Ringo's Bag of Christmas Goodies

Ringo Starr - I Wanna Be Santa Claus
(Mercury Records)
3 stars (out of 5 stars)

By Tony Bonyata

Ever since the early days of The Beatles, the Fab Four have always managed to get into the Christmas spirit. They started as far back as 1963 by releasing Christmas flexi-discs available to fan club members only. They continued to produce these singles every year through 1969, all which featured nonsensical banter and sound effects between the foursome as well as Christmas tidings and, occasionally, a very spontaneous holiday number.
All but one of The Beatles have released solo Christmas singles since their breakup - John Lennon's modern classic "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)", Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" and George Harri...(whoops, different religious belief, although might I suggest "Hari Krishmas", George?).
Although it's odd that the most fun-loving, cuddly Beatle, Ringo Starr, has never previously released any holiday material on his own, it's also befitting that he is the first to record a full-length album of Christmas music, entitled I Wanna Be Santa Claus.
On it good-old Saint Ringo delivers a sack full of goodies, that contains as many traditional holiday chestnuts as newly self-penned Christmas numbers that'll warm the cockles of any holiday party. The album opens with "Come On Christmas, Christmas Come On", with an anthematic, pounding glam-rock beat which thunders behind a smoking sax and Mark Hudson's scorching guitar-work. Hudson also co-wrote six of the new songs along with Ringo and worked with him on his last album Vertical Man, his strongest effort since his 1973 Ringo album. The upbeat mood continues on "Winter Wonderland", with its rollicking boogie woogie piano, the swaying R&B on "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer", as well as the obvious choice for one of rock's most recognizable percussionists "The Little Drummer Boy", which, with its lush harmonies, psychedelic bagpipes (why didn't anyone think of this in the '60s?) and sparkling, well-timed drum riffs, manages to rise above the song's original dirge-like quality.
Ringo changes the tempo a bit on "The Christmas Dance", a new Carl Perkins-styled slice of country-tinged rock-n-roll, the country-fried "Blue Christmas" complete with pedal steel guitar and Wurlitzer organ, Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" which takes on a breezy, Caribbean feel with its reggae rhythms, and "Dear Santa" a delicious holiday treat that finds Ringo's voice in top form, asking for nothing but peace and love, a sentiment long shared by his one-time fab bandmates.
Not one to forget his roots Ringo successfully revisits "Christmas Time Is Here Again", giving a fresh facelift to the somewhat belabored and monotonous number originally recorded by The Beatles for their 1967 fan club Christmas flexi-disc, which was also one of the very few numbers composed by all four Beatles. He ends the collection out with the trippy "Pax Um Biscum (Peace Be With You)" which is steeped in George Harrison's East Indian mysticism with the aid of sitar and tabla as well as rich, Lennon / McCartney-esque harmonies.
While Ringo's I Wanna Be Santa Claus will never replace Nat King Cole's The Christmas Song as the quintessential Christmas album, it sure makes for a fab slice of holiday cheer.

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