Thursday 25 December 2014

Ho Ho Ho


Monday 22 December 2014

Xmas Bumper Issue: Revised 'Beach Boys Christmas' and Brian Wilson's 'All I Really Want For Christmas'

You can now buy 'Add Some Music To Your Day - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Beach Boys' in e-book form by clicking here

 The Beach Boys "Christmas" (1964)

Little Saint Nick/The Man With All The Toys/Santa's Beard/Merry Christmas Baby/Christmas Day/Frosty The Snowman//We Three Kings Of Orient Are/Blue Christmas/Santa Claus Is Coming To Town/White Christmas/I'll Be Home For Christmas/Auld Lang Syne

Ah yes the Beach Boys. California sun, long summer days (and summer nights!!!), driving down to beaches in little deuce coupes to meet surfer girls with good vibrations under full sun. I'd never really stopped to think what those same sun-loving Beach Boys did when Winter arrives and the sun set early, leaving Californian beaches cold. It seems to be a curious quirk of the band's singles discography that they always seemed to sell more records at the end of the year anyway between Autumn and Winter - which just goes to show how few of their fans listened to the records while surfing and how many used them as escapism.

However in a masterstroke of reinvention and with a little nudge from a record contract that just wouldn't give them a moment's peace the same Beach Boys ended up releasing one of the most yuletide-friendly snowscape-making themed albums of all time. Now let's look at this fact in closer detail: festive-themes albums were something your parent's favoured singers and big bands did: released to a market who could afford to buy LPs they only listened to for one month out of twelve and who didn't seem to mind that they'd already heard most of the songs performed only slightly differently by a whole host of competitors each year. Festive albums makes sense for established acts as they can be recorded quickly with less effort than writing a full album of material  and even though they generally get recorded somewhere around September time before the Xmas vibe has really set in they tend to be made by hardened musicians who are used to singing all sorts of things they don't actually mean at the time. However Christmas albums are rare in rock and roll. I made it a policy early on in the life of our site to 'save' our Christmas reviews for Christmas week - before I realised how few there actually were (and how many years of writing I actually had ahead of me!) The trouble is most of the AAA festive records only come late in life, from acts like The Moody Blues and, erm, some guy named Brian Wilson sometimes in the 21st century when acts are in their late 50s and 60s. There are only three AAA albums to come out of the 1960s and 70s, two of which involve The Beach Boys! (We even temporarily abandoned a rule about reviewing unfinished LPs in the case of their second one from 1977) The 'odd one out' is an even odder album by Art Garfunkel on an all-star cast album re-telling 'The Nativity', making 'The Beach Boys Christmas Album' the only really traditional AAA album recorded before 2003: compared to the sheer scale and size of the 'big band' Christmas records, this is what pretentious labellers of festive food officially refer to as 'trace' - too small to be scientifically measured.  The fact is that your traditional rock and roll collector didn't have the spare cash in the 1960s to buy an album he had to put away for eleven months of the year (festive singles were more likely but not exactly common; besides The Beatles released an album every December between 1963 and 1965 so most fans were buying that instead) and later, when rock and roll became heavier and harsher, soppy Christmas records were exactly the sort of things rock and roll was meant to be rebelling against.

So how did this album come about? Blame it on Phil Spector's album 'A Christmas Gift For You' released in 1963 - the same week as 'Little Saint Nick'. Brian had long been a big fan of the producer and his ability to drench echo over everything - and the fact that Spector had somehow managed to drench mistletoe over everything as well must have had an impact. It may have tickled him, too, to see Darlene Love suddenly promoted to lead singer in a desperate attempt to get her a 'hit' after a series of flop albums throughout the year - Brian knew all about keeping singers called 'Love' happy! Projects like these really need someone in charge of them, who can arrange and produce and organise projects - with the possible exception of George Martin, no one else in the 1960s rock scene apart from Phil and Brian could have made that album. The difference is that had someone told McCartney or more likely Lennon to write a bunch of festive songs in 1964 they'd have no doubt told the asker to get lost; the Beatles were all about changing the face of traditions and bringing in the 'new'. With The Beach Boys it's more complicated than that: Brian was just as steeped in harmony tradition as he was in rebellion (I'm amazed the Four Freshman never made a Christmas album - it would have been right down their street) and a Christmas album wasn't as big a no-no in America as it was in Britain. Add in too the fact that the Beach Boys kind of started at Christmas family get togethers (the only time of year the Loves and Wilsons regularly met up) and you can see why the band might think more fondly of a Christmas record than their competitors across the pond (who made do with fanclub flexi-discs showcasing their humour instead). After all, they're a 'family' band - and nothing says family more than Christmas (or did in 1964 anyway).

One of the few exceptions to the rule that rock and roll and Christmas doesn't mix was 'Little Saint Nick', a big hit for the band in Christmas 1963. A rocking song guaranteed to make even Scrooge smile, Brian and Mike wrote it when they realised that Christmas was drawing nearer and they were running out of ideas for yet more songs about sun and summer. It was meant to be a one-off joke - the Beach Boys singing about snow - and that was that. But as 1964 began to wear the band down a full 'Christmas' album looked like a good idea - it gave Brian the breathing time he needed to make the marvellous 'Today' album (released in March 1965) and gave him a break from finding yet more variations on the same formula. There was clearly a market for it after 'Little Saint Nick' and a feeling that The Beach Boys were so popular they would still be able to sell enough songs to fans (or more likely their parents: The Beach Boys were one of the few bands of the sixties quite fondly regarded by mums and dads, at least in 1964 before they 'got weird').

