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and memorable record, Christmas
Time was modeled (well, loosely) on Phil Spector's legendary "stable
of artists" holiday offering, A
Christmas Gift For You, and it has evolved considerably over the years. The original Coyote Records 12-inch EP was released in 1985 under the banner of The Chris
Stamey Group with special guests The dB's. Then in 1993, East Side Digital issued an excellent (if poorly annotated) CD version credited to "Chris Stamey & Friends." The disc compiled six
of the seven original EP tracks plus ten new songs plus Big Star's 1975
holiday track, "Jesus Christ" (for a total of 17 tracks). Following this? 'Cause it gets better - in 2006, the record got issued yet again (this time by Collector's Choice), retitled Christmas Time Again (get it?) and credited to "The dB's & Friends." This edition dropped several tracks from the earlier version but added six new songs - most notably Marshall Crenshaw's cover of the Orioles' "(It's Gonna Be) A Lonely Christmas" and Don Dixon's randy "Christmas Is Saturday" - plus the dB's 1987 country-tinged single "Home For The Holidays" (swelling the disc to 21 tracks).
No matter how you cut it, Christmas
Time is a very solid record with several spectacular high points, including (count 'em) two of my Top 100 Christmas Songs plus another widely acknowledged classic in "Jesus Christ." Interestingly, however, the two stellar tracks are very different. Backed by the dB's - his former (and future) band - Stamey's title track is a relatively sweet, intensely catchy power pop anthem. To the contrary, the dB's "Holiday Spirit" is a scabrous, high-speed attack on commercialism. Great fun, though, as the dB's holler, "I've got that holiday spirit - gimme! gimme! gimme!"
Throughout the album, however, Stamey, the dB's, and
their distinguished guests have a merry
old time - including alternative diva Syd Straw, who converts Blondie's "(I'm Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear" (from their second album, Plastic Letter) as a Christmas love song by substituting "presents" for "presence." Heh heh heh.... At any rate, despite (or because of) some willfully oddball moments, Christmas
Time adds up to a must-own record for fans of the R.E.M. school of rock.
Consumer Notes. Thanks to its tortured chain of reissue, no single edition of Christmas
Time includes all 25 tracks. One of the songs, in fact - "Something Came Over Me" - appears only on the vinyl EP. However, two tracks from the EP appear in different versions on the CD reissue Chris Stamey's 1983 album It's A Wonderful Life - the LP's title track and "Something Came Over Me" (which originally appeared on Stamey's Instant Excitement EP). However, the online versions of Christmas Time Again (like iTunes and Amazon) omit Big Star's "Jesus Christ" (which appears on the CD), presumably for legal reasons.
Finally, many sources list the release date of the Christmas
Time vinyl EP as 1986 - not 1985, as I do. In fact, the East Side Digital CD gives recording dates of 1985-1986, and Stamey himself (in the liner notes to the Christmas Time Again CD) implies that the original EP was released in 1986 and the earlier CD in 1996. However, the former product clearly states ©1985 (corroborated by the Twin/Tone website), while the latter clearly states ©1993. Not that anyone cares but me.... Perhaps the confusion descends from the fact that Coyote released a remix of "Christmas Time" as a single in 1986, b/w another track from Christmas
Time, "Occasional Shivers." [top of page]
- Christmas Is Saturday (Don Dixon, 2006)
- Christmas Is The Only
Time (I Think Of You) (Wes Lachot & Chris Stamey, 1993)
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) (Alex Chilton, 1993)
Christmas Time (Chris Stamey, 1985) Top 100 Song
Comparing "Christmas Time" to the dB's "Holiday Spirit" - a song much higher on my Top 100
- the former
is in many ways a better song. It is certainly a more sophisticated composition and expertly
played record. But while the manic performance and cynical perspective of the latter won
me over, Stamey's earlier record (a virtual paean to Big Star) is a classic in its own
right. From the letter-perfect power pop arrangement (chiming guitars, soaring harmonies,
thundering drums) to the inventive way Stamey rewrites holiday homilies in his lyrics, "Christmas
Time" bores its way into the subconscious and will not let go. (Both songs are included
on the CD editions of Christmas Time
, a collection
of tunes by Chris Stamey and friends.)
Holiday Spirit (The dB's, 1993) Top 100 Song
When Chris Stamey's 1985 EP, Christmas
, was fleshed out in 1993 to full-album length,
the dB's "Holiday Spirit" was added and
became an immediate Generation-X yuletide anthem.
"I've got that holiday spirit - Gimme! Gimme!
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" Peter Holsapple screams
over slashing guitars and a pounding, maniacal beat.
In just one minute and twenty-six seconds, the band
crams in three verses and three choruses of unrelenting
sarcasm and sexual innuendo. Then, suddenly, it's
over - efficient and brilliant, like Santa Claus himself.
- Home For The Holidays (The dB's, 1987)
(I'm Always Touched By Your) Presents, Dear (Syd Straw, 1993)
- (It's Gonna Be) A Lonely Christmas (Marshall Crenshaw, 2006)
Jesus Christ (Big Star, 1975)
You're What I Want (For Christmas) (Chris Stamey & Cathy Harrington, 1985)
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