Remembering Some Of My All Time Favorite Christmas Albums (Part One)

 

Huey Smith & The Clowns - 'Twas The Night Before Christmas

Ring A Ding Ding!  I've always had a thing about seeking out what I consider the best Christmas albums.  My first encounter with a actual Christmas album was in 1962 in New Orleans when the T'was The Night Before Christmas album by Huey "Piano" Smith & The Clowns came blasting out of the radio.  There was no turning back after that heady moment.  

"Like a personification of New Orleans itself, HUEY "PIANO" SMITH & THE CLOWNS sound as if they could withstand a hurricane with their irrepressible good humor intact. So, when they grafted their trademark Crescent City sound to the wonderful world of Christmas, the results were merry indeed. T'was The Night Before Christmas (1962) includes ten songs that seem to flow from one to the next with nary a break in the fun. Smith's rollicking keyboards, Curly Moore's mischievous vocals, and the band's incessant rhythms propel the listener through an amusing series of holiday mishaps, none of which dampen the party spirit - the raison d'etre of any good New Orleans record. In Rock 'N' Roll Santa Claus, old St. Nick has slimmed down and moved away from the North Pole (in a rocket ship, no less) because 'people down there don't rock 'n' roll.' The song, 'I Wrote To Santa Claus', finds the singer so desperate to win his baby back that he appeals to a higher, jollier power - Santa Claus! 

By 'All I Want For Christmas', however, our hero has given up on love, simply requesting that Santa 'bring him a little bit of music'. No beggar, though, he demands that it be records to which he can dance the Twist and Hully Gully! Then, on traditional songs like Silent Night and White Christmas, Smith and the Clowns render the least pious, most joyful vision of the holidays ever waxed. Huey even slaps the word Blues onto the latter song's title - and steals the writer's credit from Irving Berlin! 

Smith and his band were a little past their peak when they recorded T'was The Night Before Christmas for Mississippi's Ace Records - with an assist from Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John. While the songs do sound a bit alike - and bear a suspicious resemblance to several previous Clowns hits - it is one of the most infectious, unusual Christmas albums I've ever heard. It was so unusual, in fact, that rumors circulated among collectors (fueled by the record's scarcity) that Ace had withdrawn it from the market when enraged listeners condemned it as sacrilegious." (from the Hip Christmas Music Site)

 

Huey Smith & The Clowns - T'was The Night Before Christmas

 


Brave Combo - It's Christmas Man!

Brave Combo is an amazing group who are quite adept changing various musical styles along with kicking in the Christmas groove via polka sounds!  As part of their perceived artistic mission to expand the musical tastes of their listeners, Brave Combo has often played and recorded covers of well-known songs in a style radically different from the original versions. Examples include polka versions of Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze and The Doors' People are Strange, The Rolling Stones' (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction as a cha-cha, and Sixteen Tons as a cumbia. While their records may have a sense of humor, they are played straight and not usually considered joke or novelty records.  Carl Finch, the band's legendary leader, has often described Brave Combo's influence as a polka band with rock styles as an earnest way to escape an increasingly corporate cultural landscape.  As far as Christmas albums go, Brave Combo's It's Christmas Man! is a genuine masterpiece!

 

Brave Combo - Must Be Santa

 


The Ventures - The Ventures Christmas Album

In 1965, I discovered another excellent Yuletide album; The Venture's Christmas Album!  What made this particular slab of vinyl so great was that The Ventures were very clever to fill this album with unique covers of secular Christmas songs which in turn borrowed riffs from popular mid-'60s hits and incorporated these tasty songs into guitar twangy versions of hits of other artists which included an off the wall version of Frosty the Snowman which was set to the song Tequila by The Champs.

"This unusual little album is not well known, probably because while the Beach Boys sound is iconic and everlasting, as is Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound,” the Ventures guitar-driven surf rock sound has not stood the test of time so well. That being said, this album has one of the most creative approaches to traditional Christmas music I’ve ever heard.

The Venture's Christmas album offers up  Christmas standards, surf-rock style, and intercut guitar intros and riffs from other popular hits at the time. Johnny Rivers’ Memphis is incorporated into Jingle Bell Rock, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ Wooly Bully is mixed into Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, The Searchers’ When You Walk Into the Room is melded into Blue Christmas, The Champs’ Tequila leads into Frosty the Snowman, and so on. My two favorites are Sleigh Ride, which opens with the Ventures own Walk Don’t Run and samples it throughout, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which uses the Beatles’ I Feel Fine as its intro and also throughout the song. This may sound odd, but it’s actually exquisitely done and — for lack of a better expression — turns out to be pretty cool!" (Retro Rebeat site)

 

The Ventures - Frosty The Snowman

 


Los Straightjackets - 'Tis The Season For Los Straightjackets

Los Straightjackets are a magical combo that offers up more than just surf rock music.  When I heard that Los Straightjackets had released a Christmas album I ran outta my house and went to a nearby record store and got my grubby hands on this Yuletide album which is solid all the way through!

