If being frozen in time as the auteurs of a dangerously-bland style of heavy metal in the mid- to late 1980s is your idea of self-imposed dungeon of pop culture Gehenna, let me introduce you to that—plus the 1990s and only-Christmas music. No one ever accused Christmas of being adrenaline-starved, but one year in my Dad’s CD player these clowns showed up to demonstrate what our yuletide had always been missing: butt rock and double-bass pedal. They feature the guy from Metallica on one version of “Carol of the Bells.” And on one of the few original tunes not generously yoking a neon bar sign as a metaphor for debauchery and seasonal forgiveness, they fireball home an anthem about hanging ornaments on the perfect tree, then give way to a 2 ½ minute Strat-on-parade solo.
Vince Vance and the Valiants
Okay, so Wikipedia investigators will persist in claiming Vince Vance and the Valiants are not actually only responsible for the charming heartbreaker “All I Want for Christmas Is You” (Not the Mariah Carey screamer). In fact, VVV got popular in the 1980s for a rendition of “Barbara Ann” called “Bomb Iran,” which later got parlayed into a 2008 YouTube video sensation that rivals Uncle Mitt’s “47% video” for “most likely Internet-y thing to lose a Republican’s chance at the White House.” ANYWAY, before engaging in xenophobic surf pop, VVV did a song using holly and mistletoe as metaphors for an estranged lover—or geopolitical quagmire…can’t be certain with these trampy hucksters.
Outside Donald Trump, Gerald Rivera, and maybe David Blaine, the man for largest ego without a clue as to why is Chip Davis, founder and lead percussionist of Omaha-based (yes, let me just say this again, Omaha-based) new age dope-ropers Mannheim Steamroller. Mannheim Steamroller gained traction from candy-cane-suckers back in the late 1980s with their version of Christmas tunes played by a jazzed-up Mario Kart-esque orchestra. I’m actually an apologist for this heap of tawdry balderdash, and therefore I’d like to add that I’m reticent to categorize as “(snow)ne hit wonders” because Davis put out a stirring bunch of aimless pop dullery about hot fudge, morning coffee, and semi-trucks in the 1970s and 80s, which, if not actual “hits,” did constitute legitimate offerings for sheet music by my piano teacher from about 1999 to 2001.
This stodgy do-gooder may have put together a string of quirky folk songs to rival that puppet act Donovan but the world shall never know. Because all we’ll remember him for is his likeness and got-a-couple-lemon-drops-down-my-throat voice of Frosty the Snowman in the eponymous film and like most of the voices in the claymation Rudolph film (Yukon Cornelius been haunting your dreams lately?). Ives is like a chubby, weirder Jimmy Stewart, without the resounding body of work to turn to once December 26 hits.
Other than making the background music for that sweet sexual thriller about ballet back in 2010 featuring Natalie Portman and Macaulay Culkin’s ex-girlfriend, this heady Tsarist composer basically gave us a couple hours of a wooden doll fighting a rat king, then an extended promenade of ethnically-predictable dips and doo-dahs from across the globe called The Nutcracker. In other words, how you say “what have you done for me lately” in Russian.
So Wikipedia tells me that Feliciano actually made it big in the Netherlands with a hit song about “guide dogs” in 1969. But, again, I DIGRESS…In the good ole US of A, Feliciano and his holy-guapo fop of hair is known primarily for that potato-ole-selling “Feliz Navidad” (lest anyone think I’m being ethnocentric, ask yourself first, are the marketing geniuses at Taco John’s above and/or below such incriminations, then, after hopefully answering yes, proceed lightly with your criticism). Like I said, Feliciano may have put out some good shit. Like some real good stuff that no one will ever fully appreciate. But no one cares. Because for two minutes and change he’s that bilingual dude with a billboard-sized acoustic guitar and unnerving vibrato, talking about how emotionally layered his wish of holiday cheer to us really is. And this limitation is too bad. I can imagine Feliciano right now somewhere in a suburban Culver’s, late at night, over a Concrete, yelling loudly at the friendly staff about his plight in life as a pop singer, damned for eternity to be the token diversity guy in your local light rock station’s retinue of Christmas humdingers.
And sometimes late at night, I sneakily think happy thoughts about a world where Feliciano, Davis, Vance, and the faceless scruffy voice from TSO get together, commiserate, and find release from their plight. Maybe at a casino in the Upper Midwest. For like 2 or 3 nights in mid-December. With seating for like 2,500 people. Under the banner, “One Night of Music from the Land of Misfits.” And maybe, with a ticket, you get like $5 off the buffet or some shit like that.