VULTURE DROPPINGS OF THE WEEK: Christmas Albums
It’s time once again for the weekly roundup of my favorite pop culture atrocities, misfires and entertaining trainwrecks. This week’s theme: Christmas Albums.
When Bob Dylan announced plans for his Christmas in the Heart, many of his most ardent fans scoffed at the idea. A hokey holiday album just isn’t the man’s style. The warm and fuzzy album cover, featuring a dot rendered portrait of a happy couple on a sleigh ride, did nothing to calm the waves of skepticism.
Once Christmas in the Heart was released on Oct. 13, however, Dylan laughed all the way to the bank. Sales were good and so were the reviews. What at first seemed like the usual desperate Christmas cash-in, turned out to be a sincere and interesting addition to his ever-growing discography. For the other 99 % of people who come out with Christmas albums, “desperate cash-in” is a monumental understatement.
By the far, the most grating genres of holiday music are Pop, Easy Listening and Novelty (there’s a thin line between funny and freaky). Read further to see why.
1. *NSYNC, Home For Christmas
In 1998, *NSYNC was on the eve of becoming “the biggest band in the world” (if you believe Rolling Stone, that is). And it was years before Justin Timberlake would become the white Michael Jackson (I mean, caucasian) and Lance Bass would come out of the closet. If you ask me, though, anybody with even the slightest aptitude for gaydar would pick up strong signals from this overly festive album.
With tracks like “Kiss Me At Midnight” and “Under My Tree”, it’s hard to determine if they’re talking about an innocent holiday romance or a night on the town at Steamworks bathhouse. The following video, for the single “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays”, brings new meaning to the lyrics “make the yuletide gay.”
2. NKOTB, Merry, Merry Christmas
About a decade before *NSYNC unleashed Home For Christmas, The New Kids On The Block has their own special album: Merry, Merry Christmas. I guess one “merry” just wasn’t enough to express their joy. It features three traditional standards, three songs about Santa Claus and the rest are weird attempts at zazzin’ up the tired genre of holiday music — most notably with “Funky, Funky Xmas.” That may work if you’re Bootsy Collins, but for NKOTB, it’s an empty promise.
3. ROSIE O’DONNELL, A Rosie Christmas
At the height of her fame, Rosie O’Donnell had legions of house moms eating out of the palm of her hand. This album, with an array of random guest stars, and the accompanying TV special, perfectly represent the afore-mentioned statement. Sure, Rosie has a capable singing voice for theatre, but was there no one to tell her that a duet with Celine Dion might make her appear a notch under par?
4. GARTH BROOKS, Garth Brooks & The Magic of Christmas
Country and Christmas usually go together like high class escorts and Tiger Woods. The best albums with this fusion (Loretta Lynn‘s Country Christmas, Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers‘ Once Upon A Christmas) are homey and, like Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart, completely sincere and, well, heartfelt.
Country superstar Garth Brooks released his own Christmas album in 1999, and managed to make every track sound like every other single he’s ever recorded. It’s quite a feat to make “Sleigh Ride” sound like he’s singing about a Chevy truck.
5. KENNY G, Miracles
If you’re an Easy Listening artist and you don’t record a holiday album, then you’re in the wrong business. What elevator or Cosco Supercenter would be complete without Kenny G‘s rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”? Nobody does Muzak better than he.
And what album cover would be complete without a phallic soprano saxophone and a hungry, naked baby? Wait…What?
6. JOHN TESH, A Romantic Christmas
In 1995, a year before he left Entertainment Tonight to focus on his music career full-time, John Tesh released A Romantic Christmas, the perfect album to listen to while taking a bubble bath with a loved one during the holidays (I didn’t realize there was a market for that).
If you think the album cover is a bit strange, then wait til you see the following video. It’s like the New Age version of The Wall mixed with some boughs of holly.
7. LAWRENCE WELK, Merry Christmas from Lawrence Welk
I remember many a Saturday afternoons where The Lawrence Welk show would be on in the background. The big band polkas. The melodramatic actors. The gaudi set design. It was like The Andy Williams Show, but with more accordions.
Welk’s solo albums, featuring his safe, harmless “champagne music,” piled up like unpaid parking tickets throughout the 1970s. These days, his name is synonymous with musty antique shop basements. That means that you’re going to have to go digging to find Merry Christmas from Lawrence Welk. And if you think it wouldn’t be worth it, then, well, you’re right.
8. ELMO AND PATSY, Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer
I’d be astounded if there exits a soul who purchased this album and actually listened to it (discounting all hipsters who bought it ironically, of course). Elmo & Patsy were a married couple who had been hawking the title single, “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”, since 1979.
In 1984, Epic Records finally picked it up and the rest is history. The happy couple eventually divorced and their act disintegrated. As for the single, it’s still played on radio rotation every single year during Christmas time, leading millions of people –myself included — to reach for that dial and change stations. It was humorous the first fifty times.
9. R2D2 & C3PO, Christmas In The Stars
In 1978, a bizarre (to put it mildly) little television gem called The Star Wars Holiday Special aired on ABC. It shocked fans, embarrassed George Lucas and threatened to tarnish the franchise’s legacy. After that debacle, you’d think that people would have learned that mixing Star Wars and Christmas was a bad idea.
As you can see by the above album, released two years after the special, there was no such realization. The song posted below answers the all-important question: What do you get a Wookie for Christmas when he already owns a comb?
10. REGIS PHILBIN, The Regis Philbin Christmas Album
No, this was not a joke. In addition to being a television personality, game show host and sometimes comic actor (remember him in Woody Allen‘s Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex…?) , the ubiquitous Regis Philbin is also a certified crooner! (It doesn’t take much, I guess…just enough money to cut an album).
His first effort, It’s Time for Regis!, failed to ignite his singing career. Thrity years later he returned to the recording studio with more confidence (maybe an over-abundance of it) and released a slew of new works, including The Regis Philbin Christmas Album.
Much like Rosie before him, Regis brought aboard some famous guest stars to help drive sales. But while she smartly chose real singers like Elton John and Cher, he opted for his the likes of his wife Joy and Donald Trump. Nothing says “Happy Holidays” better than a duet with a shrewd, self-aggrandizing real estate tycoon!
11. SHELLEY DUVALL, Hello, I’m Shelley Duvall…Merry Christmas
Actually, I kinda liked this album, which was released in 1992. Yes, it’s a bit oddball, kitschy and surreal, but its songs are also extremely catchy (just as her songs in Popeye were, too). What more can you ask from Shelley Duvall? When she sets her sights on a project for kids, she delivers. And now that she’s “retired,” there’s no chance of seeing an album like this ever again. So savor it