Some of my co-workers and I have been sharing some of our favorite music, rating them, reviewing them and sharing those reviews with one another. I thought I’d share my thoughts on their suggestions (and their thoughts on mine) with you here.
A few weeks ago, there were two ideas of how to pick what to share. At the time, we decided to go with something from Rolling Stone‘s
500 100 Greatest Albums of All Time up to May 2012. This week I decided to share something from the other option: an album I think is overrated. Frankly, I’m glad I put this off. I needed a couple of days to think of an album I like, but was over-hyped. At least, when it was first released. But before I tell you what album I thought of, let me tell you what I thought about my coworkers’ suggestions.
Except Tim, who has been sick for days and days decided he didn’t want to go with his own suggestion of something over-rated, and went with his own theme. And then my brother followed Tim’s theme, so now my album is out-of-place.
Apparently the holiday with the most music is coming up.
Anyway, here’s how I rate things. If I give something one star, it means I don’t think it qualifies as music. Five stars mean I wish I wrote the thing. Most music for me is a three.
Twisted Sister – A Twisted Christmas (2006)
My brother shared this with me years and years ago. Tim admitted right up front that the album is cheesy and tacky. Here’s one of my big beefs with Christmas music in general: it’s all just novelty music. Most of it isn’t great, musically. It’s the words and emotion that are most important. I like the song, but I don’t need more than 700 different versions of Silent Night. In a study by Time magazine, that carol has had 733 copyrighted recordings since 1978. Those are the copyrighted recordings. How many people have done their own arrangements, but not recorded them? Or not copyrighted (copy written?) them? Considering it is nearly twice as dominant as Joy to the World (a distant second with 391 recordings to its name)(and not that Joy to the World, either), I’ll bet there have been more than 1,000 different versions. Everybody and their cat has done their own unoriginal (or too original) version.
Do I need a hard rock version of any of these songs? No. I do not. Are they still enjoyable? Yeah, I guess so.
Except even when I’m in the mood to listen to Christmas music, I don’t want to listen to I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, The Christmas Song (the one that starts with “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”)(sorry Bing), or any version of The Twelve Days of Christmas. Let’s move right past the fact that the twelve days of Christmas are the days between Christmas and Epiphany (when the magi/wise men/kings actually got to where Jesus was)(and let’s move past the fact that the only reason we refer to them as the three wise men/kings is because there were three gifts mentioned)(and, while I’m at it, let’s move past the fact that–according to Harvard University–the “choice of [December 25] was, of course, wholly arbitrary, for neither the exact date nor the period of the year at which the birth of Christ occurred is known.”), musically The Twelve Days of Christmas is a horrible song because it just goes on and on and on and on. I understand you want to establish and then repeat a familiar hook in a song so listeners have something to expect, but this song goes so far as to sound like a broken record. If once they get to five, they went straight to 12 it might be better. But Twisted Sister didn’t. Too bad for them. And us.
While I’m on things that I didn’t like: the bass solo at the end of Silver Bells which continued on into the beginning of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus? Maybe I’m just getting old, but it got lost in the mix. I could only hear a muddy … something beneath the rhythm guitar and drums. Though, the solo in the middle of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus was flippin’ sweet.
My favorite parts of Let it Snow and I’ll Be Home for Christmas were anytime Dee Snider wasn’t singing. Guest vocalist Lita Ford made me wish she was Twisted Sister’s lead singer instead of Dee. She gets (a little) creative with the melodies, so while it’s still the same old melody, it doesn’t feel quite as re-hashed. Dee did it in White Christmas, which was probably his best vocal performance of the album and better than most others musically. But there’s a passing chord in I’ll Be Home for Christmas that they over used during the verse, but it’s still sweet. Especially with the guitar solo over it. Either the one during the intro or in the middle.
Back to the bass, the best thing about Deck the Halls was not the gang vocals on the “fa la la la la la la la la”s. It was the God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen quote in the middle. The heavy feel really worked, even if the bass was again muddy and buried in the mix. At least it was a melody I knew I was supposed to recognize, which made it easier to pick out.
Oh Come All Ye Faithful is easily my favorite song on this album. The high energy of the band does this song justice, and they quote their own We’re Not Gonna Take It (because apparently the carol was an influence on the band’s most famous single) and (for reasons unknown to me) Hava Nagila.
I think this is first time I have thought critically about this album. I expected it to be a 2/5, but while it doesn’t feel like a Christmas album at all, it’s better than my memory gave it justice. 3/5
Halford – Halford III: Winter Songs (2009)
Rob Halford, of Judas Priest fame, released this masterpiece of holiday music in 2009. It features a collection of traditional holiday favorites, plus some tracks he wrote for the holidays.
I couldn’t find this album on Spotify, but it is on YouTube. So in case you want to listen along while you read, here you go:
Most of the traditional winter songs are not surprising, considering the artist. I haven’t listened to much Judas Priest. In fact, I think I can only name one without looking them up. But I don’t really love Halford’s voice. It’s kinda … nasally? Whiney? I mean, a lot of ’80s rockers have that kind of vocal style, but I don’t know that it really fits the holiday classics.
