In Have A Strange Christmas Part 1, I examined 5 strange holiday CDs. In Part 2 I give equal time to 5 strange holiday records. You’ll find links at the end if you want to add any of these oddities to your holiday music library.
- Scrooged: Danny Elfman (Enjoy The Ride ETR096; 2022)
Scrooged, starring Bill Murray, debuted in November of 1988, and is the kind of film that you either liked or didn’t. This Danny Elfman soundtrack, which is completely different from the original motion picture soundtrack, doesn’t feature any strange material, although the music ranges from creepy to full orchestral holiday numbers. Nonetheless, I’m including it in my article because my vinyl pressing itself is strange.
For one thing, it’s the thickest record I’ve ever owned…1/4” thick! This makes 180 gram vinyl look like paper. The thickness is because, sandwiched in between each side of the clear vinyl, is liquid with sparkles. Move the record around and it creates a kind of snow globe effect, perfect for a Christmas soundtrack. It’s the world’s first now globe record. And yes, you can actually play it.
The other odd thing about this liquid-filled record is it’s refillable. If any of the liquid should evaporate over time or change color, I simply ship it back to the record manufacturer and they’ll replace the liquid and sparkles for a small fee. It’s the world’s first refillable liquid record!
This Scrooged variant took 6 months to make and each one was assembled by hand. It was limited to something like 100 pressings and sold out in less than 15 minutes. You’ll blow your entire Christmas gift budget on one of these records now, assuming you can find one.
2. Switched on Santa: Sy Mann (Pickwick SPCX 1007; 1969)
The Moog synthesizer is an electronic, modular instrument invented by Robert Moog in 1964. It has the ability to replicate the sounds of other musical instruments as well as create unique sounds that no other instrument can produce. Early models were large and intimidating and required hours of programming by an electronic engineer. The 27 minutes of music on Switched on Santa must have taken forever to program. The liner notes claim it took 1 hour of Moog programming to yield 30 seconds of usable music!
The Moog wasn’t a musical curiosity. It was used by The Doors, The Beatles, The Monkees, Rolling Stones, The Byrds, Grateful Dead, and Stevie Wonder. But this strange musical monstrosity wasn’t limited to just rock and pop music. The Moog found its way onto jazz and even classical records, too. Switched-On Bach from 1968 was a huge hit that went on to sell over 1 million copies and win 3 Grammy awards. Johan was probably spinning in his grave.
With success like that, it was only a matter of time until another “Switched On” title followed. Enter Switched On Santa from 1969, the logical follow up. Who could resist 13 holiday classics including Angels We Have Heard On High, Silent Night, and White Christmas performed on the Moog? The music sounds like the soundtrack from a low budget 1950’s sci-fi Christmas movie.
Manning the Moog was Sy Mann. Mann served in the army during World War II, mostly conducting army bands. In 1953 he joined CBS-TV and replaced Dick Hyman as pianist and arranger for the Arthur Godfrey Show. He later went on to work with artists like Barbara Streisand, Melanie, Connie Francis, and Tiny Tim.
I doubt this is the record you’d play while trimming your Christmas tree, but you might play it while you burn your real tree in the backyard after the holiday is over. Merry strange Christmas from Mann and the merry Moog.
3. Merry Christmas…Have A Nice Life: Cyndi Lauper (Real Gone Music RGM-0930; 2022 (original released in 1998 on Epic))
That Cyndi Lauper, she’s so unusual. But that’s not the only reason I’ve included her first Christmas album on my list, or because this vinyl variant is festive red and white candy cane swirl color. I’m including this title mainly because she recorded all of her vocal tracks from inside her cedar closet! I’ll refrain from any coming out of the closet jokes.
The music is also unusual, not for Lauper, but for a Christmas album. Eight of the eleven tunes she wrote or co-wrote and they’re all over the place. Some have a tropical vibe like Christmas Conga, or a Cajon flavor like Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree. Still others are folk-inspired with Lauper playing the ukulele, dulcimer, and recorder. Then there’s the wheezing bag pipes on Three Ships. I don’t know what the hell Minnie and Santa is all about. Since she recorded it at home you can hear her young son, born the year before, in the background on New Year’s Baby. Perhaps mommy’s singing upset him.
