Once upon a time, before the retail industry ordained Black Friday as an extreme sports event for crazed bargain hunters, the day after Thanksgiving held significance as the official start of the Christmas season. It is in that antiquated spirit that I’m kicking off a series of posts related to holiday music.
Released in 1991 on The Shoes' Black Vinyl label, Yuletunes was an ambitious collection of original Christmas songs created by various power pop artists. Matthew Sweet, who contributed “Baby Jesus,” and Marti Jones and Don Dixon, who sang a duet on “Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday,” were the biggest names involved, and there were 13 lesser known acts from the Midwest. This will be the first of three posts on this classic Christmas album.
The Shoes had faded from rock’s mainstream by 1991, but “This Christmas” shows why they’ll always be revered in the power pop community. It’s a catchy rock song with a monster drum beat and chiming guitars that offers an optimistic view via harmony vocals. “Things will get better./Doesn’t seem like it now, but they always do.” Vocalist-guitarist Jeff Murphy would return to the theme of the importance of love over gifts during the holidays by having his kids sing the cute “The Christmas List” as the CD’s closing number.
The punchy “Merry Christmas Will Do” finds the trio Material Issue at the peak of its power. Jim Ellison’s rugged guitar playing takes center stage, and as usual, he’s a master at selling the pain of unrequited love through his evocative singing. “You don’t have to say you love me, I know that that’s not true,” Ellison concedes. “But Merry Christmas will do.”
The Idea, fronted by vocalist-guitarist Phil Angotti, contribute the melodic “It’s About That Time,” which describes winter scenes, church bell, carols, and watching It’s A Wonderful Life. It goes on to note, sadly, that the holiday season seems like the only time of the year when “we all have a lot of love to share.” This seems to be the most commercially successful song from Yuletunes; I’ve heard it playing on the overhead sound system at the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg and at our Jewel food store.
The single-named Leroy checks in with “Santa Stole My Baby,” a mid-tempo song that sets up a crime scene with clever clues like, “footsteps on the rooftop.” The slinky guitar playing underscores the sexy fun of lyrics like, “She makes him cookies./She calls him Chris./Gets everything double on her Christmas list.”
I’ll continue with Part Two of my look at Yuletunes on my next post.