A Very Special Christmas
A & M Records, 1995
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/18/2000
I recently was at Sam Goody in Gurnee Mills, and picked up A Very Special Christmas 3 at an incredible price. Looking over my new toy, I read in the liner notes that they found it hard to believe the first volume of this charitable series (which benefits Special Olympics) came out back in 1987. Honestly, it doesn't seem like that long - that is, until you listen to this release.
The artists who contributed to A Very Special Christmas meant well, I'm sure, but many of these versions have not aged well in a mere 13 years, and the overall album suffers as a result.
There are some outstanding performances that still shine today. Alison Moyet's loving rendition of "The Coventry Carol" is absolutely beautiful, and remains a favorite of mine to this day. Likewise, Sting turns in a touching performance on "Gabriel's Message," though he could have dropped the synthesized beats behind him which seem to serve no purpose in the track.
The list goes on. Bryan Adams's rendition of "Run Rudolph Run" is so powerful, when I listened to my cassette copy of this album recently, I thought I was listening to Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band. (Springsteen and crew also turn in a nice performance on "Merry Christmas Baby" -- I'd much rather hear this than "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town".) And let's not forget Stevie Nicks with "Silent Night," even if I wish she hadn't changed the last line of each verse so that they all went "Sleep in heavenly peace."
But A Very Special Christmas has some duds as well -- and I know this will make me sound like Scrooge, but hey, someone's got to dole out the fruitcake each year. The Pointer Sisters try to sound like giddy schoolgirls on "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," and miss the target completely. Bon Jovi's rendition of "Back Door Santa" almost reminds me why this band had a publicity backlash in the late '80s. John Mellencamp just doesn't click with "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" -- and is it me, or does it seem like everything U2 releases sound like it's meant for commercial purposes? (They do, however, capture the Phil Spector "wall of sound" approach on "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)", even if that sound is as outdated as a Nehru jacket.)
There are also performances which the listener might find themselves indifferent to -- and that's not the ultimate goal of holiday music. Annie Lennox and Eurythmics do a passable job on "Winter Wonderland," even if it does sound stale; Madonna gives us her best Cyndi Lauper impression on "Santa Baby". Why Bob Seger removes the religious references from "The Little Drummer Boy" is beyond me, though the version he turns in is pretty good. And The Pretenders doing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" -- well, it wouldn't hurt if Cryssie Hynde tried to sing on key occasionally.
There's still things on A Very Special Christmas that I enjoy, and it's nice to pick this up, even if only because it benefits Special Olympics. But most Christmas albums shouldn't sound like they've aged this soon after their release -- and it places this in a bad light.