This reissue of the Beach Boys’ legendary 1964 Christmas album gives the songs a remastered touch and allows listeners to hear the songs in pristine sound. The most famous song here is also the first track, “Little Saint Nick,” which is an interesting listen because this was one of the first songs that Brian Wilson had written that didn’t have anything to do with the summer, the beach, girls or cars. Knowing that, it’s not as bad as one might think. While it’s not a legendary Christmas song, at least in this writer’s opinion, it’s still fun to listen to almost fifty years later. The second track, “The Man with All the Toys” has been described by acquaintances as one of the worst songs ever heard but I completely disagree. While it’s not that great, it can easily be described as one of Brian Wilson’s more experimental songs from the early era of the group.
“Santa’s Beard,” on the other hand, is one of the oddest songs I’ve ever heard. Mike Love sings about his brother pulling a pillow out of Santa’s shirt and but thinking that he’s just helping Santa. It’s just weird as can be but this is the type of padding that record labels were looking for in the heady days of long playing vinyl. “Merry Christmas, Baby” strikes the listener as the type of classic Beach Boys’ track just transposed to the holiday season.
At this point comes the absolute nadir of the record with the original “Christmas Day”, which suffers because they sound as bored as has ever been heard on a Beach Boys record. The happy vibe they’re always known for is just not there and to top it off, there’s an organ solo in the middle for no discernible reason. Just a complete head scratcher. From here, the originals end and the cover songs begin. “Frosty the Snowman” comes off as average and nothing more. “We Three Kings of Orient Are” comes off as a hymnal but is an excellent showcase for the multi-part harmonies that quickly became their trademark.
“Blue Christmas,” while still fairly fresh in people’s minds because of Elvis’s rendition is almost rendered cheerfully by Brian’s quasi-sad voice built on a bit of upbeat orchestral music behind him. I guess some people have said that this is their favorite rendition of the song but because of Brian’s voice, which wouldn’t get really sad for me until Pet Sounds, it’s just not that amazing. “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”, on the other hand, is delivered in a jazzy vibe with music that reminds me a bit of Spike Jones; all of it really helps to give the song a swift kick to the pants that it had been waiting for.
With their rendition of perhaps the ultimate Christmas chestnut “White Christmas,” the group brings things down a notch. While not as happy or cheery as previous renditions, the vocal delivery pushes the song into the territory of something like “In My Room” or “Caroline, No,” which is something admirable that I’ve never heard before with such a cheerful song. The same thing can be said for “I’ll Be Coming Home for Christmas”—by bringing the song down a few notches vocally and musically, the group were obviously going for something different and while not always succeeding, they will always be admired for trying everything Brian could possibly think of. The closing song, an acapella “Auld Lang Syne” is without a doubt, the best track here. Over their vocals comes a special holiday message courtesy of Dennis Wilson and that only adds a special treat to an already phenomenal vocal track. By presenting the ultimate showcase for their vocal prowess, the group proves why they were one of the greatest pop vocal groups of all time. Even though this was one of their strangest attempts in the studio, they were still able to pull it off and for the most part, make it work.
// Notes from the Road
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