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Recently in Compilations Category

xmasmixt.jpgOK, this is where I came in. This music originated as the stuff that started me collecting rock Christmas records. Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, the Cathedral Brass, and so on -- strictly Columbia House holiday collection stuff. With the advent of Pro Tools and the rise of the DJ as visionary artist rather than some guy with two record players, we now have this trend toward disassembling old swing 'n sway records and reassembling them into new club dancing ones with the help of beatboxes and rhythm loops. I will admit to a belief that Charles Brown didn't need to be fiddled with in this way, but otherwise this 2003 album is kind of fun in a faddish sort of way. (I wonder what the reaction would have been if my generation had access to this kind of technology -- would we have chosen to deconstruct our parents' music this way, and if so would there have been heavier repercussions from offended adults?) My suspicion is that within a few years this will be looked at in the same light as the Salsoul disco Christmas album. UPDATE: There's a volume two of this from the same folks as well, released in 2005. The folks at Verve Records did something similar with songs from their own catalog around 2008, and they even did the same album over again with the original versions of the songs -- Verve Unmixed.
comedy1.jpgThe ACN does pre-packaged sketches and songs for radio, and this 2002 collection is apparently a collection of their greatest hits. There's 41 cuts on this CD, all under two minutes, many under one, and though you might not want to be bothered listening to the whole thing, there's plenty of change-of-pace items for your holiday mix discs and tapes. The song parodies fall a little short of the Bob Rivers standard, but there's plenty to laugh at, including "Wrap That Gift," a parody of "Whip It"; the consumer warning disclaimer of "Beware All Ye Faithful"; the lament "No Rest For Married Gentlemen," about gift-giving to wives; "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer Again" and "Tired of the Hanukkah Song," skewering two excessively popular novelty tunes; and the Sinatra parody "That Present Is Just Crap," set to "The Lady Is a Tramp." The sketches run the gamut as well, although the ones with celebrity impersonators may require you to check the liner notes to see who they're supposed to be. Given the age of some of these bits, it's remarkable that they all seem to hold up pretty well.
annoying.jpgJim Nayder has carved out a nice career for himself with this concept, which should make me jealous since I was doing something similar to this on public radio a quarter century ago. But let me get the caveats out of the way first. By "Holiday CD," he means songs for all the holidays of the year, not just Christmas. Which may make this more or less valuable to you. I have to admit I have a quibble with Nayder's approach, which is sort of Dr. Demento with a much more pathetic record collection. Back in the day when I used to do this -- along with several friends who taught me radio -- we used to drop unspeakable tunes of the kind Nayder peddles right in among the regular music, with only the mildest acknowledgment that the listeners actually heard what we had just foisted off on them. We didn't get a franchise out of it, but the reactions from listeners were priceless. Anyway, of the Christmas stuff, he gets Tiny Tim out of the way early with "O Holy Night," "Hanukkah Rocks" by Gefilte Joe and the Fish crosses over from Dr. Demento, Larry Nestor's "Santa Claus Doesn't Smoke Anymore" is a hoot, but Dan Blocker's Ponderosa take on "Deck the Halls" somewhat less of one. "Jingle Bells" by Jeff St. Pierre is performed entirely with rubber bands, and Nayder seems hooked on this John "Bowtie" Barstow guy -- he gets to mangle "Do You See What I See," "Jingle Bells" and "Silent Night." The non-Christmas tunes are better, particularly the bluegrass "Material Girl" sung by Japanese act Petty Booka (see their Xmas CD, elsewhere) and the 30s pop arrangement of "MacArthur Park." Oh, and Nayder likes vinyl record-style surface noise way too much.
songpoem.jpgYou taste-tippers may know all about the American Song-Poem Project, but other readers may not, so here goes. Remember those tiny ads buried in the back of tabloid newspapers, movie magazines and comic books that offered to take your poetry and set it to music? Many of these ads were actually on the level, and thousands of songs were set to music and recorded "professionally." Now you can buy collections of the "best" of these recordings, including this album dedicated only to Christmas songs. Because access to the master tapes is limited, these CDs are mastered from the best copies of vinyl records the curators of this project could find. Surface noise is common, and future 5.1 mixes of this material are unlikely. The liner notes explain that true aficionados of this genre of music even have favorite artists among those who cut these records, and the band Yo La Tengo has actually covered "Santa Claus Goes Modern," two versions of which appear on this album. The 21 cuts represent a fair spread of themes, many deeply sappy, others as off the wall as Superball, and feature some of the best-loved song-poem performers, like Rodd Keith, Teri Summers and Gene Marshall. Lyric writing credits are scrupulously included as well, although the melody writers are presumably lost to the sands of time. My favorites from this album include "Santa Came on a Nuclear Missile" by Heather Noel, the Rod Rogers and the Librettos' version of "Santa Claus Goes Modern," the title song by Kay Brown, "The Rocking Disco Santa Claus," the slightly deranged soul ballad "Baby, It's a Cold Night in December" and the spoken-word "Ole Year Christmas," all by The Sisterhood. Take your irony supplements if you decide to check this one out.
wherxmas.jpgThis 2004 collection of antique recordings takes us back before even Charles Brown, presenting Christmas songs that, with the exception of "Jingle Bells," are neither traditional favorites or popularized holiday hymns. There is a vocal quintet rendition of "Children Go Where I Send Thee" called "Holy Babe" here, and that one has been popularized in recent years. As for people you may have heard of, there's Bessie Smith, Lightnin' Hopkins, Lead Belly, and McKinney's Cotton Pickers with Coleman Hawkins and Fats Waller. Everything else here progressed as far as making a record, but not much farther. Christmas is the only unifying concept here -- we have a lot of gospel, a little jazz, country, some blues, folk and ethnic music, including Spanish, Italian and Jamaican sounds, and even a little vaudeville. Not being an ethnomusicologist, I call your attention to this disc because something on it just might jump out and grab you, or may inspire a modern-day cover version. Oh, and it's OK when antique recordings have surface noise on them.
funkxmas.jpgSometimes 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 in 1997, 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.
blame.jpgDon'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, compiled in 1995. "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. Now out of print, but the Amazon page shows third-party resellers peddling it cheaply -- in some places it pulls collector prices.
dementia.jpgDr. Demento's first Christmas compilation helped make near-standards out of a fair number of obscure holiday novelties, so the arrival of a second collection in 1995 was almost inevitable. The newer one has more of the same but of more recent vintage, on average, including two Hanukkah tunes, "Hanukkah Rocks" by Gefilte Joe and the Fish, and "Hanukkah Homeboy" by Doc Mo She, a rap tune. Other top-notch novelties on this album include a Bob Rivers cut, "The Twelve Pains of Christmas," The Bob and Tom Band's "It's Christmas and I Wonder Where I Am," the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping," and a truly demented piece by Mona Abboud called "The Pretty Little Dolly" that was actually recorded live on the Johnny Carson show (you can hear him laughing at the end). Also represented are Da Yoopers, Father Guido Sarducci and the unfunniest man alive, Ray Stevens. Overall, this collection isn't quite as iconic as the original, but it's certainly full of holiday giggles.
dement1.jpgThe good doctor knows how to throw a rockin' Christmas bash. This collection was originally released on vinyl in 1985 and was updated with four additional cuts in the CD age. It features classic hit novelties like Allan Sherman's "The 12 Days of Christmas" and Spike Jones' "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth," along with obscure gems like Gayla Peevey's "I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas." There's also two classics by Stan Freiberg, "Green Christmas" and "Nuttin' For Christmas," and Cheech and Chong's "Santa Claus and His Old Lady." The vinyl version had the original "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," but the CD has the re-recorded atrocity heard more often nowadays. Although the Demento show is on track to fade away from radio, his collections will keep his vision alive for years to come -- especially since most of them, including this one, remain in print. A second Dr. Demento holiday compilation followed this one.
nicexmas.jpgShudder. You might guess the 70s weren't my favorite decade, and you'd be right. That said, this compilation of holiday tunes, while highly toxic to 70s veterans like myself, still manages to have a number of cuts of interest. Both of Martin Mull's Christmas songs are here, the hilarious blaxploitation parody "Santafly" and the cautionary "Santa Doesn't Cop Out On Dope." Cheech and Chong's "Santa Claus and His Old Lady" is here too. Gary Glitter weighs in with "Another Rock 'N Roll Christmas" and Jim Croce, the Chuck Berry of folk music, offers his own "It Doesn't Have To Be That Way." A sappy instrumental of "The Christmas Song" by The Jimmy Castor Bunch was a major disappointment to those of us who recall Jimmy's hilarious work on "Troglodyte," and slightly cracked folkie Melanie's "Merry Christmas" is about what you'd expect. As for the rest, I'll just rattle off the artists: Bobby Sherman (twice!), The Osmonds and Donnie and Marie, Liberace, Glen Campbell, Ricky Segall and The Segalls, Grandpa Walton, and, so bad it's almost good, Wayne Newton's "Jingle Bell Hustle." It's out of print now, but copies are still floating around.

