I said earlier that amateurs on YouTube tend to discourage pros from making good Christmas novelties. Here's a good Christmas novelty, although I don't know what the author's pro status is.
That 70s hard rock sound never dies, and who better to deliver it to us than two-fifths of the Runaways? This 2013 single is mostly Lita Ford's joint, but she offered a role to the otherwise reclusive Cherie, and less than four minutes later, with a request for a beverage over the fade, we have ourselves a Christmas tune. Good stuff, especially for the leather 'n lace crowd.
The long-running late 70s punk band, founded by Glenn Danzig before he went out on his own, is still a going concern in 2013, as evidenced by this EP, or should we call it a double B-side single, as there is a limited vinyl release in exactly that format in colored vinyl. It's downloadable too, which is the format I received. No surprises in sound, this is classic late 70s punk applied to three classics, the A-side "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," "Island of Misfit Toys" and "Blue Christmas." Misfits fans will want the vinyl, punks will be happy to have this and it's quite listenable for the rest of us as well.
The Rocket Summer is essentially just Bryce Avary of Dallas/Fort Worth, who has been making records for a decade now, and just got around to Christmas for 2013 with three original songs and an acoustic guitar cover of "O Holy Night." "Christmas Madness" is a strong opener, a fine power pop holiday anthem. "Elf Creep" is a piano-led number about an elf sneaking up on the object of his affections (you stalker you), and "Grapevine Christmas Eve" appears to be about a ghost returning on the night before the holiday. These are fine original Christmas songs, especially for the power poppers among us.
Hadn't heard at the start of the season whether the Killers would keep their Christmas single streak alive in 2013, well, they did. But they got a lot of help from up-and-coming California folk-rockers Dawes; that band's Taylor Goldsmith co-wrote the song and partly sings the tune, which if not for Brandon Flowers' lead vocals would sound like the Killers guested on a Dawes tune. (Irving Berlin gets a credit too, for the four lines of "White Christmas" that get pilfered on the lead-out.) My take on Dawes is that they frequently sing in the third person about some poor deluded girl who doesn't see the wheels within wheels the way the narrator does (I foresee an Onion headline: "Girl Who All Dawes Songs Are About Goes To Court, Seeks Restraining Order") but on this mellow folk-pop song, the observational aspect hits just the right balance; guess the Killers were in charge after all. Currently it's only on iTunes, no Amazon link available. UPDATE: Forgot to note the song benefits the Global Fund For AIDS. And I just got the YouTube link for the video:
This 2013 rocker is a hysterical number by the long-running indie-rockers, aided by comic Eugene Mirman and NPR stalwart Ira Glass, and it's part of a comedy album, 2776: A Millenium Of American Asskickery, set to be released next summer. Meanwhile, this has been released as a single. It's a riff on "Dance of the Toy Soldiers" transferred to the modern sci-fi blockbuster day, where the toys come to life and enslave humans, all to the not-quite-familiar sound of Yo La Tengo's buzzy, lo-fi accompaniment. "It came down to Toys or Us," the song sadly concludes, and don't worry, there are plenty of other great lines in this song. Destined to become a Christmas classic in the same way that the "WKRP" turkey episode has become a Thanksgiving Day classic. Enjoy, and click through to grab it for yourself.
Citizens are a Seattle-based Christian rock band that just got started a couple of years ago and have one regular album to their name, and now for 2013 they have this collection of Christmas music, four classic carols and one original tune, "Come and Stand Amazed," which fits right in with the worshipful tone of the other songs here. As for the sound, it's a radio-friendly alt-rock collection of mostly upbeat sounds, except for "Silent Night" and "Come and Stand Amazed." "Hark the Herald Angels" even throws a bit of 60s soul into the mix. Good original arrangements of these songs, you won't even notice you're being preached at.
