Christmas With Horns

*Rubs hands together*

*Evil laugh*

If you didn’t see any of this coming, then you really don’t know me that well, do you?

So we’ve officially kicked off the holiday season, which began with the carving of a giant bird, which later moved into attacking people in stores for that 55″ television you just had to have. But for $250, it was a steal, and that old man couldn’t possibly run that fast. So as you scream “Survival of the fittest, pops!” you run off while dragging that box behind you…

Whoah, where was I going with this?

None of this actually happened, folks. I’m just trying to set up the season for you. Don’t mind me, apparently I’m a better fiction writer than I give myself credit for!

Anyway, the evil subject at hand…the actual evil subject!

Naturally, when I begin to compile my Christmas playlist – I run with all of the staples and favorites – Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, and the like. I’ve begun to expand my Christmas playlist to the likes of Anne Murray and Judy Collins, but I’m more apt to shy away from anything that sounds novelty or cartoonish, with the exception of anything that comes from A Charlie Brown Christmas or How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

Don’t make me ever listen to anything from Alvin and the Chipmunks, unless you like to see a quick descent into insanity.

A few years ago, my parents gifted me with Michael Buble’s Christmas album, which mixed the classics with the crooning of Mr. Buble. I’ve been a fan ever since, and since I’m convinced alot of things I like wind up being gateway drugs for other things, I began to take a liking to David Foster, Josh Groban, and became more appreciative of Kenny Loggins and Chicago.

This article all about that group I write way too much about.

I dislike snow, cold weather, and everything that has to do with winter. Conversely, I like Christmas music that sings of all these things. Oh, and there’s a place I’d rather not spend a moment of my winter or Christmas in…Chicago. However, there is one group I’d like to spend my holiday season listening to – theĀ band Chicago.

You knew where this was going long before you started reading. You chose to stay.


Chicago conquered it all – horn sections, the 1970s, creative album covers that didn’t need to feature the band on them, roman numerals. So it was only natural that they had to conquer the holiday season, but it took them until 1998 to do so, and the result was Chicago XXV: The Christmas Album. The album was released in August of 1998 on their label, Chicago Records (perhaps they were wise to have their own label after the debacle of that unreleased album), and later re-released in 2003 by Rhino Records as What’s It Gonna Be, Santa?, with six additional tracks. This re-release in itself came of the effort to possibly record an entirely new album of Christmas music, which was scrapped due to cost factors.


The original album featured fourteen tracks, with the re-released album containing twenty. Adding to the festivities and joy of the season were the songs featuring a children’s choir for the songs “Children’s Prayer” and “One Little Candle,” both of which originated on the original version of the album, and featured some of the band’s children – Kate and Sean Lamm (daughters of Robert Lamm), Sarah Pankow (daughter of James Pankow), Dylan and River Loughnane (children of Lee Loughnane), and Ryan and Alex Bittan (children of Roy Bittan), among others.


The re-released album (containing six new tracks) also gave Keith Howland his first lead vocal contribution for “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.” Howland, until that time, had been backing vocals since joining the group in 1995 (he’s still with the band today).

From Howland’s My Space page (https://myspace.com/keithhowlandmusic)

Complete track listing (Both Albums)

And what would an article about music be without, well, music?!

Here’s the original album:

Uploaded by mistermister668xmas

And the six tracks that were added to the re-release in 2003 (All Uploaded by Chicago – Topic):

As far as the albums go, all the standards of Christmas are covered. The arrangements are nice, and very much what you’d expect of any Chicago song, except the horns really add to the festiveness of the season.

I particularly love the total opposite song of the bunch, “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.” This was lead guitaristĀ Keith Howland’s first lead solo since joining the group in 1995, and it definitely didn’t disappoint – I love the more contemporary edge he gave the song. Chicago managed to re-invent their sound as the 1980s and 1990s progressed, and this is a great example of how they did it through the post-Cetera years.

And there are the beautiful children’s choir songs – the young voices in the songs “Child’s Prayer” (accompanied by Jason Scheff) and “One Little Candle” help them stand out among the trademark sound Chicago is known for.