Which makes 'The Beach Boys' Christmas' rather a unique record. What's interesting is how untraditional this one sounds at times too: the general rule on festive favourites is that the original songs are kept to a minimum and if you really want to be daring you either sing a carol in traditional Spanish or German or dig up an obscure one from the Victorian era or earlier. Several perfectly respectable Christmas records have been made to that formula over the years - most of them by The King's Singers (one of the few acts who can actually match The Beach Boys harmonies, in their early days at least). However even under record company pressure to come up with a - gulp - fourth album that year Brian Wilson doesn't take the easy way out, writing five of the twelve album songs. The only festive album I know that exceeds that is, erm, the unreleased 'Merry Christmas From The Beach Boys' recorded at a time when the band had more time on their hands (way, way too much time!)

Unusually this Christmas record is divided neatly in two. The first contains all of the originals and is more what you might think of as a 'Beach Boys' record. The band play on all the songs and if you know 'Little Saint Nick' you'll know what to expect: the usual Chuck Berry fast-walking-pace beat with stunning Beach Boys harmonies as normal, just with sleigh bells attached. In fact, take the percussion away and you could be listening to a 'normal' Beach Boys record on this first side (you can do just that on 'Stack-O-Tracks', by the way, where Little Saint Nick can be heard as an instrumental) - albeit one that's even more fully developed than normal: some of the harmony arrangements on this album are stunning. Alas the Beach Boys of late 1963 were far more inspired than the Beach Boys of late 1964 and none of the other original material on this album comes anywhere close (that's why you never 'The Man With All The Toys' on the radio very often, despite the fact the band's fame propelled it all the way to #3 in the US charts - the same position as 'Little Saint Nick' the year before). There are only two truly great addition to the Beach Boys canon: the funky 'Santa's Beard' about a dad dressing up to fool his young boy that Santa really exists which comes complete with powerhouse Beach Boys vocals and a neat version of 'Jingle Belles' played by Carl Wilson's 'surf' guitar; and the rocky 'Merry Christmas Baby', the perfect mixture of the usual Beach Boys sob story and festive cheer, which is one of the few rock and roll xmas songs I don't mind hearing every year. 'The Man With All The Toys' and 'Christmas Day', though, are worse than a double helping of sprouts.

I'd rather go through cold turkey - in both meanings of the phrase - than sit through side two too often, however. When the band knew that a  Christmas record might be on the cards Brian got plotting and came up with the idea of recording with a full orchestra and making The Beach Boys record sound like the ones made by Sinatra, Crosby, Perry Como etc. Legend has it he approached Spector first in the wake of that successful record but was told to 'get lost'; instead he turned to Dick Reynolds, the arranger on the vast majority of the Four Freshman records. In theory this should be a good move: the two band's harmony styles are similar and all Reynolds should have to do is do his usual job. However while hearing the band occasionally reach back to their past (as on their two Freshman covers 'Graduation day' and 'Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring') is one thing; it's quite another to sit through a whole album. Reynolds clearly has never heard a Beach Boys album in his life - there's no sparkle, no twinkle, no energy and the arrangements get slower and slower as the second side progresses. Now, the Beach Boys can do slow: 'Surfer Girl', for instance, is a pure Four Freshman influenced ballad. But they need something to pick up the tempo and the horn-drenched 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' isn't it; The Beach Boys have never sounded as dreary as they do here and I've never felt more un-festive towards them as I do when they stretch 'We Three Kings' out to somewhere close to half-an-hour (actually its 4:03 but time definitely slows down when the song is on...)

Revealingly, the CD issue of this album also features a period interview from Brian where he explains that the first side is for the fans and the second for the ‘mums and dads’ and all too often that shows: this 20 minutes is not easy going for anyone used to the Beach Boys' usual fire and pizzazz. The effect is of slowly sinking under ten foot of snow - at first it's fun to be doing something so different but you quickly tire and long for someone to light a fire. There are two plusses in this side's favour however – one is the chance to hear an alternate universe, where Brian finally gets ‘his’ group to agree to becoming a fully fledged Four Freshman copycat band. The second is the sheer glee in Brian’s voice. Unusually, he handles pretty much all of the lead singing here and never does he sound happier or more confident, without either cousin Mike Love or dad Murry Wilson getting in the way of his vision. Brian’s fingerprints are all over the first dozen Beach Boys albums in more ways than just the vocals and writing credits – but this is the first time on record where Brian is unquestionably the leader and is finally getting the vision in his head and his ears to sound on record the way he wants it to.     

What's worse is how rushed this album sounds. Increasingly across 1964 The Beach Boys are being forced to make do with second-best and something inevitably gives on each of their early LPs (until Brian finally gets the time to make 'Today'). However this record seems more rushed than most: Mike fluffs his double-tracking on 'Santa's Beard'; Al Jardine seems to have never seen the lyrics to 'Christmas Day' until the moment the song is given to him to record; most famously Dennis fluffs his biggest moment yet on a Beach Boys record during his closing speech for 'Auld Lang Syne ('If you hap, err, happen to be listening to this right now...' - even the line is suspect, of course I'm listening to that line now or I wouldn't hear you! I think what Dennis was meant to say was 'if you happen to be listening to this on Christmas Day' before realising that the line he had to speak made no sense!)  Even the backing tracks on the first side and the harmonies on the second aren't delivered with the usual Beach Boys spit and polish. Ah well, that's what happens when you're forced to make Christmas records in September...

As a result 'Beach Boys Christmas' is a strange hybrid. All the right elements are here: sleigh bells, carols, festive songs about toys and Santa plus orchestral arrangements heard on every festive album ever made by 1964. But for some reason it feels like a Christmas get-together you don't quite belong to; you're suddenly spending Christmas with strangers that you used to think you knew really well. Despite all the box-ticking 'Beach Boys Party' is more of a 'festive' album than this one: it's bright, cheerful and full of the atmosphere of friends having fun; by contrast too much of 'Beach Boys Christmas' is a slog and way more traditional than it needs to be. In short, it's the Queen's Speech of festive television, not the Doctor Who special - full of anachronisms that should have long been buried and which have no bearing on our lives but which everybody goes through just because that's how they've done things every year even though a better alternative is already taking place on the other channel. Goofy as it is, unfinished as it is, I'd take the unreleased 1977 Beach Boys album over this one anyday (or at least the second side!) Bah! Humbug! What's that, ghost of Christmas reviews from the future? However much I hate this record it can't possibly be as bad as The Moody Blues' 'December' or Art Garfunkel's 'The Animals' Christmas'? Alright then spirit, I promise to amend my ways in the next half of the review and find something nice to say!

