What comes to mind when you hear the name Chris Isaak? Most likely it’s his 1991 immortal, moody, blues hit “Wicked Game,” or perhaps the rockabilly fueled, sinister “Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing,” or maybe the lonesome “Somebody’s Cryin’.”
There are few songwriters who do broken-hearted laments better than Isaak, and he’s spent the past 40 years proving it. But there’s something about Chris that you might not know: He’s a sucker for a good Christmas song, whether it’s one of his or a classic.
I guess you’d call me Americana or whatever but when I think of Christmas music, I think of Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole. Those are the guys that I grew up listening to.”
In fact, Isaak loves Christmas music so much that he’s released two albums of nothing but holiday tunes. The first, simply called “Christmas” came out in 2004. The second, “Everybody Knows It’s Christmas,” came out this year.
“I just love singing Christmas songs,” Isaak says. “It’s right up my alley and writing them. So, we had a lot of success of the first album, and my manager said, ‘Well, why don’t you write a Christmas song and we’ll have an addition to the first album?’ And I ended up writing eight songs, and she said ‘Stop writing Christmas songs! You’re a machine!’”
The 13 songs on “Everybody Knows It’s Christmas” cover a wide stylistic range. There are songs that you’d automatically think Isaak is perfect for, blues-tinged tunes like “Holiday Blues” and “Wrapping Presents For Myself,” but there are also stellar versions of classics like “O Holy Night” and “Winter Wonderland.”
There’s some goofy humor as well, most notably the self-explanatory “Dogs Love Christmas Too” and the hilarious “Help Me Baby Jesus,” which is about a stolen nativity scene.
“I wrote some songs that were like tearjerkers,” he says, “like ‘Holiday Blues,’ which I was very happy with. And then some of them that I go, this is so ridiculous. Like ‘Dogs Love Christmas Too’ which is about as silly as could be, but I really like it. And another one about somebody stealing a nativity scene. And I know somewhere out in America, somebody will hear that song go, ‘That song tells my story because they stole my nativity scene!’”
The album was released on the Sun Records imprint, the same label that icons like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash recorded for. And a lot of “Everybody Knows It’s Christmas” has a stripped-down, echo-laden, slap-back feel to it. But on ‘O Holy Night,” the closing cut, Isaak and producer Dave Cobb go all-out, creating a dramatic, strings-and-choir version of the classic Christmas carol.
“I never would have thought to sing a song like that,” Isaak says. But we were in the studio and Dave Cobb, who’s just a genius guy, he goes ‘What about ‘O Holy Night?’ I don’t think I ever had sung ‘O Holy Night’ before and it scared the dickens out of me. But Dave got such a great sound that I thought it turned out really good.”
Isaak is bringing his “Everybody Knows It’s Christmas” tour to the Peace Center on Monday, Dec. 12, and he says you can expect to hear his greatest hits along with the holiday classics.
“I don’t want to have people come and go, ‘I wanted to hear ‘Wicked Game.’ Of course, I’m going to do the hits, like ‘Wicked Game’ and ‘Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing. And if the audience wants, we’ll throw in some Orbison or Johnny Cash or Elvis. We’re all about making the audience happy.”
Want to go?
Chris Isaak: Everybody Knows It’s Christmas tour
Monday, Dec. 12