggia's deal is in playing what sounds like the original "Chipmunk Song" on a phonograph, however, and there are a few other tunes that make this collection a little more eclectic than necessary. Still, a great compilation for folks who are interested in original Christmas tunes. Update: Dean Sciarra of It's About Music tips me that Boggia actually painstakingly recorded all the parts on "Chipmunk Song" himself.

Takin' Care of Christmas, various artists (Bullseye Canada)

One has to wonder if the producers of the film "Love Actually" had a copy of the title song from this collection in hand when they devised the plot point about the rock singer and his Christmas comeback attempt. Because that title song is by Randy Bachman, and it's a straight lift of his Bachman-Turner Overdrive 1974 megahit "Takin' Care of Business." This is even better than "Christmas is All Around" from the movie since the songwriter himself is involved. Even though this album would be worth it for this single cut, the Canadians who compiled this disc pulled together a great collection of seldom-heard power-pop holiday performances, making it worth the trek across the world's longest unprotected border to pick it up. Most of the tunes date from 2000 or 2001, but there's a smattering of stuff from the 90s, 80s and even one originally done in 1979 ("It's Christmas" by Bob Segarini, a solid rocker with the "All My Loving" strum). Once you get your jollies from Bachman's remake, the Carpet Frogs kick up the volume with their "Christmas Would Not Be Christmas (Without You)," then they return backing Greg Godovitz on a slightly mellower "Christmas All Over the World." Tom Hooper's "Christmas Kiss" is a bouncy acoustic romp with a little George Harrison slide guitar. The Kings do "This Christmas," a performance loosely derived from Crosby, Stills and Nash with a verse that hearkens back to "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." "Hear Us Now" by Moving Targetz is a bass-heavy rocker full of ensemble singing. Maureen Leeson gets the only female influence onto this collection with the ballad "A Song for Christmas" and Joel-Steven does the gospel-rock ballad thing on "All I Want for Christmas (Is Peace on Earth)." Lots of good stuff here.

Spin Into Christmas, various artists (Festival)

If anyone had asked me whether there was an indigenous Australian rock 'n roll Christmas scene, I would have said well, there must be, though I had no documentary evidence. Now I do, in the form of this 1999 import compilation of holiday-oriented goodies from Oz's Spin and Infinity record labels. The album kicks off with "(I Want a) Rockin' Christmas" by Ol'55, reputed to be the most successful Down Under Christmas single of all. It's from 1976 and has the sound of a 70s band pretending to be a 60s band, with a bunch of Spector-once-removed flourishes. The version here was remixed for a late '90s Russell Crowe movie, "The Sum of Us." Unfortunately, you have to pole-vault over the next 12 rock-free cuts -- 50s youth pop and kid-oriented stuff like Rolf Harris' version of "Happy Birthday, Father Christmas" -- to get to The Love Machine's "The Lonely Hearts Club Christmas Party," a slice of 1968 psychedelia that takes us back to Ol'55 again with the B-side of their hit, a rendition of "Little Saint Nick" that sounds a bit like Freddy and the Dreamers doing it. Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons -- excuse me, His Little Helpers on this song -- come up with a serviceable cover of "Run Rudolph Run" and the Red Hot Rockin' Santas cover Gary Glitter on "Another Rock 'n Roll Christmas." At this point, even Oz gets overrun by the disco trend as kid-show host Shirley gets down with "Christmas Time in the Neighbourhood," then gets all serious on "Christmas Children." The Incredible Penguins dish out a 1985 cover of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" with backing vocals from such as Colin Hay and Bob Geldof, not to mention the Hare Krishna chorus. "Reindeers on the Rooftop" by Riff Raff is kind of thuddy in an 80s drum machine vein, while Yu-En's 1986 version of "Little Drummer Boy" throws in a nice India vibe with tabla and sitar before it goes into the 80s pop beat. Journeyman Mick Hamilton wraps the album with country rocker "Merry Christmas Mary." Most of what I give you here comes from the copious liner notes.

Christmas with Planting Seeds Records, various artists (Planting Seeds)

This 2002 acoustic pop holiday EP comes after the label's Christmas Underground compilation of a few seasons back, four original tunes plus Xavier Pelleuf's singalong version of "White Christmas." "Holiday Tune in F#" by The National Splits humorously touches on "smoking in the bathroom" and "doing shots with Uncle Jim." Tracy Shedd's "I Will Keep You Warm" isn't really a holiday tune, but the ballad does kind of fit among the other songs. Linda Draper channels Joni Mitchell on "Merry Xmas," a nostalgic mourning of lost love. Language of Flowers wraps things up with "Christmas," a dirge-y electro-pop instrumental number.

Songs of the Season 2003, various artists (Rock River/Rhino)

A discount CD sold by the Kohl's department store chain to benefit children's hospitals nationwide, there's only a handful of tunes on here, but there are two songs of note on here. One is Rob Thomas' "A New York Christmas," the other is Lisa Loeb's semi-funky "Jingle Bells." Other tunes on here are previously released items from such folks as America, Shawn Colvin, Aretha Franklin, Brian Setzer, Vonda Shepherd, Ray Charles and Linda Ronstadt.

hOMe For the Holidays, various artists (Om)

Techno music, or future music, as the record company's website affirms, this is a compilation of the label's artists performing holiday tunes in that genre. Dance beats laid over drones, but the individual artists all have their own distinctive approaches, which makes this listenable as well as danceable. Sutro Heights build a whole new song around "Winter Wonderland," Rithma's "Psycho Jingle Funk" deconstructs "Jingle Bells," Kaskade's "Peace on Earth" and "Still Still Still" are interesting originals with a Beth Orton touch, the latter almost having a "Silent Night" feel. Late Night Alumni's "Songs of the Morning" would be a folk song if backed only by guitar, but the heavy beats and orchestral backing take it onto the dancefloor almost against its will. Colossus does "Charlie Brown Cut-Up," a drums-and-bass pastiche cut and pasted over the "Peanuts" gang's version of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." King Koopa lays beats over a jazz piano reading of "O Christmas Tree," Pleasant Grove Minstrels give the treatment to "What Child is This," Members Only's "Christmas Eve" chops up "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies," and Casey Nefey wraps things up with "Psyonics Night." Depending on your affinity for this musical style, you may not make it all the way through this, but you'll certainly find individual cuts you like.

Holiday Remixed, various artists (BasicLux)

This time around they call it New Style Lounge, but it's more of what we hear on the Reindeer Room and Om Records collections -- complex but danceable beats, electronic effects, droning accompaniment pads overlaid with vocals and deconstructed melody lines. The liner notes tell us to listen for elements of "nu jazz, deephouse, discohouse and drum & bass." A mixture of cut 'n pasted classics like "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "Little Drummer Boy," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Greensleeves" and "Auld Lang Syne" and originals like Bryan Ogden's "Home for the Holidays," "Ask Yourself" by Sunday People, "Awaken" by the Source and "Winter Wait" by Electric Brother, along with Mudfish's version of a Spanish classic, "Los Peces en el Rio." This is actually pretty listenable, although more in a background music sort of way -- but its danceability is the real calling card.

A Bing Bang Holidang, Bleu (Maid)

This collection is a benefit for The Boston Institute for Arts Therapy, credited to Boston singer-songwriter Bleu but he's assisted by an array of Boston artists like Dicky Barrett of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Kay Hanley of Letters To Cleo, Mary Lou Lord and many others. It kicks off, improbably, with a pair of modern-day remixes of "Mele Kalikimaka" and "Jingle Bells" featuring Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, all done with modern techniques to put together different performances. The former might not sound unusual to untrained ears, but "Jingle Bells" includes heavy electronic percussion and the Bing vocal tweaked to make him squeeze out notes he may have never considered in real life. The "Boston All Star 12 Days" is pretty much as it sounds, a rocked-out version of the carol with the various participants swapping vocals. "Snow Day," an original, is an instant classic about every child's second-favorite winter phenomenon after Christmas. An electronica take on "Carol of the Bells" is clever, and Ramona Silver singing "Silent Night" is a fairly original take on that evergreen classic. More originals: "Everybody Knows It's Christmas" is a swing number, "I Want My Christmas Back" is a blues, "Snowfall in the City" a jazzy ballad, and album closer "Bing Bang Holidang" is your basic movie soundtrack climax tune, complete with gang-sung choruses. It's short, but it makes its point well. Update: Edited to note that Bleu is an individual act, not a band.

