The Monkees - Unwrap You At Christmas (Official Lyric Video)
Directed by John Hughes. [Oh really? -ed.] From Christmas Party, out now on Rhino.
Ho ho ho, everybody!
“Unwrap You At Christmas” was written by Andy Partridge and it’s weird that Micky sounds like he’s trying to sound like XTC. Probably imitating the demo a little too closely. Still, it’s a good pop song as if you’d expect anything less from then pen of Andy Partridge. I’m not complaining. So hey hey, new Monkees!
Christmas Party follows 2016’s Good Times and carries on several of its ideas: produced by Adam Schlesinger featuring new songs written by Partridge, Rivers Cuomo, and some vintage stuff so Davy Jones can be included. This one also features a new song written by Peter Buck And Scott McCaughey.
Too bad this time they couldn’t convince Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller to collaborate on a Christmas song; their “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” was a highlight of Good Times.
But if you’ve ever wanted to hear Micky Dolenz cover Big Star’s “Jesus Christ,” Christmas Party‘s got you covered.
Of course, my favorite Monkees holiday song has always been and always will be “Riu Chiu.” (It’s included as a bonus track on the Target exclusive edition.)
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is, of course, the saddest Christmas song ever. Which is why it’s one of the best. The lyrics promise that our troubles will be out of sight, but the melody tells the truth: our troubles are here to stay, next year and forever after.
The song was originally sung by Judy Garland and nobody can conjure false optimism better. Frank Sinatra recorded his version in a state of near suicidal depression in the midst of his breakup with Ava Gardner, but the lyrics were still too sad for him. He asked the songwriters to change the line “until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow” and they came up with “hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”
Sixty years later the Beths have recorded a version that perfectly captures this doomed attempt at jolliness. And their video nails it as well. Puppet videos rarely evoke this much emotional connection. I’m not going to spoil the ending but you should watch it.
Gerard Way - Dasher (feat. Lydia Night) [Official Lyric Video]
Directed by Aaron Hymes. Single out now on Reprise.
‘Tis the season.
Last time we checked in on Gerard Way he was getting spooky for Halloween. Now he’s got a Christmas song. Did we miss his Thanksgiving single? Can we expect a New Years song next?
Turns out Way’s been playing “Dasher” live since at least 2014, but he finally got around to recording a studio version. And he recruited Lydia Night from the Regrettes to call in for a spoken interlude in the middle.
When you go, can you come
‘Cause I feel safe in your arms
And she’s got dashes in her stars
The Regrettes - All I Want For Christmas [Live Video]
The absolute best part of this godawful year of 2017 for me was discovering the Regrettes. I’ve tried not to gush too much about them on here because I don’t want to come across as a weird old man losing his shit over a bunch of teenagers, but people who know me in real life know that’s pretty much exactly what I am.
Feel Your Feelings, Fool became my default lawn-mowing album this summer, and it stayed in the headphones to become my leaf-blowing album this fall. These very exclusive dadrock titles are awarded to only one or two entries per year. Previous winners included Fear Fun in 2012 and Muchacho in 2013. It’s getting more and more rare to give a full album repeated listens lately, but doing so can reveal hidden charms of songs you might have wanted to skip over at first.
Very few records warrant multiple close listens but this Regrettes album does. Frontwoman Lydia Night wrote and recorded these songs when she was 15 years old, and that’s insane. The songs are well written. The lyrics are smart. The arrangements are interesting. The harmonies are pretty. The production is cool. The attitude is badass. Night just turned 17.
So anyway, that’s my latest obsession. The Regrettes. And here they are covering the best song Mariah Carey ever recorded, and the best holiday song written since “Last Christmas.” Ho ho ho.
Merry Christmas, everybody. Let’s hope the new year brings us all together.
HANSON - Finally It's Christmas (Official Music Video)
From Finally It’s Christmas, out now on S-Curve Records.
The good old Hanson brothers. Twenty years after the irresistible “MMMBop” broke through and made the Oklahoma teens superstars, they’ve still managed to stick around. Remember the concept of one-hit wonders? Does that even exist today? What about “15 minutes of fame”? Nobody drops off the face of the earth anymore. Once you achieve a certain level of fame in the post-monoculture world, you’re apparently always going to be around.
