Little Saint Nick
The Beach Boys' tribute to the hot rod sled of “a real famous cat all dressed up in red" first appeared as a single during the 1963 holiday season. The following year, the song was featured as the lead track on their new Christmas album. As a single, the song had featured prominent sleigh bells and glockenspiel to drive home the holiday connection (see the Single Version of the song, also included on this compilation), but on the album they stripped off those instruments to match the sound of the newer recordings, which showcased the group's vocals over the instrumentation.
With the release of this upbeat track as a single in November 1964, The Beach Boys hoped to repeat the success they had with Little Saint Nick the year before. While The Man With All the Toys never became the holiday classic that Nick did, it was a success for the group, reaching the Number Three spot on Billboard's “Top Christmas Sellers” chart that year.
On Santa's Beard, the Beach Boys themselves provide the song's instrumentation. Although Brian often used studio musicians to lay down instrumental tracks for the Beach Boys to sing over, the group was quite capable of doing the job themselves. Both here and on The Man With All the Toys, Brian is at the piano, brother Dennis Wilson is on drums, youngest brother Carl Wilson is playing rhythm guitar and Alan Jardine (who played guitar on stage) is handling the electric bass. The lead guitar on both songs was overdubbed by Carl after the basic track had been recorded.
In Germany, three years after the album's initial release, Merry Christmas, Baby was a surprise selection for a holiday single. It didn't exactly burn the charts up, but for many Beach Boys fans, the song is a favorite, with its galloping bass (probably session ace Ray Pohlman) and pounding drums (Dennis). By the way, that's Brian throwing in the ad-libbed “unh-unh” during the first verse after Mike sings that his baby don't wanna hold him and kiss his lips anymore.
Alan Jardine had been one of the original Beach Boys when the group recorded its first single, Surfin', in the fall of 1961, but he left the group the following spring when his family moved to Michigan. A year later, he was back in California and stepped in to sub for Brian when the chief Beach Boy skipped a tour to concentrate on writing and producing. When David Marks, who had filled Alan's place the year before, left several months later, Alan never looked back. Christmas Day was his first lead vocal on a Beach Boys record, but in less than a year his voice would be heard again — on the group's Number One hit, Help Me, Rhonda.
One of Brian's biggest musical influences was the 1950s vocal group, The Four Freshmen. Brian told syndicated radio show host Jack Wagner, “We all look up [to] and admire the style of the Four Freshmen.” (See the Brian Wilson Christmas Interview included on this compilation.) Much of that group's best work had been done with an arranger named Dick Reynolds. When The Beach Boys decided to record a set of traditional Christmas songs, Brian took the opportunity to bring Reynolds in to do both vocal and orchestral arrangements. Brian admitted to Wagner, “I'd been wanting to meet him and work with him for quite a long time.” For Frosty the Snowman and the five tracks that follow, Reynolds assembled and recorded a 41-piece orchestra, under the direction of orchestra master Benjamin Barrett.
Blue Christmas marked only the second time a Beach Boys recording had featured a totally solo vocal performance. As he had done on Your Summer Dream on the Surfer Girl album a year earlier, Brian sang a double-tracked lead vocal, with no backing vocal support. When asked by radio host Jack Wagner why he'd been featured solo on Blue Christmas, Brian explained, “I sort of picked out that song to sing for myself. I love the song and I've always wanted to sing it.”
In his interview with radio host Jack Wagner, Brian singled out I'll Be Home For Christmas as an example of obvious Four Freshmen influence on The Beach Boys. “There's a very definite influence of the Four Freshmen on the arrangement as well as the delivery” of the song, he said.
Auld Lang Syne was the final track on the 1964 Christmas album. Over a beautiful a cappella group rendition of the New Year's classic, Dennis intones that it has been a great pleasure for the group to bring us the album and wishes every one of us a “very Merry Christmas.” It's very likely that this number was inspired by the closing track on Phil Spector's Christmas Album, which featured producer Spector thanking his artists and the listeners over an instrumental version of Silent Night. Spector was one of Brian's big idols and a major influence on his production style.
Released as a single for the 1963 holiday season, Little Saint Nick rose to the Number Three spot on Billboard's “Top Christmas Sellers” chart. The single's enduring popularity became obvious the next year when it again placed on the Christmas chart, rising into the Top Twenty even though its competition included a new Beach Boys Christmas single, The Man With All the Toys. The principal difference in the single version of Little Saint Nick and the album version that leads off this compilation is the presence of a set of overdubs on the former that add glockenspiel, celeste and sleigh bells to the recording. For years, there was no stereo mix of the single version, but in 1992 Capitol's engineers went back to the original multitrack master tapes and created one. Sadly, it was released only on an obscure various artists Christmas album, Legends of Christmas Past, and went largely unheard. For this package, the original master tapes were returned to once again and the track newly remixed to stereo.
