By New Times
By Derek Askey
By Mark Deming
By Serene Dominic
By Jason Keil
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Jeff Moses
By Serene Dominic
In this threatened Yuletide of 2001, it's comfort items that are shaping up to be the season's big sellers. Fluffy slippers. Bubble bath lotion. Comforters. Cozy sweaters. The same goes for music.
The charts have gone soft in the head with good ol' fluff country, airheaded new age, soft-core dirty pop, and comfortable and reliable old Christmas music. Regardless of what you think about the prospects of owning any record by Michael Bolton, Now That's What I Call Christmas is an amazing, nay, historic holiday package.
Not since recorded sound began has there ever been a collection that features Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Lennon and McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Band Aid, Britney Spears, 'N SYNC and Elmo & Patsy all in one neat jewel case. If Edison had a Christmas cylinder, it too would be front and center on Now That's What I Call Christmas. Years ago, such cooperation among the warring major labels would've been unthinkable. Are these industry giants now waiving all licensing snafus in the true spirit of peace and giving? Is the money all going to charity? Yes, sirree! Looks like it's all going to EMI, Sony, BMG and Virgin.
What would the holidays be without some major labels crying that their Christmas bonuses are looking as sorry as Bob Cratchit's retirement account? Napster may be sipping eggnog with these big kahunas, but the damage is done. It's like asking relatives to pay for mistletoe kisses. Chances are you've already found more than a dozen new sites to download all the free Christmas music you can stand. And good thing, too, because maybe that means you might find it in your heart to make a difference for some Christmas songs that haven't been so fortunate.
Even with 24-hour Christmas-music stations, all we seem to hear is the entire contents of Now That's What I Call Christmas in CD scrambler mode. Yet there are hundreds of other misfit Christmas records, some joyous, some odious, that have been waiting a long time to become standards -- they deserve some kind of home for the holidays. Four of the candidates below appear on a new VH1/Rhino collection called Christmas: The Big 80's. Another one is on Martha Stewart's Home for the Holidaysalbum. But if you buy both, you'll have multiple copies of that damned Bing and Bowie duet. Those two sound like they weren't even recorded in the same lifetime!
"Little Sandie Sleighfoot" -- Jimmy Dean (43 years and holding):
So many a Christmas carol has been scribed in envy of lucrative Rudolph's red nose. But in trying to match ol' Rudy's affliction, the future pork-sausage king Jimmy Dean may have overstepped the line. While minor chart action was made with this deformed character study in 1958, today there'd be a Bigfoot Defamation League on Dean's ass quicker than you can say "act your age, not your shoe size!"
"Holiday Hootenanny" -- Paul and Paula (38 years):
The reason given for the initial lack of success that greeted Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift to You in 1963 was that after President Kennedy's assassination, no one much felt like hearing Christmas music. From that group, subtract the people who didn't feel like hearing either a surf hootenanny version of "Jingle Bells" or Paul and Paula, then factor in Paul and Paula's parents, and you've got some idea of how many people scooped this one up.
"Dearest Santa" b/w "The Bell That Couldn't Jingle" -- Bobby Vinton (37 years):
If any singer could ferret out some underlying sadness to these deceptively cheerful holiday offerings, it's Vinton, who hit No. 1 two weeks before Christmas 1964 with "Mr. Lonely." Even the holidays didn't stop the Polish Prince from his monopolizing every song with the word "lonely" in it. Here he turns the self-pity spotlight over to an orphanage of begging kids who promise Santa they'll be good -- just give me a mommy and a daddy!
Turn this single over and it's yet another failed Christmas character, a little sleigh bell that is crying because it's too hollow and empty inside to give the customary jingle. Aware that a crying Christmas bell is bad for his image, Santa brings this matter to the attention of Jack Frost, who fixes the problem by freezing a teardrop and sticking it in the belly of said sad bell. Now it can jingle again and everyone is supposed to be jolly. Message? If you're blue on Christmas, never let 'em see ya sob.
"There Won't Be Any Snow (Christmas in the Jungle)" -- Derrick Roberts (36 years):
Just so no one forgot that we had boys fighting in 'Nam, someone released a sanctimonious spoken-word record to remind us. And in case someone missed the point of why we were over there, there was the B-side propaganda "A World Without Sunshine."
Few women have had to endure as much as Lynn, what with cheatin' spouses, and men who come home from drinkin' with lovin' on their minds. Although I haven't actually found this record yet, I got an unshakable hunch it's got something to do with too much holiday punch and someone who got a little too jolly sitting other women in his lap.