MTV TRL Christmas, various artists (Lava/Atlantic)

That's Total Request Live, for those of you who work 9 to 5 or don't have teen-agers in your home. TRL is, as we all know, the place to see Carson Long and the 11 or so artists who are allowed to crack the top 20 in today's pay-to-play radio environment, but that's another rant. Having said that, it's surprising to see this 2001 album actually features a lot more rock 'n roll than the show does. Not many of your TRL regulars are on here, which may contribute to the eclectic feeling. Among the participants are Smash Mouth, who do a typically snarky "Better Do It Right;" N'Sync, with the previously released "I Don't Wanna Spend One More Christmas Without You;" and Sugar Ray, whose cover of "Little St. Nick" benefits from a guest appearance by Carnie and Wendy Wilson. Simple Plan, blink-182, Weezer and LFO all contribute good originals, as does SNL's Jimmy Fallon with the thrash-rock "Snowball." Bif Naked rocks out "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" pretty nicely. Christina Aguilera and Angela Via contribute the expected diva turns with "Angels We Have Heard On High" and "Christmas Wish," respectively. And don't be fooled by Willa Ford's "Santa Baby (Gimme Gimme Gimme)," as it's not the familiar song, or much of anything worth talking about for that matter.

el Christmas: The World in Winter, various artists (El/Cherry Red Records)

This is a 2001 compilation of London's El record label roster, a quirky group of young musicians who apparently worship every aspect of 60s pop music. Not so much rock, it's a kind of post-lounge sensibility, as near as I can work out, although there are some rock moments, as there must be for the era. Two songs are non-originals and non-Christmas for that matter: Loveletter does The Cowsills' "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" and Wallpaper does an instrumental of The Beatles' "Good Night." Marden Hill's "Slalom" is a wordless vocal that evokes its title, Valerie Masters' "Christmas Calling" is a kind of Cilla Black-styled number, "Christmas Jam" by Bridge is one of the few pop-rockers here, and you'll want to put "Schoolgirl Psychedelia" on your mix collection just so you can tell people it's by Fantastic Everlasting Gobstopper. Tomorrow's World melds pop, folk and rock in "I Don't Want to Spend Christmas Without You" and they get more into the garage-rock mold with "The Winter Is Cold." Would Be Goods throw in a little bluebeat with "Christmas in Haiti," starting out with this immortal line: "It's the season of good cheer/There's a cockroach in my beer." Other fun cuts include "Psychedelic Christmas" by Her, which is as advertised, and "The 13th Day of Christmas" by Louis Philippe.

50,000,000 Elves Fans Can't Be Wrong, various artists (Stereorrific)

Subtitled "Transatlantic Pop Christmas Vol. 1," this 2001 compilation combines East Coast and British artists on a post-modern holiday voyage. Alternative pop is the deal here, with a healthy dose of retro, rather like the El Records album. Top cuts include "Double-0 Santa" by Seks Bomba, a bit of 60s secret agent fake jazz; "(We Like) Eggnog" by The Rory McBrides, with a long organ-led intro; "Silent Night" by The Weisstronauts, mentioned elsewhere on this site; and Nixon gives us a cross between the 60s and electronica with "Anorak Christmas." The Pines do a yearning folkie turn on "Chalet," and Velodrome 2000 punk rock out with "Christmas Sucks." A fine faux-Nuggets turn comes from The Waistcoats with "(I Wish You Could Be More Like) Santa Claus." Weevil's clattery, noisy "Coventry Carol" isn't much fun, though. Lots of mix tape/CD fodder here, and not so hard to listen to all the way through.

Christmas Underground, various artists (bumbleBEAR/Planting Seeds)

Indie-rock-pop compilation from 2001, reputed by its website to be a limited edition. There are 22 cuts, not counting about 10 brief "Christmas messages" from some of the musicians. Quality ranges from professional to "Hey, my dad has a garage, let's start a band," so I'll just tip you to the better tunes. Paula Kelly, whose Nothing/Everything CD has been well reviewed, does a sweet "Blue Christmas" and Miss July has a cute original in "First Noel (Revised)." Orchid Pool puts a nice guitar figure and flutes behind "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear." Capsela has a quirky take on "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," and The Otter Pops' "Brothers" is the textbook definition of quirky with its ukelele and kazoo backing. Jumprope's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is well played but mostly lounge-like with the electric piano dominating. The Wee Turtles are amateurish but endearing with "By Golly, They've Dehydrated Christmas!" And Pinkie brings "sha-la-la" backing vocals back with "Pretend Like It's Christmas Day." The rest you can rate for yourself, assuming you can find a copy of this.

Parasol Presents Christmas Singles, various artists (Parasol)

We have the sequel to this 2000 collection elsewhere on the site, so thanks to the tipsters who reminded us this was around. It opens with Erik Voeks' "Christmas Singles," mentioned elsewhere on the site since I already had it on a 45, and it remains an interesting tune as well as the title song of the set. Indy-rockers with mostly original holiday tunes are the order of the day here, although Elizabeth Elmore contributes a hootenanny-strummed "White Christmas," Angie Heaton does a plaintive "Hard Candy Christmas," Philo gets all doomy on "Every Day Will Seem Like a Holiday," Shalini gives us a different rhythmic approach on "Nutrocker," and Doleful Lions cap things off with a semi-traditional sounding "Auld Lang Syne." Highlights among the originals, besides the title tune, are the pop-rocker "Merry Christmas I Love You" by Mark Bacino, the Giorgio Moroder-cum-Ultravox stylings of Vitesse on "The Last Days of December," The Signalmen's turn-of-the-Seventies acoustic rock sound on "Holiday Wine," Mark Bruno singing "Merry Christmas" over and over again until we get the message, Elk City telling the interior story of a deer crossing at the "Deer Crossing," and Toothpaste 2000 shuffling along singing "I Wish Every Day Was Christmas." Note that White Town's "Merry Christmas" puts a Dick Cheney-ism between the two words of the title.

Stuck in the Chimney (More Christmas Singles), various artists (Parasol)

More independent rock bands on a small label, although Parasol has a good-sized artist roster and the bands are closer in quality to the big-timers while not shaving off all their small-time quirks. The Soundtrack of Our Lives kicks off the collection with a Nuggets-style "Jingle Hell (Stuck in the Chimney)" while Fonda does "Last Christmas" by Wham, an almost Paul-and-Paula type performance. Toothpaste 2000 celebrates a hard rock "7-Eleven Christmas" and Absinthe Blind does "Silent Night" as an electronic square wave. Another rocker is "Christmas in the Lion's Den" by the George Usher Group, while Doleful Lions slow down Alex Chilton's "Jesus Christ" almost unrecognizably. "December" is a kind of electro-pop ballad from White Town, while Friends of Sound take the same approach uptempo with "Ice and Ribbons." Erik Voeks' "The Cruel Tide" doesn't seem to be a holiday tune, Neilson Hubbard ladles on the angst with "Merry Christmas (Wherever You May Be)" and Joe Algeri concludes weakly with "Computer Xmas," most of which is taken up with the line "How do we turn off the drum machine?"

99Xmas Soundtrack Volume II, various artists (Best Buy)

The Atlanta radio station released this compilation in 2001 and it's chock full of good stuff. Familiar names on it include Speech of Arrested Development, who raps "Joy to the World," but there's more of "Carol of the Bells" in it, along with a tiny homage to "Smiling Faces Sometimes." Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls solos live on Joni Mitchell's "River," Shawn Mullins does the countried-up original "Lonely Ole Christmas," Kevn Kinney turns "The Christmas Song" into a folky strum and Collective Soul's "Blue Christmas," heard elsewhere, is also here. Worthy of note is Treephart, whose "Christmas Time is Here" has a ska intro that segues into thrash; Left Front Tire does a faithful cover of Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight)"; Lithp has an acoustic rock take on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" medleyed with an original song written from Santa's point of view. There are electronica bids from Angie Aparo with "Silent Night," Aerial on "Oh Holy Night," ph Balance's "Do You Hear What I Hear" and Drums and Effects, predictably, on "The Little Drummer Boy." Another Man Down's "Dreidel Song" makes an appearance here, Tentilfour covers Run-DMC's "Christmas in Hollis," and Injected takes "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" down to ballad tempo while keeping the Bono impression intact.

