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EsquivelDuring the loud, obnoxious, grungy 1990's, the most unexpected star to emerge was Juan Esquivel, a true eccentric from the golden days of easy listening. A marginal, though talented, celebrity in his prime (1955-1963), Esquivel (now aged and infirm) was thrust back into the limelight by the lounge music revival and, specifically, by the reissue of his music by Bar/None Records. Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music (1994) and it's sequel, Music From A Sparkling Planet (1995), collected the best of Esquivel's work for RCA and Reprise Records, showcasing his weird, playful arrangements cluttered with wordless vocalizing, swooping strings, bleeping synthesizers, and willful optimism. In Esquivel's mind's eye, the world (the universe, really) presented endless possibilities of a brighter tomorrow - and a sexier today.

The surprise success of Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music was largely responsible for the lounge and swing craze (though one could argue over which was the chicken and which was the egg). Though little more than a brief fad, the lounge revival had lasting consequences. For one thing, it drove up the price of vintage clothing and post-deco antiques. And, it gave us bands like Combustible Edison and movies like Swingers. But moreover, it reminded us why this sort of music was once so popular - how it swings with abandon, oozing exotic, way-out cool. Simply put, Esquivel, was no Mantovani, and neither were peers like Les Baxter, Burt Bacharach, or Tony Bennett.

EsquivelThankfully, the popularity of Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music also spawned Merry Xmas From The Space-Age Bachelor Pad (Bar/None, 1996). The bulk of the CD - six tracks - was excerpted from a little-known RCA LP, The Merriest Of Christmas Pops, recorded in 1959. Christmas Pops split the bill between Esquivel and another bandleader (Ray Martin), and on several of Esquivel's cuts he collaborated with a vocal group called the Skip Jacks (featuring a young Stella Stevens, later an actress of some note). The four other vintage songs on Merry Xmas were taken from a variety of sources: Esquivel's 1959 Grammy-nominated RCA LP Strings Aflame ("Sun Valley Ski Run" and "Parade Of The Wooden Soldier"); the b-side of "Whatchamacallit," a 1959 RCA single ("I Feel Merely Marvelous," which isn't a holiday song); and his 1962 Reprise LP More Of Other Worlds And Other Sounds ("Snowfall").

Then, members of Combustible Edison (primarily compilation producer Brother Cleve) recorded two new cuts (in Esquivel's style) that featured spoken greetings from an audibly doddering Esquivel. "Just relax, and have a fabulous time," he wheezes. "Feliz Navidad, baby!" And, indeed, we do, as Esquivel and the Skip Jacks zu-zu-zoom through silly songs like "Frosty The Snowman" and romantic classics like "Blue Christmas." The arrangements are so unconventional - playing tricks with the stereo separation, deploying strange instrumentation, overdosing on nonsense syllables - that you'll be tempted the view them as novelties. But, don't. Esquivel was a skillful arranger, and he achieved exactly what he set out to do - to turn the holiday on it's head while promulgating his happy philosophy of hedonism and progress.

The new recordings on Merry Xmas were Esquivel's last. He held on another few years - even marrying his sixth wife, the randy old bastard. By the time he died in 2002, Esquivel felt vindicated. The music that his critics derided as "mayhem" had been embraced by a new generation. Every holiday season, more young people discover Merry Xmas From The Space-Age Bachelor Pad, giving Esquivel the last laugh in a cosmic comedy perhaps only he understands. [top of page]

Albums Albums

SongsSongs

  • Blue Christmas
  • Frosty The Snowman
  • Here Comes Santa Claus
  • Sun Valley Ski Run
  • White Christmas

Further ListeningFurther Listening

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