John Waters ring-a-lings in the holidays with a new Christmas album
November 19 2004 1:00 AM ET
Christmas albums are a queasy and sometimes especially hellish musical subgenre, but those seeking an additional frisson for their yuletide listening might want to dip into the newly released A John Waters Christmas. Yes, that John Waters. The director--whose notoriety was established by the stomach-wrenching culinary climax of his breakthrough 1972 midnight movie hit, Pink Flamingos, and whose latest feature, A Dirty Shame, focuses on sex addiction--has made an utterly unexpected entry into the Xmas music market with his own compilation album. The set was issued November 9 by New Line Records, the film company's independent label.
Of course, if you're looking for a holly jolly Christmas, you should probably seek something other than Waters's collection, which pulls together 12 obscure and extremely outré Xmas tunes. "I wanted to have [songs] that you mostly hadn't heard, or ones that were amazing because they even existed," Waters says. The director has been hung up on music since his teen days in his hometown of Baltimore, where he still resides, and he went to extreme lengths to procure it. "I had a special coat for stealing records," Waters recalls. "But now I pay $15,000-$20,000 for a song in my films, so they're getting their money back." He also was a compulsive listener to Baltimore's black radio stations WSID, WEBB, and WWIN, and on a clear night he would pull in Annapolis's WAAN. "That kind of music freed me," Waters says. "I would sit in my bedroom and listen every night. That's when I realized there was a different world."
Appropriately, A John Waters Christmas kicks off with "Fat Daddy," a Christmas number by the eponymous Baltimore disc jockey and local TV celebrity, who served as the model for Ruth Brown's Motormouth Mabel character in Waters's Hairspray. Says Waters, "He wore the Imperial Margarine crown and a robe." Some of the tracks on the album are by familiar performers like ukulele strummer Tiny Tim (who performs "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer") and the helium-voiced Chipmunks (known for their number 1 1958 hit "The Christmas Song," and represented here by "Sleigh Ride"). But most of the songs flew completely off the chart radar; they were unearthed for Waters by his music supervisor Tracy McKnight ("She's like a private detective," he says) and associate producer Larry Benicewicz.
The set is a mélange of wacky and profane novelty tunes, grotesque recitations (like Little Cindy's "Happy Birthday Jesus," also covered by Patti Page) and soul and doo-wop Christmas numbers. The best of the latter is the long-forgotten and wonderful "I Wish You a Merry Christmas," performed by the powerhouse duo of Big Dee Irwin and Little Eva (of "Locomotion" fame) and written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. New Line is encouraging Waters to develop his own music line. Next up--hopefully in time for Valentine's Day--is A Date With John Waters. "It's a romantic record," Waters says. "They want me on the cover like Andy Williams. If it's successful, then I want to do Breaking Up With John Waters."