Even More Bizarre Christmas Album Covers

It’s been quite a few years since the second entry in my bizarre Christmas album covers series, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of strange Yuletide cover art. So what do you say we just get down to it?

Chabelo - En Navidad (1981)

Chabelo – En Navidad (1981)

Jack Webb - The Christmas Story (1953)

Jack Webb – The Christmas Story (1953)

Christmas Day with Colonel Sanders (1968)

Christmas Day with Colonel Sanders (1968)

Ferrante & Teicher ‎– Adventure in Carols (The Sound of Tomorrow - Today) (1956)

Ferrante & Teicher ‎– Adventure in Carols (The Sound of Tomorrow – Today) (1956)

Floral Pops 70 - Drum Christmas Para Bailar (1973)

Floral Pops 70 – Drum Christmas Para Bailar (1973)

Gayla Peevey - "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" (1953)

Gayla Peevey – “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” (1953)

Merry Cajun Christmas, Volume Two (1987)

Merry Cajun Christmas, Volume Two (1987)

The Best of the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit - 2012

The Best of the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit — 2012

The Best of the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit - 2012

So, 2012. It sure was twelve months, wasn’t it? But before the year slips away into 2013, let’s take a moment to reflect on just some of the awesome content I’ve published in Aught 12, as ranked by the number of visits (which I’m aware don’t always equate to quality, but that’s another topic). For reference, here’s last year’s review.

And as always, I offer a laurel and hearty handshake to everyone who has stopped by this year — either on the blog, the Facebook page, or any of the ever-growing venues where I waste my time and yours. This site racked up about half a million visits in 2012, which I’m fairly certain is an all-time high. It’s probably all downhill from here.

Oh and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the lovely selection of Featured Posts you see to the right. It may not be my most popular content but it’s some of my best.

Houston Oilers at Boston Patriots - November 25, 1960

#10. The Best and Worst NFL Logos (NFC North)

I’m fairly obsessed with logos, be they for sports teams or supermarkets. So last summer, prior to the start of the NFL’s 2012 season, I ran an eight-part series highlighting my most and least favorite NFL team logos. The one for the NFC North — home of the Bears, Lions, Packers, and Vikings — was the most-viewed by a fairly sizable margin.

#9. The GFS Retrotisements home

Well this was unexpected. Since I launched the more permanent section of this site last year, one of the most visited sections has been the gallery of classic advertisements I call Retrotisements. I still run them on the blog — and here’s a handy index — but the main home is great because I’ve taken the trouble to organize the ads into handy sections for you. You’re welcome!

#8. American Football League (AFL) game programs from the 1960 season

This was even more unexpected. It seems as if the 1960 AFL season, the league’s first, still stirs the hearts of football fans more than half a century later. Or maybe people just love looking at old football programs.

#7. Jennifer Love Hewitt – Social Crusader

Was posting a gallery of sexy Jennifer Love Hewitt pictures a cheap ploy to get people to read my critique of her rather blatant hypocrisy? Yeah, I’ll ‘fess up to that. Doesn’t change the truth of what I said though. And just to prove that I can troll for cheap traffic and still keep my dignity, here’s a picture of Jennifer from the April 2012 issue of Maxim.

Jennifer Love Hewitt (Maxim magazine, April 2012)

#6. Get the London Look and Fit a Tuppence Between Your Teeth

Perhaps some felt I went a little too far in poking fun at the dentally challenged Georgia May Jagger and those silly Rimmel London ads, but I don’t care. She looks stupid and that’s all I have to say on that subject.

#5. 20 Great Horror Movie Posters from the 1980s

I had a ton of fun putting together this gallery of classic ’80s horror movie posters, and judging my the response a lot of you had fun reading it. I’ve already published another gallery of ’50s sci-fi posters, and you can bet more will be coming next year!

Queen - News of the World#4. Album cover of the week: News of the World

How’s this for staying power? My post on Queen’s classic 1977 album News of the World went live in May 2008!