Rockin' Christmas Party Vol. 1, various artists (DMI)

This is a roster of 60s pop-rockers who made a fresh album of Christmas tunes in 2004. It's produced by Ron Dante, the lead voice of The Archies and The Cuff Links, with the instrumental help of Ted Perlman on all instruments. Ron gets the lion's share of mic time here with four tunes, including what appears to be three originals (no songwriter credits listed here) along with a modernized take on the Spector arrangement of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." Gary Lewis does faithful covers of "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Holly Jolly Christmas," Chris Montez syncopates "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," Bobby Vee does "Home For the Holidays" and "Peace on Earth," and Tommy Roe manages a modern-sounding "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." These folks were more on the pop side even at the height of their popularity, but I'm guessing they still have fans who will enjoy this a lot. For the rest of you, I will note that these performances have a bit more of a Broadway or Vegas sheen to them than some folks might like. But it's still a good cut above a lot of other similar efforts from yesteryear rockers.

Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Xmas, various artists (Rhino)

Gotta give Rhino credit, they're almost the official rock 'n roll Christmas record label. From their "Just Can't Get Enough" series of 80s new wave music, this collection isn't complete but does bring a fairly disparate group of artists together on one convenient CD from the 70s to the 90s. Three of the cuts are from IRS Records' Just in Time for Christmas album, but the rest are from all over the map. XTC's "Thanks For Christmas" makes another appearance here, credited to the pseudonymous Three Wise Men. Other artists span the decade from Los Lobos to Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band, from They Might Be Giants and their offshoot Mono Puff to The Pretenders, from Matthew Sweet to Sun 60. Two interesting duets are on here, The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl doing "Fairytale of New York" and Bing Crosby with David Bowie doing "Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy," from Bing's last Christmas special in 1977. Not quite a definitive collection, but worthwhile for its mix of better-known stuff with rarities and for its liner notes.

Christmas Two, various artists (Kindercore)

Kindercore is an Athens, Ga. label featuring low-fi pop-rock, electro-pop and emo music, and this collection is from 1999, featuring a number of acts from its past and current roster. There's absolutely no information on this album except band names, song titles and running order. And the label's website offers no information about it or its predecessor, 1997's Christmas in Stereo. (Thanks to Sean Delany for letting us know about that one.) On Two, there are 24 bands offering mostly originals, although some covers pop up along the way as well. Among the more interesting numbers are BusyToby's "Hyun's Snowy Night," a little girl-groupy and Beach-Boysish. "The Rockefeller Tree" by I Am the World Trade Center mixes some central Asian influences with beatbox and scratching. Dressy Bessy offers some vintage New Wave moves on "All the Right Reasons." The Sixth Great Lake has fun with "Always After Christmas, Boring," and they return as The Essex Green with a folkish cover of "Deck the Halls." Vermont's "Santa Claws" is the time-tested plea to the jolly elf for romance. The Wee Turtles sound a little amateurish, but their song "Benjamin, Santa's On To You" is enjoyable. The Gwens lope through a waltzy "Christmas Love." Among the covers, Ciao Bella does a solid, if slavish version of Chris Stamey's "Christmas Time," Junior Varsity's version of "Don't Believe In Christmas" features gum-snapping girl vocals, The Boyish Charms take a crack at "The Chipmunk Song" with helium vocals but without the right chords, Lunchbox does a doomy "Christmas Time Is Here," and Vic20 goes all electro with a talky "A Marshmallow World." Quality on this collection varies widely, but the good stuff makes this worth picking up.

VH1 The Big 80s Christmas, various artists (Rhino)

This field has been plowed before -- in fact, it's been plowed by Rhino as part of the "Just Can't Get Enough" series. VH1 being what it is though, what we have is a far more mainstream 80s Christmas compilation. Nearly every song on here is mentioned elsewhere on the site, and many have been on numerous compilations. That said, it does have the not-easily-found-otherwise "Jingle Bell Rock" by Hall and Oates, along with Los Lobos' "Rudolph the Manic Reindeer." And they exhibit a little taste by giving us the Bob and Doug MacKenzie "12 Days of Christmas." Otherwise, no surprises, but if you don't have the majority of these tunes already you're going to want this. The Ramones, Pretenders, George Thorogood, The Alarm, Queen, Pat Benatar and Billy Squier are on the set list, and here's one more chance to get the Bing and Bowie tune.

Now That's What I Call Christmas, various artists (Virgin)

The ubiquitous series of chart-hit compilations turns its attention to Christmas with a budget-priced double disc set. But it's no rock Christmas landmark; this sucker goes all the way back to Bing Crosby and hits all the traditional touchstones along the way before it arrives in the rock era. Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Burl Ives and Tony Bennett predominate until we get to Bobby Helms, ending up with Elmo and Patsy and Bing and Bowie. The second disc is more in keeping, and it's got John and Yoko, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Band Aid, but it's also got Britney, N'Sync, Celine Dion and, ick, Mannheim Steamroller. About what you'd expect from an album in the "Now" series in terms of song selection.

Sounds of the Season 2002, various artists (BMG)

This is Target's holiday compilation, stickered at $5.99, although mine scanned through a buck cheaper for some reason. There's a lot of stuff on here that's all over the map, from Dave Matthews' original "Christmas Song" to a Kenny G medley, Michael McDonald gone country and Diana Krall's jazz "Jingle Bells." But a couple of things on here haven't turned up anywhere else I know of, chief among them Vertical Horizon's cover of "I Believe in Father Christmas," which lets a little of the ELP bombast leak out of what is otherwise a nice holiday song. Then there's Cher's "Angels Running," a subtle, not necessarily holiday song that is a high point of this collection. The rest is previously released stuff like Sir Paul's "Wonderful Christmastime" and Christina Aguilera's "The Christmas Song," a diva moment that actually isn't bad if you like that sort of thing, although she's yelping and shrieking by the last bridge.

Christmas Songs, various artists (Nettwerk)

Nettwerk is a Canadian-based management and recording firm, and they collected this batch of performances from a fairly homogeneous group of artists, mostly of the pop-folk persuasion. As such, it's a little lightweight for the proprietors of this site. Nevertheless, it leads with its best cut, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" by Sarah McLachlan and the Barenaked Ladies, an impromptu but sprightly backstage performance in which a trunk substituted for a drum kit. Sarah's version of Gordon Lightfoot's "Song For a Winter's Night" is also here, and other performers include Tara MacLean, Dido, Kendall Payne and Lily Frost, with mainly folky performances. Meryn Cadell's "The Cat Carol," although a little light in the songcraft department, will make cat-lovers cry, and Delerium gives us some electronic soundscaping with "Terra Firma." Capping off the album is a great monologue by Stuart McLean, "Polly Anderson's Christmas Party."

Christmas Party With Eddie G., various artists (Strikin' It Rich/Columbia)

A 1990 CD compilation from the Sony marketing juggernaut that is a textbook example of point #1 in this site's Statement of Purpose. Eddie G. is referred to cryptically in the liner notes as an Emmy-award winning writer for "SCTV," "Saturday Night Live" and Penn and Teller, who crafts mix tapes of favorite Christmas tunes for unrepentant Yuletide partiers from "the largest collection" of pop Christmas records "in the world." There's a lot of jingle-singer schmaltz, along with some half-assed Three Stooges imitators, in between the tunes that make this album sound more like a novelty record than it actually is. But that's the only bad thing I can say about this record. There's jazz, R&B, rock, ska, country, Cajun, blues and Tex-Mex all rolled together into one solid rock 'n roll Christmas record. Anybody who has Louis Prima rubbing shoulders with Huey "Piano" Smith and The Clowns on one side and Byron Lee and the Dragonaires on the other is obviously doing something right. Eddie G., if you're out there, e-mail this site!

