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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?