Holiday records that rock, mock and shock

Five Christmas albums from unlikely sources

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comDecember 12, 2013 

With multiple Christmas albums to his name, it’s no surprise that Brian Setzer (performing Dec. 19 at the Chumash Casino) would do a holiday-themed show at the Chumash Casino. But some rockers generated raised eyebrows when they announced plans to release holiday records. Here are some of the most unlikely Christmas albums from the rock world.

“Christmas Songs,” Bad Religion

It’s a funny hearing front man Greg Graffin singing “O come let us adore him; Christ is the Lord” given that Graffin is an atheist. The punk rocker is also a scientist, who has taught life sciences and paleontology at UCLA. Despite the obvious irony, Bad Religion doesn’t alter the lyrics of these traditional Christ-in-Christmas songs. But they are certainly performed in a nontraditional manner, showing the evolution of holiday music the way only a punk rock scientist could.

“Happy Holiday: A Very Special Christmas Album,” Billy Idol

Here the fist-pumping punker who gave us “White Wedding” — that snarling ’80s tune with a hint of cocaine adoration — offers a version of “White Christmas” that conservative old-timer Big Crosby would have appreciated. Idol’s Christmas album has a collection of up-tempo tunes the rockers appreciate, including “Blue Christmas” and “Merry Christmas Baby,” but also some traditional ones (“Silent Night,” “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen”) played as straight up as the spikes in Idol’s hair.

“The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” Scott Weiland

While cocaine might have been a more subtle reference in Idol’s “White Wedding,” drug abuse has been a very public part of Weiland’s life, which has been dotted with numerous rehab stints. Still, the hard-rocking former Stone Temple Pilots front man who gave us “Sex Type Thing” and “Dead & Bloated” shows that he’s got a crooner’s soft touch as well. Donning a Sinatra-like fedora on the album cover, Weiland’s vocals smooth over orchestral backings and twinkling pianos on songs like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “The Christmas Song.”

“Christmas in the Heart,” Bob Dylan

Well, the obvious point here is that Bob Dylan is actually Jewish (he was born Bob Zimmerman). But as any Dylan fan knows, the folk pioneer became a born-again Christian in the late ’70s — even recorded two gospel Christian albums. So it might not be that much of a surprise that he’d do a Christmas album. Still, this 2009 album kind of was. Sung by an older Dylan who seems to always be on the brink of a coughing fit, the lighter side of Dylan still manages to have fun on songs like “Christmas Island” and “The Christmas Blues.”

“A Twisted Christmas,” Twisted Sister

Surprisingly, the opening track from this heavy metal (lots of) hair band begins acoustically with front man Dee Snider softly easing into “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Then a voice interrupts the tune and says, “What is this crap? This isn’t Twisted Sister. This is Twisted Sister!” And — hark — the power chords arrive just in time for a twisted take.

IF YOU GO

Brian Setzer Orchestra
8 p.m. Dec. 19
Chumash Casino Resort,
3400 East Highway 246, Santa Ynez
$45 to $75
1-800-248-6274 or www.chumashcasino.com

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