#3. The 10 Deadliest Tornadoes in World History

I published this list of killer twisters in May 2011 but it didn’t really take off in terms of popularity until this year. I guess maybe it’s a thinker? Well whatever the reason is, I plan on doing some more disaster countdowns in 2013, and I’m not just talking about CBS’s prime time lineup.

#2. To Arms! A Gallery of War Recruitment Posters

This gallery of wartime recruiting/propaganda posters dating from the 18th century to today was my most popular piece last year, but just missed out on a repeat in ’12. I’ll probably either update it with more posters in 2013 or write a sequel.

#1. A humorous map of New Jersey

This breakdown of the Garden State by type of resident was #4 on last year’s countdown, which was pretty amazing when you consider that it was only up for about three weeks. It narrowly beat out the war poster gallery to claim the top spot this year. Based on some of the comments it’s received, some people just can’t take a joke.

Dartmouth Glee Club, White Christmas on the Campus

Listening Booth — Dartmouth Glee Club, White Christmas on the Campus

Dartmouth Glee Club, White Christmas on the Campus

A few years ago I downloaded what has since become one of my favorite Christmas albums ever — White Christmas on the Campus by the Dartmouth Glee Club (United Artists UAL 3102, 1961). Now I now what you might be thinking: Glee Club? You mean like the homogenized, lifeless crap on that TV show?

Nope. This is the real deal. Tasteful and elegant a capella holiday music, nothing more. The Glee Club was apparently all-male when this was recorded, just so you know. Regardless, or maybe because of that, this is a strong performance with just the right balance of delicacy and strength. Kudos to director Paul R. Zeller. My favorite, in case you were wondering, is “The Secret of Christmas.”

If you enjoy this album (and I know you will), be sure to check out the excellent Ernie (Not Bert) blog, where I got this from. He’s got tons of other great Christmas music for your downloading pleasure. If you don’t see the SoundCloud widget below, let me know in the comments.

Track Listing

1. Happy Holiday
2. O Come All Ye Faithful
3. White Christmas
4. Angels We Have Heard On High
5. The Secret Of Christmas
6. What Child Is This?
7. The Christmas Song
8. Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming
9. Sleigh Ride
10. The First Noel
11. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
12. Mid Ox and Ass
13. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
14. Here a Torch Jeanette Isabella
15. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
16. Jingle Bells

Pearl Jam - Vs. (1993) album cover

Pop Culture Capsule — November 14-20, 1993

While the nation should be celebrating another win by my Rutgers Scarlet Knights, apparently it’s considered bigger news that Notre Dame is back at #1 for the first time in 19 years. In fact, almost exactly 19 years. Before this week, the Fighting Irish last held the top spot in college football in the poll released November 16, 1993.

To put all of this into context, here’s what was going on in the world of American pop culture the last time Notre Dame was at the top of the college football world.

Top 10 Movies

Addams Family Values (1993) movie poster1. Addams Family Values
2. The Three Musketeers
3. Carlito’s Way
4. My Life
5. Mrs. Doubtfire
6. Man’s Best Friend
7. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas
8. The Remains of the Day
9. Cool Runnings
10. A Perfect World

Will you look at that — the top movie of the week was not only a sequel but an adaption from an old TV show. First time for everything I guess.

Top 10 TV Shows

1. 60 Minutes
2. Home Improvement
3. Roseanne
4(t). A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion and Coach
6. Murder, She Wrote
7. Seinfeld
8. Murphy Brown
9. Grace Under Fire
10. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman

The saga of Brett Butler and Grace Under Fire is a sad one indeed. It’s also proof positive that Chuck Lorre actually knew how to create and produce comedies with real substance at one time.

Top 10 Albums

Pearl Jam - Vs. (1993) album cover1. Pearl Jam, Vs.
2. Frank Sinatra, Duets
3. Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell
4. various artists, Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles
5. Mariah Carey, Music Box
6. Janet Jackson, janet.
7. Billy Joel, River of Dreams
8. Eazy-E, It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa
9. Too Short, Get In Where You Fit In
10. Toni Braxton, Toni Braxton

I own and listen to just one album on this list, and you can probably guess which one if you are a regular here.

