Friday, November 11, 2022

The Smithereens: “Christmas With The Smithereens” (2007/2022) CD Review

Friends, it’s that time of year again when artists are legally bound to collectively produce another giant batch of Christmas albums, most of them featuring the same dozen or so songs. But each year, there are a few special discs that are absolutely worth picking up, music that will brighten your mood whatever your particular feelings about the holiday might be. And it is probably no surprise whatsoever that a Christmas album by The Smithereens would be among those special few. This album was originally released in 2007, and is now being reissued on green vinyl, which of course makes it all the better. My copy, however, is a CD. And this wasn’t the first time The Smithereens dipped into holiday fare. In 1992, a promotional single of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” was released. As you probably know, “Rudolph” is one of the worst songs ever written (see my analysis), but The Smithereens made the song almost cool, adding a spoken word introduction and including some nice work by guest Steve Eisen on sax (even including the line, “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, play your saxophone for me”). Christmas With The Smithereens includes some holiday favorites, along with three original numbers. This album is a lot of fun, and this disc includes the 2007 liner notes by Dennis Diken.

The album opens with one of its original numbers, “Waking Up On Christmas Morning,” which was written by Jim Babjak. This song, by the way, was also released as a single (on green vinyl). Here is a taste of the lyrics: “It gave me a thrill when I started to see/The rain had changed to snow/Should I put up a fight/Just to stay up all night/And watch the morning sky.” And key lines for me are these: “Waking up on Christmas morning/I always feel there’s magic in the air.” Remember that feeling? And Christmas, when it is at its best, is still able to produce those feelings. It is largely memory, I suppose, but also a mixture of warmth and hope. And these guys are in earnest. That’s followed by “Santa Brings My Baby Back (To Me),” a song that was on Elvis’ Christmas Album. The “(To Me)” being in parentheses makes me laugh, as if it’s a bit more direction to Santa, to make it clear that he wants his baby with him, and not back somewhere else or back in time or back from the dead or something. This track features some wonderful stuff on harmonica. In general, there is just not enough harmonica in Christmas music.

The Smithereens deliver a good version of The Beach Boys’ “Merry Christmas, Baby.” When covering The Beach Boys, you really need to be able to harmonize, and The Smithereens certainly have that talent, as they prove here. This song is also about wanting the girl back for the holiday, so it fits well after “Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me).” That’s followed by “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree.” This is a Christmas song that works more often than not, and The Smithereens do a particularly good job with it. The guitar has that great early rock ‘n’ roll feel to it, and the vocal work is bright and fun.

“Christmas Time All Over The World” is an original number, a lively rock song about Santa coming and the kids getting excited. And hey, the adults are getting excited too, “Hugging and kissing ‘neath the mistletoe/It’s almost better than a big rock show.” The Smithereens keep things lively by following that with the great Who song, “Christmas,” from Tommy. I had forgotten about this one, or rather had not thought about it in terms of holiday music. You don’t often find it covered on Christmas albums. I love that The Smithereens chose to include it, and they do a great job on it. “Did you ever see the faces of the children, they get so excited/Waking up on Christmas morning hours before the winter sun’s ignited.” Two years after the original release of this Christmas album, The Smithereens put out their own version of Tommy.

If you get the vinyl edition of this album, the first side concludes with “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.” The Smithereens present an interesting rendition, with a fun, unusual approach featuring vocals and drums, delivered like a rap. The last words, “And to all a good night,” are delivered with a yawn. Because, hey, Santa had one heck of a long work day. Then the second side of the record opens with “Run Rudolph Run,” a classic rock and roll tune originally recorded by Chuck Berry. “Come on, play that guitar.” And then that guitar is played, oh yes. That’s followed by a cover of The Ramones’ “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight).” The title line is repeated several times as the beginning, because sometimes you have to stress the desire for a lack of drama on the holidays. Because, you know, holidays tend to draw troubles to the surface, even when no one wants that. So this is a perfect song to keep those tendencies at bay. Plus, it’s just a cool tune.

The final of the album’s three original compositions is “Christmas (I Remember),” in which they sing, “I close my eyes and I recall/When my dreams were big and my world was small/I was a good kid, and I really dug school/My folks gave me love and my friends were cool.” Yeah, this one is all about those memories of childhood, when the joy of Christmas was real and natural. This one has a sweet pop vibe. And , hey, there are lines about getting good records for Christmas, “Like Shut Down Volume 2 and Rubber Soul.” Does it get a bit cheesy and sentimental at the end with the lines “The greatest gifts will always be/The love I give to you and the love you give to me”? Sure, but then again, what better gift is there (other than a sable coat, of course)? Then “Auld Lang Syne” begins a cappella, again displaying their vocal talent. The song soon kicks in and begins to truly rock. A wonderful rendition. The album concludes with a cover of The Beatles’ “Christmas Time Is Here Again,” from the band’s 1967 Christmas record. It makes sense to include this, especially as they mentioned The Beatles in “Christmas (I Remember).” Like how they covered The Beach Boys and also mentioned their album Shut Down Volume 2 in that same song. And sure, this song gets a bit repetitive, but that’s how The Beatles did it, so blame them.

CD Track List

  1. Waking Up On Christmas Morning
  2. Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)
  3. Merry Christmas, Baby
  4. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree
  5. Christmas Time All Over The World
  6. Christmas
  7. ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas
  8. Run Rudolph Run
  9. Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)
  10. Christmas (I Remember)
  11. Auld Lang Syne
  12. Christmas Time Is Here Again

Christmas With The Smithereens is scheduled to be released on November 18, 2022 on Sunset Blvd. Records and Tollie Records.

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