In the case of Hanson, I’m glad they’re here. They’ve always treated their success with a kind of good-natured bemusement, seemingly aware of the silliness of the hysteria of their peak. They were nice boys and now they seem like nice thirty-somethings. (Yes, even little Zak is 32 now…which might be a little too old to be thrashing around a spray-painted Kurt Cobain bedroom like he does in this video.)
The other thing that has always differentiated Hanson from their prefab 90s peers is their songwriting abilities and an ear for a super catchy power pop hook. This Christmas song showcases everything that has always made them so charming.
One of the things I love about Christmas music is the formula. It’s like a “Phineas and Ferb” episode: you know the rules, but what makes it interesting is to see how they work them in. Will there be jingle bells in this song? Yes, yes there will.
If you had asked me in 1997 if I’d be listening to and thinking about a new Hanson song in 2017, I’d have scoffed. No matter how talented and charismatic those kids seemed to be, I would have assumed that the industry would just chew them up and spit them out.
Then again, who would have guessed that Donny and Marie Osmond would be still have careers in showbiz?
If you’ve spent any time at the Hideout in Chicago over the past twenty years, you’re familiar with Devil in a Woodpile. They epitomize what’s great (and sometimes sad) about the Bloodshot Records roster. These D/I/Y bands have all found their niche and they all do their thing really well inside the ecosystem of their area, but never seem like they’re trying very hard to break through to a wider audience. That’s fine, of course. Especially if you’re the type of fan who likes to see their favorite bands in bars that hold a hundred people and sell $2 PBRs. (I count myself as one of these types of fans.)
Who doesn’t love the Fonz? Seriously, every time I see Henry Winkler in anything, my heart is filled with joy. He has such a jolly aura that he exudes happiness. And what more could you ask for in a video for a Christmas song?
Confession: I like Christmas music. I look forward to hearing “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee and “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms. “Little St. Nick” is one of my favorite Beach Boys songs. I don’t have much use for new covers of the classics but I love the originals.
And I appreciate that artists still write and record new Christmas songs. It might seem like a crass cash-in on people’s holiday cheer, but I dunno. It’s fun. And festive. Loosen up, people. Drink some eggnog and get in the spirit.
I don’t know much about Sia other than she’s mysterious and weird on “Saturday Night Live” but this is a fine new Christmas song. And the video stars J.B. Smoove, Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell, Henry Winkler, Susan Lucci, Sophia Lillis, Wyatt Oleff, and Caleb McLaughlin. Ho ho ho.
The pairing is complete nostalgia. There is no other reason that John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John are together for a Christmas album aside from the fact that they were both cast together in a small little movie musical called Grease over thirty years ago.
Grease has flourished since its first run on charm alone. How else can you explain the impossible plot of an Australian immigrant--who is hot off an innocent summer fling with a local gearhead--as she navigates the social landscape of high school with a collective of sexually active girls, headed by a 34-year old Stockard Channing?
As the main characters in the film, Olivia and Travolta aren’t particularly compatible on screen and their voices don’t blend together all that notably during their duets. Regardless, they have managed to become the biggest selling duet in pop history and their presence in Grease completes the film’s campy homage to 50s B-movies, giving all of that aforementioned improbability a free pass.
How these characters have managed to ride Greased Lightening up through the skies and endured for so long is pretty remarkable, so the idea of them returning together to perform Christmas music isn’t completely out of the realm. Unfortunately, when one doesn’t properly attend to the execution of such a reunion, what you get is a record that’s more acknowledged for its weird aftertaste than musical flavor.
I won’t even mention the cover, because it’d be like bitching about how Kraft Macaroni and Cheese tastes nothing like a homemade batch of the gooey comfort food. This is truth in advertising, and the only thing that would make the cover of This Christmas more awesome is if Travolta sported a cheesy seasonal sweater.
As hard as it is to be polite about the cover art, I simply cannot get away from all of the tabloid overtones when Travolta takes over the resistant role of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” We’re all accustomed to Olivia’s occasional glimpses as the sexual aggressor (Shake Shack, anyone?), but to hear Danny Zuko put up a fight to Sandy’s advances thirty years after the fact makes for a perfect hushed whisper of “Beard!”
