Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mini-Review: The Beach Boys "Ultimate Christmas" CD

It may be the least original idea ever, but a timely look at the Beach Boys' Christmas Album isn't a bad thing. I tend to enjoy holiday season music; I'm certainly not annoyed by it as some seem to be. One of the few things I actually pull out of my collection each season is the Beach Boys' Christmas Album, and the most thorough stab at putting out a Beach Boys Christmas compilation came in 1998 with the "Ultimate Christmas" CD.

The centerpiece of the CD of course is the band's 1964 "Christmas Album" itself, which is great fun. One of the relative few "big" artists to actually pack nearly half of a Christmas album with original songs, the Beach Boys' take on the holiday season is definitely one filled with some novelty material. But it's fun, and they sound great vocally as always.

While I miss the original "Christmas Album" artwork (the cover for "Ultimate Chrismtas" is a cool pic, but the title and overall look do make it look kind of like a cheap compilation), the copious amount of bonus tracks more than makes up for it. The bonus tracks begin with the "single" version of "Little Saint Nick", presented in a new stereo remix courtesy of Andrew Sandoval. Its main differences from the "album" version consist of sleighbell and a few other overdubs. Nothing hugely different. We also get a version of "Auld Lang Syne" minus voiceover, as well as the always odd "remake" of "Little Saint Nick" in which the song's lyrics are adapted (to varying degrees of success) to the old backing track to "Drive In." Fleshing out the previously-released material is the rare 1974 single "Child of Winter", seeing its first ever CD release here. It's not terribly engaging, and its main riff was later recyled in the unreleased 1977/78 track "Mike Come Back to LA" and eventually the 1980 track "Some of Your Love" off the "Keepin' the Summer Alive" album.

The most interesting "new" material on the disc comes in the form of seven tracks from sessions for the band's rejected 1977 Christmas album. When the band convened in Iowa in 1977 at the "MIU", their original goal was to finish off their Warner Bros. contract by quickly rattling off another Christmas album. They dusted off a few old tracks and re-did the lyrics and vocals, and cobbled together new recordings of songs with varying degrees of Christmas themes. Warner, not surpringly, rejected the album. For reasons that have never been explained outside of the obvious explantion of laziness, the band then "un-Christmas-ized" some of the songs, added some other stuff, and cobbled together what eventually became the "MIU Album."

For "Ultimate Christmas", we get only select tracks from the sessions. The band is notoriously difficult and oddly sensitive about releasing outtakes from the 70's and 80's apparently. So some previously "booted" tracks such as "Go and Get that Girl" and "Alone on Christmas Day" from these sesssions did not make the release. We get alternate seasonal versions of "Loop de Loop" ("Santa's Got an Airplane"), "Belles of Paris" ("Bells of Christmas"), "Kona Coast" ("Melikalikamaka" aka "Kona Christmas"), "Peggy Sue" ("Chrismastime is Here Again"), along with Dennis' "Morning Christmas", Brian's "Winter Symphony", and a novelty bit with "I Saw Santa Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." Brian and Dennis' tracks are most interesting. The aforementioned outtakes not included on this set may be slightly stronger tracks. Nevertheless, the '77 tracks are great to have here.

Rounding out the collection are some spoken-word bits and radio advertisements. Brian's brief 1964 interview shows how lucid the guy was back then at 22.

This is certainly the definitive collection of Christmas tracks from the band. The CD version is apparently out of print (though still available to purchase via download), though among the mess of numerous truncated budget releases of the band's Christmas album, you can find "Merry Christmas from the Beach Boys" which deletes only one track from "Ultimate Christmas" ("Christmastime is Here Again").

The only drawback to "Ultimate..." is the lack of inclusion of any version of "The Lord's Prayer", which was the b-side to "Little Saint Nick." This was not an oversight. The lack of inclusion is allegedly a remnant of the canceled/rejected plan the then-in-place reissue team had for the group's catalog. Presumably, "The Lord's Prayer" was going to be included on one of the planned expanded reissues of the group's other 60's albums. While that never happened, you can find the track on several releases, including the original US CD release of the "Christmas Album", and in the form of a stereo remix on the 2001 "Hawthorne, CA" collection.