Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas A-Go-Go - Part One

Another December weekend Post Of Christmas Past. Originally, it took four individual posts to cover this CD, but I'm hoping to handle it in two parts this time around.

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 the CD. 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.”

On the relentlessly cheerful “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday,” Roy Wood’s Wizzard uses the Wall Of Sound approach of Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You to build an entire palace. As a founding member of Electric Light Orchestra, Wood was accustomed to working with stringed instruments, and he employs a ton of them, along with horns, and a children’s choir on this showstopper. The energetic production evokes an old fashioned TV variety show.

Tina Sugandh’s beautifully sung “White Christmas” begins with the standard arrangement, but soon drifts off to India via exotic sitars and tablas. If George Harrison had wanted to include a Christmas song on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, it would have sounded like this.

There are more than three musicians in the Chesterfield Kings, and their knack for tapping into Aftermath era Rolling Stones has earned them a place of honor among garage rock fans like Mr. Van Zandt. “Hey, Santa Claus” was probably one of the first tracks he considered when he decided to create this party-themed holiday compilation. It kicks off with a classic Chuck Berry riff before lead vocalist Greg Prevost approaches the man in red with a list of requests, including a girlfriend and a new car. Sounding like Mick Jagger, Prevost sings, “I hope you have time to stop off in your sleigh.”

Former Stray Cats vocalist-guitarist Brian Setzer launched a lucrative second career by recreating the Big Band sound of the 1940s. He struck gold again when his Brian Setzer Orchestra started recording Christmas CDs like Dig That Crazy Christmas and Boogie Woogie Christmas. “Santa’s Got A Hot Rod,” with its highly energetic swinging arrangement, call-and response vocals, and twangy guitar, is a prime example of how Setzer gets the job done. And like most of his work, it’s a lot of fun.

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