My Holy Trinity of Christmas Records
Written & Conceived by G. Scott Hughes
Well..it’s that time again. It’s time to take stock of the year and ruminate. And hopefully, spread some Holiday Cheer. Speaking of, since this is a music orientated thing, I’ll muse on my top 3 favorite Christmas albums of all time. My selections are as follows…
#1-The Ventures’ Christmas Album.
#2- The Carpenters Christmas Album.
#3- Osmond Family Christmas Album.
But first, let us set some parameters. The first and most obvious is the album must contain at least 94.7 percent Christmas/Holiday music. And for the love of God, no outtakes or B roll stuff that didn’t cut the mustard to be on your last album. Save that stuff for your box set, please and thank you.
The second, when I listen to Holiday music, I want my vibration to be higher after listening to said album. The Andy Williams Christmas Album comes to mind. Even the more somber songs exude mirth and merriment on that album. And yeah, this is a must listen to during the season but I’m very sure that the album has been gushed over since its inception. So, I shall refrain from extolling the virtues of this classic.
Third, the album must have some memory or memories attached to it. Like when I remember the salivation-inducing smells as my Mother baked Christmas cookies while White Christmas by Elvis Presley (featuring The Jordanaires) played in the background.
And Fourth, it must sound like the musicians are having a blast while recording said album.
With all that in mind, let’s see what shakes loose, shall we.
The Ventures’ Christmas Album. I first heard this album when I was seven years old. But it wasn’t the music that sucked me in. It was the iconic album art- The black background. The traditional wreath. The red bow and holly berries popping out behind the candy apple red Mosrite guitars with gold hardware. (The guitars looked real good that I remember wanting to eat them. I even licked the album cover once. Once. Let’s just say the expectation did not meet reality well that time.) Sprinkled with a dusting of fake snow sets the perfect holiday visual feast. I’m pretty sure that the drumsticks were an afterthought. But I really don’t like it when a band member or his instrument is downplayed. Props to them for including the drummer in the photo.
The Ventures are classic and therefore are required listening. Without them there would not be any distorted guitar (Listen to the 2,000 Pound Bee parts 1 & 2.) to inspire the young impressionable minds of Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, et freaking al. Released in November of 1965 and clocking in at a paltry 26:49, this album is potpourri of cool renditions and appropriated riffs of that era.
One can literally feel and smell the vintage electronics coming from the speakers as the music plays. The belle of the ball is Snow Flakes. There is something irresistible about this track even though it is obvious that Greensleeves was used to anchor the song. But the yearning soul of this track endears itself to the listener.
My least favorite track is called Scrooge. How this lump of coal was committed to tape is anyone’s guess. But sometimes the Holiday season needs a touch of bitter to enhance the sweetness. This album closes with an ecstatic vibrato/reverb-laden rendition of White Christmas. Thusly, when the aforementioned song ends, it makes this listener wish that Christmas could last just a little bit longer.
The Osmonds Family Christmas album oozes with wholesomeness and Christmastime whimsy. Say what you will about the 70’s cheeze-factor when it comes to their music and (Gulp!) those rhinestone bedazzled outifts..but they knock it out of the park with this one. Fact: Their vocal harmonies are top shelf. Always and forever.
This album kicks off with I’ll Be Home For Christmas. The acapella opening of the first verse sets the bar high. Like really high. The song lilts along at a dreamy pace that makes you want to stay a while and enjoy the sights and sounds before you get back to reality. The album wends its’ way through all the standard Christmas/Holiday audio fare (White Christmas/Here We Come A Caroling/It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas/Silver Bells and Blue Christmas, sung just sexy enough by Marie to make a guy want to turn her frown upside down. Wink-wink. Hint-hint.) with skills to pay the bills.
And yes, Virginia, they saved the best for last. Silent Night is….Fuck! I’m having a difficult time trying to come up with superlatives to describe the reverent majesty and bravura vocal artistry that they give this common hymn. Sleep in Heavenly Peace, indeed.
When it comes to music, it’s a given that we all know that Richard Carpenter is/was one hell of an arranger/composer. All that aside, The Carpenters: A Christmas Portrait has a Sgt. Peppers feel to it. By that I mean that one just can’t pick out a song here and there from this album. To truly appreciate this epic work, one has (& should) listen to it as a whole, in one sitting. I am well aware that is asking a lot in this day and age of instant gratification and overnight delivery. But please trust me when I say this. I guarantee that you and your tympanic membranes will be richly rewarded.
As the album kicks off, the anticipation builds through the overture as we all yearn to hear that voice. Just what is that voice, you ask? You’re goddammed right. Karen Fucking Carpenters’ voice! And when she does make her appearance, it’s as if she descends from above our heads to bless us all with her talents. Yeah. You’re right. This part never, ever gets old. Matter of fact, since this album was released October of 1978, I’ll go on record and say that it has aged very well and it only gets better as the album progresses. The album goes from somber to joyful to goofy. Up to and including an all-in-latin Ave Maria.
I know it’s a trite and cliché expression but she truly was an absolute once in a lifetime vocal talent. Her control and ability to emote the lyrics has yet to find an equal in this or any era. Just listen to Superstar to get a feel.
To say that Richards’ voice was chopped liver would belittle his vocal prowess. No doubt about it, when Karen opened her mouth, Richard could not compete. And that’s alright. But when they harmonized, he was the bedrock that supported Karen. His vocals allowed her to go into that rare ether where few vocalists dare to tread.
My standout track is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Karen is firing on all cylinders as she just nails the crescendo con mucho brio. The musicians give this track a very lush, symphonic feel. Collectively, they summon every ounce of Holiday Spirit into the tape. And that, in my ears, makes this one special.
I would be lying if I didn’t mention that I spent all day trying to wrap this up. Yet, an ending eludes me. I’ll use the words of Brady Quinn to sum this all up: Now I’m Done.