Londoner Leona is a bonafide international star as a result of winning her home country's version of "The X Factor" in 2006 and going on to a string of Brit award/Grammy award winning songs and albums. I tend to steer clear of talent show denizens, particularly "American Idol," especially when the ever-present Simon Cowell is involved, but I have to say I'm not particularly horrified by the results on offer here. Leona's singing does evince a certain hero worship of the late Whitney Houston, the production is assembly-line modern pop, and there aren't any real surprises among the cover songs, but she manages to put some personality into the proceedings nonetheless. Points for using the Otis Redding arrangement of "White Christmas," and perhaps because I'm not English I never get tired of hearing Roy Wood's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday," which kicks off with a bit of emoting before heading into a Wizzard-faithful arrangement. She also does spot-on Spector takes of "Winter Wonderland" and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." Album closers "Ave Maria" and "Silent Night" are a little too reverent for my taste, however, the typical pop album's sincerity while showing off the singer's chops move. Leona co-writes three tunes for this collection, the sprightly album opener "One More Sleep," in which the singer is dreaming of her lover coming home for Christmas, "Mr. Right," an uptempo request for a two-legged Christmas present, and the churchy ballad "Your Hallelujah." Not really a classic, but I'm liking this in spite of myself.
The Seattle-based classic rockers, previously on the Christmas tip with the Lovemongers album, cut a new single for 2013. "All Through the Night" is Nancy Wilson with help from Richard Marx on this pop ballad, while Ann Wilson duets with Aaron Neville on the Charles Brown classic. This is far more pop than rock, but I know the classic rock fans would want to know about this, especially since other classic rockers' promises of holiday music haven't come through this year.
This song, from 2013, manages to live up both to the title and to the band name. It's a ballad that starts with a guy who lost his job and worries about his prospects, but the holiday manages to overcome his concerns for a short time anyway. It picks up from the slow intro to a nice mid-tempo rocker. Good work, pick it up.
Pete's a singer-songwriter and photographer with a number of albums to his credit, and for the time being he's making available this 2013 single free of charge at Bandcamp. It's a nice mid-tempo rocker, a love song in which the singer gets the girl, and that makes it always Christmas. Nice sentiment, nice song, check it out here.
Richard is a long-running power pop maven and sideman extraordinare with 10 albums to his credit, but near as I can tell this lovely rocker is his first Christmas song, released for 2013. Strong, hook-laden music, the only fly in the ointment is that it's not out for sale yet; the only way to hear it is via this YouTube video. If it becomes downloadable at some point I'll update this post. Meanwhile, crank up the volume on those open-air speakers.
Never Shout Never previously did a single for the holidays in 2008 called "30 Days," but that was when it was a one-man band. Now a full touring outfit, the group has cut loose with a Christmas gift for 2013, two originals and two covers, nice semi-acoustic versions of "Winter Wonderland" and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." "Everything is Cool" is a ukelele-and-harmonica harmony-vocal tune that combines a major-key melody that belies the minor-key lyrics, and "Under the Mistletoe" is an acoustic duet with Dia Frampton in which the singers agree to meet in the favorite holiday spot in the title. Mellow stuff, but highly listenable.
Don't know much about this act, but the song, originally out in 2008, is a humorous rocker about having a holiday birthday, name-checking numerous celebrities a la Adam Sandler who were born on Christmas day. Although the first verse appears to be factually wrong: "Here's a problem Jesus never had to deal with." Or maybe not. Anyway, it's good fun.
