Every year it’s the same; buy a bunch of new music, put together a CD, burn a whole shitload of copies out, send them to friends, and – viola! – it’s a new edition of Santapalooza. I’ve been doing this for several years now and I seem to have it all down pretty well, but the search for new music will always be there. Sure, there’s a ton of Christmas music out there, but for me to put a song on one of my Santapalooza CDs (which always double as my Christmas card) I’ve got to think that it‘s something truly special, or at the very least it’s gotta be catchy, and if there’s one thing that I really like, it’s a good, catchy song. Santapalooza 2008 is full of them.
(Please Note: I’m not offering any downloads of these songs, so don’t ask.)
Peggy Lee, “I Like a Sleigh Ride (Jingle Bells)” – I used to work for EMI (a horrible experience that I don’t recommend to anyone) and one of the few upsides to the job were the monthly MRI’s, which meant you could order up four CDs or LPs from the EMI catalog (Beatles titles excepted). This time last year I decided I should dive into some classic Christmas music, and not having much Peggy Lee in my collection, this one made a lot of sense to me. This is the first track and I knew that I’d heard it before, but I also knew that it would be perfect to include it on this year’s comp. It’s bright and zippy and fun, and I also like how Ms. Peggy Lee takes a classic song but does her own thing with it. It was nice to read in the CD’s liner notes (written by Lee’s daughter) about how Lee really loved Christmas and was fond of this album, which I am, too.
Lou Rawls, “Good Time Christmas” – I love Lou Rawls. Here was another artist who I took advantage of with my EMI MRI’s, and I got some wonderful stuff out it, such his great Christmas comp, which features this wonderful, soulful piece. This is from Rawls in his prime, a real piece of R&B/soul power, and it’s probably the funkiest thing on here. I do love it so.
The Orchids, “Christmas is the Time to be With Your Baby” – Got this one off of a Universal Music Publishing comp that I picked up in Amoeba Music during a weekend jaunt to L.A. last November. That was a good trip, and I found a lot of tunes for this year’s CD from it, like this one.
James Brown, “Signs of Christmas” – James Brown is a Santapalooza staple, and this slower soul piece fits in just right.
Marvin & Johnny, “It’s Christmas Time” – Took this off of a great early 90’s Christmas comp from EMI (now out of print) that I also found at Amoeba last year. A lovely 50s Doo-Wop piece that deserves to be better known than it is.
The Belmonts, “Wintertime” – Taken off of the same EMI comp, this one almost didn’t make the list because it barely mentions Christmas itself. But it’s a beautiful little song that fit perfectly with Marvin & Johnny, so I couldn’t say no, and I didn’t.
Barry and the Highlights, “Xmas Bell Rock” – From Doo-Wop to rockabilly, taken off of the majestic Rockabilly Christmas from Buffalo Bop. One of the great Christmas CDs of all time, I will continue to use it as a source of holiday joy for all my friends.
Cathy Sharpe, “North Pole Rock” – Rockabilly Christmas once again, and what’s wrong with that? Sharpe has a kind of Wanda Jackson presence, which make me love this track all the more.
Albert King, “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’” – I accidentally labeled this as Rufus Thomas (I owe everyone an apology, especially Misters King and Thomas), but it’s a great piece that I couldn’t pass up. Some CDs don’t include this, as it is not all that family-friendly. Sorry if you’re one of those folks.
Isaac Hayes, “You, the Mistletoe and Me” – I had already planned to include this well before Mr. Hayes’ passing this August, and it’s unfortunate that it’s included as a tribute. It’s a great piece of soul music and one of my favorites of Hayes'. R.I.P., Black Moses.
Manfred Mann, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” – A fairly quick instrumental, but so good I couldn’t pass it up. Jaunty and jazzy are probably the best ways to describe it, and though I’m sure it was a throwaway track for the band, they still made it special.
Nat King Cole, “Oh Holy Night” – I tend to stay away from the mainstays – which this number most certainly is – but I’ve loved it all my life, so I knew it was going to end up on one of these eventually. To me, there are few more wonderful moments in song than when Cole sings “Oh night divine”. Real magic.
Absinthe Blind, “Silent Night” – Never heard of this band before until I took a chance on a Parasol Records comp called Stuck in the Chimney at last year’s Amoeba haul, and I knew once I’d heard this track that it would make its way onto this year’s comp. It’s ambitious and modern, but also very respectful of the piece and they really get this piece right. I should look into more stuff from this band.
Apples in Stereo, “Holiday Mood” – I love these power poppers, and I was completely expecting a full-on power pop track from them, but no. This one’s softer, quieter and very easy to listen to, but it strikes the right cord and is a really nice holiday tune all around.
