Monday, December 10, 2007

The Beach Boys - Ultimate Christmas (1998)

Right away I'll say this CD is a must own for Beach Boys aficionados and completists. Ultimate Christmas is a twenty-six track disc that opens with the full version of their classic 1964 Christmas album. After that it gets way more interesting despite the fact that, in typical Beach Boys fashion, there is the usual mixture of terrific music mixed in with some horribly juvenile dribble that grown men shouldn't be allowed to sing unless they are recording a kids album, and maybe not even then.

In 1977 the band, minus Bruce Johnston and functioning again with their classic original lineup, decided they wanted to make a new Christmas album. Tracks were laid down but Warner Brothers rejected the album so the songs remained in the vault until the release of this CD in 1998. Everything the band completed for the album appears here. Instead, they issued The M. I. U. Album the following year as their final Warner's release.

Some of the more interesting tracks were created by using songs that appeared on M. I. U. with totally different lyrics written for Christmas. That album's "Bells Of Paris" became "Bells of Christmas." The boys harmonies on this track are among their best of that era. The arrangement works better as a Christmas song. "Kona Coast" became "Melekalikimaka" (not the same song as the Big Crosby classic), and then there is "Child Of Winter" a completely new, cool, upbeat, and fun tune that was slated to be their first single from the album. All of those songs are worth your time. On the dark side there is the ridiculous "Santa's Got An Airplane" and the childish "(I Saw Santa) Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" featuring Al Jardine's young sons on lead vocals. Youthful charm always helped The Beach Boys music but when that youthfulness was not tempered by someone with more mature tastes embarrassments like those two songs are a result.

Also interesting is the seldom heard 45 RPM version of "Little Saint Nick," complete with bells and glockenspiel added. They also reused the melody from "Drive-In," a song from the boys surf music period, and replaced its lyrics with those from "Little Saint Nick" for unique takes on two of their classics. The original 1964 album closed with an acapella version of "Auld Lang Syne." Its centerpiece was a spoken word holiday greeting from Dennis Wilson. On Ultimate Christmas there is a bonus version deleting Dennis's speech that allows the world to hear the purity of the group's harmonies. The previously unreleased arrangement proves nobody could harmonize like the guys from Hawthorne, California.

The album closes with two radio public service announcements the band recorded for "Toys for Tots" and a 1964 radio interview with Brian Wilson promoting the 1964 Christmas album.

Ultimate Christmas is a mostly fun CD containing everything The Beach Boys ever recorded for Christmas.


  1. As a big Beach Boys fan, I am ashamed to admit that I have never heard the original Christmas album so this has peaked my interest!
    I might give it a go!

  2. While I enjoy the Beach Boys, I tend to stick to their more adventurous material (Pet Sounds and some of the stuff from the Sunflower album).

    While there's no denying their talents when it came to vocal harmonizing, I think they lost a lot of respect with many of their lyrics.