Where I come from, "Christmas Music" means a battered album called "With Compliments from Firestone in STEREOPHONIC SOUND," which my father got for 59 cents at a Cincinnati gas station in 1966. We also got about a dozen smoky-blue-rippled dinnerware glasses, all of which have long since gone the way of the broom and dustpan. But the old LP has persisted, and every year it comes out with the tinsel and the ornaments. And everyone in the family sings along as Mel Torme croons, "Chest-NUHHHHHTs roasting on an open (skip) nose. Yuletide carols being hung by (skip) Eskimos...." And, frankly, we all go out of our minds listening to the damn thing over and over.
Consequently, I have this tendency to overrate songs like "Blue Snow at Christmas" by Wayne Newton. I can ignore the fact that the tune and the lyrics are god-awful; the novelty of owning a scratchless Christmas record was enough to make me fork over $7.49 for "Blue" and 19 other equally annoying carols. I have no perspective on these things.
One other caveat: For some 2000 years now, Christians around the world have celebrated the birth of Jesus each year in Word and Song. This rich musical tradition had led man in 1981 to produce such works as "A Kenny Rogers Christmas." The question, of course, is how this phenomenon came to pass. Not that there is an answer--it just makes you wonder.
But I guess that's part of Christmas too, since there's this song on the Firestone album, sung by Julie Andrews, called "I Wonder as I Wander" (or it might be "I Wander as I Wonder," which would be an equally difficult maneuver). That idea pretty much sums up what it's like to rifle through a department store Christmas Music collection. And unless an Act of God has struck the record racks, there should be plenty more copies of the following collections.
The Beach Boys Christmas Album
Exactly what you'd expect, this album conjures up pictures of Santa hanging ten on the Malibu surf while the elves cruise around 83-degree Orange County in a four-on-the-floor convertible 'Vette. The jacket notes enthuse that "here for the first time you'll hear the Beach Boys accompanied by a sonorous 40-piece orchestra." All that noise and five-part harmony seem somehow ill-suited, however, to "Frosty the Snowman," which after all, is just an ode to frozen water.
The best song is the one in which the boys do away with all the bogus brass and instead simply substitute commercial Christmas ideas for the old blond-girls-and-souped-up-cars stuff. "Little Deuce Coupe," "Little St. Nick"--it's just the difference between July and December. Here, for example, is the description of Santa's sleigh:
She's candy-apple red with a ski
for a wheel
And when Santa gets her gassed,
man, just watch her peel.
And verse three is a tribute to the Elfo Supreme himself:
He's gotta wear his goggles 'cause
the snow really flies
And he's cruising every pad with a
He's the Little Saint Nick
(He don't miss no one)
Hawaii Calls: Webley Edwards presents A Merry Hawaiian Christmas
This endeavor stars Boyce Kaihiihikapuokalani, a citizen remarkable, if not for his voice, then at least for courage in signing his kindergarten drawings. The album also features a number of other bilinguists, who sing every few lines of most of the cuts in "ear-caressing" Hawaiian and the rest in plain old English. The result is jarring, to say the least; not to disparage our compatriots to the southwest, but consider the following phonetic interpretation of "Jingle Bells":
Kani Kani Pele
Kani wa oh wa may
Oh what fun
Iki ah hoh ho ho iki
In a one-horse open sleigh
Then there's the song which seems to have been translated from the English into Hawaiian and back into English by someone who speaks only Finnish. Suffice it to say that these are the key ingredients in this version of the "Twelve Days of Christmas":
11 missionary (amen)
10 cans of beer
9 pounds of poi
7 shrimps a swimming
6 hula lessons
5 big fat pigs
4 flower leis
3 dry squid
and 1 minah bird in 1 papaya tree
It is almost unbearable to hear Boyce Kaihiihikapuokalani belt out "Faaahhv beeg fat peeeeegs!!!'" eight times in less than three minutes. Even Don Ho would never stoop this low.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: A Little Golden Book & Record
From the makers of The Saggy Baggy Elephant, Rudolph is, at $1.49, a can't-go-wrong selection for your X-mas dollar. Here is the story the deformed deer as you've never heard it before. How many of us, for example, remember the following celebration taking place after Santa selects the reindeer for his Christmas eve team:
The reindeer in Santa's team were
very happy. They rubbed noses.
