december 2008

The Ventures
Razor & Tie
Released: 1965; reissued: 1995

Originally released in 1965, The Ventures' Christmas Album is a true holiday treasure. The greatest of all rock 'n' roll instrumental groups (having sold more than 100 million records and still playing to enthusiastic audiences the world over), the Ventures were no strangers to the concept album, as their long players tended to focus songs around a single theme, starting with 1961's The Colorful Ventures and including, by the time this Christmas outing appeared, The Ventures in Space (a collection of celestial wanderings, such as "Out of Limits," "One Step Beyond," "Twilight Zone," "War of the Satellites"), The Ventures a Go-Go (dance tunes) and Surfing (guess). Those are some great albums, showcasing the rock solid rhythm section of Howie Johnson and, after Johnson was disabled in an auto accident, Mel Taylor on drums and Bob Bogle on bass, who laid the foundation for the guitar pyrotechnics of Don Wilson on rhythm and the inventive Nokie Edwards on lead. On the Christmas album, Wilson and Edwards made full use of the sonic possibilities of the Mosrite guitars they played exclusively at this time, and vividly displayed the wit common to Ventures arrangements. The particular conceit here is that every song begins with a few bars of a current or recent hit that might otherwise have made it onto another Ventures album or even have already been a hit for the group—such as its career launching 1960 million seller "Walk, Don't Run," which opens this album before slyly transitioning into "Sleigh Ride" as Edwards ratchets up the reverb and deploys his wang bar periodically for effect. The Zombies' "She's Not There" sets the stage for "Snowflakes," a number that incorporates the melody from "Greensleeves" but retains not only the ethereal atmosphere of the Zombies' single, but periodically reprises its melody as the tune progresses. The bluesy opening of Johnny Rivers's version of "Memphis" is but prelude for a stomping rendition of "Jingle Bell Rock." The trebly opening licks of the Beatles' "I Feel Fine" make for an exciting intro to... "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." The band does offer up an original, too—a little 2:06 exercise in spookiness titled "Scrooge," which, other than an opening shout of "Humbug!," has more to do with Halloween than Christmas, given its horror house melodies and effects. No matter—The Ventures' Christmas Album is a rare, essential holiday gem.—David McGee

The Ventures, 'Snowflakes'

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024