...erm...err...'Little Saint Nick' is good, I like that one. 'Santa's Beard' and 'Merry Christmas Baby' aren't bad. Err...(long pause)...did I mention how mercifully short this album is? Or how pretty the album cover is? (A hilarious shot of the Beach Boys decorating a tree in matching festive jumpers knitted by some indulgent wardrobe mistress at Capitol - Wilson mum Audree's knitting was far better than that!) What's weird, of course, is that Al Jardine apart this could be a 'real' Beach Boys family Christmas picture, not just a bunch of musicians standing in front of a backdrop sometime in August. That leads to me another thought: Christmas presents were easy for the band that year weren't they? 'What did you get me this year, Al?' 'Why, Carl, I bought you a record I think you might like...a copy of the 'Beach Boys Christmas Album!' 'Gosh, how thoughtful - you shouldn't have. No I mean it, you shouldn't have. Guess what I got you?...' Another thought - do you think Dave Marks - who'd been forced out of the band at the beginning of the year - got a copy that Christmas?!

The Songs:

The best known tracks – and not coincidentally – the ones that work the best are those that mix tried and tested Christmas sounds (mainly borrowed from Phil Spector’s echo-friendly record ‘A Christmas Gift For You’) with typically Beach Boys sounds and influences. The 1963 hit single [83] ‘Little Saint Nick’ is a case in point – in typically Beach Boys vernacular Santa visits your ‘pad’, his sled is led by ‘old Rudy’ and best of all Santa’s magic powers mean the sled ‘walks a toboggan with a four-speed stick’ which means ( I think) that’s she’s pretty darned fast. Please, Santa, if you’re listening, I want a Little Deuce Coupe sled this year too! Like the best of this album, somehow this delightful pastiche of both Christmas and the band themselves is more heart-warming than a mince pie round the fire. Indeed, it was the surprise hit status of this 1963 track (which reached #3 at a time when the band’s sales were slowly beginning to take a nose dive in the wake of the Beatles’ sudden success in America) that inspired this whole album – and while nothing else on the album quite matches it, very few other band have ever quite matched the sheer fun and frolics of this festive cheering track either. CD re-releases of the Beach Boys' Christmas material inevitably contain the single mix from 1963 (with even more sleigh bells) and a curious rendition from two days earlier set to the tune of 'Drive-In'. A joke (as Brian's giggling at the end suggests?) or a proper first attempt at the song? Either way it's a good version - easily the second best Beach Boys xmas recording from the 1960s.

[84] 'The Man With All The Toys' was meant to be the 'big hit' from this album that the band spent most time on and comes closest to merging the 'Beach Boys' and 'traditional' sides together; it did well too, reaching #3. However by the band's high standards the track is lifeless and limp, perhaps its filled with so many traditional Beach Boys reference points and Christmas lyrics - a snowman that's been out in the sun too long. The story follows a young child who wakes up early one night and actually sees Santa. Surely that's a good starting point for a fun and exciting song - instead the band sound as if they've been woken up early out of their Christmas morning sleep and want to get back to bed as quickly as possible. There's an annoying (huh!) counter-riff (huh!) that keeps (huh!) popping up (huh!) out the blue (huh!) for no (huh!) apparent (huh!) reason (huh!) which really (huh!) gets on your nerves (huh!) by the end of the song (huh!) Mike Love sounds bored out of his skull on the verses (never have I heard someone sing the word 'thrilled' less thrillingly than here), Carl sounds uninspired on guitar and even a stunning harmony part from the whole band can't make this a Christmas classic no matter how hard they try. A solo Brian Wilson re-recording for the album 'All I Really Want For Christmas' in 2005 somehow manages to be even worse.

[85] 'Santa's Beard' is much better, despite the weird title. The song is another silly little bit of fluff about a boy ('five-and-a-half going on six') desperate to meet up with the 'real' Santa Claus. He's not fooled by his dad dressing up either or the Santa at his local store, but peace is restored when the narrator adds that he's 'Santa's assistant' (Ho ho ho! Clever!) There's a great simple walking bass riff to this one and the Beach Boys are born for harmonies like this: Mike turns in a terrific lead vocal (he does a pretty good impression of a whining kid too)  and a great bass part while the others all join in behind (Brian adding a falsetto counter-melody on the line 'he shouldn't have pulled Santa's beard'). We've already mentioned Carl's neat rendition of 'Jingle Bells' in the solo - in fact this recording is a delight for the band all round: that's Al on bass, Brian on piano and Dennis on drums. All in all a great little Christmas package.

One that's equalled by [86] ‘Merry Christmas, Baby’, a Brian Wilson original that sounds even more like an evergreen Christmas classic than Old Saint Nick did. The backing is decidedly upbeat but the lyrics aren't: the narrator's just broken up with his girl ('why'd she do it this time of year?' Probable answer: so the old scrooge didn't have to buy you a present!) but he's confident they can make it up before Christmas Day - because that's what the season is all about.  Lead singer Mike Love is on sterling form –Christmas seems to bring the best out in the singer who sounds more at home than the others, 'All The Toys' aside– and Brian’s cheeky answering yelps (a rocking 'ah-ha!' early on) and the band’s most glorious block harmonies (dominated by Carl, for once) make this song seem like Christmas no matter what time of year you play it. The band sound like they're having, fun, especially Dennis who turns in some terrifically powerful drum patterns to the bottom of the sound. All in all this song should be the most recognised Beach Boys Christmas song after 'Little Saint Nick', although frustratingly it was only ever released as a single in Germany in 1967!

