Thursday, January 4, 2018

It's Christmas Time Again, Part 7

Christmas may indeed be over but we're only about half-way through the tracklist of my latest CD, "It's Christmas Time Again." Here are some observations on a few more tracks.

Track 23
Spending Christmas with the Blues, by Floyd Miles and Gregg Allman (1996)
Gregg Allman's life was rarely easy. Born in Nashville to a family of modest means, his father was shot and killed by a hitchhiker when Gregg was only two years old. His mother eventually put Gregg and his older brother, Duane, in a military academy in order to attend college and become a CPA. Gregg interpreted his mother's decision as a sign that she didn't love him, and he found the school to be incredibly difficult and unpleasant. Fortunately, Duane watched out for him and the two forged a tight bond that eventually expanded into a shared love of music. They founded the Allman Brothers Band in 1969, but just two years later, as they first began to experience real success, Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident. Raised in these circumstances, it's easy to imagine how Gregg developed an affinity for the blues.
Music is my life's blood. I love music, I love to play good music, and I love to play music for people who appreciate it. And when it's all said and done, I'll go to my grave and my brother will greet me, saying, "Nice work, little brother—you did all right." I must have said this a million times, but if I died today, I have had me a blast.

Track 22
What Lucy Really Wants for Christmas, by the Cast of Peanuts (1965)
If you grew up in the '60s, chances are you spent at least several nights in front of your TV each year during the lead-up to Christmas watching a litany of hard-to-forget holiday cartoon specials -- broadcasts that were as much a part of the Christmas holiday season as your Christmas stocking and the family advent calendar. You know the ones I'm talking about here -- they were on every year, you never missed a one of them, and they each featured a song or two that you can still sing today as easily as "Silent Night" or "Joy to the World." There was "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1964), "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (1966),  "The Little Drummer Boy" (1968), "Frosty the Snowman" (1969), and perhaps the most beloved of them all, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965). That's the broadcast this very short clip was taken from, and it remains a great favorite of mine to this day.

If you don't already own your own copy of this holiday classic, I recommend that you buy the 50th Anniversary Deluxe edition from amazon.com today, It's now available for less than ten bucks and it includes a feature titled "A Christmas Miracle: The Making of a Charlie Brown Christmas," which I found to be entertaining and chock full of interesting details.

Buy the 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition from amazon.com

See TIME Magazine's list of the 10 Greatest Christmas TV Specials from Your Childhood 

Track 21
I've Got Some Presents for Santa, by Sarah Taylor and Bill Mumy (1994)

Bill Mumy (fifth from left) and the cast of Lost in Space (1966).
You know, I think it's true when they say that once you start to lower your standards it becomes easier and easier to continue in that same downward direction. Once I decided to let some adult content sneak through the back door in the form of the Drive-By Truckers' "Mrs. Claus's Kimono" it didn't seem like such a big deal to look the other way when this sexy little number climbed in through a basement window. At first listen, it's a pretty little tune about a young woman's hospitality as she offers a brief respite to Santa during his big package delivery runs every December. But upon closer inspection of the lyrics, the truth emerges. The plain truth is that while the tune may be pleasing, the lyrics are downright nasty! The only package this woman cares about is the one Santa carries back with him to the North Pole each year -- you know, the one most of us thought only Mrs. Claus was familiar with.

I couldn't resist including this song in the mix -- not so much because of the naughty element, although that was surely a factor -- but rather because the song was written and performed by Sarah Taylor and Bill Mumy. If Mumy's name sounds familiar to you I'm not surprised. He was the star of one of my favorite TV shows growing up -- the '60s classic "Lost in Space," on which he played the pre-teen astronaut Will Robinson. He also played young Anthony Fremont in "It's a Good Life," one of the most memorable episodes of another cult classic, "The Twilight Zone." But in recent years, Mumy's been more of a musician than an actor, and once the kids are in bed, this isn't such a bad little song to stick on the Victrola. Give it a listen HERE.

Watch Bill Mumy discuss the Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life"

Listen to Bill Mumy Discuss His "Lost in Space" Castmates

Track 20
Hasmonean (A Hamilton Hanukkah), by The Maccabeats (2016)

The Maccabeats have done it again! Several years ago, this Orthodox Jewish a cappella group hit it big with the Hanukkah-themed "Candlelight," which was a take-off on the the Taio Cruz smash hit "Dynamite." This year, they've turned the score of the biggest Broadway show in years into yet another catchy celebration of December's most popular eight-night holiday. As with "Candlelight," "Hasmonean" is more than merely entertaining. There's a solid history lesson here, too along with a heavy dose of the kind of special energy that's made Lynn Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton" such a runaway success.

We'll be back with additional commentary sometime soon.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Boxing Day Horror Show for 2017

Several years ago, this blog started an inspiring little tradition to help our readers adjust to the end of the holiday season by posting the most dreadful holiday movie imaginable each Boxing Day.Why? Oh, I don't know. It seemed like a good way to bridge that huge divide between the thrills and beauty of Christmas and the despair and let-down of the following day. I can assure you of one thing, we'll be able to test out this theory for quite a few more seasons yet as there is an awful lot of dreadful material out there. And I'm not talking about three or four stars on a five-point scale. I'm talking about vile, nauseating films that leave you wondering how in the name of God anyone outside of a sheltered workshop would ever have anything to do with them,

Take this year's selection, for instance: "A Visit to Santa," the 13-minute short released by Clem Williams Films back in 1963. There's no evidence that Clem Williams Films ever released a follow-up to this winner -- or anything else, for that matter. Once you see this, it's pretty clear why.Please enjoy this year's Boxing Day Holiday Horror Show feature, "A Visit to Santa."

Sunday, December 24, 2017

It's Christmas Time Again, Part 6

These next three tracks will drag us across the half-way point for this year's mix, so let's get right to it:

Track 19
Christmas Seals Promotional Spot, by George Takei
George Takei
After adding the two Mark Jonathan Davis clips featuring Lt. Hikaru Sulu on the bridge of the Enterprise (Tracks 8 and 15 from this year's mix), I did a quick internet search to see if I could find any holiday-themed audio featuring George Takei, the actor who played Lt. Sulu on the Star Trek series. This Christmas Seals promotion was the first and best clip I found, although the "Oh myyyy" tagline at the end wasn't in the original promo, but rather copied and added from one of Takei's many appearances on the Howard Stern program. The rich baritone of Takei's "Oh My" has become something of an audio meme of Takei's, and well it might be. It's an appropriate comment on this actor's rather amazing career history. As a child, he was forced into a World War II internment camp in California due solely to his family's Japanese heritage. As an adult, he became a moderately successful actor, best known for his work on Star Trek. But it's only in the past decade that he's reached the highest levels of popular recognition and popularity, and that's due primarily to his coming out as a gay man and his tireless advocacy for the rights of the LGBT community. Takei's odyssey is well-described by a recent New York Times profile about his role as a gay icon. It's hard not to be wowed by how much progress he and the rest of us have made over the past 75 years. But as Takei himself would no doubt agree, it's frightening to contemplate how precarious this progress truly is as a result of the current administration in Washington.

Track 18
Mrs. Claus's Kimono, by Drive By Truckers (2009)
I believe this is the very first track on any of my 20-plus holiday CDs over the past 17 years to merit a parental warning, but I included it nonetheless because I've become such a fan of the group that recorded it. They're called the Drive-By Truckers and while they're currently based in Athens, Georgia, the two lead vocalists who also write most of their songs (Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood) are both from the Shoals region of Northwestern Alabama, and their home state plays a prominent role in a lot of their music. The band got started a little over 20 years ago and they've built up a loyal following as a result of their heavy touring schedule and substantial library of fine material. I'm embarrassed to say that I knew little about the band until I happened to hear a few tracks from their powerful album American Band shortly after its release in 2016. It's a courageous album in a bunch of different respects, from the opening notes of  "Ramon Casiano," which tells the story of the militant former National Rifle Association leader who shot a 15-year-old Hispanic youngster near the Mexican border to "Baggage," in which Patterson Hood reflects on his own struggles with depression in the wake of comedian Robin Williams' suicide. It's a driving, guitar-based album marked by the band's deeply-held political views, the proud Southern sensibilities of its members and the conflicts that sometimes arise between these two powerful forces. The track that first caught my attention was "What It Means":

I've always liked introducing friends to new music I like, and its been years since I've followed the music scene closely enough to be able to do that very often. About the closest I can come today is sticking the occasional odd track on one of my holiday mixes, which I'm not above doing. After falling hard for this band last year I was determined to find something holiday-related that I could use on last year's compilation, "Let It Snow," but the only track I could find was this crazy number about a guy who conspires with red-nosed Rudolph to get Santa arrested on drug charges so he can bed Mrs. Claus. It was way too raunchy for my holiday mix, I thought -- after all, there are lots of kids who listen to these things. In fact, I'm certain that at least a couple of my friends have yet to listen to a one of them but rather give them immediately to the little ones to play.

But that was last year, and things sure have changed a lot in the past 12 months. God knows the children of this country have been exposed to lots worse than a couple of risque lyrics since Mr. Trump took the oath of office, and unlike most of his shameful shenanigans, this song just a made-up story. Well, come to think of it, nearly everything he says seems to be a made-up story, too. Anyhow, I doubt that this song is going to hurt anyone . . . and it's a whole lot of fun.

Track 17
We Three Kings, by Rev. Horton Heat (2005)
I would have bet anything that I'd included at least one track from the good Rev. Horton Heat on one or more previous mixes of mine, but I've just checked and it seems this is the first. Rev. Heat, of course, is the stage name of both musician Jim Heath and his Dallas-based psychobilly band of renown. Their 2005 album We Three Kings is a treasure trove of Christmas classics that are just off enough to be interesting but not so odd as to raise a whole bunch of eyebrows if you were to bring it along to a holiday gathering (speaking hypothetically, of course). Try bringing a copy of Johnny "Bowtie" Barstow's album  to your next party and see how well that works out!

