Oh, holy naught

Only a few years ago, every country and MOR singer in their respective Top 10s was raiding composer Johnny Marks’ catalog (“Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” etc.) and, with umpteenth and dumpteenth covers of “The Christmas Song,” the Mel Torme estate was collecting more Yuletide royalties than “Travis Trout” and “The Pocket Fisherman” combined. Clear Channel wasn’t worried that programming songs from A Christmas Gift To You From Phil Spector sent a message to the country that they condoned him shooting a girl in the face. American sweethearts like Martha Stewart and Rosie O’Donnell still had enough goodwill to attach their names to Christmas collections and pre-slutty Christina and Britney had both hands in the holiday till and not somewhere else.

Now there’s no new holiday cheer, just “various artists” repackages of a happier time, when major labels hadn’t spent all the conglomerate merger windfall money, and corporate heads still thought the word “download” had something to do with being on the wrong end of a blow job.

Maybe that’s why every major recording artist stayed away from holiday albums this year — their labels are too depressed to promote ’em, and if they had the strength we’d be bombarded with “copyright stealers are killing Christmas” public service announcements. It doesn’t help my holiday jollity to know that the nuttiest Christmas album of this or any year has failed to appear. Whitney Houston traveled to Israel to find inspiration but instead hung out with the polygamist Black Hebrews, angry folks who claim they are descendants of one of the 10 lost tribes of Israelites because a Chicago bus driver told them so. But it was the “Dateline” reports of her and Bobby Brown smoking crack the whole time that makes me wish her “Jingle Bell Rock” was here to make fun of.


The Blind Boys From Alabama
Go Tell It On The Mountain
Real World

I’ve got lots of questions, none of which are answered by the CD booklet. For starters, why wasn’t this called Do You See What We See? Why did the marketing department decide every song needed a guest vocalist? Are they trying to resurrect the ’80s, when Dionne Warwick wasn’t allowed to exhale in a recording studio without James Ingram or Jeffrey Osborne present? Once known as the Five Blind Boys, the group has now expanded to seven in number. What’s the likelihood that they’d turn a superb tenor away if he merely had pink eye? No way. It’d be all, like, “Here, Emmett, put on these Foster Grants and start bumping into a few things. There’s someone from the Discovery Channel here.”


John Tesh
Christmas Worship
Garden City Records

No kidding, I’ve had a long-standing fear of the Tesh and it’s not for the same reason that New York woman used to go into epileptic fits every time she heard Mary Hart’s perky voice. During a 1996 phone interview with the former TV talking head, he got mad at me for comparing his working relationship with his wife, co-executive producer Connie Sellecca, to a John and Yoko — and I meant it in the nicest possible way. “I take that as a total slam! She was not a nice woman and she broke up the Beatles!” Tesh stayed on the line long enough to ask me if he should quit his nightly “Entertainment Tonight” gig to pursue music full time. Since that was one of the last interviews he did before leaving the show, I feel kinda responsible that I haven’t heard his omni-present voice ever since. By now, his career has expanded enough to allow him to sing and film a Christmas special on the Amalfi coast, which comes bundled here as a bonus DVD. If you watch PBS really late at night during Christmas pledge week, you might see it along with reruns of the late Perry Como’s similar “Christmas in Beirut” special. After viewing it, now I’m more scared of John Tesh’s band, especially the bassist who bites his lip and shakes his head yes to every note of “Awesome God” and the skin-headed drummer who lives to parum-pum-pum-pummel every carol like he’s auditioning for Toto.


What’s It Gonna Be, Santa?

Rhino’s exhaustive reissue campaign of everybody’s favorite horndogs has meant a lot of bonus cuts and Roman numerals being thrown your way. So, natch, they’d get around to rereleasing their 1998 Christmas album, which was available for a short time on the band’s own record label and is considered rare, at least by those trying to unload it on ebay. That disc was aptly named Chicago XXV, fitting for the 25th of December. Since six new songs are included here, What’s It Gonna Be, Santa? should at least be called Chicago XXVIII given that there’s been a live album, boxed set and two-CD retrospective since 1998. Although people think the band is bereft of new ideas since they stopped calling David Foster for more crummy ballads, they invest these old winter warhorses with fresh arrangements. And they still haven’t run out of new ways to present their old logo. Witness the inside booklet, where the band loads up on eggnog and pees a giant yellow Chicago logo in the snow!


