I’ve been told that I am over-reacting to the Dylan album and not giving it a break. So I gave it another listen today, and watched the video (“Must Be Santa“) rubytramp linked to. Yes, it’s fun, and I liked that song best of those on the album, principally because of David Hidalgo’s accordion. And yes, the video is fun, but … never mind the Santa cap, what’s with the wig??? I really wonder if he’s just putting us on.
mikeskliar also pointed out that I was dismissing the album without having listened to all of it. To some extent that’s like saying I didn’t fully appreciate the hot stove because I yanked my hand away too quickly, but I did put it on again. I programmed out about half the album — songs that really turned me off or that I associate too closely with the Radio City / shopping mall / tv commercials / plastic lawn decoration Xma$ crap that I so hate about this time of year.
I skipped “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” because I pretty much hate them no matter who sings them. The first two are horribly trite and overplayed and have melodies that make most kid’s songs sound like Bach; the last is mawkish and about the last song in the world I’d want to hear Dylan sing. I also skipped a couple of songs he really just completely massacres (“Winter Wonderland,” “Do You Hear What I Hear,”) and a few that are too closely associated with bad church memories (“Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”).
- “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” — I hate these schmaltzy forties (not fifties) arrangements, and they work particularly badly with Dylan’s singing. If this were just him and piano I probably would be OK with it, since he does have a way with a jazz tune, but the backing vocals are like Cool Whip on barbecue. Yuck.
- “The Christmas Blues” — Bob can really sing a blues, and he actually bothers to play harmonica (as opposed to his more common method of breathing through it seemingly by accident) on it. I like this, particularly because I don’t know this song very well or associate it with Xma$.
- “Must Be Santa” — I like this fine. I’ve never even heard it before, so it doesn’t have any bad associations, and I could listen to Hidalgo play almost anything.
- “Silver Bells” — A lovely song, but his version is really below par. Not a song that benefits from a throaty blues treatment. Plus, Dylan’s bizarre phrasing choices (stair-stepping down “Soon it will be Christmas Day,” the parodical turn on “Ring-a-ling”) really offend my ear, probably because I’m too used to the way Bing Crosby sings it. This is a crooner’s song and it’s been a long time since Bob was a crooner.
- “The First Noel” — Probably should have programmed this out. It’s all about the stupid Catholic Christmas crap for me, and also, it’s another very simple melody that he plods through like a grade-school glee club. And the dreadful choir does not help. A minute into the song they sing a painfully twee verse and I hit the skip button.
- “Christmas Island” — The Lennon Sisters style opening pretty much finishes this song off from the first moment. I hate that style, I have no nostalgia for it at all, and hearing them “whoo-oo” along behind Bob is pretty much unbearable. Skipped.
- “The Christmas Song” — Well sung and well suited to him. (Though I cannot imagine he sang “Jack Frost* nipping…” with a straight face.) I’d rather hear Nat sing it, but this isn’t bad. This is Dylan at his jazz-singer best, although there are a few honkers.
- “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” — Not a favorite to begin with. It opens with crappy choir stuff, and then Bob comes in and massacres the first line so badly they should have canned the take right then and there. (But Bob really doesn’t do retakes, as you can probably tell.) I didn’t make it to the second line.
So, basically three songs worth listening to and none of them standouts. This is just a bad album of mostly bad songs. It’s worthless as 50s nostalgia, because first of all, crap like this was going out style in the 50s, and second of all, you can still buy Gene Autry’s Christmas album, and Bing’s, and all the others from that era, and enjoy the real thing with legendary singers and great arrangers who knew when to retake a song and when to give up on it.
•”Jack Frost” is a frequent Dylan pseudonym; like several of his albums this one is “Produced by Jack Frost.” It’s his equivalent of John Lennon’s “Dr. Winston O’Boogie.”