Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gee Whiz ... It's Christmas (Again!), Part 2

My 2011 holiday CD, Gee Whiz ... It's Christmas (Again!), is now being circulated, and in yesterday's post I started sharing some of my thoughts about the 43 individual tracks that appear on it. I plan to review a few tracks each day until done, and while I'm reviewing the tracks from first to last, each day's post will proceed in reverse order to yield a final list that runs from 43 to 1 without bouncing back a few spaces at the start of each new post.

Track 7
Wish List, by Neon Trees (2010)
Released in November 2010 as a free iTunes download, Wish List is perhaps my favorite track on this year’s CD. It’s certainly the best new holiday tune I’ve heard in the past several years. The underlying story’s a sad one. The singer’s at home alone on Christmas, pining for the girl who left him. But he’s ready to do whatever’s necessary to win her back, and the upbeat melody and hook-laden chorus leaves you confident that he’s going to succeed. Neon Trees was formed in 2005 in Provo, Utah, and its four primary members are all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They have toured with and opened for The Killers, My Chemical Romance and Duran Duran, and in 2010 their single “Animal” topped Billboard magazine’s Alternative Rock chart and was eventually certified platinum by the RIAA.

Track 6
Christmas Lost and Found (Part 1), from Davey and Goliath (1960)

For many of us who grew up in the 1960s and ‘70s, Davey and Goliath was a Sunday morning staple. My family typically attended the earlier of our church’s two Sunday services, and I can remember lobbying my father to change that practice so we could watch this and other cartoons on TV before we had to get dressed-up for the day. Sponsored by the Lutheran Church, the series was produced by Art Clokey, who had enjoyed great success with a similar stop-motion animated series called Gumby. Watching Davey and Goliath today underscores just how much our culture has changed in the past 40 years. Its earnest and sometimes heavy-handed style holds up rather poorly, although I’m certain that my brother and I internalized many of its key values during our formative years. The nine clips that are featured in this year’s CD are excerpts from a special holiday episode of the show titled “Christmas Lost and Found,” which was first broadcast in December 1960. My initial intention was to include only the first excerpt, which begins with Davey’s ill-tempered declaration: “I hate Christmas.” Presented by itself, that excerpt is good for a laugh, as in a few short seconds it manages to undermine just about everything for which the show was known. As the overall CD took shape, however, I grew increasingly fond of the message this episode conveyed. I would have preferred to have summarized that message in fewer than nine clips, but it was difficult enough to trim as much as I did without losing the message altogether. In any case, I managed to include multiple instances of Goliath’s famous “Daaavey” soundbite. That always makes me smile.

Track 5
Christmas Day, by Detroit Junior (1960)
This R&B classic was on the draft track lists for two of my previous CDs, Winter Wonderland (2010) and I Just Can’t Wait for Christmas (2009), but it somehow failed to make the final cut in each instance. I’m not sure why. But I knew I’d use it sooner or later – it’s just too good to ignore. This was probably the biggest hit blues musician Detroit Junior ever had. It’s certainly his most enduring record. Born in 1931 in Arkansas, Emery Williams, Jr., developed his interest in music at a young age. By the early 1950s he had settled in Detroit, where he picked up his stage name and started performing with such skillful blues musicians as Eddie Boyd and John Lee Hooker. Junior relocated to Chicago in 1956, and worked and played there until his death in 2005. Despite his long career, Junior only released a handful of records, although you can still find several of his songs on YouTube, including Call My Job, Money Crazy and If I Hadn’t Been High. “Christmas Day” was included as the first track on Santa’s Funk and Soul Christmas Party, which was released in November 2011 on the Tramp Records label and is well worth a listen.

Track 4
Holiday Greetings from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (1974)
Bruce Springsteen, Ed Sciaky, Janis Ian and Billy Joel in September 1974
Track 4 is a short promotional message recorded in late 1974 for Philadelphia radio station WMMR-FM, which, along with Boston’s WBCN, was among the most innovative and progressive rock stations in the country at the time. WMMR was also the home of the legendary Ed Sciaky, who was known for promoting talented new artists including Billy Joel, David Bowie and, of course, Bruce Springsteen himself. Thanks in large part to Sciaky, Springsteen was already hugely popular in Philadelphia when this message was recorded, despite the fact that his breakout album, Born to Run, would not be released until the following September. Few, if any, stations like WMMR are left today, a fact Springsteen lamented in his 2007 single “Radio Nowhere”.

I'm hoping to continue this series with further comments on many of the remaining tracks on this year's CD. There are 43 tracks altogether, so fix yourself some egg nog, grab a good seat by the fire, and get ready for a long ride.

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