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Ultra-Lounge Christmas CocktailsMy theory about the lounge music craze of the mid-90's is that it arose because so many consumers were put off by the unrelenting negativity and noise of alternative rock - then the ruling format on radio and MTV. Normal folks wanted to get excited about (not disgusted by) things they were hearing on the radio, and now they could - even if the songs were decades old! Christmas Cocktails (1996), part of Capitol Records' voluminous Ultra-Lounge series, rode this natural desire to Christmas valhalla when they were trumpeted on National Public Radio, the New York Times, and beyond.

Drawn exclusively from Capitol Records' deep, deep vaults - Frank, Dino, Nat King Cole, Miss Peggy Lee, and so much more - these discs overlap tremendously with another series upon which I heap praise (read more). But, Christmas Cocktails and its like-minded 1997 sequel will be much easier to find in your local record emporium. These discs are, in a word, wonderful, deftly spotlighting the swinging, exotic side of easy listening music - not the more pervasive boring side. Nicely annotated, too. My only complaint is that several tracks are shoehorned into unnatural-sounding medleys. After a few martinis, however, you won't notice the difference... I didn't.


Christmas CocktailsReally, it's quite impossible to summarize how marvelous this music is, let alone how completely lost this era is. Song's like Kay Starr's "The Man With The Bag" or Billy May's "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo" speak simultaneously of such innocence and such carnality - it was as though America was going through adolescence, almost (but not quite) ready to enter adulthood with its attendant cynicism and ennui. The Christmas Cocktails series paints a vivid picture of those post-war, pre-Beatles days, albeit one viewed through the red-and-green filter of the holidays.

Late in 2004, Capitol released Ultimate Christmas Cocktails, a boxed set containing the first two volumes plus a previously unavailable third installment. In a certain way, it was a stone rip-off; the "box" is really just a slipcase - nothing new, forcing collectors to buy the first two volumes again in order to obtain the third (which, adding insult to injury, was subsequently released separately in 2005). Plus, the newly-minted third disc fails to maintain the standards established by the first two - fewer tracks, skimpier packaging. Nevertheless, the music is pure swank, highlighted by a heretofore unreleased Julie London track that borders on pornographic!

Unless you already own the first two discs - or even if you do - Ultimate Christmas Cocktails is an easy, affordable way to tiptoe through the Yule lounge. Even cheaper is Ultra-Lounge: The Best Of Christmas Cocktails (2007), a concise sampler for those who prefer not to imbibe too deeply.... Finally, in a true sign of the times, Capitol eventually released Ultra-Lounge Christmas Cocktails, Volume 4 (2012) as a download-only album ranging from Jan Garber's "Here Comes Santa Claus" (1949) to Bill Haley's "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" (1968). It included several relatively rare tracks - though nothing too revelatory - and sounded quite nice (to the extent that condensed media can), but it came with no documentation whatsoever. Because, really, who cares about historical context and cultural legacy? Certainly not people who buy vintage Christmas music. Pshaw! [top of page]

Albums Albums


  • - Christmas Cocktails (1996)
  • Cha-Cha All The Way (Capitol Studio Orchestra, 1958)
  • Christmas Is (Lou Rawls, 1967)
  • Christmas Kisses (Ray Anthony, 1961)
  • The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) (Nat King Cole, 1961)
  • The Man With The Bag (Kay Starr, 1950) star Top 100 Song [close]
    This song swings like crazy, completely blurring the lines between jazz, rhythm & blues, and easy listening. Between the blaring horns, Starr's wide-eyed delivery, and the exceedingly clever, morally ambivilant wordplay ("Old Mr. Kringle is soon gonna jingle the bells that'll tingle all your troubles away!"), you'll soon find yourself looking skyward, anticipating bounty from the North Pole. For awhile, "The Man With The Bag" was nearly forgotten. The 90's lounge revival, however, prompted its appearance on several collections, including Let It Snow! Cuddly Christmas Classics from Capitol, Ultra-Lounge Christmas Cocktails, and Swinging Christmas (one of my Top 20 Albums), while Brian Setzer wisely covered the tune on his excellent Boogie Woogie Christmas CD.
  • Holiday On Skis (Caiola & Ortolani, 1967)
  • I'd Like You For Christmas (Julie London, 1957)
  • I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (Dean Martin, 1959)
  • The Nutcracker Suite (Les Brown & His Band Of Renown, 1957)
  • Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo (Billy May, 1953)
  • What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? (Nancy Wilson, 1963)
  • Winter Wonderland (Peggy Lee, 1965)
  • - Christmas Cocktails, Part 2 (1997)
  • All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth) (Nat King Cole, 1949)
  • Auld Lang Syne (Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians, 1956)
  • Baby It's Cold Outside (Dean Martin, 1959)
  • Christmas Island (Bob Atcher & The Dinning Sisters, 1950)
  • Exotic Night (Martin Denny, 1967)
  • Frosty The Snowman (The Ventures, 1965)
  • Happy Holiday (Peggy Lee, 1965)
  • Merry Christmas Baby (Lou Rawls, 1967)
  • The Christmas Waltz (Nancy Wilson, 1968)
  • The Merriest (June Christy, 1961)
  • Warm December (Julie London, 1956)
  • - Christmas Cocktails, Part 3 (2005)
  • Baby, It's Cold Outside (Sammy Davis Jr. and Carmen McRae, 1958)
  • Buon Natale (Means Merry Christmas To You) (Nat King Cole, 1959)
  • Do You Believe In Santa Claus? (Billy May, circa 1958)
  • Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Lou Rawls, 1967)
  • I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (Julie London, 1964)
  • Jingle Bells (Johnny Mercer, 1947)
  • A Marshmallow World (Ray Anthony, 1950)
  • Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (Lena Horne, 1966)
  • Sorry To See You Go (June Christy, 1961)
  • That's What I Want For Christmas (Nancy Wilson, 1963)
  • - Christmas Cocktails, Volume 4 (2012)
  • Blue Christmas (Bob Atcher & The Dinning Sisters, 1950)
  • Brazilian Sleigh Bells (Ferrante & Teicher, 1962)
  • Christmas Journey (Wayne Newton, 1966)
  • Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) (Jan Garber & His Orchestra, 1949)
  • Jungle Bells (Dingo-Dongo-Day) (Les Paul & Mary Ford, 1953)
  • Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree (Bill Haley & His Comets, 1968)
  • 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (Fred Waring & The Pennsylvanians, 1961)
  • Winter Weather (Joe Williams & Harry 'Sweets' Edison, 1961)

Further ListeningFurther Listening

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