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Beach BoysThe Christmas music of the Beach Boys (read more) may not be the hardest rocking stuff, but will be some of the warmest and most heartfelt stuff you'll ever find under your tree. To purchase that music, you need look no further than The Beach Boys Ultimate Christmas (1998), a sterling compilation of every seasonal song the group ever waxed. These include the group's 1964 Capitol LP, The Beach Boys Christmas Album (itself nicely remastered several years before Ultimate Christmas was released); a few rare singles and mixes; and a bevy of unreleased tracks from the 1970's. True fans of these melodious sons of Hawthorne, California will cherish every moment of this generous CD, but the real treasures - the ones you'll return to again and again - are the five original compositions from The Beach Boys Christmas Album. Beginning with the car song send-up, "Little St. Nick" (a hit single in 1963), wunderkind Brian Wilson puts forth a genuinely original vision of the season - humorous, touching, and slightly twisted.

This fabulous fivesome represents some of the best music the group ever cut, with particular kudos to the rollicking "Merry Christmas Baby" (not the laconic Charles Brown classic) and "Christmas Day," featuring Al Jardine's first recorded lead vocal. The rest of the original Christmas Album LP is more traditional, but it yields it's own rewards: a chipper, big band arrangement of "Frosty The Snowman"; a Four Freshman-influenced take on "I'll Be Home For Christmas"; and a like-Elvis-never-happened version of "Blue Christmas" featuring Brian Wilson's yearning lead vocal. And, among the rarities on Ultimate Christmas is a fabulous alternate version of "Little Saint Nick" with the original lyrics sung over a completely different backing track (the same one as "Drive In," a song from the group's 1964 LP, All Summer Long).

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Beach BoysThe remainder of Ultimate Christmas is a blast, but the songs are cut from a completely different cloth - specifically, the eclectic California rock that typified the Beach Boys during the 1970's. Brian's "Child Of Winter (Christmas Song)" is perhaps the best song of the bunch, and it was actually released as a single - very briefly - in 1974. The rest of the songs were intended for a second Christmas album in 1977, but the band's label at the time (Warner Brothers) rejected the idea, leaving the tracks to languish unreleased for years. Like many Beach Boys records from this period, most of these tracks were pieced together from disparate sources. "Christmas Time Is Here Again," for instance, uses the backing track from the group's cover of Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" (ultimately released on M.I.U. Album, 1978). "Santa's Got An Airplane" uses the instrumental portion of "Loop De Loop" (1969) - another song that gathered dust for decades (find it on Endless Harmony, 1998).

Of these fascinating, sometimes goofy tracks, Dennis Wilson's "Morning Christmas" (recorded in much the same style as Pacific Ocean Blue, his 1977 solo album) is the most surprising - unusual, inventive, gorgeous. Brian's "Winter Symphony," on the other hand, is easily the weirdest (albeit affecting) song of the bunch, an unsettling, minor key meditation on watching the world pass by. Ultimate Christmas concludes with some ephemera like the group's 1977 Christmas toy drive PSA for an Oregon radio station. But, it adds up to a consummate view of the holiday recordings of one of rock's greatest groups - absolutely invaluable.

Consumer notes. Ultimate Christmas was repackaged and reissued in 2004 as Christmas With The Beach Boys minus an essential track, "Christmas Time Is Here Again." Still great, but I'd recommend chasing down the original. Christmas Harmonies (2009) repeats the formula, this time reducing the track count to just 15. Also, beware the many, many budget-priced Beach Boys Christmas CD's floating around the market. They may be cheaper, but they are uniformly inferior to Ultimate Christmas, which is well worth any price. [top of page]

Albums Albums

SongsSongs

  • Blue Christmas (1964)
  • Child Of Winter (Christmas Song) (1974)
  • Christmas Day (1964)
  • Christmas Time Is Here Again (1977)
  • Frosty The Snowman (1964)
  • I'll Be Home For Christmas (1964)
  • Little Saint Nick (1963)
  • The Man With All The Toys (1964)
  • Melekalikimaka (1977)
  • Merry Christmas Baby (1964)
  • Morning Christmas (1977)
  • Santa's Beard (1964)
  • Winter Symphony (1977)

Further ListeningFurther Listening

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