Picks and Pans Review: A Very Special Christmas

updated 12/21/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/21/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Various artists

Rock vocalists, like opera singers, aren't the most flexible performers in the world. Take them even an arm's length out of their element and they usually sound like they're belting out margarine jingles. That holds true for most of this star-studded album, with everyone from U2 to Whitney Houston to Run-D.M.C. contributing to the package, from which the Special Olympics Fund gets most of the net proceeds. In general this gang has a tendency to get too perky or else insufferably show-offy with the old yuletide spirit. This is especially true of the Pointer Sisters' sassy-till-you-gag cover of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. Instead of emulating the version of this song by the Crystals on Phil Spector's Christmas Album—still the best pop rock Christmas anthology—the Pointers copy the familiar live rendition by Bruce Springsteen. Worse is Madonna's shmaltzy Santa Baby. Her cutesy-pie delivery steals from Cyndi Lauper, Judy Holliday and even the '20s boop-boop-ee-doop girl Helen Kane. Then there's Stevie Nicks doing Silent Night. Hoo boy. It sounds like a Looney Tunes concept: Elmer Fudd goes caroling. There are a few fun selections. Like John Cougar Mellencamp's barn-burning I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and Springsteen's bluesy stride through Merry Christmas Baby. The Eurythmics' Annie Lennox sings Winter Wonoderland appealingly, and the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde does an affecting Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Both ladies give these standards intimate but surreal moods, like one of those snow-filled paperweights. If nothing else, A Very Special Christmas fits the season: It has enough ups and downs to make a good sledding run. (A&M)

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