I’m a fool for Christmas records. Good ones, that is: Spector’s list-topper, sure, and the Beach Boys’ album that starts with “Little St. Nick” and ends with Dennis Wilson wishing holiday greetings to fans “if you happen to be listening to this album right now.” And the Four Seasons,’ Bobby Darin’s hepped-up gospel set (The 25th Day of December), and all those Roy Wood and Slade jivers too.
It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!, from the Nickelodeon animated series (available as a download at all the usual places), is admittedly a simpler pleasure, but it now joins the rest in the “Like a lot” column. Its hooks are solid, harmonies joyous, lyrics silly, provenance unimpeachable. Most of the tunes were written by Tom Kenny (the voice of SpongeBob Squarepants) with Andy Paley, who also produced. Paley has composed with Brian Wilson (“Meet Me in My Dreams Tonight” and “Rio Grande,” “Soul Searchin,’” etc.) and himself been produced by Spector (the Paley Brothers’ version of “Baby Let’s Stick Together,” which the maestro also cut with Dion). And the wreathing crew includes James Burton, Nino Tempo, Jonathan Richman and ex-NRBQ-er “Big” Al Anderson (both on guitars), Tommy Morgan (Pet Sounds’ harmonica man), roots cats Robert “Big Sandy” Williams, Russell Scott and Dave Stuckey, plus Paley.
The album’s top cuts are the single “Don’t Be a Jerk (It’s Christmas)” and “Santa Won’t Let You Down,” uptempo sound-walls that sport good vibes and sentiments. The former makes its message abundantly clear: “When others are talking never interrupt/ Don’t put people down or leave the toilet seat up.” The latter, buoyant on a bed of girl-group changes, is unapologetic Super Pop, with Kenny’s pinched-nasal vocal suggesting Mike Love on helium. The rest of the set goes generic—which is to say, it leans on tried and true song forms. But the craftsmanship is so concise and affectionately applied that the resulting tracks wind up as more than mere genre exercises.
“Snowflakes” is the requisite ballad, but it doesn’t serve as just a pace-brake. It’s structured to generate a dramatic tension that, abetted by the repeating chorus and Morgan’s now-it’s-there-now-it-isn’t bass harmonica, pulls the whole track to a nice melodic payoff. A cool dilemma: It may be delivered by an adenoidal cartoon character, but beauty is present. “Wet Wet Christmas” is the doowop move. A loose, handclapping cross between the Devotions’ “Rip Van Winkle” and the Alleycats’ “Puddin N’ Tain,” it’s jubilant, the kind of addictive candy that, once tasted, many of us kids can’t stay away from. Inspirational Verse: “Bring your fa-la-la and your ho-ho-ho/ To our party in the H2O.” Garage gets its due in “Pretty Ribbons and Bows.” Here, series regular Patrick, a clueless pink starfish, overdoses on Xmas bling as Jonathan Richman churns out a descending, Raiders-worthy riff and unleashes a gnarly solo.
“Ho Ho Hoedown” is the country number (western-swinging steel guitar, shout-outs to Waylon and Willie, Sir Douglas, Freddy Fender and Flaco Jimenez), and “Christmas Eve Jitters” is nervous rockabilly, with Spongebob channeling “Viva Las Vegas”-era Elvis and referencing Buddy with the hiccupped line “I’m shakin’ like a leaf on a great big wreath of ha-ha-Holly.”And that’s the source of the album’s charm: at once knowing and innocent, it’s purely pop for people now.