Since the day the 1964 Christmas album was released, fans of the Beach Boys have realized that hidden under Dennis' voice-over on Auld Lang Syne was a stunning a cappella version of the song. Over the years, a few fortunate collectors even managed to locate one of a pair of Capitol promotional albums from the mid 1960s that featured an unencumbered version of the song. But it wasn't until the release of the Beach Boys Rarities album in 1983 that most fans were able to hear the song in all its vocal beauty. This mix later turned up as a bonus track on a 1991 reissue of The Beach Boys' Christmas Album.
Without a doubt, this is one of the oddest tracks on this collection. It features the lyrics to Little Saint Nick sung over the track to another Beach Boys song, Drive-In, which appeared on the All Summer Long album in the summer of 1964. We haven't figured this one out completely, but Brian has indicated that the Drive-In track was not his original attempt at Little Saint Nick, as some have thought. So why are there sleigh bells on the Drive-In track? Brian has not been forthcoming, but judging from the way he cracks up at the end of the song, there's a very real possibility this is nothing more than a little in-studio humor! The real significance of the track lies in that it foreshadows one of the major characteristics of the group's 1977 Christmas recordings — that of creating new Christmas songs by adding holiday lyrics to existing instrumental tracks. This recording was first released as a bonus track on a 1991 reissue of The Beach Boys' Christmas Album. It appeared there in mono, but for this package the song makes its first appearance in stereo. That required synching the three-track tape of the instrumental track to Drive-In to the two vocal tracks laid down for this version.
Until 1974, the Beach Boys had released at least one new studio album every year since 1962. But between Holland in January 1973 and 15 Big Ones in July 1976, the group released no albums of new material. For Beach Boys fans anxious for new recordings, the only morsel they received during that interim was an almost impossible-to-find Christmas single, Child of Winter (Christmas Song). Recorded November 18, 1974 and released only two days before Christmas, the song never went on sale in many parts of the country. The primary market for Christmas singles is during the month before Christmas; releasing one so close to the holiday practically ensured that it had no chance of success. The song was a collaboration between Brian and the poet Steve Kalinich, who had collaborated with Dennis Wilson on several songs in the late 1960s. “It was a magical experience,” Brian recalls. “I'm one of his fans. I met him through my brother, Dennis. We clicked and so we wrote together.” Brian and Kalinich already had written several songs when the idea for a Christmas tune came up. “I just wanted to do something joyful for Christmas,” Brian says. According to Kalinich, the concept for the song became “to do a Christmas record that would be fun for kids, something children would relate to.” The recording was a true Wilson family affair. Carl played guitar, Dennis drummed, Brian's daughters Carnie and Wendy shook sleigh bells, and Brian “did everything else,” says Kalinich — with one exception. “The kazoo? That was me,” he admits. Wilson cousin Mike Love took the lead vocal, except for what Kalinich calls the “grinch” voice — that's Brian.
If Santa's Got an Airplane sounds familiar, it's probably because you've heard the Endless Harmony Soundtrack CD released in mid-1998. On that album, a near-legendary Beach Boys recording called Loop De Loop (Flip Flop Flyin' in an Aeroplane) was released for the first time, 29 years after the first recording session was held for the song. Santa's Got an Airplane uses the same 1969 backing track as Loop De Loop, but features reworked lyrics about Santa Claus and the machine with which he replaced the hot rod sled called the “Little Saint Nick.” “We transferred the original eight tracks of backing and vocals to the 24-track at Western Recorders,” recalls Alan Jardine, “then added new vocal parts to fit the Christmas lyrics to the original tracks.” The vocals were recorded in the fall of 1977 during the sessions for the Beach Boys' unreleased second Christmas album. Carl and Alan resang the “flip flops;” Mike and Alan shared the lead vocal. Alan feels this version of the song is better sonically than the original. Like Loop De Loop, Santa's Got an Airplane is an Alan Jardine production from beginning to end. Especially for this package, Alan remixed the song from the 24-track master tape at The Red Barn studio in Big Sur, with Steve Desper at the knobs.
In the fall of 1977, the Beach Boys and their families took up residence at the Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa, for two months of relaxation and recording. Engineer Stephen Moffitt set up a studio in the basement of one of the dormitories, below the group's temporary living quarters. While at M.I.U., they intended to record their first album for the CBS/Caribou label, to which they had just signed. But then their management informed them that they still owed one more album to their former label, Warner/Reprise. Alan Jardine recalls that they immediately went in to the studio and began work on what they thought would be their last Warner Bros. release — a new Christmas album. However, the powers-that-be at Warner Bros. rejected the Christmas album and insisted on a non-seasonal album. The Christmas album was relegated to the shelf. The album which had been intended for CBS was delivered to Warner Bros. instead and released early in the fall of 1978, under the title M.I.U. Album. Because the Beach Boys were working on both albums at the same time, a number of songs were recorded in both Christmas and non-Christmas versions. Christmas Time Is Here Again is one such example. It uses the same instrumental track as the group's cover of the Buddy Holly classic, Peggy Sue, which was recorded for and included on M.I.U. Album.
