At the beginning of December I started pulling out the Christmas CD’s from my collection and was a little bit shocked to realise how many I had, if you include the 5 that make up Sufjan Steven’s Songs For Christmas box set I have 24 in total, however I don’t have a single CD that contains, songs by Band Aid, Slade, Wizard and the likes, not that I don’t like these songs, but I can hear them in any number of places in December.
I thought as some of my CD’s are a little abstract I’d write a few comments about each one in case anybody fancied trying something a little bit different for next Christmas.
A Very Special Christmas Volumes 1, 2 & 3.
These are compilation albums raising money for charity made up of various artists covering Christmas classics and some new original festive songs. Volume 1 released in 1987 is the strongest with songs from Bruce Springsteen, U2, Madonna, Bon Jovi amongst the 15 tracks. Highlights for me, Springsteen covering Merry Christmas Baby, John Mellencamp singing I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and Run DMC Christmas in Hollis and the worst, Madonna’s Santa Baby, Stings Gabriel’s Message and Bon Jovi’s Back Door Santa, which is all dodgy lyrics about ‘coming once a year’ etc.
19 tracks this year (1992) and again it includes some great tracks and some real duds. The collection starts to get a real R ‘n’B feel with Run DMC, Boyz II Men and Tevin Campbell making appearances. Treats for me are Tom Petty & Sinead O’Connor (I Believe in You) and the sublime duet between Bonnie Raitt and Charles Brown (Merry Christmas Baby). The tracks I skip Michael Bolton (White Christmas) Debbie Gibson (Sleigh Ride) and Extreme (Christmas Time Again)
The last volume I have although the last time I looked there was another 2 volumes. This was release in 1997 and again the artists reflect the changing times in the musical landscapes, with appearances from Sheryl Crow, The Smashing Pumpkins, No Doubt, and the Christmas All Stars which includes Puff Daddy, Snoop Dogg and Rev Run.
My favourites on this album are Hottie and The Blowfish (The Christmas Song) Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds (Christmas Song) which is responsible for igniting my Dave Matthews obsession, and Jonny Lang (Santa Claus Is Back in Town) and the duffers, Patti Smith’s version of We Three Kings, Enya (Silent Night) and Chris Cornell murdering Ave Maria.
Christmas Blues CD’s
I have 3 of these, all compilation 2 released by Blues Labels, Bullseye Blues Christmas and Black Top Records Blues, Mistletoe and Santa’s Little Helper (who appears from the CD cover to be a scantily clad young women in a red Santa’s outfit!) These are good quality blues CD’s mostly offering original blues tunes with a Christmas theme. Tiles include Poor Man’s X-Mas, Lonesome Christmas and Young Girls Drive Me Wild at Christmas!
Marks (both) 6/10
The 3rd album is called Blue Xmas and is entirely instrumental, it has an amazing line- up of artists including Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and Roy Rogers but the album is terrible, classic Christmas tunes with the vocals picked out by solo guitar playing which is just dull and is heading to the charity shop in the New Year.
Soul and Gospel Christmas CD’s
A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector nothing to say about this Cd other than the greatest Christmas CD ever recorded, if you don’t have it go get it now!
James Brown – Funky Christmas better than I remembered this is mostly classic Brown funk workouts with a Christmas theme, it goes on a bit (17 tracks) but if you little James Brown you’ll like this and it gives you a chance to play some funk on Christmas Day.
A Christmas Present From Motown Volume 1 A bit hit and miss even though all the classic Motown artists are there, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, etc. It’s good but not great and again suffers from being over long, Spector’s Album is 33 minutes long this has 19 tracks and would make a great 10 track album!
The Blind Boys of Alabama – Go tell It on the Mountain classic Christmas tracks supplemented by song great artists, Tom Waits, Michael Franti, Mavis Staples, Aaron Neville and Solomon Burke make this my second must have album. Brilliant from start to finish.
Brian Setzer Orchestra – Boogie Woogie Christmas ex stray Cat now plying his trade with a more traditional rock and roll style, hits us with swing versions of Jingle Bells and Blue Christmas and also has a go at Classical Music (The Nutcracker Suite) but this album promises much and then kind of runs out of ideas.
Various Artists – Where Will You be Christmas Day Recordings From 1917-1959
Great if not the most festive of compilations with titles like Christmas In Jail – Ain’t That A Pain, and Christmas Morning The Rum Had Me Yawning gives you an idea of where this album is coming from but a fascinating delve into American music in the early to mid 1900’s.
Leon Redbone – Christmas Island worth buying maybe for the duet with Dr John on Frosty the Snowman but very little else jumps out from this album. Redbone has a style like a lounge singer but the album washes over me, another for the charity bag.
Mojo’s Festive Fifteen and Blue Christmas 2 good freebie’s from Mojo Magazine, which have enough good tracks for me to keep both of them, highlights Sharon Jones, (Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects) R.E.M. (Deck the Halls) Ed Harcourt (in The Bleak Mid Winter)
Mark (both) 6/10
Low – Christmas Maybe not one for Christmas Day but an amazing album with Low doing what they do best to classics like Little Drummer Boy and Silent Night whilst writing their own Christmas Classics with Just Like Christmas, Long Way Round The Sea and If You Were Today standing up as brilliant songs that could be played the whole year round. Brilliant.
Sufjan Stevens – Songs For Christmas 5 volumes apparently Stevens makes these records every year for his family, drawing the covers and we even get a comic Stevens has drawn for his family. The box set is amazing a mix of Stevens’s originals and classic tracks sprinkled with what Stevens does best. If you like Stevens then get this, if you haven’t heard him before then maybe this is not the Christmas album for you.
She & Him – A Very She & Him Christmas Nice take on some classic Christmas songs from the duo that is M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel. A really nice Christmas album and a clever take on Baby its Cold Outside with the gender roles being reversed.
Smith & Burrows – Funny Looking Angels More of a winter album rather than a Christmas album but brilliant all the same. Tom Smith (Editors) and Andy Burrows (We Are Scientists) turn their hands to some winter themed songs. This has never been off my player this December it’s stunning and I just hope they continue writing together.
Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow Definitely a winter album and not a Christmas album, to me at times this sounds like the music of Talk Talk and that can’t be a bad thing for me. Snowed In at Wheeler Street a duet with Elton John is worth the price of the album alone in my opinion. It takes a little while to get into this album but it’s worth persevering with.