Top 10 Singles

1. Meat Loaf, “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)”
2. Janet Jackson, “Again”
3. Ace of Base, “All That She Wants”
4. DRS, “Gangsta Lean”
5. Xscape, “Just Kickin’ It”
6. Salt-N-Pepa, “Shoop”
7. Bryan Adams, “Please Forgive Me”
8. Mariah Carey, “Hero”
9. Zhane, “Hey Mr. D.J.”
10. Mariah Carey, “Dreamlover”


The New York Times Best-Selling Fiction Books

1. Robert James Waller, Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend
2. Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County
3. Stephen King, Nightmares & Dreamscapes
4. Anne Rice, Lasher
5. Tom Clancy, Without Remorse
6. Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven
7. Dick Francis, Decider
8. Dean Koontz, Mr. Murder
9. Ken Follett, A Dangerous Fortune
10. Tony Hillerman, Sacred Clowns

I can’t offer much of an opinion on any of these books. I’ll probably get around to the Stephen King at some point. Same for Lasher, although it’s already been a few years since I tackled the book that came before, The Witching Hour, and I haven’t really had a burning desire to return to the series.

The New York Times Best-Selling Non-Fiction Books

1. Rush Limbaugh, See, I Told You So
2. Howard Stern, Private Parts
3. Jerry Seinfeld, SeinLanguage
4. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, The Hidden Life of Dogs
5.  Betty J. Eadie with Curtis Taylor, Embraced by the Light
6. Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now
7. Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years
8. William Shatner with Chris Kreski, Star Trek Memories
9. M. Scott Peck, Further Along the Road Less Traveled
10. Erma Bombeck, A Marriage Made in Heaven… Or Too Tired for An Affair

I was a huge Stern fan back in the ’90s, so not only did I buy and love the Private Parts book, I loved the movie too.

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The Beach Boys - That's Why God Made the Radio

Albums From the First Half of 2012 That Are Good

The Beach Boys - That's Why God Made the RadioAs I’ve mentioned previously in this here blog space, I’ve largely gotten out of the album review game. Unless a record really moves or I have something I really need to say, I’m gonna just wait to the customary year-end period to share my thoughts. But if you’re impatient, you can always subscribe to my in-progress Spotify playlist.

That said, here’s a rundown of some records released in 2012 that I’ve been digging on, either a little or a lot (along with song clips where appropriate).

The Beach Boys, That’s Why God Made the Radio

Django Django, Django Django

Air, Le voyage dans la lune

Ryan Shaw, Real Love

Prong, Carved Into Stone

Rush, Clockwork Angels

Storm Corrosion, Storm Corrosion

Jack White, Blunderbuss

Imperial State Electric, Pop War

Lambchop, Mr. M

The Explorers Club, Grand Hotel

Robert Glasper, Black Radio

Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls

Van Halen, A Different Kind of Truth

Black Mountain, Year Zero: The Original Soundtrack

Brendan Benson, What Kind of World

The Shins, Port of Morrow

Overkill, The Electric Age

Missile Command album cover (1982)

If There’s Ever a Missile Command Movie, Don’t Act All Surprised

I loved my Atari 2600, and I sure enjoyed Missile Command. Not enough to sit through the entire Missile Command album, mind you. What’s that? You didn’t know there was a Missile Command album?

There sure was. It came out on the Kid Stuff label in 1982 (KSS-5031), and was one of three Atari cash-ins for the label. The other two were Asteroids and Yars’ Revenge. According to the back cover, the story goes like this:

The planet Zardon is under attack! Only the brave men and women of the Missile Command can destroy endless waves of Krytolian missiles. Join the Command Team and help defend the universe as you fight back in Atari’s Missile Command!

Gripping, ain’t it?! Here’s a clip from the record — featuring some of the finest acting I’ve ever heard on a video game album — and the cover art, if you still doubt me.

Missile Command album cover (1982)

Missile Command album cover (1982) - Kid Stuff Records

Vaughn Meader, The First Family

Album cover of the week: Vaughn Meader, The First Family

For a special President’s Day edition of this series, let’s take a look at a fairly innocuous but hugely popular album that was blasted into obscurity in the blink of an eye.

