THE BEACH BOYS: CHRISTMAS ALBUM (1964)
1) Little Saint Nick; 2) The Man With All The Toys; 3) Santa's Beard; 4) Merry Christmas, Baby; 5) Christmas Day; 6) Frosty The Snowman; 7) We Three Kings Of Orient Are; 8) Blue Christmas; 9) Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town; 10) White Christmas; 11) I'll Be Home For Christmas; 12) Auld Lang Syne.
The Beach Boys' only fruitful attempt at a Christmas album (there would be another try as late as 1977, rejected by the record label) is exactly the kind of thing that a Beach Boys Christmas album circa 1964-65 would be expected to be. You'd expect them to cover some oldies (because what's a Christmas album without recognizable standards?), and they do. You'd expect them to offer some originals (because what's a Beach Boys album without a few Brian Wilson songwriting credits?), and they do. You'd expect them to not pour too much heart and soul into it (because why the heck should anybody, let alone one of America's most creative bands, give two fucks about a Christmas album?), and they don't.
No better proof for that last statement than one of the bonus tracks included on the first CD reissue — an early version of the album's main track and single, 'Little Saint Nick', which is nothing other than All Summer's Long 'Drive-In' with a different set of Christmas-related lyrics. Apparently, they eventually thought the idea too crude and self-plagiarizing, because the final version ended up... sounding like 'Little Deuce Coupe'. All right, a little different when it comes to the chorus vocals, but certainly not enough to convince anybody this was not a mere hash job to satisfy the record company's fifty five thousandth stupid request.
Beach Boys fans hungry for more Beach Boys material will not want to bypass the album. Its good side is that it is totally and completely drowning in floodwaves of vocal harmonies, and in this respect, it may even have been a little bit of a progression — there wouldn't be that huge an amount of proverbially gorgeous vocalization even on Today!; only Pet Sounds would explore the power of angelic vocalizing to a higher degree. Its drawback, however, is that, since it is after all a Christmas album, there is way too much syrupy orchestration, done the corniest way possible — yes, a first for the Beach Boys, but a regrettable one.
There are also some particular questionable decisions. For one thing, covering 'White Christmas' is a useless job even for the Beach Boys, after Clyde McPhatter had taken the song to the highest level it could ever be taken to. For another thing, there was no single good reason on Earth to variegate 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' with a completely non-belonging quotation from 'Entry Of The Gladiators'. (Unless, of course, this is a veiled hint at the stupidity of Christmas, implying the thoroughly clownish nature of Santa as a character). And they certainly could have at least sung 'Auld Lang Syne' to the end, with that trademark a cappella delivery of theirs, instead of having Dennis (why Dennis?) deliver the seasonal greetings to the fans.
But other than that, hey, it's a Christmas album; and if I had a choice between, say, the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, and Metallica, I'd probably always take the middle ground and go along with Brian Wilson than with either the overtly predictable or the downright weird choice. Besides, want it or not, there is a certain level of «maturity» shown here in the boys' brave tackling of «serious» material such as 'We Three Kings Of Orient Are' — and, clearly, choral hymns like that were also one of the major influences on Brian's creativity in the following years.
As an utter novelty, it would also be well worth checking out one of the bonus tracks — a complete a cappella take on The Lord's Prayer, done Beach Boys-style, of course. (If you belong to the rare breed of devoted Christian teens, it will be an overwhelming beauty. If you are a grim atheist, you can still think of it as an innocent, naïve, but still utterly sincere beauty.) There is also a new reissue of the album called Ultimate Christmas, which joins the album with the results of sessions for the aborted 1977 album, and a couple songs there may be worthwhile, but... too much Christmas talk already, and I'm writing this on a hot day in August — let's just move on.
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