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Month: December 2023

Have A Strange Christmas: “Christmas Vacation” Soundtrack

Photo by Peter Skiera.

This is the 5th and final installment in my “Have A Strange Christmas” series where I highlight a strange Christmas record.

For many, the Christmas season just isn’t the same without an annual viewing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. In the movie, Clark W. Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, plans to surprise his family by using his Christmas bonus to have a large swimming pool installed in their backyard. Unfortunately, instead of a Christmas bonus, Griswold’s stingy boss gives him a year’s subscription to the Jelly of The Month Club (there really is such a thing). His wife’s Cousin Eddie shows up unexpectedly and takes matters into his own hands as only Cousin Eddie could.

The film was based on a short story called “Christmas ’59,” by John Hughes, which was published in a December 1980 issue of National Lampoon magazine. I won’t spoil it for you if you never saw the film, but it’s a very entertaining holiday movie the whole family will enjoy. Good talk, son.

In December of 1989, Christmas Vacation opened at #2 and quickly became #1 at the box office, grossing over $73 million. Initial reviews were mixed (Roger Ebert only gave it 2 stars) but the movie went on to become a holiday classic. Despite its popularity and the great songs used in the film, an official original motion picture soundtrack was never released. Or was it?

Merry Clarkmas

The music on the Christmas Vacation CD isn’t strange, but the backstory has created a strange mystery worthy of a Columbo episode. A story on the Internet persists that a limited-edition CD of the soundtrack was released in 1999 for the movie’s 10th Anniversary. As the story goes, Warner Brothers Records teamed up with RedDotNet and Six Flags to sell the CD’s via on-demand kiosks at Six Flags Magic Mountain (where “Wally World” was based for the first “Vacation” film) for one week only. The blank CDs were burned one by one as purchased by customers and the booklets and the rear jewel case perforated inserts were assembled by Six Flags employees. Each CD’s back insert was printed with its own individual serial number, up to 20,000. The story goes on to say that 7,000 of the 20,000 CDs were burned and sold to the public. An interesting tale, but is there any truth to it?

A Hot Seller

I’ll begin my examination with those reported Six Flags sales figures: 7,000 CDs sold in 1 week. That averages out to 1,000 CDs burned per day. If my math is correct, that translates into 125 CDs per hour based on an 8-hour day. That’s quite a run for a CD that was just a movie soundtrack, was never advertised, and was only available at one location for one week. Even if you dismiss those figures as unreliable, it’s pretty certain that thousands of unburned CDs were left over. For them to become available years later, someone would have to burn and assemble all of those leftover blank CDs, warehouse them, and then sell them years later.

Another argument against the Six Flags story: Warner Brothers purchased Six Flags in 1993 and sold it in 1998. During the 5 years they owned the Park, Warner never once made the Christmas Vacation soundtrack CD available. Yet a year after they sold Six Flags, Warner licensed the CD to be sold inside the Park which they no longer owned?

Image from rateyourmusic.com/release/comp/various-artists/national-lampoons-vacation-cancelled-passport-edition/

Another Six Flags CD

Not to confuse matters, but I think it’s relevant to point out that the 2003 CD soundtrack of National Lampoon’s Vacation, the first Vacation movie, adopted the exact same story line. Discogs.com notes the CD, called the “Cancelled Passport Edition”, was “manufactured and distributed by RedDotNet in association with Warner Bros. Motion Picture Studios and Six Flags Magic Mountain Theme Park USA. Numbered series of 20,000.” An expired listing on Worthpoint.com added that, “for the last few thousand copies, WB added music from 1985’s ‘European Vacation’ and 1997’s ‘Vegas Vacation’”, neither of which ever made it to CD. Let me make sure I understand this. The kiosks were reprogrammed and the roll of rear artwork was changed out by park employees to add 10 more songs to the track list during the last three or so days the CDs were being sold? Honestly, I find this a little hard to believe. In any event, we now have two CD soundtracks using the same Six Flags cover story.

This raises another issue. If Six Flags had such on-demand CD burning kiosks then one could logically conclude there would be many, many more titles out there that were burned and sold to public. However, I was unable to find a single CD title beyond these two that was born from a Six Flags RedDotNet CD kiosk. Disogs.com lists discographies from other amusement park on-demand kiosks but not Six Flags other than these 2 titles. Surely, Six Flags didn’t install these on-demand CD kiosks for one week each just for two titles and that’s it.

Proof Of Purchase

During the course of my research, out of the 7,000 CDs supposedly burned at Six Flags, or whatever the number is, I was unable to find a single case where someone claimed to have purchased their Christmas Vacation CD from a Six Flags kiosk and could prove it. Without exception, those who said they owned the CD admitted they bought their copy from one website or another, not at Six Flags.

RedDotNet CD kiosks did exit but I was never able to find any information about Six Flags having installed such on-demand kiosks. Yet I had no difficulty finding information about on-demand CD kiosks at Universal and Disney which I’ll address a little later. A New York Times article by Karen Bannan from April of 2000 reported RedDotNet CD kiosks being in Target, Sam Goody, Warehouse Entertainment, and Walt Disney, but no mention whatsoever of Six Flags.