Vaughn Meader, The First Family

Few people remember the name Vaughn Meader today, but for about a year in the early ’60s he was one of the hottest acts in the world not from Liverpool. As you might be able to tell from this cover photo, The First Family concerns President John F. Kennedy and his family. It was a parody album, recorded in front of a live audience, and it featured Meader as Kennedy. He was sort of the Rich Little of his day.

Thanks to Meader’s spot-on impersonation and America’s obsession with all things Kennedy, The First Family hit #1 on the Billboard album chart and won a Grammy award in 1963. Meader became an overnight sensation, and was the toast of the town. A second volume, released in the spring of ’63, sold fairly well.

If you want to check out most of the first side, here you go:

Pretty innocuous stuff, no? Exactly. But it didn’t seem so harmless after President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Meader’s album was immediately pulled off record store shelves and basically vanished overnight, as did his career. He could never escape his greatest success, and was forever linked with President Kennedy.

And how’s this for a weird coincidence – The First Family was recorded on October 22, 1962, the same night as President Kennedy’s speech to America during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Spooky, man.

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Mastodon - The Hunter

The Music Year That Was: The Best Albums of 2011

The usual disclaimers about my year-end music lists still apply. I’m only one man and only have so much time to listen to new albums. So even if I hear an album and it’s really good, if nothing about it grabs me right away I may end up forgetting it. Also, naturally I’m going to gravitate toward music either from acts I already know and like or that’s recommended by friends and writers/critics I respect.

These, then, are the ten albums that I have returned to more than any other in 2011 and probably will in 2012. Because at the end of the day, isn’t that the only mark of a good record?

#1. Mastodon, The Hunter

Mastodon - The HunterAs much as I was disappointed with Crack the Skye, I absolutely love The Hunter. I’ve read a lot of comparisons between it and Metallica’s “Black Album,” and I can see why. It’s more streamlined, direct, and accessible. Of course only time will tell if Mastodon follows this triumph up with a Load-type train wreck. For now I’m simply digging on what to my ears is the best metal release of the year, and an album that is every bit as exciting as Leviathan.

Diehards may bellyache that Mastodon keeps slipping further away from their more metallic, Remission-era origins. I don’t buy that for a second. This band hasn’t been around long enough to get stuck in any one sound, and there has been a clear musical progression with every new release. I for one appreciate that they’re moving away (at least for now) from longer, more complex songs. They just don’t do them as well as short, chaotic bursts of energy like “Black Tongue,” “Blasteroid,” or “Spectrelight.”

But if all The Hunter had to offer were brevity and fire, it would merely be very good. What takes it — and the band — to the next level are off-kilter space metal songs like “Stargasm,” “Octopus Has No Friends,” and “Thickening,” which showcase Mastodon’s unerring sense of melody and songwriting. Those qualities, paired with the band’s ridiculous chops, are what convince me that Mastodon is the premiere metal band in the land.

Oh, and Brann Dailor still frigging owns on the drums. It just had to be said.

Prime cut: “Black Tongue”

#2. The Roots, Undun

The Roots, Undun

You certainly cannot accuse the Roots of getting soft due to their regular gig as the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. As Undun proves, in fact, their chops are probably as strong as ever.

Call me a pessimist, but I like my latter-day Roots albums dark. In fact, the darker the better. And holy crap, Undun is easily the darkest Roots album since Game Theory. It tells the story (chronologically backwards) of Redford Stephens, a composite based on family and friends of the band, especially emcee Black Thought — who spits rhymes like a man on a mission. It’s not straight-up nihilism, but the overall effect is deeply impacting.

The Roots have clearly been influences by their collaborations with artists like John Legend and Betty Wright. Undun is really more of a neo-soul album than a hip hop album, as evidenced by tracks like “The Other Side” and “Make My.” But even indie rock is well within the band’s purview, courtesy the final four tracks — a cover of Sufjan Stevens’ “Redford,” stretched into four movements replete with a string section and piano (played by Stevens).

