Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pop focus: Christmas music old and new!

Thanksgiving is over. Christmas music listening season can legally begin.

As is tradition here at Pop Culture Safari, we once again present our listing of all-time classic Christmas recordings, followed down below by a list of some promising new releases.
Click the links to order discounted CDs, vinyl and downloads from Amazon.

And please suggest your own favorites!

The classics:




A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector

If you can forget about the disturbing spectre of Spector for a few moments, you'll enjoy these  upbeat, exuberant tracks from Darlene Love, the Ronettes, the Crystals and others--all backed by the fabulous Wall of Sound.



Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Gene Autry

Putting this on is was an annual tradition in our house growing up - probably yours too.
Autry's take on these seasonal favorites is so gentle and warm, plus his great spoken introductions--he nails what the season is all about: Family and friends and kids having



White Christmas by Bing Crosby

Contains the seminal version of "White Christmas," anyone? Plus, better yet, "Mele Kalikimaka"!



Christmas Island by Leon Redbone

This has become one my favorite Christmas albums. It's joyful and warm, just like Autry's Christmas recordings. The old timey arrangements and Redbone's one-of-a-kind mumbly vocals evoke a time when the snow was deeper, the air was colder, the fire was warmer and Christmas day seemed to last forever.



Elvis' Christmas 

Nostalgic and campy, but fun and beautiful to boot. Plus, it really shows the King's vocal range, from the the reverent gospel vocals of "Peace in the Valley," the blue crooning of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" to the rocking "Santa Bring My Baby (Back to Me)."



Beatles Fan Club Christmas Recordings 1963-1970

Some day (maybe) Apple will put this out as an official release and rest of the world (not just we Beatlemaniacs) will be able to experience the zany, funny Christmas recordings the Fabs' used to send out to their fan club members on flexi-disks each

If you haven't heard 'em, don't go in expecting a lot of Christmas carols and holiday standards. The "songs" that do appear--"Christmas Time is Here Again" and "This is to Wish You a Merry, Merry Christmas"--are dashed off and fragmentary. These releases are more about humor than

The records are full of "Goon Show"-style jokes and general goofing around. The group's exuberance and joyfulness come through loud and clear. You can hear how much they enjoyed being Beatles. Until they didn't. The 1968 and 1969 recordings, you can tell, were all recorded individually, apart from one another. But the Fabs still cared enough about their fans to make an effort.

Like I said, they haven't been officially released. But Google around a bit and you can find sound files for them. The pic above is the cover of the compilation LP of Christmas recordings the Beatles Fan Club sent to fans after the group had broken up.



Christmas with the Beach Boys

The original 1964 Beach Boys Christmas LP featured lots of Four Freshman-style takes on holiday standards over big band and string arrangements along with a handful of excellent Brian Wilson-penned originals. The best-known of those, of course is "Little Saint Nick," but others, like "The Man With All the Toys," are great

This expanded version includes later, not as good, Christmas recordings by the band along with some outtakes -- but why not have the works?



Christmas with the Chipmunks

As a toddler, I threw a copy of this LP across the room and smashed it to bits. I'm not sure if that was due to my age or whether I was annoyed by the Chipmunks' sped-up, screechy singing. Either way, destroying the record meant that I was missing out on a lot of goofy, nostalgic fun.



A Jolly Christmas from Frank  Sinatra

Christmas songs are some of the best songs around, and Sinatra was one of the best singers. The combination is pretty much what you'd expect. Nice to have on while you sip a glass of eggnog or something stronger. Plus, you gotta dig Frank's hipster ad libs, ring-a-dings and singing-behind-the-beat


Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas by Ella Fitzgerald

See what I said with Sinatra re: matching great music with a great singer. This one's a beauty.



A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Original Sound Track Recording Of The CBS Television Special

This one is a must if just for the melancholy "Christmas Time is Here." Plus you get the rollicking "Linus and Lucy."



Merry Christmas by the  Supremes

Don't they look cute in their Santa hats? They sound great, too, especially on the hip "Little Bright Star," which coulda shoulda been a Motown hit as great as any other.



Someday at Christmas by Stevie Wonder

Not content with standards, Stevie put a few originals on his Christmas LP, too, including the upbeat "What Christmas Means to Me."



The Ventures' Christmas Album

As you might expect, the Ventures twang'n'reverb a good carol. Part of the fun of this one is spotting the then-current pop tune the group quotes before launching into the Christmas song--like the Beatles' "I Feel Fine" that turns into "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." What an insane, inspired approach.



In the Christmas Spirit by Booker T. and the MGs

As with the Ventures, this is another all-instrumentals take on Christmas classics, but with more of a groove. If you dig "Green Onions," "Time is Tight" and the MGs' other Stax hits you'll like their hip versions of traditional carols, too.



The New Possibility by John Fahey

Yet another instrumental collection of holiday tunes, but much different that the previous two LPs listed. On steel string acoustic guitar, the eccentric folk/blues guitarist Fahey, lends this traditional music a lonesome, yet joyful quality and promotes quiet thought about what the holidays mean to all of us, apart from the frantic pace, all the shopping and commercialism. A true gem.

New and reissued for 2014



Christmas at Downton Abbey (2CD)












Christmas song downloads


Along with our annual list of favorite holiday albums, here's a selection of individual Christmas classics available for download from Amazon:

Burl Ives: A Holly Jolly Christmas
Bobby Helms: Jingle Bell Rock
Nat King Cole: The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You)
Brenda Lee: Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree
The Chipmunks: The Chipmunk Song
Louis Armstrong: Cool Yule, Christmas in New Orleans, Zat You Santa Claus
Gene Autry: Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Up On The House Top,
Here Comes Santa Claus
Bing Crosby: White Christmas,
Christmas Island
Bing Crosby and David Bowie: Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy (Medley)
Jose Feliciano: Feliz Navidad
The Waitresses: Christmas Wrapping
John Lennon: Happy Xmas (War Is Over) 
The Beach  Boys: Little Saint Nick
The Ramones: Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)
Spike Jones: All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth) 
Roy Wood and Wizzard: I Wish it Could Be Christmas Everyday


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