Monday, December 3, 2012

Here Comes Santa Claus, Part 5

I've been sharing some background about the various tracks on my latest holiday mix, titled Here Comes Santa Claus. We've already covered Tracks 1-11, and turn now to Tracks 12, 13 and 14.

Track 14
The Montreal Express, by Al Sears and His Countrymen (c. 1969)
This isn't a holiday song, strictly speaking, but then neither are such classics as "Winter Wonderland," "Frosty the Snowman," or even "Jingle Bells," for that matter. Somewhere along the way we seem to have reached a consensus that songs about snow and winter weather, which must certainly be considered "seasonal," also qualify for the "holiday" label. It's a curious issue when you stop and think about it, with some interesting implications. For example, a good friend of mine who was raised a Jehovah's Witness tells me he was forbidden from singing or listening to Christmas carols as a child because his family's religion ignores Christmas due to its quasi-pagan origins. His mother, a wonderful, generous and otherwise open-minded woman is especially doctrinaire when it comes to religion, and she brooked no nonsense when it came to Christmas songs. Forget about arguing the secular grounding of songs about snowmen, sledding or sleighs, my friend recalls. If it's a song that was ever sung by carolers, it wasn't allowed in his home.

By that rather rigid measure, this particular non-holiday winter's tale might well be allowed. It was commissioned in the 1960s by the old Boston Gas Company for use in their radio and television advertising campaigns, and it quickly "went viral," to the extent such a thing was possible back then. Responding to public demand, the ad agency that devised the campaign arranged for the jingle to be lengthened and released as a single, after the lines referring to Boston Gas were removed, of course. TV weathermen (no females on TV in those days) used to work bits of the song into their forecasts, and even the Boston Pops started to cover it at their holiday shows in Symphony Hall. I'm not surprised the song caught on as it did. New Englanders are a funny lot, and while they pride themselves on suffering through the most miserable winter weather without complaining, there's nothing they like more than hearing others give them credit for their toughness and their quiet resolve. There were a number of different versions of the jingle, which typically ended with the lines:

Boston Gas heat's
The only way to beat
The Montreal Express

Here are the lyrics for the 45 RPM version I included in this year’s mix:

There's an arctic wind up in Canada
Howling like a wolverine
And it whistles on down into Boston town
Whenever it feels real mean
Up around the Pru
And out Route 2
People all sigh “ah, yes”
We must have sinned ‘cause here comes that wind
Called the Montreal Express.

It rattles sills in the old Blue Hills
With a terrible icy roar
Your BVDs and your pipes all freeze
And your heating bills just soar
It shivers and shakes
And big snowflakes
Toot! No school today
Why down in Hull they ground the gull
And the blue jays all turn grey

It dropped a pall on the City Hall
The thermom’s two below
When it descends on the old North End
You're up to your ears in snow
It's hootin' into Newton and Watertown
The Pike just gleams with ice
The traffic snarls along the Charles
So take this good advice:
Swap your miniskirt for some flannel shirts
And send out an SOS
'Cause it freezes all, this wind they call
The Montreal Express

I haven’t been able to find anything more about Al Sears and His Countrymen, and this seems to be the only record they ever released. But, hey, that’s one record more than I’ve ever done, and while they may be gone, they’re not forgotten. Incidentally, I was surprised to learn today that Boston Gas is no more. Since I left town, they were apparently acquired by a company called Keystone, which in turn was acquired by something called National Grid. As someone who hasn't yet adjusted to a world without Woolworth's, this is almost too much to bear. Fortunately, National Grid has kept the iconic Rainbow Swash by the wonderful Sister Corita Kent on its Dorchester Gas Tanks. Mustn't mess with that.  

Track 13
Holiday Greetings from Ozzy Osbourne (c. 1994)
I don't intend to write very much about this gentleman or his music here because I don't know much about him and I'm not eager to learn any more than I already do. I included this track only because I think it's deliciously ironic to hear a warning about drunk driving from someone who apparently bit off the head of a live dove during a meeting with record company executives because he was too inebriated to know what he was doing. With a background like that, of course, who could be better qualified to deliver this sort of warning? Besides, while I've only seen his wife on TV for a few minutes here and there, she seems kind of neat, and their daughter's a stalwart fighter for gay rights, so he can't really be all bad. Few people are.

Track 12
The Wrong Way to Celebrate Christmas, by Rev. Edward W. Clayborn (1928)
I’ve previously featured recordings by the Rev. J.M. Gates on two of my previous holiday mixes, both of which were recorded in the 1920s and simmer with the righteous energy of a true Southern preacher. While this track was recorded around the same time and carries a similar kind of message, it has a very different feel than either of the recordings by Pastor Gates. Unfortunately, very little is known about Rev. Clayborn, who billed himself for a time as “the Guitar Evangelist.” The picture included here is apparently the only picture of him that exists, and I’ve seen his last name spelled four different ways while trying to find out a little more about him. About all I can report is that he recorded some 40 tracks for Vocalion Records between 1926 and 1930, and the message he carried is one that millions revere to this day.

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