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Rockin' Christmas: The 50'sWay back when Rhino Records was a little indie label run out of a Santa Monica record store, they were known mainly for punk rock and novelty records. It didn't take long, however, for Rocky and his crew to reveal their affinity for holiday music. The Ravers' bang-up single, "Punk Rock Christmas" (1977) was the label's first Christmas release, later included on their next holiday record, the tree-shaped, green vinyl Christmas Rock EP in 1982 (and ultimately immortalized on Rhino's Punk Rock Xmas CD compilation). However, not counting Rhino's compilation of songs from the Three Stooges' latter day series of children's records (Christmas Time With The Three Stooges, 1983), the label did not commence reissuing honest-to-goodness vintage Christmas music till 1984, when they dropped a bomb with two full-length LP's entitled Rockin' Christmas (1984).

The importance of these two pieces of plastic cannot be overstated - at least, that is, to geeks like me. These were among the first-ever reissues of vintage Christmas music - not just at Rhino, but anywhere - and they were harbingers of a coming flood of reissues beginning in the late 1980's. More personally, the Rockin' Christmas LP's supercharged my then-nascent obsession with Christmas rock 'n' roll. By association, then, they're partly responsible for Hip Christmas - an impressive act of dysfunctional behavior, if I do say so myself.

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Rockin' Christmas: The 60'sThe two Rockin' Christmas records - one each for the 50's and 60's - consist almost exclusively of the kind of rare, idiosyncratic yule tunes that make guys like me hyperventilate. Novelty records, doo wop, rockabilly, soul, garage rock - it's all here! Track-for-track, the Rockin' Christmas series has never been equaled. On the other hand, both LP's are hopelessly out-of-print and have never been reissued on CD (try eBay).

So, what's a girl to do? Well, Rhino retooled many of these songs (along with others more commonplace, though no less great) on another LP series called Cool Yule (Vol. 1, 1985, and Vol. 2, 1988). These, also, are out-of-print, but Rhino subsequently issued a Best Of Cool Yule CD in 1989 compiling most (but not all) of those tracks. Confused? Several more of the tracks showed up the same year on Rhino's fine (though less distinctive) Christmas Classics. Together, the two CDs (both enshrined in my Top 20 Albums list) virtually form an instant Christmas collection, but that still leaves many of the Rockin' Christmas tracks stranded in vinyl Siberia; as many Christmas CD's as I own, a full dozen of these songs appear in my collection only on the original LPs. Great stuff! Happy hunting! Rhino, are you listening? [top of page]

Albums Albums

SongsSongs

  • - Christmas Rock (1982)
  • (It's Gonna Be A) Punk Rock Christmas (Ravers, 1977)
  • Rockabilly Christmas (Johnny Cue, circa 1981)
  • Santa's Gone Surfin' (Malibooz, 1981)
  • Silent Night (Dragons, circa 1978)
  • - Rockin' Christmas: The 50's (1984)
  • Christmas In Jail (The Youngsters, 1956)
  • Dig That Crazy Santa Claus (Oscar McLollie & His Honey Jumpers, 1954)
  • Hey Santa Claus (The Moonglows, 1953)
  • It's Christmas (Marvin & Johnny, 1958)
  • Jingle Bell Rock (Bobby Helms, 1957) star Top 100 Song [close]
    Jingle Bell RockThough he remained active through the 1980's, Bobby Helms never had a lot to show for his career besides "Jingle Bell Rock," his rockabilly-flavored smash from 1957. A few months earlier he had launched his career, promisingly enough, with "Fraulein" and "My Special Angel," both of which made the Top 10. Then, "Jingle Bell Rock" zoomed to #6 and charted again four of the next five years. Oddly, Helms never graced the pop charts again, though he remained a fixture on the country circuit. "Jingle Bell Rock," however, became a musical archetype, one which shows up frequently on Christmas albums (such as Rockin' Little Christmas), either with Helms' snappy Decca original, his remakes for Kapp (1965) or Little Darlin' (1967), or in one of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of cover versions. (The original Decca 45-rpm record, by the way, featured Helm's wonderfully goofy "Captain Santa Claus And His Reindeer Space Patrol" on the flipside. Both songs are included on Bear Family's Fraulein: The Classic Years 2-CD set.)
  • Jingle Jangle (The Penguins, 1955)
  • Just A Lonely Christmas (The Moonglows, 1953)
  • North Pole Rock (Cathy Sharpe, 1958)
  • Rockin' 'n' Rollin' With Santa Claus, (The Hepsters, 1955)
  • Rockin' Santa Claus (The Moods, 1959)
  • Santa And The Satellite (Parts 1 & 2) (Buchanan & Goodman, 1957)
  • Sleigh Bell Rock (Three Aces & A Joker, 1959)
  • Who Says There Ain't No Santa Claus? (Ron Holden, 1960)
  • Yulesville (Rockin' Stockin' featuring Billy Lee Riley, 1960)
  • - Rockin' Christmas: The 60's (1984)
  • Baby Sittin' Santa (Barry Richards, 1961)
  • Christmas Is My Time Of Year (Christmas Spirit, 1968)
  • Christmas Spirit?? (Wailers) star Top 100 Song [close]
    There's never been a more sour Christmas single than the Sonics/Wailers split 45, "Don't Believe In Christmas" b/w "Christmas Spirit??" The a-side featured the Sonics railing against the entire institution of Christmas, largely for personal reasons. The Wailers' flip side attacks the holiday for what it reveals about America - our commercialism, our shallowness, our lack of self-awareness. Told in a droll, Dylanesque twang, "Christmas Spirit??" is so broad, so bitter, so altogether over-the-top that it just may have been intended as parody. Or, it may have been an earnest attempt at relevance by an aging party band ("Tall Cool One," 1959). Either way, it works for me - bah humbug, babe. (Both sides of this infamous single are included on Etiquette's Merry Christmas From The Sonics, Wailers, Galaxies, a compilation of garage bands from the Pacific northwest, as well as Rhino's Bummed Out Christmas.)
  • Dancing With Santa (Trashmen, 1964)
  • Don't Believe In Christmas (Sonics) star Top 100 Song [close]
    Almost since the dawn of recorded Christmas music, a favorite topic of songwriters has been how much Christmas sucks for them. Never mind that it's the "most wonderful time of the year" - dude, I am bummed! Here, the Sonics' ferocious lead singer, Gerry Roslie, expresses his disbelief in the "Happy Holiday" and his displeasure with Santa Claus, declaiming "I didn't get nothin' last year!" Not only did the "fat boy" not show, but Roslie got shot down at the dance - "you jerk," sneers his date, "mistletoe doesn't work!" "Don't Believe In Christmas" was featured on Merry Christmas From The Sonics, Wailers, Galaxies, a compilation of garage bands from the Pacific northwest; the LP also includes another of my Top 100 picks, the Wailer's "Christmas Spirit??" Both songs are also on Rhino's Bummed Out Christmas.
  • Let's Make Christmas Mean Something This Year (James Brown, 1966)
  • Merry Christmas Baby (The Poets, 1965)
  • Monster Holiday (Bobby "Boris" Pickett, & The Crypt Kickers, 1962)
  • Mr. Santa Claus (Nathaniel Mayer, 1962)
  • Santa & The Sidewalk Surfer (Crossfires, 1963)
  • Twistin' Bells (Santo & Johnny, 1960)
  • Wear A Smile At Christmas (Paul Revere & The Raiders, 1968)
  • Winter Wonderland (Aretha Franklin, 1964)

Further ListeningFurther Listening

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