"If you're looking for someone to help you share the joy and magic of the holiday season, who better than the world's leading masked instrumental surf band? Los Straitjackets don't offer up a whole lot of surprises on 'Tis the Season but that isn't necessarily a bad thing; Eddie Angel and Danny Amis serve up lots of tasty guitar work, and Pete Curry and Jimmy Lester are one solid rhythm section, just as they've always been, and on these 13 tunes (11 covers and two originals) the lucha libre-obsessed guitar wranglers show off the smarts, humor, and sterling chops that have become their trademark. The La Bamba-accented Feliz Navidad, a version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen which channels the spirit of the Chantays, and the Ventures tribute of Sleigh Ride are highlights, and while this album will go over best with those who thrive on retro cool, this should send your next Christmas party into a state of dance fever with anyone who appreciates the era of enjoyable AM radio. How's the surf at the North Pole these days, anyway?" (All Music site)

 

Los Straightjackets - Tis The Season

 


The World's Greatest Jazz Band - Hark The Herald Angels Swing

This particular album just might be one of the best Christmas albums I've ever heard.  Back in the late 70's, my wife, Sweet Loretta, and I got our hands on this Yuletide classic when Sweet Lo's Dad (Nick Sassone who was a fabulous jazz artist) gave us a copy.  Since then it's been a frequently played Christmas album every December here at Mind Smoke Manor.  When it comes to Christmas album, there aren't that many that are as tasty as this one!

"This is one of the happier Christmas jazz LPs ever released. Although barely 32 minutes, this outing by the World's Greatest Jazz Band is filled with delightful performances of Yuletide favorites including Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Joy to the World, Jingle Bells, and Winter Wonderland, showing that many Christmas songs lend themselves well to Dixieland. The hot music is performed by trumpeters Yank Lawson and Billy Butterfield, trombonists Vic Dickenson and Eddie Hubble, Bob Wilber on clarinet and soprano, tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman, pianist Ralph Sutton, bassist Bob Haggart, and drummer Gus Johnson." (All Music site)

The World's Greatest Jazz Band - Hark The Herald Angels Swing

 


Little Steven's Underground Garage Presents: Christmas A Go Go 

Ahooooooo!  Here's a classic rock & roll album as parlayed by Little Steven (of the E Street Band & solo career).  Released in 2008, the Christmas A Go Go was one of the first credible rock & roll Christmas album in the modern age.  The group of tracks assembled by Little Steven are what rock & roll is all about! 

Little Steven's Christmas A Go Go album was a genuine godsend  that reminded us of rock & rollers should always come up with some Christmas albums fer sure!  Among the excellent racks here are the songs that I immediately fell in love with...the Kinks' Father Christmas, Clarence Carter's Backdoor Santa, the Ramones' Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight), Bob Seger's high energy tune Sock It to Me Santa and Keith Richards's Run Rudolph Run. Yes indeed, CHRISTMAS A GO-GO is a XMas must-have!

 

Clarence Carter - Back Door Santa

 


Johnny Pierre (hey! that's me!) - Johnny Pierre's Holiday Jamboree

Surprise Surprise!  Back in 2015, I actually released a Christmas album featuring songs that I had written with Sweet Lo (my wifey).  There were no Christmas standards on the album whatsoever.  We had a dang good time writing all of these Yuletide tunes.

Here's A Review Of the above mentioned album from

Stubby's House Of Christmas website: 

"C'mon and take a trip with me to Johnny Pierre's Holiday Jamboree.  Now, for cover art alone, I'd pick it up if I came across it in the bins and crates.  I keep telling people the cover art is very important.   And here we have a perfect example.  I mean, look at it.  Don't you want to hoist one of those green things with Santa?  His expression is perfect, the background is perfect, it's just...perfect.  So Johnny Pierre gets an A+ on the cover art.  Now, of course, what's in the grooves is where the real points are scored. 

Johnny Pierre has been making the Long Island Blues Rock scene for some 40 years.  He lived for a long while in New Orleans, so he picked all that music up.  His gravely vocals can remind you of Tom Waits on the slower stuff and he can bring on Howlin' Wolf on the stuff that cooks. Over the years, Johnny's opened for some of the greats...Dr. John, Albert King, John Hiatt and NRBQ to name a few. 

While making a Christmas record, Johnny decided not to simply spit out the same tunes everyone else does.   Every song on Johnny Pierre's Holiday Jamboree is an original and this album provides an excellent mix for a Holiday party. 

For whatever reason, I was actually drawn more to the weird stuff, here, than the blues rockers.  Christmas Night is a 2 minute tune in which the vocals don't come in until the second minute.  It's weird and kind of beautiful, all at once.  I'm still not entirely sure what's going on in Christmas Eve @ Santa's Workshop.  But I like it.  And I dug New Year's Party because, to me at least, it's got a Doug & The Slugs vibe.  And, if it is the Blues Rock you came for, you can't go wrong with Santa's Housetop Blues.  Happy Holidays to one & all!"

 

Christmas Cards: The Video

At some point, Sweet Lo and I decided to make a (gasp!) Video

to promote the album...shazam!

Special Thanks to our daughter Molly who took on the job of Editor!

 

The Johnny Pierre Holiday Jamboree album is available @

BANDCAMP

APPLE MUSIC

MIND SMOKE RECORDS

& all of the other streaming platforms

 



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