Various Artists

Cameo Parkway Holiday Hits

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Collecting a dozen-and-a-half seasonal selections from the archives of Cameo/Parkway Records, this album doesn't seem to know if it wants to be a compilation of oddball novelty tunes or of more traditional Christmas-themed melodies, and ends up not quite favoring either side. Cameo Parkway Holiday Hits (which, if one wants to be picky, doesn't actually feature anything that could honestly be called a "hit") features a number of popular Christmas carols performed in professional but unexciting fashion by a pair of studio groups, the Rudolph Statler Orchestra and the International Pop Orchestra, for anyone in need of a spare version of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" or "Deck the Halls," but the meat of the album comes from the pop, rock, and country acts on board. Chubby Checker and Bobby Rydell pair up for two songs, a teen idol fortified version of "Jingle Bell Rock," and a strange take on "Jingle Bells," in which the vocalists offer up less than impressive impressions of their favorite singers (including Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin, and Fats Domino), and the Cameos deliver a pair of doo wop-styled numbers. If you've always longed for more banjo in your holiday music library, Beethoven Ben and Bob Johnson & the Lonesome Travelers are here to help. The Hardly Worthit Players (best known for their version of "Wild Thing" sung by a Robert Kennedy impersonator) step up with "White Christmas" as sung by "Bobby the Poet," with an arrangement that nods to "Like a Rolling Stone." The Mexicani Marimba Band (a low-rent knockoff of the Baja Marimba Band, who were in turn an offshoot of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass) present an unfortunate version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," while Toni Stante makes with a livelier Latin sound on the R&B-flavored "Donde Esta Santa Claus (Where Is Santa Claus)," which rips off the same bit from Marvin Gaye's "Hitch Hike" that the Velvet Underground would lift for "There She Goes Again." And the album saves the best for last, closing out with Bob Seger & the Last Herd's "Sock It to Me Santa," among the most rockin' Christmas singles of the '60s and one of the very few selections from Seger's early tenure at Cameo/Parkway that's made it to a non-bootleg CD. "Sock It to Me Santa" is rare enough that collectors of rock & roll Christmas records may want to pick up Cameo Parkway Holiday Hits, but the rest of the set is uneven at best, and should be reserved for tolerant listeners obsessed with arcane holiday music.

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