Virtual Musical Advent Calendar, December 17: Donde Esta Santa Claus?

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The selection of Donde Esta Santa Claus? is unique to this Advent Calendar, because, save a single exception of just one recording, it is one the most annoying songs ever recorded. That single exception, however, is exceptional — and enough to secure it a spot on our Holiday playlist.

That exception is by the indie band Guster:

I discovered the Guster version several years ago, on one of those indie-Holiday-compilations that pop up every year, and fell in love with it immediately.  It harkens back to the days of Louis Prima, that era back in the late 50s-early 60s when it was all the rage to use schmaltzy Nelson Riddle arrangements around pseudo-Latin music.

The song even includes several nonsensical and out of place “Ole’s!,” just like the songs of that era.  Back then Americans didn’t know much Spanish, but they knew Ole! was a Spanish word. So when Latin music became all the rage, Ole’s were just randomly thrown in to anything with a foreign-feeling rhythm to make it seem more authentic.

Guster’s recording of Donde Esta Santa Claus? always felt to me like a pastiche that somehow managed to feel intentionally ironic and reverent toward the era at the same time. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered Donde Esta Santa Claus? isn’t a pastiche — it actually is a song from that era.

Augie Rios first recorded it as a novelty Christmas song in 1959. Rios was 13 when he recorded the single, which featured a second Santa-based novelty song, Ol’ Fatso, on its B-side.  Both the original recording of Donde Esta Santa Claus? and Ol’ Fatso are exactly what you might expect of a Mad-Men-era novelty song whose supposed appeal lies in its being sung by a precocious child-star-wanna-be with an exaggerated Puerto Rican accent, which is to say that it is pretty god-awful. [1]

There were other attempts to record Donde Esta Santa Claus? here and there over the years. Against all odds, they all managed to be even more annoying than the original.

If you think you have had enough to drink, you can listen to the extended Disco version by Charo here, and a version by Las Ardillitas de la Guerreo (a kind of Mexican Alvin & the Chipmunks) here. That the Jewish personnel of Guster decided to take a crack at Donde Esta Santa Claus? is, therefore, somewhat surprising.  That they were able to make such a great, fun, enjoyable single out of it is more surprising still.

Maybe we should see if we could get them to do the same with The 12 Days of Christmas.

 

[1] I should probably point out, however, that Rios himself was no doubt very talented, and that any faults of his rendition of Donde Esta Santa Claus? clearly lie entirely with the adults who managed him.

I point this out because while researching Rios this week, I’ve noticed that even after all these years he seems to pay close attention to whatever any blogger writes about him anywhere, and reaches out to “correct” those he feels are putting out incorrect information about him. So it occurs to me that unlike, say, Kenny G or Jessica Simpson, Rios might actually read what I write about him.

So if you’re reading this, Augie, know that I kid because I love.

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