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Not it’s not.

It’s actually August as this is written and goes up, not Christmas time… not even winter and certainly not cold (thank goodness).

Of course the day after it’s posted on the site it’s permanently archived and can be accessed and read at any time and yet unlike the content of most reviews here these kinds of records tend to fit best in a certain time of year and is meant to reflect the mindset that goes with that season.

As a result most Christmas songs can be difficult to put yourself in the right frame of mind to appreciate the intricacies of a performance intended to be encountered when the world seems to slow down and briefly feels at peace before all hell breaks loose again.

If we use that as a barometer for its effectiveness it’ll be a tall order for any record we encounter to be able elicit that fleeting sentiment each and every day of the year.


I’m Sitting All Alone
The precarious thing about choosing Christmas songs to serve as an artist’s current release in the singles era should be fairly obvious – you have just a small window to put them out, mid-October through late November.

For a group like The Five Keys who only were signed to a contract last spring and who’ve had just two singles so far, Aladdin looked at the release schedule and knew they had a difficult choice to make.

Their last record, The Glory Of Love, was a chart topper and so whatever The Five Keys put out next was bound to draw serious commercial interest right away and a strong follow-up might cement their reputation as major players on the scene which could ensure them consistent sales for the next two to five years.

A Christmas record though was a riskier bet in some ways for if it didn’t catch on right away – as in within a week or two of its release – the momentum of their breakthrough would be wasted and it’d conceivably be hard to get that back with their subsequent single which would probably come out in mid-winter, a full six months after their hit.

Yet there was also potential benefit to celebrating the fact that It’s Christmas Time, as with the dearth of rock records made for holiday consumption the fan base would gravitate towards it knowing they have so few options in that regard.

Back in 1948 The Orioles had put out It’s Gonna Be A Lonely Christmas as their second release soon after their debut hit #1 and were rewarded for it at the time with another Top Ten entry. But they’ve also been capitalizing on its enduring popularity each year since, re-entering the charts in December of 1949 and continuing to be a strong seller last year as well as this season.

If The Five Keys could pull a similar feat off then the yearly revisiting of this record would provide an annual reminder of their talents in case their star began to dim slightly with their more universally themed records that followed.

With that in mind it’s hardly surprising that Aladdin figured the risk was worth chasing those kinds of long term rewards.


Please Come Back To Stay
The familiar melodic swipe from Jingle Bells – played with actual bells – is a well-worn (read: overused) shortcut to set a wintry scene and when they follow that up with a line about snow on the ground you think the song was a cut and paste job from a Holiday Activity Guide for some sort of school project.

But Rudy West doesn’t treat it that way with a delivery that is as delicate as a snowflake, coaxing out the words in a halting tone. The other four Keys are providing a fragile vocal harmony bed for him to sing over and if the musical backing is indistinct, certainly lacking the more traditional Christmas touches after that intro, the melodic weight is being carried by West’s vocals anyway, so it’s not as if he needs much help in that department.

Then again, because WHAT he’s singing is much more vague and esoteric as it relates to the subject at hand, maybe he could use some colored lights and reindeer decorations to convince you It’s Christmas Time after all.

The main issue here is the song’s lyrics are painting too broad a picture, presenting West as someone who is merely using the season as a backdrop for a more personal story. He starts off tying it into the holidays by focusing on the weather, then transitions to his feelings for a girl whose love for him has faded.

He conveys this admirably, his voice shaded with regret tinged with an undercurrent of seasonal hope, the melancholia meant to appear more poignant because of facing Christmas alone, but beyond that it really could take place at any time of year. His sadness wouldn’t dissipate just because flowers were blooming and since there’s no additional Christmas references until the meaningless insertion of the title line to close it out, it’s actually kind of misleading and consequently you won’t find this in many Christmas playlists.

Even if you merely focus on the particulars of what he DOES tell us, not the backdrop it alludes to, there’s not much here to really latch on to. Yes, he’s sad about the crumbling romance and most can relate to losing someone you envisioned spending a large part of your life with, but there are no details worth remembering, no sense of who this girl was or what happened to cause their break up. All we get is Rudy West’s tremulous lead to guide us through his feelings.

Of course for many that will be more than enough. He does sound really good, really sincere and is really effective in selling his misery and if the musical backing, the melody and the vocal arrangement are all slightly subpar, his performance is just good enough to balance that out, even if in the end we remain mostly unmoved by his heartache and just want to open the gaudier presents under the tree.


Spread It Around
The gamble didn’t exactly pay off for Aladdin with this one.

For starters they released it a few weeks too late and when the flip side, Old MacDonald, a far better effort in spite of the limited options a children’s standard would seem to present, began to gain traction in the market, the label pulled this after the holidays to replace it with a different non-seasonal song, which only confused matters and may have hurt the single’s sales enough to keep it from charting.

Likewise It’s Christmas Time, largely because its connection to the actual holiday were tenuous at best, never became an annual event like other Christmas songs would.

What we’re left with then is a forgettable song with a deceptive title which just so happens to feature a solid lead vocal from someone who has even better examples of his talent awaiting us in his Christmas stocking.

In other words, it’s the song’s surface impression which will draw attention to it while the actual content will inevitably let down those who tuned in for that reason. Then, just when you’re ready to dismiss it out of hand for being underwhelming as written, Rudy West will win you over just enough to find it a mildly pleasant nonentity… provided you’re still in enough of a holiday mood to be generous with your praise.


(Visit the Artist page of The Five Keys for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)