Welcome to our Second Disc Holiday Gift Guide, in which we review some titles we might have missed over the past few weeks! The titles we’re spotlighting in this occasional series just might be candidates on your own holiday shopping list!
‘Tis the season to be jolly, and what better way to alleviate holiday stress than with the sounds of the season? Terrestrial radio stations are sending holiday music over the airwaves earlier with every passing year, and by now, it’s hard to turn the dial without hearing Andy Williams, Bing Crosby and Bobby Helms spreading some seasonal joy. But if you’re in the market for some off-the-beaten-path Christmas tunes, has Real Gone Music got a trio of titles for you!
The recently-launched record label took advantage of the November berth for its initial batch of titles, including in that group no fewer than three Christmas releases. Each and every one features rare material that’s new to CD, making these true must-haves for the holiday music connoisseur. Cameo-Parkway Holiday Hits (Real Gone/ABKCO RGM-0009) was previously a digital-only release, and brings together eighteen diverse tracks from the 1960s heyday of the Philadelphia hit factory. The David Rose Christmas Album (Real Gone RGM-0013) offers eleven slices of orchestral merriment from the man behind “The Stripper,” and Christmas with Ed Ames/Christmas is the Warmest Time of Year (Real Gone RGM-0014) compiles Ames’ 1967 and 1970 RCA albums on one CD.
Though Cameo-Parkway was known for its dance crazes (“The Twist,” “Mashed Potato Time”) and its great vocal group harmonies, Holiday Hits proves that the label had quite a diverse roster. The eclectic line-up features pop, doo-wop, country, comedy, orchestral and even a hint of Mexico! Of course, what Cameo collection would be complete without a contribution from Chubby Checker? We’re happy to report that this one doesn’t disappoint. Checker joins Bobby Rydell for both sides of a seasonally-themed single, “Jingle Bell Rock” b/w “Jingle Bells Imitations.” Chubby can’t resist shout-outs for a “Jingle Bell Twist” (and a call to Pony Time!) into “Jingle Bell Rock,” but the fun doesn’t stop there; on the B-side, Rydell and Checker offer their best impersonations of Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin and even The Chipmunks!
Did you ever wonder what a holiday meeting between Bobby Kennedy and Bobby, er, Bob Dylan would have been like? Wonder no more. Dylan is spoofed singing “White Christmas” as Bobby the Poet in the track subtitled “3 O’Clock Weather Report,” itself a parody of Simon and Garfunkel’s “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night.” If only Dylan had tackled the Irving Berlin standard on his own Christmas in the Heart for comparison’s sake! The Poet’s rendition, though, is quite credible, as is its harmonica part! (“And all your Christmases be whiiiiiite, babe!”)
Speaking of wild tracks, they don’t come much more bizarre than a “Deliverance”-style rendition of “Auld Lang Syne,” courtesy Bob Johnson and the Lonesome Travelers! Less outré are the orchestral cuts both staid (the “International Pop Orchestra’s “Joy to the World,” “The First Noel,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Deck the Halls”) and brassy (The Rudolph Statler Orchestra’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Let It Snow!”). The pseudonymous Beethoven Ben offers honky-tonk piano on his “Auld Lang Syne, and if The Mexicana Marimba Band didn’t make for a serious threat to the Bajas, the group’s “Twelve Days of Christmas” is an A&M-worthy delight.
Curtis Mayfield appears on the romantic “I’ll Stay Home (New Year’s Eve)” from The Jaynells, and The Cameos offer lushly sung originals, “Merry Christmas” and “New Year’s Eve,” a different song than the one assayed by The Jaynells. Less romantic is the young Bob Seger’s frenetically-rocking “Sock It to Me, Santa,” a riff on “Santa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” The holidays don’t get much more fun, and more irreverent, than the best tracks on this compilation! Bob Ludwig and Joe Yannece have done a solid job remastering.
Hit the jump to continue our yuletide journey!
Ed Ames’ two Christmas albums (1967’s Christmas with Ed Ames and 1970’s Christmas is the Warmest Time of the Year) for RCA Victor show off the supple-voiced singer’s golden pipes in a largely traditional setting. As most of the songs on both LPs are spiritual in nature, both albums are of a piece. The first album’s “Let It Snow!” (written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn) is a secular exception, much like the second’s bid for an original standard, “Christmas is the Warmest Time of the Year.” Alas, Ed’s title song was soon consigned to history, but it’s a great example of sixties seasonal pop. Carol Hall, later to write the score to Broadway’s The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, contributes the unusual but charming “Ballad of the Christmas Donkey” to the 1967 effort. (Ames himself was no stranger to Broadway. He had successful runs in productions such as Carnival!, and his most fondly-remembered singles just might be “My Cup Runneth Over,” from I Do! I Do! and “Try to Remember,” from The Fantasticks. Both scores were written by the same team of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt.) Ames’ take on “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” also from that album, has proven its longevity and still is heard in the rotation this time of the year.
Maria Triana’s remastering brings out the detail in these dramatically-arranged lost classics. Christmas is the Warmest Time of the Year was released in 1970, the same year as Ames’ final appearances on the charts. The decade wasn’t an easy one for so-called “easy listening” artists as they struggled to adapt to a musical landscape that was more diverse, and youth-oriented, than ever. Today, both of Ames’ albums are a timely reminder of the artist’s rich, distinct baritone and impeccable taste.
The final release of the Real Gone Christmas collection for 2011 is a reissue of Capitol’s 1968 The David Rose Christmas Album. Rose is well-remembered for his 1962 bumping-and-grinding ode to “The Stripper,” but the accomplished arranger was more than a one-trick pony. His first hit came during World War II (“Holiday for Strings,” associated with Red Skelton’s television program) but he continued writing through the 1980s, on programs like Highway to Heaven and Little House on the Prairie. (Gene Sculatti’s entertaining liner notes also tell us that Rose orchestrated the theme song to Bonanza, one of the most familiar compositions ever to burst from the small screen!) Maverick producer David Axelrod was behind the controls for Rose’s holiday collection, and though these arrangements don’t share much with Axelrod’s own funk-meets-easy-listening experiments, he clearly brought out the best in Rose’s orchestral performances. The album is short, just eleven tracks and roughly twenty-three minutes. But Rose’s arrangements are creative and timeless, as further evidenced by use of this album over the years in Disneyland’s Main Street USA during the holiday season. Those who have visited any of Disney’s Magic Kingdoms will be sure to recognize Rose’s sprightly, atmospheric treatment of the traditional “The Christmas Tree.” Alan Brownstein (who does such stellar work at the Now Sounds label) has remastered.
The art direction and design of all three of these reissues is stellar, and every title includes newly-written liner notes and reproductions of the original artwork. With Christmas just around the corner, don’t miss the opportunity to revisit these classics dating from the golden age of holiday music!