Wednesday, December 11, 2013

C'est Noel, Part 6 (Tracks 17-18)

I started this blog two years ago as a place to share a few occasional thoughts about some of the tracks on my annual holiday music mixes. The scope has expanded slightly since then, but I haven't lost sight of that original mission. My latest mix is called C'est Noel, and we've been looking at each of the 35 tracks it contains. Today we look at Tracks 17 and 18, and once these two are covered, we'll have crossed the half-way mark on this year's release.

Track 18
Christ Was Born on Christmas Morn, by the Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers (1929)
Miller (left) and Jackson
It’s been called “one of the most transcendently joyous, exuberant records ever made,”* and while that strikes me as a bit of an overstatement, this one really does have some spirit, don't you think? Recorded in Chicago in August 1929, it was released a little less than four months later – or two months after the Great Stock Market Crash. I'd guess that whatever exuberance there is was more urgently needed by then than was first supposed. The Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers consisted of Frankie “Half Pint” Jaxon, a cabaret performer, jazz singer and occasional female impressionist; Ernest “Punch” Miller, a jazz trumpet player; and the Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Choir from a small church on Chicago’s West Side. This track is one of only a handful of songs the group recorded together, and it doesn't appear that this one got much traction before the Great Depression tightened its grip across the country. Sometime in the early 1980s, radio host Dick Spotswood began to play the song regularly during the holidays on his bluegrass radio show on Washington's WAMU-FM. In 2002,  it was included on the Dust to Digital CD Where Will You Be Christmas Day? 
*Sullivan, Steve, Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings, Vol. 2 (2013), at 32-33.

Track 17
Transylvanian Christmas, by Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper (1986)
Mojo Nixon (left) and Skid Roper in 2012

Our next tune is probably among the best 15 or 20 psychobilly holiday instrumental songs released during second half of the Reagan administration, so why wouldn’t it be included in one of my mixes? It was only a matter of time, really. Part of the song’s beauty lies in its simplicity – less is more, and all that, you know. It basically consists of Skid Roper playing two verses of “Joy to the World” on harmonica while Mojo Nixon beats on the bongos. Somehow Roper’s tweaked his instrument to make it sound kind of ominous. That’s sort of the overall MO of these guys, who released six albums during the 1980s before going their separate ways. They liked to shake things up a bit by fusing different styles together and parodying pretty much whatever came into view. Nixon went on to release a few more albums on his own and with others, and recently he’s launched several radio shows on Sirius.

For insight into Mojo Nixon’s First Amendment philosophy, catch his 1990 appearance on CNN's Crossfire with Pat Buchanan and Michael Kinsley, HERE.

Some of you may recall Wesley Willis, the outsider artist whose song “Merry Christmas” was included on my 1997 mix Let’s Trim the Christmas Tree. Well, are you ready for this? Wesley actually recorded a tribute song called “Mojo Nixon,” which is available HERE.

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