According to billboard.com, in 2004, Warner Music Group inked a deal with Mediaport Entertainment to offer its music via kiosks to be installed in “retail outlets, colleges, military bases and travelers’ waiting areas”. The article made no mention of Warner having previously partnered with RedDotNet at Six Flags.

This Was A Bootleg

There’s clear information on the Internet that goes against the Six Flags story. Web.archive.org lists the CD as a bootleg. An article on yardbarker.com states, “Strangely, in 1999 a purported ‘10th anniversary’ soundtrack started popping up online on various auction sites. The claim was that they had been made to be sold at Six Flags. Ultimately, it proved to be false, as this was a bootleg CD. In fact, one of the songs on the CD was from John Williams’ ‘Home Alone 2: Lost in New York’ score.” There are also comments on the net that say some of the tracks are of inferior sound quality and some of the discs exhibit skipping problems. Incorrect track listings, questionable sound, and playback issues are often telltale signs of a bootleg.

Get A Life

All this begs the question- If the Six Flags story is false and these CDs are bootlegs, why would someone go to all the trouble of making up an elaborate false history about them? What’s the point? Don’t they have anything better to do with their time? Or do they just get off on putting one over on people? In the history of bootleg recordings, I don’t think there’s ever been an instance where someone fabricated a detailed backstory to try to pass off a series of bootleg recordings as legitimate.

One CD that is definitely legitimate is A Hollywood Christmas and it’s the closest you’re going to get to an official Christmas Vacation soundtrack. The CD was released by Time Life Music (24892-D), of all labels, in 2009, and includes Ray Charles’ That Spirit of Christmas which was used in the Christmas Vacation film, as well as Holiday Road by Lindsey Buckingham (which actually wasn’t used in the film). The latter is the only time that song has ever been licensed to another label for inclusion on a CD. But I digress.

For this article, I decided I needed to somehow obtain one of these legendary Six Flags CDs and evaluate it for myself. It turned out I had a much easier time finding copies and obvious bootlegs. One company on Amazon was selling what it described as the Christmas Vacation “official soundtrack” CD starting in 2011, yet the CD didn’t even come in a jewel case or include a booklet. I’d hardly call that “official”. 

There was a convincing limited-edition soundtrack CD released down under in 2011 by “MSH Music”. I couldn’t find any information about this Australian record company or any other titles the label released, so I’ve concluded it was a bootleg. Real record companies don’t usually release a single title in a single country limited to 1,000 pressings and then disappear. That’s not what I’d all a successful business model.

My “free” Christmas Vacation soundtrack CD. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Free CDs 

I found a company in Florida burning their own “Special Edition” Christmas Vacation soundtrack CD. They say it’s one of their best-selling titles. The track list is somewhat similar to that of the Six Flags CD. As the CD was on sale for less than 14 bucks including shipping, I bought one (link provided at the end). Technically, I bought the jewel case and the artwork since the website says, “You’ll receive a jewel case with custom artwork created for the soundtrack. This is what you are purchasing. The audio recordings contained within are always absolutely free of charge…with no claim to their quality, copyright or ownership being implied.” In the words of Monty Python, “Say no more. Know what I mean? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.” 

Story #2 

Incidentally, the above website selling this CD states yet another version of the Christmas Vacation soundtrack story: “A soundtrack for the filmNational Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was released on LP, cassette and CD in 1989. The soundtrack was out-of-print by the mid 1990’s. Since then, there have been several limited-edition print-on-demand CD issues offered at Universal Studios Theme Parks including 10th and 20th Anniversary editions, both of which are also out-of-print.” Wrong! The soundtrack was never officially released in 1989 in any format. It’s true that Universal had CD burning kiosks starting in 1999 (“The Disc Kiosk”), but the selections drew from their back catalog, and Universal didn’t own the rights to the Christmas Vacation soundtrack. Also, there was never a “20th Anniversary Edition” Christmas Vacation soundtrack. This is enough to make the vision of sugar plums dancing in your head explode.

A CD from a Disney Wonderland Music kiosk. Image from disneycds.com/category/75

Universal wasn’t the only amusement park burning CDs. According to mousetroop.blogspot.com, Disney had their own on-demand CD burning kiosk system called “Disneyland Forever”, limited to old theme park music, announcements, sound effects, and narration culled from its 40+ year history. The customer selected up to 10 songs (at $2 per track!) from the touch screen kiosk they wanted burned on their CD. The machines could even print the customer’s first name on the cover and on the face of the CD. Disney shut down the service in early 2001. There were also “Wonderland Music Experience” kiosks that operated through 2006 and sold complete Disney CD titles.

You’re Getting Warmer 

Themusicshopandmore.com sells a Christmas Vacation CD for $27.98 that looks very close to the Six Flags CD and has all the same tracks, but alas, without a serial number. The site openly admits their CDs are unofficial. There has probably been more bootlegging of this soundtrack than of all the alcohol during prohibition. Will the real Six Flags Christmas Vacation soundtrack CD please stand up?

After keeping a very close eye on discogs, an actual Six Flags Christmas Vacation CD became available from a seller in Romania. I got really excited until I saw the price: $227! GM Chrysler! I wouldn’t pay that even if I had the money.  

“An interesting tale, but is there any truth to it?”