The best of these five is probably O Holy Night. The song most true-to-the-original was probably Come All Ye Faithful, but I still liked O Holy Night better. I like almost any version of O Holy Night more than Come All Ye Faithful. Anyway, except for a passing riff or something, together they’re rather unremarkable.
But I was really surprised by the newer songs. I’d say “original material,” but he also covers Sara Bareilles’ & Ingrid Michaelson’s Winter Song. And I think it’s odd that he named his album after that song instead of one of his own. Musically, they’re great hard rock. And lyrically, they’re pretty good, too. Nothing incredibly clever or poetic, but Light of the World felt very personal. I think it felt the most Christmas-y of the new material (and the first track the least Christmas-y; I’m sure I couldn’t listen to a whole album like Get into the Spirit). I’d add the title track and the three original songs in the middle to a Christmas playlist. As a whole, I’d give this album 7/10 – but I’ve been rating things out of 5 and I only do whole numbers, so it would end up being 3/5 in my iTunes.
Christopher Lee – A Heavy Metal Christmas (2012), A Heavy Metal Christmas Too (2013) and Darkest Carols, Faithful Sing (2014)
Yes, that Sir Christopher Lee. The WWII veteran (and the only actor involved in The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit to have actually met with J.R.R. Tolkien) decided to release his first heavy metal Christmas album.
In December 2012, he released an EP called A Heavy Metal Christmas.
And it’s exactly what you’d expect from Saruman: big, heavy, dark and full of face-melting.
I mean, despite the driving guitars totally killing the peaceful mood in Silent Night, his vocals are rather good for a 90-year-old. And except right around the start of the last verse, the guitars were doing some really cool stuff. But that 20 seconds had just a little too much going on all at once.
He released a second in December 2013, entitled A Heavy Metal Christmas Too. And it’s better than the first. The whole thing is cleaner, but no less heavy. I really liked his cover of Sinatra’s My Way, which I didn’t expect. It’s not Christmas-y at all. And maybe that’s part of it. But it feels personal, even through the squealing guitars.
He said, “It’s light-hearted, joyful and fun… At my age, the most important thing for me is to keep active by doing things that I truly enjoy. I do not know how long I am going to be around, so every day is a celebration and I want to share it with my fans.”
I hear that in My Way. Well done sir.
With the song Jingle Hell, Lee entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart at #22, thus becoming the oldest living performer to ever enter the music charts, at 91 years and 6 months. After media attention, the song rose to #18.
He released a third Christmas single just this year called Darkest Carols, Faithful Sing. And it’s the best yet. The guitars pay homage to the carol he used as inspiration, but also do enough cool new hard rock licks that it doesn’t feel like he’s just doing a cover. And if you get a chance to listen to the “Extended Vocals” version, they add more backing vocals, which really helps fill the whole sound out.
Stop paying attention to the fact that they’re supposed to be Christmas songs, and it’s all pretty sweet – even if it does suffer from too much going on from time to time. Like Lee and his guest artist not singing the same words on the chorus of Jingle Hell. But the Christmas tunes are still worthy of at least a 3/5. My Way would get a 4/5 by itself, but I’m just rating these five tracks together.
The Twisted Sister album feels like a jump-on-the-band-wagon money-grab. The Rob Halford album feels like an honest stab by a metal artist at doing a holiday album. And these Christopher Lee tracks are very much an old guy having fun confounding people’s expectations of him.
Jack Johnson – Brushfire Fairytales (2001)
I didn’t hear about Jack Johnson’s debut album until about three years later when there started to be news about his third album. And then for the next two or three years, I felt like I heard more about him than any other artist. He was everywhere. And I was sick of it. I had heard some of his stuff, and it was rather simple, generic acoustic rock.
It wasn’t until years later, after he had left the limelight, that I came to appreciate the chill, almost tropical feel he brought to his music. It’s stoner surf music. Not 1960’s high-energy surf rock that’s meant to remind you of the thrill of the sport, but the music that captures the whole responsibility-ditching, beach bum experience.
You know what I’m talking about.
Sure it’s simple, but I’d rather have pure simplicity than the over complication I tend to get from a lot of jazz, harder rock, and metal bands. Not all of them and not usually the great ones, but enough of them that I feel okay making a generalization.
I don’t know, maybe we hadn’t heard music like this before 2001. But that seems hard to believe, which is why I thought he was overrated ten years ago. But he’s got a decent voice, catchy songs, and a groove.
There have even been a couple of songs I’ve written where I’ve found myself thinking they were very Jack Johnson-esque.
Here’s what my coworkers thought:
“I really liked this album. There is something just utterly soothing about his guitar and voice blending together. I didn’t like it enough to buy it, which would have pushed it to four stars. While an easy listen, that had a lot of soul, it just didn’t make me want to listen to it again and again. It is like those lazy summer evenings, something you enjoy in the moment, but don’t really think about trying to recreate. Overall though, really enjoyable.” 3/5 -Tim