The Ventures’ Christmas Album

The Ventures’ Christmas Album was my favorite Christmas album when I was growing up. It’s still one of my favorites today. It’s also a classic example of an album being totally screwed up when released on CD.

When the Ventures’ Christmas Album was finally released on CD, I immediately ran out and bought a copy, even though the vinyl copy I had was one I would never part with. I mean, the CD had to sound better, right?

Wrong.

Somebody at some point must have thought it would be a good idea to remaster the Ventures Christmas Album before releasing it on a digital medium. Gone was the exceptional stereo mix that gave a wonderful soundstage, making it sound like the band was right in front of you – one guitar on the left, one on the right, the bass slightly to the left, and the drums near center behind all of the others. The remastered CD sounded like all the instruments were in same place, on playing on top of each other.

And then there’s the case of “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer”. It was like somebody tried to intentionally ruin the song. The Ventures played Rudolph with the lead guitar up front and a second guitar adding harmony underneath the lead. On the CD the guitar on harmony was brought up even to the lead guitar, making it sound like the Ventures were trying to play the song with some kind of non-traditional jazz styling. It was terrible.

The Ventures were a popular instrumental group in the 1960s. They released their Christmas album in 1965. What made this album so unique was that it took traditional Christmas songs and mixd them with riffs from popular rock and roll songs from the ’60s. It’s kind of like a mashup between the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Tequila” by the Champs and “Frosty the Snowman”, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, “Sleigh Bells” with Walk Don’t Run” by…well, the Ventures. And this is decades before anyone ever coined the phrase mashup.

The Ventures Christmas Album is truly one of the coolest Christmas albums ever, and was ranked number 12 by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 25 greatest Christmas albums ever recorded. But the only way you should ever listen to it is on the original vinyl. It may be hard to find, but its well worth the effort.

Cream – Disraeli Gears

Considered to be the first supergroup, Cream consisted of guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce, and drummer Ginger Baker. Eric Clapton was well known as one of the best blues guitarists in the ’60s, having formerly played in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Jack Bruce had already made a name for himself playing with Manford Mann and also with Clapton in the Bluesbreakers. Ginger Baker was considered at the time to be the best drummer in rock and roll. He played with an intricate jazz style combined with intense hard rock pounding and was known for extensive drum solos when playing live. He is also noted for being the first drummer in rock and roll to use two bass druns instead of only one.

On their second album, “Disraeli Gears”, Cream held to their formally established blues roots but also ventured into psychedelic territory. The band spent only three and a half days in the studio recording it and it became their breakthrough album in the United States. 

The album title came from an inside joke within the band regarding Eric Clapton wanting to buy a road racing bicycle. Disraeli was a past Prime Minister of England, and one of the band’s roadies referred to the bike as having “Disraeli” gears, when he really meant “derailleur” gears. The band found the snafu so funny, they decided make it their new album title. …I guess you had to be there.

The Beatles (original master recording and white vinyl edition)

Unofficially known as the “White Album” because of its plain white cover, The Beatles was the beginning of the end for The Fab Four. The recording sessions were marred with many arguments over creative differences. John Lennon started bringing Yoko Ono to the studio with him, which the band had always had a policy of never bringing wives or girlfriends to the recording sessions. At one point, Ringo Starr walked out the studio and for a short period, it was rumored he may have left the band (of course, he later returned).

It’s strange how so many bands, during some of their most turbulent times in the studio, produce some of their most brilliant albums. The Beatles’ “White Album” was no exception. Even if one doesn’t consider this album one of the Beatles’ best, it can’t be denied that it is their most varied in musical styles. 

The first pressings of The Beatles, had a pure white cover, with the band’s name embossed on the cover. Later pressings, like this original master and the one pressed on white vinyl, had the band’s name printed in gray letters. The original master did not include any of the extras that came with both the original release and the white vinyl Edition.

When I sit down to seriously listen to the “White Album”, I will always put on the original master version. When I’m doing other things and it’s more or less playing in the background, I usually put on the white vinyl edition, just because I think it’s cooler.