Home Hear Area Resident’s Classic Album Review: The Ventures | The Ventures’ Christmas Album

Area Resident’s Classic Album Review: The Ventures | The Ventures’ Christmas Album

You should celebrate the surf-rock instrumental legends this holiday season.


Between 1962 and 1967, The Ventures put out 22 albums. Although they were astronomically huge in Japan, last month I scored a $1 copy of a Japanese pressing of their 1965 Christmas album, made smack-dab in the middle of their most productive heyday — and oh my gawd.

First off, the album — available on Spotify — is a solid option for any holiday season occasion. Not only are the songs instrumental, but they’re all secular. Loads of Santa and jingling, but no sacraments or Jesus. It’s one of the band’s most popular records — their 19th of 250. I also have a copy of 1964’s The Ventures In Space, which is a must-have record. Honestly, though, the subject matter they decided to do entire albums about is nothing short of hilarious. There’s a Jim Croce-themed album, a Latin album, movie themes, an album with Japanese voice actor and movie voice-dub superstar Yūya Uchida, a Carpenters-themed album, one featuring the music from Shaft, two twist albums, two psychedelic albums and one called New Testament which is anything but Biblical — it has covers of Whole Lotta Love and What Is Life? on it but also She’s A Lady. I love them.

So, Christmas. This album starts off with Sleigh Ride which steals all kinds of licks from their iconic hit Walk Don’t Run. It’s a theme throughout the record — throwing in bits from popular songs of the day, or other well-known Ventures renditions. It’s a really well-recorded album, though the drums are a tad thin.

Then it’s Snowflakes, credited to the band as writers. They’re not — it’s Greensleeves, though it is an excellent interpretation. Probably my favourite. Goddamn, I wish there was more meat on those drums, the performance is awesome. Very Ringo-rocking. What they’re trying to do here, I believe, is mix in She’s Not There by The Zombies.

Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town is next, with a touch of Wooly Bully. It’s almost punk rock — a Cramps Christmas album sans vocals. Jingle Bells mixed with Ray CharlesWhat’d I Say follows this — and then, boldly, Jingle Bell Rock in the style of Johnny Rivers’ Memphis Tennessee — with heavy Rolling Stones overtones.

Side 1 ends with Silver Bells, with an intro reminiscent of Like A Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan, which would only have been a few months old at the time, so it’s probably more likely Only The Young by The Champs (who also did Tequila).

Side 2 begins in Fab form with an I Feel Fine-influenced version of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Some snazzy harmony guitar in this one. Tequila gets mashed up with Frosty The Snowman next, like a margarita. No wonder he had eyes of coal.

The album’s only voices are next on a song called Scrooge. This one is an original, and I’m a bit perplexed. The main riff, I would have sworn, was a cover of something. It’s a Halloween theme. I’ve heard it hundreds of times — for sure in Hilarious House Of Frightenstein. Is it possible The Ventures wrote this? If so, this is a sick classic.

Blue Christmas is next, mixed with When You Walk In The Room by Jackie DeShannon. Then we get We Wish You A Merry Christmas — the only track, apart from the original Scrooge, which doesn’t start with a riff from another song. It does, however, incorporate some of The Ramsey Lewis Trio’s The In Crowd. The album closes with White Christmas, which uses bits of The Ventures’ own Stranger On The Shore.

On this album we’re treated to the classic Ventures lineup: Bob Bogle, Don Wilson and Nokie Edwards, plus hard-hitting drummer Mel Taylor, who was invited to join after Howie Johnson quit to spend more time with his family in 1962. By this album, Wilson and Edwards, the original bass player, switched instruments. The lineup stayed the same until 1968, when Edwards quit, only to return in 1973.

Wilson and Edwards were the only two original members present when The Ventures were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame by John Fogerty in 2008. All four members who appear on this album have since passed away — the last survivor was Wilson, who retired in 2015. He died in January 2022 at age 88.

You should definitely celebrate them this holiday season.