The latest item in the hugely popular SpongeBob SquarePants animated TV series’ extensive merchandise line is its first holiday album, It’s A SpongeBob Christmas! Album.
The all-original 12-track set, released via Nickelodeon Records, features vocals and songwriting by SpongeBob voice actor Tom Kenny, who co-wrote ten of the songs with producer Andy Paley. It is available digitally from all online music retailers, and includes four songs from the new stop-motion animated TV special It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!, which premiered on CBS last week and plays again on Nickelodeon on Dec. 9.
Kenny and Paley previously collaborated on the acclaimed 2006 SpongeBob cast album The Best Day Ever. They wrote the premise for the TV special, which was inspired by their song “Don’t Be A Jerk (It’s Christmas),” which is included on the new album.
“We take writing for SpongeBob very seriously,” says Paley, the veteran songwriter, musician and producer who has worked with the likes of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis, Debbie Harry, The Ramones, Madonna and Phil Spector.
“We don’t write in a novelty way,” he continues. “The songs we do for SpongeBob are real songs that even though they’re sung by SpongeBob or other show characters, you can still picture them being sung by other artists.”
That Paley and Kenny are both “music and record freaks” is reflected throughout It’s A SpongeBob Christmas! Album, continues Paley.
“You can hear references to Question Mark and the Mysterians and the Beach Boys’ sound–or a weird Spector track or even a Bob Wills record,” says Paley. “It’s all over the place style-wise, but it’s fun to make records that way and get away with it–and we can because it’s SpongeBob!”
He points to the country song “Ho, Ho Hoedown,” in which Sandy Cheeks (the squirrel character sung by Carolyn Lawrence) “brags about what makes a typical Christmas in rootin’ tootin’ Texas,” as Kenny notes. The lyrics name-drop some of the writers’ favorite Texas-born musicians, including Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Ronnie Dawson and Texas Tornados Flaco Jimenez, Freddie Fender, Augie Meyers and Doug Sahm.
Kenny singles out “Christmas Eve Jitters,” about the excitement of Christmas Eve and an homage to his and Paley’s beloved Elvis’ Christmas Album, while the album-closing “A Holiday Message From SpongeBob” evokes the final track from the Beach Boys’ classic The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album (“Auld Land Syne,” 1964), which was itself inspired by the end cut from A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector’s (“Silent Night,” 1963).
“It has Dennis Wilson doing a personal message like Spector’s,” says Paley. “And SpongeBob stutters like Dennis did—real Beach Boys freaks will get the joke. At the end he does a combination of both Beach Boys and Spector records, listing the participating artists—or in our case, cartoon characters. Only lunatics like us we’ll get how we’re goofing on these obscure records.”
Or fully appreciate the legendary backup musicians on SpongeBob’s Christmas album. Session players include Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist James Burton, NRBQ guitarist “Big” Al Anderson, harpist Corky Hale, saxophonist/1960s hit maker Nino Tempo, harmonica ace Tommy Morgan (heard on everything from the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds to TV show themes like Green Acres and The Rockford Files) and harpist Corky Hale (everyone from Billie Holiday and Tony Bennett to George Michael and Bjork).
Other participants include star Nashville vocalist/Mandy Barnett, rockabilly bandleader Robert “Big Sandy” Williams and Jonathan Richman on guitar.
“Jonathan plays a distorted garage rock guitar solo on ‘Pretty Ribbons & Bows’ the way you haven’t heard him play since 1971!” says Paley. “But in many ways this is a SpongeBob cast album. We’ve got terrific vocal performances by Plankton, Mr. Krabs, Sandy Cheeks, Patrick Star and Squidward Tentacles.”
Kenny’s band SpongeBob & The Hi-Seas, with Paley as musical director, did two shows this month featuring It’s A SpongeBob Christmas! Album‘s repertoire, at The Grove in Los Angeles and The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.
“Much as we all love ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,’” says Kenny, ‘let’s face it: They’ve been done enough. We wanted to try our hand at writing new Christmas songs for SpongeBob and the gang to sing.”
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