In other words, it's the season for Christmas records, and 1981 is no F different from any other year for yule pop. There are good offerings, some that cash in strictly on performer recognition and some that are just plain fun. For instance, who could pass up Rhino Records' four-song EP, "Hanukah Rocks" (RNEP650) by Gefilte Joe and the Fish. It comes on blue vinyl pressed in the shape of a six-pointed Star of David.
How about rapster Kurtis Blow's "Christmas Rappin' " (Mercury MDS-4009), eight minutes of verbal tinsel with an instrumental flip side so you can rap it yourself? Joe Dolce has seasonalized his act with "Shaddup Ya Face, It's Christmas" on "The Joe Dolce Christmas Album" (Montage ST-72002). If you get a copy of Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" before Christmas, it will include her remake of "Little Drummer Boy." Ever hear Jimi Hendrix's version, released last winter? Yeow!
What's going to sell? Best bets include Santa Claus look-alike Kenny Rogers'See RECORDINGS, K8, Col. 1 RECORDINGS, From K1 "Christmas" (Liberty LOO-51115) and Duke of Hazzard John Schneider's "White Christmas" (Scotti Brothers FZ37617). Rogers, who seems to be working hard at becoming the Bing Crosby of the '80s, covers "White Christmas," "Carol of the Bells" and "O Holy Night" in a voice that's like snow mixed with gravel. Schneider sings about as well as he acts; if you like one, you'll probably like t'other.
Other new pop-oriented Christmas products come from Anne Murray and Slim Whitman. Murray's "Christmas Wishes" (Capitol SN-16232) is excruciatingly traditional fare served up with producer Jim Ed Norman's gravy, so it hardly matters that Murray is one of the finest pure singers around. Whitman's "I'll Be Home for Christmas" (Epic/Cleveland International FE 37594) is his second seasonal offering since being rescued from anonymity by late-night television commercials. With the Jordanaires in the background, it's hard to go wrong, and Whitman doesn't. His fans may find a special meaning in his interpretation of "Oh Come All Ye Faithful."
Columbia Records has released "God Rest Ye Merry Jazzmen" (FC 37551) as a sequel to a record from many years ago titled "Jingle Bell Jazz." This time around, it's an intriguing mix of old and new with Dexter Gordon's Quartet doing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," the Heath Brothers on "Our Little Town," youngster Wynton Marselis' Quintet on "We Three Kings of Orient Are," Arthur Blythe on "The Christmas Song" and a solo McCoy Tyner on "I'll Be Home for Christmas." There's some fine blowing, but it doesn't measure up to the earlier record.
Having succeeded with "Christmas Jollies," the Salsoul Orchestra returns with "Christmas Jollies Vol. 2" (Salsoul 8547). You get the idea. New on the country scene is "Christmas Country" (Elektra 5E-554) in which the label boasts about its roster by getting Hank Williams Jr., Mel Tillis and Nancy Sinatra, Johnny Lee, Eddy Raven, Sonny Curtis and Helen Cornelius to sing favorites such as "Please Come Home for Christmas" and "White Christmas." Both those songs also appear on "Christmas at Gilley's" (Epic FE 37595) by that inveterate honky-tonker Mickey Gilley. This one has a bit of life to it, especially Gilley's sly restructuring of "Don't the Girls All Get Prettier Around Closing Time" changed to "Around Christmastime." Cute, Mickey, cute.
Washingtonians, living in the bluegrass capital of the world, should cotton to "Christmas Time Back Home" (Rebel REB-1600), a very traditional bluegrass album compiled from nearly two decades of recordings by such Rebel acts as the Country Gentlemen, Ralph Stanley and Larry Sparks. The three Gentlemen cuts, including the gorgeous title tune, "Jingle Bells" and "Silent Night," feature the original Gents, Charlie Waller, John Duffey, Eddie Adcock and Tom Gray. Sure was nice back then. Also in the re-release vein: Phil Spector's classic "Christmas Album," featuring the Crystals, the Ronettes, Darlene Love and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, has been reissued once more, this time on Pavilion (PZ 37686). Forgive the label its simulated stereo.
And now, a quick list of sure bets from the past. Emmylou Harris' "Light From the Stable" (Warner Bros. 3484) came out last year; it's beautifully produced, very traditional, and she used to live here. The first two reasons will make it last for many winters.
"Soul Christmas" (Atco 33269), a wild anthology featuring Joe Tex, Clarence Carter, King Curtis, Carla Thomas, Solomon Burke, Booker T. and Otis Redding rendering "White Christmas" right back unto Irving Berlin; Stevie Wonder's "Someday at Christmas" (Tamla 7-362); Charles Brown and Bill Dogget's classic "Please Come Home for Christmas" (King 5019X); "R 'n' B Christmas" (United Artists LA-0654-R) another fascinating anthology with Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters, among others.
Elvis Presley's "Christmas Album" (Camden CAs-2428) and "Wonderful World of Christmas" (RCA ANL1-1934) are classics. Willie Nelson, who cuts records on whims, does nicely with "Pretty Paper" (Columbia JC 36189). Actually, this may be one of the most cluttered fields for Christmas music (Johnny Cash has three packages); it's hard to find a major country artist who doesn't have a Christmas album out. Folk
John Fahey's "New Possibility" (Takoma 7020) and "Christmas With, Vol 2" (Takoma 7045) are classics in the field of acoustic guitar (he has local roots, too).
"Chipmunk Christmas" (RCA AQL1-4041) is kinda fun, and a lot less cloying than "Christmas Eve on Sesame Street" (CTW89001). It's their first seasonal collection since the Chipmunks' reunion last year; three albums remain from the '60s.
"The Ventures' Christmas Album" (United Artists LM-1069); Joseph Byrd's avant-garde "Christmas Yet to Come" (Takoma 7046); a wonderful "Early New England Christmas" (Philo 1062).
Stop in at any well-stocked record shop and browse in their Christmas bins; check the December Schwann Record and Tape Guide's more than 300 Christmas listings. Chances are you'll find something to satisfy your taste. These records are available year after year; the price, however, will probably never be lower. Let's not even talk about all the novelty Christmas singles like "I Saw Mommy Smoochin Santy Claus," "Kung Fu Christmas," "Santa and the Purple People Eater," "Santa Jaws . . ." No, let's not talk about them.