Christmas Past, various artists (Westside)

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chrispas.jpgAnother troll through the vaults, this one makes a point of noting it got this collection from the back room at the now-defunct Roulette Records. Some of these items are no surprise, as they've turned up on numerous collections. Others are a little more rare. Jim Backus of Mr. Magoo fame and Howard Morris, the once and future Ernest T. Bass, have novelty records here, Backus giving us "Why Don't You Go Home for Christmas," an anti-wife song, and Morris with both sides of his "Department Store Santa Claus" single. The Cadillacs' arrangement of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is the one the Smithereens adapted for their version, the Marcels' "Merry Twist-Mas" is joined by a less-well known item, "Don't Cry for Me This Christmas," and Pearl Bailey and the Orioles contribute a pair of carols each. Little Eva joins with Big Dee Irwin for "I Wish You a Merry Christmas" and the Harmony Grits -- former members of the original Drifters -- do "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." The liner notes don't shrink from criticism; a Vietnam exploitation record by Derrick Roberts gets the note-writer's raspberry (deserved.) A pretty good collection for the oldies fan, with three New Year's songs, including Jo Ann Campbell's "Happy Happy New Year Baby," based on "Happy Happy Birthday Baby," not to mention "Merry Merry Christmas Baby." UPDATE: Yet another collection out of print and commanding high collector prices at this writing.

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