Seasonal Greetings, various artists (Mobilé Records)

Subtitled "A Compilation of 13 Christmas and Winter Songs," this almost counts as an ambient Christmas album, in that it mostly evokes the lonlieness of winter with a cast of characters that actually originates in places where winter is severe: Minnesota's Low, Iceland's Müm, Norway's Erlend Øye, Britain's Badly Drawn Boy, and so on. Low's "Long Way Around the Sea" is from their seminal Christmas CD, of course, while Erlend Øye takes a disappointed approach to Wham's "Last Christmas." St. Etienne's previously released "My Christmas Prayer" makes an appearance here, and Badly Drawn Boy's "Donna and Blitzen" may be the most uptempo item here, from the film "About a Boy," and it's about reindeer to boot. "Winter Will Set You Back," sings Hood, and this folky drone sounds like it's not doing him any favors either. "Catch a Snowflake" from Herrmann and Kleine is an electronic rendition of a very wintry melody; it and Future 3's "It's That Time Again" are probably the most successful of the electronic tracks on this. There won't be much rockin' out with these guys, but if you're up for this particular vibe at Christmastime, it's a great way to celebrate (quietly).

The Night Before, various artists (Rich & Sexy Inc.)

This collection of lesser-known hard rockers from New York City apply their version of rock crunch to a bunch of Christmas classics. The Spicy Rizzaks have a lot of fun with "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," including a Sex Pistols coda; a more Johnny Rotten-esque vocal eminates from The Kick's "Turn Back the Years." Hotsocky rock out on the country classic "Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas," The Compulsions do a Black Crowes-flavored "Santa Claus Is Back In Town," while "Blue Christmas" gets a mournful thump from the Hissyfits. "Run Rudolph Run" by The Witnesses sounds an awful lot like Keith Richards' cover. These guys like holiday TV specials too, as The Inflatablemen take on "We're a Couple of Misfits," The Great Shakes do "Heat Miser" and On!Air!Library! perform "Snow Miser." A solid Christmas choice for hard rock fans, and even if you're not, you're likely to enjoy at least some of it.

A Brutal Christmas: The Season in Chaos, various artists (SotD Records)

When you open the CD card on this one, you discover the songs are performed by bands who felt it necessary to reproduce their garish gothic logos next to their names. Never a good sign, say I. But as it happens, it's a worthwhile iconic reference to 80s speed metal, which is where these guys originate. This isn't a favorite genre of mine, mainly because of its lack of variation in style from one song to the next, but folks who came of age in that decade who didn't dig new wave should get a kick out of this, as it's a well-performed labor of love from the record company (Sounds of the Dead Records, just so you know). Two versions of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" probably weren't necessary, one by Kekal being fast and the other by Faithbomb being faster. Pure Defiance make "Joy to the World" almost a hockey-rink anthem before taking the lyrics at a slower shuffle. A break from the guitar cruch comes with the organ-led "Coventry Carol" by Frank's Enemy, which carries over into Frost Like Ashes kicking off with harpsichord on "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence/O Come Emanuel." Soon enough, however, they kick into overdrive. Royal Anguish take on "Mary Did You Know?" and Tortured Conscience do a deep-voiced crunch on "Little Drummer Boy." Probably best for fans of this type of music.

Sounds of the Season '98, various artists (EMI)

This compilation wasn't released so much as it escaped; I found it in a used record store in Charlottesville, Va. A little promotion money and they could have scored big; maybe that's why the American EMI label has been deactivated. It's since been reissued with the '98 excised. Meredith Brooks of "Bitch" fame does a kicking "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" while Spice Girls flounce unconvincingly through the Phil Spector arrangement of "Sleigh Ride." One surprise is Everclear's "Santa Baby," which they do despite it being a girl's song. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy offer "Christmastime in Tinseltown (Again)" Coming over from non-EMI labels are Hansen's "What Christmas Means to Me," Sarah McLaughlin's version of Gordon Lightfoot's "Song For a Winter's Night," Loreena McKennitt's semi-Celtic "Good King Wenceslaus," Backstreet Boys' "Christmas Time" and Brian McKnight's "The First Noel." And Deana Carter manages to not country up "Carol of the Bells" too much, at least until the fiddle sneaks in at the end.

Delivering Real Holiday Refreshment, various artists (EMI)

CDnow and Coca-Cola sponsored this 6-song EP as a freebie during 1998's Christmas rush, and it was worth the money. Everclear's "Santa Baby" makes an appearance here, along with "Let It Snow" from Boyz II Men's Christmas album and "Silver Bells" by Michel'le from the Death Row Christmas album. EMI stablemates Marcy Playground give us "Keegan's Christmas" and The Dandy Warhols do a version of "The Little Drummer Boy" that also appeared on Tim Kerr's It's Finally Christmas. That leaves Keb'Mo' with "Jingle Bell Jamboree."

North Coast Noel, various artists (Rigel)

The subtitle of this 2001 compilation, a benefit for the Salvation Army World Trade Center Disaster Relief Fund, is "An Eclectic Mix of Holiday Music From Various Cleveland Area Artists." Nobody I recognize, though. Although an all-local-artists compilation, it could easily be marketed as your basic alt-folk-rock Christmas CD. Many would probably want this compilation just for "Enter Snowman," a takeoff on the similarly named Metallica song about the Sandman, by Selloutica. Alexis Antes and Robin Stone duet on your basic African percussion-influenced "Little Drummer Boy," Myrtle does one of the Very Special Christmas arrangements of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," Dick Tucker Band's "Winter Wonderland" is an offbeat pop-rock ballad version of the carol, and Rare Blend's "What Child Is This" has a "House of the Rising Sun" flavor to it. Cosmic Stepping Stones do a swingy duet harmony on "Jingle Bells." Eroc and Walkin' Cane do "Blue Christmas" filtered through Nilsson's "Coconut," an original take on the perennial. Smash Eerie get a little Sting-like on "Carol of the Bells." This set trends more toward the mellow side though, with a straight ballad reading of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Marla Zahorsky and Mark Brennan, solo guitar version of "We Three Kings" by CD producer Kurt Tischer, the original ballad "Your Gift Is Your Presence" by Jim Tigue and a synth instrumental of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by Bobbi Holt.

A Supervox Christmas, various artists (Supervox)

Hard to scare up much more background info than what we get on the cover. This is your basic bunch of Boston studio bums led by studio owner Chris Madsen and Brook Batteau doing a holiday CD, probably a limited release since my copy is on CD-R. Good playing and singing, but not a lot of planning went into this; the overall sound is your basic "tasteful rock" approach to six traditional carols. The reggae "O Little Town of Bethlehem" by Phillips Brooks and Louis H. Redner is the breakout cut from this set, although some might like the Soggy Mountain Boys-style treatment they give "Silent Night," and the thrashed-out "O Come All Ye Faithful" that concludes the set is pretty good too.

The Reindeer Room: A Christmas Chillout, various artists (Kriztal Entertainment)

"Downtempo" and "chillout" are varieties of modern-day electronica that are the "slow jams" versions of such music. The artist names listed with each tune are probably not relevant, as the liner notes state these are all pseudonyms for folks who have reputations in this particular musical world. Most of the tunes on this 2002 release are evergreens -- "Little Drummer Boy," "Sleigh Ride," "Silent Night," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," although Rauder and Hobbs put some thump to "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" and for some reason two different artists take a crack at "Feliz Navidad," Tetsumi Nagaka and Sub Santa, the latter of which is retitled "Feliz Navidub." "A Child is Born" by Jon Kennedy is the one original here. The arrangements, while mostly similar in tempo and instrumentation, take an eclectic approach to rhythms, picking and choosing among bump-and-grind, Latin and Caribbean grooves. Contemporary sounding, but a little too easily pushed into the background -- although that might be the point of this kind of music; it has some of the trappings of Brian Eno's ambient experiments, along with a veneer of lounge. Update: There's a Reindeer Room 2 for 2003.