[87]  ‘Christmas Day’ is stretching the formula a bit thin however – Al Jardine’s first lead on a Beach Boys record suggests that its one of the few songs here that composer Brian didn’t consider turning into a hit. The song simply ambles along in true Perry Como fashion, only with the greatest respect to Al Jardine his 1965 self isn't a strong enough singer to pull it off. To be fair I'd have hated to have sung my first lead in a band that can sing that well, so no wonder he sounds nervous (Brian must have liked it though, picking Al to sing 'Help Me Rhonda' a few months later). This song about keeping the Christmas spirit into adulthood (the first appearance of 'age' on a Brian Wilson song, a theme that's going to dominate the following year of 1965) really needs an enthusiastic vocal from Mike or Brian to come to life - Al is enthusiastic in a quiet, emotionally controlled way and is simply cast wrong for the song. The end result is a song that wouldn't have been that memorable with the usual singers taking part but here sounds positively ordinary.

Right, we can't put it off anymore so here we go with side two. A chirpy [88] 'Frosty The Snowman' isn't actually that bad - although it has the unfortunate effect of making The Beach Boys sound like extras on their own album. In truth this could be any vaguely talented band singing - the harmonies are the simple sort that suited The Four Freshman but are a tad pedestrian by Beach Boys standards (Reynolds arranged them not Brian- which was good in terms of his health and pressure on it but not terribly good for us) and are mixed too low behind the orchestra in any case. And oh yes that 41 piece orchestra: we called the one on 'Pet Sounds' over-lush which makes this one positively verdant and what's worse is there's none of Brian's love of unusual sound combinations, just a heavy kind of mush that sits over proceedings however unsuitably, like an overly fat fairy balancing on a tiny Christmas tree. The result is a passable version of 'Frosty The Snowman' which left to their own devices the Beach Boys could have done so much better.

The worst recording here though is a torturous [89] 'We Three Kings Of Orient Are'. This has never been my favourite of carols but at least most versions have a kind of teasing cat-and-mouse quality, a slow and stately trot turning into an overly excited chorus where even Royalty can't wait to meet the new Messiah. This funeral-paced version of the carol makes them sound as if their camels have got stuck in a camel jam. Amazingly some Beach Boys fans really rate this recording: it does offer you a rare chance to hear them singing throughout, after all, and the slow tempo means you can really study how their voices mould together without the band's usual energetic pace. For me, though, this is a terrible rendition which features all the worst excesses of the Four Freshman (slow pace, lack of variety, overly enunciated vowels) without any of the high points (the storytelling; the fact that these harmonies don't suit the Beach Boys' voices quite as well). There is at least a nicely suitable oriental feel about the beginning of the song - but even that's gone by the time the band open their mouths. Hurry up Boxing Day, that's all I'm saying.

[90] 'Blue Christmas' has become something of a rock and roll standard at Christmas, with covers by Elvis and Shakin' Stevens (now there's a duet I'd have paid to hear! 'Uh-huh!' 'Wooh!') Most versions of it are sad, but this version is positively melancholic: Brian sings alone on a tempo caught somewhere between 'heavy snowdrift has stopped all traffic' and 'a sled pile-up on the motorway'. The orchestra is terribly OTT, turning what should be a nice little cameo into a full production number complete with dancing girls (or at least dancing snowmen). That's a shame because Brian clearly loved the song - this is only is second solo vocal ever on a Beach Boys album and he still talks about this song being one of his favourites now. It's a shame he didn't re-record it for his solo xmas CD: it would have suited his older, deeper voice much better; this one is too earnest and young to do the song justice.

[91] 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' is comparatively a great arrangement, if only because The Beach Boys get to add some of their own touches; the interplay between Mike and Brian is great here and the overall upbeat mood is much more suited to the Beach Boys sound than all this festive misery. There's a nice a capella opening that simply soars before the orchestra cuts in to pull us back to Earth: while still clearly a very Four Freshman-style arrangement from Dick Reynolds this is the kind of thing the Beach Boys could always do better than their heroes - making a song come alive with nothing more than their voices. However the orchestration is still completely unsuitable, even taking a side-route into 'Pop Goes The Weasel' for no other reason than Reynolds thinks this is being 'wacky' and 'silly'. As we've often seen already, things go wrong when The Beach Boys try to pull off 'whacky' and 'silly'.

[92] 'White Christmas' is a Bing Crosby standard so drilled into the Western world's consciousness that every single later cover version falls short. Brian sings lead once again on this one but, great singer that he is, he doesn't have the ease and cool-headed charm of Bing: instead he ends up sounding like a wannabe carol singer, trying too hard to do justice to a 'standard'. The orchestration is again horribly over-souped (if this was a 'Little Deuce Coupe' the engine would have overcooked before it even got out of the garage) and the fact that the band are being made to sing like the Four Freshman reveals - Shock! Horror! - a few faults in the band's sound. I first owned 'The Beach Boys Christmas' album on cassette and had convinced myself it was getting 'wowy' (ie running slow) during the opening line because The Beach Boys could never possibly sound that flat (well not until '15 Nig Ones' in 1976 at least). Horror of horrors though: it's on the CD version too!

[93] 'I'll Be Home For Christmas' is another hideously overblown ballad - what is it with sad songs about Christmas on this album? Reynold's arrangement hasn't taken on board any of the Beach Boys' characteristics: instead the band sound dreary and slow without their precious backbeat. Even Bing Crosby never quite got this slow dirge of a song right - arranged to be slower, with even less charm than the original, The Beach Boys have no hope.

