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Secrete Santas

December 24th -- The Cole Residence:

It was a storybook Christmas Eve. Natalie, shimmering in snow white chiffon, was busily piling up presents under the garland-festooned tree. Jack Frost was looking for a new nose to nip at while chestnuts were indeed roasting on the open fire -- just below the flame-retardant stockings. But what made the evening truly picture-perfect was seeing Daddy Cole in his La-Z-Boy recliner once again.

"Now don't choo go nowhere, Daddy Cole, while I get the tape machine, y' hear?" Natalie shouted as she scampered off into the next room.

"Daughter, where am I gonna go?" her follicly challenged father chimed back to no one in particular. Once upon a time, the color of Daddykin's skin had caused horrified network sponsors to drop him like a piping hot Yule log. If they could only see him now, white as ivory and not a pore in place. On the plus side, every last bit of that malignant cancer tissue had vacated his body.

Yet with one last trace of eardrum tissue preserved in his skull, he could hear Jack Frost shaking his head full of snow disapprovingly.

"Jack Frost, is that you? Get me outta here. That damn child of mine's crazy!" he cried, but couldn't make himself heard. "Sheeeyitt, it's gonna be that Unforgettable debacle all over again."

Jack Frost was not one to sugar-coat the obvious and told Natalie her scheme was futile.

"The ol' man hasn't got it anymore. A tongue, I mean," he snapped. "It was different 10 years ago. The rot hadn't set in. If you hadn't gotten so greedy dragging him all around the world, exposing him to all the elements, he might still be pristine!"

"Jack Frost, shutcha mouth and bring some o' yo coolant by the fire. We gotta preserve him some," Natalie snarled back whilst suspending a boom mike over her rapidly deteriorating singing partner.

It was apparent after several takes that Natalie couldn't coax even a wisp of dust out of her petrified patriarch. Things got really ugly after take six, when Natalie shook Old Man Cole so hard she dislocated his shoulder blade and his head went rolling into the roaring fire.

After an aborted take seven, she tried to get what was left of Daddy to play the piano. No dice. He just sat there, dashing any hopes of a platinum Christmas.

Then I awoke, relieved to realize that my Cole Family Christmas in Hell was only a ghastly apparition.

But Natalie Cole and Nat "King" Cole's posthumous "Chestnuts" duet was real. Frighteningly real. And it appears on both Natalie's new Yuletide shuck with the London Symphony Orchestra titled The Magic of Christmas and Nat "King" Cole's reissued 1961 The Christmas Song CD.

Natalie's seemingly endless musical necrophelia calls to mind a question: Is there no original idea in this woman's head? Must she turn all his signature songs into "his and hers" excursions? What's next -- a dance version of "Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer"? Natalie superimposing herself onto the opening scenes of Cat Ballou for that country crossover hit? It's unforgivable in every way.

But, then again, so are the dozens of other horrifying new holiday CDs quietly unloaded on store shelves the day after Thanksgiving, only to vanish like mistletoe kisses the day after Christmas. Each year, top-selling recording artists block out a week of studio time in June, sing the same 12 carols of Christmas everyone else does and then include one new composition that they hope will become a holiday standard they'll be identified with year after year -- just like Nat "King" Cole is forever linked to "The Christmas Song." The only modern-day carol that stands out is the infernal "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." People keep trying to be the next Irving Berlin (author of "White Christmas"), but usually come up sounding like David Foster (author of "My Grown Up Christmas List," a new Natalie no-no).

So I'm beggin' ya, Santa, check your list twice for these names. Here's the naughtiest of the naughty for 1999, carolers who only deserve lumps of coal (or Natalie Cole CDs) in their stocking -- one for each heinous holiday sin.

Don't look now, but it's beginning to look a lot like Chris Gaines...

Garth Brooks (••• 3 lumps of coal)

Garth Brooks & the Magic of Christmas
Sin #1: Greed

Just when we were ready to get over the Goateed One, Garth bounces back with this gift-wrapped damage-control package designed to make you forget Chris Gaines ever existed, let alone donned spandex pants. Though the aim of this record is to pacify folks who found Brooks' lite-rock moves too incendiary, it will indirectly piss them off again by steering clear of new country music in favor of big-band renditions of "Let It Snow" and "Winter Wonderland." Who does he think he is, Lyle Lovett? Or David Copperfield?

