Is this droolworthy holiday box set from the former Stray Cats frontman worth the scratch?

Are there any collectors among us who have not been enticed by those fancy, expensive, super-deluxe boxed sets? I can say I’ve stared longingly at those Led Zeppelin monoliths with the double vinyl and the hardcover books, and I’m not even that big a Zep fan—but beautiful packaging is its own reward. The only one I’ve actually shelled out for is a Mike Nesmith box that came out two years ago and included a T-shirt, a very ,limited vinyl album (only 250 pressed!) and Nez’s signature on everything—worth the cash in itself, since his autograph is a famously tough one to get.

New temptation has arrived in the form of Brian Setzer’s new Christmas album, Rockin’ Rudolph, which can be had in a limited box that goes for $114 via Surfdog Records (or, of course, as a standard CD). Unlike most sets of this nature, it doesn’t give you multiple versions of the album on CD, vinyl, eight-track and Lord knows what else: Just the CD and a box full of cool stuff, all of which ties in nicely with Setzer’s retro-hipster persona.

The music first: Rockin’ Rudolph is Setzer’s fifth Chrisitmas album (including a live one and a compilation), so you think he’d have run out of obvious holiday songs by now. In fact he has, which means he had to work harder this time and dig up some real buried treasures. “Yabba Dabba Yuletide” (yes, the Flintstones theme with seasonal lyrics) really needs to join the list of holiday perennials—Nobody who grew up with Fred and Wilma can resist this, and this kind of exuberant jollity was always one of Setzer’s specialties. That turns up again on the title track, which is “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” as the Stray Cats (with a horn section) might have done it. But for me, the best parts of Setzer’s holiday discs are his unlikely arrangements of carols: In his hands “Joy to the World” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” swing as never before, with room for some red-hot guitar. And that’s the real reason Setzer can pull this off: He’s a smart arranger first and a cool cat second.

So, on to the extra stuff. I’ll dock them a few points for not including the vinyl album (released separately), since it would fit comfortably in the 12-x-12 box—and besides, that’s probably how Setzer’s retro-minded fans would prefer to hear it. But the box itself is beautifully designed like an Advent calendar, with a different prize behind each door. My favorite is either the six cocktail coasters (with a different album design on each), or the Christmas tree ornament shaped like Setzer slinging his guitar. There’s also sheet music, a handful of live photos, and a USB card that gets you some bonus tracks (including two exclusive instrumentals plus some clips from his previous live DVD). The crowning touch—quite literally in this case—is a small can of Setzer’s own custom hair pomade. Now, the Nesmith box cost twice as much and it didn’t include any hair gel. Not even a wool hat.

So did I give in to temptation and spend a hundred + bucks on this? Well, no: Thanks to Setzer’s having a cool publicist and Rocker being such a titan of the industry [Thanks Brett, your check’s in the mail – Ed.], I was given a free one. So take that as a holiday lesson: If you kids are good and write for fine alternative publications, you too will have a merry Christmas.

Brian Setzer Rockin


Buy this gorgeous item at Brian Setzer’s Pledgemusic site.

Brett Milano throws legendary Christmas parties, and is the author of 4 books including Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting, and Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock & Roll. His new book “Don’t All Thank Me At Once: The Lost Pop Genius of Scott Miller” is available in book and kindle format.