Looking Back at A Very Special Christmas Track by Track
In the late 1980's, music empresario Jimmy Iovine cobbled together quite a collection of pop and rock artists to record songs for a Christmas album benefitting the Special Olympics. In 1987, A Very Special Christmas was released and rapidly became an instant holiday classic thanks to the star powered lineup and major label promotion.
The Very Special Christmas franchise fumbled along with eight more records in the pop collection plus smooth jazz and world music versions as well. The additional eight pop offerings included a live version and an "acoustic" version that was actually country and bluegrass, but we assume it wasn't dubbed "country" to keep from scaring off the Yankees. Like bad movie sequels, the quality of these records has declined mightily over the years, but the first album is a classic.
Since everyone is being subjected to holiday music, we thought we'd go back over this track by track.
"Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" - The Pointer Sisters
One of the weaker tracks on the record was the first. The intro complete with baby talk banter from the pop siblings. While it is aided by the Motown arrangement, the constant yapping over instrumental parts in an attempt to create a party atmosphere is just distracting. Bonus points for the bass walk down at the end of each bridge.
"Winter Wonderland" - Eurythmics
Who would have thought this creepy synthesized version of the classic from the 1930's would catch on? It's quintessential 80s, but decidedly weird.
"Do You Hear What I Hear?" - Whitney Houston
Remember when Houston really believe crack was whack and she was the unquestioned queen of r&b? We do and this gospel infused version of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" complete with vocal acrobatics Mariah Carey likely studied for hours is a classic for good reason. The woman could belt that shit out. We bet Cissy was proud.
"Merry Christmas Baby" - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Springsteen was never afraid to let his inner cornball out on display. The guy was and is fearless. His version of this classic R&B Christmas tune notably covered by Chuck Berry and Ray Charles among others has all the typical energy and fun associated with the E Street Band. Maybe not as iconic as his "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" joint, but damn close.
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" - The Pretenders
We must confess that this is one of our all time favorite covers of any Christmas song. The crystalline guitars and melancholy vocals of Chrissie Hynde make this bittersweet classic nearly perfect. Most remember the Judy Garland version or the Frank Sinatra reset, but we'll put this one up there with them any day.
"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" - John Cougar Mellencamp
Recorded at a time we believe to be the height of Mellancamp's soulful Americana, he took a goofy kids song and made it a folk rocking romp that would have fit in perfectly on Lonesome Jubilee. Even the cute, off key little girl singing at the end feels right.
"Gabriel's Message" - Sting
Sting can be a serious motherfucker, but which we mean both serious in personality and in talent. Both are on display in "Gabriel's Message." Leave it to Sting to choose a Basque Christmas folk carol as his entrant on the record. His arrangement is reminiscent of his song "Russians" on Dream of the Blue Turtles -- both beautiful and haunting.