Just look at the cover and see the crazed way he's holding a silver ball that bears a striking resemblance to the Orb from the film Sleeper. Look closely at the cover and see the way it combines with his shiny belt buckle to form a ghoulish android skull.

Like Michael Jackson, Brooks, the reigning King of Mixed Media signals, wants to be a regular guy. But like most people with multiple personalities, he still ends up looking crazy. At least he didn't refer to himself in the third person again. Even Santa doesn't do that!

Sin #2: More Greed

The package on The Magic of Christmas clearly denotes "1999 First Edition," which means premeditated deletion from Brooks' back catalogue. Plus he's included two songs from his last deleted Xmas album, Beyond the Season. Maybe the next deluxe edition will come packaged with that groovy Orb!

Sin #3: Impersonating Der Bingle

After getting through an entire pass of "White Christmas," Garth can't resist the urge to sing ". . . be white" just like Bing Crosby. Instead, he winds up sounding like Elvis. At least Garth has the belt buckle to pull that off.

The Jimi Hendrix Estate (•• 2 burning lumps of coal)

Jimi Hendrix: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
Sin #1: Exhuming Yet Another Dead Entertainer
Sin #2: Ignoring Dead Guy's Wishes

This medley of "Little Drummer Boy/Silent Night/Auld Lang Syne" is by no means a finished master from the Voodoo Chile, but a direct-to-two-track rehearsal tape with plenty of flubbed notes, tape dropouts and a quick snippet of "Taps" -- hardly holiday fare. To pad out the set, the Experience Hendrix elves have dug out "Three Little Bears," a 1968 outtake from Hendrix's posthumously released 1972 album War Heroes -- which features Jimi audibly saying "Man, I really don't feel like going through with this. This is really silly." This holiday horror would've fetched more coal, but it's only a CD single. Just thank God there were no camcorders in the '50s or we'd probably be experiencing full-length video releases of James Marshall Hendrix singing in his grade-school Christmas pageant.

The Sinatra Family (•••• 4 coo-coo lumps of coal)
The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas
(DGC Classics)
Sin #1: Exhuming Yet Another Dead Entertainer
Sin #2: Letting Tina Sing

In keeping with Fatherless Christmas, we have the reissue of the 1969 curio The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas. And you thought Dean Martin was the only swinger surrounded by Golddiggers!

The Sinatras are pressing this carnage on 24 karat gold for the privilege of hearing every nuance of Daddy Chairman singing crummy carols with Frank Jr., Nancy . . . and Tina, who's not listed as a singer on the credits. It's an accurate omission, especially when you hear her alternately flat and sharp warbling of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," complete with a chilling "sock it to 'em, Santa" on the tag. Nelson Riddle and the orchestra must've gotten seasick swaying back and forth trying to keep up with Tina's wild pitches. Why couldn't Frank just hire one of his goombahs to kill this song?

Sin #3: Letting Tina Sing

Are they sure she's not adopted?

Sin #4: Letting Nancy Sing Depressing Carols

Nancy's no Maria Callas, either, but when she's on the go-go, who cares? However, movin' with Nancy isn't much fun when she's moaning the holiday blues on "It's Such a Lonely Time of Year." This is the kind of holiday fare that will send people wrapping their cars around telephone poles for warmth. One spin will ensure you'll never have another impure thought about Nancy or her boots ever again. On the plus side, the whole family sings on the Cahn-Van Heusen obscurity "I Wouldn't Trade Christmas." You'll like the rat-friggin-pack way Frank and family sing about "the fun and the folly and all of that jolly jazz," but you'll be spooked by how much Frank Jr. sounds like Harry Connick Jr.

Jewel (•• 2 very large, round and firm lumps of coal)
Joy: A Holiday Collection

Sin #1: Impersonating a Gospel Singer

Jewel stretches her bad bout of congestion over 12 traditional carols. The same delusional thinking that convinced her she was a poet is facilitating her strange attempt at singing Mahalia Jackson staples like "Go Tell It on the Mountain." Here, she thankfully mangles one of her rotten songs, a Christmas version of the radio hit "Hands." Her hands are small, I know. But lucky they're not mine, 'cause I would be busy trying to stop this song from leaving her throat. Why couldn't Sean Penn just have left her in that urinal? And without any paper so she couldn't escape!