* * *

Tonight is Christmas Eve — a night of pure magic for most kids and for many adults as well. None of us is ever too old to search for and even to find some small doses of magic from time to time. Whatever you do and whoever you are I hope you can find some in this wonderful season and that when you do, you can pass it on.

Back soon with more jottings on the remaining 18 tracks of this year's mix. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

SNL Holiday Flashback

Another Saturday night -- the last before Christmas -- and that means it's time for us to raid the SNL vault for another vintage holiday flashback. With the Big Day just a little over 24 hours away, we couldn't decide whether to go with despair or elation as today's theme, so we opted for one of each. First up, nothing says despair quite like Debbie Downer, whose practical yet cheerless take on life manages to even bring Santa down:

And what's better to bring everyone up real fast than Sue the Surprise Lady? Watch up that you don't get the bends, as Debbie Downer would be quick to remind us:

Thursday, December 21, 2017

It's Christmas Time Again, Part 5

Here we come with notes on four more of this year's tracks, including the second of the 12 songs on this year's mix that pay homage to one of the many entertainers we lost during 2017. Since we first started recognizing recently departed entertainers in this way several years ago the list of recent deaths has grown longer with each passing year, and this year's list includes some real superstars and trailblazers. Here are the next four tracks:

Track 16
It's Christmas Time Again, by Harley Poe (2006)
I ran across this little gem on an EP from several years ago called "A Very Standard Christmas," which featured holiday tunes from artists on the Standard Recording Records label. It's by a group named Harley Poe, which has been described as a "[h]orror infused folk punk act out of Kokomo, Indiana." With a rap like that, you just know these guys have got to be infused with the Christmas spirit, right? The band was formed by the former lead singer of Calibretto 13, a "Christian surf punk band" (I kid you not), only I'm told that Harley Poe dropped the Christian angle. Another blogger describes the act this way:
Horror-folk artist Harley Poe is one of the fright scene’s best-kept secrets. He’s kinda like Voltaire, but less pretentious and actually funny. This is probably the best “Santa as a serial killer” song ever. Sleigh bells and jangly guitars back a stern warning about making Santa’s acquaintance on Christmas. You don’t want to find out what’s in his sack!

Any wonder why I chose to make this cut the title track of this year's mix?

Check out the Blog of Harvey Poe Front Man Joe Whiteford

Track 15
The Christmas Song, Mark Jonathan Davis as Lt. Hikaru Sulu (1995)
See notes to Track 8, HERE.

Track 14
Christmas All Over Again, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1992) 
The death of Tom Petty on October 2 was unexpected and profoundly sad, as he was, in many ways at the top of his game and widely recognized as among the most successful musicians in rock history. He had spent the previous six months on a nationwide tour with his longtime band the Heartbreakers, finishing it up with a hugely successful performance at the Hollywood Bowl exactly one week before his death. Between his work with the Heartbreakers and the Traveling Wilburys and as a solo performer, Petty sold close to 90 million records, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. I had a couple of different shows at my college radio station in Baltimore and I prominently featured Petty's music on each of them. Starting with "Breakdown" in 1977, "I Need to Know" the following year, the album "Damn the Torpedoes" in 1979 and 1981's "Hard Promises," there was always a Tom Petty record within easy reach of my turntable.

"Christmas All Over Again was released in 1992 on "A Very Special Christmas 2," the second in a series of compilations of holiday songs by established rock artists to benefit the Special Olympics. Petty contributed another song, a fine version of the blues classic "Little Red Rooster," to "A Very Special Christmas 5."

Track 13
The Best Santy Claus I Ever Heard, Andy Griffith and Don Knotts (1960)
Don Knotts as Deputy Barney Fife
As I noted five years ago, The Andy Griffith Show has always been one of my very favorite programs. I ran across this brief clip several years ago on the wonderful Check the Cool Wax blog and adding it to the mix was an easy call. I could be way off on this, but I think including short little bits like this between songs not only helps to break things up but also seems to pick up the pace of the whole CD, thereby making for a more upbeat feel. If you don't believe me, search for any of the classic Check the Cool Wax mixes, many of which are relatively easy to find via Google. Unfortunately, I've only just now noticed that the blog seems to have stopped in its tracks in early 2015 and I've been unable to locate any explanation anywhere. I'm hoping there's some good explanation for this -- like maybe the blog switched to a different hosting service? The blog's author who goes by the name Brainwerk is obviously a very talented entertainer who's responsible for a lot of smiles and laughter -- not just during the holiday season but throughout the year. I hope all's well.

This clip comes from Season 1 Episode 11, of The Andy Griffith Show, "The Christmas Story," and it's a classic. It's also the only Christmas-themed show in the entire series. While many episodes of this series are apparently in the public domain and therefore freely available online, this one isn/t. The only version I could come across is available HERE, but it comes in a pretty creepy format. See if you can block the woman watching with you from your mind while you watch. I know I couldn't.

Watch Matt Lauer's 1996 Today Show interview with Andy Griffith and Don Knotts