We’re not sure, given the extent of their bulbous Christmas catalogue, why ‘Little Saint Nick’ appears to be the first and last stop for most people when it comes to The Beach Boys at Christmastime. Granted it is a lovely little number but there is so much more to the California group when it comes to dressing the tree and swilling eggnog. And for all that it is probably a bit of an oxymoron that a band called the Beach Boys should be singing about a part of the year that is traditionally associated with the cold.
The Mike Love sung ‘Little Saint Nick’ was the band’s first brush with the season having been released as a single in late 1963. It included a rhythm section that was based on an earlier Beach Boys song called ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ which you could easily miss even if both songs played side by side. ‘Little Saint Nick’ is a joyful triumph that celebrates Santa and his reindeers (led by Rudy) as they speed around the globe on Christmas Eve. And sure as ‘Christmas comes this time of year’ so does ‘Little Saint Nick’. The 7-inch single release was backed up with the entirely religious number called ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ which was given the full vocal Beach Boys treatment.
The Beach Boys followed up ‘Little Saint Nick’ with their one and only official Christmas LP ‘The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album’ which came out in 1964. Bedecked in the sort of homecooked scene that the band were renowned for the artwork featured all 5 members decorating a Christmas tree while dressed in similarly coloured apparel. It was sweet but would only happen today as a route to satire, more’s the pity. ‘The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album’ contained 12 tracks, 5 of which were originals written by Brian Wilson and/or Mike Love. Of these only the 92 seconds long ‘The Man With All The Toys’ was released as a single in 1964. For such an extremely short running time the song still leaves an indelible impression. All of the other originals ‘Merry Christmas, Baby’, ‘Santa’s Beard’ and the Al Jardine sung ‘Christmas Day’ were drenched in fun. The latter is particularly noteworthy owing to its restrained nature, a genuine forgotten classic. The rest of ‘The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album’ consists of mostly secular covers which were arranged by producer and friend of the band Dick Reynolds. Of note was their lush cover of ‘White Christmas’ and the naturally upbeat ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ which includes dashes of bobbing brass as Love and Wilson take turns in retelling the grand old tale. Only ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are’ which opens side two (vinyl speak!) turns down the volume and offers a genuflecting view of Christmas.
It would be a full 10 years before the Beach Boys recorded a new Christmas song and it came in the shape of 1974’s ‘Child of Winter (Christmas Song)’. Co-written by Brian Wilson and poet Stephen Kalinich it was released on the flip side of the ‘Good Vibrations’ single. ‘Child of Winter (Christmas Song)’ is a medley of sorts that includes a prominent section that reprises Gene Autry’s ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ over a sleigh bell driven Love/Wilson vocal. 3 years later in 1977 the Beach Boys started recording a new Christmas LP that has a working title ‘Merry Christmas From The Beach Boys’ but it was shelved due to their record labels obdurate insistence on a non-seasonal effort. Such a shame because some of the originals from those sessions were exemplary. Thankfully the best of what made it onto tape did get an official release on 1998’s ‘Ultimate Christmas’ which gathered all of the tracks from 1964’s ‘The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album’ and some alternate versions that didnn't make that record. Of the tracks from the 1977 sessions ‘The Bells of Christmas’ proves to be just gorgeous with a single voice (Mike Love's) holding court rather than the multi-vocalled approach that we’ve grown accustomed to. ‘Santa's Got An Airplane’ is as daft and enjoyable as it sounds and ‘(I Saw Santa) Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree’ is as bluesy as the Beach Boys ever got. The real jewel was Dennis Wilson’s ‘Morning Christmas’ however, a song he wrote, recorded and produced all by himself. Until recently this gem got minimal attention but a groundswell of admirers are now rightfully proclaiming this a Christmas classic.
2005’s ‘What I Really Want For Christmas’ which included solo versions of ‘Little Saint Nick’ and ‘The Man With All The Toys’ was Brian Wilson’s very own Christmas record. In truth it doesn’t sound a whole deal different to what he recorded with the other Beach Boys and even though he was well into his 60’s Wilson’s affection for Christmas remained undimmed. Amongst the numerous carols were 2 originals ‘What I Really Want For Christmas’ which Wilson co-wrote with Elton John’s collaborator Bernie Taupin and the Jimmy Webb co-written ‘Christmasey’. The latter was particularly fetching with Wilson sounding in jubilant mood as the season quickly approaches.
Someone found a lighted house late one night, And he saw through the window a sight, A big man in a chair,
The Beach Boys, The Man With All The Toys
And little tiny men everywhere,
He's the man with all the toys...