Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bob Rivers - Twisted Christmas Sampler

Whenever I search for Christmas albums at my local thrift store (where the manager knows me by name), I always peruse the used compact discs. As iPods and MP3 players have increased in popularity, more and more CDs are finding their way into Goodwill stores, cluttering up the space formerly reserved for LPs.

The manager of the store nearly pulled my arm off when I walked into the store to show me this CD. He had held it behind the counter out of sight just for little ol' me (thank you Darryl!). I own the five Bob Rivers Twisted Christmas CDs already so I sort of already owned this CD. But how many times do you come across an honest to goodness promo sampler in a thrift store?

For those who may not know, radio DJ Bob Rivers is the Weird Al Yankovic of Christmas music. He began his broadcasting career in Connecticut where he was heard on WAVZ, WNHC, WCDQ, WELI, WFIF, WCCC, WWCO, and last but certainly least, WLIS.

With no more stations left to conquer in Connecticut, Bob moved on to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. A program director stint at WECM in Claremont, New Hampshire cured Bob of any further desire to be in management. "I worked at 20 stations in about six years," says Bob. "I wanted to make every mistake possible in this business."

After a brief stint as keyboardist/songwriter for a 70's bar band, Bob returned to radio at legendary rock station WAAF-FM. He teamed up with Peter "Zip" Zipfel as part of their successful Bob and Zip morning show and began producing parody and novelty songs, both for the station and for the American Comedy Network, a radio syndication service that provided comedy material to local U.S. and Canadian radio stations.

One of the first parodies he produced was "Breakin' Up Is Hard On You", about the lawsuit and resulting court ordered split up of AT&T's Bell System. The song was sung to the tune of Neil Sedaka's #1, 1962 hit "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" and peaked at #69 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop music chart.

In 1987, Rivers released his first Christmas CD - "Twisted Christmas". With such parodies as "Wreck The Malls", "A Visit From St. Nicholson", "We Wish You Weren't Living With Us", his radio hit "The Twelve Pains Of Christmas" which still gets radio airplay at Christmas, and other non-threatening Christmas tunes, it quickly sold 1.6 million copies, garnering a certified RIAA Gold Record for Atlantic Records.

Bob soon left Boston for Baltimore's WIYY-FM as their morning personality and came up with one of the most successful radio promotions of all time in April of 1988. The Baltimore Orioles had begun the season horribly, losing their first 10 games in a row. Rivers vowed to remain on the air until the Orioles won the next game.

Unfortunately, the Orioles kept losing. And losing. And losing. Rivers continued his broadcast for an amazing eleven days as disheartened Oriole fans kept him awake by calling in, expressing their frustration.

The Orioles were 0-21 when they travelled to Chicago to face the White Sox on April 29, 1988. Not surprising to this Cub fan, the Orioles handily beat the South Siders 9-0. The streak was over and, at long last, Rivers left the radio station studio.

He became a local celebrity among Orioles fans for his pledge and won the National Association of Broadcaster's "Promotion of the Year" award. But his tenure was short lived in Baltimore thanks in large part to a growing drug problem.

Rivers went to Seattle in 1989, successfully underwent drug rehab, and settled in at KISW where he began gathering his "Twisted Christmas" team to formulate their next album. That came in 1993 with "I Am Santa Claus".

This was a harder, edgier album than "Twisted Christmas" (which might be the reason it's my fave of the five). Some of the tunes include "I Came Upon A Roadkill Deer", "Teddy The Red-Nosed Senator", "Jingle Hells Bells", "Walkin' 'Round In Women's Underwear", and the tasteful instrumental of "O Christmas Tree" complete with sawing & chainsaw effects - all brilliantly executed and all winners.

Four Christmas seasons came and went. Rivers continued to record parody songs and released two volumes of "Twisted Tunes" in 1997. Then, without warning, that very same year... Rivers & Co. celebrated the 10th anniversary of "Twisted Christmas" with the release of Christmas album number three - "More Twisted Christmas".

The CD leads off with "It's The Most Fattening Time Of The Year" with John Davidson on lead vocals and featuring THE Richard Simmons interjecting (quite possibly the best recording either John or Richard ever did!).

Add some dead on versions of the B-52s ("Toy Sack"), Led Zeppelin ("Sled Zeppelin"), Bing Crosby ("There's A Santa Who Looks A Lot Like Elvis"), Jimi Hendrix ("Holidaze" to the tune of "Purple Haze"), and two Beatle tunes ("Jesus's Birthday" and "All You Need Is Elves"), and Bob Rivers is batting 3 for 3 with Christmas albums!

Three years later, Bob decided it was time for his fourth Christmas album - "Chipmunks Are Roasting On An Open Fire":

Among the clever parodies ("Carol Of The Bartenders", "Pokemon", and "Who Put The Stump") are some slightly disturbing elements that I really didn't enjoy. "Homeless For The Holidays" is not funny at all, we get to hear a Christmas tree angel impaled on "The Angel", and what's with the Amos & Andy voice for Nat King Cole on the title track?

For me, this album was okay. Not great, not bad, it remains lower on the list though. But having gone 3 for 4 in the overall batting average, I was willing to give Rivers another chance.

Most of the tracks from the sampler pictured above came from albums two, three, and four - no tracks from the first "Twisted Christmas" were on the sampler. Thankfully, a majority of the songs on the sampler are classics and I can listen to this one anytime.

In 2001, the cast and show moved to KZOK-FM where they've stayed until today. Bob embraced the Internet big time and posted nearly every Twisted Tune (including Christmas) to hear via streaming audio at his website. The following year, Bob and company released their fifth full Christmas CD and, to be honest, I was a little worried over the title - "White Trash Christmas":

Whatever fears or doubts I had, they quickly melted away when I heard the parody of Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" ("Aquaclaus") on track one. After throwing Eminem for a loop on "What If Eminem Did Jingle Bells?", we get to the holiday hit of 2002 - "Osama Got Run Over By A Reindeer" I'm not sure if he improved on this song but I must admit I did laugh when it was all over the radio at Christmas that year.

There are some hits ("Me And Mrs. Claus", "Shoppin' Around For A Christmas Tree", "The Little Hooters Girl"). There are some misses ("White Trash Christmas", and "Have Yourself An Ozzy Little Christmas" despite the return of John Davidson).

And then there's "Be Claus I Got High", and "I'll Be Stoned For Christmas". I guess Bob's reached the stage where he can laugh at his former addiction but I fail to see the humor in mixing drugs and Christmas.

Overall, I'll give this one a passing grade because the laughs do outweigh the bad. Final box score: 4 for 5 for a fantastic .800 batting average.

It's been six years since we've seen a new Twisted Christmas CD. Surely there's plenty of material out there for Bob and Co. to another full holiday album.



Anonymous said...

Hi there! I used to have some of the Bob Rivers CDs, but lost the I am Santa Claus one. I've been to store after store looking, and came across your site. Thx for the great tribute!

CaptainOT said...

Anon - You should be able to find "I Am Santa Claus" pretty easy anywhere - good luck with your search and thanks for the comment!