Make Like Monkeys - A Barrel of Christmas

The Beatles put out Christmas singles every year but they never really wrote or recorded Christmas music (yes, yes, Christmas Time Is Here Again). It’s really kind of a missed opportunity. And while there are fun tributes and mashups by bands like The Rubberband and The Fab Four, those are Beatlesque covers of Christmas standards, not what original Beatles Christmas music might have sounded like. However, that is what Make Like Monkeys has provided for us.

Now, I shouldn’t pigeonhole Make Like Monkeys–Saratoga Springs one-man-band Mark O’Brien–too strongly as a Beatles tribute/soundalike, but it is the easiest way to quickly classify what he does. There are plenty of other sounds and influences in what he does–Andy Partridge, Marshall Crenshaw, Crowded House, The Hollies, The Archies, They Might Be Giants. You get the picture.

The youngest of 12 kids, Mark grew up listening to the family’s one Christmas LP (Christmas With Conniff) until in his early teens he discovered The Beach Boys Christmas Album and Merry Christmas Baby became a song he would listen to year round. And indeed, the influence of that song can be heard in his original songs, power pop hooks with a tinge of holiday heartbreak.

In the late 1990s Mark and his brother began recording parodies and covers. After a few years Mark turned to Christmas and began writing his own original songs. After a while he thought others might enjoy them and he began sharing his songs with family and friends. This year he decided to write and record a song a day over ten days and thus A Barrel of Christmas was born. At this point he decided it was time to take Make Like Monkeys public and offer A Barrel of Monkeys and his other Christmas music to the world.

The Christmas music of Make Like Monkeys is inspired by the best quality of The Beatles, how they would experiment with different genres and types of instrumentation. Sure there’s plenty of Mersey inspired hair shaking early Beatles inspiration here. But there are also forays into reggae, waltz, hoedown, folk, Tin Pan Alley, etc. And to go along with the instrumental variety there is also a breadth of emotional approaches to this complex season. There are earnest tributes to nostalgic Christmases of youth, songs of holiday romance (and heartbreak), as well as novelty tunes in honor of Krampus and Santis (The Christmas Kaiju). To my ears, there’s just so much spirit throughout all of Make Like Monkeys’ holiday discography. I find myself smiling as I listen (and now sing along) to these songs. It’s evident that this is somebody who really loves Christmas and wants to share that love through music.

When we chatted, Mark told me, “I’m happy with the positive response I’ve gotten from A Barrel of Christmas. I wrote it so quickly, I wasn’t quite sure about it. I’m really happy it’s all being played and people are enjoying it.” A vinyl lover, he had some vinyl copies made for himself and has plans to offer it to the public on vinyl next year.

Now that his music is out and being heard, Mark’s dream is to hear others do versions of his songs. “I would love to hear someone else cover one of my songs. That is when you become part of Christmas Music, when people cover you,” he told me. To be honest, I think plenty of these songs would sound great in other versions by other artists.

Make Like Monkeys Top 10 Christmas Songs

  1. Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance! – Sufjan Stevens
  2. Merry Christmas Baby – The Beach Boys
  3. Last Christmas – The Rubber Band
  4. Christmas Is The Time To Say “I Love You” – Billy Squier
  5. I Can’t Wait (‘Til Christmas Day) – V.D. King
  6. Joy To The World – Sufjan Stevens
  7. Soul Cake – Sting
  8. Christmas In Kilarney – Bing Crosby
  9. White Christmas – The Rubber Band
  10. It Snowed – Meghan Smith

Currently, Make Like Monkeys has close to 60 original songs for sale or streaming (and he continues to write and record). So if you’re a musician, take a listen and hear if there isn’t a song that you’d love to make your own. If not, just dive in and shake your head and jingle your bells to the Christmas spirit of Make Like Monkeys.

The King of Jingaling
Puchase on Bandcamp
Listen on Spotify
Buy on iTunes