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Recently in 1990s Category

"Mistress for Christmas," AC/DC (Atlantic)

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Another rock giant leaves us behind. Farewell to Malcolm Young, who passed yesterday at the too-young age of 64.

 
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This is a recording I knew about from the time I started Mistletunes back in 1997, but I never saw a copy of this 1995 EP from that day until this one. I finally stumbled over it in the iTunes Store recently, and of course you can click to grab it from Amazon. Apparently, the group's pianist/vocalist Beth Sorrentino retained the rights and has reissued it under the combined monicker "Suddenly, Tammy! & Beth Sorrentino." The band originated in Lancaster, PA in the 1990s and after some indie singles was signed to Warner Bros., which issued the original EP. Sprightly takes of "Linus & Lucy" and "Plant the Halls," substitute "Deck" for "Plant," rock out nicely, the original "Snowman" is a melancholy ballad with a touch of toy piano, "There In My Head" is another ballad in a slow-motion sort of Tori Amos arrangement, "Whole Lotta Girl" is a strong uptempo pop-rocker, although I can't make out enough of the lyrics to suss the Christmas connection, "Merry" is a yearning solo piano ballad, and things wrap up with "Rock 'n Roll With Santa Claus," a nice bit of hard rocking nonsense quoting favorite old Christmas sayings. The downloadable modern version adds three non-holiday songs. According to a fan-run band site that is still up, "Snowman," "Whole Lotta Girl" and "Merry" were on other Suddenly, Tammy! albums, one of which was never released.

spinaus.jpgIf 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. Amazon has a page for it, but my most recent check showed it out of stock.
famxmasass.jpgThe Kevin and Bean compilations were a Christmas fanatic's tradition through the 1990s to the mid-2000s, particularly those who like their holidays to include rock 'n roll. I've posted several of them to this site over the years, limited by the fact that the nerve center and home office of this Internet holiday way station is far to the east of the these United States, while the radio station from which these compilations emanate is hard by the West Coast of this selfsame country, making purchase of hardcopy albums difficult and/or expensive. As I'm still getting content moved over from the old static version of the site to the current content-managed site, I stumbled over the fact that I still had a Kevin & Bean comp hiding on my desk that had never been posted before, so here it is. This one, from 1997, is billed as a "greatest hits" version, compiling the best of the series from the early to mid-1990s, all of which had previously been released on cassette. This collection added a few new items to the playlist in honor of the series' switchover to CD. Just as all the others did, this mixes music from rock bands and spoken word items from comedians and celebrities. A couple of rarities that don't show up much nowadays from this album include Squirrel Nut Zippers' "Santa Claus Is Smoking Reefer" and Snoop Dogg's two songs "Christmastime in the LBC" and, with Nate Dogg, "Twas the Night." Smashing Pumpkins' "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and Stone Temple Pilots' "Christmastime Is Here" were done live, Third Eye Blind's "One of Those Christmas Days" sounds like it was done live in the studio, and John Wesley Harding banters with Kevin & Bean on "Feel the Warmth." Poe, she of "Angry Johnny" fame, pulls off a seriously intentioned version of "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" that almost breathes life back into that overplayed novelty. Smash Mouth does an Elvis impression on their "Blue Christmas," Soul Coughing plays "Suzy Snowflake," ska stars Reel Big Fish take on "Mele Kalikimaka," Mighty Mighty Bosstones offer "Christmastime," and Presidents of the United States contribute "Christmas Piglet." Songs that have turned up elsewhere more frequently are Sugar Ray's "Little St. Nick," Everclear's "Santa Baby," Tori Amos' "Little Drummer Boy" and Beck's "Little Drum Machine Boy." A group called Mmm offers their version of "Me and Mrs. Claus," a parody of the Billy Paul hit, though not the same parody done by Bob Rivers. Spoken word contributions come from Johnny Cash, Jon Stewart, Bobcat Goldthwait, Cindy Crawford, Henry Winkler, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, Gene Simmons and Jenny McCarthy. As you might guess from the title, R-rated language crops up occasionally. I've linked the cover art to an Amazon page that will connect you to 3rd-party sellers who have new and used versions of this disc.

