Tuesday, December 1, 2015

25 Holiday Records: 25: Santa Claus is Canadian

We're counting down to Christmas Day with a list of 25 records we have in the shop at Royal Cat Records! Why? Because vinyl rules!

We're going to kick off with a doozy, maybe a candidate for all-time worst Christmas record.


Santa Claus Is Canadian: A Taste Of Christmas In Canada

Various Artists
ONT 100

This is one of the most common records ever, at least in our area of Southern Ontario. Almost every collection of records you see seems to have a copy of this LP. It was produced, and we think given away for free, by The Ontario Lottery Corporation (packaged by Quality Records) in 1981. The cover image of Santa’s gloved hand grasping a half-finished glass of milk next to a couple of half-eaten maple cookies should be burned into the retina of every vinyl collector and bin diver from here to Kapuskasing.

As it is described on the liner notes, this “Canadian cultural product” was made using an all-Canadian cast of composers and musicians. The composers are a grab-bag of pros from the Toronto scene, the most notable being jazzman Guido Basso. We're betting it was produced in one session using an orchestra under the direction of three of the composers listed here, Tom Fleming, Robert Wadsworth, and Pete Coulman.

Like many, although we have seen this album all our lives and even owned multiple copies (20? 50?), until now we have never listened to it, although we have to assume that this was “the” Christmas record in many households, dutifully played every December by kids growing up in the 80s. But as we shall see, it ain't much to listen to. And we don't think it even comes close to being "a taste of Christmas in Canada" as advertised, since, beyond the personnel, and the fact it was funded by the government, there is nothing distinctly Canadian about it.

Are you curious? Don't be. We listened to this record so that you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

Overview: This is a very slick, over-produced album that tries it’s best to impart some Christmas spirit into a collection of really generic compositions. It would almost be tolerable as background music during the holidays. Almost. The problem is it’s so bland and dated-sounding that it is actually annoying and offensive. Christmas music is notoriously awful and most of us are sick of the standards because they are overplayed on radio and in shopping malls for months before we actually get any time off to enjoy the holidays. In the world of Xmas records, there are actually a few really great compositions out there and even some great modern interpretations, but despite an annual glut of new challengers, only a tiny number become standards. The creators of "Santa Claus is Canadian" don’t seem even to be trying to enter this Christmas pantheon. It’s almost like they were told to be as boring as possible. Or maybe they were just paid crap money, although the OLG was and is one of the richest government agencies. 

We know how much skill and training go into any major multi-instrumental piece; all the more reason to at least expect some originality or fun here.

Side One

1. Fanfare for Christmas (composer: Fred Stride): This instrumental piece starts sort of like the theme for a 70s sci-fi tv show but turns into a trotting muffled bass-driven thing with a bit of piano/sleighbell percussion. Mostly a lot of “dun-da-da-da” horn fanfare with strings. Starting the record off with this very long, seemingly endless track (it clocks in at 4:09) is not a good sign. 

2. It’s Christmas (composer: Dorothy Lees-Blakey): Vocal with a catchy repetitive musical theme. Basically a list of generic things that are “signs of Christmas.” Most of the songs on this album are made up of similar lists. (The composer is quite proud of this one and we think you can still hear it on the radio this time of year.)

3. Christmas Pictures (composer: Tom Fleming): A spoken word intro with musical accompaniment morphs into a choral song listing what happens Christmas day, from a nostalgic point of view. Moronic, brain-killing music.

4. Country Christmas (composer: Paul Miner): Orchestral instrumental. There are hints of more classic holiday compositions here but the piece never veers into outright copyright infringement.

5. Old Fashioned Christmas (words and music: Tommy Banks/Colin MacLean/Al Oestin): Male-female duet with romantic overtones. Syrupy. It took three people to write this?

6. Christmas Samba (composer: Pete Coulman): Instrumental disco number with a trumpet lead. Think, “Do the Hustle” but about one hundred times lamer.

Side Two

1. Christmas is for Children (composer: Delbi Smart): A peppy disco production with strings that could be played over the credits for a movie of the week. A female lead vocal. Has choral chorus with some warbling overtop by the lead singer.

2. What is Christmas? (composer: Robt. G. Wadsworth): Alternating male and female vocals with piano, flute, harp and strings topped off with a horn solo. Another list song.

3. Christmas is Here (composer: Michael Maxwell and Heidi Kuld): Instrumental. A fairly jaunty sleigh-ride style piece with orchestra. 

4. Images of Christmas (words and music: Guido Basso/Jackie Rae): Smoky romantic number with female vocal, strings and “ahhs” in the background. Muted trumpet solo. Maybe the most tolerable track on the record!

5. Christmas Time is Coming (composer: Michael Maxwell): Male and female vocal group are up front here with a thrumming slightly-propulsive electric bass but also lots (too much!) of triangle and strings.

6. Home for Christmas (words and music: Pete Coulman and Tom Fleming): Choral vocals are kind of echo-y here with a dreamy orchestral accompaniment. Sounds kind of 1950s.

7. Christmas Toast (words and music: Pete Coulman/Robt. G. Wadsworth/Tom Fleming): Another, mercifully short, disco number where the female-led vocal chorus repeatedly wishes you a “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” Fades out on some disco clapping.


And that's it! The verdict: listen at your own risk. (Please help us! Now that we've listened to it, we can't stop!!!!)

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