On the one hand, novelty Christmas recordings aren't that hard to find if you frequent YouTube. On the other hand, since any idiot can get on YouTube, amateurs make it difficult for experienced musicians to put together good novelties. I just stumbled across this collection from 2011 the other day, and it's quite nice -- satirical lyrics played with rootsy rock 'n roll charm, in the vein of the Christmas Jug Band and a bunch of other similar folks. "Credit Card Christmas" offers a rocking kickoff to the album about how the festivities are going to be paid for, "My Ex Miss Carol" puns on the girlfriend stolen away by Santa, "Sha La La La (Don't Come Home This Christmas)" puts some girl-group sass (without girls) on a downbeat sentiment, "You Ain't Getting Shit For Chrismtas" is a self-explanatory ballad, "Santa's Getting Bigger" is a bit obvious as to the jolly elf's weight problem, "My Birthday's On Christmas" is a lament about being gypped out of presents, "Santa's Got a Sharkskin Suit" is a cool rockabilly number, and the album closes with the lament "I Can't Believe It's Christmastime Again," a duet with an uncredited female singer. For 2013, the duo is back with "Dos Christmas Ez," a bit of mariachi-flavored musing about divorced parents providing a kid two separate-but-equal Christmases. More thought-provoking than funny, but smart work nevertheless. You can download everything from Amazon.
The popular funkateers from the 70s and 80s are billing this 2013 release as their first-ever Christmas album, with six originals and eight standards on the card. They do a great job with this, creating an album that has their signature funk sound with updated touches. I'm always leery of legacy R'nB bands' Christmas albums, as they tend to fall back on gospel readymades and easy listening, but while these guys don't avoid these things, they also managed to make an album that sounds contemporary as well. (They also avoided covering "This Christmas" and "My Favorite Things.") Their "Home For the Holidays," "Little Drummer Boy," "Winter Wonderland" and "Joy to the World" completely deconstruct these familiar tunes with funky grooves and even rap sections. Other familiar holiday ballads get the typical R'nB/smooth jazz treatment, such as "Christmas Time Is Here," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)." Originals like "Christmas Always," "Let's Rejoice (Christmas Is Here)," "Christmas Tyme (Perfect Time For Love)," "Do Not Be Afraid," "My Prayer" and "Peace" are slow-to-medium tempo performances, the latter an instrumental. They're good originals, they just don't jump out and grab you as must-listens. The uptempo covers are by far the best part of what is overall, a solid R'nB Christmas album. Hard copies appear to be available only through their website, Best Buy and Walmart, but you can download from iTunes and Amazon.
This is from 2012, and there's not much info to be found about this group online. It starts out with several classic carols in a sort of alternative pop-rock vein, with mangled titles like "Sleh Rahd," "Janga Beylz" and "G.N.T.L.M.N." Then there's "Uber Nacht," a medley of "The First Noel," "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night" in a more conventional acoustic reading. "The Sneaky Song" is a non-holiday parody of White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army." Then there are what appear to be originals, like "House Call," an ambiguous story of "a doctor who's also a king," and "Chopstick Drum," an ode to making lunch that is non-holiday. Considering how much of this is non-Christmas, the title falls a bit short. But if you're looking for holiday songs that remind you of playing singles on your portable 45 player in the 60s, the tunes on here will work for you.
Yeah, these guys know on which side their bread is buttered, as they're back with their third pass at the holiday for 2013. This EP comes loaded with guest shots -- Colbie Caillat, Cee Lo Green, Otis Redding and Paul McCartney -- although at least the latter two are simply sampled from the original records, while Caillat appears to be performing live; Cee Lo's performance could have been either, though he sounds very much like he did singing "White Christmas" on his own Christmas album. Elsewhere, Amazon allows you to download free their parody version of "The Nutcracker," and they do a fairly rhythmic, almost streetcorner, version of "Home By Christmas," a poppier "Song For Santa" and a funky, uptempo "Amazing Grace." Other than "Nutcracker," the glee-club-isms are kept to a minimum here, thankfully.
This 2013 single is a charity release for Britain's Big Issue Foundation. It's a nice mid-tempo rocker with a sing-along chorus, and your buck or so supports needy people, so what are you waiting for? Check it out.
This act offers a new Christmas song every year, and for 2013 it's the John and Yoko classic. It's added to the group's Christmas Collection on Noisetrade, which we previously mentioned here. If you haven't grabbed the collection before, grab the updated version with this song added.
