Sat, Dec 11, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Music genres cashing in on X-mas

WHAT'S NEW?Seeking to broaden the market, music firms are trading in traditional Yuletide themes and repackaging them with rock, punk and hip hop songs

AFP , NEW YORK

Steve Halvorson, foreground left, and Kim Elliott, right, rehearse along with other singers for the 25th annual Living Christmas Tree musical performance, Thursday at the First Baptist Church in Roswell, New Mexico.

PHOTO: AP

For those not keen on the fa-la-la-la school of Christmas music, a slew of albums this holiday season offers every conceivable take on Yuletide themes, from rap to reggae and "Christ Child's Lullaby" to "Santa was a Black Man."

No longer the exclusive domain of the cashmere sweater brigade led by the likes of Bing Crosby and Perry Como or divas like Barbra Streisand and Mariah Carey, Christmas albums now encompass all known musical genres.

The 2004 offerings include the compilation "A Santa Cause: It's a Punk Rock Christmas," "Barenaked for the Holidays" by Canadian goofball band Barenaked Ladies, and "Gift Rap ... A Hip Hop Christmas" featuring various artists.

For the record companies, the Christmas market offers a short sales window with the possibility of a long-term payoff.

"If you have a Christmas album that connects, then it can be one of those titles that sells year after year," said Geoff Mayfield, the director of charts at Billboard magazine.

Given the huge number of Christmas albums, there is a surprising lack of original material, with even alternative bands generally preferring the well-worn route of putting fresh clothes on traditional favorites.

"The thing that's really tricky is to plant a new Christmas song that becomes a perennial," Mayfield said. "A lot of attempts get made, but making that stick and become part of the vernacular is a huge task."

Modern perennials are few and far between, with John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" and Wham!'s "Last Christmas" among the select handful that have transcended chart success to achieve department store muzak immortality.

In the US, there is also the novelty hit, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" which has become an annual holiday best-seller since its release in 1979.

A cautionary tale of the perils of drinking too much egg nog, the song was sung by Elmo Shropshire, a veterinarian and part-time lounge singer who also recorded the less successful "You Done Sprayed the Love Bug With DDT."

A third alternative to rehashing old standards and gambling on an original composition is to trawl through the back pages of the Christmas songbook for an obscure ditty that could be ripe for re-release.

That was the path taken this year by schlock film director John Waters with his album "A John Waters Christmas," the cover of which shows the creator of "Pink Flamingos" and "Hairspray" sitting in an easy chair watching his Christmas tree go up in flames.

"I wanted to have [songs] that you mostly hadn't heard, or ones that were amazing because they even existed," Waters told the Hollywood Reporter.

His compilation choice includes "Santa Claus is a Black Man" by Akim and the Teddy Van Production Co, as well as the expletive-laced "Here Comes Fatty Claus," by Rudolph and the Gang.

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