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a doubt, A
Christmas Present... And Past (Columbia, 1967) is weird record
- one of the strangest, most off-the-cuff Christmas albums I've ever
heard, particularly from the days before alternative rock codified
irony as a rock stance. It also represents a brave choice for any band
striving to be hip in the 1960's - and Paul
Revere & The Raiders were trying really hard. Finding themselves
in a post-Sgt.
Pepper world, the Raiders were struggling to distance themselves
from the prefab image promulgated by their colorful Revolutionary War
costumes and near-daily appearances on the TV show Where
The Action Is. Never mind that the Raiders were one of the best garage
bands ever, cranking out a long string of brilliant singles like "Kicks,"
"Hungry," and "Just Like Me." The popular wisdom now
dictated that "real" musicians
played serious music - not catchy singles - and they didn't wear cute
little outfits. And, they didn't make Christmas records.
The Raiders confounded these expectations by waxing a Christmas record
that was sincere, whimsical, topical, and ironic - often within a single
song. The title of A
Christmas Present... And Past derives from the fact nine of the ten
tracks are original compositions written by pony-tailed lead singer Mark
Lindsay and producer Terry Melcher (son of Doris Day, friend of Charles
Manson). Those tracks represent the "present," if you will, with a truly
bizarre version of "Jingle
Bells" accounting for the "past."
So, Revere and company get extra points for originality - many Christmas albums
cannot boast any original material - but those are nine very odd little
songs, full of inside jokes, political inferences, and leftist screed. (And, I mean
'little' quite literally - the whole thing runs less than half-an-hour.) A
Christmas Present... And Past sounds as if the band got baked one sunny California
afternoon, then wrote and recorded the whole thing in one sitting - which isn't
altogether out of the question. As a result, collectively the tracks comprise a fun,
twisted take on the Christmas season, but not many of them stand up on their own.
"Wear A Smile At Christmas" is nice, tuneful ditty, complete with a cameo
appearance by President Lyndon Johnson (ahem). But, it runs a mere minute-and-a-half
after you discount the "Salvation Army Street Band" skit that introduces
it. That wheezy brass band, in fact, introduces most of the tracks, including "Rain,
Sleet, Snow" (a psychedelic freak-out), "Peace" (a formless, orchestral
instrumental), and "Brotherly Love" (a painfully self-righteous ballad
adapted from "Greensleeves"). All in all, A
Christmas Present... And Past is, in the words of its closing number, "A
Heavy Christmas Message."
Consequently, my favorite selection is "Dear Mr. Claus," a bizarre love
song wholly unrelated to the Raiders' overall concept. Lindsay breathlessly composes
a letter to the titular saint, asking for a little assistance in the romance department. "It's
getting very lonely here at home," explains Mark, "I'm tired of cleaning
all the pots and pans and dirty dishes." He breaks into a vaudevillian song
you bring me a real live doll?" The impression I am left with, however, is
more than a little perverse (see how), leading
me to name it in Horny
Holidays (one of my Christmas Lists)
as one of the sexiest Christmas records ever.
Christmas Present... And Past reached #10 on Billboard's Christmas chart, but
it failed to enter the Top 100 album chart or generate a hit single (no surprise
there). And, if Christmas
Present was designed to reinvent the band's image as counterculture pranksters,
it failed in that mission, too. It did, however, piss off their employers. According
to Mark Lindsay's website, an executive at Columbia told Lindsay and Melcher heatedly, "You've really
missed the boat on this one!"
All the same, A
Christmas Present... And Past remains a singular (if modest and perplexing)
achievement. But, it was all for naught, as the Raiders' career entered a steep
decline broken only by their unexpected 1971 #1 hit, "Indian Reservation." By
then, Mark Lindsay had departed, and he scored a handful of hits (including the
Top 10 "Arizona," 1969) before fading from view. Eventually, the Paul Revere and
the band became a fixture on the the oldies circuit (visit
Their legacy remains, however. Check out Greatest
Hits (1967), The
Legend Of Paul Revere (1990), or Kicks!
The Anthology 1963-1972 (2005), or pick up their entire LP catalog, brilliantly
remastered for compact disc (with bonus tracks) by Sundazed
Christmas Present...And Past was, of course, originally issued on LP by Columbia
- just like all the Raiders' other records. Parent company Sony reissued
the album on CD in 1989, then quickly deleted it. In 1996, a little label named Alala
Music took a stab at it. In 2005, A
Christmas Present...And Past was reissued yet again (with no bonus extras)
Records - not sadly, by Sundazed. Ultimately, Sony made it available as an MP3 download in 2013. [top of page]
- Dear Mr. Claus
Wear A Smile at Christmas
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