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Without a doubt, A Christmas Present... And Past (Columbia, 1967) is weird record - one of the strangest, most off-the-cuff Christmas albums I've ever heard, particularly from the days before alternative rock codified irony as a rock stance. It also represents a brave choice for any band striving to be hip in the 1960's - and Paul Revere & The Raiders were trying really hard. Finding themselves in a post-Sgt. Pepper world, the Raiders were struggling to distance themselves from the prefab image promulgated by their colorful Revolutionary War costumes and near-daily appearances on the TV show Where The Action Is. Never mind that the Raiders were one of the best garage bands ever, cranking out a long string of brilliant singles like "Kicks," "Hungry," and "Just Like Me." The popular wisdom now dictated that "real" musicians played serious music - not catchy singles - and they didn't wear cute little outfits. And, they didn't make Christmas records.

The Raiders confounded these expectations by waxing a Christmas record that was sincere, whimsical, topical, and ironic - often within a single song. The title of A Christmas Present... And Past derives from the fact nine of the ten tracks are original compositions written by pony-tailed lead singer Mark Lindsay and producer Terry Melcher (son of Doris Day, friend of Charles Manson). Those tracks represent the "present," if you will, with a truly bizarre version of "Jingle Bells" accounting for the "past."

So, Revere and company get extra points for originality - many Christmas albums cannot boast any original material - but those are nine very odd little songs, full of inside jokes, political inferences, and leftist screed. (And, I mean 'little' quite literally - the whole thing runs less than half-an-hour.) A Christmas Present... And Past sounds as if the band got baked one sunny California afternoon, then wrote and recorded the whole thing in one sitting - which isn't altogether out of the question. As a result, collectively the tracks comprise a fun, twisted take on the Christmas season, but not many of them stand up on their own.

"Wear A Smile At Christmas" is nice, tuneful ditty, complete with a cameo appearance by President Lyndon Johnson (ahem). But, it runs a mere minute-and-a-half after you discount the "Salvation Army Street Band" skit that introduces it. That wheezy brass band, in fact, introduces most of the tracks, including "Rain, Sleet, Snow" (a psychedelic freak-out), "Peace" (a formless, orchestral instrumental), and "Brotherly Love" (a painfully self-righteous ballad adapted from "Greensleeves"). All in all, A Christmas Present... And Past is, in the words of its closing number, "A Heavy Christmas Message."

Consequently, my favorite selection is "Dear Mr. Claus," a bizarre love song wholly unrelated to the Raiders' overall concept. Lindsay breathlessly composes a letter to the titular saint, asking for a little assistance in the romance department. "It's getting very lonely here at home," explains Mark, "I'm tired of cleaning all the pots and pans and dirty dishes." He breaks into a vaudevillian song pleading, "Won't you bring me a real live doll?" The impression I am left with, however, is more than a little perverse (see how), leading me to name it in Horny Holidays (one of my Christmas Lists) as one of the sexiest Christmas records ever.

A Christmas Present... And Past reached #10 on Billboard's Christmas chart, but it failed to enter the Top 100 album chart or generate a hit single (no surprise there). And, if Christmas Present was designed to reinvent the band's image as counterculture pranksters, it failed in that mission, too. It did, however, piss off their employers. According to Mark Lindsay's website, an executive at Columbia told Lindsay and Melcher heatedly, "You've really missed the boat on this one!"

All the same, A Christmas Present... And Past remains a singular (if modest and perplexing) achievement. But, it was all for naught, as the Raiders' career entered a steep decline broken only by their unexpected 1971 #1 hit, "Indian Reservation." By then, Mark Lindsay had departed, and he scored a handful of hits (including the Top 10 "Arizona," 1969) before fading from view. Eventually, the Paul Revere and the band became a fixture on the the oldies circuit (visit website). Their legacy remains, however. Check out Greatest Hits (1967), The Legend Of Paul Revere (1990), or Kicks! The Anthology 1963-1972 (2005), or pick up their entire LP catalog, brilliantly remastered for compact disc (with bonus tracks) by Sundazed Records.

A Christmas Present...And Past was, of course, originally issued on LP by Columbia - just like all the Raiders' other records. Parent company Sony reissued the album on CD in 1989, then quickly deleted it. In 1996, a little label named Alala Music took a stab at it. In 2005, A Christmas Present...And Past was reissued yet again (with no bonus extras) by Koch Records - not sadly, by Sundazed. Ultimately, Sony made it available as an MP3 download in 2013. [top of page]

Albums Albums

SongsSongs

  • Dear Mr. Claus
  • Jingle Bells
  • Wear A Smile at Christmas

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