Sin #2: Hiding Her Headlights Under a Bushel

Jewel just eliminated the only two good reasons guys buy Jewel albums (Hint: It's not her two front teeth). She's all bundled up for winter on the cover, ensuring this Christmas album won't have a snowball's chance in hell.

The Olsen Twins (•• 2 identical lumps of coal)
Mary-Kate & Ashley's Cool Yule
(Kid Rhino)

Question: Which one is the evil twin?
Answer: Which one isn't the evil one?

Sin #1: Slacking Off

Yep, Mary-Kate and Ashley have a Cool Yule Christmas album, but the background singers do a good 80 percent of the singing. And who's to say it's not just Mary-Kate double-tracked?

Sin #2: Not Slacking Off Enough

They make like Twin Bad Voodoo Daddy when they do-doo-doo a swing version of "Jingle Bells" called "Swingle Bells." Why couldn't their parents just say no twice?

Bill Engvall (••••• 5 lumps of coal and a cow chip)
Here's Your Christmas Album
(Warner Bros.)

Sins #1, 2 ,3 ,4 and 5: This Just Ain't Funny!

Here's a novelty -- Xmas novelty songs that don't elicit so much as one ho, let alone three. Nashville comedian Bill Engvall dumps a load of Blitzer dung on our laps with Here's Your Christmas Album. The record is full of candidates for the "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" sweepstakes, including: "Rudolph Got a DUI," "I Got Sued by Santa Claus" and "Fruitcake Makes Me Puke" (country and rock versions), all about as funny as Tiny Tim's crutch. Engvall the Rednosed Redneck compounds his error by doing a serious song about the North Star. Kind of like when Ray Stevens followed up "Gitarzan" with "Everything Is Beautiful," except he had the good sense to do it on different albums. Ray's still alive, but the sound you're hearing when you play Bill Engvall's album is Stevens digging a grave to eventually turn over in.

Rosie O'Donnell (•••••••••• 10 fat lumps of coal or a 10-pound bag of briquettes)
A Rosie Christmas
(Warner Bros.)

Where to begin . . . there's a mine field of insufferable Christmas duets on this one, 10 in all. We've given Rosie one lump of coal for each and an extra one for making us suffer through Darren Hayes' solo rendition of Wham!'s "Last Christmas," a go-nowhere carol that's like an impounded sleigh. Here are some of the bigger sins:

Sin #1: Gluttony

Rosie forces skinny Gloria Estefan to pig out with her on "Gonna Eat for Christmas." Could become a big holiday staple for deal-a-mealers.

Sin #2: Impersonating Der Bingle

Not surprisingly, the album features a Rosie duet with Sir Elton John. Once again someone encourages Reg to bastardize one of his old copyrights ("Your Song") and to ruin an older one, "White Christmas." Right now Bing's up in heaven slapping Princess Di around for vindication.

Sin #3: Pissing on the Wall of Sound

Rosie duets with Cher on "Christmas Baby Please Come Home." The song hasn't been the same since U2 ruined it for Special Olympics, and the old Phil Spector classic doesn't benefit from having former Wall of Sound background singer Cher do her Mr. Ed impersonation on top of it. Cher gives it the "rave" treatment, which allows the producers to shove Rosie's voice through the vocoder after only singing one and a half lines. Somebody loaded up on smart drinks that time.

Sin #4: Inflating Celine Dion's Ego Even Further

Rosie duets with Celine Dion on "The Magic of Christmas Day." Big-headed Rosie probably had to phone in her parts. Imagine trying to sing in the same room as Celine Dion and trying to suck up any remaining oxygen.

Sin #5: Statutory Rape of a Muppet

Rosie duets with Elmo on "Do You Hear What I Hear?" The answer is a stomach-turning yes after hearing Rosie sigh, "I love you Elmo" repeatedly at the conclusion of her tickle tryst with the Sesame Street swisher. Did she think no one would play Tom Cruise this CD? No doubt Cruise is crushed. Nothing's worse than seeing your Kmart mama double-crossing you with an animated dishrag. Safe out of screeching distance from divas like Celine, Rosie lets loose her astonishing one-and-a-half-octave range. Do you think when she was dueting with Elmo, Rosie's people were telling her "Put him away! He's nothing! He's just a squeaky puppet!" Pickle her, Elmo!

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic