Seeing as though it’s that time of year, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite Xmas albs. So deck the halls, slap some grog in the fridge, and let’s spin some festive sides…
Keely Smith – A Keely Christmas (1960)
Keely Smith is one of the great unsung singers/performers/comediennes of that cool Vegas/Rat-Pack era of music. She was one hep-cat. As side-woman to Louis Prima she was the poker-faced foil for the hip swinging Prima to bounce off and be-bop around. They were a dynamic duo, and all their recordings are super-cool and well worth devoting time to. But Keely also made many solo records from the late 50s to the mid-60s. This is one of my favourite Christmas albums. Her interpretation of these classic carols is right up there with Bing, Frank and Dino (whose Xmas albs are the thing of legend). Those smooth Nelson Riddle arrangements are as sublime as ever, and Keely matches each vibe perfectly. From the fun renditions of “Jingle Bells”, “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”; to the Hawaiian “Christmas Island”; to the timeless cozy beauty of “White Christmas”, “Silent Night” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”; she nails every one. This is one for those nights leading up to Christmas, when you need that warm instant hit of the Xmas spirit. You can’t go wrong.
Low – Christmas (1999)
This came out around the time I was getting into Low, which is cool because it has stayed one of my favourite albs/EPs of theirs. I actually noticed “Just Like Christmas” being used in an ad on TV the other day, and I thought: Oh well, it’s only taken people 12 years to wise up to what a great band they are, and what a great song it is. Better late than never, I suppose. This EP is a mix of original and traditional Xmas songs. Low’s music suits the more hallowed tone of the traditional songs. Their renditions of “Silent Night” and “Blue Christmas” are not a big stretch, and they seem to absorb them easily, turning them into signature Low songs. And their “Little Drummer Boy” (which is my favourite carol) is a majestic beam of heavenly sound. Low have made a career of slow, soulful, understated songs delivered with a rare delicate power. They are a seriously underrated band, with an atmosphere and emotion like no other. I’ve seen them twice (one time they even played a song off Christmas) and they are a thing to behold. At the second show we all just sat on the floor and submitted to their special meditative sound. Husband and wife duo, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker have made no secret about their own (Mormon) faith, which always added some holy dimension to their minimal music. It was un-ironic and passionate and restrained. Nothing was overplayed. Everything was underplayed. Everything about them was Low. There were (many) moments of absolute perfection. There was hypnotic ambience. The music felt like it was good for you. It felt like going to church (in fact, one of their live albums One More Reason to Forget was even recorded in one). Which is why they suit Christmas songs so well. And why their song “If You Were Born Today (song for Little Baby Jesus)” is so beautiful, with the lyric: ‘If you were born today/ We’d kill you by age eight/ Never get the chance to say/ Joy to the world/ And peace on earth/ Forgive them for they know not what they do.’ You know they mean it.
The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album (1964)
I slapped this on one Xmas and a friend of mine remarked: ‘I reckon all the Beach Boys music sounds like Christmas music’. And he was right. Brian Wilson’s righteous ambition to ‘make music that made people feel loved’ is the perfect match for the Xmas vibe. And when Brian was dealing out those inspired three or four-part harmonies to the fellas, wow, they could hit notes that were truly angelic. So it made perfect sense that they should do a Christmas Album. Side one gives us five original Beach Boys songs, all of them masterfully conjuring the festive joy of Xmas. The opener “Little Saint Nick” exchanges the “Little Deuce Coup” rhythm and you’re soon cruising Xmas tunes in a large red & chrome sled. Then later they turn their talents to the classics, like the playful “Frosty the Snowman” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. But when they perform “White Christmas”, “We Three Kings of Orient Are”, and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” their harmonies will knock you on your butt – so grab that eggnog and make for the couch. All the arrangements are brilliant. It’s also a great chance to hear Brian sing some beautiful lead. He injects “Blue Christmas” with sweetness and tenderness that comes full circle when they close the album with “Auld Lang Syne” and Dennis speaks on behalf of the band, wishing ‘every one of you, a very Merry Christmas, and we hope the New Year brings you as much happiness as this year has brought us. Thank you very much.’
by Decoy Spoon