I started this series to showcase some of my favorite Christmas albums, but it fell off a couple years ago. Since I have some all-time faves that I didn’t even begin to get into, I’m going to revive it this year. (Feel free to catch up with the first five I wrote, which have been neatly sorted for your reading pleasure here.)
We’ll start with A Very Veggie Christmas. Yes, Bob, Larry and Co. are having a Christmas party. Unfortunately, Oscar the Polish caterer is inexplicably a no-show, so while they’re waiting, the Veggie crew puts on a Christmas production like nothing you’ve ever heard. The theme is Christmas Around the World. As Pa Grape describes it, “Kinda like Missionary Week. Without the food.”
This is definitely one of the most original Christmas projects I have, and I’m not joking when I say it’s one of my all-time favorites. It’s constructed as a running series of skits, interspersing the songs with off-the-wall banter and typical guest/party chatter, Veggie style. (“Larry, where’s the food?” “I dunno, shoulda been here by now.” “Bob, where’s the bathroom?” “Down the hall, first door on the left.”) Connecting tracks are literally labeled with titles like “Talking,” “More Talking,” and “Vegetables Talking to Sheep.” Like Pet Sounds or The White Album, this one has to be appreciated as a whole.
For these reasons, the scoring system I constructed for these Christmas Favorites reviews doesn’t quite capture the full quirky genius of the record. Nevertheless, for new readers, here’s how it works:
The Star On Top: The cream of the crop. The stand-out tune.
Golden Rings: Other brightly shining stand-out tracks. There may be up to five of these (for obvious reasons).
Stocking Stuffer: A track which might escape your notice, possibly not grabbing you right away on first listen, but you want to reach into that stocking for it because it may grow on you.
Stale Cookies: Tracks that look good, but then you bite into them and feel mildly disappointed.
The Coal In the Bottom: That one track you always skip over.
So without further ado, let’s survey the Veggie crew’s report card!
The Star On Top
“The 8 Polish Foods of Christmas”
When Oscar finally does make his belated appearance, we’re treated to the wackiest spin on the “12 Days of Christmas” you’re ever likely to hear. I really can’t sum it up, so instead, I will embed this animation of it (which I literally only just discovered yesterday). Trivia fact: This was one of the first silly songs the creators ever came up with.
Five Golden Rings
* “Feliz Navidad” — This is the track where I truly mastered the “Larry squeak” in singalong. Together with his friend Manuel, helpfully playing maracas ‘cuz he’s got hands (Frigid Bob: “Ola Manuel. Nice hands.”), Larry somehow manages to make this terminally annoying tune not only fun, but repeatable. Tuba solo! Chicken dance!
* “Ring, Little Bells” (or “Kling Glockchen”) — Really, the whole sequence where Archibald Asparagus insists on subjecting the party to obscure carols is gold. “Isn’t this fun? Ring, ring, little bells, ring! Sing with me, won’t you?” Larry: “Can I ring the little bells too?” Bob: “Larry!” Their harmony is delightful, in what is really a creators’ duet, since Phil Vischer played Archibald in addition to Bob and a bajillion other characters. This number also provides a running gag as Archibald goes on to break into the song every time the doorbell rings.
* “Go Tell It On the Mountain” — The formerly cranky Appalachian grapes, headed by the inexplicably Jewish Pa Grape, offer a unique take on “Go Tell It On the Mountain.” They are backed by nothing but an uncannily versatile car, which manages to make itself sound like a harmonica, bass, banjo and full percussion set.
* “Angels We Have Heard On High” — This savagely racist calypso jam (just kidding, it’s awesome) was supposed to be first on the program. However, Palmy the coconut tree was delayed (perhaps his flight from Jamaica got caught in a blizzard on his way to Bob’s unspecified midwestern state), hence the parade of second-string veggie carols that precedes it on the final record. Hey, when it’s live, you gotta improvise.
* “The Big Medley” — Mixing “Joy to the World,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “We Wish You Merry Christmas” into one tasty concoction, this track is sure to conjure up fond memories of those rousing caroling parties where that nagging 3/16 of the participants are off tune, but nobody cares. I’ve noted that this track is mixed a bit differently from version to version. Ma Asparagus is hotter in the mix on the mp3 album, while Archibald Asparagus’s descants come through more clearly on my audio CD. Not having listened to the vinyl, I can’t say which is the definitive mix. However, I also noticed that Archie very clearly corrects his pronunciation of “glockchen” in “Ring, Little Bells” on the mp3 vs. CD, so the medley may partly be an actual re-dub and not just a different mix.
“Away In a Manger” — Junior and his Mom share a tender moment to close out the album on a lovely quiet note. Except it’s really Lisa Vischer singing to herself as both voices. Which is a little odd, but she’s the only one who could do it!
The pace slows down a bit when the crew sits down to watch The Toy That Saved Christmas. I don’t spin “Can’t Believe It’s Christmas,” “Grumpy Kids” or “Oh Santa” as often, simply because they distract from the main event. Then again, it’s nice to have these since I believe they weren’t released on any other soundtrack.
Coal in the Stocking
Strictly speaking, there’s no coal in this stocking!
And after all that, I didn’t even get to the ongoing saga of the Sheep in the Bathroom. Oh forget it, just buy the whole thing. You can also stream it in this handy playlist somebody put together. Happy listening!