yultun.jpgIf 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. In fact, it was produced for the most part by the folks behind Shoes, who were arguably the first-ever indie-rock group, releasing their Black Vinyl Shoes album completely independently in 1977. 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." I've linked the cover to Amazon, as is the current practice here, though Amazon only has 3rd-party sellers with new and used copies. It is possible, however, to buy it from Black Vinyl Records in the current day.
lumpcoal.jpgA 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. Other cuts include "Blue X-mas (To Whom It May Concern)" by Drunken Boat, "Silent Night" by the Primitives, "Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella" by Carnival Art, "O Holy Night" by Divine Weeks, "Kings of Orient" by The Odds and "Here Comes Santa Claus" by Clockhammer. UPDATE: This is a more than necessary update, as a reissue of this album for 2012 on Funzalo Records, despite having the same title and cover art, is for all intents and purposes a completely different album. Only Clockhammer, Divine Weeks, and Drunken Boat cross over to the new version. The other songs are gone, replaced with 12 other tunes, seven of which are done by a band called Sirsy. Six of those songs are standard pop songs and carols done in a blues-mama belting style, not terrible but not particularly remarkable, either. The seventh song is an original called "Some Kind of Winter," a not-bad ballad. The Jolly Boys give a Caribbean reading to "Long Time Ago in Bethlehem," aka "Mary's Boy Child," and "Christmas a-Coming." Robin Lane, she of the 70s-80s act Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, has two songs, "My Xmas List" and "A Winter's Night," both from 2011, and the final song is "Christmas Gets Me Down" by Luca, a decent mid-tempo power pop number. I can't imagine why the current producer thought it was a good thing to rip off the name and cover of a previous classic holiday compilation; a different title and cover art was clearly called for here. Nevertheless, the current version of the album isn't exactly terrible by any means, it's just not the classic album that's been hollowed out and strung up. If you click the cover art, it will take you to an Amazon page that shows 3rd party sellers with copies of the original; click the Funzalo link and it will take you to the "updated" album.
From the historic 1991 indie-pop classic album Yuletunes, this is actually a pretty good job of building a video for a song after the fact. (Yes, I'm trying to get new stuff up this year, hopefully it won't be too much longer.)

 
babyjesu.jpgThis is a 1995 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. Remains in print, including for download.
coolyule.jpgFinally 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. Long out of print, of course, but Optional Art is on Facebook, where it offers a link for listeners to stream the album via ReverbNation.
kindrcor.jpgKindercore 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.
nuwavxms.jpgAt one time, Rhino was almost the official rock 'n roll Christmas record label, but it's been quite a while since they've compiled any holiday music. From their Just Can't Get Enough series of 80s new wave music, this 1997 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. This CD is out of print and commanding collector's prices on Amazon via 3rd parties.
sounseas.jpgThis 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. Both versions appear to still be available through Amazon, although the only significant difference is the cover art.

cdnowep.jpgThe long-gone CDnow.com 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 collection. 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." You might expect a promo item of this kind to be long unavailable, but 3rd parties at Amazon appear to have copies of this at reasonable prices.
remembr.jpgThis 1998 album is a pastiche of previously released performances and new ones. Among the more widely available cuts are the Smithereens with "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "A Song of Christmas" by Lowen and Navarro, and the Alarm's version of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Former Bongo James Mastro and Jill Sobule do some session work on several cuts, including their own "The Saddest Day of the Year" sung by Jill. 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 Smithereens and Alarm 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. Other tunes include Ian Moore's "It Just Doesn't Seem Like Christmas," Michael Malone's "Feels Like Christmas," Todd Thibaud's "Christmas Without You," Jesse Valenzuela's "Christmas Time," Neal Casal's "Cora Jones" and Natalie Farr's "Ave Maria." Was out of print for a number of years owing to Velvel's demise, but it has been reissued in hard copy and download versions.

