Hah—trick category, since there isn’t one, and a Rolling Stones Christmas album is about as likely as a string section on a Gov’t. Mule album. I throw it in as an excuse to mention that we saw the Stones a couple of years ago. In fact, the same week that a number of the newspapers had a great picture of Mick coming out of his osteopath’s office. The concert was pretty good–Keith only fell over once, they’ve got Chuck Leavell from those great Allman Brothers albums of the 1970s on keyboards, and they do put on a good show–how can they not, with all those great songs? We went with another American couple, and we were both trying to remember the last big stadium rock concert we had been to. In our case, it was Elton John about six years earlier, and only because we got free tickets because my employer was using him in their ad campaign that year, and while Mrs. W says it was a rock concert, I’m not quite sure what it was. Before that it gets fuzzy. In our friends’ case, it was Bob Marley–and he died in 1982.
The other point is that a “Rock Christmas album” is obviously an oxymoron. This is because Christmas, if nothing else, is a time of contemplation, a celebration of joy for Christians, and whatever rock is about, it’s certainly not about contemplation. As Joey Ramone said, the important thing about rock and roll is that your parents should hate it. This is an admirable spirit, but not exactly the Christmas one. This does not make me want to run out and buy, say, the Beach Boys Christmas album, pleasant as it might be. What’s the point? It would just sound like any other Beach Boys album, and I’ve already got one. The same holds for country music, and even bluegrass. I’m sure that if Emmylou Harris has a Christmas album (and who doesn’t?), it’s just lovely–and it probably sounds just like any other Emmylou Harris album.
Actually, when rock-type people try to do a Christmas album, it’s usually hopeless. Jorma Kakounen, guitarist extraordinaire of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna fame, put out one a while ago, and it’s–how to say this? Boring. A couple of years ago I bought the Christmas album from Moe, a pretty good Grateful Dead type band that likes to do a lot of jamming, in the hope that any album with “Carol of the Bells” on it was worth buying. Well, nice try, guys, but no dice. Jethro Tull also put one out as well a couple of years ago, but by the sound of the reviews it’s pretty glum. No thanks. I guess if the Ramones had put one out, THAT would have been interesting, but I still wouldn’t really want to hear it more than once.
The only exception to this that I can think of is Slade. Slade is an English group whose original members hung it up in 1992, but had about 25 great touring years there, with legions and legions of fans, and were the best-selling British rock group of the 1970s, the decade of David Bowie and Roxy Music. Since then they’ve sort of re-grouped, or some of the original band has, and continues to tour. They never made it big in the US, although they were pretty influential on groups such as Kiss, who initially modeled themselves after Slade, but who never produced a Christmas album, and punk groups like The Damned, who never produced a Christmas album either. Little Feat, too—Lowell George was a huge fan. They’re probably best known in the US for Cum on Feel the Noize (they specialized in mis-spellings in their song titles), which was actually covered by someone named Quiet Riot (and more recently by Oasis). And they’ve written THE great rock Christmas song, called Merry Xmas Everybody. You can probably download it from somewhere.
Apropos of that, every December we head over to the Royal Albert Hall for the Jonathan Cohen Christmas Sing-along. This is more fun than anyone should legally be entitled to have. Cohen is great—he’s a wonderful composer and arranger, an enthusiastic and inspired conductor (especially of the audience), and a wonderful raconteur. He’s joined by torch singer and ersatz lounge act Sophie-Louise Dann, who is somebody or other in London musical theatre, I gather–Cats, I think, or something. Anyway, it’s a fantastic show, so popular that the producers of all these sing-along at RAH around Christmas now have three or four of them involving Cohen alone—plus he now does shows up in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, and, if he’s not careful, they’ll be sending him on international tour pretty soon. And it’s just great. There are never any empty seats. And everyone is dressed up in Christmassy stuff, hats and whatnot, and many folks have sparklers and flashing colored lights that they wear…it’s just wonderful. And when the wave gets going, it’s unstoppable. And who’s in the audience? Well, we personally know someone who turned 92 this year (Jonathan’s mother, actually), and whole extended families of dozens of people, including toddlers. The RAH has made this sort of thing more difficult this year, sadly, by limiting the number of tickets per person to nine. Who books nine tickets? I tried to book ten, as we have the past couple of years, and couldn’t—so then you have to call that tenth person and tell them what seat to book. Jeez. Anyway, the point of this digression is that the closing number every year is always Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody, and it gets the biggest and loudest reception—and EVERYONE, from nine to ninety, knows all the words. Of course, this is a country where everyone seems to know all the words to Queen’s every song, including Bohemian Rhapsody. Still, it’s just wonderful. So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it is possible to write a great rock and roll Christmas song. But I only know one group that’s ever done it. And it’s about Christmas as one big party. Which is fine.
Thankfully, most rock groups seem to know that the very idea of a Christmas album is a losing proposition to begin with. Which is why we’ve been spared Christmas with The Doors, or Happy Holidays from Nine Inch Nails.
Categories: scholars and rogues