Ah, Christmas; the most wonderful time of year! Chestnuts roasting on an open fire (or electric heater in these recession filled times), stockings full of toys for girls and boys... insert clich here basically. For the most part, even the most ardent metal muthas can't help but find at least a smidgen of affection for the festive season. Yet, endearing as it can be, the winter holiday does have its downsides: specifically, the strangely adverse affect it has on a particular contingent of musicians.
Maybe Christmas inspires such feelings of overwhelming joy in this handful of artists that, like pilgrims witnessing a transcendent religious experience, they just have to document it, to share their epiphany with the world. Maybe it's not the sentiments of the season, but the corrupting power of the almighty dollar that makes them do it. Either way, you can guarantee that as the number of doors on your advent calendar dwindles, a myriad of Christmas themed albums, EPs and singles will be finding their way into record stores, often from the most unlikely of sources.
A scant few of these records will be brilliant. Most will be rubbish. And then there's the handful that will be totally bat-crap insane. Naturally, it's these weird and wonderful manifestations of seasonal songs that we here at Ultimate Guitar are interested in. So gather around and join us for a glass of (fictional) mulled wine as we regale tales of our favourite instances of aural festive madness!
So, in 2009, one time protest hero Bob Dylan decided that, 30+ records into his career, it was high time for him to spread the festive joy. A number of fans were up in arms. To many, the Christmas record idea represented the last shreds of the artist formerly known as Robert Zimmerman's credibility somewhat precariously blowin' in the wind. To others, the Jewish songwriter's apparent preoccupations with Christmas read more like a commercial sell out than a legitimate affection. Well, we here at Ultimate Guitar aren't going to get on at Bobby D (yeah, we're calling him that... just go with it) for jumping on the Crimbo bandwagon. Fact is that the man's had more reinventions and religious epiphanies than most of us have had Turkey dinners and if the writer of such classics as The Times They Are A Changin', Tangled Up In Blue and...uh... Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Disaster Blues (yeah, that's a thing) wants to get all "happy holidays" on us, we'll be damned if we're going to stop him.
Besides, we loved Christmas in the Heart when Dylan brought it out the other year. Not because it was an instant holiday classic, mind you, but because it was a totally flippin' bonkers collection of seasonal standards that sounded like they were being sung by a crazy man. And lead single It Must Be Santa seemed like a perfect microcosm of the record's (perhaps unintentional) themes of festive insanity. The unrelenting swirling accordion line around which the song is based pretty much sets the tone for the track, which has Bob Dylan ranting his favourite things about Christmas over the top like some kind of demented firebrand preacher. The madness probably reaches its nadir at the point where the singer, for some reason slipping out of the holiday spirit and into a 20th century history textbook, starts reeling off the names of Santa's reindeer followed by a selection of American Presidents:
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnston, Nixon Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton
We've never actually had the heart to play Christmas in the Heart to the family at Christmas. The fear is that, if we did, the remainder of the holiday season might play out something like the last half an hour of The Shining. Imagine the aforementioned reindeer chant replacing Jack Nicholson's iconic "heeere's Johnny" outburst as your Granny axes through the living room door with an electric turkey carver with hellfire in her eyes... Actually, when you put it like that, it could make a welcome change from Christmas charades...
For those of you that don't know (and this is Ultimate Guitar, so I assume that there's very few of you) Scott Weiland is perhaps most famous as the vocalist for mid 90s grunge latecomers Stone Temple Pilots. STP's debut single, Sex Type Thing, which was released in 1993, had lyrics that went something like this:
I am a man, a man I'll give ya somethin' that ya won't forget I said ya shouldn't have worn that dress I said ya shouldn't have worn that dress
Not exactly family friendly, but hey, it's rock and roll. Nobody's going to stop you from singing about being as horny as dog (I mean, it's encouraged if anything, right?). Anyway, after STP disbanded for the first time in 2001, Weiland was drafted into Velvet Revolver with Guns N' Roses alumni Duff McKagan and Slash. During his five year tenure in the band, he used to dress something like this...
Yeah, that's a whole load of velvet, leather, studs and ...erm... Nazi paraphernalia if we ever saw it. And again, it's not like we're not discouraging Mr Weiland from his chosen stage attire. After all, as Mick Jagger once put it, "it's only rock and roll, but it's pretty cool and stuff" (it was something like that anyway, we don't remember the specifics). It's just that, given both the none too subtle stage threads and none too subtle lyrics about gettin' it on, we didn't exactly see the man as the festive type. You can imagine our surprise then, when Scotty boy announced that he was releasing a Christmas record back in 2010. Oh, and a crooner Christmas record at that...
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year saw Weiland swap his post millennial Jim Morrison-esque antics for an altogether more Dean Martin approach. It's a straight up, old school Christmas crooning album, replete with standards such as Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, White Christmas and Silent Night. Thing is, even though we knew that Scott had a more tender side from tracks like Fall To Pieces, this still struck us as a total curveball. It's not even all that bad; his clean vocals suit the retro vibe of the record...
Well, they would, if we could distance them from the bizarre video for single Winter Wonderland that got released back in November. We're guessing that you never wondered what would happen if Scott Weiland was cast in the popular early 60s set ad-agency drama Mad Men. Nope, neither did we. Somebody did though, and apparently the premise of "it's a vintage 60s Christmas party vignette... but with the guy from Velvet Revolver!" was met with enough approval that it got turned into the flippin' video. We spent the first minute and a half waiting for some kind of rupture; for Scott to rip off his grey wool suit and start tearing down the foundations in an orgy of violence followed by... well, a regular orgy. Instead, the man who used to take to the stage in leather chaps and Nazi hats ties bows on presents and rides a sleigh, all the time forcing the kind of smile that screams "why the crap am I doing this, I could be at an orgy wearing leather chaps and Nazi hats right now..."