mypalgod.jpgAlternative-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. It remains available for download from Amazon, and hard copies show up there from 3rd parties as well.
happyx.jpgBEC Recordings is a Christian rock music label (UPDATE: now folded in with Tooth & Nail), 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. This was first in a series that progressed to a volume 5, and it remains available, both separately and in a box set with volumes 2 and 3.
happyxv2.jpgThe 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." Remains in print, alone and in a box with vols. 1 & 3.
lalalala.jpgA 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. Can't find a trace of this anywhere on the Internet, no doubt because the difficult-to-search album title and the 90s release date; if anybody sees anything more pertaining to this CD and its availability, post a comment or e-mail Rudolph.

excels1.jpgHeavy-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 remains available through Amazon and the label's website, by itself and as part of a 3-disc set including its two successors. As noted in the entry just linked, Projekt named a 2007 single-disc compilation of the three volumes Dark Noel as well, so don't confuse the two.
excelsis.jpg"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. 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)." There was a Vol. 3 in 2001, Excelsis 3: A Prelude, featuring nine songs by Lovespirals, Audra, Lowsunday, Frolic, Faith & Disease, Mirabilis, Unto Ashes, and two by Lynn Canfield. The same year, the first three were packaged in a box set. And in 2007, a single-disc compilation of all three, A Dark Noel, was released. All except the box set remain freshly available from Amazon, but the box is still for sale at a discount from Projekt's website. The company returned to the Christmas scene in 2012 with Ornaments, a double-disc set.
trltrash.jpgThis 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 from Minneapolis-St. Paul with two cuts on this 1999 album, "Don't Believe in Xmas," the Sonics classic that borrows heavily from "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." UPDATE: An interesting pair of digressions popped up when I moved this over from the old site. This album, same cover, was also released as Redneck Christmas Party in 1999. Also, the band Trailer Trash had an album of their own in 2005, All Lit-Up For Christmas, although it appears, based on an Amazon listener review, that it's erroneously listed as a various artists compendium. It has a variation of the same cover as the other two, tinted a greenish yellow instead of blue. There's 11 songs, including the two from Trailer Trash Christmas. Trailer Trash apparently have a Twin Cities reputation for rowdy Christmas parties, and this latter album is a souvenir of that. Of the three albums mentioned, Lit-Up is the only one actually available new; the other two show up only via 3rd parties at Amazon.
satan.jpgCute idea for a title, and the liner notes run down the humorous "comparisons." This is your basic 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. From 1998. UPDATE: Out of print, check 3rd parties at Amazon.

Yuletide Soiree, various artists (Rhino)

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yule.jpgHaving 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 1998 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. UPDATE: Out of print now, but third parties at Amazon have copies; since this is an elaborate package, caution is warranted that you might end up with an incomplete copy.
irs.jpgThis album languished in promo-only obscurity for a number of years, according to a club DJ I once knew, before finally being released in 1990. It features artists from the IRS recording and management roster 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." Other performers include Rebel Pebbles with "Cool Yule," the Reckless Sleepers' cover of "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday," Deborah Holland's "It Only Comes Once a Year," Steve Hunter's "We Three Kings," Kennedy Rose's "More Than One Night a Year" and Torch Song's "Hark." A great slice of the mid-late 80s alt scene and a near-classic holiday collection. Out of print, natch, but 3rd parties appear to have this well stocked at reasonable prices via Amazon. 

excels.jpgExcelsior 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." Amazingly, this remains in print.
diffkind.jpgSony's old budget label Risky Business used to throw 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 its original "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. Needless to say, both albums are out of print, but I've linked to third parties on Amazon.

stufthis.jpgThis 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. Out of print, posted a link to 3rd-party sellers at Amazon, where only two copies are available at this writing.

finally.jpgMore 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." Out of print, though 3rd-party sellers at Amazon have copies at fire-sale prices, both new and used.
itsrockn.jpgThis 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 a "New Year's Resolution." This one's a keeper, if you can find it; it's long out of print and doesn't show up at all in Amazon. But Google indicates a number of rockabilly radio shows and fan sites are well aware of this disc.
holicd.jpgThis 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. Copies of the Santas' EP and this album show up from 3rd parties on Amazon.
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