Christmas music is painful at best. Except it is actually Christmas—plus/minus a week. Hearing absolutely horrible songs like the Icelandic version of Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday sung by heavy metal Eurovision contest dude Eiríkur Hauksson—say, in a crowded mall with red eyed people looking for gifts, gifts, gifts all around you—is pure hell. It makes you want to take out all the fuckers in the mall with a machine gun.
OK, I’m slightly exaggerating, but you get my drift. That said, this is the least obnoxious Xmas music—ever: Alli Rúts – Kátir voru krakkar – 4 barnalög (Kids were merry – 4 children’s songs), a 7” EP from 1972. For starters this masterpiece only has four songs.
The record cover sets the tone. It shows Alli in crude Santa costume with two girls in early seventies surroundings. Alli’s vocal stylings are weird and sound similar, I think, to the Finnish legend M.A.Numminen: shrill and rough, like the sounds you might expect coming from a strange recluse at a remote farm. Or an old insane witch. The backing music was recorded by few steady musicians in a session at the old radio building. The session took one day and Alli later said of it: “We were all going nearly insane!”
The four tracks are the jolly Grýlugæla, Ég er jólasveinn (“I’m a Santa Claus”), and a sung version of the Hot Butter’s 1972 instrumental hit Popcorn—“Grýlupopp”. Alli’s lyrics revolve around the mystical figure of Grýla, the Icelandic Yuletide lads’ mom who, according to Icelandic legend, eats naughty kids after boiling them in her cauldron. In Alli’s version she eats popcorn though.
The EP starts with Alli’s version of the Pippi Longstockings theme song. This caused some controversy, as the main record mogul in 1972, Svavar Gests with his SG label, had gotten children’s star Hanna Valdís to sing the same song for an imminent EP (with different lyrics). With help from the Swedish rights company SG got Alli’s version banned from the radio.
Alli Rúts (Albert Rútsson) had a long history in the entertainment biz when he did this EP, his sole vinyl output. Son of a famous accordion player, Alli was young when he started to entertain with comedy, mimicry and singing. His idol was Ómar Ragnarsson and Alli took his admiration way too far on few occasions by simply copying routines from Ómar’s program. Like Ómar (spoiler alert), Alli worked as Santa during Christmas, often doing up to 12 gigs a day. It’s been a long time since Alli entertained but he kept his name afloat by opening up a car dealership: Alli Rúts’ Car Dealership.
I don’t know about you: But nothing rings in Christmas for me like hearing Alli’s EP.
By Dr. Gunni, based on his 2000 book Eru ekki allir í stuði? (Rock in Iceland). A revised update of the book is forthcoming in 2010.