The album closes with traditional Scottish hymn [94] 'Auld Lang Syne'. This is surely the best and most fitting use of Beach Boys harmonies across the whole album - a classy soaring blend of five voices weaved around each other like a festive scatter-cushion. But wait, what's that? Dennis Wilson keeps muttering something over the top of it and the one truly evocative moment on this album's second side is ruined. He even fluffs his lines midway through (were the band really so rushed they couldn't do a re-take?) and the lines sound terribly insincere ('it's been a great pleasure for all of us to bring you this Christmas album and we hope that you will al treasure it like we will'; huh have you actually heard it guys?! By your standards it's rubbish!)  Thankfully a remixed version for the CD re-issue took out Dennis Wilson and left us with just the vocals. Now that's what I call a Christmas gift!

So, like every Christmas, there are gifts that we could have done without and gifts we can’t believe we spent the year without. Not everything on it is perfect, but the CD compilations of it and the band's 1977 recordings do at least show the care and effort the Beach Boys deserve  (there’s a booklet with liner notes on every song plus photos) but sadly ran out of time to actually show across the original record. Too many of the recordings leads me into that old Christmas chant of saying ‘you shouldn’t have’, while being blooming pleased that somebody really did. Christmas without the Beach Boys? Why that would be like, err…Summer without the Beach Boys! Unthinkable!

Plus an extra  stockingfiller...

Brian Wilson "All I Really Want For Christmas" 

Brian Wilson: "What I Really Want For Christmas"
(Arista, October 18th 2005)
The Man With All The Toys/What I Really Want For Christmas/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/O Holy Night/We Wish You A Merry Christmas/Hark The Herald Angels Sing/It Came Upon A Midnight Clear/The First Noel/Chirstmassey/Little Saint Nick/Deck The Halls/Auld Lang Syne (CD Bonus Tracks: On Christmas Day/Joy To The World/Silent Night)
"Christmas comes but once a year and four times a career..."
What is it with the Beach Boys and Christmas? Here we go again with the fourth festive record in this book - and like all the others the response is more 'you shouldn't have' than 'awww, you shouldn't have'. If the first Beach Boys record was rushed, the second (unreleased) misguided and the third (with Wilson Phillips) pointless then at least the best you can say about attempt number four is that iota's heart is in the right place. There are, at least, sleighbells, actual carols you know and love and a feeling that this record is at least partly infused with the spirit of Christmas, rather than recorded in a dusty recording studio in a blazing hot summer. That's partly down to the Wondermints (whose percussion and backing vocal heavy arrangements are perfect for these sort of songs), partly down to the choice of songs (no songs re-written in a hurry to sound festive this time, thank goodness) and partly thanks to Brian. The elder Wilson has been gradually adjusting to his newer voice more and more with every solo album and he's finally clicked with it here, audibly bouncing around the songs with an enthusiasm that hasn't been there since at least 1970. Yes there are still things I'd change: why re-record so many songs from the other three albums (even the non-originals, which at least make a kind of sense) when there are so many carols out there begging to have the Beach Boys treatment (surely Holst's 'In The Bleak Midwinter' and 'I Wonder As I Wonder' are more suited for that mixture of purity, melancholia and block harmonies than yet another go at 'Auld Lang Syne' (which isn't even a Christmas song anyway but a new year's one! Yes, and a pedantic Christmas holidays to you too!) Also, perhaps it's just my Christmas holidays, but it seems odd that Brian should make such a sad and unhappy Christmas record in 1964 ('Beach Boys' Christmas') and such a relentless upbeat and happy one in 2005. It's almost as if he's proving to someone (Himself? Us?) that he really is in a happy place, no honest he is (another important development since the last record: Brian has become a father again and the videos for this album's singles all feature his children heavily - perhaps that's what's inspired the happier tone; back in 1964 of course Brian was a childless 22 year old who wasn't even married and spent that year's Christmas flying between gigs).
There aren't many new songs on this album (three to be exact) and they aren't exactly the greatest gifts to unwrap - even compared to the under-par songs from 'Beach Boys Christmas'. 'What I Really Want For Christmas' - a much discussed collaboration with Elton John's lyricist Bernie Taupin - was in fact so awful when I got it as a single that I've only just got hold of the full album. Sadly this song sounds more like a clunky Elton non-song than a Brian Wilson number (I'm willing to bet the tune came after the lyrics too). What I really want for Christmas is never to hear this song again. 'Chirstmassey' is just 'Fairy Tale' (see Brian's last CD) with a fasttalkingfornoapparentreasoncrammingasmanywordsintoonelineasyoucan chorus that doesn't work too well except to sum up what an over stimulated child is feeling by around dinnertime on Christmas Day all too well, struggling to sit through the Queen's Speech so they can watch the Dr Who Christmas Special after. 'On Christmas Day' (originally available only as a downloadable extra) is much better: The Wondermints harmonies are amongst their most complex on album and the lyrics are better: the narrator is looking out of his window, watching the snowman he made melt away and seeing the decorations being taken down but in his heart he's happy because he knows he'll still be with his beloved family next year to do it all over again. A pretty series of chords makes you wish that this song had been kept for a 'proper' album actually.
The old faithful carols are a much more likeable bunch though: 'Deck The Halls' has some nice surf guitar draped around the song, 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' features more of Britain's love of unusual textures (the bass harmonicas from 'Pet Sounds' set against a flute), 'Hark The Herald Angels Sing' is given a funky a capella treatment ('Hark the Herald...ooh ooh ooh Merry Christmas!'), an even funkier coda and Brian even does the rare last verse you hardly ever hear sung ('Light and life to all he brings, Christ the feeling in his wings'), 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' sounds surprisingly sober, 'The First Noel' surprisingly drunk. Oh and the re-recording of 'Little Saint Nick' - which was a standard by 2005 even if Brian wrote it - is a lot of fun, with Brian now several octaves lower but sounding like more of a kid than ever. I'm less sure about reviving 'The Man With All The Toys' though: if that song can't work with prime time Beach Boys harmonies then this version melts quicker than a snowman in a microwave. Throughout, though, all these songs (except the two worst new ones) have a little something about them - a lightness of step, a little nugget of arrangement there - that makes this album a lot more enjoyable and much more suitable festive entertainment than 'Beach Boys Christmas', never mind what on earth was going on in 1977. Best of all, there are no soppy children's choirs or modern synthesisers (as per the Wilson Phillips Christmas LP). Forty-five years on from the release of Phil Spector's 'A Christmas Gift For You' and at the fourth go, Brian finally delivers a Christmas record worth playing past Boxing Day that at last sounds as if it wishes a good night to all and to all a good night.