The now-online-only music/other arts magazine has a long history of distributing various artists collections of music, including Christmas collections, and this is the 2013 holiday edition, free for download from Noisetrade. (Noisetrade requests "tips" to support the artists, but in this case there's a strictly free download button provided.) This straddles the adult alternative and Americana genres, and nearly all this stuff is previously or currently released. As a result, I'm just going to mention stuff that's on here that hadn't crossed my radar before this. "Christmas Thyme" is by The Olms, the Pete Yorn/J.D. King project from earlier this year, and this original song is a nice 60s pop outing featuring acoustic guitar and trumpet fills. Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors offer the piano-led ballad "Everything's Changed at Christmas But You," Maggie Chapman sings of lost love at the holiday in "Could've Been Summer," J Roddy Walston & the Business take a grungy stab at gospel in "Jesus Gonna Do His Best," the David Mayfield Parade go old-school pop country with "They Shined Up Rudolph's Nose" and The Last Bison lead their version of "Carol of the Bells" with banjo. There are also cuts from Sufjian Stevens, Nick Lowe, Bright Eyes, Otis Redding, Good Old War and Seabird, but they've all been mentioned here before. Can't argue with the price even if you have a lot of these songs.
Before Hanukkah completely passes us by, up-and-comers Haim channel Adam Sandler for us. This is from 2012, a performance for BBC Radio 6.
This is mostly Jewish humor for other Jews, but with Hanukkah bearing down on us I thought I should hurry this onto the site. Rachel Bloom is a comic and actress who cuts lots of short videos for use on YouTube and other sites, and she gathered up a bunch of friends to throw together this short collection of Hanukkah-centric goodies. Highlights include "Chanukah Honey," a parody of "Santa Baby" with a NSFW twist in the very last line; "Happy Epic Chanukah," a heavy metal take on the story of the holiday; "Foreskin Angels," less about the holiday and more about, well, you know; "Judaica," an electro-pop tribute to shopping for Jewish heritage goodies while traveling; "Let Me Be the Cantor In Your Temple," a bit of Wild Man Fischer-inspired ranting (and oh, is that what the kids are calling it this year?); "What Would Hashem Do," a light-hearted look at the extreme punishments described in the Old Testament; and "Think About All the Dead Jews," a klezmer version of "finish your peas, the starving children in India would love them." There are three "Elders of Zion" spoken-word bits that are probably more funny if you're Jewish, as they snark on Jewish stereotypes. Here, check out "Chanukah Honey":
This Nashville-based Christian rock band only has a few albums out, but for the 2013 holiday season they've chosen to make one of those albums a Christmas project, and good on them for it. Leaving aside the religious aspect, these guys are a contemporary pop-rock band with a commercial radio sheen to their sound, and they've put together a highly listenable collection of originals and covers. Needless to say, most of the originals press home the religious reason for the season, like disc opener "What a Glorious Night," the piano ballad "Hey Moon," the almost-rockabilly "Merry Christmas To You," the stately march "Hope Was Born This Night," and the sprightly closer "Because It's Christmas." The midtempo rocker "Give Me Christmas" is a love song to the holiday, and is probably the best of the originals. As for the covers, they do typical slow takes of "Silent Night" and "What Child Is This," the standard pop ballad take on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" with the original third verse, although they slip in "If the Lord allows," a very countrypolitan take on "Holly Jolly Christmas," a nice "White Christmas" that uses the original Drifters arrangement with some vocal help from Francesca Battistelli, and a soulful take on "That Spirit of Christmas" from Ray Charles' Christmas album. Decide for yourself about the Christian aspect of this modern rock band, but this is a strong pop-rock celebration of the holidays. UPDATE: Forgot to mention that "Because It's Christmas" and "Hope Was Born" were part of a 2012 EP.
