Monday, December 16, 2019

Various Artists - Now That's What I Call Christmas (2015 Edition) (3-Disc set)

Picked this one up a couple of years ago, one of the Now! Christmas series released in England...

I don't think I need to elaborate much regarding this offering; you pretty much know what you're getting here - a mixture of modern and classic renditions of traditional Christmas songs by popular current and past artists, along with some most recent holiday-related tunes. In this set, there's some great stuff (like Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" and Ella Fitzgerald's "The Christmas Song"), some good stuff (such as The Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" and Burl Ives' "Holly Jolly Christmas")... and some utter crap, including Band Aid's cringe-inducing "Do They Know It's Christmas?" (featuring what is possibly the all-time most reprehensible lyric in holiday song history - Bono belting out "Well tonight, thank God it's them instead of youuuuuu!") and Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You", one of the most universally despised Christmas songs ever.
[This set also includes the most brutal, tear-inducing, Christmas-buzz-killing song of all time, in my opinion: Nat King Cole's "The Little Boy Who Santa Claus Forget" - I listened to this all the way through ONCE many Christmases ago, and I was depressed for the rest of the day! I fervently recommend you skip over that one, for your own sake.]
Here's the lineup, in case you're interested:

Disc 1:
  1. All I Want for Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey
  2. Last Christmas - Wham!
  3. Fairytale of New York - the Pogues Feat. Kirsty MacColl
  4. Driving Home for Christmas - Chris Rea
  5. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday - Roy Wood & Wizzard
  6. Merry Xmas Everybody - Slade
  7. Mary's Boy Child / Oh My Lord - Boney M
  8. Step Into Christmas - Elton John
  9. Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney
  10. Christmas Lights - Coldplay
  11. 2000 Miles - the Pretenders
  12. Stop the Cavalry - Jona Lewie
  13. Santa Baby - Kylie Minogue
  14. Lonely This Christmas - Mud
  15. Merry Christmas Everyone - Shakin' Stevens
  16. Underneath the Tree - Kelly Clarkson
  17. Christmas Wrapping - the Waitresses
  18. One More Sleep - Leona Lewis
  19. December Song (I Dreamed of Christmas) - George Michael
  20. Do You Hear What I Hear? - Whitney Houston
  21. Do You Want to Build a Snowman? - Kristen Bell, Agatha Lee Mon & Katie Lopez

Disc 2:
  1. White Christmas - Bing Crosby with the Ken Darby Singers & John Scott Trotter & His Orchestra
  2. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Frank Sinatra
  3. Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley
  4. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! - Dean Martin
  5. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
  6. Frosty the Snowman - the Ronettes
  7. Winter Wonderland - Doris Day
  8. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town - the Crystals
  9. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - the Ronettes
  10. The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot - Nat King Cole
  11. Sleigh Ride - Ella Fitzgerald
  12. Merry Christmas Baby - James Brown
  13. What Christmas Means to Me - Stevie Wonder
  14. Someday at Christmas - the Jackson 5
  15. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Andy Williams
  16. Senor Santa Claus - Jim Reeves
  17. Marshmallow World - Darlene Love
  18. Here Comes Santa Claus - Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans
  19. Never Do a Tango with An Eskimo - Alma Cogan
  20. Lonely Pup (In a Christmas Shop) - Adam Faith
  21. Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt
  22. Baby, It's Cold Outside - Ella Fitzgerald with Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five
  23. I'll Be Home for Christmas - Perry Como with Russ Case & His Orchestra
  24. Holly Jolly Christmas - Burl Ives
  25. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - the Crystals
  26. Little Saint Nick - the Beach Boys
  27. The Bells of St. Mary - Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans
  28. The Christmas Song - Ella Fitzgerald

Disc 3:
  1. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) - John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir
  2. Do They Know It's Christmas? - Band Aid
  3. The Power of Love - Frankie Goes to Hollywood
  4. When a Child Is Born - Johnny Mathis
  5. O Holy Night - Il Divo
  6. Walking in the Air - Aled Jones
  7. Silent Night - Nat King Cole
  8. O Come All Ye Faithful - Perry Como
  9. Silver Bells - Jim Reeves
  10. O Little Town of Bethlehem - Burl Ives
  11. Peace on Earth / Little Drummer Boy - Bing Crosby & David Bowie
  12. A Winter's Tale - David Essex
  13. In Dulci Jubilo - Mike Oldfield
  14. A Spaceman Came Travelling - Chris de Burgh
  15. In the Bleak Midwinter - Bert Jansch
  16. Ring Out Solstice Bells - Jethro Tull
  17. Gaudete - Steeleye Span
  18. We Wish You a Merry Christmas - the Weavers
  19. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Blue Blood
  20. The Twelve Days of Christmas - the Spinners
  21. Auld Lang Syne - Susan Boyle
  22. Happy New Year - ABBA

