Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Smithereens - Christmas With

In yesterday's yuleblog entry, I revealed that one of my cats purchased a Christmas CD for me last December (that's what the gift tag read). In today's entry, my other cat Sasha gets equal time. It was her paws all over this package for me under the tree (that's what the gift tag read).

It's hard to believe I know... but I'm not complaining.

What's also hard to believe is The Smithereens have been around for nearly 30 years! Back in 1980, four mop-topped lads from New Jersey began playing music heavily influenced by the power pop genre - especially four mop-topped lads from Liverpool.

The boys kept busy in those early years; mainly sticking to the NYC bar circuit and earning some play on college radio. Despite notices from publications like Rolling Stone magazine, they still had trouble gaining an audience. They began touring and supporting traveling oldies groups like The Beau Brummels and Otis Blackwell, with whom they recorded an album's worth of material.

By 1985, the Smithereens were stuck in neutral as label after label passed on the band. Scott Vanderbilt, a former college DJ who was a fan of the band several years earlier, was working for Enigma Records, heard their demo, and signed the group. Vanderbilt called on Don Dixon to help produce their debut album Especially for You.

MTV began airing the video "Blood and Roses" in their rotation. The video was financed by a film studio that included the song in the B-movie Dangerously Close (the movie was the first film for the delectable Carey Lowell - Bond girl and Mrs. Richard Gere). College radio stations sat up and took notice, pushing the album to number 51 on the charts.

Capitol Records sat up and took notice as well. They signed The Smithereens to their label and supported the album with an extensive tour of the States and Europe that lasted the entire year of 1987. Two weeks after they completed the tour, they travelled to Hollywood & Vine to begin recording their next album Green Thoughts.

"Only a Memory" was their breakthrough hit. They began yet another tour throughout 1988 (including a memorable show at the Metro in Chicago - I was in attendance). After the tour stopped, they spent extra time in the studio with producer Ed Stasium and went for broke with their third album, 11.

"A Girl Like You" was a Top 40 hit despite being rejected as the theme for the John Cusack comedy "Say Anything". The album was a smash and reached gold status in 1989. It seemed the band was everywhere; they appeared on MTV Unplugged, The Arsenio Hall Show, and Saturday Night Live.

In 1991, the band continued its pattern of releasing an album (Blow Up - a moderate success) and extensively touring. So extensive was this tour that it kept them on the road throughout America and the world for over two years (Aug 1991 - Oct 1993)!

In the middle of all their tour insanity, Capitol asked for a possible Christmas single. The group quickly recorded their version of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" and issued it to radio stations at Christmas, 1992 (DPRO-79572). With its distinctive cover, this promo CD is a hard find. So when one comes up for sale, you better grab it! If you do, let me know!

When the group began recording their fifth album, a new musical genre had emerged from Seattle. Grunge was in its heyday and if it didn't sound like Nirvana or Soundgarden, radio stations wouldn't play it. So in 1994, the group signed on with RCA Records and recorded album #6 - A Date with the Smithereens.

RCA asked the group to record some songs for their upcoming 1994 holiday promo "December Songs" (RJC 66546-2). They contributed two songs - "Blue Christmas" and "Waking Up On Christmas Morning", an excellent original from the band.

Not to be outdone, Capitol Records re-issued "Rudolph" on red colored vinyl as a jukebox single (Capitol/CEMA S7-18206 b/w "A Girl Like You") at Christmas 1994. If you're scoring at home, this made three Christmas songs done by The Smithereens.

A Date with The Smithereens failed to get radio airplay or sell in the record stores (grunge was pretty popular). Their recording career was limited to rarities and "best of" compilations around this time. Thanks to their loyal fan base established through their past tours, they continued to tour successfully into the late '90s.

In 1995, the band decided to cull all three Christmas singles onto one limited edition Christmas EP. D-Tone Records (DT-151) released it in the month of January, 1994. January? Wish I knew the reasoning behind that decision.

After a five-year recording hiatus with any record label, the group returned to the studio for 1999's 2-CD God Save the Smithereens on Koch Records. Another series of compilations and live recordings appeared between 2000 and 2006 (along with more touring along the way).

In January 2007, the group released their excellent album entitled Meet the Smithereens, a Beatles cover album from beginning to end. However this was the year the boys got into a Christmas kind of mood and we were rewarded with the album you see before you.


1.) Waking Up On Christmas Morning
One of the Christmas songs I would nominate for more radio airplay at Christmas without hesitation.

2.) Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)
Elvis' signature Christmas tune gets a power pop tune-up!

3.) Merry Christmas, Baby
I'm not a Beach Boy fan but any group that can improve a Beach Boys tune is aces in my book.

4.) Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree
Solid cover - play this one instead of Brenda Lee's original version!

5.) Christmas Time All Over The World
A Christmas remake of the Smithereens song "All Revved Up". All Christmased up here!

6.) Christmas
WOW! Outstanding cover of The Who's holiday song from "Tommy"! Better than the 1975 movie version with Ann-Margret & Oliver Reed!

7.) 'Twas The Night Before Christmas
Art Carney first recorded this version in 1954 - one drummer with a jazz beat, one singer selling Clement Moore's poem. The guys do a fantastic job!

8.) Run Rudolph Run
Nice, nice, nice cover of this venerable Christmas classic. Somewhere Chuck Berry is smiling.

9.) Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)
This one's so closely associated with The Ramones that this power pop version doesn't work for me.

10.) Christmas (I Remember)
A new Smithereens original! A wonderful power pop reminiscence of Christmas' past - a beaut!

11.) Auld Lang Syne
Starts off with Beach Boy-like harmonies and then goes into overdrive with Ventures-type fury! Whooooo!

12.) Christmas Time Is Here Again
They tackle the Beatles only original Christmas song... and perfectly capture the flavor of the Fab Four.

About a year ago, Dennis Diken wrote the following words for this album's liner notes:

When I dig out my holiday platters every December I feel like I'm visiting with some of my oldest and dearest friends. With that in mind, we humbly present Christmas With The Smithereens. We've taken what we've learned from some of our favorite Christmas records and did our best to make these numbers our own.

Congrats boys - you have succeeded and then some!



Ernie said...

Ahhh, it's good to be able to get my daily Christmas fix again!

CaptainOT said...

Ernie - Thanks, I missed you too!