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[Vegas on My Mind]

Richard Cheese’s ‘Christmas in Las Vegas’ is an anthem naughty and nice

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Cheese up your life: It’s never too late to celebrate Hannukah.
AP

“Vegas is such a well-lit place anyway,” Richard Cheese explains, “and then to see them add Christmas lights? It’s impressive. And I just kind of noticed there’s ‘Christmas in Hawaii’ and a song about Christmas at Ground Zero, but there wasn’t a song about Vegas for the holidays.”

Now there are two—and they’re both brilliant and free. This qualifies, in my world at least, as big news.

Granted, the cleverly catchy “Christmas in Las Vegas” has been out since 2006. When I hosted my Vegas podcast, we’d close with it every week from Thanksgiving to the New Year, a tradition that nostalgics recall fondly each season on Twitter, even though the show’s been gone for years.

Last week, in releasing his new Cocktails With Santa holiday album, Cheese posted not only a new arrangement of his Christmas song but a brilliant new iteration, “Hannukah in Las Vegas.” Sample lyrics:

The Baruch Atah Adonai blessing

Is sung by a showgirl choir

When it’s time to light the candles each night

Penn & Teller set them on fire

All the yentas make stops, at the Forum Shops

And the tzimmes is made with Carrot Tops

Hannukah in Las Vegas

Try the lambchops

I mean, right?

“I was really having trouble figuring out how to end the song, so I’m glad I had a knowledge of Vegas entertainers who happened to be Jewish,” says Cheese, the cult performer who has played the Hard Rock Hotel and other venues in Las Vegas. “There’s only so many words that rhyme with ‘mazel tov.’ I had ‘what’s not to love’ and I had ‘mazel tov,’ and while I was singing the track, I came up with ‘Sammy’s watchin’ from above’ and it worked perfectly because Sammy was Jewish.”

The original “Christmas in Las Vegas” was an unlikely creation in the first place. Cheese is a cover artist known for unusual arrangements and orchestrations of well-known tunes who makes the bulk of his money performing corporate gigs. Despite his persona being a semi-parody of the classic lounge lizard, complete with the tiger-print smoking jacket and omnipresent cocktail in hand, he doesn’t do Weird Al-style parody songs.

Until “Christmas in Las Vegas,” he’d never written and recorded an original song, either. When he did, his fans were confused at first. Then they—and the Vegas blogosphere and podcast world—embraced it. The album the original was on, Silent Nightclub, has been downloaded more than 20,000 times, Cheese says, and “a lot of people listen to it by stealing it and downloading it for free or pirating it on the Internet.”

(Side note: We at the defunct The Strip podcast must owe a royalty, but that guilt in no way motivates this column!)

Cheese doesn’t seem to mind. He gets a great deal of satisfaction, he says, seeing the song buzzed about on Twitter every season or played in unexpected places. “I’ll be in a store around holiday season and someone has it on their iPod, and that’s always nice,” he says. “That’s a real thrill. Usually it’s a cool store. It’s not going to happen at Macy’s.”

No, but it really should. The tune absolutely deserves the canonized status of “Feliz Navidad” or “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” or the rest of the over-aired dreck wormed into our ears all December long.

Granted, the Cheese line “Every showgirl and boy ride in a sleigh of joy/Pulled by eight tiny tigers eating Siegfried & Roy” might be not be family-friendly, but neither is the oh-bang-me-St.-Nick message of the miserably grating Eartha Kitt standard “Santa Baby.”

“The good thing is there aren’t that many tragedies in Las Vegas,” Cheese says. “If we had done the song back in the ’80s, I would have made a reference to the MGM hotel fire, you know?”

Huh. Well, perhaps now that there’s a Jewish counterpart—and it’s bereft of any violent references to Sheldon Adelson, natch—Cheese’s creation can finally earn mainstream status alongside Adam Sandler’s ditty.

“Remember how I said I wrote this song to make money?” Cheese asks. “Well, that never worked out. So we just decided to put them out there. I’ll let people have it for free to enjoy it.”

Visit music.richardcheese.com to hear or download both versions for free.

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek and USA Today, among many other outlets.
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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, ...

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