Too Legit To Quit 

I was feeling like I was on a mission: impossible until I finally tracked down a real Six Flags Christmas Vacation CD in a web shop in Germany of all places. The site sells “Griswold Christmas madness”…Christmas Vacation merchandise like Wally World glass moose mugs, Clark Griswold action figures, Griswold drink coasters, and the coveted Six Flags Christmas Vacation CD. Their website states they were able to secure some of these ultra rare discs thanks to their “long history with the film [industry] and contacts in the USA”. The website repeated the Six Flags story adding, “Park employees had the honorable task of producing the CDs at the burning stations…then the employee removed the perforated cover from a long endless roll, packed everything up and wished the lucky owner of the rarity a nice day.”  

The site goes on to say that after the leftover Six Flags Christmas Vacation CDs shipped from the US to this German website, German Customs released the CDs to them after Warner Brothers provided a letter stating the CDs were legit. I contacted the site and asked to see a copy of the letter but my request was denied on the basis that the letter was a private internal document.  

Going, Going, Gone 

I exchanged numerous emails with someone connected to the website who I’ll keep anonymous, peppering them with questions. By the time I decided to purchase the CD, the price had skyrocketed from $36 to over $60 USD (the regular retail price was shown as $109)! That was a lot better than $227, but I still couldn’t bring myself to drop that kind of dough on a CD, especially being financially challenged. Another week or two passed and the website indicated they were sold out. I had to face the hard reality that I blew what might have been my only chance to buy this rare CD without having to spend megabucks. 

More time passed and my curiosity forced me to visit the German site again. Miraculously, they somehow found 20 more copies (“the last 20 brand new with extra high collector’s value”). Despite the “extra high value”, the price had actually dropped to $44. This time I bought one, though the purchase process turned into its own wild adventure since the company only shipped to the UK, Germany, and Switzerland. I was able to enlist the help of a relative who lived in Europe who then forwarded the CD to me. What I won’t go through for my blog. Suspiciously, 3 weeks later the site is still selling “the last 20” CDs and for the same price.  

An insert sheet which went into a little more detail about the process accompanied my CD. It was in German but here’s a portion I Google translated: “In the park, park visitors were able to use the RedDotNet Music Kiosk System to select titles or entire soundtracks from the music program and have them burned to CD by park employees on the on-site production machines. The cover inlays ran down from large rolls (hence the perforations and simple printing techniques). The CDs produced without silver dye coating (i.e. without an industrial protective layer – hence the CD burning appearance) and the cover inlays were paired with the jewel case – the soundtrack was ready. Every single soundtrack inlay that rolled off the roll had a unique serial number. 00001 to 20000. The finished soundtrack CDs were handed over to the customer unsealed directly at the kiosk system because ‘sealing technology’ was not provided for on the devices.”

The back insert of my “Christmas Vacation” CD. Photo by Peter Skiera.

By most appearances, my CD fits the Six Flags narrative. My copy has a serial number (5,237), though if 7,000 were sold to the public as the story goes and this CD was “brand new”, I don’t understand how it could have such a low number. The booklet and rear insert appear to be perforated. It’s a CD-R with a bluish tint. The CD label art features 4 small Clark Griswold’s as opposed to a single Clark Griswold. It would seem I had found the Christmas Vacation CD holy grail.

Photo by Peter Skiera.

 One glaring omission- The photo in the Christmas Vacation soundtrack listing on discogs, which I consider the website of record when it comes to CDs and LPs, shows a black printed number below the CD’s center hole. My CD has no such number.

Image from facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=662995692695388&set=pb.100069548886165.-2207520000&type=3

The Silence Is Deafening

So, it’s time to revisit the questions I posed at the outset. Is the Six Flags story really true or is it just an urban legend? Is the Warner Brothers National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 10th Anniversary soundtrack CD legitimate? Always up for a challenge, I donned my detective’s fedora and contacted both Warner Brothers and Six Flags Magic Mountain in an attempt to once and for all confirm or debunk the Six Flags story and CD (I couldn’t contact RedDotNet, not to be confused with RedDot Networks, because they’re out of business). The film division of Warner Brothers referred me to the Warner Brothers Music Group. I sent them a message every week for 13 straight weeks and they ignored every single one of my messages despite an auto reply stating they’d respond “shortly”. I asked for the contact information for a manager so I could report my experience and that message was also ignored.

After finding their email address, I emailed the Press Department of Warner Music Group every week for 10 weeks and they also ignored all of my messages. How the staff of a major US company can blatantly ignore their responsibilities and still keep their jobs is beyond me. If I ignored customer emails when I was with Como Audio I would’ve been let go in pretty short order. In desperation, I sent a snail mail letter to Warner Brothers in CA but that also received zero response. If the Six Flags Christmas Vacation CD is a bootleg, I don’t get why Warner Brothers wouldn’t be more willing to say so.

I had only slightly better success with Six Flags in Los Angeles. Their Guest Services referred me to their Public Relations Department which, after 3 weeks, finally got back to me with, “We unfortunately do not have any information or details to share regarding this matter. We wish you the best of luck with your story.” I realize we’re talking over 24 years ago, but it would seem to me the Park would have some kind of record of this (a press release, photos, a contract with RedDotNet, sales records, etc.). Of course, there would be no record if it never happened.

