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Like a personification of New Orleans itself, Huey "Piano" Smith & The
Clowns sound as if they could withstand a hurricane with their irrepressible
good humor intact. So, when they grafted their trademark Crescent City sound
to the wonderful world of Christmas, the results were merry indeed. 'Twas
The Night Before Christmas (1962) includes ten songs that seem to flow
from one to the next with nary a break in the fun. Smith's rollicking keyboards,
Curly Moore's mischievous vocals, and the band's incessant rhythms propel
the listener through an amusing series of holiday mishaps, none of which
dampen the party spirit - the raison d'tre of any good New Orleans
record. In "Rock 'N' Roll Santa Claus," old St. Nick has slimmed
down and moved away from the North Pole (in a rocket ship, no less) because "people
down there don't rock 'n' roll." "I Wrote To Santa Claus" finds
the singer so desperate to win his baby back that he appeals to a higher,
jollier power - Santa Claus!
By "All I Want For Christmas," however, our hero has given up on
love, simply requesting that Santa bring him "a little bit of music." No
beggar, though, he demands that it be records to which he can dance the Twist
and Hully Gully! Then, on traditional songs like "Silent Night" and "White
Christmas," Smith and the Clowns render the least pious, most joyful vision
of the holidays ever waxed. Huey even slaps the word "Blues" onto
the latter song's title - and steals the writer's credit from Irving Berlin!
Smith and his band were a little past their peak when they recorded 'Twas
The Night Before Christmas (with an assist from Mac Rebennack, aka Dr.
John) for Mississippi's Ace Records. While the songs do sound a bit alike -
and bear a suspicious resemblance to several previous Clowns hits - it is one
of the most infectious, unusual Christmas albums I've ever heard. It was so
unusual, in fact, that rumors circulated among collectors (fueled by the record's
scarcity) that Ace had withdrawn it from the market when enraged listeners
condemned it as sacrilegious. True, the record was quickly relegated to obscurity,
but it was the victim of a bad distribution deal rather than controversy.
The Night Before Christmas was reissued on CD in 1998, rescued by Westside
Records, an English label specializing in rhythm & blues. Westside's mastering
is pristine, and they appended bonus material consisting of instrumental backing
tracks to eight of the songs ("Christmas karaoke," they call it).
Sadly, the CD is out-of-print and has grown difficult - though not impossible
- to find, though it became easy to download in 2010 when Westside put their Ace catalog online. Easier to locate - though also out-of-print - is Ace Record's A
Rock 'n' Roll Christmas (1989), containing all ten original tracks
from the Clowns' classic LP, plus some other cool rarities. [top of page]
- All I Want For Christmas
Rock 'N' Roll Santa
'Twas The Night Before Christmas
White Christmas Blues
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