PK AND THE SOUND EXPLOSION, CHRISTMAS DISCO (1977); MISTLETOE DISCO BAND, CHRISTMAS DISCO (1978); MIRROR IMAGE, YULETIDE DISCO (1979)
The ’70s kind of sucked for Christmas albums. Though there were a lot of great holiday singles released over the decade, the seasonal albums were pretty boring, with hardly an LP or tape you could play at a party and rock the house. Consequently, the short-lived Christmas disco phenomenon represents a welcome batch of upbeat holiday tuneage for the ’70s music fan and, by extension, the 8-track collector.
After Salsoul Orchestra’s 1976, Christmas Jollies, most disco Christmas albums were issued by Pickwick Records, a budget label largely known for soundalike remakes of current hits. Session guitarist P.K. Thompson (today a Nashville bluegrass player) and his band the Sound Explosion released a flurry of soundalike LPs on Pickwick in 1977, ripping off Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, and the Beach Boys.
Maybe PK and the band were just exhausted after ripping off other artists all year, but from the sounds of Christmas Disco, they don’t have their heart in this dance-music thing. It sounds like they’d rather be playing country and western, especially on the slowish, not-disco-at-all version of “Let It Snow” and the twangy Nashville guitar solo on “Winter Wonderland.” The album’s largely a female chorus singing nonstop over a backing of tinny brass and clueless disco hi-hat, with tracks transitioned in a nonstop dancefloor style. Because of this, the Pickwick 8-track doesn’t rearrange cuts but simply fades down and up for the track shifts, breaking three songs in the process. Boo.
But things get better for the remaining four albums in the category, which are really just two albums credited to different acts. Recordings released by Pickwick under the artist name Mirror Image (not surprisingly, another soundalike act) also came out on Mistletoe and Holiday Records under the Mistletoe Disco Band moniker. Happily the quality for these recordings was much higher, resulting in something you might almost want to listen (or dance) to.
The Mistletoe Disco Band’s 1978 Christmas Disco (reissued in 1979 as Mirror Image’s Yuletide Disco) is a well-played, continuously delightful collection in the classic disco style. The drumming is on point, the mandatory disco strings add energy, and the arrangements are clever, borrowing from MFSB’s “TSOP” and Silver Convention’s “Fly Robin Fly.” Vocal passages trading off with instrumental renderings (some with oddball synth voicings) keep the familiar melodies fresh, while sizzling percussion breakdowns make this feel like something you’d actually hear in a club.
Both 8-tracks of this material sound swell, with the Mistletoe DB’s tape a bit glossier. Note how Pickwick and Mistletoe programmed the exact same tracks completely differently. Each tape breaks a different song, and the Mistletoe version adds a partial reprise of “Silver Bells” (about two minutes or so) to fill out the program. Christmas disco is hardly a timeless phenomenon, especially on 8-track. But if you were headed to someone’s Christmas party back in the day, you’d be thrilled to have had either of these in your back pocket. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum!
You can read last week’s installment here: ‘A Partridge Family Christmas Card’ (1971)
Join us for more 8-Trackin’ next Thursday!