A Christmas to Remember, various artists (Velvel)

This 1998 album is a pastiche of previously released performances and new ones featuring the Smithereens, Jill Sobule, Michelle Malone, Lowen and Navarro, the Alarm and others. Former Bongo James Mastro and Sobule do some session work on several cuts, most of which are originals. Although there are some reliable rock credentials at work here, folky and mid-tempo is the order of the day for the most part. Exceptions are the previously available "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" by the Smithereens as well as Pawnshop's "Little Drummer Boy," Lo-Watt's "Christmas Time" and Health and Happiness Show's "Jesus Christ," the Alex Chilton cover featuring Mastro and Sobule. Not bad overall, but remember you may already have a few of these tunes.

The My Pal God Holiday Record, various artists (My Pal God Records)

Alternative-type folks from all over the map on a compilation from 1998, though the songs go back as far as 1981 in the case of "What Did Santa Claus Bring You For Christmas" by Boston's The Law, a group that later morphed into Scruffy the Cat. Many tunes are covers, although only a few of these are particularly interesting, like "Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)" by Sean Na NA (great name) from the John Denver catalog. Sarge's "Last Christmas" is serviceable, C-Clamp's "2000 Miles" is draggy and Sweep the Leg Johnny & All Stars don't even bother to get the chords right on Band Aid's "Feed the World." Atom & His Package perform "What WE Do On Christmas," a tune that makes fun of anti-Semitism, and The Goblins get a Hanukkah Alert for "Ha-Ha Hanukkah" The Wine Chuggers get a few giggles for "(I Was) Drunk (On Christmas)" and Crucial Youth contribute a pair of thrashers, "X-Mastime for the Skins" and "Santa Claus is Coming (And You're On His List)." Overall, an average compilation.

The My Pal God Holiday Record 2, various artists (My Pal God)

This New Jersey alt-rock label is already on record with a Christmas record from a few years ago, which we gave a lukewarm review. This one's a little better, but there still aren't that many really catchy numbers on this one. Different batch of artists this time around too. This 2001 album kicks off with probably the best cut, Emperor Penguin's "Erotic Xmas (Home for the Holograms)," a kind of electronica piece with the keyboarded vocal thing Cher does on "Believe." Neutrino does a guitar-crunch instrumental medley of "Island of Misfit Toys/Little Drummer Boy" as do Del Ray on the "Nutcracker Overture/Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," the latter playing the melody on the bass. Joshua Falken Trio's "Ornament" is an interesting song, as is Port Vale's "The Snowmen," and Beau Grumpus goBEAUlins have a kind of hockey rink anthem in "Candy Your Cane." Rebecca Gates does a New Year's type of beatbox-folkie music called "12:31," and Drums and Tuba wrap up with a drums and tuba version of "Auld Lang Syne."

Happy Christmas, various artists (BEC Recordings)

BEC Recordings is a Christian rock music label, but they do a fairly good job of evangelizing the music instead of The Message; I had to go to their Web page to make sure these bands really considered themselves Christian acts. If you can get past the self-classification, this 1998 compilation contains a pretty good batch of tunes. The emphasis is on traditional carols done in contemporary arrangements, although there are some originals that manage to get their points across without excessive proselytizing. The O.C. Supertones do "Joy To The World" as ska, Bon Voyage stick with the country roots of "Holly Jolly Christmas," Joy Electric's "Winter Wonderland" is an electronic popscape similar to Cocteau Twins' version, but more upbeat, and "Do You Hear What I Hear" by House of Wires also goes electronica on us. One Eighty does a Hawaiian thrash version of "Mele Kalkikimaka" and The Dingees do a faintly reggae "We Three Kings," although that's becoming a common way to perform it. Among the originals, "You Gotta Get Up" by Five Iron Frenzy, Sarah Masen's ballad "Heaven's Got a Baby" and Huntington's mildly Ramones-ish "It's Always Christmas At My House" are keepers for the mix tape. BEC followed up with another album in 1999; see following

Happy Christmas Vol. 2, various artists (BEC Recordings)

The folks at BEC let no grass grow under their feet; coming off 1998's Happy Christmas, they penciled in Vol. 2 for 1999. Many of these young quasi-alternative acts are licensed from other labels, but they're here all the same. MxPx's original "Christmas Day" is a rockin' album opener, Joy Electric drags out all the old analog synths for "Lollipop Parade" and Lost Dogs gives us one of the few covers of "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," a mostly in-jokey one at that. Viva Voce heavy-metals "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," Hangnail hard-rocks "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and Flight 180 starts out the same way with "O Come All Ye Faithful," but they swing into a melange of styles from ska to boogie with a touch of Andrews Sisters in the vocals. The Normals medley their own "Peace Child" with "O Come Emmanuel" in an effective folky arrangement, while Norway does an electronica "White Christmas" that you almost expect to hear Cher step in and finish. If there's a disappointment, it's Sixpence None The Richer, who just aren't equipped to really sell "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch."

Swing Cats Present Rock-A-Billy Christmas, various artists (Cleopatra)

This 2002 release appears to be an amalgamation of several acts with similar lineups featuring Danny B. Harvey, Gary Twinn and former Stray Cats Lee Rocker and Slim Jim Phantom. Indeed, the Honeydippers, Harvey and Twinn, released a Christmas CD in 1997, 12 Days of Christmas, and I'm guessing the tunes on here credited to that act are from that album. The whole CD is perfectly authentic rockabilly versions of Christmas carols performed well, along with four originals, and as 50s rock continues to recede into history you might want to be reminded of those days without having to resort to the sappiness of "Happy Days" or "Grease." The Fifties version of "Hepcat Holiday (Night Before Christmas)" is good, though this kind of thing has been done before. And some of the attempts at variety fall a little flat, though, like straight instrumental readings of "Jingle Bell Rock" and "We Three Kings," along with a conventional reading of "I'll Be Home For Christmas." And I still don't get why people think "My Favorite Things" is a Christmas song. Still, a worthwhile followup in your CD carousel right after the Elvis holiday CDs.

A Classic Rock Christmas, various artists (Sanctuary)

As advertised, staple artists of the former album-oriented rock radio format kick out the jams for Christmas. It's a partial benefit album, in that "portions" of the proceeds will go to the Port Authority World Trade Disaster Survivors Fund and the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame Education Fund. Fans of the format will enjoy this, and they'll eat up the liner notes written by the artists for each song. There's not a lot of uptempo stuff here, mostly ballads, with some exceptions. The Eddie Money/Ronnie Spector duet "Everybody Loves Christmas" is on this, along with what appears to be Greg Lake's third remake of "I Believe in Father Christmas," this one dominated by a full orchestra. His buddy Keith Emerson, surprisingly, goes gospel on "Silent Night." Styx's "All I Want" is a lot more relaxed than a lot of their stuff, leading in with a bit of Gary Glitter and copping just a smidge of Beach Boys on the bridge. Father Guido Sarducci's "Santa's Lament" makes another appearance here. REO Speedwagon's "I Believe in Santa Claus" actually sounds like a Michael Jackson impersonator in spots. John Waite's "All I Want for Christmas" has the now-dated simile, "The snow fell like cocaine...." Tommy Shaw of Damn Yankees and Night Ranger's Jack Blades duet on "12 Days of Christmas," and there are other entries from Felix Cavaliere and Survivor.

La La La La La La La La La La '94, various artists (Loud Mouth Sound)

A compilation of D.C.-area rock bands from 1994 take a variety of approaches to Christmas music on this independent collection. Red Henry, formerly the Noise Boys, kicks off the album strongly with their own uptempo rocker "X-mas Time." Biohio do a straight rock arrangement of "The Christmas Song," which is OK but not distinguished. "Silver Star" by Emmet Swimming is fairly interesting if downtempo, Envelope Throat's "Christmas Wishes" is classic 80s hard rock with a touch of synth in the one-man band format, and Kevin M. Rucker takes the same approach to a rocked-up "Deck the Halls." Atticus Finch, aka Shane Hines, goes unplugged with "Today Is Christmas" and Chris Gantzer plays an acoustic guitar instrumental, "I Heard the Children..." Triggerfish, formerly Naked Blowfish, also provide an original in "A Christmas Apart." A sprightly rock "Here We Come A-Wassailing" is provided by The Wassailairs while Egypt takes the electric blues approach to "The First Noel," with duet vocals from Kristin Ashbury. Michael Sheppard goes more traditional on "O Holy Night," as do Hearsay with "Silent Night," featuring a music box all the way through.