Undun is a true album experience, deep and engrossing. ?uestlove’s production is flawless at all times, and he melds traditional instrumentation with samples and orchestration so seamlessly that it’s impossible to peg this record as belonging to any one genre.

Prime cut: “Make My”

#3. The New Mastersounds, Breaks from the Border

The New Mastersounds, Breaks from the BorderThere’s a really fine line between skillfully bringing the sounds of vintage ’70s soul and funk into the new century, and sounding like nothing more than a respectable but ultimately hollow cover band. For just over a decade the New Mastersounds of Leeds, England have been among the finest and funkiest bands on either side of the Atlantic.

Breaks from the Border — the group’s eighth studio LP and first recorded in America — is a masterclass in 21st century rhythm. I’ve read that listening to some albums is like putting on a comfortable pair of old blue jeans. Listening to this record is like putting on… well, I have no fashion sense so I really can’t say, but whatever it is you’re going to have fun wearing it and you will probably get laid.

Prime cut: “Run the Gauntlet”

#4. Ladytron, Gravity the Seducer

Ladytron, Gravity the SeducerAs I said when I reviewed this album back in September, I prefer it to the more upbeat but abrasive Velocifero. There is a certain kind of sadness running throughout the album, but it’s cathartic rather than oppressive. Brian Eno called Ladytron “the best of English pop music” and the group does little to disprove him on Gravity the Seducer. Even straightforward songs like “Mirage” have an expansive, absorbing quality about them that’s hard not to love.

And then there are three of the most outstanding pop songs of the year. “White Gold” and “90 Degrees” are a pair of bleak, icy electropop numbers that combine the best elements of Gary Numan and Depeche Mode (and throw in the enchanting vocals of Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo as a bonus), while “Ritual” is an instrumental track right out of Discotheque of the Damned. And I mean that in the best way possible.

Prime cut: “White Gold”

#5. Sloan, The Double Cross

Sloan, The Double CrossWith a dozen songs spread over an economical 34 minutes, Sloan doesn’t waste a single second on The Double Cross. “Follow the Leader” gets right down to business, and proves that the venerable Canadian rockers haven’t lost a step in the last 20 — or XX, as the album title indicates — years. The first several songs melt into one another and you barely have time to catch your breath as Sloan lays out killer harmonies and endorphin-triggering melodies with unrelenting ease.

Just as Blur’s Parklife brilliantly surveyed the British pop/rock scene of past decades, so too does The Double Cross (but with more American flavoring). “Unkind” recalls peak Badfinger, while “Shadow of Love” is vintage New Wave all the way. Elsewhere, “She’s Slowin’ Down Again” is a meaty slab of British Invasion rock. When the band finally eases up at the halfway point with the gentle “Green Gardens, Cold Montreal” the album remains equally as potent. The Double Cross is perhaps the album with the most bang for the buck in 2011.

Prime cut: “Unkind”

#6. Dengue Fever, Cannibal Courtship

Dengue Fever - Cannibal CourtshipI’m so in love with Chhom Nimol’s voice I could listen to nothing but her isolated vocals from this album, just like with those old rock clips that seem to pop up all over YouTube. Luckily for Nimol and for fans of Dengue Fever the band’s music is still every bit as exotic and alluring as she is on this, their fourth studio LP.

On this album Dengue Fever applies their trademark sound but starts to stretch it out in interesting new directions — there’s the familiar tongue-in-cheek surf rock of “Cement Slippers,” but there’s also the smoky, fuzzy pop of “Cannibal Courtship” and the slinky funk of “Only a Friend” to mix things up. The group’s ever-decreasing reliance on Cambodian native Nimol’s Khmer language can sometimes rob the songs of their air of mystery, but that might just be my hangup.

Prime cut: “Only a Friend”

#7. Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Race Riot Suite

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Race Riot SuiteSome of the greatest jazz from the genre’s commercial heyday was borne from the anger and frustration of racism in America. But back in the ’50s or ’60s artists had to be somewhat discrete about that, lest they offend the sensibilities of their audience. Of course we have no need for such niceties anymore in our “enlightened” 21st century world, and thus Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is free to spend an entire album plumbing the depths of what may be that city’s darkest hour.