This old-school synth-pop duo was previously on the holiday beat with their 1988 single "She Won't Be Home (Lonely Christmas)," backed with "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." They've steered clear of the holiday from that day until 2013, with this new 13-cut collection, which doesn't include the two previous songs. No surprises in sound if you've listened to Erasure before, it's the same all-synth orchestration over pop, rock and R'nB beats applied to a baker's dozen of songs that include originals and familiar covers. And at least one unfamiliar cover: "Sleep Quietly" is better known as "Sleep Quietly My Jesus," written by Ruth Heller, but according to the Internets has only, until now, ever been performed by classical crossover singer Kathleen Jenkins in 2012. Likewise, the Great and Powerful Wikipedia has Ruth Heller as a Canadian children's book author with no songwriting credits. Oh well, a mystery for the comments section. The electro-pop version of "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" is alone worth the entire album. Antique carols get their futuristic takes with "Gaudete," in the original Latin, "Silent Night," "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," and "In the Bleak Midwinter." They also give soft ballad arrangements to "White Christmas" and "Silver Bells." The rest are originals, starting with "Bells of Love (Isabelle's of Love)," a plea for love on the holiday; "Make It Wonderful," a minor-key request for reassurance; the non-holiday dance-floor anthem "Loving Man"; the Three Wise Men allegory "Blood on the Snow"; and "There'll Be No Tomorrow," another uptempo number recalling the classic Erasure sound, this one a holiday come-on to a lover. Good stuff, especially for you SiriusXM "1st Wave" fans. A club remix of "Gaudete" is also on offer, though it appears to only be in the British market for now.
BBVD is one of those big horn bands that came out of the mid-90s "swinger" subculture (no, not wife-swapping, think the movie, more like Rat Pack worship), and these guys were on the Christmas tip early, with their 1997 EP Watchu Want For Christmas? (Note collector prices.) They recycled the holiday songs from that disc onto their 2004 collection Everything You Want For Christmas, and now they're back for 2013 with a third collection of holiday songs. In the past, there was some implied crossover connection between pop, rock and big band; this time around, the name of the record label, given in the headline, should be considered definitive. This is the kind of Christmas album a large horn-led band would have made in 1959, a pop jazz collection. The only difference is that in those days, they would have never covered "Run Rudolph Run," here jazzed up to a fare-thee-well, and "Christmas Is Starting Now," which originated with the "Phineas and Ferb" show on Disney Channel and gets the swing band treatment. "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" isn't from that time either, but it really lends itself to a jazz band treatment. The title song is a band original, a jazzy ballad. "Jingle Bells" gets a bit of 1950s-style vocal group schmaltz layered on top of the jumpy arrangement, "We Three Kings" is done as an instrumental in a sort of New Orleans march, and they stay in the same city for "Winter Wonderland." "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" are taken at deliberately slow tempos, the latter getting the full vocal group intro about Dasher and Dancer, etc. You have to buy from Amazon to get the two bonus cuts, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" and "Auld Lang Syne." Not really part of the Mistletunes rockin' Christmas universe, but it's irreverent enough, even in its retro shoes, to give your holiday that extra celebratory kick.
Probably don't have to introduce this band to punk fans, as they were one of the original California punk rock bands, and they've stayed mostly intact through the years to the present day, with the current incarnation featuring most of the original lineup. This 2013 album is just what you would expect of a punk rock band circa 1980; eight classic holiday carols and pop hits, none over 2:08, with the ninth song being a remixed version of their 1993 classic "American Jesus." Everything is relentlessly uptempo, as you would expect, and the only fly in the ointment is that there have been so many punk rock Christmas performances over time that there's not much new to be found in a collection of Christmas covers. Nevertheless, a band with as long a pedigree as Bad Religion demands attention; while the style may be familiar and maybe even duplicated, these guys do loud-fast punk as well as anybody ever and the performances are very good. Also, Bad Religion has long had strong group vocals as a cornerstone of their sound, and that remains true here, kicking off "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" with a cappella vocals and keeping the group vocal sound going throughout the album. I especially like the way "White Christmas" starts with the riff from "I Wanna Be Sedated," and the way-uptempo approach kind of suits "O Come O Come Emmanuel." All told, a nice job.