ThThThTh…That’s All Folks

I’m not one to give up easily, but I’ve raised the white flag (all 6 of them) on this magical musical mystery tour. You’ll have to make up your own mind about the Six Flags story and the Christmas Vacation soundtrack CD. Regardless of which side you come down on, it certainly makes for a strange Christmas.

Trivia (from www.imdb.com/title/tt0097958/trivia/): “After failing to get the Christmas lights to work one last time, Clark Griswold takes his frustration out on the plastic decorations in the front yard. Chevy Chase actually broke his pinky finger while punching Santa Claus. He resorts to kicking and clubbing the decorations after that. The film kept rolling, and the take was used.”

Trivia: In real life, Randy Quid, who played Cousin Eddie in “Christmas Vacation”, is the third cousin of Gene Autry, who recorded several hit Christmas songs.

Classic lines from Christmas Vacation:

Clark to Cousin Eddie: “Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere, leave you for dead?”

Clark to Cousin Eddie: “If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am right now.”

Clark to a sexy female store clerk: “It’s a bit nipply out. I mean nippy out…It wouldn’t be the Christmas shopping season if the stores were any less hooter — hotter than they are.”

Art to Clark: “The little lights are not twinkling.”

Clark to his family: “We’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f***ing Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white a** down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of a**holes this side of the nuthouse!”

Every word in my articles is 100% written by me. I never use ChatGPT or any AI technology. Ever.

Thank you to my wonderful Patreon members who help make this blog possible. Join over 300 other music enthusiasts and help support these in-depth articles you won’t find anywhere else.

Read more about my Christmas Vacation soundtrack CD on Patreon.

Did you miss last week’s strange Christmas record?

Have A Strange Christmas: “Star Wars Christmas”

My “Christmas In The Stars” CD. Photo by Peter Skiera.

This is the fourth installment in my “Have A Strange Christmas” series where I highlight a different strange Christmas record every week through the end of December.

Star Wars (A New Hope) was released in theaters in 1977 and quickly became a sensation. It grossed almost $800 million worldwide. Not bad for a low budget film that 20th Century Fox didn’t have much confidence in. Star Wars won six Oscars and went on to spawn 10 more films, making it the third highest grossing film franchise in history.

Crap

In typical capitalist fashion, every imaginable piece of Star Wars crap was licensed in order to cash in on the hyper-drive hysteria…a ceramic C3-PO tape dispenser, Darth Vader shower head, Death Star waffle maker, life-sized R2-D2 aquarium by Hammacher Schlemmer, and believe you me, that’s only scratching the surface. There was even a Star Wars Christmas album!

A Cast of Thousands

Christmas In The Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album (RS0 Records RS-1-3093) record and cassette was released in November of 1980 and featured C-3P0, R2-D2, Chewbacca, and a then unknown Jon Bonjovi in his first commercial recording (his cousin ran the New Jersey recording studio and co-produced the album). Over 70 people (!) were involved in the making of the record and it was one of the first non-classical and jazz albums to be digitally recorded. With all that talent you’d think this would be the most amazing Christmas album ever. It is. Amazingly bad.

Fast Track

The album actually came together at light speed. Several sources cite a Lucasfilm internal memo from September 1980 that outlined the album concept. Just nine 9 days later, actor Anthony Daniels flew in from London to record his vocals as C-3PO and supposedly had only 1 weekend to do it. Talk about fast tracking a project!

The album and its mostly original material scored a minor holiday hit with the single What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb?). It reached #69 on the Billboard Hot 100. If you don’t remember the song, best we keep it that way. Strangely, 3 years after the record came out, a second single was released, R2D2’s Sleigh Ride with Christmas in the Stars on Side B. Even more strange, 10 years after the record came out, a 3” “CD single” was released in Japan featuring R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas and Christmas In The Stars.

After CDs were introduced, someone decided the album was important enough to be issued on CD….not once, but twice. The first was the original 1994 CD by Polygram called Meco Christmas In The Stars (Meco previously recorded Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk) with a pathetic generic cover. In 1996, Rhino Records reissued the CD with the original album artwork and new liner notes. It’s said that up to 9 songs from the original recording sessions remain unreleased to this day. Based on the existing material, perhaps it’s just as well.

My “Christmas In The Stars” cassette. Photo by Peter Skiera.

You can buy Christmas In The Stars on the used record market, but be prepared to spend all of your Christmas money from Santa. Discogs has one cassette tape listed for $150 while eBay has one for $2,100! Amazon has the CD for $89 and the vinyl record for $200.

After reading some of the comments left on Amazon, you’d wonder why anyone would pay that kind of money: “Without [a] doubt, the worst Christmas album of all time. Even kids will hate it. Stay far away”, and “To call this album bad would be an understatement. I realize that this is a children’s album, but I can’t imagine that too many children would enjoy this insipid junk. The lyrics are especially awful. When I met Anthony Daniels, he called this album ‘pure crap’. Take it from C-3PO himself, folks.” Just for the heck of it, I contacted Anthony Daniels and asked him to reflect on Christmas In The Stars. He ignored all of my messages. If I were him, I wouldn’t want to talk about it either. He probably has PTSD.

