By Brett Milano
If one Paul Revere & The Raiders album reaches cult-classic status, it has to be 1967’s Christmas disc, “A Christmas Present…& Past.”
Just imagine that you’re an executive at Columbia Records, expecting an album of “White Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland.”
What they got was an album of Vietnam protest, boozy singalongs, hippie humor, catchy tunes (as always), and studio shenanigans; like the two minutes of kazoo at the end.
Columbia hated it. DJs hated it. Even the liner-note author of the Complete Columbia Singles didn’t think much of it.
But fans tend to love it, placing it on the same shelf with left-field classics like the Turtles’ “Battle of the Bands” and the Four Seasons’ “Genuine Imitation Life Gazette.”
“When CBS said they wanted a Christmas album, we couldn’t see giving them the one they probably expected,” former lead singer Mark Lindsay said. “Then we’d flip on the news and see ’Nam in full color, so that had to sink in. We were also traveling in the South at the time, so those kinds of [civil rights] issues came up. So most of our singles weren’t political, but the Christmas album totally was. It was a disaster, but it reflected what we were feeling at the time. It was a good time for flower power and protest.”
Lindsay confirms the famous story that radio programmer Bill Drake, while giving the album a preview spin, yanked it off the turntable and threw it at a wall.
As a result, the advance single, “Rain, Sleet, Snow”/”Brotherly Love” was never released, although it appears on the new set released by Collectors’ Choice Music. This also gave the album a heavy reputation, which it really doesn’t deserve: “Rain, Sleet, Snow” is a jolly proto-metal number about Christmas mail deliveries: “The Postmaster General says we’ll get by/ If you send all your cards before the Fourth of July”. Other tunes include chipmunk backing vocals and Lyndon Johnson impersonations — not to mention the Salvation Army band that pops up between every track.
There was a lot of tongue-in-cheek involved,” Lindsay says.
One mystery needs to be cleared up: Who, exactly, was that couple who sang the disc’s version of “Jingle Bells,” one of the most exuberantly off-key performances ever captured on vinyl?
“That was a guy named Paul Connors, who worked at the hot-dog stand around the corner from the studio. Terry Melcher and I would talk to him when we went on breaks. He was a big showbiz fan, a living encyclopedia. When he found out we worked at the studio, he kept begging us to let him come visit,” Lindsay says. “His girlfriend used to hang out at the counter with him, so we invited both of them to sing ‘Jingle Bells.” When we were done, I pulled out a Johnny Mathis track and let Paul sing on it, then gave him the tape to take home. Please, CBS, don’t bill us for that.”