Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas A-Go-Go - Part One

Guitarist/actor/radio show host Little Steven Van Zandt morphed into a crazed Santa for this ambitious 2008 holiday compilation, determined to find just the right gift for everyone on his list. Fortunately, he doesn’t care if the recipients are naughty or nice, just as long as they listen to his syndicated weekly program, Underground Garage. The presents are rock and roll holiday songs, many of which would be unavailable if not for Little Steven’s generosity.


An ultra rare recording of Keith Richards romping through the Chuck Berry chestnut “Run Rudolph Run” kicks things off in a blues-rock vein. As Little Steven has pointed out on his show, this tale of the jet-speed flying reindeer helping St. Nick deliver toys was not composed by Berry, even though the rock pioneer certainly made it his own. Richards pretty much sticks to the original arrangement, but his hoarse vocals and energetic guitar playing enable him to put his stamp on it.


Bob Seger And The Last Heard’s funky “Sock It To Me Santa” is another treasure from the vault. Sounding like fellow Detroit native Mitch Ryder, Seger taps into vintage Motown as he barks out a litany of requests for toys. He proclaims in a spoken word intro that Santa’s got a brand new bag, and as the tune rolls along to a bottom heavy backbeat, it’s easy to imagine Santa wearing a long cape and looking a lot like James Brown.


The Ramones bring their instantly identifiable revved-up sound to “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” as Joey Ramone plays the role of a guy pining for a holiday truce with his girlfriend. “Christmas aint the time for breaking each other’s hearts,” he notes.


I’m guessing that “All Alone On Christmas,” which features vocalist Darlene Love being backed by The E Street Band, has to be one of Little Steven’s favorite tracks on Christmas A-Go-Go. And not just because he wrote it and plays guitar on it. Love, of course, was part of the roster of stars on the Phil Spector produced A Christmas Gift For You, which many consider to be the best rock and roll Christmas album ever recorded. With Clarence Clemons blasting away on his sax, and just about everybody else in the band singing along, “All Alone On Christmas” beautifully melds modern rock and the 1960s.


Ringing guitars and great harmonies help current Brit rockers The Len Price 3 hark back to the original British Invasion on “It’s Christmas Time Ebenezer.” When I wrote my earlier post on Carl Wayne, I mentioned that The Hollies never recorded a Christmas song, but this melodic spin on the Dickens classic makes it sound like they did.


Coming up in Part Two of Christmas A Go Go, “White Christmas” goes to India; holiday garage rock; and a full-blown extravaganza like only the English can do.

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