The Star Wars franchise is infamous for its licensed merchandising. With the release of the latest film, it's nearly impossible to go to a store and not see at least one product emblazoned with the Star Wars logo. The way I understand it, the market was similarly saturated when the original movies came out.
Discussions on rampant capitalism aside, sometimes the charm is simply irresistible. Take for example another one of my great yard sale finds from years and years ago: a Star Wars themed alphabet book!
How this book survived my childhood intact is beyond me, but it remains a prized piece of my collection to this day in spite of its poor condition. The book is a part of the old "Read-Along" series published by Buena Vista back in 1984. Accompanying the release of Return of the Jedi, the book originally came with a 33 1/3 RPM vinyl record featuring word-for-word narration. It even featured character voices and sound effects from the films! Sadly, I was only able to find the book as the record was apparently long since lost. However, if you're interested you can listen to the audio here.
I read this book many times growing up. I mostly remember being fascinated with the drawings and how detailed they were, being almost perfect likenesses of the characters and creatures from the films.
Apologies to alphabet book authors - as I'm sure it's more difficult than it looks - but even as a kid I thought it was fairly obvious that the uncredited author of this book probably struggled coming up with characters to accompany each letter. There are definitely some unusual choices at various points, with obscure characters (see letters U and Z) and sort-of Star Wars related subject matter (see letter Q) being utilized to complete the alphabet.
Then there are the rhymes... Oh, the rhymes. These range from the hilarious - the Bantha named Samantha and stormtroopers as party poopers - to the groan-inducing - the entirety of page 22 featuring X-Wing Fighters. It's so bad at times that the author actually breaks the fourth wall on a few occasions to openly lament the decision to make this a rhyming book!
Stan Lee - talented writer, successful producer, and insanely imaginative creator/co-creator of beloved Marvel super-heroes including the Amazing Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the Invincible Iron Man, Thor, and the X-Men - turns 93 today.
As December 25th draws nearer, too many of us find ourselves already out of the spirit of the season due to the onslaught of sugar-coated, nerve-grating music that is all but inescapable this time of year. Thankfully, Midnight Syndicate's latest release presents a wonderfully welcome alternative... A Gothic-inspired Christmas album that provides a slightly darker - but far more enjoyable - approach to holiday music.
It seems to me that the majority of Christmas albums typically tend to be either saturated with overtly put-on cheerfulness or completely devoid of any substantial musical value. The very notion of a Christmas album is usually associated with the ho-hum of yet another cash-grab for flavor-of-the-month pop performers who are happy to phone-in unimaginative, haphazard covers of songs we've heard already lazily covered a million times over.
But just as Midnight Syndicate isn't your typical group of musicians, Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering isn't your typical Christmas album...
For this offering, the group alternates between original compositions and reworkings of classic Christmas songs. As long-time fans would expect, the majority of the original pieces are unmistakably the work of Midnight Syndicate. On these tracks the group does what they do best: generate adventurously dark instrumentals thick with mood and a Gothic atmosphere. "Winter Storm" is a particularly epic symphonic track that could easily have been a part of the group's previous release, Monsters of Legend. Other notable original pieces include the gleefully devious "Little Helpers", the truly haunting "Into the Stillness", and the surprisingly heart-warming "Christmas at Midnight". "Night of the Krampus", an homage to the legendary Christmas devil of eastern European folklore, is of course one of my personal favorites.
However, the re-imaginings of the classic carols deserve attention as well! One could easily imagine a self-described "Gothic Christmas Album" merely consisting of organs simply playing covers of well-known songs at a slower tempo to fit the label, but it is abundantly apparent that Midnight Syndicate was not going to be content with churning out a creatively lazy effort. Instead, each of these reworkings offer something different and refreshing and are true re-imaginings of the Christmas songs you've heard so many times before.
Older, more traditional songs that have been around for over a century (or longer) such as "Coventry Carol", "Greensleeves", and "Carol of the Bells" almost naturally lend themselves to a dark reworking. But Midnight Syndicate also take on cheerier tunes such as "Up on the Housetop" and twist them into something you might expect to hear on the soundtrack for a horror film.
While the group does indeed take a darker approach, that isn't to say that the album isn't to say that the album is a completely grim in tone or lacking of any kind cheer associated with the Christmas season. Quite the contrary, there are more than a few moments of what I can only be describe as genuine Christmas joy and wonder! "Sing We Now of Christmas" is simply majestic sounding (I imagine climbing some moonlit snow-covered peak while listening to this piece). The group's rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" caught me totally off guard... For a moment I forgot that I was listening to a Midnight Syndicate record and got swept up in the majestic awe captured on the track.
The final verdict: Midnight Syndicate's Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering is a Christmas album that defies the conventions of holiday music flooding the airwaves this time of year. Bursting with creativity and imagination, this collection of original pieces and dark re-imaginings of classic carols are a perfect alternative for anyone looking for a truly unique listening experience this holiday season. Who would have guessed that a group known for creating Halloween music would be so successful in breathing new life into Christmas songs?
You can find out more about Midnight Syndicate and purchase albums such as Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering on their website.