Truly Terrible

You’ll find other negative reviews besides comments on Amazon. Bradley Torreano’s write-up on Allmusic.com doesn’t pull any punches: “Few Christmas albums are as truly terrible as Star Wars: Christmas in the Stars…this could be the worst Star Wars related album on the market. To those who enjoy bad music on a camp level, this album is priceless. Fans of the series should give it a listen just to hear how bad it is, but this is really only recommended for those who enjoy terrible music for its comic value.” Ouch.

I’m afraid I must agree. Instead of Christmas In The Stars, it should’ve been called Crap In The Stars. Hearing C-3P0, a robot with a British accent portrayed by Anthony Daniels who wasn’t a trained singer, croon Christmas songs is just plain bizarre. Take the “duet” of Sleigh Ride he performs with R2D2. Please, take it. Or his butchering of a modified reading of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas. “Bells, Bells, Bells” is another oddity in which C-3PO tries to explain to R2-D2 what bells are…Chiming what the hour is now / Or they’ll lead you to a cow. Huh? Not exactly Lennon and McCartney. Besides that, the highly sophisticated robot R2-D2 doesn’t know what bells are?

With all that talent you’d think this would be the most amazing Christmas album ever.



Mauray Yetson. Photo from mauryyeston.com/about

The lack of depth in the lyrics is surprising considering the songs were written by Yale University music professor Maury Yeston, who went on to win two Tony awards and three Grammy nominations. Yeston also appears on the album as Santa on The Meaning of Christmas, and his voice is multi-tracked to create the “choir”. He briefly addresses his lyrics on his website: “The fun and light tone of [the album] was targeted towards the younger audience (Maury’s own son was then 7) that had fallen in love with Artoo, Threepio and the Droids, and of course the Wookiee.”

Listening to Christmas In The Stars will make you think you have a DVD of a Star Wars Christmas TV special playing but with the picture switched off. Yet the record wasn’t related to the “Star Wars Holiday Special”, a 1978 made-for-TV movie that should’ve been destroyed along with the Death Star.

Photo by Peter Skiera.

Frankly, the most impressive thing about the album is the cover artwork by Star Wars production artist Ralph McQuarrie. It depicts Santa’s workshop of the future, with toys being assembled by robots. I guess all the elves were transferred to another department, or worse, laid off. Santa is pictured warming himself before a fireplace while C-3P0 and R2-D2 look on. It’s not Currier and Ives but it’s nice as far as intergalactic Christmas album covers go.

According to the liner notes from the CD, Christmas In The Stars wasn’t to be the only Star Wars holiday recording. A series of Star Wars Christmas releases were planned but never materialized for whatever reason. RSO Records folded after the first run, which probably didn’t help matters. Whatever the reason, it was nothing less than a Christmas miracle that we were spared from further abuse.

Speaking of strange Christmas music, the Star Wars CD booklet promotes other classic Rhino Records Christmas albums you’ll surely want to add to your holiday music collection like The Flintstones: Christmas In Bedrock and Have Yourself A Looney Tunes Christmas. As the latter release exclaims, “Christmas tunes like you’ve never heard them before…”, and probably never wanted to.

There’s no doubt that Star Wars was an incredible sci-fi film. Christmas In The Stars is a different story. It’s an album for the ages. Ages 5 to 10. It was ground breaking, as in dig a hole in the ground and bury it. The best part of the album is when it ends. It has to be one of the worst Christmas records ever. If you buy this album, may the remorse be with you.

Every word in every one of my articles is 100% written by me. I never use ChatGPT or any AI technology. Ever.



Trivia (from www.starwars.com/news/10-things-about-christmas-in-the-stars): “Yoda was supposed to make an appearance [on “Christmas In The Stars”]. Frank Oz, the actor and puppeteer who helped launch Yoda to fame in “The Empire Strikes Back”, was approached to reprise the voice of the Jedi Master for the album’s ‘Meaning of Christmas’ track. Oz couldn’t participate due to scheduling conflicts, so the album eventually settled on Santa’s son, ‘S. Claus’, to fill the role (with revised dialog).”

Thank you to my wonderful Patreon members who help make this blog possible. Join over 300 other music enthusiasts and help support these in-depth articles you won’t find anywhere else.

Return here next week for the final installment in my “Have A Strange Christmas” series.

Did you miss last week’s strange Christmas record?

Have A Strange Christmas: Merry Christmas, Santa Claus

My Max Headroom 45 RPM single. Photo by Peter Skiera.

This is the third installment in my “Have A Strange Christmas” series where I highlight a different strange Christmas record every week through the end of December.

Max Headroom was a “computer generated”, stuttering announcer who invaded our culture and our TV screens in late 1980s. In reality, Headroom wasn’t a computer creation at all. He was Canadian actor Matt Frewer heavily caked in makeup and latex prosthetics, wearing a shiny fiberglass suit, with strange looking contact lenses in his eyes (when he wasn’t wearing his fashionable Ray-Bans, that is). You never saw him below his elbows. For all anyone knew, he wasn’t wearing pants. A green screen behind him featured colorful Amiga computer graphics.

Matt Frewer in the makeup chair. The photo is signed to me by Humphreys. Photo by John Humphreys and Peter Litten.