And of course, if you ever want to hear a great group effort of vocals, “Sleigh Ride” has a four-part harmony of Robert Lamm, Jason Scheff, Bill Champlin, and Lee Loughnane (whom you’re more likely to see doing his impressive trumpet and flugelhorn work – it’s always nice to see him sing!).

I don’t think there is anything about Chicago I could ever not be impressed about – from their early hits in the late 1960s and 1970s, to their re-invented sounds of the 1980s and 1990s, to Christmas music, love songs, breakup songs, tributes to bassists that were bigger than a big name, and collaborations with other groups to combine sound and style, I just continually am impressed with with a find. I’m still not a fan of “Colour My World,” but that’s a minor detail.

Christmas, Chicago, Chicago music, and Christmas music as sung by Chicago…what could be better?

You came because you were lured in by Christmas music, and you got yet another of Allison’s fangirl articles about Chicago. But that’s ok, you stayed long enough to read this part. If you’d like to read more of Allison’s stuff, she’d love for you to visit her blog, Allison’s Written Words. You can follow her blog on Facebook, and Allison is also on Twitter @AllisonGeeksOut. She mixes up her articles with random observations, and keeps the politics out of her tweets. She prefers it that way. Why would she want to discuss that when she can discuss a topic of her “happy place,” which is music.

Everyone should have a happy place like that.

Spray Snow is Holiday Magic

The holidays are quickly approaching. Soon we will be decorating our homes. As you make your list for holiday decorating needs, might I suggest you add Spray Snow to that list. Spray Snow has had a long history, but sadly seems to have dwindled in popularity. It is time for it to make a comeback!

When I was a kid, Spray Snow was ever-present. A can would always appear in the days before we began making everything festive. We would use it to decorate the front windows of our house. Spraying them around the edges to give them a “snowy” appearance, even when it was unseasonably warm.

Rarely was I put in charge of the spraying. Which was smart. I just could not be trusted to ration the stuff. Starting on the window on the left side of our front room, I would make it SUPER SNOWY. Then as you moved across the row of windows things would get less and less snowy as I quickly ran out of Spray Snow. This meant my sisters were in charge and they did all sorts of cool things. They would make Spray Snow Snowflakes using stencils or even spell stuff out in a rudimentary snow-based graffiti.

The burning question is why did Spray Snow fade in popularity? Do people think it is tacky? Is it the chemicals? Perhaps it is something as a simple as marketing. Cans of Spray Snow used to be beautiful. Now they look like the simple affair you see above. Instead of the pop works of art that we got in the past.

Retro Spray Snow Cans

These beautiful cans are becoming sought after collectors items. I picked up a couple for a song about a decade ago. Now, you can expect to pay about $10+ per can in rough condition. They really are handsome though, so I can’t dispute the value. My only question is why doesn’t modern Spray Snow go back to the old design?

Last year I picked up a modern can online and used it to decorate a wreath. Something we never did when I was younger since we had all fake stuff. It was a satisfying experience and I will probably do it again this year. So do yourself a favor. If you want to get into the holiday spirit, pick up a can and add it to your holiday tradition. Oh, and If you are the collector type, start looking for the cans. They keep going up in value and I do not think they have plateaued yet.

Did You Make Dough Ornaments in the 1980s?

The holidays are a time of tradition for many of us, particularly as we get older. These traditions will vary from family to family, but there are some that most of us share. Maybe it’s a big family meal, followed by the adults napping while the kids play with toys. Perhaps it’s watching a beloved Christmas movie together. It could be as simple as hanging stockings or singing carols with friends.

One tradition I remember from when I was a kid was making ornaments in art class. While we made clothespin reindeer or tree-shaped felt picture frames during our school parties, it was the dough ornaments we made in art class that I looked forward to every year. I get extremely excited planning out what to ornaments to make each year.

Here are some pictures of a few of these old ornaments that I still have to this day. Each one is special to me, and given the references to the pop culture of the 80s on display here, I imagine other Retroist readers will enjoy taking a look as well.

