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The Beach Boys: Ultimate Christmas


The Beach Boys

Album: Ultimate Christmas
Label: Capitol

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The fun-in-the-sun world of early Beach Boys songs seems about as antithetical to Christmas as two things can be, but that didn't prevent the group from releasing a classic Christmas album—titled, appropriately enough, The Beach Boys' Christmas Album—in 1964. Part original numbers ("Little Saint Nick," the bizarre "Santa's Beard") and part traditional holiday tracks, Christmas Album is a relentlessly pleasant effort that alternates between songs assembled in the early-'60s Beach Boys style and surf-free arrangements designed to make the most of the group's pristine harmonies. It can also be seen as an early, not-quite-successful attempt by Brian Wilson to one-up Phil Spector, who had released his own Christmas masterpiece the year before. Included here in its entirety, The Beach Boys' Christmas Album's 12 tracks sound as good as ever, but Ultimate Christmas warrants special notice for its inclusion of 14 previously unreleased, or just barely released, oddities. Virtually unavailable, 1974's "Child Of Winter (Christmas Song)" is one of Brian Wilson's infrequent attempts to contribute something to the group in the early '70s. Playful in a sort of perverse way, it sounds tame next to "Santa's Got An Airplane," a version of 1969's "Loop De Loop (Flip Flop Flyin' In An Aeroplane)" reworked for a Christmas album rejected by Warner Brothers in 1977. Based on the tracks included here, the company's decision to reject it is a minor shame. The forced whimsy of "(I Saw Santa) Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" makes it less than essential, but Wilson's "Winter Symphony" shows considerable effort, and both his brother Dennis' "Morning Christmas" and Al Jardine's "Bells Of Christmas" show them coming into their own as songwriters, albeit songwriters heavily indebted to the group's chief composer. What's more, anyone interested in hearing the effects of 13 years of drugs, mysticism, and the friendship of the Manson family need only listen to Dennis Wilson's Christmas message at the end of the original album—and then listen to the one recorded in '77. That help make Ultimate Christmas a strangely cautionary tale, as well as a Beach Boys Christmas album that's as enjoyable for casual listeners as it is for fanatic completists.