As you can see, overall there's more good music than bad here... and with three discs worth of music to choose from, everyone in your household will find SOMETHING here that they like. Just fire up this set as your Christmas Day background music, and tune out what doesn't float your particular holiday boat at that moment. I know that's not a completely ringing endorsement of the album... but as far as Xmas sets go, you could do a lot worse.

I offer for your enjoyment this holiday season the 2015 edition of Now That's What I Call Christmas, a three-disc set released by Universal Music Group on November 15ht, 2015, and distributed by Sony Music Entertainment. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

A Merry Christmas to you all!

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Thursday, December 5, 2019

James Brown - The Complete James Brown Christmas (2-disc set)

I was completely remiss regarding posting any holiday-related albums last year... so I'm making an attempt this year at getting off my lazy ass and actually providing some Christmas releases
well prior to the day in question. So my first post this month features one of the artists most closely associated with the holiday season - the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Mr. James Brown himself...

Ha ha - just kidding! The Godfather of Soul isn't the first artist that leaps to mind for most people in regards to Christmas music. But James Brown had a love and affinity for that time of year, and believe it or not, over the course of his career he cut not only one, but THREE Christmas albums: James Brown And His Famous Flames Sing Christmas Songs in 1966, A Soulful Christmas in 1968, and Hey America It's Christmas in 1970. The 1966 disc was his most
"traditional" holiday release, per se - on it, Brown and his band cover several holiday standards, like "Please Come Home For Christmas", "Merry Christmas Baby" and "The Christmas Song" (twice) - all recorded at moderate tempos and with full string accompaniments. But the band also comes up with some inspired originals more in keeping with the funky, 'real' JB style, including the R&B workout "Signs Of Christmas", and "Let's Make Christmas Mean Something This Year", a serious song containing a classic James Brown 'rap'. This was the only Brown record that contained any versions of holiday classics; for his follow-up Christmas records, he and the band followed their own path and sound.

This was evident in the 1968 release, A Soulful Christmas; The eleven originals herein are suffused with soul stylings, jazzy influences and funky drums and horns. And all of them are OUT-standing: standouts include "Santa Claus, Santa Claus" (with its refrain echoing back to one of Brown's earliest hits "Please, Please, Please"), the instrumental "Believers Shall Enjoy (Non Believers Shall Suffer)" - prominently featuring a vibraphone - and the amazing "Soulful Christmas". Oddly, the band included a song on this disc not overtly associated with the holiday - "Say It Loud: I'm Black And I'm Proud". This song had been previously released as a single earlier that summer; its inclusion here was its album debut. At first glance, having "Say It Loud..." on a Christmas album seems sort of weird... but somehow, someway, it FITS. And it's a great song to boot - so who are we to argue with the genius of James Brown?

Soul Brother #1's final holiday release, Hey America It's Christmas, came out at the tail end of 1970, and with only eight tracks, it's by far the shortest of the three albums. But it continues in the same vein as the 1968 album: nothing but the classic JB sound - raw, driven, bluesy, funky. Greats on this disc include "Go Power At Christmas Time", "Christmas Is Love", and another classic (and brutal) James Brown 'rap', appropriately titled "My Rapp".

By the late Seventies, all three of these albums had gone out of print. But about ten years ago, Hip-O Select released a compilation set containing every song from all of these Christmas albums, along with selected bonus tracks (singles and unreleased versions). All in all, this is non-mainstream but nonetheless essential Xmas music to own, and a perfect compliment to any holiday gathering where it is played.

So for your listening pleasure, I humbly provide to you The Complete James Brown Christmas comp, put out by Hip-O Select on October 12th, 2010. Bring the noise, bring the funk to your household over the holidays!  And as always, let me know what you think.

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