Sony Legacy – Holiday Vinyl Album Series (review)
Give your turntable something fun to do around the holidays
There’s something warm and inviting about playing vinyl around the holidays. And, with turntables easier to obtain than they have been in years, it’s the perfect time to reconnect with physical music. Sony Legacy has just issued a quintet of Christmas albums on vinyl, perfect for that holiday get-together.
Elvis Presley – Merry Christmas Baby – The King’s holiday output has been repackaged numerous times, but this may be the of the bunch. Of the 17 tracks, all eight of the songs he recorded for his very first Christmas album in 1957 are here, including “Blue Christmas,” “Santa Claus is Back in Town,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “Santa Bring My Baby Back.” This is coupled with the eight best songs from his followup, Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas from 1971, with the real highlight being the searing rendition of “Merry Christmas Baby,” which ends in an extended jam. There’s also the one-off Christmas tune from 1966, “If Every Day Was Like Christmas,” making this the quintessential Elvis yuletide album.
As an added bonus, random copies are pressed on either seasonal red or green vinyl. And thankfully, none of his recent “duets” with current singers are included.
Johnny Cash – Christmas – There’ll Be Peace in the Valley – Like Elvis, Johnny Cash recorded several Christmas albums, and the goal here is to bring together the best of everything. Off his 1963 LP, The Christmas Spirit, you get eight tracks, including his classic reading of “The Little Drummer Boy,” plus “Silent Night” and a very different take on “Blue Christmas, and a song Cash wrote called “The Christmas Spirit.” 1972’s
The Johnny Cash Family Christmas is an album full of dialogue from the singer’s family and friends, and is better listened to in its entirety. However, many of the songs stand on their own, including the spine-tingling “Opening Dialogue,” in which Cash talks about the true meaning of the holiday. The rousing “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’” features June Carter Cash, and is another highlight. They do throw in one curveball – “Matthew 24 (Is Knocking At the Door)” is a recently unearthed spiritual track that originally showed up on 2006’s Personal File compilation.
Various Artists – The Classic Big Band Christmas Album – the most refreshing of all these collections, virtually none of these songs get played on any of the 24-hours-a-day Christmas stations that pop up in October on FM dials around the country. Plus, there’s a fair amount of original material here to keep things interesting. There’s legendary bands fronted by legendary vocalists, like Peggy Lee with Benny Goodman on the bouncy “Winter Weather,” and Doris Day fronting Les Brown’s Orchestra on a sultry reading of “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You).” Even Woody Herman himself steps to the mic for “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”
A lot of ground is covered here, from 1932’s “It’s Winter Again” by Isham Jones to 1951’s “Winter Wonderland” by Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra. There’s also a few silly tunes thrown in for good measure – “Hello, Mr. Kringle” is brought to you by Kay Kyser and his Orchestra, the same folks responsible for the ridiculous “Three Little Fishes,” and where would Christmas be without Spike Jones’ “All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)”?
Various Artists – The Classic Christmas 80’s Album – Probably the strangest of the bunch, this collection brings together the rather elusive “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses, plus the ubiquitous “Last Christmas” by Wham, and the harder to find “Christmas is the Time to Say ‘I Love You’” from Billy Squier, and couples them with odd choices like “Zat You Santa Claus” from Buster Poindexter and “Slick Nick, You Devil You” from Fishbone – definitely weak choices considering the vast Sony catalog that they had at their disposal.
You do get “Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC, and “Jingle Bell Rock” by Daryl Hall (not Hall & Oates as the jacket suggests). But dubious selections like “Hazy Shade of Winter” by the Bangles (is that really a Christmas song?), and “This One’s For the Children” from New Kids on the Block, make this difficult to listen without picking up the needle. “Christmas Time is Here” by Ray Parker Jr is less familiar, and you can’t go wrong with “The Twelve Days of Christmas” by Bob & Doug McKenzie. But, there is certainly better fare from the Eighties than the Hooters “Silent Night.”
Luther Vandross – This is Christmas – the only straight reissue of the five, this album originally came out in 1995 to coincide with a TV special that Vandross did of the same name. There’s a warmth and coziness to these tracks, and the singer manages to wrap most in a groove. Especially good is the funky “The MistleTOE JAM,” with a hilarious spoken-word intro. Echoes of Phil Spector surround “I Listen to the Bells,” which features Darlene Love, also in fine voice.
But what sets this collection above so many others is that instead of rehashing the tired old classics, Vandross actually wrote most of the material himself. “With A Christmas Heart” and “This is Christmas” have a sincerity that is missing from most of these type albums, and “Please Come Home For Christmas” is refreshingly NOT the Eagles/Charles Brown shop-worn classic, but a newly-penned Vandross ballad. “A Kiss For Christmas” has a funky groove that is reminiscent of Marvin Gaye.
The five albums in this collection represent a wide variety of holiday classics to choose from. The good music is covered, the rest is up to you. Tony Peters