San Franciso Chronicle

The worst Christmas song ever? Father Guido
Sarducci takes a shot, to the tune of '99 Bottles
of Beer on the Wall.'

Joel Selvin, Chronicle Senior Pop Music Critic

Monday, December 18, 2006

Father Guido Sarducci is so sick of Christmas music, he decided to write “the worst Christmas song ever.”

“I realize the bar has been set high,” deadpans the alter ego of comedian Don Novello.

But, by holly-jolly, he just may have done it. As Father Guido, a phony Catholic priest who was a regular in the early days of “Saturday Night Live,” Novello took what he deemed “the worst regular song ever” -- “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” -- and gave it a seasonal rinse, coming out with “One Hundred Bulbs (on the Christmas Tree).”

“I hate Christmas songs,” Sarducci says over a children's chorus singing the Christmas version of the classic road-trip sing-along. “They start playing them too soon and they play them way too long. I'm still sick of 'Little Drummer Boy' from last year.”

Of course, it's not enough for a Christmas song to be just bad -- it also has to last a long time, and Sarducci takes more than 14 minutes to reach the end of his new Christmas tune. There is some perverse charm about a recording artist who hates his latest record before he is halfway through making it (“Only 60 more to go,” he sighs disdainfully).

Along the way, he excoriates such seemingly harmless targets as Burl Ives, Santa's reindeer and even his own previous Christmas records. He also proposes a novel solution to Christmas burnout -- holding a “big Christmas” every other year and, on alternate years, a “little Christmas,” where people only exchange one gift and Christmas music is only played for the 24 hours on the actual holiday.

Novello had to make certain sacrifices for his seasonal art, though.

“That is the worst song, and I end up having to listen to it like a hundred times,” he says.

He made the record with Grant Baciocco and Doug Price, creators of the Internet comedy series “The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd.” They encouraged Novello to make Sarducci talk throughout the piece and not just at the top. “It evolved,” Novello says. “It needed to.”

He says Baciocco and Price want to release the backing track as the karaoke version. “I love that,” Novello says. “How would you know where you are?”

Sarducci has taken up the beer bottle song before. On his 1986 debut comedy album, “Breakfast in Heaven,” he talked about not having heard the song before coming to America -- “I thought it was so clever”-- and learning that, although the song was intended for bus rides, it only worked on charter buses, not city buses. “I got thrown off and I had 20 verses to go,” Sarducci says on the disc.

The CD featuring, and named for, his new Christmas classic also includes his previous Christmas classic, “I Won't Be Twisting This Christmas,” and the Christmas classic he made with Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh, “Santa's Lament.” Sarducci further indulges his appetite for bad songs in general by singing a version of “MacArthur Park” in Italian, “Parco MacArthur (La Torta in la Pioggia).”

Novello sees the novelty record as an important weapon in the comedian's arsenal and, in fact, the first appearance of Father Guido Sarducci took place on a record Novello made as a parody of the 1974 spoken-word hit by Gordon Sinclair, “The Americans,” which he titled “A European Speaks Up for America.” He thinks of Christmas records as the ultimate novelty record.

“Comedians all have one,” he says. “Mort Sahl has one, for all I know.”

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