Just like David Lee Roth, James Caann, Kirk Douglas and the late Dinah Shore-ah, for me, this time of year is all about lighting the Menorah. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the spirit of Christmas and, of course, the music. So much of our pop culture has been infused with the sounds of Christmas that it’s difficult to ignore, and sometimes escape, these classic songs. I can remember working at the Roots store in Toronto’s BayviewVillage during the 1994 holiday season and hearing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” ten times-a-day for 30 straight days while folding sweatpants. Some of my favourite movies are also holiday classics (Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Die Hard, Elf) featuring great Christmas tunes. Here are some thoughts on the 2011 batch of holiday albums and some classics from years gone by that you may want to check out.
Add It To The Collection…If you’re looking for a new Christmas album to add to your collection this year there’s one that clearly rises above the rest (no it’s not Justin Bieber’s Under The Mistletoe). Michael Bublé’s Christmas has the Vancouverite putting his Sinatra-esque vocal stylings on all your favourite holiday songs including a bubbly (pun intended) duet with fellow Canadian, Shania Twain, on “White Christmas”. Must-have track: Bublé brings big-band swing to the Elvis classic “Blue Christmas”
Skip It … Clearly the holiday season is a great time of year for artists to release a quick compilation of Christmas songs and for record companies to cash in. There are three such releases that appear to be pure cash grabs and that you can avoid. The first is the aforementioned release by Mr. Bieber. Is the Biebs out of new material or are his handlers a little nervous about putting out anything really ‘new’? Bieber has been riding the wave of his debut hit My World since its release in 2009 only offering remixes, soundtracks and compilations since. Under The Mistletoe has Bieber delivering bland R&B versions of some holiday classics with a few originals peppered in between.
Skip It …Even more disappointing than Bieber’s holiday offering is the release of Stone Temple Pilot front-man Scott Weiland’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. Weiland is a powerful singer/performer with a unique voice but none of that comes through on the 10 vanilla tracks he attempts to croon his way through on the album. Unfortunately, Scott Weiland crooning sounds like karaoke at best and he’d have been better off making a hard rock Christmas album. Where Bublé does what he does best, Weiland goes so far away from his comfort zone that it makes the listener uncomfortable.
Worth Another Listen… Here’s a quick list of some classic Christmas albums everyone should have in their collection as they are perfect for setting the mood for family and friends while entertaining over the Holiday season.
A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector –Various Artists. Say what you will about the madman rock ‘n’ roll producer, but nobody made better sounding records in the early 1960’s than Spector. Although a commercial failure at the time (the album was released on the same day in 1963 as President Kennedy’s assassination), the album features four of Spector’s top acts (The Crystals, Ronettes, Darlene Love, and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans) and his trademark ‘wall of sound’ production style. Must Have Track: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love.
Christmas Is 4 Ever – Bootsy Collins. If you’re feeling a little funky this Holiday season then the Parliament-Funkadlic bassist has the soundtrack ‘fo yo holidayz’. The album features cameos by everyone from Snoop Dogg to Charlie Daniels. Must Have Track: “Jingle Belz”
Hannukah Rocks – The LeeVees. This one’s for all my latke eating MOTs out there. The LeeVees are a fictional rock band made up of members from Guster and The Zambonis who released the album in 2005 to counterbalance the number of great Christmas albums out there with the be-all and end-all Hannukah album. With tracks like “At The Timeshare” and “Applesauce vs. Sour Cream” I’d say they’ve succeeded. Must Have Track: “Latke Clan”.