Todays’ festive POP RESCUE find, is the 1988 Alexander O’Neal Christmas album, My Gift To You.
The album bursts opens with the bells and sleigh bells of title track and the first of 6 original songs, My Gift To You. If you’re familiar with Alexander’s music, then it’s shift to a mid-tempo soulful sound won’t come as a surprise. The song is warm and laden with synths and backing vocalists over a gentle beat.
This is followed by Sleigh Ride – another original – which opens like a cringeworthy kids 80s cartoon before switching over to a slightly hard beat yet musically awkward hip hop/dance track. The song momentarily hints at Jingle Bells, but over all it reminds me of one of the weaker empty songs from Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album. It’s somewhat boring and dated.
Up next is Our First Christmas, the third of the five original songs on this album. By contrast, this song is fairly catchy – although feels more like a much more fully-fledged pop song than a Christmas song. Alexander’s vocals sound at home here with the female backing vocalists, allowing him to show off his vocal range somewhat. A nice little song.
Remember Why (It’s Christmas) is another original which gives us some great echoey 80s drums, which are soon joined by Alexander and his backing vocalists matching the echoes. This song is far softer and breathy, and the lyrics serve as a chance to reflect on the ‘true’ meaning of Christmas. Again, this is a nice little song, which builds perfectly towards the end with a choir and dramatic percussion, giving Side One a nice ending.
Side Two opens with Christmas classic The Little Drummer Boy. However, unlike most versions, Alexander takes this song with oodles of funky sax, hard beats, and turns it into his own. The emphasis in this song might be on the drum, but musically it’s the sax which wins.
Next up is the sole single from this album, the classic The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire). This classic song is pretty loyal to the many versions that have been released through the years. It comes complete with plodding double bass, piano, and vocal harmonies, set alongside strings. Whilst Alexander’s version is good, his vocals aren’t as strong as those who have recorded it before. Like the video that accompanied it, it just feels a little lacklustre. The song made little impact on the UK charts in 1988, stalling at #30.
This is followed by one of my favourite Christmas songs, a cover of Donny Hathaway‘s song This Christmas. This is a pretty loyal cover of Donny’s original, and Alexander sounds perfectly at home here. This version adds in plenty of orchestra, and gives 80s Obligatory Saxophone a solo part of the way through. This is the best cover of this song I’ve heard so far.
Christmas classic Winter Wonderland follows, in a kind of jazzy be-bop style. The track is loaded with brass, and percussion which both have ample of chances to shine. Alexander sounds like he’s having fun with this version, although his vocals don’t quite do it justice.
The penultimate track Thank You For A Good Year follows as another original song. This is a good strong up-beat 80s pop song, which feels like a little thank you for being a fan, as much as it does to wish you a happy new year.
The album closes with Remember Why (It’s Christmas) Reprise, which just gives the listener a gentle echoey reminder of the meaning of Christmas and how it is not all about buying things (like a Christmas album? Oops).
Over all, this album is nice enough although it feels a little bit mellow. But then, Alexander’s music is pretty mellow and soulful anyway. In contrast to other artists Christmas albums, this avoids the cheesy spirit wall-of-sound approach. Therefore, it’s general negative reception understandably meant that Alexander has never released a second Christmas album.
Where is Alexander O’Neal now?
Alexander would go on to continue recording, releasing and performing, but he has not yet repeated the UK success he found with his #4 hit single Criticize in 1987.
Alexander’s most recent album is Five Questions: The New Journey, which he released in 2010.
POP RESCUE RATING
- POP RESCUE 2015 RATING: 3 / 5
- 1988 UK CHART POSITION: #53
- POP RESCUE COST: £6.00 from a Discogs.com seller.