It’s Christmastime once again, and with that comes a plethora of holiday music releases. Someone recently said, “It seems like all the great Christmas songs have already been done, years ago.” That’s somewhat true; if you think about it, a lot of the songs people grew up with in the 1950s and 1960s have endured to this day. With that in mind EMI/Capitol Records has released several CDs that feature the best songs from some of the most popular artists our planet has ever known: The Beach Boys, Nat “King” Cole, Olivia Newton-John, and The Chipmunks.
One of the first records I ever remember receiving as a gift was “Christmas with The Chipmunks” in the 1980s. I was a little kid with a record player, and I wore that joyful record out. Now it’s available on CD, and listening to it in 2009, I’m transported right back to my living room when I first discovered the sped-up fun of The Chipmunks: Alvin, Simon and Theodore, and their caregiver David Seville. Listening to the album now, as an adult, I can appreciate how well-done that album from the early 1960s was and is. With 20 tunes on it, including their most famous, “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late),” where Alvin croons that he wants a “hula hoop,” I couldn’t help but feel good! Indeed, if you have kids or are a kid-at-heart, you will like “Christmas with The Chipmunks,” which is surprisingly enjoyable throughout the many cuts, from “Up on the House-Top” to “All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth).”
Another feel-good, can’t miss album is The Beach Boys’ “Christmas Harmonies,” which brings a surf rock, harmony-filled good vibe to many Christmas classics, like “Little Saint Nick” and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town.” While there are plenty of well-known songs on this release, you also get some lesser known ones, like “Child of Winter,” “Santa’s Beard,” “Melekalikimaka,” “Auld Lang Syne,” and “The Man With All The Toys.” The Beach Boys have undeniably amazing harmonies, so if you’re a fan of the human voice, you cannot go wrong with the intricate and full way their male voices blend together so well. Listening to The Beach Boys is like having a refreshing wave of water fall down on you on a hot summer’s day.
While The Beach Boys are known for their upbeat, feel-good surf-inspired songs, Nat “King” Cole is known for his smoky voice tackling ballads in a lush and beautiful way. His “The Christmas Song” is one of those tunes most people list in their top 5 of all-time favorite Christmas songs. You know the tune, which starts out “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” A compilation CD entitled “The Christmas Song” contains that tune (the 1961 version) along with a re-done version, where he duets with his daughter Natalie. The other 18 tracks are songs that are perfect to put on while you’re decorating the tree, hanging lights, or having people over for dinner. Cole’s voice goes so well with Christmas classics like “O Holy Night,” “The First Noel,” and “Silent Night.” There are also some rare tunes on this release, like “Buon Natale,” “Caroling, Caroling,” and “A Cradle in Bethlehem.” If you’d like a relaxing, almost “dreamy” kind of Christmas CD to chill out to, heavy on the strings with pleasant orchestral melodies, don’t hesitate to get this pop-jazz holiday masterpiece from one of the world’s most beloved singers, ever.
There’s just something special about people like Nat “King” Cole and The Beach Boys that make millions of people feel as if they know them. Maybe it’s their singing voices, or their attitudes. With Olivia Newton-John, you’ve got both a pretty voice and a can-do attitude. Most of you know her from the movie “Grease,” where she played Sandy, who went from prim and proper to all-out rock chick. As a recording artist, Newton-John has been active for years, turning out many adult contemporary hits. Her holiday release is called “Christmas Wish,” and it’s unique for several reasons, including its structure whereas she’ll sing a song, followed by an instrumental interlude of another classic. This goes on for 22 songs, so you get a nice mix of vocals and instrumentals. Generally, Newton-John sticks to warm, feel-good piano songs, including a Celtic-tinged “O Come All Ye Faithful” and a country-tinged original, “Underneath The Same Sky.” On the album she has several duet partners. Jon Secada sings with her on “Every Time It Snows,” Canada’s Jann Arden lends her gravitas to “Silent Night,” and Barry Manilow shows up at the end on “A Gift Of Love.” The most in-the-pocket song on the disc is when Newton-John gets into her “Grease” character with the 1950s-inspired doo-wop of “Christmas On My Radio,” which could easily be in “A Grease Christmas” if there was such a thing! Meanwhile, the most compelling song on the disc is hands-down “Instrument of Peace,” an overtly Christian themed duet with Marc Jordan. The lyrics sound almost Biblical, and could easily be used by the average listener as a prayer. Overall, Olivia Newton-John’s “Christmas Wish” is a gentle reminder of God’s great gift to the world, the kind of music that would go perfectly with a crackling fire, candles in the window, and snowflakes falling outside.