I Want My Max TV

Like Frewer, Max Headroom wasn’t “born” in the USA. He was imagined by British director Rocky Morton who wanted an MTV-like VJ to host a British music video show, but something created by a computer. That wasn’t practical in the mid-1980s, so it was decided that an actor would be made-up to look like a computerized character. UK designers John Humphreys and Peter Litten created the custom makeup effects and the suit. The process to transform Frewer into Max Headroom took just over 4 hours from start to finish.

The Headroom character got his first big break across the pond in a UK movie for television. From there, he hosted a British music video and interview show that became very popular. It wasn’t long until Hollywood- the ABC network specifically- took notice and developed a television series in 1987 geared at the American market called…wait for it…Max Headroom.

Max Headroom and Matt Frewer. Photo licensed from alamy.com

Mad Max

The weekly science fiction adventure TV show starred Frewer as reporter Edison Carter (as well as Max Headroom, a computerized version of Carter), Amanda Pays (who was also in the UK TV movie) as his coworker, and Jeffrey Tambor as their producer. The show was set “20 minutes into the future” when TV networks ruled the world. Sound familiar? Frewer’s character was a sort of Mike Wallace of the future, exposing the greed and corruption of the networks. Carter also investigated “blipverts”- intense TV commercials lasting 3 seconds that literally caused some viewers’ heads to explode. Sound familiar?

Taking Max to lunch.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…

Capitalizing on his popularity, Headroom appeared in TV and print adverts endorsing the New Coke (you can guess how that went), and there were all kinds of Max Headroom branded paraphernalia like a finger puppet, notebook, lunch box, wrist watch, trading cards, sleeping bag, skate board, and even a book titled Max Headroom’s Guide to Life. That’s interesting considering his character combated greed in the TV show.

Newsweek from April 1987.

Maxed Out

Max reached his max in mid-1988, having his plug pulled in mid-second season after just 14 total episodes, not even being allowed the respect of a final episode. TV viewers at the time were much more interested in Miami Vice and Dallas than a wisecracking CGI guy. Ironically, Lorimar, the company that produced Max Headroom, also produced Dallas. At least the show managed to pick up 3 Primetime Emmy Awards before it took its love away.

The promotional single for radio stations had the same song on both A & B sides and didn’t include “Gimme Shades”, a semi-country tune, as the sleeve stated. Photo by Peter Skiera.

A Huge Colostomy

Early on in his career, Headroom gave the world a little musical Christmas gift. Merry Christmas Santa Clause (Chrysalis VS4 44000) was released in 1986 on the heels of The Max Headroom Christmas Special, a US television special that was as successful as a 5-year-old cooking a Christmas turkey by himself. The song is a musical homage to the calorically challenged guy in the red suit who, in Headroom’s opinion, is greatly underappreciated for all he does. The most memorable lyric from the song is, “He bestrides the world like a huge colostomy.” They just don’t write them like they used to.

“You never saw Headroom below his elbows. For all anyone knew, he wasn’t wearing pants.

Screenshot from youtube.com/watch?v=_GGgWwVlnI8

Terrifying

Headroom was a television star, and although his videos look primitive today, during his short 1986-88 lifespan, they came across as the cutting edge of computer animation, even though they weren’t computer animation. The music video of Merry Christmas Santa Claus features a tube color television set propped up on a bench in front of a shiny white grand piano. The Southwark Cathedral Choir surrounded Headroom as snow, as artificial as Max himself, fell on them. Some of the candid comments from the 23,000 views on YouTube include, “This terrified me when I was a kid”, “This is scary as hell”, “This is terrifying”, and my personal favorite, “Max Headroom f***ing creeps me out!”

Keith Stracham. Photo from strachan.org/biog-pics.html

Donning my detective’s fedora, I tracked down Keith Stracham who produced Merry Christmas Santa Claus (You’re A Lovely Guy) and asked for any memories he had. “[Merry Christmas Santa Claus] was recorded at CTS studios in Wembley”, Stracham recalled in an email to me. “I have a memory that Matt Frewer wanted to do it as himself rather than having his voice treated so as to be Max Headroom but that was never going to happen. It was the only time I worked on Max Headroom and Matt was very easy to work with. I remember that I asked Guy Barker to play piccolo trumpet on the track. Guy went on to be a famous jazz trumpeter running his own orchestra.” 

My radio station copy of Max Headroom’s Christmas single. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Lest you think this was Stracham’s sole contribution to music, he’s a renowned TV and theater director, producer, arranger, and composer. He composed the theme music to the popular TV game show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, which was heard many more times over than Merry Christmas Santa Claus. He also wrote Mistletoe and Wine which became a #1 hit in the UK for Cliff Richard.

Merry ChristMax

Alas, Merry Christmas Santa Claus never made the music charts and Headroom disappeared about as quickly as he appeared. Out of curiosity, I went on Chrysalis Record’s website, the record company that released the song, and input “Max Headroom” into the search bar. There were no results. That speaks volumes. Headroom is as memorable today as the 8-bit Commodore 64 computer that was around during the same time period.

Max Reboot

That said, Wikipedia and other sites like syfy.com report that the AMC Network is working on a new Max Headroom TV series presumably for next year. I contacted AMC several times to confirm. After several weeks of silence, my query was escalated to management, but in the end, no one ever responded. I reached out to AMC’s PR Department but they also failed to respond. I queried the company that owns the rights to the Max Headroom character but they also didn’t answer my question. If a new Max Headroom series is indeed in the works, none of the stakeholders seem very interested in promoting it.