Elf - Marc Alliesnowman - Marc Allie

The oldest of the ornaments I have are these. These date back to my first grade year back in 1980. Perhaps I was feeling sentimental, as I stayed close to the traditional holiday characters, with few if any alterations. This elf was ahead of his time flashing the duck lips, and dressed in the long-established Christmas colors of…blue and yellow? His partner the snowman appears to have been through some sort of traumatic experience, if his haggard look and half-broken arm are any indication.

smurf - Marc Alliesmurfette - Marc Allie

By second grade, I had abandoned all pretense of a holiday theme and was now clearly focused on the Smurfs. In fall of 1981 their cartoon began showing on Saturday mornings, and as a breakfast-cereal smurfing connoisseur of the animated arts, I found the antics of the Smurfs to my liking. I’m not sure what was up with the orange ball on the hat of Generic Smurf, nor the Popeye-esque forearms of Smurfette, but in my defense, I was only seven. Might not Papa Smurf, with his red outfit and white beard, have been a better choice?

ET - Marc AllieGarfield - Marc Allie

Third grade, in 1982, was a year of split priorities for me. I was torn between my favorite cat-based comic strip and a diminutive stellar visitor with a Speak & Spell. Thankfully, I was able to make two ornaments yet again. Regrettably, E.T.’s glowing finger broke off many years ago, meaning the adorable alien’s ornament aged far worse than Garfield’s. The opposite is true for my feelings for these characters as an adult. Does anyone still read Garfield these days?

ghostbusters - Marc Allie

While I saw it in the summer of 1984, Ghostbusters made a big impression on me, one that would last through a Halloween costume in the fall to an ornament in the winter. As a fifth grader, my skills and techniques for dough ornament making had advanced considerably. I was able to sculpt a fair approximation of the iconic Ghostbusters symbol, complete with Santa hat. I wonder how many times I sang “who ya gonna call?” in my head as I made it.

Unfortunately, these are the only remaining ornaments from my elementary school art career. I can’t recall what I created my fourth grade year in 1983. We had a new art teacher sometime around then; perhaps she didn’t include the dough ornaments in her lesson planning? In any event, I recall with crystal clarity my sixth grade ornament. In 1985, I wanted nothing more than to be an astronaut or astronomer, and there would only be one choice for my ornament that year. Alas, it was damaged and discarded, or simply lost, at some point in the three decades since. But I like to think that in a landfill somewhere, my anthropomorphized art dough representation of Halley’s Comet wearing a Santa hat is still around.

These 1983 Wish Book Watches Will Make You Wish You Could Go Back In Time!

Christmas is all but here and I won’t lie to you…I truly wish that somehow one of these watches from the 1983 Sears Wish Book was miraculously waiting for me to unwrap under the tree tomorrow.

Of course even back then the vast options you had to choose from was a little overwhelming! I ask you…which do you choose? One of those pair of Smurf watches…maybe the digital one that states “Have a Smurfin’ Day!”?
Smurf Watch Info

Or what about E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial?
ET - Sears Wish Book 1983
E.T. Watch Info
Donkey Kong? Pac-Man?! Mickey Mouse?!?!
Donkey Kong - Sears Wish Book 1983
Donkey Kong Watch InfoMickey Watch Info
I’m truly not sure if Holly Hobbie is even a thing anymore but I can assure it was a big deal in 1983! Of course how could you go wrong with an A-Team/Mr. T digital watch?
Holly Hobbie - Sears Wish Book 1983
Holly Hobbie Watch Info
What about those good ol’ boys for Hazzard county?
Dukes of Hazzard - Sears Wish Book 1983
Dukes of Hazzard Watch Info
I told you that the Return of the Jedi was almost on every single thing that could be merchandised in 1983! Which watch though would you have chosen? One featuring the Ewoks or the vile Jabba the Hutt? Perhaps you might just settle for something like Garfield?
Garfield - Sears Wish Book 1983
ROTJ Watch InfoGarfield Watch Info

Jingle Disk makes all my retro holiday dreams come true!

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by computer graphics and Christmas. Sadly, I couldn’t find programs for my Coleco ADAM or Atari 400 that fit the bill. However, I recently discovered that the Commodore 64, as well as the 128 & Apple IIc/e, have a program called “Jingle Disk”. The program contains a holiday card maker which you use with a printer, but more importantly, an animated graphical sequence depicting a Christmas scene. A festive neighborhood, decorated home, fireplace, tree, train, and a cat & mouse make this the perfect computer holiday graphics program. OH! And music!