There are other laugh-out-loud moments within This Christmas that are much less juvenile, but equally surreal. Like the part during “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” when Barbara Streisand pops in for a verse for absolutely no reason at all.
Speaking of guest cameos, there are tons of ‘em. From another brake-slamming appearance (this time with James Taylor on “Deck The Halls”) to a not-so-subtle nod to the Scientology folks with some ivory-tickling from Chick Corea, John and Olivia bring a whole slew of friends to join in their Christmas spirit and it’s as sincere as you pretending to think the gag gift you get at work during your department’s holiday party is funny.
There’s octogenarian Tony Bennett who drops in for “Winter Wonderland,” if you count having your verses recorded at a completely different studio during a completely different session as “dropping in.”
ONJ brings out longtime musical partner John Farrar for the record’s lone original track “I Think You Might Like It.” Farrar was responsible for many of Olivia’s biggest hits, and he served as both the writer and producer for “You’re The One That I Want,” the hit single that propelled the pair into the record books.
Farrar’s latest tune is being called the sequel to that Grease classic, and it’s hard to dispute that claim since it follows nearly the same chord progression under the guise of some light country swag.
Clearly, I’m not the man who should be reviewing This Christmas because I’m overflowing with cynicism at every turn.
So I ask my wife, who often fills the house with a bit of Christmas singing of her own during the holidays, to offer her opinion of the pairing. Suddenly, I find her singing along with This Christmas, causing me to consider that maybe it is my jaded outlook that’s causing me to be so dismissive of this holiday collection.
When I ask her if This Christmas has caused her spontaneous outburst of seasonal caroling, she admitted that it wasn’t the quality of the songs that prompted her singing, but just the familiarity of the material.
Indeed, the selection doesn’t stray far from the obligatory set list that every holiday record seems to cull from. Case in point: ONJ has now selected “Silent Night” for every Christmas album she has released.
This Christmas is the perfect holiday record for anyone who has been waiting since Two Of A Kind for the return of John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. Beyond that, This Christmas is another run-of-the-mill collection of uninspired holiday classics featuring a bunch of questionable guest appearances and two longstanding friends who can’t seem to get away from those hallowed halls of Rydell High.
An extra star has been added for this release as all proceeds from the sale of This Christmas go to the artist’s charitable foundations.
The very idea of a Scott Weiland Christmas album is a strange concept for some, and while I’m not a fan of Mr. Weiland’s work, at least I can grasp the notion that he recently released a collection of holiday songs after hinting at the idea for several years.
When you consider that Weiland’s been flirting with a Bowie blueprint for a big chunk of his career, it’s a given that he would eventually stumble upon the WTF moment that was “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth” collaboration between Bowie and Bing.
But what’s equally bizarre is how Weiland attempts to channel both artists in his own holiday set, The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, and how he fails miserably with this approach.
You can judge by the cover that Weiland is attempting to paint a very 50s caricature of himself and much of Most Wonderful Time is drenched in that swingin’ motif. His band channels Dave Brubeck on “What Child Is This?” knowing very well that most of his fans think “Take 5” is just a candy bar rather than a legitimate homage to the hep cats of the Eisenhower generation.
But what Weiland doesn’t understand is the expectation that he too should provide at least some amount of effort for this record to serve as a homage instead of a reckless embarrassment to the artists he portends to honor.
The first half of the record finds Scott using lazy phrasing and a weird vibrato that’s either trying to mask his inability to find the correct pitch or, in fact, actually causing his struggles with staying in tune. I have no idea about Mr. Weiland’s current state of sobriety, but I can tell you that after hearing this vocal styling, it reminded me of my grandfather trying to sing “How Great Thou Art” with my grandmother on organ after too many cans of Hamm’s beer.
The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year can be described as an existential cry for help. His intent and the performance of his band clearly indicate a level of respect for material, but it’s Scott’s own performance that demonstrates an inability to devote a level of professionalism to even make this seem like a legitimate release.