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Christmas Caravan, Squirrel Nut Zippers (Mammoth)

These guys have a vision that can't be contained by mere rock 'n roll, but ironically enough, it took a rock audience to make this old-style swing band famous. Given their rollicking approach to music, I approached this 1998 release full of hope and came away a little disappointed. It's a good enough album, but it's just a little too eclectic to suit me; I was hoping for something like the Bonzo Dog Band and I came away with a bit more Leon Redbone. But give 'em credit, they cover a lot of ground in only 10 songs, seven of which are originals while two of the covers aren't all that familiar. Some of the tunes are period pop-jazz balladry, but "Carolina Christmas" is Western swing, "I'm Coming Home for Christmas" and "Gift of the Magi" are straight off the Grand Old Opry, "Sleigh Ride" is tamer Dixieland, "Indian Giver" is rock, the instrumental "Hot Christmas" is jumpin' jive and "A Johnny Ace Christmas" is flat-out blues. If this kind of a mix is what you're looking for, you've found it. Joe Clifford Faust notes that Sold Out by the Squirrel Nut Zippers, a limited edition, had a hidden track that went like this: "Santa Claus is smokin' reefer /Santa Claus is smokin' T / He's so high in the sky..." "It also features the melody from Beethoven's "Ode To Joy" on a rinky tink electric piano in the instrumental bridge. Quite a hoot," Joe says.


Xmas! The Beatmas, Rubber Band (ISBA/Kick/Koch International)

The Christmas record of 1996, and possibly the decade. In a year when numerous music sales records set by The Beatles were smashed by The Beatles, the Rubber Band, a noted Danish Beatles copy band, put together 11 solid remakes of Christmas tunes set to arrangements of Beatles songs. "Please Please Me" becomes "Jingle Bell Rock," "I Saw Her Standing There" becomes "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," and their "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is not based on Phil Spector's arrangement, but on "Eight Days a Week." Buy this and play "Spot the Arrangement" with your Beatle-fan friends. By the way, the performances are top-notch, although the voices don't sound that much like the individual Beatles, so they settle for getting the Liverpool accents and the attitude right. It's hard to find but absolutely worth the effort. Larry Mancini of Isba Music Entertainment in Quebec informs us the album remains available direct from his firm for $15 US including shipping and handling. Write to Isba Music Entertainment Inc., 2860 Blvd de La Concorde east, Laval, Quebec, Canada H7E 2B4.


More Twisted Christmas, Bob Rivers (Atlantic)

Christmas is always a little merrier when a new Bob Rivers Christmas album hits the racks. This one, his third, has more of the kind of astute parodies that have made his reputation. Richard Simmons turns in a guest cameo on "It's the Most Fattening Time of the Year" and Alan White of Yes mans the drums on "Holidaze," a takeoff on "Purple Haze." Rivers raids the Beatles catalog twice for "It's Jesus' Birthday" and "All You Need is Elves," and the Stones meet Sinatra on a jazzy "Get Off My House." "Sled Zeppelin" is a takeoff on Page and Plant's "D'yer Maker." Celebrities take a beating on "Rummy Rocker Boy," a parody of the Bing and Bowie record, and the self-explanatory "There's a Santa Who Looks a Lot Like Elvis." A B-52s parody, "Toy Sack," may be the best thing here. And "The Buttcracker Suite" speaks for itself.


Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire, Bob Rivers (Atlantic)

It just wouldn't be a new millennium without a new Bob Rivers Christmas album to ring it in, and so here we go. It's the usual laugh a minute, with the title song in its entirety plus another go at Alvin and his buds with "The Twisted Chipmunk Song." Highlights include those two plus "Decorations," based on "Good Vibrations," "Carol of the Bartenders," "Goin' Up to Bethlehem," based on Creedence's "Up Around the Bend," and a direct parody of a Bruce Springsteen holiday song called "Santa Claus is Foolin' Around." The Beatles meet William F. Buckley Jr. in a Christmas-themed "Money (That's What I Want)" and "Hello Dolly" becomes "He's So Jolly." Downsides are few; a bit based on the idea that the Christmas angel gets the Christmas tree jammed up his rear is flogged to death to the tune of "Who Put the Bomp," and "Homeless on the Holiday" is actually a pretty heartless bit of business. By the way, Bob makes many more parodies than appear on his Atlantic releases and sells them directly from his Twisted Tunes website; check out Twisted Tunes: Lost Holiday Classics for "Smells Like the Night Before Christmas," set to the Nirvana hit, "New Year's Resolution" set to the Beatles' "Revolution," and a couple of now dated items, "Jingle Bells '98" and "Little Hummer Girl," about somebody named Monica who doesn't appear on "Friends."


Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics, various artists (American Recordings)

There's no way to get around it -- you're either going to love this album or hate it with every fiber of your being. Those of you who have been getting all your entertainment from Chinese cable providers over the past few years probably aren't aware of the "South Park" phenomenon, but everybody else is, and this Christmas album grew out of the series' Christmas episode, one of the few in which Kenny doesn't get killed. Once you know that Mr. Hankey is "the Christmas poo," you'll probably be able to make up your mind as to whether you want this or not. The Parental Advisory label is well deserved; not only is there a generous helping of gratuitous dirty language, but the entire premise of several songs is guaranteed to offend a majority of people. "Christmas Time in Hell," for example, has Michael Landon, Gene Siskel, Princess Di and JFKs Sr. and Jr. all sharing the same eternal fate as Jeffrey Dahmer, Adolph Hitler and Genghis Khan. In "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo," physical descriptions of the star of the show are gag-inducing exercises. And "What the Hell Child Is This?" features Chef denying he's the father of a baby, until he discovers it's actually Jesus. Then there's "The Most Offensive Song Ever," which almost fails to live up to its billing since Kenny's singing part of it through his too-tight hood. On the brighter side are Mr. Garrison's twisted ode to religious tolerance, "Merry F- Christmas," and Mr. Mackey's hysterical "Carol of the Bells." Two Hannukah Alerts come with "Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel," a hilarious ensemble singing piece, and Kyle's classic "The Lonely Jew On Christmas." Other items are bits of incidental music from the special and from the episode promoting this album. Late breaking note: Where do these guys get off killing Kenny for real, anyway? Further update: Kenny's back, well all right then.


Blame It On Christmas, various artists (Schoolkids Records)

Don't let the record label's name fool you, this isn't just for kids. Some of the most ludicrous novelty Christmas songs ever made are right here on this single album. "Silent Night" as done by John Phillip Sousa? A surfer version of "Little Drummer Boy"? A Celtic reel "White Christmas"? A Jewish folk rendition of "Deck the Halls"? These are just the most obvious gags. Only a pop music obsessive, for example, would get the point of "Silent Night Walkin'," in which the traditional carol is superimposed over 50s instrumental "Sleepwalkin'" by Santo and Johnny. The Sinatra-esque stylings of Mr. Bob Francis over a perfect Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra-clone backing track combine in a rendition of "Away in a Manger" that absolutely skewers the Chairman of the Board -- and judging by the liner notes, inadvertently so. Not to mention the Bing Crosby meets Jim Morrison version of "We Three Kings" -- but hey, I'm spoiling it for you. This one is best experienced completely by surprise. Literally something for everybody.


Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas, Tales From the Crypt (The Right Stuff)

A nice companion piece to Bummed Out Christmas, The Crypt Keeper from the HBO-Fox program "Tales From the Crypt" belts out a dozen or so popular Christmas tunes with new lyrics, as in "Deck the Halls With Parts of Charlie," "We Wish You'd Bury the Missus" and "Should Old Cadavers Be Forgot." A one-joke concept, sure, but there's a fair number of giggles among the gross-outs. Pop it in your multi-CD player with several other Christmas CDs and hit "shuffle" for best effect.


Reindeer Games, Pat Godwin (Rage-n-Records)

This is an independent production out of Philadelphia circa 1992. I don't know anything about Pat, but I like the way he thinks. I bought this without hearing it as soon as I saw the eighth cut on the album, "Grandpa Got Worked Over By a Mobster," which is an excellent parody of the now-overplayed Elmo and Patsy tune and alone worth buying the album for. The title song is Christmas through the eyes of Santa's reindeer, possibly a first, and other highlights include "I Got Dumped For Christmas," "Santa, Welcome To the Modern World" and "Christmas Tree." The overall performances and sound quality are a little amateurish, but "Grandpa" makes it all worthwhile.