Other Beach Boys articles from this website you might enjoy reading:

'Surfin' USA' (1963)

'Surfer Girl' (1963)

'Little Deuce Coupe' (1963)

'Shut Down Volume Two' (1964)

‘All Summer Long’ (1964)

'Beach Boys Christmas' (1964)

'Today' (1965)

'Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!!!!!!) (1965)

'Party!' (1965)

'Pet Sounds' (1966)

'Surf's Up' (1971)

’15 Big Ones’ (1976)

'Love You' (1977)

'Pacific Ocean Blue' (Dennis Wilson solo) (1977)

'Merry Xmas From The Beach Boys!' (Unreleased) (1977)

'M.I.U Album' (1978)

'L.A.Light Album' (1979)

'Keeping The Summer Alive' (1980)

'The Beach Boys' (1985)

'Still Cruisin' (1989)

'Summer In Paradise' (1992)

'Smile' (Brian Wilson solo) (2004)

'That Lucky Old Sun' (Brian Wilson solo) (2008)

'Smile Sessions' (band outtakes)(2011)

'That's Why God Made The Radio' (2012)

The Best Unreleased Beach Boys Recordings

A Complete (ish) Guide To The Beach Boys' Surviving TV Clips

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One 1962-86

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Two 1988-2014

Non-Album Songs Part One 1962-1969

Non-Album Songs Part Two 1970-2012

Essay: The Beach Boys and The American Dream
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

AAA Christmas Number Ones

This is our sixth Christmas together, dear AAA readers. In that time we've given you various festive AAA articles: AAA Christmas songs (naturally!), Christmas carols, AAA songs about snow and finally last year's 15 AAA presents we'd like to see under our tree in 2014 (sadly not one of which came true!) As I'm running out of ideas, here's every single AAA single that was number one during Christmas week either in Britain or America - and join with me in cursing the fact that we haven't had one for 30 years now! (Perhaps that will all change this year?...Erm, we can but hope!)

1) UK 1963: The Beatles "I Want To Hold Your Hand" Festive Rating: 7/10

The Beatles' fourth single and second or third number one (depending what record chart you use) started off a grand tradition of festive fab four number ones that will last for as long as they bother to keep releasing singles near Christmas. The song isn't Christmassy, obviously, but is full of a sort of festive bouncy cheer. The Americans, meanshile, went very festive with the Singing Nun at number one.

2) UK 1964: The Beatles "I Feel Fine" Festive Rating: 8/10

Ditto the next fab four festive number one, a cheery Lennon song full of goodwill to all men and women. No wonder he's feeling fine: The Beatles have had a busy and productive year across 1964 including three Ed Sullivan shows, the 'A Hard Day's night' film, two best-selling LPs, a ridiculous amount of touring and four mega-buck singles, of which is the last. The Beatles were at number one in America until Christmas week, when they got bumped down by The Supremes' latest 'Come See About Me'.

3) UK 1965: The Beatles "Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out" Festive Rating: 4/10

This single isn't quite as festive - 'day trips' are more of a summer thing, whilst 'We Can Work It Out' is very likely to be said more than once during family get-togethers on Christmas day it doesn't really invoke the ho-ho-ho spirit. The Americans, shockingly, went with another British band - The Dave Clark Five, for 1965's festive number one and the song 'Over and Over'.

4) USA 1966: The Beach Boys "Good Vibrations" Festive Rating: 7/10

While in Britain old ladies everywhere were unwrapping copies of Tom Jones' 'Green Green Grass Of Home', America went wild for a band more associated with Summer (but who weirdly always sold more copies of singles at Christmas: perhaps they worked better as memories of summer times during cold weather?) 'Good Vibrations' is a natural fit for Christmas, depending on how festive your day is going, although the theremin is a more natural fit for Halloween.

5) UK 1967: The Beatles: "Hello Goodbye" Festive Rating: 3/10

The Beatles' last Christmas number one in Britain, this song has nothing to do with Christmas and no one can quite decide whether it's a 'happy' or 'sad' song. Our take on things is that it's Paul trying to rally to keep the fab four together, though, in which case that sounds very like the realities of Christmas to me!

6) USA 1967: The Monkees: "Daydream Believer" Festive Rating: 8/10

The Monkees had an amazing year in 1967 - this is their fourth number one single in 1967b and one of their best loved songs (Britain won't get it until the new year, strangely). Davy Jones' summery vocal and the band's cosily intimate performance somehow manages to be very Christmassy without actually using any festive words.

7) UK 1977: Paul McCartney and Wings: "Mull Of Kintyre" Festive Rating: 5/10

To be fair, Mull Of Kintyre was at number one for near enough a quarter of a year and was nearing the end of it's long run by this point, so it was never intended by anyone I don't think as a Christmas number one (the first for a solo Beatle despite many attempts - in case you're wondering Lennon's 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)' was too late for xmas 1971, the 1972 re-issue peaked at #3 in the UK and was kept off the 1980 #1 spot by another Lennon record, 'Startin' Over'). It's not that festive, although given that a lot of Scottish shortbread gets sold at Christmas over here at least there's a link (of sorts). America never really 'got' this single (where it was the non-charting B-side of the even less festive 'Girl's School'), instead going for the charms of The Bee Gees' 'How Deep Is Your Love?' (That depends, I should imagine, on what you got for Christmas!)

