Tuesday, 3 January 2023

A Very Special Christmas


My first experience of pop stars singing Christmas songs came in December 1984. It was then that Queen, Wham! and Band Aid all released Christmas singles. ("Thank God It's Christmas", "Last Christmas" and "Do They Know It's Christmas" respectively). In the UK charts Band Aid went to number 1, Wham! were stuck at number 2 (because of Band Aid) and Queen, well, with that abundance of popular Christmas singles that year stalled at number 21. There had been of course Christmas pop hits before that and I got acquainted with most of those that were popular in the UK by acquiring "NOW The Christmas Album" (part of the "NOW That's What I Call Music" series). But then, in 1987, something happened: "A Very Special Christmas" was released with all proceeds going to the Special Olympics. That's the album which brought to my attention - albeit in new versions - the classic Christmas pop songs, several of which had been featured in what was considered the ultimate Christmas pop album: "A Christmas Gift For You", aka "Phil Spector's Christmas Album".


That's where I got "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" (sung in the "rock" way, with emphasis on the first word, the same way that Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band sing it). Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band were in it as well, with "Merry Christmas Baby", which I already had as a B-Side of "War" the first single from the "Live 1975-85" box set. Other members of The E Street Band can be found on the album, namely Clarence Clemons and Roy Bittan playing on other songs. Artists from the Phil Spector Christmas album also make appearances such as Darlene Love who sings backing vocals on U2's cover of the song she herself had performed on the Phil Spector Christmas Album ("Christmas (Baby Please Come Home"). Bon Jovi were also in there with "Back Door Santa", however 5 years later that song was replaced with another from the same band, "I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas". I haven't figured why this happened. Were perhaps the lyrics of "Back Door Santa" considered too seedy for a family Christmas album? Run DMC are also there with what was probably the first hip hop Christmas song, an original called "Christmas In Hollis". But one of the highlights of the album is "Silent Night" with haunting vocals by Stevie Nicks. What makes this version more amazing is something that you would have to refer to the liner notes to discover: The backing vocals by Robbie Nevil. You might of course had easily recognized his voice, since he had a hit earlier that year with "C'Est La Vie".


Since then there have been many more albums in that series (six more at first and then some 25th anniversary and special editions, plus a DVD). And from those sequels, I will single out "Oi To The World", an original by No Doubt, true to their ska/punk roots. 

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