Merry MeX-mas, El Vez (Sympathy for the Record Industry)

You know how there are so many Elvis impersonators (Presley, you wise asses out there) that they've mutated into sub-specialties, like female Elvises (Elvi?), pre-teens, babies, firemen, paratroopers, etc.? Well, here's a Hispanic Elvis for you. Judging by this CD EP from, oh, the mid-1990s or so, El Vez knows he's kidding, even if his fans don't. This CD kicks off with a real attention grabber: the intro from Public Image Limited's "Public Image" leads into a rendition of "Feliz Navidad," and some of the other songs are adapted from familiar tunes, as in "Santa Claus is Sometimes Brown," "Brown Christmas," and "Christmas Wish." Points for a cover of "Donde Esta Santa Claus," too. Actually, he doesn't really hang on to the Elvis voice much on this record; probably too much else going on.


It's a Cow Christmas (Spinnaker)

I know people who are obsessed with cows, and for them this is a great Christmas present. For the rest of us, it's a one-joke album. Dig these song titles: "Hallemoojah Chorus," "Angus We Have Heard On High," "God Rest Ye Merry, Cattlemen," "Deck the Stalls With Oats and Barley," "We Wish You a Dairy Christmas," and so on. Alert: They don't moo the songs in the style of the Singing Dogs or the Jingle Cats; these are all human voices.


The First No-Elvis, Dread Zeppelin (Birdcage)

Quick recap for those who aren't familiar: this band's claim to voltage is that it's a reggae band that plays Led Zeppelin covers with an Elvis impersonator ("Tortelvis") as vocalist. How does this jive with the idea of doing Christmas music? Decide for yourself with this EP, originally a fan club-only release (the fan club being Physical Jah-Fitti). As such, this is fairly self-indulgent, the title song and "Chritmas Question 'n Answer" being little more than between-song patter. That leaves two non-Christmas tunes, "The Last Resort" from a National Lampoon movie and their version of Zep's "Kashmir," and two Christmas songs, "It's Christmastime 'n I Like It," which takes off from KC and the Sunshine Band's similarly-named disco hit, and their cover of "All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth," which is also found on the IRS Just In Time for Christmas album. Definitely for fans only.


A Christmas Filled With Love, Orion (Kardina)

Orion is an Elvis Presley impersonator who tries to take the impersonation to a higher level by performing in a Halloween mask so that you'll think Elvis didn't actually die but is standing right in front of you. Actually, he looks a lot more like a fiftysomething Andy Kaufman on the album cover. The liner notes claim that "Good Morning America" took a voice print of Orion singing with Jerry Lee Lewis and said the evidence showed it was actually Elvis. Right. The 1997 album is eight sappy Christmas originals with boilerplate 1970s Nashville country arrangements, good only for playing "Live vs. Memorex" with your Elvis-loving friends.


"The Little Drummer Boy," RuPaul (Tommy Boy)

At 6 feet, 5 inches, he's the biggest little girl singer in show biz, and this 1995 single actually isn't bad, if you like the modern dance sound. Ru's vocal definitely won't pass for a woman's, but he's got a pretty good gospel inflection. An entire Christmas album on Rhino is reviewed elsewhere on this site.


Ho Ho Ho, RuPaul (Rhino)

Given his "Little Drummer Boy" single of a few seasons back, plus his VH1 series, we should have known this was coming. And he plays it for all it's worth, with tunes like "RuPaul the Red-Nosed Drag Queen" and "All I Want for Christmas" ...is plastic surgery. He slips in an original, "Funky Christmas (Christmas at My House)" that thoughtfully includes "A Visit From St. Nicholas," and a dance medley of several traditional Christmas standards. Ru shows a bit of creativity in choosing songs, like Dolly Parton's "With Bells On," Little Steven Van Zandt's "All Alone on Christmas," a funky "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" and an interesting arrangement in which "Disco Lady" meets "Here Comes Santa Claus." On the other hand, his "Santa Baby" is overbaked and he ruins the joke of "I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus," done in a much funnier version by comedian Kip Addotta on the first Dr. Demento Christmas album. Fans of RU's show probably will eat this up; everyone else, proceed cautiously.