But take out the historical context, and Race Riot Suite loses none of its impact. This album is a dynamic melding of traditional (i.e. Dixieland) and modern jazz, with some dashes of hard rock thrown in. I can’t help but think that someone like Duke Ellington would look kindly on this record. I know I do.

Prime cut: “Black Wall Street”

#8. Gruff Rhys, Hotel Shampoo

Gruff Rhys - Hotel ShampooWhile this may not fit the strict definition of power pop, Hotel Shampoo is powerful pop. Gruff Rhys (he of Super Furry Animals) approaches the music on this record from an oblique angle, so that even though the music is fairly straightforward in composition it still feels fresh and invigorating. To simply call this “indie pop” would be dreadfully reductive.

Swirling keyboards, horns, and strings abound here, and the tunes move between melodic and dense (“Honey All Over” and the Bacharach-inspired “Vitamin K”) and simple and ultra-bouncy (“Sensations in the Dark”). For those who haven’t heard of this album, the closest comparison I can draw is Jim Noir.

And another point in Hotel Shampoo‘s favor — it was featured as part of my Album Cover of the Week series!

Prime cut: “Sensations in the Dark”

#9. DeVotchKa, 100 Lovers

DeVotchKa, 100 LoversDeVotchKa is like the normal, clean-shaven Spock to Gogol Bordello’s evil, goateed Spock. They both get tagged with the “Gypsy punk” label, but they really are drastically different bands. While the latter revels in its sneering, electric eclecticism, the former often sounds more like a beautiful postcard from an exotic, faraway land.

And make no mistake, the group’s 2011 postcard, 100 Lovers, is always beautiful. The album alternates between the sweeping, cinematic quality of “The Alley” and “The Common Good” and the down-home acoustic thump of “Exhaustible.” In the few moments when DeVotchKa ups the intensity — as on “The Man from San Sebastian”  — the results are stunning. Nick Urata’s quivering tenor and surf-rock inspired guitar line imbue the song with a timeless quality that I’ve returned to over and over. The remainder of 100 Lovers is equally as vibrant.

Prime cut: “The Man from San Sebastian”

#10. Mutemath, Odd Soul

Mutemath, Odd SoulDon’t call it a comeback. OK, call it a comeback. I found Armistice to be a downer and figured Mutemath (or is it MuteMath/MUTEMATH/Mute Math?) had one good album in them and that was it.

So when I finally got around to sampling Odd Soul it was my most pleasant musical surprise of the year. As much as the group’s first LP wowed me with its technical prowess and intricate arrangements, Odd Soul snagged me with its grit and thunder. I haven’t listened to a lot of the Black Keys, but it seems to me that this album borrows quite a bit from their sound. But no matter where Mutemath got their influences from, Odd Soul is the album that officially won me back as a fan. It grooves, it rocks, and best of all it’s really, really good.

Prime cut: “Prytania”

The Rest of the Best

Each of these albums has something to recommend it. But they didn’t make the Top 10 either because they didn’t fully stick with me or I just didn’t have the time to listen as much as I wanted to.

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James Brown – A Soulful Christmas (1968)

8 More Christmas Albums You Need To Own

Several years ago I shared eight of my favorite (and best, if I may humbly say so) Christmas albums. I think it’s high time to add to that list, so here are another eight Yuletide platters that would make worthy additions to any holiday music collection. As on the first list, there’s enough variety here that you should be able to find something new to love. So here we go, in no particular order…


A Time to Be Jolly (1971)
Bing Crosby

A Time to Be Jolly - Bing Crosby

Bing was in his late 60s and in the last decade of his legendary career when this was released on the brand new Daybreak Records label in 1971. The only thing that gives this away, however, are the vintage late-’60s/early ’70s MOR musical arrangements, which are really quite nice. Most of the tracks on A Time to Be Jolly kick off with some slightly vanilla choral parts, but when Bing’s ageless croon pops up everything just feels right. The highlight of this set for me is the title track, which is like the rest of the album is a tad hokey but is winningly earnest. (This collection has been re-released under a few different names since ’71, most recently as the ingeniously titled Christmas Album.)