Some would say Frewer’s computerized alter ego was ahead of its time. Others would say it was a very strange creation. Headroom’s lone Christmas song is much more the latter than the former. Have a strange C-C-C-C-Christmas, Max, in whatever universe you reside.


Return here next week for the next installment in my “Have A Strange Christmas” series!

Did you miss last week’s strange Christmas record?

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Patreon members can read my exclusive interview with makeup designer John Humphreys and see more behind the scenes Max Headroom photos.


Trivia: Max Headroom’s name came from the last thing Frewer’s TV character saw just before a motorcycle accident that put him in a coma. It was a sign above a parking garage that read “MAX. HEADROOM: 2.3 M”.

Trivia (from Wikipedia): “On the night of November 22, 1987, the television signals of two stations in Chicago, Illinois, were hijacked, briefly sending a pirate broadcast of an unidentified person wearing a Max Headroom mask and costume to thousands of home viewers…A criminal investigation conducted by the Federal Communications Commission in the immediate aftermath of the intrusion could not find the people responsible, and despite many unofficial inquiries and much speculation over the ensuing decades, the culprits have yet to be positively identified.”

Trivia: “Paranoimia” was a song by pop group Art Of Noise that featured the voice of Max Headroom. The single reached #14 on “Billboard’s” Dance chart in 1986.

Have A Strange Christmas: “It’s A Waffle House Christmas”

This is the second installment in my “Have A Strange Christmas” series where I highlight a different strange Christmas record every week through the end of December.

Image from needsrowjerry.bandcamp.com/album/waffle-house-jukebox-favorites-vol-1

Just about everyone has heard of Waffle House if not eaten at one, or passed their iconic school bus-colored signs. What a lot of people don’t know is that they used to regularly record Waffle House related songs and include them in the jukeboxes in their restaurants for their patrons to enjoy while chowing down. Some of those songs include There Are Raisins in My Toast, 844,739 Ways to Eat a Hamburger, Waffle Do Wop, and I’m Going Back to The Waffle House. These were not short commercial jingles but full length, professionally recorded songs. Originally, the songs were shipped to the establishments on 45 RPM records under the Waffle Records label to be loaded into the jukeboxes alongside regular music. Jukeboxes are still in each restaurant today but they’ve all gone digital. The records weren’t sold to the public, but in 1999, the chain released their first CD, Waffle House Jukebox Favorites Volume 1, whichcollected many of these musical culinary classics. The 10 track CD has been out of print for over 20 years, but you can download the complete digital album from Bandcamp.com for a mere $1,000!

Waffle Records

845,000 ways to eat a hamburger.

Believe it or not, there’s an actual Waffle Records and they recognize the top Waffle songs played in their restaurants’ jukeboxes with their annual “Waffle House Tunies”. This year’s winner will be announced on their Instagram page in mid-December.  

According to Kelly Thrasher Bruner from WH’s Marketing and Communications Department, there are no new Waffle House recordings planned but they hope to be soliciting new songs soon. Their jukeboxes getting updated with new songs via the Internet.

Bacon Spirits Bright

In 2001, Waffle House released a Christmas CD called It’s A Waffle House Christmas. Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia, best known for their 1982 hit Pac Man Fever, Waffle-ized numerous Christmas songs for this 16-track title. There are several tracks credited to “The Waffle House Carolers”, whoever they are, but that’s just the syrup on the waffles. Some of the other songs include a Frankie Valley-like version of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town performed by “The Four Seasonings”, a humorous Elvis inspired ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas reading, and Heading Home For The Holidays done in distinct Dolly Parton style by Mary Welch Rogers, the wife of one of Waffle House’s co-founders. Rogers also lends her vocal talents to Heading Home for The Holidays.

Rogers didn’t get to sing just because, at the time, she was the wife of one of the co-founders, although that didn’t hurt. She’s a professional singer who recorded songs with 20th Century Fox Records in the late 1970’s, plus, she was the one who came up with the Waffle House song idea in the first place back in 1984. I emailed Rogers, now 73, asking her about It’s A Waffle House Christmas, but she declined to comment beyond, “I enjoyed recording and writing some of the WH songs”.

Mistletoe And Maple Syrup

Without a doubt, the standout track on the CD is The Waffle House 12 Days of Christmas: “At the Waffle House on Christmas, my true love gave to me, 6 different omelets, 5 pork chops grilled, 4 eggs a frying, 3 sausage patties, 2 waffles baking, and a bowl of delicious, hot grits.” I figured I’d spare you the lethal caloric intake from the last 6 dishes. Five of the songs are repeated at the end in instrumental form for Christmas karaoke purposes. Apparently, karaoke is a thing for some families on Christmas day. Mercifully, that was never a tradition I was exposed to.  

Christmas, The Waffle House Way

These Christmas songs are finger lickin’ good.