"Macarena Christmas," Los Del Rio (BMG)

You've no doubt heard of the cash-in sequel, mentioned elsewhere on this site. This 1996 single is probably the most naked cash-grab going; they basically took the original song and superimposed girl singers doing short lines from classic Christmas carols in between the verses. I haven't been this jealous since I missed out on a chance to direct an episode of "Cops." Just in case you weren't one of the first six million or so people to buy the original "Macarena," the Bayside Boys Mix version is also on this single.


"The Night Santa Went Crazy," Weird Al Yankovic (Rock 'n Roll/Scotti Brothers)

Al's second Christmas song, from the 1996 single of "Amish Paradise," and his album Bad Hair Day, is a power-pop ode to a militia-ready Santa who levels his North Pole workshop and gets taken out by a SWAT team. It's kind of heavy-handed; "The Only Law Santa Claus Understood" from the Chris Stamey album is a better stab at an outlaw Father Christmas. Still, Al fans probably have this memorized. His previous holiday tune was "Christmas at Ground Zero," included on the CD of the first Dr. Demento Christmas album as well as the Weird Al's Polka Party album.


"I've Got Some Presents For Santa," Sarah Taylor and Bill Mumy (Rhino)

This two-and-a-half minute single-entendre from 1994 manages to be hugely entertaining; Sarah Taylor delivers what Eartha Kitt only promises in exchange for lots of gifts. "I gave Santa my cookies, he put them into his mouth" is about as subtle as it gets here, however. Still, this is one of the few songs of this type in which Santa actually scores. If you're still unsure of the thrust of this song, the second tune is "Holiday Affair." Yes, this is the same Bill Mumy who was the child star of "Lost in Space" and also is a member of novelty-meisters Barnes and Barnes of "Fish Heads" fame.


Codependent Christmas, The Therapy Sisters (High Top Tunes)

A former Austin, Texas four-piece now down to the duo of Lisa Rogers and Maurine McLean, they write and perform novelty songs in the folk/country/swing traditions, as one might expect from musicians in their hometown. This particular album, from 1999, has its moments in the novelty realm, but also illustrates the dangers that occur when musicians minor in psychology. I'm always open to songs like "Christmas in July," as I once hosted a Christmas radio show in that month, and this one, a walking blues, is right in the tradition. Hanukkah alert goes to "Abraham's Lament," in which the prophet is transported to the modern day to watch people celebrate the Christian holiday traditions. "The War of the Lights" is a great idea, but the waltz tempo makes it cornball, a tone that pops up way too often on this album, as illustrated by such songs as "The Littlest Snowflake" and "Pachelbel's Tantrum," not to mention the entirely too obvious "Twelve Days of Analysis." "Happy Whatever You're Having" takes off on the many ways people try to make Christmas "inclusive" and still has some currency, but a lot of the issues they built songs around were kind of shopworn by the time this album came out. But I guess it's all part of their schtick. Covers include serviceable versions of "The Christmas Polka" and "The Christmas Boogie," otherwise, these songs were all written by Therapy Sisters past and present, as stated in the liner notes.


All I Want for Christmas is a Tax Increase, Capitol Steps (Capitol Steps Productions)

The Steps are a political parody group and, as this 1993 album makes achingly clear, their material doesn't have much shelf life since it depends so much on topicality. Still, tunes like "Doctor Bills," "Gun Nuts Boasting They Can Open Fire," "Why's Madonna Kissing Santa Claus," "Can't Wish You a Merry Christmas" and "Mommy's Spoiled Child" still manage to have some staying power as change-of-pace items on your Christmas mix tapes. They previously released Danny's First Noel, according to Bob Bailey, referring to former vice president Quayle. Which means they're way overdue for another holiday album. Check out their home page for some more up-to-date items, like "How the Gates Stole Christmas."


Bah! Humbug!, various artists (Laserlight)

This is a chintzy compilation even for a budget label like Laserlight; some of the songs are widely available elsewhere and at least two of them have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. But that said, there are three cuts worth knowing about. For example, until I laid hands on this CD I had no idea Eartha Kitt cut a sequel to "Santa Baby," but it's here; "This Year's Santa Baby" uses the same backing track and the new lyrics refer back to the older song. Josephine Premice cuts loose with a Carribean-flavored "Mama, Give Me What You Gave Santa Claus." "The Nut Rocker," a rock arrangement of "The Nutcracker" that originated with B. Bumble and the Stingers, gets bounced back to Portsmouth Sinfonia, an orchestra consisting of people with varying degrees of talent.


