Friday, June 10, 2011

When Christmas Goes Pop

Album Cover
Perhaps it's the sweltering heat of late Spring/early Summer here in the Northeastern US that has me longing for cold, crisp December days.  Whatever the catalyst, I made an impulse buy a few Saturdays ago when I saw a shiny red Christmas album sitting in the milk crate of a church community yard sale.  As I mentioned before, yard and rummage sales are notorious for poor vinyl (both in condition and taste). There are usually plenty of holiday-themed albums from famous crooners like Dean Martin, Perry Como, and Andy Williams, but I rarely feel compelled to buy.  In this case, however, I decided to make an exception.  The album in question, A Very Special Christmas, is a compilation of Christmas songs recorded in 1987 to benefit the Special Olympics.  The brainchild of record producer and current A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine and his ex-wife Vicky (a former model and bestselling author), the album and its successors have earned over $100 million for the disabled children’s’ charity.  Here are four reasons why I couldn't pass it up:

The Artists
With artists like Madonna, Sting, the Pointer Sisters and the Eurhythmics (just to name a few), the album is a veritable who’s-who of 80's pop.  The majority of the contributors were peaking or at the height of their fame when the record was released.  To help put it in perspective, here are some highlights from 1987:

·         Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet becomes the top selling album of the year.
·         U2 releases Joshua Tree in March, catapulting the band to superstardom.  The record would later take home the Grammy for album of the year.
·         Whitney Houston's Whitney produces 4 chart topping singles, including “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and “Didn't We Almost Have It All” on its way to 9x platinum.
·         Sting's Nothing Like the Sun, featuring “Englishman in New York”, legitimizes his solo efforts after the breakup of the Police and a lackluster movie career.  It would go double platinum.
·         Madonna kicks off the Who's that Girl World Tour, fresh off the success of True Blue.  Ironically, Madonna and actor Sean Penn would file for divorce in December.

The Songs
Outside of the artists themselves, many of the songs have gone on to become timeless holiday classics, perhaps none more so than Madonna's playful take on Eartha Kitt's previously sultry Santa Baby.  See if you can spot some of your favorites from this track list:

1. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town - The Pointer Sisters
2. Winter Wonderland - Eurythmics
3. Do You Hear What I Hear? - Whitney Houston
4. Merry Christmas Baby - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
5. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - The Pretenders
6. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - John Cougar Mellencamp
7. Gabriel's Message - Sting
8. Christmas in Hollis - Run–D.M.C.
9. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - U2
10. Santa Baby - Madonna
11. The Little Drummer Boy - Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
12. Run Rudolph Run - Bryan Adams
13. Back Door Santa - Bon Jovi
14. The Coventry Carol - Alison Moyet
15. Silent Night - Stevie Nicks

The Cover Art

Pop artist Keith Haring, whose distinctive designs caught the eye of the international art world and earned him critical acclaim before his death of AIDS in 1990, illustrated the album cover. The playful gold lettering and messianic imagery is in perfect contrast to the stunning red background.  Fortunately, my album jacket is in excellent shape.

Perhaps it's my sentimentality toward 1980s popular culture, but the infamous ‘Me’ decade certainly made altruism and philanthropy chic.  Who can forget Band Aid, Live Aid or Farm Aid, which brought together musical acts to raise money for various causes (e.g. the depressed American farm industry or the Ethiopian famine in Africa)?  There's something to be said for celebrities taking time away from globe- trotting and self-promotion to donate their time and effort to charity. It is both touching and somewhat artificial, which I guess can be said about the decade itself.

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