8) UK 1979: Pink Floyd "Another Brick In The Wall Part II" Festive Rating: 0/10

However that's nothing on what must surely be the most non-festive number one in history. Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' album is very gloomy and so is their spin-off single. Imagine the scene: it's Christmas week 1979 and you need a stocking filler, so what are you gonna buy? That's right, a bunch of school-kids chanting 'we don't need nar ede-yoo cay-shun' while Roger Waters sings about how rubbish and restrictive Britain's post-war educational system is and how this is adding to the feelings of paranoia, persecution and mental illness of character Pink. And a ho-ho-ho to you too! The Americans, meanwhile, got drunk to Rupert Holmes' 'The Pina Colada Song'.

9) UK 1981: The Human League: "Don't You Want Me?" Festive Rating: 2/10

Similarly I don't see many links from our last UK AAA Christmas number one, in which the Human League rescue two damsels in distress from working in a cocktail bar only to find themselves spurned. Feeling that wasn't quite festive enough, the Americans decided to  plump instead for Olivia Newton John's 'Physical' (because nothing says 'Christmas' more than a puffed up screechy singer preaching about going to the gym).

10) USA 1983: Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson: "Say Say Say" Festive Rating: 2/10 Finally, America was given a neat solution to who to choose for festive number one in 1983. After The Beatles, Michael Jackson has scored more number ones than any other act - so what better than a Beatle and Wacko performing together? Nobody seemed to notice that the lyrics to the snappy 'Say Say Say' are actually quite depressing and more about a split than festive togetherness. Oh well, the UK got even more depressed that yuletide thanks to The Flying Pickets' 'Only You'.

That's all for this week - and very nearly for the year! Be sure to join us for our final issue of 2014 in which we'll have our yearly review of the year! Bye for now!

A NOW COMPLETE List Of Top Five/Top Ten/TOP TWENTY  Entries 2008-2019
1) Chronic Fatigue songs

2) Songs For The Face Of Bo

3) Credit Crunch Songs

4) Songs For The Autumn

5) National Wombat Week

6) AAA Box Sets

7) Virus Songs

8) Worst AAA-Related DVDs

9) Self-Punctuating Superstar Classics

10) Ways To Know You Have Turned Into A Collector

11) Political Songs

12) Totally Bonkers Concept Albums

13) Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

14) Still Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

15) AAA Existential Questions

16) Releases Of The Year 2008

17) Top AAA Xmas Songs

18) Notable AAA Gigs

19) All things '20' related for our 20th issue

20) Romantic odes for Valentine's Day

21) Hollies B sides

22) 'Other' BBC Session Albums

23) Beach Boys Rarities Still Not Available On CD

24) Songs John, Paul and George wrote for Ringo's solo albums

25) 5 of the Best Rock 'n' Roll Tracks From The Pre-Beatles Era

26) AAA Autobiographies

27) Rolling Stones B-sides

28) Beatles B-Sides

29) The lllloooonnngggeesssttt AAA songs of all time

30) Kinks B-Sides

31) Abandoned CSNY projects 'wasted on the way'

32) Best AAA Rarities and Outtakes Sets

33) News We've Missed While We've Been Away

34) Birthday Songs for our 1st Anniversary

35) Brightest Album Covers

36) Biggest Recorded Arguments

37) Songs About Superheroes

38) AAA TV Networks That Should Exist

39) AAA Woodtsock Moments

40) Top Moments Of The Past Year As Voted For By Readers

41) Music Segues

42) AAA Foreign Language Songs

43) 'Other' Groups In Need Of Re-Mastering

44) The Kinks Preservation Rock Opera - Was It Really About The Forthcoming UK General Election?

45) Mono and Stereo Mixes - Biggest Differences

46) Weirdest Things To Do When A Band Member Leaves

47) Video Clips Exclusive To Youtube (#1)

48) Top AAA Releases Of 2009

49) Songs About Trains

50) Songs about Winter

51) Songs about astrology plus horoscopes for selected AAA members

52) The Worst Five Groups Ever!

53) The Most Over-Rated AAA Albums

54) Top AAA Rarities Exclusive To EPs

55) Random Recent Purchases (#1)

56) AAA Party Political Slogans

57) Songs To Celebrate 'Rock Sunday'

58) Strange But True (?) AAA Ghost Stories

59) AAA Artists In Song

60) Songs About Dogs

61) Sunshiney Songs

62) The AAA Staff Play Their Own Version Of Monoploy/Mornington Crescent!

63) What 'Other' British Invasion DVDs We'd Like To See

64) What We Want To Place In Our AAA Time Capsule

65) AAA Conspiracy Theroies

66) Weirdest Things To Do Before - And After - Becoming A Star

67) Songs To Tweet To

68) Greatest Ever AAA Solos

69) John Lennon Musical Tributes

70) Songs For Halloween

71) Earliest Examples Of Psychedelia

72) Purely Instrumental Albums

73) AAA Utopias

74) AAA Imaginary Bands

75) Unexpected AAA Cover Versions

76) Top Releases of 2010

77) Songs About Snow

78) Predictions For 2011

79) AAA Fugitives

80) AAA Home Towns

81) The Biggest Non-Musical Influences On The 1960s

82) AAA Groups Covering Other AAA Groups

83) Strange Censorship Decisions

84) AAA Albums Still Unreleased on CD

85) Random Recent Purchases (#2)

86) Top AAA Music Videos

87) 30 Day Facebook Music Challenge

88) AAA Documentaries

89) Unfinished and 'Lost' AAA Albums

90) Strangest AAA Album Covers

91) AAA Performers Live From Mars (!)