Yuletunes, various artists (Black Vinyl Records)

If you're a fan of obscure pop-rockers and 90s alternative, this 1991 compilation is one of the more listenable ways to celebrate the season. Artists include Matthew Sweet, Material Issue, The Cavedogs, The Spongetones, Shoes, and a number of others. Nearly all the tunes are originals by the bands involved, except Don Dixon and Marti Jones' sharp and too-short cover of William Bell's "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday." They don't Christmas up the arrangements too much, which could be good or bad depending on your taste, but there are a lot of interesting lyrical takes on the holiday, from the single-entendre of "Piece For Christmas" by Big People to Spooner's "The Saddest Time of the Year." And The Cavedogs get points for doing a "You Know My Name -- Look Up the Number" -- styled piece with the epic title "Three Wise Men and a Baby."

A Lump of Coal, various artists (First Warning)

A pretty good alternative compilation from 1991 featuring some recognizable names. Crash Test Dummies do a pretty straight-up version of "The First Noel," The Wedding Present tackles Elton John's "Step Into Christmas," Young Fresh Fellows perform "O Little Town of Bethlehem," Henry Rollins recites "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and the Hoodoo Gurus do "Little Drummer Boy (Up the Khyber)," in a Russian folk version. May be out of print, as I got a cassette version of this for $2 a couple of years ago. Good to listen to all the way through.

Excelsis: A Dark Noel, various artists (Projekt 62)

Heavy-duty, doomy goth approaches to the holiday, highlighted by a fair amount of electronic processing laid over a folk-progressive base, come together in this 1995 package. Two performances of "Carol of the Bells" couldn't be more different, the one by The Ascension a more recognizable rendition while the one by Arcanta is nearly all vocal drone with very little relationship to the melody. Love Spirals Downward takes "Welcome Christmas" from the "Grinch" TV show downtempo, which is not a bad variation, while FuchiKachis Ethu takes a traditional tack to "O Come All Ye Faithful," even alternating the Latin lyrics ("Adeste Fidelis") with the English ones. Given the CD's approach, you won't be surprised by Area's rendition of "O Come Emanuel," a minor-key reproach that lends itself perfectly to this album. The same can be said for Baldersas & Osborn's instrumental "What Child is This," not to mention Lycia / The Unquiet Void's "We Three Kings." Thanatos makes a horror movie out of "The First Noel," and Lovesliescrushing perform "Jingle Bells (Snowblower)" that in fact sounds like somebody trying to drown out carolers with the title's device. A Hanukkah alert goes to Black Tape for a Blue Girl's "Chanukkah, Oh Chanukkah," a mostly vocal dirge that obscures the lyrics. You can probably imagine what a band called Sorrow might do with "Little Drummer Boy." Eva O turns "O Holy Night" into a six-minute oratorio driven by pipe organ. Faith and the Muse put their own spin on the traditional English carol "A Winter Wassail," the album's only acoustic performance and only traditional one. Two versions of "Silent Night" close out the album, Autopsia's German-language version starting at a literal whisper and building to midnight mass levels, complete with pipe organ, and Attrition's going all industrial. This was the first of a series; for more, see below.

Yo, Humbug!, various artists (A-Tone Music)

This is an interesting 2000 collection, although I'm not familiar with any of the artists on it. But it's a good stop for a change of pace, as the theme all these artists have in common is roots music, though maybe all from different gardens. Jr. James & The Late Guitar pops out with "Christmas Adam," looking for a Christmas Eve, in a kind of pop-country mode; The Carpenter Ants go full rockabilly on "Go Where I Send Thee," and Mandorico gives us a "12 Days of Christmas" that mixes up Caribbean rhythms like reggae and even merengue. Tyler Ramsey does a folk "Go Tell It on the Mountain," Wayne Kirby jazzes "The Little Drummer Boy" and Eastern Standard Time does "The Return of the Prophet" in reggae, all instrumentals. For your Kwanzaa listening, Samba Ngo does "Zizi Kumbele." The Blue Rags "Carol of the Bells" is kind of annoying, though. Two unlisted bonus tracks, apparently done by groups of the participants, are a reggae "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and an electronica "Silent Night."

Excelsis Vol. 2: A Winter's Song, various artists (Projekt)

"A collection of ethereal/gothic/industrial bands" is how the overline squib on this album describes its participants, as well as those who contributed to volume one in this series. The liner notes also tell us this 1999 effort exhibits "a lighter perspective" than the 1995 original; see above. Ethereal is the best word for this CD; they go for the solemn, the spiritual and the antique, best examples being El Duende's "Gaudete, Gaudete," Siddal's "In the Bleak Midwinter" and The Machine in the Garden's "Coventry Carol." Rhea's Obsession does an Arab-folky "We Three Kings" and returns later in the album with the "Huron Indian Carol," which veers more toward the Deep Forest side of things. There is a modern sheen to these performances that comes mostly from being recorded mostly in 1999, except for Human Drama's "I Believe in Father Christmas," the ELP standard that appeared on Stuff This In Your Stocking nearly a decade earlier. I don't know what the Shaker song "Lord of the Dance" by Unto Ashes has to do with Christmas. The Cruxshadows do a Depeche Mode-sounding "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," and London After Midnight contribute an original "Christmas Song." Faith & Disease do "Silver and Gold" from the famous "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" special of 1964. Hanukkah alert goes to Sofia Run's version of "Nerotai Hazarurim (Little Candles)." I've yet to get my hands on copies of Vol. 3, but I understand all three are available in a box set now.

A Christmas Record, various artists (Ze)

A very New York bohemian compilation from 1981. Ze specialized in post-disco dance music and post-apocalyptic world views, known at the time as "no wave," and some of the cuts on here are Christmas carols you can slash your wrists by, especially Cristina's "Things Fall Apart." Also represented are August Darnell of Kid Creole and the Coconuts with "Christmas on Riverside Drive," the band Suicide with "Hey Lord" and Suicide member Alan Vega with "No More Christmas Blues," Was (Not Was) with "Christmas Time In the Motor City" (they also backed Cristina), Material with Nona Hendryx doing "It's a Holiday" and the first appearance of The Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping," a holiday staple for the young and single. Terrific cover artwork belies the downtempo content. By the way, in case you're confused, I like this album. Passport reissued it on CD at some point, fattening it up with a cut by The Three Courgettes and James White and the Blacks' "Christmas With Satan," which makes the rest of the album sound like a Bing Crosby Christmas special.

Trailer Trash Christmas, various artists (Platinum)

This is where marketing overtakes music making, as most of these tunes are previously released. Still, like Rhino's Bummed Out Christmas, you have to admit it's a great idea. It couldn't hurt that there's an actual band called Trailer Trash with two cuts on this album, "Don't Believe in Xmas," which is a rip of "Too Much Monkey Business," and "Daddy's Drinkin' Up Our Christmas," a suitably country lament. The New Duncan Imperials provide us with "Santa Claus Is a Lie," complete with a children's chorus, and The Blue Moon Boys do "Santabilly Boogie," which is, not surprisingly, rockabilly. "Christ, It's Christmas Again" comes courtesy of the Geisels, a drum-less rocker. From the previously released pile, there are a couple of cuts by Leroy and Big People from Yuletunes, Mack Rice's "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'," John Prine's "Christmas in Prison" and Mojo Nixon's "Trim Yo' Tree."

Santa and Satan -- One and the Same?, various artists (Doctor Dream)

Cute idea for a title, and the liner notes run down the humorous "comparisons." This is your basic garage hard rock band compilation, no shortage of rocking out here. Musicianship, however, takes a back seat; most of these tunes sound like the bands are just learning them before our very ears. There is some variety of approach here, although Welt's "Blue Christmas," Splintr's "Here Comes Santa Claus" and Crash Kills Four's "Santa's Elves" all go speed-metal and there's a lot of sludgy mid-tempo metal on tunes like Cisco Poison's "Silent Night" and D.I.'s "Mr. Grinch." Tiny Lights goes for the lounge approach on "Frosty the Snowman" and the Tiki Tones take the surf music route on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." The Grabbers do one of the few original tunes here, "Santa's on the Nod." Not great, but I got it cheap.