Bobby Goldsboro, “Look Around You (It’s Christmas Time)” – You certainly expect the man who gave us “Honey” to give us a holiday bummer and he certainly doesn’t disappoint, but he doesn’t miss his mark, either. The holidays ain’t always easy and it’s not a bad idea to remind folks of that. A bit of a downer, yes, but a good downer, says I.
Sufjan Stevens, “Get Behind Me, Santa!” – This track comes from the 2005 portion of Steven’s mega Christmas box, and it’s a really fun piece, with Santa defending his actions against those who think he’s a nuisance. Very peppy and lots of fun.
Tralala, “Everybody Christmastime” – This three song EP from Brooklyn hipsters Tralala is full of #1 hits like this one, which is even peppier than the last song. Compliments the Stevens song really well, but I think this is the better track. Expect song #3 to show up next year.
David Carwell and Megan Barnes, “I Wanna Kiss You This Christmas” – More peppiness abounds, courtesy of the It’s a Team Mint Christmas Volume 2 collection, featuring artist found on Mint Records. Nice little ditty, I think.
“Merry Christmas, Baby” – The Beach Boys – Resisting the cry to put “Little St. Nick” on one of these comps (it’s great, but it’s overplayed), and realized that this one fits the bill just fine. Interesting thing about it, if you listen to the lyrics (which you always should), it’s not a song about a jilted lover, but about a cheating jerk who realizes his mistake. Not really great holiday fodder, but I’m still giving this one a pass.
“Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)” – Just after The Darkness’ Permission to Land was a big hit in the U.K., they released this single, which failed to reached the coveted #1 Christmas spot (a big deal in the U.K.), but it’s a new Christmas classic as far as I’m concerned. I had no idea The Darkness broke up. Damn shame; I liked their stuff.
“A Merry Jingle” – The Greedies – This is one of the great Power Punk singles, and if you’re looking for supergroups, then look no further than this melding of Thin Lizzy and the Sex Pistols. This was one of those songs I’d been trying to get for years, and finally have thanks to that Uni comp I got at Amoeba.
“Truckin’ Trees for Christmas” – Red Simpson’s Trucker’s Christmas gets a play once again, and I think I’ve got one or two more track to use before I’m through with it. And I say without any irony or facetiousness, but we should remember the truckers this Christmas, as they will be out there on the roads, away from their families (or without families), and they deserve to have a Merry Christmas, too.
“Christmas in November”, Slim Pickens – OK, this is the big one, the one I’ve been looking to get on here since I started Santapalooza back in ‘o2. Here’s the story: 20 years ago, I was a freshman at Union County College in Cranford, NJ, where I was DJing on the campus radio station. I found this one in our 45 bin and, knowing who Slim Pickens was, decided to give it a whirl on my Christmas show (which I taped, and still have). Stunned by what I’d heard, I would play it for a few folks over the years with a similarly stunned reaction. When I started Santapalooza, I was hoping to find an MP3 or it (or maybe on CD), but there was nothing out there. Finally, I lucked out last year – a .45 was available on Ebay. Not only was I the only bidder, this was a promo copy that had never been played – insane! I had to send it to a friend of mine in L.A. to get it on CD (no one else I know here has the ability to do this), along with another track, and once I got it I knew it was going in. So what’s so damn weird about it? Well, how many Christmas songs dedicated to dying kids do you know of? Add Slim Pickens to this mix and you’ve got the strangest Christmas song of all time. I had to leave this one off of a few CDs that go out to friends with kids, but if you’ve got then cherish it, because it’s a rarity. And I’m never selling that .45, so don’t even ask. Merry Christmas, Slim Pickens!
“Reggae Christmas Eve in Transylvania”, Count Floyd (Joe Flaherty) – The second track I had my L.A. pal burn on CD for me, this is another rarity, although not quite up there with “Christmas in November”. After the success of the Bob and Doug McKenzie album in 1982, Joe Flaherty cut a 4-track EP as Count Floyd, which I picked up a few years later in ’84. Good thing, too, because I’d never seen or heard of it since and it contains this odd, but amusing, Christmas track that’s probably the highlight of the EP. One never really thought to mix Reggae music, Christmas time and Transylvania before, so kudos to Flaherty and crew for coming up with something unique.
“The 12 Days of Christmas”, Bob and Doug McKenzie (Dave Thomas/Rick Moranis) – Could not follow up Count Floyd without Bob and Doug, and I don’t think the two have been heard together since my 1988 WCPE Christmas show. Still pretty funny, and I still love Bob & Doug (and SCTV, of course).
“Sexy Elf”, Canned Hamm – Wrapping it up with one more Canadian comedy Christmas tune, courtesy of Vancouver’s Canned Hamm, off of their 2007 opus, Sincerely Christmas. Sexy elves don’t get enough ink these days, so bless the Hamm duo for this tuneful tribute.
That's it for this year. For more holiday tune info, get an earful at Mistletunes.