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Christmas ClassicsRhino Records' Christmas Classics (1989) is something of a companion to the label's stellar CD Best Of Cool Yule. Arguably, Christmas Classics is Rhino's first-ever attempt to compile the most popular Christmas songs, rather than just the coolest ones.... Rhino being Rhino (that is, very eclectic), Christmas Classics lacks a certain focus that is usually necessary for compilations of this sort to become truly great. Attempting to cover too much ground, it is randomly organized and generically packaged. The sheer brilliance of its selections, however, overcomes Rhino's scattershot programming, making Christmas Classics as close to an "instant record collection" as has ever been released in the arena of Christmas rock. Surveying a period (1954-1968) roughly synonymous with genre's golden era, Christmas Classics is the rare disc that includes nearly all the widely-accepted classics and tosses in a few songs that are still hard-to-find on CD more than ten years later.

Perfect? In a word, no. Why, for instance, spotlight the tepid Supremes instead of the mighty Temptations? Does the CD's one country song (by Johnny Horton) really serve any purpose? And, including Aretha Franklin's "Winter Wonderland" is tantamount to false advertising - it was recorded long before she reached her soulful potential (though fun, all the same). But this is whistling while the North Pole rocks - Christmas Classics is pretty great, and it's a fine place to begin (or finish, if you must) collecting rock and rhythm & blues Christmas music. [top of page]

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  • Jingle Bell Rock (Bobby Helms, 1957) star Top 100 Song [close]
    Jingle Bell RockThough he remained active through the 1980's, Bobby Helms never had a lot to show for his career besides "Jingle Bell Rock," his rockabilly-flavored smash from 1957. A few months earlier he had launched his career, promisingly enough, with "Fraulein" and "My Special Angel," both of which made the Top 10. Then, "Jingle Bell Rock" zoomed to #6 and charted again four of the next five years. Oddly, Helms never graced the pop charts again, though he remained a fixture on the country circuit. "Jingle Bell Rock," however, became a musical archetype, one which shows up frequently on Christmas albums (such as Rockin' Little Christmas), either with Helms' snappy Decca original, his remakes for Kapp (1965) or Little Darlin' (1967), or in one of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of cover versions. (The original Decca 45-rpm record, by the way, featured Helm's wonderfully goofy "Captain Santa Claus And His Reindeer Space Patrol" on the flipside. Both songs are included on Bear Family's Fraulein: The Classic Years 2-CD set.)
  • Merry Christmas, Baby (Charles Brown, 1956)
  • Monster's Holiday (Bobby "Boris" Pickett, 1962)
  • A Not So Merry Christmas (Bobby Vee)
  • Please Come Home for Christmas (Charles Brown, 1962)
  • Pretty Paper (Roy Orbison, 1963)
  • Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree (Brenda Lee, 1958)
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Cadillacs)
  • Run Rudolph Run (Chuck Berry, 1958)
  • Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto (James Brown)
  • Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (Supremes, 1965)
  • Santa Claus Is Watching You (Ray Stevens, 1962)
  • Sleigh Ride (Ventures, 1965)
  • Someday at Christmas (Stevie Wonder, 1967)
  • They Shined up Rudolph's Nose (Johnny Horton, 1959)
  • Twistin' Bells (Santo & Johnny, 1960)
  • White Christmas (Drifters, 1954)
  • Winter Wonderland (Aretha Franklin, 1964)

Further ListeningFurther Listening

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