Yuletide Soiree, various artists (Rhino)

Having almost completely conquered the field of must-have reissues, Rhino has created a new genre: the coffee-table box set. Combine a bunch of smartly-compiled tunes on a particular theme, throw in party games and lyrics, and invite everybody over for a party. The two CDs in this holiday set feature few surprises; how are you going to have a Christmas party without "Jingle Bell Rock," "Run Rudolph Run," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" or "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch"? Rhino also commissioned five newly recorded holiday songs in both vocal and instrumental versions for those who want to do Christmas karaoke. Also included are recipes, decorating tips, invitation samples, and more. Not for the Christmas rock fetishist, but not a bad gift to give, especially a few days in advance of the holiday.

Just in Time For Christmas, various artists (IRS)

This album languished in promo-only obscurity for a couple of years, according to a club DJ I once knew, before finally being released in 1990. It features a number of artists from the IRS roster, circa mid-80s that is, performing a mix of original and traditional tunes, from Squeeze's "Christmas Day" to Wall of Voodoo's "Shouldn't Have Given Him a Gun For Christmas," the latter an instant holiday classic. Also on hand are the late lamented dB's with their own "Home For the Holidays," Police-man Stewart Copeland in his Klark Kent alter ego with "Yo Ho Ho," Timbuk 3 with "All I Want For Christmas (Is World Peace)" and Dread Zeppelin with "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth." A little on the serious side overall, but with enough rockers and novelties to tide you over the slower parts.

Sleighed: The Other Side of Christmas, various artists (Hip-O)

The mega-monolith Universal record company saw that its competitor Warner was making good scratch and getting good press with its Rhino subsidiary and threw together the Hip-O imprint for creating its own compilations of previously released material, although with far less forethought and wit. Nearly all of this stuff comes from some corner of the far-flung Universal universe, so you're likely to have at least some of this stuff on other albums. But some of these tunes are just obscure enough that you may want this anyway. More familiar tunes include the Smithereens' "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," Spinal Tap's "Christmas With the Devil," Beck's "Little Drum Machine Boy," and Sonic Youth's version of "Santa Doesn't Cop Out on Dope." Less than Jake give us a punk-thrash "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," Goldfinger reggaes up "White Christmas" and a couple of novelties earn the Parental Advisory sticker, like Red Peters' "You Ain't Getting Shit For Christmas" and The Little Stinkers' "I Farted on Santa's Lap."

A Rock 'n Roll Christmas, various artists (Excelsior)

Excelsior is a low-priced line of CDs you often see bins of in stores at tempting prices, like between $5 and $8, and their secret is getting material licensed to them as cheaply as possible. Nevertheless, the approach works if they manage to dig up stuff somebody might want, and they did a pretty good job with this one from 1994. Although items like Elton John's "Step Into Christmas," George Thorogood's "Rock and Roll Christmas," the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" and the Kinks' "Father Christmas" turn up on a lot of other compilations, they did manage to scare up Bob Seger's "Sock It To Me Santa" and another Jon Bon Jovi item not on the first two Special Olympics albums, "I Wish Every Day Could Be Like Christmas." Also here is the Emerson, Lake and Palmer version of "I Believe in Father Christmas," Billy Squier's "Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You," Elvin Bishop's gospel take of "Silent Night," the Moody Blues with a traditional reading of "What Child Is This," and Chuck Berry's "Merry Christmas Baby" -- the license holder probably wanted too much money for "Run Rudolph Run."

A Different Kind of Christmas, various artists (Risky Business)

Sony's budget label Risky Business throws together some neat theme compilations at discount prices, and considering the budgetary constraints of such a project, this 1994 album came out pretty well. Standout cuts are "The Christmas Twist" by Syd Straw, "Space Christmas" by Shonen Knife and "Mele Kalikimaka" by Poi Dog Pondering with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The dB's and Timbuk 3's tunes are from the IRS Christmas album and Dave Edmunds' "Run Rudolph Run" has been on a number of albums. NRBQ contributes a slapdash "A Christmas Wish," T-Bone Burnette and Bruce Cockburn offer traditional acoustic fare and Shawn Colvin does a jazzy take on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Another Sony budget compilation from 1995, A Christmas Happening, recycles the Cockburn and Fishbone cuts from this album but adds Roy Orbison's "Pretty Paper," the Hooters, New Kids on the Block, Eddie Money, Judy Collins and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Thanks to Jeff Patterson for correcting the title of this album for me.

Stuff This in Your Stocking (Elves in Action....), various artists (Veebletronics/Skyclad)

This 1990 compilation of indie alternative artists was a collaboration between two labels on opposite coasts and the individual songs were recorded between L.A. and London. I wasn't familiar with most of these artists, but there are some good moments on this disc. Some well-chosen covers include Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody" by the French Lemon Santas, Greg Lake's "I Believe in Father Christmas" by Human Drama and the Kinks' "Father Christmas" by The Leonards. Jigsaw Seen gets points for remaking "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" as "Paint It Black," and Emma Vine and the Emotionals do a pretty solid Debbie Harry impression on "Oh Santa." Sixties mavens might be amazed to discover Kenny Laguna producing his own "Home for Christmas" for the Characters here, and even more amazed to find Sky Saxon of the Seeds, here with Firewall, doing "Christmas in the Courtroom" with the help of Mars Bonfire, writer of "Born to be Wild." Bonfire also contributes keyboards and co-writing to "It's Christmas (And I Love You)" by The Electric Shoes.

It's Finally Christmas, various artists (Tim Kerr Records)

More alternative holly jollies on this 1994 compilation. There's not much in the way of liner notes on this album except for a Christmas message from the president of the record label. So I'm guessing at whether some of these tunes are originals. Most of these tunes suffer from that alternative concept that playing in tune is for sissies, but there are exceptions. Poison Idea takes a good stab at Elvis Presley's "Santa Claus is Back in Town," The Violets' version of Jackson Browne's "Rebel Jesus" is nice and gritty, and Swoon 23's "Merry Christmas to Me" and legendary folkies Ray & Glover's "I'm Mad at the Fatman" are good fun. New Bad Things' "Shoplifting You Something for Christmas" is a great idea, but the performance almost sinks it. There are 19 tunes, but apparently nobody compared notes before the album went to the mastering plant; there are two covers each of "Little Drummer Boy" by Hitting Birth and the Dandy Warhols, and "Mr. Grinch" by the Whirlees and Caveman Shoestore. Hanukkah alert: Calamity Jane does an instrumental of "The Hanukkah Song."

It's a Rockin' Christmas, various artists (Run Wild)

This regional compilation from 1994 features rockabilly bands from the middle Atlantic coast, roughly the Washington D.C. region. Most of the tunes are originals, too, although "Run Rudolph Run," "Mr. Grinch," and Buck Owens' "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy" turn up here, along with a Bo Diddley-flavored "Jungle Bells" and, Hanukkah alert, "She's a Yamakah Mama (At Hanukkah Time)" by the Ubangis. Sharp performances abound here, and future contenders for classic status include Wendy Michele and her Boyfriends on "Christmas Party Hop," The Maxitones' "Devil in My Eggnog" and Blue Chunks' "Santa Wants a Chevy." And Out Behind the Barn gives us "New Year's Resolution." This one's a keeper.

The Holiday CD, various artists (Hits Post Modern Syndrome)

This is a promo CD I got about 1995 or so, and it's not strictly a Christmas album. In fact, I'm not even sure what it's promo-ing; all the artists are on different, unaffiliated labels. There are only three Christmas tunes on here, but I list them so you can track them down one way or another: Better Than Ezra's "Merry Christmas Eve," a mostly acoustic number; "A Coventry Christmas" by 22 Brides, available on A Christmas Present For You on Zero Hour; and The Screaming Santas take on Big Star's "Jesus Christ," from a three-song EP called Trim the Tree.

