Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits (1955-Present) [Rhino, 1989]
"Present" was a misrepresentation even in 1989--nine of these 10 songs in 27 minutes were hits between 1956 and 1964, and will presumably mean more to those who were young back then. I was, and I play this record with pleasure every "holiday season," cough cough. Between the mildly defiant rock and roll compromises of Bobby Helms and Brenda Lee, the kiddie novelties proved durable even though you never liked the Chipmunks and never heard of Barry Gordon, the Drifters' alternative "White Christmas," Charles Brown and Elvis Presley sexing it up, and the secular piety of the Harrys Simeon and Belafonte, it's a testimony to pop culture's eternal need to put mildly untraditional twists on the holy holy holy (and why the hell wasn't there a "Twistin' Santa"?). Then there's the capper and chronological ringer, Elmo 'n Patsy's 1983 smash "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer"--a cornily deadpan, cheerfully macabre tall tale that will have romantics idealizing the old weird America for as long as Christmas is commercialized. A