Artists put stamp on clas­sics

Hol­i­day mu­sic

Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN360 DAILY - D Kathy Willens/as­so­ci­ated PRESS file photo Con­tact Peter Mongillo at 445-3696.

the song was ffrst made fa­mous by Bing Crosby, and his ver­sion re­mains among the most pop­u­lar. This year, Blake Shel­ton, Rod Ste­wart, CeeLo and John Tra­volta and Olivia New­ton-John all in­clude the song on their Christ­mas al­bums. See also “Baby, It’s Cold Out­side” and “Silent Night,” which you’ll hear at least three times, prob­a­bly more, if you start dig­ging through the new pile.

Shel­ton and CeeLo main­tain high prof­fles as hosts of NBC’s “The Voice”; it’s fft­ting then that they both put out Christ­mas records — hol­i­day mu­sic is like one gi­ant ver­sion of a re­al­ity tele­vi­sion singing con­test, where rock stars, croon­ers, coun­try singers, ac­tors, opera singers and just about any­one else who wants to pull from the same pool of ma­te­rial, put their stamps on songs we’ve heard thou­sands of times.

Some­times, artists at­tempt to break out of that pool with their own ma­te­rial. Not that many make it into the yearly ra­dio/re­tail playlist.

Mariah Carey cre­ated an un­de­ni­able Christ­mas hit with her 1994 song “All I Want For Christ­mas is You.” Though she broke records and be­came one of the best-sell­ing artists of all time with goldand plat­inum-sell­ing al­bums of non-hol­i­day ma­te­rial, “All I Want for Christ­mas Is You,” one of the high­est-sell­ing Christ­mas songs ever, is guar­an­teed to be heard, fre­quently and widely, for one month (or now maybe from Oct. 31 to Jan. 1) of ev­ery year. The same can’t be said of her other hits.

That song, which be­gins with epic bells and strings be­fore launch­ing into a full-on R&B Christ­mas party, with bigvoiced backup singers and quick-ffre pi­ano, is a close cousin to Dar­lene Love’s “Christ­mas (Baby Please Come Home),” which ap­pears on the 1963 Phil Spec­tor com­pi­la­tion “A Christ­mas Gift For You from Philles Records” (it would later be re-re­leased un­der dif­fer­ent names).

That al­bum rep­re­sented a big off­shoot from the Irv­ing Berlin/ Bing Crosby fam­ily tree, pro­duc­ing a new style of Christ­mas songs that re­main in heavy ro­ta­tion in stores, fflms and com­mer­cials.

Many were sung by Love (“Marsh­mal­low World,” “White Christ­mas,” “Win­ter Won­der­land”) and the Ronettes (“Frosty the Snow­man,” “Sleigh Ride,” “I Saw Mommy Kiss­ing Santa Claus”) and in­flu­enced later ver­sions by Bruce Spring­steen and U2, among oth­ers.

This year, Green in­cludes a ver­sion of “White Christ­mas” on his al­bum, “CeeLo’s Magic Moment,” that nods to Spec­tor with a big bass note in­tro and a hefty cho­rus of ooh-ooh-oohoohs (the record was co­pro­duced by Bruno Mars team the Smeez­ing­tons, who also han­dled CeeLo’s hit “For­get You”). Coun­try act Lady An­te­bel­lum make a sim­i­lar move with “Christ­mas (Baby Please Come Home),” with Spec­tor-y strings and horns danc­ing with a honky-tonk swing. Not so much, how­ever, on “All I Want For Christ­mas Is You,” which gets bal­lad treat­ment.

Guests — the more un­ex­pected the bet­ter — rep­re­sent an­other of hol­i­day mu­sic’s un­ruly at­ti­tude. One of the bet­ter-known ex­am­ples of just how weird (and won­der­ful) this prac­tice can get is Bing Crosby and David Bowie’s 1977 duet “Peace on Earth/Lit­tle Drum­mer Boy,” which was recorded shortly be­fore Crosby died and in­cludes an awk­ward script where the 30-yearold Bowie asks Crosby, “you’re the one that sings, right?”

Rod Ste­wart, who sticks mostly to a non-rock, stan­dards style on his al­bum “Merry Christ­mas, Baby,” makes a strong case for hav­ing the most over-the-top ros­ter of guests this year.

This in­cludes a “vir­tual” (and kind of eerie duet) with Ella Fitzger­ald (who died in 1996) on “What Are You Do­ing New Year’s Eve?” Other, more alive guests ap­pear, in­clud­ing Michael Bublé, who re­leased his own Christ­mas al­bum last year that sat at the top of the Bill­board Top 200 list. Ste­wart and CeeLo also band to­gether, along with Trom­bone Shorty, for “Merry Christ­mas Baby.” The song ap­pears on both Ste­wart and Green’s al­bums.

In ad­di­tion to Ste­wart, CeeLo’s al­bum in­cludes guest spots from a cap­pella group Straight No Chaser, who lend their voices on a dra­matic ver­sion of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

And then there’s his Mup­pet duet, “All I Need Is Love.” De­spite some sleigh bells here and there, the song mostly stays away from hol­i­day sounds, opt­ing in­stead for a mash of the Mup­pets’ long­time vi­ral hit “Mahna Mahna” and a beat that falls some­where be­tween CeeLo’s “For­get You” and Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5.”

The Mup­pets, per­haps the ul­ti­mate Christ­mas col­lab­o­ra­tors, have been down this road for more than 30 years, in­clud­ing their 1979 John Den­ver col­lab­o­ra­tion, “A Christ­mas To­gether,” the 1992 fflm “The Mup­pet Christ­mas Carol,” and a few dif­fer­ent tele­vi­sion spe­cials.

For CeeLo, work­ing with the Mup­pets could make his Christ­mas wish come true, in­tro­duc­ing his mu­sic to an even broader group of chil­dren and adults who loved and still love Ker­mit and the gang.

Singer-song­writer Rod Ste­wart per­forms dur­ing the 80th an­nual tree light­ing cer­e­mony at Rock­e­feller Cen­ter in New York.

Mariah Carey also per­formed at this tree light­ing cer­e­mony at Rock­e­feller Cen­ter.

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