Various Artists
Maybe This Christmas Too?

The heir apparent to the Very Special Christmas sets from years back that benefited the Special Olympics, except a portion goes to benefit Toys for Tots. Whew, you didn’t think Rufus Wainwright, Avril Lavigne, the Flaming Lips and the Dave Matthews Band would actually be receiving, like, royalties, did you? While most Christmas collections this diverse wind up sounding like a sleigh wreck, this holds together pretty well, with Guster’s “Donde Esta Santa Claus” actually inducing smiles. Santa oughta bring extra goodies to the lead singer of Badly Drawn Boy for sounding just like David Cassidy on the wonderful “Donna and Blitzen.” Only the Flaming Lips disappoint by coming on too cool-yule for the room with a warbly “White Christmas.” On “Green Christmas” Barenaked Ladies complain about the holiday with a severity on a par with “Feeling Groovy” but Rilo Kiley gets the Scrooge award for crying into a “Xmas Cake,” and reminding us we’ll be still be paying off our credit cards when our kids are grown up and buying us cozies for our colostomy bags. Extra bonus, the cover feature’s artist Brian Brook’s lovable Oopsy Daisy running away from a highly flammable tannenbaum.


American Idol
The Great Holiday Classics

The cheap generic artwork was probably readied last season, the cheap generic backing tracks already in the can too, and all they had to do was plop in the generic black font and slot stock photos of whoever was still remembered by viewers in the circles. Amazingly, even with a reckless boat accident, a flop album and a straight-to-DVD movie to his credit, Justin Guarini still gets a token solo. Pulling a real star turn, Kelly Clarkson gets her Christmas twofer on a separate bonus CD single — after the disastrous From Justin to Kelly movie, she doesn’t wanna be on the same disc — let alone beach — with her co-star. Kelly gives her thankful pipes to “Oh Holy Night,” which hasn’t been the same since Cartman from “South Park” staked his claim on it. Biggest disappointment: Ruben Studdard grabbed “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” for himself so his pal Clay Aiken doesn’t get to “make the Yultide gay.” Darn! And in case you thought this glee club empire was winding down, there are enclosed plugs for the upcoming “American Juniors” album and the corresponding “American Idol” holiday special. Double darn! Where’s a Mannheim Steamroller when you can really use one?


Various Artists
A Santa Cause: It’s a Punk Rock Christmas

This album benefits the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatrics AIDS Foundation, but the music doesn’t contain the high count of goodwill found on Maybe This Christmas Too? just a lot of whiny fourth-generation punks telling you how much they hate the holidays. But the A.K.A.s score extra points for reviving “Christmas in Hollis” and giving a “rest in peace” shout-out to Jam Master Jay. And ditto for Far for poking fun at the sanctimonious “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by changing their voices to sound like pampered rock stars. People will probably buy this for Blink 182 going after carolers with a bat and landing in jail where a guy named Bubba unwraps singer Tom Delonge’s package.


Check out more Holiday Survival Guide stories:

Family matters
Surviving the gatherings of the clan.

Season for sharing
How to help those in need survive the holidays.

Giving on the cheap
Or should we say "inexpensive?"

Pass (on) the stuffing
Ways to keep the holidays from becoming too weighty.

Blue for Christmas
How to battle the holiday blahs.

Presents from tinsel town
What would the season be without its flicks?

Avoiding Xmas bling bling
You needn't sell out to the corporate juggernaut.

Jingle boots
A gift guide to underground recordings.

Overcoming hangovers
A dilettante's guide to holiday imbibing.

Silent night, sober night
How to stay on the wagon.

Serene Dominic wants a hippopotamus for Christmas. E-mail [email protected]
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