Ken Fox (left), Peter Zaremba, Bill Milhizer and Keith Streng love Christmas.
THE FLESHTONES at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Friday (November 21), 9 pm. $12, advance $10.50. 416-870-8000.
Every year around this time, you can count on some artist connected with the Yep Roc label to issue a Christmas-themed recording.
In the recent past, Marah, Los Straitjackets, Reverend Horton Heat, Apples In Stereo and the Minus 5 have each taken turns channelling the yuletide spirit for Yep Roc releases like last year's collection, Oh Santa! New and Used Christmas Classics from Yep Roc Records and now New York's kings of the Super Rock sound, the Fleshtones have put out Stocking Stuffer, a rockin' selection of seasonal scorchers which takes a refreshingly cynicism-free view of the holiday season.
"It's no coincidence that Yep Roc artists keep recrording Christmas stuff," explains Fleshtones frontman Peter Zaremba. "Glenn Dicker who runs the label has a thing about Christmas music - he really loves it. So he asked us if we'd consider taking a crack at Hooray For Santa Claus from the movie Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, knowing it was right up our alley and before I could get out the words, ‘yeah, sure,' he added, ‘how about a whole Christmas album?'
When I called up Keith with the idea, he was all for it as long as we didn't make fun of Christmas which is exactly what I was thinking. Too many rock songs seemed to be anti-Christmas, like the Sonics' Don't Believe In Christmas which is fine for them because they were snotty punks when they did that. But all the guys in our group really love Christmas so our feeling was why not be positive about it? We just needed the right material."
Mercifully enough, the Fleshtones stayed well clear of the overly familiar carols and well-worn standards. Instead they wrote a few future holiday classics of their own, dug up and a couple of overlooked R&B gems and revamped a few oddball numbers suggested by musician friends. The best thing about Stocking Stuffer is that despite the Christmas theme, Stocking Stuffer still comes across as a Fleshtones album.
"We actually recorded it at the end of June, during a heatwave in New York and the whole time I was singing songs like Jingle Bells and Mel Torme's Christmas Song to get in the spirit. It drove my friends and family absolutely nuts. No one wants to hear about chestnuts roasting on open fires when it's sweltering hot outside.
Whatever we did, it had to be appropriate for the Fleshtones. Early on, someone said we should do Father Christmas by the Kinks, who I love, but I never liked that song. Nathaniel Mayer's Mr. Santa Claus on the other hand was so great, we knew we could never top it, but we thought we could do it our way without messing it up. It's particularly poignant knowing that Nathaniel won't see Christmas this year. Sadly, he passed away on November 1."
The Fleshtones, whose fervent cult following stretches around the globe, didn't feel obliged to limit themselves to songs from the North American tradition.
"When Dave Faulkner from the Hoodoo Gurus heard we were doing this, he called me up to say we had to do Six White Boomers by this Australian folk hero Rolf Harris who wrote Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport. The song sounded like a folk tune so we had to completely rearrange it. We thought that since it's from Australia, it had to be done AC/DC style.
"There's all this great Christmas music from other cultures that many people aren't familiar with like the Polish carol In Midnight's Silence which has a beautiful melody. I reworked it and wrote some new lyrics in hopes of adding something to the Christmas canon, y'know, give something back. Tis the season."
FLESHTONE PETER ZAREMBA'S FIVE FESTIVE FAVES
ELVIS PRESLEY Elvis' Christmas Album (RCA) It's always great to hear Elvis singing about things he cares about and there's a good mix of the reverential numbers, bluesy tunes and rockers on this 1957 recording.
DEAN MARTIN A Winter Romance (Capitol) I doubt that Dean cared about any of this but the record has a wonderfully breezy feel to it and his voice sounds amazing. And what a title for a Christmas record!
FRANK SINATRA The Frank Sinatra Christmas Collection (Reprise) I prefer the Christmas stuff Frank recorded later in his career. It's always a pleasure to hear that voice. Here's your chance to hear the shop-worn songs done right.
PEGGY LEE Christmas Carousel (Capitol) I like her take on the songs mostly because the arrangements are nice and jazzy. Plus, the best version of Santa Claus is Coming To Town -- ever.
A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector (ABKCO) This one has to be the best of all for the writing, production and singing talent. It just sounds so massive, especially Darlene Love's Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) which is brilliant. I listen to it every year and it still inspires me.
Longtime fans of the Fleshtones will appreciate that Peter Zaremba has continued his ongoing tribute to Bazooka Joe with yet another song in honour of his mini comic hero, Christmas With Bazooka Joe.
According to Zaremba, the Fleshtones Christmas cheer isn't confined to their new Stocking Stuffer album. They'll be spreading it thick on stage at the Horseshoe.