Winter Symphony was Brian's contribution to the 1977 Christmas album and one of its standout tracks, but it didn't start out as a Christmas song. “That was something Brian had done a year or two before,” says Alan Jardine. “It was originally just a song, not intended as a Christmas song, but we pulled it off the shelf and finished it as one up at M.I.U.” A poetic ode to the cold, snowy season, Winter Symphony features a Brian solo vocal and a horn-dominated instrumental break. The piccolo trumpet solo was played by John Foss, a member of the five-man horn section that was part of the Beach Boys' backing band at the time. The French horn, however, presented a problem. None of the group's horn players could play French horn, but that's what the song seemed to need. Finally, an M.I.U. student was recruited to play it. Unfortunately, no one remembers his name, so his 15 minutes of fame have eluded him.
Alan Jardine's oldest son, Matt, narrates the story told in this song, with younger brother Adam providing responses. Alan takes the lead on the choruses, with backing vocals provided by eight of the group's kids — Matt and Adam, plus Brian's daughters, Carnie and Wendy; Mike's daughter and son, Hailey and Christian; and Carl's sons, Jonah and Justyn. Carnie and Wendy would go on to fame in the early 1990s as two-thirds of the hit pop group, Wilson Phillips. And Matt would become a mainstay of the Beach Boys' touring band in the mid 1990s. For those of you who are obsessive trivia buffs, here's a fact for you: the instrumental track for this song is from a Brian recording called Hey There Momma, left over from a year or two earlier.
Also known as Kona Christmas, this is the Christmas alter ego of the song Kona Coast from M.I.U. Album. Whereas the singer of Kona Coast wants to spend his winters on the Kona Coast in Hawaii, the singer of Melekalikimaka is a bit more specific — he wants to spend his Christmas on the Kona Coast in Hawaii. By the way, if you haven't listened to the song yet, “Melekalikimaka” is Hawaiian for “Merry Christmas.” Coincidentally, there's an old Bing Crosby tune by the same title, which Alan Jardine heard for the first time shortly after writing and recording this song. He was quite surprised to discover there could be two such very different songs written on the same subject with the same title. Curiously, the song somehow was left off the final mixdown reel from the 1977 session and lost. For release here, it had to remixed from the original 24-track master at Alan's Red Barn studio in Big Sur.
Bells Of Christmas was another of the songs that was recorded in both Christmas and non-Christmas trim. With its non-Christmas lyrics, it was released as Belles Of Paris on M.I.U. Album. In its Christmas form, it remained on the shelf for 20 years before its inclusion in this collection. In the interim, however, the final mixdown for the song was lost or misplaced, requiring that it be remixed at The Red Barn.
Although Dennis didn't participate in the M.I.U. retreat, he wanted to include a song on the planned Christmas album. Morning Christmas, his contribution, was very much in the style of his work on his Pacific Ocean Blue solo album from earlier in the year. Sometimes referred to as Holy Evening or Holy Holy, the song is a very moody piece, almost an elegy, contrasting the solemnity of Christmas Eve with the joy of kids on Christmas morning. Dennis played bass harmonica, orchestra bells and ARP String Ensemble on the track. Engineer Tom Murphy remembers that Dennis used one of his favorite tricks on the recording — he recorded the String Ensemble at half-speed. When the track was returned to normal speed, the strings took on a shimmering effect. Anchoring the track was the trio with whom Dennis was recording many of his songs at the time — Tommy Smith on drums, Sterling Smith on piano and Dave Hessler on bass. Gayle Levant played harp, and Marisa Conover and Susan Murphy contributed backing vocals.
When the Beach Boys resumed touring in November 1977, one of their first shows was in Seattle, Washington. While there, they booked time at Thom Bell's Kaye Smith Studios to finish vocals and sweetening for some of the tracks they'd just recorded at M.I.U. When asked to assist with a Christmas toy drive program in the area, they cut a group of public service announcements that were distributed to radio stations in the Pacific Northwest. The announcements featured the Beach Boys singing to the tune of Little Saint Nick, with only a piano, chimes and sleigh bells for accompaniment, asking listeners to bring toys to local record stores for donation to the Children's Orthopedic Hospital. The particular announcement heard here was for the Eugene, Oregon area and the now-defunct Crystal Ship record stores.
Shortly after The Beach Boys' Christmas Album was released in the fall of 1964, Brian was interviewed about that album by syndicated radio show host Jack Wagner. The interview was distributed only to radio stations, as part of "The Beach Boys Christmas Special" that occupied one side of a Capitol Silver Platter Service promotional album. On that disc, the interview was broken into several segments by the insertion of songs from the Christmas album. For this collection, however, we have edited out those tracks to present the brief interview in an uninterrupted form.
Copyright © 1998 Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved.
Notes written by Brad Elliott. Used by permission of the author.
Maintained by the webteam | Last updated September 24, 1998