Various – Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails
There were at least two stylistic resurgences in the ‘90s – the big one was the swing music revival which saw the likes of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Brian Setzer, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies achieve chart success with songs that sounded like they’d been written decades earlier. Lesser known was the lounge music revival that produced an album of heavy metal covers from Pat Boone (In A Metal Mood: No More Mister Nice Guy), the alt-rock compilation Lounge-A-Palooza (highlight: Steve & Eydie’s creepy-as-shit cover of “Black Hole Sun”), and Capitol Records exceptional and expansive 24-disc Ultra-Lounge series
Three of the discs in the series were devoted to xMas music and it is some groovy stuff, let me tell you. I’ll be looking at the first one today. It starts out with a mostly-instrumental version of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Billy May. Mostly-instrumental because the bandleader will occasionally shout out xMas related interjections; it is worth the cost of the whole disc just to hear Billy May say the phrase, “Holly berries,” and it’s never officially xMas season until the first time I hear this. Jazz great and B-3 legend Jimmy McGriff lays down a funky organ medley with the nearly-seven-minute “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town/White Christmas.” Lou Rawls slays with “Christmas Is” and Ray Anthony takes his inspiration from Herb Alpert on “Christmas Trumpets/We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” In fact, almost every song on this disc is outstanding.
Kay Starr’s “Everybody’s Waiting For The Man With The Bag” is a swinging classic. Dean Martin’s “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” is a perennial favorite. And Julie London delivers a breathy, seductive rendition of “I’d Like You For Christmas.” The jingle-bells-from-Brazil remake “Cha-Cha All The Way” is credited to just Capitol Studio Orchestra. Nancy Wilson shines on one of my all-time favorites, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.” Les Brown melds hip and classical on “The Nutcracker Suite.”
Somewhat bizarrely, there are three surprise cuts on this disc. The tracklist on the back cover – as well as in the liner notes – shows eighteen songs, but there are actually 21, including a still-relevant Capitol Records promo for Toys For Tots featuring label stars Nat “King” Cole, Nancy Wilson, and Peggy Lee.
Speaking of Toys For Tots, if you need an idea for a last-minute gift idea, maybe consider picking up a pair of pants for this chilly Christmas cutie from the back cover… I think she might be Donald Duck’s niece.
This is one of my favorite xMas compilations and it gets multiple plays every year. I also want to do reviews for volumes two & three of the Christmas Cocktails series, but I might save those for next year. I don’t want you opening all your presents at once.
Tune in for tomorrow for the next installment in the 12 Days Of xMas Music.
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Until next time, keep those discs spinning. Merry Christmas and all the rest…