92) Songs Including The Number '100' for our 100th Issue

93) Most Songs Recorded In A Single Day

94) Most Revealing AAA Interviews

95) Top 10 Pre-Fame Recordings

96) The Shortest And Longest AAA Albums

97) The AAA Allstars Ultimate Band Line-Up

98) Top Songs About Sports

99) AAA Conversations With God

100) AAA Managers: The Good, The Bad and the Financially Ugly

101) Unexpected AAA Cameos

102) AAA Words You can Type Into A Caluclator

103) AAA Court Cases

104) Postmodern Songs About Songwriting

105) Biggest Stylistic Leaps Between Albums

106) 20 Reasons Why Cameron Should Go!

107) The AAA Pun-Filled Cookbook

108) Classic Debut Releases

109) Five Uses Of Bird Sound Effects

110) AAA Classic Youtube Clips Part #1

111) Part #2

112) Part #3

113) AAA Facts You Might Not Know

114) The 20 Rarest AAA Records

115) AAA Instrumental Songs

116) Musical Tarot

117) Christmas Carols

118) Top AAA Releases Of 2011

119) AAA Bands In The Beano/The Dandy

120) Top 20 Guitarists #1

121) #2

122) 'Shorty' Nomination Award Questionairre

123) Top Best-Selling AAA Albums

124) AAA Songs Featuring Bagpipes

125) A (Hopefully) Complete List Of AAA Musicians On Twitter

126) Beatles Albums That Might Have Been 1970-74 and 1980

127) DVD/Computer Games We've Just Invented

128) The AAA Albums With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

129) The AAA Singles With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

130) Lyric Competition (Questions)

131) Top Crooning Classics

132) Funeral Songs

133) AAA Songs For When Your Phone Is On Hold

134) Random Recent Purchases (#3)

135) Lyric Competition (Answers)

136) Bee Gees Songs/AAA Goes Disco!

137) The Best AAA Sleevenotes (And Worst)

138) A Short Precise Of The Years 1962-70

139) More Wacky AAA-Related Films And Their Soundtracks

140) AAA Appearances On Desert Island Discs

141) Songs Exclusive To Live Albums

142) More AAA Songs About Armageddon

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159) A (Not That) Short Guide To The 15 Best Non-AAA Bands

160) The Greatest AAA Drum Solos (Or Near Solos!)

161) AAA Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame Acceptance Speeches

162) AAA Re-Recordings Of Past Songs

163) A Coalition Christmas (A Fairy Tale)

164) AAA Songs About Islands

165) The AAA Review Of The Year 2012

166) The Best AAA Concerts I Attended

167) Tributes To The 10 AAA Stars Who Died The Youngest

168) The First 10 AAA Songs Listed Alphabetically

171) The 10 Best Songs From The Psychedelia Box-Sets ‘Nuggets’ and ‘Nuggets Two’

172) The 20 Most Common Girl’s Names In AAA Song Titles (With Definitions) 

180) First Recordings By Future AAA Stars

185) A Tribute To Storm Thorgerson Via The Five AAA Bands He Worked With

188) Surprise! Celebrating 300 Album Reviews With The Biggest 'Surprises' Of The Past Five Years Of Alan's Album Archives!

190) Comparatively Obscure First Compositions By AAA Stars

193) Evolution Of A Band: Comparing First Lyric With Last Lyric:

200) The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation)

202) Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain': Was It About One Of The AAA Crew?

217) AAA 'Christmas Presents' we'd most like to have next year

221) Dr Who and the AAA (Five Musical Links)

222) Five Random Recent Purchases

223) AAA Grammy Nominees

224) Ten AAA songs that are better heard unedited and in full

225) The shortest gaps between AAA albums

226) The longest gaps between AAA albums

227) Top ten AAA drummers

228) Top Ten AAA Singles (In Terms of 'A' and 'B' Sides)

229) The Stories Behind Six AAA Logos

230) AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! The Best Ten AAA Screams

231) An AAA Pack Of Horses

232) AAA Granamas - Sorry, Anagrams!

233) AAA Surnames and Their Meanings

234) 20 Erroneous AAA Album Titles

235) The Best AAA Orchestral Arrangements

236) Top 30 Hilariously Misheard Album Titles/Lyrics

237) Ten controversial AAA sackings - and whether they were right

238) A Critique On Critiquing - In Response To Brian Wilson

239) The Ten MusicianS Who've Played On The Most AAA Albums

240) Thoughts on #CameronMustGo

241) Random Recent Purchases (Kinks/Grateful Dead/Nils Lofgren/Rolling Stones/Hollies) 

242) AAA Christmas Number Ones 

243) AAA Review Of The Year 2014 (Top Releases/Re-issues/Documentaries/DVDs/Books/Songs/ Articles  plus worst releases of the year)

244) Me/CFS Awareness Week 2015

245) Why The Tory 2015 Victory Seems A Little...Suspicious

246) A Plea For Peace and Tolerance After The Attacks on Paris - and Syria

247) AAA Review Of The Year 2015

248) The Fifty Most Read AAA Articles (as of December 31st 2015)

249) The Revised AAA Crossword!

251) Half-A-Dozen Berries Plus One (An AAA Tribute To Chuck Berry)

252) Guest Post: ‘The Skids – Joy’ (1981) by Kenny Brown

254) Guest Post: ‘Supertramp – Some Things Never Change’ by Kenny Brown

255) AAA Review Of The Year 2018

256) AAA Review Of The Year 2019 plus Review Of The Decade 2010-2019

257) Tiermaker

258) #Coronastock

259) #Coronadocstock