If you’re of that age then you know big name companies releasing Christmas albums was hardly unusual back in the day. Goodyear, JC Penny, A & P Supermarkets, BF Goodrich, Avon, True Value, Firestone, and even KFC put out their own Christmas records every year and they were very popular. Those albums, however, were compilations of standard holiday hits. In the case of It’s A Waffle House Christmas, some of the songs were originals and most of those that weren’t had their lyrics “modified” to promote the brand. As to why Waffle House would put out their own Christmas CD in the first place, they explain on the CD’s rear insert: “At Waffle House, the holidays are always a favorite time for good cheer and happiness. This year we decided to capture that same spirit in a special CD collection of holiday songs, all served up with fun and tradition the Waffle House way.”

Waffle Heads

My “It’s A Waffle House Christmas” CD signed by Jerry Buckner. Phpt by Peter Skiera.

Like the Jukebox Favorites CD, It’s a Waffle House Christmas was only sold on the chain’s website and is hard to come by. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I spent many, many (many) months scouring eBay to score my original copy. I finally ended up buying one from Jerry Buckner himself, the guy who wrote or co-wrote many of the WH songs. He even signed the cover for me.

If you need your Waffle House Christmas fix and can’t find the CD, don’t fret. You can listen to the entire album for free on YouTube (link provided at the end of my article) like 2,200 other Waffle Heads (I just made that name up) have. Some of the comments people left on YouTube about the Waffle House Christmas CD include, “If your party’s not this lit, don’t bother inviting me”, and “could this be the worst Christmas album ever?”

The House That Waffles Built

Photo from https://www.facebook.com/WaffleHouse/photos

Waffle House started in 1955, 68 years ago, in Avondale Estates, Georgia by two neighbors who wanted a 24-hour, 7 days a week, sit down restaurant, with an emphasis on treating customers like family. It’s now in 25 (mostly mid-west and southern) states with almost 2,000 restaurants, employing over 40,000 people. As their website states, “Waffle House was founded on the principals of providing the friendliest service in town…” Co-founder Joe Rogers, a former short order cook himself, said, “We aren’t in the food business. We’re in the people business.” Incidentally, he named his restaurant “Waffle House” because the waffles were the most popular item on the menu. Waffle House says their restaurants collectively serve over 300,000 waffles every day. Now that’s a lot of waffles.

Waffles And Chow Mein

The very first Waffle House. Note the sign in the window on the right: “T Bone Steak Specialist”.  Photo from https://www.facebook.com/WaffleHouse/photos

Waffle House as a company bought back the very first Waffle House restaurant at 2719 East College Avenue in Avondale Estates, Georgia which changed hands back in 1973. The two founders, Joe Rogers and Tom Forkner, had built the original property for $14,000 but the company hasn’t disclosed what it paid to buy back the building which had been a Chinese restaurant for the previous 20 years. In 2008 it was restored to its original 1955 stainless steel glory and turned into a museum.

The small section of the eatery has been outfitted with a period counter, 13 stools, cooking equipment, lighting, condiments, wood paneling, and even plates and mugs. There’s also a small memorabilia room featuring old menus, uniforms, hats, t-shirts, and lots of slogan buttons. For the perfect photo souvenir, there’s an opportunity to stick your head into holes of life size cut outs of vintage servers. And yes, there’s a working jukebox so you can play your favorite Waffle House song. If you’re thinking of visiting it’s by appointment only and you can’t eat there, but admission is free.

“Could this be the worst Christmas album ever?”

Image courtesy of Waffle House.

Christmas is a special time to spend with family and friends, to exchange gifts, to hope for peace in the world, and to play strange holiday music. If you think It’s A Waffle House Christmas is odd, come back here every week for the next 3 weeks and be amazed at even stranger holiday recordings. Have A Strange Christmas.

Trivia: When the first Waffle House opened in 1955, per their menu, a bottle of Coca-Cola cost 10 cents, hashbrowns cost 20 cents, waffles were 40 cents each as were eggs, 0.65 for a cheese omelet, a hamburger cost 30 cents, filet mignon was a whopping $1.50, and slice of fresh pie set you back 20 cents.

Trivia: Waffle House claims there are 1.5 million possible hashbrown combinations including cheese, onions, and sausage gravy.

Trivia (from WaffleHouse.com):In 2015, Waffle House proudly served its billionth waffle.”

Trivia (from Wikipedia): “The founders of the Waffle House brand died in 2017 within less than two months of each other: Joe Rogers Sr. died on March 3 and Tom Forkner on April 26.”

Trivia (from Wikipedia): “In the 1960s, S. Truett Cathy, the owner of a local diner called the Dwarf House, contracted with Waffle House to sell his proprietary chicken sandwich, the Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich. However, the Chick-fil-A sandwich quickly overtook Waffle House’s own items in sales and Waffle House ended the deal, prompting Cathy to spin off Chick-fil-A into its own chain.”

Trivia: August 24th is National Waffle Day.

Trivia: In 2018, legendary country music star Bill Anderson released the single, “Waffle House Christmas”, after having spent a Thanksgiving at a Waffle House.

Every word in every one of my articles is 100% written by me. I never use ChatGPT or any AI technology. Ever.

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Jerry Buckner wrote or co-wrote many of the Waffle House songs including The Waffle House 12 Days of Christmas and scored a hit with Pac-Man Fever. Read my 10 Q&As with Buckner only on Patreon along with more interesting details about Waffle House.

Waffle House Christmas CD

Bill Anderson Waffle House Christmas

Did you miss last week’s strange Christmas Album?

See more Waffle House pics on my Instagram page.

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