In order to make sense of this one, we felt like we needed to get into the minds of the sort of people that would produce it. So below is presented the conversation that created this album, as we imagined it taking place, back in the halcyon days of 2009:
Bill: Goddamnit. Why the hell did I think it'd be a good idea to sign up to make this novelty Christmas album? I've spent my entire advance on beer and cheap porn, my deadline is tomorrow, and if I don't have something to show by then, it'll be my ass!
Steve: (toking on something that looks suspiciously like a joint) It's all cats man...it's all cats
Bill: Sorry, what?
Steve: YouTube man... kids dig cats. They watch them on the internet falling over shit and being sick on shit. Make your Christmas album with cats
Bill: And how am I supposed to make a Christmas album with cats, dude?
Steve: Uh... computers?
That's about the best we could come up with in working out how the holy hell this lunatic creation was ever unleashed upon the unfortunate ears of the general public. And for those of you that don't want to risk your hard earned money trying to find out what exactly the Christmas Cats album is (and Jesus, having had to listen to the whole damn thing for the purpose of researching this article, we don't blame you for being cautious), we'll try and explain the production process here.
What's basically happened is that someone has taken 30 not particularly well recorded karaoke backing tracks for well known Christmas hits, as well as the obscure 60s festive flop Dominic the Donkey (the Italian Christmas Donkey) (we have no idea why it's on there) and produced replacement vocal lines for the songs using midi samples of Cats meowing. "So what?" you may be asking at this point. "I've seen those kind of crappy albums in dime store bargain bins all the time. Jesus Ultimate Guitar, tell me something I don't know." And, irate fictional reader, you would be in one sense right for saying that, cause these kinds of shitty midi sampled Christmas compilations are ten for a penny. What makes Christmas Cats stand out from the crowd though, is the gut wrenching insanity that the spectacular ineptitude of its production inspires.
Don't believe us? Here's the Christmas Cats' rendition of Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You. Listen at your peril:
Recognize the vocal line? No, didn't think so. We've come to the conclusion that the producers, for the sake of "authenticity" (read, having smoked a 12 blunt somehow mistakenly laced with mercury), decided to let a genuine cat walk up and down their midi keyboard as the backing track played, sticking with the disjointed and utterly tuneless vocals that were produced as a result. Why? Because it was deadline day for the god forsaken album by that time and, let's face it, this project was never exactly a labour of love anyway.
For some reason, my cousin uses this album in his Christmas quiz every year. He plays a verse section from one of the songs and challenges contestants to guess what it is supposed to be. No one has ever won my cousin's Christmas quiz. Strangely, no one has ever played his Christmas quiz more than once either...
Bad Boys (of Rock 'n' Roll) Day of the Rocker You Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll I Wanna Rock I Believe in Rock 'n' Roll
Above is a sample of track names taken from Twisted Sister's first five studio albums. You'll notice that each song has rock in the title. There are five tracks. That averages out at one track explicitly about rocking per album (if we look at songs implicitly about rock, we get the entire Twisted Sister back catalogue); if you ask us, that's a pretty solid commitment. Rock was something that Twisted Sister wanted, believed in and apparently couldn't stop. In 2006, though, Dee Schneider and the gang made a career move that many perceived as particularly contradictory to their aforementioned commitment to geological un-stopping. Sure, Brenda Lee may have claimed back in 1958 that your Christmas Tree was fit for rocking around, but the thought of Twisted Sister recording a disc of festive standards with added guitar seemed, frankly, bizarre...
They did though. The resultant A Twisted Christmas featured 10 interpretations of classic yuletide tracks. Interpretation is the key word here. The Sister boys (yes that's a wired statement when you read it back; frankly, they're a weird band...) decided that they could spruce up tracks from the traditional Christmas songbook the only way they knew how... classic rock riffs. So, you get O Come All Ye Faithful mixed with the riff to the band's own We're Not Gonna Take It (which apparently was in itself inspired by the carol, which just makes the whole project seem even more nuts) while White Christmas has been Frankenstein'd with I Wanna Rock. Apparently not content with the level of rock that they could lift from their own back catalogue (and perhaps trying to justify the project in terms of their own rock wanting to mantra), the band also jacked riffs from AC/DC, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath and relentlessly forced them into a fistful of festive jingles.
The nadir of the record's crazy comes in the form of final track Heavy Metal Christmas. "Now, where the balls does that fit into the classic Christmas songbook?" you might be asking. Well, what Twisted Sister have done here is actually pretty clever. Heavy Metal Christmas is, in fact, based around the Weihnachten (it's German for Chirstmas... Having run out of synonyms, we're trawling foreign dictionaries) standard The Twelve Days Of Christmas. See, the band realised that, but for the drumming drummers, none of the characters featured in the original were particularly identifiable to their audience (people who like rock music judging by, well, everything they've ever done, said, or thought). So, using the ole brain noggin, they've changed the lyrics to incorporate the lifestyles of their demographic. As the days of advent dwindle, therefore, the band end up gifted with the following by their true love:
12 silver crosses 11 black mascaras 10 pairs of platforms 9 tattered t-shirts 8 pentagrams 7 leather jackets 6 cans of hairspray 5 skull earrings 4 quarts of Jack 3 studded belts 2 pairs of spandex pants and a tattoo of Ozzy
Sadly, Twisted Sister hasn't released a new record since A Twisted Christmas, and according to guitarist Jay Jay French, they're not planning to do so for the foreseeable future. It's a shame really. Based on the formula of applying rock to things not associated with rock, the band could possibly go on forever...
A Twisted Wedding, A Twisted Court Hearing, A Twisted Prostate Exam (that one sounds painful)... the sky's the limit!
By Alec Plowman