A Christmas Present For You, various artists (Zero Hour)

More indie-alternative angst from 1995, about half original, half covers. The Dirt Merchants do a kickin' arrangement of "Jingle Bells," very high octane, but Grover with Kevin Salem settle for a straight cover of the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York," complete with Shane MacGowan impression. Nicole Blackman kills with a piece of performance art called "What I Want For Christmas," 22 Brides does a doomy "Coventry Carol" and Boyracer does the only "Boxing Day" song I'm aware of, a fairly downtempo one at that. Best title on the album goes to Cucumbers' "Ho Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum," in which Santa meets Terry and the Pirates, or something like that. The Black Watch put "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" to a very Cure-like arrangement, but without the vocal gymnastics. Kind of uneven, but I'd buy it again just for the Nicole Blackman piece.

Christmas, various artists (Loud Mouth)

This 1995 collection of alternative artists in a Christmas mood appears to be centered around the Washington, DC area. No big stars, but rock fans from Bethesda to Fairfax probably recognize the names. Two renditions of "Angels We Have Heard On High" share unorthodox introductions; Quintessence kicks off with a Beach Boys impression and swings, literally, into several flavors of jazz while the Pest Strips quote Harry Belafonte before kicking into an alternative arrangement. Other covers that pretty much hew to the alternative party line include "Winter Wonderland," "Do You Hear What I Hear" and "What Child Is This." "Nutcracker" by The Shit (no misprint) rocks out on "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," Kevin Rucker's "The Night Before Christmas" floats the familiar poem on top of the old surf instrumental "Pipeline," and Ed Lawson goes a capella on "O Come O Come Emmanuel." Babyfat raps "The Man's Birthday," an original, as are Hoopla's "It's Christmas Time," Boomslang's "Christmastime" and the Drowners' "Merry Christmas Debbie Gibson," the best title on the album, with one scary line -- the one where the vocalist claims to own her box set.

Merry Axemas, various artists (Epic)

The cult of the electric guitar hero has never really gone away since the days when Hendrix and Cream ruled the concert halls. But how often, aside from items like Jimi's oft-bootlegged "Little Drummer Boy," do you get to hear a bonafide guitar gunslinger shred a Christmas carol or two? Not very, unless you have Gary Hoey's albums. Well, that same notion was gnawing at Steve Vai, former stunt guitarist for Frank Zappa, who organized this six-string romp through the Christmas catalog with 10 other certified axe-kickers. Steve himself takes on Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time is Here," Aerosmith's Joe Perry puts on his pinky slider for "Blue Christmas," Brian Setzer solos instead of singing his Orchestra's "Jingle Bells" from the "Jingle All the Way" movie soundtrack, Jeff Beck joins a growing list of people who are convinced "Amazing Grace" is a Christmas song, Joe Satriani gives us a "Silent Night/Holy Night Jam," and Richie Sambora contributes his second Christmas performance this season with "Cantique De Noel (O Holy Night)." Considering these guys are rock guitar virtuosos soloing their butts off on strictly instrumental performances, there manages to be a fair amount of variation among the cuts. Also on hand are Alex Lifeson, Eric Johnson, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Steve Morse and Japanese guitar sensation Hotei. This 1997 album has given birth to a sequel, Merry Axemas II, in 1998, again with Steve Vai at the helm and featuring Steve Stevens, Ted Nugent, Robin Trower, Steve Lukather, Zakk Wylde, John Sykes, Stu Hamm, Neal Schon, Trevor Rabin and Al Di Meola.

The Edge of Christmas, various artists (Oglio)

Every once in a while, a record label will tiptoe through the vaults looking for a quick cash infusion from some inert stack of tapes or other. In this case, the folks at Oglio struck paydirt with this collection. The 12 songs are from between 1981 and 1993, featuring everyone from Bing and Bowie to Queen to Cocteau Twins with "Winter Wonderland." Dave Edmunds' faithful cover of "Run Run Rudolph" is paired with the Smithereens' swinging "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the Waitresses' classic "Christmas Wrapping" is here along with the Pretenders, Pat Benatar, the Ramones, Payolas and the Pogues with Kirsty MacColl. A top-notch collection you can play all the way through. There's a companion volume called Coolest Christmas that fills some of the space with Dean Martin and Guy Lombardo but throws in The Alarm doing the Lennons' "Merry Xmas (War Is Over)," the Beach Boys, the Temptations, Eartha Kitt and George Thorogood.

A Very Cherry Christmas, various (Laserlight)

Another Rod McKuen produced Christmas compilation for budget label Laserlight, with a combination of the famous and forgotten. At the very top of the forgotten list, for me anyway, is Boney M's "Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord." Boney M was big in Europe and its mastermind, Frank Farian, later was responsible for Milli Vanilli. The rest of this album is fairly high profile by comparison, with Brenda Lee doing "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "A Marshmallow World," "Jingle Bell Rock" by Bobby Helms, Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run," Ray Charles' "Christmas Time," Otis Redding with "White Christmas" and for the jazzbos out there, Dinah Washington's "Make Me a Present of You." The Everly Brothers do "Deck the Halls" with a boys' choir, Booker T. and the MGs work out on "Jingle Bells," the Drifters do "The Christmas Song" and The Moonglows offer "Just a Lonely Christmas."

Metal Christmas, various artists (Excelsior)

This 1996 collection seems to have no other purpose except to be something cheap to sell at Christmas time; my copy was only $4. Apparently, this was issued at full price a few years earlier. Although the artists' names are prominently featured, only a couple are anyone I've heard of. I don't recall Denny Laine, former Moody Blue and Wing, as having any particular heavy metal connection. And would you know Carlos Creator was "Spain's No. 1 Rock Guitarist" if you hadn't read it off the cover of this album? The performances here pretty much explain why the heavy metal genre went away in the first place, all samey-samey arrangements and thudding rhythms. Ray Callcut does get some points for setting the entire "A Visit from St. Nicholas" to music as "Was the Night," although the novelty wears off long before the song is over. Merry Axemas does the same kind of thing far better, if in a non-vocal setting.

40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas, various artists (Peak)

It's four decades since the "Peanuts" characters jumped off the pages of the comics and into our Christmas memories. Who'da thunk? As the original soundtrack for the special is remembered for the compositions of late jazzer Vince Guaraldi, it's no surprise this anniversary album is also mainly jazz, the snippet of Beethoven notwithstanding, given the cast of characters that includes the Rippingtons, Vanessa Williams, Dave Koz and producer David Benoit. I had some hopes that the presence of folks like Brian McKnight, Toni Braxton and Chaka Khan would put at least a little R'nB crunch into the proceedings, but no, this is smooth jazz from start to finish.

American Idol: The Great Holiday Classics, various artists (RCA)

I'm trying harder to be a bit more complete, so that explains why I'm shooting a few ducks in a barrel here. I hate to be a Scrooge, since so many folks love the Idols, but I'm really not disclosing any state secrets by saying this is more about the benjamins than it is about the holiday. Heck, a Christmas album is likely to be the only way any of us will remember five years from now the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Justin Guarini, Ruben Studdard or the rest of the "American Idol Ensemble," as the crew is billed on a couple of cuts here. "The Great Holiday Classics" is a smart conceit to cover up the fact that writing a few original tunes or putting any more thought into the endeavor might have made them miss their marketing deadlines. As for the performances, there just isn't anything here that's noticeably better than you could have gotten by sticking your fist at random into a pile of CDs at Wal-Mart or Borders. Despite the fact that the Idols are a youth market move for the record company, this is pretty middle of the road, nothing faster than midtempo. It's not that the Idols are untalented; it's just that they're no more special than the thousands of working musicians who play in coffeehouses and bars and release CDs without waiting to see whether they'll make the cut on a flavor-of-the-month TV show that probably wouldn't let them audition anyway.


Eras: The Beginning, The Sixties, The Seventies, The Eighties, The Nineties, The 21st Century

Genres: Reggae, Soul/R&B, Rap, Blues, Punk, Surfin' Xmas, Tropical

Novelties: Fifties and Sixties, The Seventies, The Eighties, The Nineties, The 21st Century

Compilations: Regular Comps, Charity Comps, Soundtracks

Special Reports: Recent Releases, Hanukkah, Miscellaneous