They danced and clinked their
antlers together. Even the reindeer
who weren't chosen were given
good jobs. One was to try out
electric trains. Another was to
cuddle Christmas kittens.
This kind of thing replaces the Herbie the Dentist business and the abominable snowman odyssey in the TV version, which is probably a plus since the record is consequently only the size of a 45 rpm.
The problem with Rudolph, of course, is that there's absolutely no reason for anyone over six to listen to it more than once, except for a few laughs. And it's not nice to get our hohohos at the expense of the handicapped, now, is it?
Christmas with Slim Whitman
On the cover of this album, released just last holiday season, is a large man with huge sideburns, a grey velvet scarf and an iridescent, silver-and-red smoking jacket that seems to objectify the words "gaudy" and "hideous."
The jacket also tells us that the person playing the piano on the vinyl is named Hargus "Pig" Robbins and that Slim has cut a single entitled "Where Is the Christ in Christmas?" It is everything one can do to peel the plastic off the cover.
It is something of a surprise, then, when it comes time to listen to the music. Why, this is no hitman or rapist perverting the meaning of Christmas! Instead, it sounds like someone held a microphone to your father as he shoveled snow one day last Janaury and sung a few tunes under his breath. You get the feeling that someone called Slim one day and said, "Slim, if you're not busy, why don't you take a half-hour or so and come on down to the studio and record a Christmas album?" And Slim (who is, by the way, emphatically not) must have responded, "Gee, I'd like to, but I'm expecting the plumber any minute now--say, why don't I just mumble a few songs over the phone?!"
The result, as summed up by a friend who wandered into the room while I was critically reviewing this record, is "unimpressive." Then again, she comes from Texas and is unreasonably biased toward people from Nashville. Slim could be the man for you.
Alvin and the Chipmunks Sing Christmas Songs
The Coop was out of this one, and I wasn't about to go hunting all over for it. I'm sure I would have liked it, though. "This is really cool," I would have said.
Merry Christmas to You Wayne Newton
Instead, I made do with this one. "What is this?--Alvin and the Chipmunks?" my friend asked.
Close. This was Wayne Newton, actually cited in some circles as the most popular entertainer, revenue-wise, in the universe. I listened to all 20 songs, trying to figure out why. I even ruled out comic value--Wayne is definitely too bad to be funny. I also hear that both the Mafia and the FBI are after this man, which does not seem unreasonable, given the lengths those organizations have gone to in the past to exterminate annoyances.
Regardless, there is no reason whatsoever to purchase this collection, unless you are 63 years old, have pink hair and purple lips and turn on to the thought of spending Christmas with Andy Williams and a slot machine.
ELVIS sings The Wonderful World of Christmas
This album was recorded by the time Elvis had become pathetic. You buy it expecting to hear a great voice sing the old classics; what you get is an overproduced record by a fat man in a white jumpsuit who had stopped believing in anything but throwing wilting leis and sweaty hand-kerchiefs to 37-year-olds. The King belts out every line as if it were the climax of the song and the ultimate tribute to the Most High:
The-uh ferrrrr-erst Noh-oh-ellllll! ! ! !
Theee-eee Anngels DID saaaaay! ! ! !
Was to cer-ten poor shep-erds! ! ! !
In feeeeelds as they laaaaaay! ! ! !
This is pretty embarrassing, as is the fact that the song "I'll Be Home on Christmas Day" is directly followed by a tune called "If I Get Home on Christmas Day." Here are the people who probably have this album in their collection: Richard Nixon, Reggie Jackson, and Slim Whitman.
John Denver & The Muppets: A Christmas Together
Why are these folks spending the holidays together? A man whose face looks like a pumpkin and a dozen stuffed puppets. Similarly congruous alliances might include the The Clash and Olivia Newton-John or maybe Chrissy Hynde and the Archies.
Oh, there are some cute, cute ditties on this album, all right, like Kermit the Frog singing "The Christmas Wish" and John Denver telling the tale of "Alfie the Christmas Tree." But the whole thing is ruined when you hear Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem singing the Beach Boys "Little St. Nick." It reminds you that only some children's toys--and never the Malibu Five--could ever get away with singing that song in 1981, now that we are all sexually liberated and well into the nuclear age.
Phil Spector's Christmas Album
Take $3.49 right now, put on your jingle bells, and RUN to buy this album, probably the greatest Christmas rock 'n' roll collection every recorded. First released in 1963 (and again this year), it features