The music-biz pundit Bob Lefsetz, who gives out advice for free, suggested this week that a goose could fart Christmas carols and have a successful holiday album. You might be laughing, but he was not. And neither are the record companies.
Then again, maybe they are, in that evil-giddy Vincent Price way they so rarely get to employ any more. The schedule of hall-drecking releases this year is an affront – a throwback to the glory years of the music business when artists and labels didn't have to try so hard to sell records. Those were fast-lane days of insulting chutzpah and Platinum Blonde gold records, and this week we've seen some heavy throwback nerve indeed.
Buckle up, I mean to say: The sleigh ride is about to go weird, whoring and downhill, fast.
"Cee Lo's Magic Moment gathers a captivating array of seasonal staples, all newly reworked and re-energized in Green's incomparable and inventive style." So goes the press release involved with Green's inevitable Christmas gasp. The propaganda goes on: "The album was executive produced by Green who collaborated with producer Adams Anders, known for his work on Fox's Glee."
There aren't a whole lot of surefire things in the record-selling business any longer, but here are a few: Glee music, country music, Michael Bublé music, television talent-search music, Rod Stewart singing-standards music, celebrity-duet music and Christmas music. This is the last artillery of big labels, and they're unleashing it in clusters this year – bombs against a feeble, defenceless enemy that is the nation who still mindlessly buy CDs.
It is a sad detail but a true one that there are people in this world who stubbornly persist in paying $13.99 for an album called Christmas With Scotty McCreery. In fact, 40,786 people last week paid for the right to comfortably listen to the low-voiced yokel McCreery drawl his way through yuletide chestnuts. McCreery's opportunistic cash grab represents a furious spending of bullets: He's a (rather dull) American Idol winner (2011); he's Nashville (by way of Garner, N.C.); and, this year, he's Christmas.
To get back to the incomparable Green: Here we have an alien mound who judges talent for NBC's The Voice. (He is also a highly talented singer partly responsible for the stunning recordings of the soul-rock duo Gnarls Barkley, which is not relevant to the purposes of this discussion.). For his soon-to-be-forgotten seasonal work, he duets with Rod Stewart and fellow Voice adjudicator Christina Aguilera and the Muppets. Green's song I Love Football is associated with the NFL Network's Thursday Night Football. Earlier this month, he premiered Cee Lo's Magic Moment at Planet Hollywood's Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.
Did you count the franchises there? Fingers work overtime.
Also on Tuesday, Stewart, to the surprise of very few, releases Merry Christmas, Baby. From the entrepreneurial crooner, here comes a return backscratch from Green, along with other duets with Mary J. Blige, Ella Fitzgerald (!) and the Auto-Tuned smoothie from Burnaby, B.C., Bublé.
Bublé, of course, scored majorly with last year's on-the-nose-titled snowy blockbuster Christmas. It was his second seasonal release in a relatively short career. He won a Juno with Christmas, which includes a duet with Mariah Carey (who ceaselessly dresses up in short red dresses and issues her own winter records in what appears to be an ongoing series). According to SoundScan, the album was the second-highest-selling disc of the year, behind only Adele's jackpot 21 .
Christmas, reasons Bublé's label Warner, comes not once in a career, but once every 12 months. And so, the album will be released again in 2012, complete with three bonus tracks (not available separately, of course).
Country giants Lady Antebellum will cash in this season as well, issuing the clearly essential On This Winter's Night. Now, winter doesn't necessarily equate with Christmas, or any other quasi-religious ritual. Let's look at the track list to be sure of what we have here: Holly Jolly Christmas, Christmas Baby (Please Come Home), All I Want For Christmas is You, I'll Be Home For Christmas, This Christmas, The First Noel, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Blue Christmas. We get the drift. (By the way, six of the dozen songs off On This Winter's Night were released in 2010, on the EP A Merry Little Christmas. Oh, Lady Antebellum, you shouldn't have – again.)
I won't mention This Christmas (which represents the Danny-Sandy reunion of Grease co-stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John), because proceeds benefit charity. I will mention the rerelease of Jingle Cats' Meowy Christmas – "Real kittens sing 20 holiday classics!" – well, just because.
My only advice is to bypass the major-label punchbowl, and head to Santa's Got Mojo 2, a collection of silver-bell blues from Canada's Electro-Fi label. On this, there is Johnny Laws singing Christmas Comes But Once a Year, which is thankfully true, notwithstanding the major labels' best efforts to kill their golden (if flatulent) goose.