A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas! (1959)
The Three Suns

A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas! - The Three Suns

Look, I’m not even going to try to pretend this isn’t cornier than ethanol. The Three Suns were reportedly Mamie Eisenhower’s favorite group, which should tell you something. A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas! is not music to be played with the lights down and the fireplace crackling. This is nothing more than fun Space Age holiday pop, with the kitsch turned up to 11 (witness their unconventional arrangement of “Jingle Bells,” complete with tuba and accordion). It’s also guaranteed to bring some Christmas glee to even the Grinchiest holiday humbug.


Merry Axemas: A Guitar Christmas (1997)
various artists

Merry Axemas: A Guitar Christmas (1997)

Consider this to be the polar opposite of the Three Suns. While you might be inclined to write Merry Axemas off as a nothing more than a festive electrified wankfest, it’s actually pretty substantial holiday tuneage. Hard rock and blues rock dominate the album, as you might expect with a name like “Merry Axemas,” but their are a few subdued tracks that really shine. Eric Johnson’s “The First Nowell” is understated and atmospheric, as is Jeff Beck’s string-bending rendition of “Amazing Grace.” The best of the bunch is Steve Vai’s “Christmas Time Is Here” (via Vince Guaraldi), although the Alex Lifeson’ decidedly un-Rush-like “The Little Drummer Boy” doesn’t lag far behind.


Christmas Becomes Electric (1969)
The Moog Machine

The Moog Machine - Christmas Becomes Electric (1969)

Hey, I’m not above listening to novelty albums during Christmas, and this falls squarely into that category. There are a whopping 17 songs on this LP, but most of them clock in at under two minutes. And honestly, that’s just long enough to bask in the vintage Moog glory without overdoing it. Any of the songs here are as good as the others, so let’s go with a peppy number and a slower one — here’s “Deck the Halls” and “Silent Night.”


Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (1993)
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

OK, time to class up this list a little. At last check the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was up to about 106 albums released, and truth be told this one probably isn’t that much better than the rest. Really, you pretty much know you can expect a certain level of quality and consistency when you play an album like this. The choral arrangements are lovely and the whole thing just oozes sophistication. So why is this particular holiday album of theirs worth seeking out? Among other reasons, their stunning version of “Silent Night.” The counter-melody (I think that’s the term) of the pipe organ lends the song a haunting, otherworldly sound that gives me chills every time I hear it.


A Soulful Christmas (1968)
James Brown

James Brown – A Soulful Christmas (1968)

The Godfather of Soul released two holiday albums in the 1960s — this one and 1966’s James Brown Sings Christmas Songs. I have to give the edge to A Soulful Christmas, if for no other reason than the inclusion of “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” which is as awesome as the title sounds. True, the arrangements are thoroughly non-traditional but if you don’t mind a sweat-soaked dose of vintage funk and R&B mixed in with the usual Yuletide fare, this is the album to own. Of course if you really want to go nuts, you can find most of the songs from these two records as well as others on the mid-’90s JB compilation, Funky Christmas.


Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails Part Two (1997)
various artists

Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails Part Two (1997)

If you liked volume one of the Christmas Cocktails collection, there’s no reason not to like the second. It’s the same fun, whimsical blend of retro holiday cheer, featuring many of the same artists from the first set (Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson, Les Brown, and Eddie Dunstedter all return). While Part Two doesn’t hit quite as many high notes as the first volume, it’s hard not to love tracks like Rawls’ “Merry Christmas, Baby” or the Ventures’ surftastic “Frosty the Snowman.” A word of advice however — skip Part Three.


A Merry Christmas With Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters (2000)
Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters

A Merry Christmas With Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters

Yeah I’m double-dipping with Bing — so what of it? The credits on this compilation are a tad misleading, as only a half dozen of the 20 songs actual feature Der Bingle and the Andrews Sisters performing together. But those six — most notably their rendition of “Jingle Bells” as also heard in A Christmas Story — are worth the price of admission alone. The rest of the album is nearly as awesome, with seven solo Bing tracks and six more from the Sisters by themselves.

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