Various – Ultra Lounge – Christmas Cocktails
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A perfect martini-and-mistletoe combo, Christmas Cocktails will gaily seduce you with its bevy of nostalgic and occasionally campy holiday fare. Vocal vixens Peggy Lee, Julie London (her “I’d Like You for Christmas” will melt the ice cubes in your fridge), Kay Starr, and Nancy Wilson join forces with perennial crooners such as Lou Rawls, Dean Martin, and the immortal Nat “King” Cole, along with a handful of instrumental big-band numbers and odd, at times cheese-ball-shaped jazz organ pieces from Jimmy McGriff and the flammable Eddie Dundstedter, among others. But the essential item that makes plunking down your pelts for this very chi-chi set is none other than Billy May‘s lovably kitschy workout called “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo“. It’s a scream. The package comes complete with its own cocktail minimanual and the recipes for Hot Toddys and Hot Tom and Jerrys. Garishly retro and naughtily nostalgic, this kind of slinky Christmas gift should probably be illegal in many prudish states (Martin Keller).
Love, love, love this CD! If you’re a Christmas nut like me who listens to holiday music all year, this is for you! There were a few songs I didn’t care for, but mostly this is a great CD. I’ve always liked Latinesque big band arrangements of holiday tunes, and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo” hits the spot like no other. The powerful brass, the chugging rhythm, and those giggling marimbas all combine wonderfully. And love those slurping saxophones! My favorite part is when the whole band breaks into a slow, blaring “Jingle Bells.” (And does anyone else think the guy talking every now and then on this track sounds oddly like Manny the Uncanny? ) Peggy Lee’s breezy, unflappably cool “Winter Wonderland,” bongoes and all, is the coolest Christmas song ever. And this recording of it was the first place I heard the alternate “snowman” verse. “Christmas Trumpets” sounds like a cheesy ’70s game show theme waaay to much.
The baritone sax at the start of “Christmas Is” sets the tone for the whole song. Lou Rawls deeply soulful voice guides you on a jazzy trip, and you’ll love every step. “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town/White Christmas” I could go either way on. I’m not terribly fond of them, but some may be. I do enjoy Julie London’s sexy “I’d Like You for Christmas.” Melancholy and teasing at the same time, the way she just breathes out the words will makes you want to scream “You can have me!“. “Holiday on Skis” is a beautifully wintry piece played by guitarist Al Caiola (who can be heard on many other U-L CDs). The way the orchestra plays behind him brings a perfect mental picture of snow (especially the introduction). From the jazzy intro to the crashing close, “The Man with the Bag” is the best track on the whole CD. I don’t know what it is about it, but I just can’t stop listening to it! Now, the Hollyridge Strings…I don’t really care for their music. (They’re on other U-L volumes, too, sounding not different from here.) Their “Jingle Bells” medley will leave you wanting something less sugary. Dean Martin’s “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” is just that: warm. A pleasant recording from his own Christmas collection, it gives way to the so-so organ version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus“, which is packaged with a headache-inducing “Jingle Bell Bossa Nova“. “Christmas Kisses” is a little annoying, feeling like a Christmas single from some one-hit wonder ’50s girl group. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas“, by the Great One, Jackie Gleason, is far too depressing for a Christmas song, and jarringly brings the pace and feel of the whole CD thus far to a dead stop while every note holds on for what seems like minutes and the song stretches into what seems like infinity. Along with it is a somewhat annoying whistling version of “Baby, it’s Cold Outside“. Beginning with a music-box introduction, Nancy Wilson outclasses all else with her flirty and ever-so-slightly cocky “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” Sounding so sure that the one she’s approaching will accept, she goes on anyway, and it’s very fun. (For anoher beautiful version, check out Ella Fitzgerald’s holiday offering.) Hold onto your seatbelts for “Cha-Cha All the Way“–it’ll have you dancing in the aisles! Some, now, may find it hideous and bothersome, but others will adore it like I do. Can’t you just tell Billy May had something to do with this track? Love the sax soloist!
With its famous lush string opening, Nat King Coles legendary “The Christmas Song” IS included here, folks. And a very welcome addition it is. Les Brown and his Band of Renown do a great job on the over-six-minute “Nutcracker Suite.” The lengthy but fun piece goes through pretty much the whole thing, hitting on all the famous pieces you remember and love. I’m not big on caroling or bells, so the next track bothers the daylights out of me. But the bonus tunes are wonderful. The Ultra-Lounge series’ enigmatic ‘The Continental’ makes a holiday appearance here. (Who IS he really, anyway! And why did they record these! ) Next is a “Toys for Tots” advertisement featuring the Chipmunks, Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, and Nancy Wilson singing a catchy tune for the good cause. The final bonus song is Billy May himself, singing (in a pleasant voice, too!) a Christmas greeting to all of Capitol’s listeners. To the tune of “Jingle Bells,” he thanks us for supporting Capitol, and wishing us merry christmas from the entire Capitol Records staff. Very cool, why doesn’t everyone do this stuff?
This is a fantastic CD. The great tracks outweigh the clunkers, and the CD will leave you wishing you had been around Capitol Studios back in the ’60s.
More Christmas albums on FMS here