Fearless Records is a label specializing in modern punk-pop bands featuring young performers, and they've done a whole series of these "Punk Goes..." theme discs, so here's their latest for 2013, right in our wheelhouse. Covers include Summer Set's poppy version of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," Man Overboard's faithful performance of the Kinks' "Father Christmas," Issues' thrashy attempt at N'Sync's "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays" and Yellowcard's strong performance of Coldplay's "Christmas Lights." William Beckett takes a contemporary hit radio approach to "Do You Hear What I Hear," the only classic carol on this collection. Originals dominate the playlist, with New Found Glory's "Nothing For Christmas," not the classic novelty but a romantic ballad; All Time Low give us the stomping "Fool's Holiday"; Real Friends sing of a spurned lover at Christmas in "I Had a Heart"; Crown the Empire slow things down with "There Will Be No Christmas"; "All I Can Give You" is "this Christmas song," a piano-led ballad by Jason Lancaster; The Ready Set go more poppy than punk with "I Don't Wanna Spend Another Christmas Without You"; and Set It Off give us the most punk take on the holiday as they sing about a holiday firebug in "This Christmas (I'll Burn It To the Ground)." I'm sure the whole pop-punk thing inspires schoolyard music arguments about authenticity and selling out and such, but all I really care about is where the music meets the ear, and I'm pretty sure rock fans will find at least a few gems among this collection, although hit radio fans will probably like this better.
This is a 2009 collection of hit-radio-friendly Christmas music, heavy on pop-rock but also including some R'nB, all original tunes. It's widely available but not a lot is known about it, other than that the label, Banshee Music, is better known for doing sports marketing for music. Real rock fans may find this more little-sister-and-mom compatible, but since it appears to be all original tunes it's worthy of a look here. The title song by Blackshire is a strong modern R'nB workout while "My Favorite Holiday" by Rob Dz and D.L.O. is more of a hip-hop thing. Jason Phelps doubles up with a lightly ska'd up "I Love Christmas" and the ballad "Back Up the Chimney," Jessy Moss offers the very nice "What Christmas Means to Me," not the Stevie Wonder classic but not bad, RIck Monroe goes country on "Send Me Home For Christmas" and Altered Five go bluesy on "It's Christmas Time." Seven Williams gets two bites of this collection with the horn-led "Rocking Holiday" and the ballad "On Christmas Day," and our old pal Oh, Hush! has the hardest rocking number, a sort of Killers/Coldplay/U2 homage called "The Perfect Christmas." I'm thinking folks may be able to pick and choose some favorites from this collection, even if the whole thing isn't entirely in their wheelhouse.
Toni's little sister Tamar jumps into the Christmas fray for 2013 with this short but satisfying disc of modern R'nB takes on the holiday. There aren't a lot of surprises here, but I like the way this is produced. For starters, how'd she get away with NOT recording "This Christmas" or "My Favorite Things?" Maybe she heard Mary J Blige already called dibs on them, but then so has nearly every other R'nB singer of the past 20 years. Not that she's eschewed familiarity here; she does right by "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Santa Baby" and "Sleigh Ride," for starters. She does a nice a capella medley of "Away In a Manger," singing solo, and then into a group-sung "Little Drummer Boy." The same approach is used on "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late.)" The arrangement of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is just different enough from so many other versions to warrant your attention. And I don't think I've heard a slow-jam version of the Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling," which is also worthy of wider hearing. There's a straight acoustic guitar-backed "Silent Night" that puts the focus on Tamar's voice. There are also two originals, "No Gift," and the non-holiday "She Can Have You." Like most female R'nB singers, she can't resist the melisma, but she manages not to go off the rails hamming things up. All told, I like this better than A Mary Christmas.