Admittedly, there are some very sweet tunes like December Child, In The Bleak Midwinter, and Silent Night, featuring New York’s Chatterton Elementary School Choir. Basically what we have here is a very mixed musical bag, which is just fine for celebrating a strange Christmas.
4. Bonanza: Christmas on the Ponderosa (RCA Victor LSP-2757; 1963)
Bonanza holds the title for the second longest-running TV western (Gunsmoke is number 1), lasting 14 years and 430+ episodes. TV Guide included the show in its list of the 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. The series starred Loren Greene as Ben Cartwright and it revolved around the dynamics within the Cartwright family, their interactions with the community, and operating their ranch called “Ponderosa”. A young and relatively unknown Michael Landon played “Little Joe” Cartwright.
You’ll hear Landon, Greene, and the other two Cartwright brothers belting out Jingle Bells, O Come All Ye Faithful, Deck the Halls, and 25 minutes of other holiday classics you’d expect any family from the 1860’s to be singing around the Christmas tree. There are also heartwarming stories about the first Christmas tree and why we light candles on a tree. The songs are presented as if someone recorded the audio from a never-broadcast Bonanza Christmas episode, complete with cast banter and clapping at the end of the songs. If you loved Bonanza, you’ll love this record. Here’s an excerpt from a review someone wrote about the record on Amazon: “I cry when I listen to it. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to such simpler times. I just love Bonanza. What a loss when it was cancelled.”
Speaking of crying, if you’ll allow me to digress a moment, I recently caught the Bonanza episode, A Christmas Story, and it had me in tears. It starred a baby-faced Wayne Newton who played a wannabe singer, and his shifty Uncle who defrauded the town out of thousands of dollars. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but if you have the opportunity to watch it, it’s well worth tracking down even if you’re not a Bonanza fan.
When one thinks Christmas songs, one usually thinks Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, and the like. The cast of Bonanza doesn’t usually come to mind, which puts Christmas on the Ponderosa firmly on my strange Christmas list. Let’s be honest. This album only exists because NBC wanted to milk every last penny they could from this extremely popular TV show, and after all, isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?
5. A Twisted Christmas: Twisted Sister (Rhino 563173; 2017 (originally released 2006))
So far, I’ve explored Christmas records with liquid + glitter inside, music performed on the Moog, songs sung in a cedar closet with a baby gurgling in the background, and songs sung by the cast of Bonanza. I conclude my list of strange Christmas music with this holiday gem by Twisted Sister.
Even if you’re not a heavy metal head banger, you should know the name Twisted Sister and its big hair and makeup-wearing leader, Dee Snider. You should also be familiar with their one big hit, 1984’s We’re Not Gonna Take It.
In this outing from 2006 (reissued on limited edition green vinyl in 2017 for Record Store Day), A Twisted Christmas features heavy metal versions of songs like I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Let It Snow, and The Christmas Song. The band also puts their own twisted take on We Wish You a Twisted Christmas and The Twelve Heavy Metal Days of Christmas. Lita Ford even dropped by to do the honors on I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Oh Come All Ye Faithful is performed in the same style as We’re Not Gonna Take It. The group performed it on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Scanning some of the A Twisted Christmas reviews on Amazon: ”the whole thing is just a bad idea”, “Horrible. Please do an album of your own material”, and “Makes a great joke gift”. You get the idea.
I guess if you’re looking for some completely different holiday music, you should consider this A Twisted Christmas. Just be sure to pick up a bottle of extra-strength Tylenol while you’re in the store in case you get a twisted headache.
Regardless of what music you listen to this holiday, I hope you have a wonderful time and are able to be with the people you love. Happy holidays and I’ll see you next year.
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Merry Christmas, Have A Nice Life