Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Here Comes Santa Claus, Part 2

Yesterday, I started posting a little background on the various tracks included on my latest holiday mix, Here Comes Santa Claus, and I'm hoping to continue with that until I've provided at least a little information about each of the 38 tracks on this year's CD. With that word of warning, let's press on!

Track 6 
Window Wonderland Stencils Kit Commercial, Gold Seal Glass Wax (c. 1963)
The sixth track on this year's CD is an edited version of a vintage TV commercial touting the use of Gold Seal Glass Wax with the company's holiday stencils kit to create decorative seasonal images on glass windows. Glass wax, which I vaguely remember, was a popular window cleaner in the 1950s and '60s. Many people disliked using spray or aerosol window cleaners such as Windex because they supposedly left streaks. Glass wax, by contrast, was applied to the glass with a sponge, and, once it had dried it could be easily rubbed off with a dry cloth leaving sparkling clear, streak-free windows. As this commercial explains, glass wax could also be applied with a stencil and left on the window in a distinctive pattern. Once painted on the window, it looked like etched glass or frost, and was easily removed after the holidays. I don't recall decorating our windows with this technique growing up, although I believe my cousins did. I vividly recall cleaning a whole mess of windows every spring, however: regular and storm windows at our home in Massachusetts, as well as the very old glass windows at our summer home in Maine, and at "the Studio" behind my grandmother's home on the Stroudwater River in Portland, Maine. Her home was previously owned by the impressionist painter Walter Griffin (1861-1935), to whom she was related by marriage, and "the Studio" was where he did a lot of his work. My cousins, my brother and I frequently slept there in the warmer months, and I lived there for two summers during college while working as a cook to earn money for school. That place had lots of windows, and over the years I'd guess we used pretty much every possible type of window cleaner on them.

Track 5
Three Blind Christmas Mice, The Bel-Airs (1962)
The Bel-Airs, c. 1961
I can't remember where I first ran across this bouncy little number, but I'm sure glad I did. It's by a group called The Bel-Airs, and it's a great example of the underappreciated surf rock genre that became popular in Southern California and certain other parts of the country in the early to mid-1960s. The Bel-Airs were among the earliest and most influential West Coast surf rock bands. Formed in 1960, they had their biggest hit the following year with an instrumental titled Mr. Moto, which was apparently based on the fictional Japanese secret agent created in the 1930s by author John Marquand. Three Blind Christmas Mice, also known as "The Three Blind Mice Make It to Santa's Village," was released in 1962 and appears to be the only holiday song The Bel Airs recorded. It's an instrumental mash-up of "Jingle Bells" and  the popular children's tune "Three Blind Mice," but it's the high-octane surf-rock beat that makes it great. Sadly, the surf rock scene pretty much fizzled out with the arrival of the British invasion, and by 1964 The Bel-Airs were gone. Happily, most of the members remained in music after the break-up. Guitarist Eddie Bertrand formed Eddie & the Showmen in 1964, while guitarist Paul Johnson joined Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys in 1970. Original Bel-Airs drummer Dick Dodd joined Bertrand in Eddie & the Showmen, and later joined the legendary Los Angeles garage band The Standells, playing drums and singing lead on their 1966 surf-style hit, Dirty Water, which is pretty much the national anthem of Boston rock. That's right, surf rock's always been big in Boston, and it doesn't come as easily to folks in Massachusetts as to residents of California. For proof, check out one of my favorite Boston rock classics, the Gremies' No Surfing in Dorchester Bay.  

Track 4
Holiday Greetings from the S.O.S. Band (c. 1987)

The S.O.S. Band
I've been using celebrity holiday greetings between songs ever since my very first holiday mix, although I use them less frequently with each successive mix.  They're an easy way to transition from one song to another, much as commercials were back in the days of Top 40 AM radio. It's hard to segue directly  from an uptempo song to something sad, for example, without some kind of bridge, and devices like the celebrity greeting allow you to make those transitions without a whole lot of thought. (Former American Top 40 host Casey Kasem addressed this topic in one of the most famous backstage rants to ever hit the internet.) Depending on who's involved, celebrity greetings can also add a certain cachet to a project, or at the very least a sense of recognition or familiarity. The ones I like best, however, are the ones from B-, C- or D-list celebrities -- the clips that leave you wondering "who the hell is this person and why do I care that he's wishing me a Merry Christmas?" Which brings us to the S.O.S. Band. Well  no, wait. That's not really fair to them. In fact, I really liked this band, back in the day. You may remember their first single, Take Your Time (Do It Right), which was a huge hit during the Summer of 1980. I was living in New York City that summer and had just discovered the club scene there, and I guess I'll always associate this song with a set of experiences and memories that have no place in an upstanding holiday music blog like this. If you want to know more about the S.O.S. Band, you can look them up on Google. I'm too busy right now enjoying the first rays of sunlight on a long-ago July morning, as I make my way up Eighth Avenue with the beat of the disco still thumping in my ears.

PS: Casey Kasem offers a snapshot of the top-selling records of that summer in the America's Top 10 broadcast that aired on August 17, 1980. The YouTube clip notes at 5:20 that "Take Your Time (Do It Right)" was the number three song in the country that week. What was #1? Olivia Newton-John's "Magic," God help us all. Incidentally, Newton-John and John Travolta recently released an album of holiday music that Travolta describes as "intimate," and "not [ ] too ostentatious or showy." Benefits from the album go to charity, which seems to be the record's one redeeming feature.

Stay tuned for more tomorrow.

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