Harry the Hipster Digs Christmas, Harry Gibson (Viper's Nest)

This album is from 1994, but there's no indication when this stuff was recorded, apart from sometime during the age of stereo (checked it with headphones), although I detect drum machine on some of these tunes. Harry's been in the biz since the 1930s, according to the liner notes, and is best known for "Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine," a Dr. Demento staple. The good doc also plays his "I Wish My Mother-in-law Don't Visit Us This Christmas," which is here. The rest is jazz and boogie-woogie versions of standards, of which the best items are "Twas the Night Before Christmas Boogie," in which he does a Lord Buckley on the famous holiday poem, and the follow-up, "Twas the Day After Christmas Boogie." Inexplicably, he also throws in a bicentennial tribute, "That's the Spirit."


A Funky Little Christmas, various artists (Laserlight)

Sometimes these budget compilations strike gold, as I've mentioned elsewhere on this site. This batch of tunes was custom-recorded on the cheap for the LaserLight label, so there is no actual roster of artists you might recognize. However, I've included this here because you might need a hard-rock version of "Dance of the Toy Soldiers," a Latin "Let It Snow," a rap "You Better Watch Out," a surf version of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," or a reggae "Frosty the Sno Mon." A little on the sterile side performance-wise, but there are some good ideas here, and LaserLight is a bargain label.


Blowfly Does XXX-Mas, Blowfly (Pandisc)

From the era of "party albums," those sex-obsessed comedy recordings of the 60s made mainly by black "chitlin' circuit" comics, we get this 1999 collection from Blowfly, one of the best-known performers from that era. I don't have to draw you too much of a picture: we get 14 familiar Christmas tunes that Blowfly sings with X-rated parody lyrics. This is the kind of thing he's been doing for years, so if you're familiar with him you'll probably get a charge out of this -- it is for sure a lot more entertaining than that Penthouse album I mention elsewhere on the site. If you're not familiar with this sort of thing, proceed cautiously -- a lot of people won't find this nearly as funny as you might. Update: There's a previous single, "Blowfly's Christmas Party" backed with "Blowfly's New Year's Party," made in 1980 for TK Disco, according to Goldmine's "Christmas Record Price Guide." There are 7- and 12-inch versions listed by vinyl dealers on various Internet sites.


I'll Be a Homo for Christmas, Venus Envy (Ladyslipper)

I'm always wary of all-"womyn" bands, but with a title like this one, it's hard for anyone to go wrong. And the title song is funny, as are some of the other parodies, especially "The Chipmunk Commitment Song"; you don't often hear covers of Alvin and his pals. "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" is redone with more topical lyrics, and "Rhonda the Lesbo Reindeer" is a hoot; extra points for the Beach Boys quotes. Their original tunes, however, are wordy and excessively earnest. Bob Rivers beat them to the "What's It To Ya Chorus" by several years. And there's got to be more to being a lesbian than taking your lover home to meet your parents, which seems to be part of almost every song on the album. Overall, a mixed bag. P.S.: Bass player and vocalist Laura Love has since gone out on her own with such well-regarded solo albums as Octaroon and Shum Ticky.


Gay Apparel: X-mas Songs, The Go-Go Boys (Ring)

This is the male counterpart to the Venus Envy lesbian Christmas album, and while it has a few laughs along the way it also has more explicit sex language. But hey, this isn't anything new to anyone who's read the Starr report, right? Love goddess Judy Tenuta makes a cameo appearance.


Penthouse Forum Live, The Christmas Album (Expent Audio)

This is easily the stupidest thing I've ever heard, and I've heard Marcel Marceau's live album, "Muhammad Ali and His Friends vs. Mr. Tooth Decay," The Wonder Band's disco version of "Stairway to Heaven" and Garth Brooks pretending to be rock musician Chris Gaines. Most of the album is taken up with some half-baked North Pole sex scandal sketch that manages to be remarkably sex-free in content, not to mention humor-free. At the end of the album are three cuts in which women read typical Penthouse Forum letters over a musical bed; a typical issue of Forum is $5 and has a couple dozen letters, plus erotic pictures. So much for your justification for buying this piece of crap.


Mistletunes

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