We’ll give you a second to process the headline. Yes, in 1979, the New York Islanders released a Christmas album that was recorded at, wait for it —Bolognese Recording Studios in North Merrick. There may not be a more appropriate name for a studio on Long Island.
Forever a community-minded, blue-collar professional sports team, the same one who played softball in the summers, the Islanders decided to put out the record as a treat to fans. And having listened to it (I own a copy somehow), I have to admit, it’s pretty good, even for a Christmas album.
Home for the Holidays
Before the Islanders’ dynasty took hold, taking the NHL by storm in the early to mid-1980s, the Islanders were simply Long Island’s team. Many of the players called the Island home, endearing themselves to a growing fanbase. They were accessible and down to earth, which helps make sense of why they created this album in the first place.
Home for the Holidays features lead vocals by Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum anthem singer Joe Duerr, who, most notably, sang the anthem during the Dynasty years but held the job for around 15 years. Fans from this era remember Duerr quite well. You may recall he was invited back in Sept. 2017 to sing the anthem in the Islanders’ return to the Coliseum after a two-year pit-stop in Brooklyn.
The ten-track album is a rundown of all the Christmas classics, from “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer” to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “White Christmas.”
If you’re asking yourself, “Well, that isn’t enough to make it an Islanders’ Christmas album. There has to be more to it, right?” The answer is, yes — there’s more. The album includes gang-style vocals by players, management, and even head coach Al Arbour on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
The management that took part in the record is none other than Ed Westfall, the Islanders’ first captain. Upon retirement after the 1978-79 season at age 38, Westfall became the Vice President, Public Relations. At the time the album was released, the Islanders were in need of some positive PR. Word spread of their growing debt, and this may have provided a mild distraction on top of something fun for the team:
Just four years ago, they were on the verge of bankruptcy. Hotels turned the team away at the door for want of payment on past bills; the general manager was owed his salary; the books showed more than $22 million in debt. If management could create a successful team, it would take a new and daring owner to rescue the Islanders from creditors poised to crush them as surely as any rival team.From “THE MAKING OF A HOCKEY DYNASTY,” New York Times, 10/24/1982
Luckily, the Christmas album didn’t need to save the Islanders, as they began their run of four straight Stanley Cups the following spring.
A Piece of Music History
Jimmy Howard of Puck Junk points out that the songs encapsulate the music tastes in the late 1970s, “…this is a great snapshot of the time with its early synth-laden backing tracks, disco beat-n-bass and some chorus-drenched 70’s hard rock guitar,” Howard wrote. And he’s not wrong; the classic songs are done perfectly for the time period, which is a blessing or a curse depending on your taste in music.
The artwork on the record borders between kitschy and unimaginative. The front cover features the Islanders’ logo from the time, with a gold, square border around it without the name of the album — an interesting choice. Inside, as pictured above, is a collection of Islander game-shots with some Christmas decorations. The real gem is on the back cover, which features a Christmas tree with Islanders sprinkled throughout as decoration.
In all, it’s an amazing piece of music, hockey, and of course, Islander history all wrapped up in one. If you’re interested in listening to Home for the Holidays this Christmas season, there’s a YouTube video with the entire record, though at pretty low quality (for better or worse).
Want more Islanders content? Check out the Nassaumen Hockey Podcast, hosted by The Hockey Writers authors James Nichols and Jon Zella. Follow on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts!
Jon Zella is a 30-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.