Saturday, December 26, 2015

Here's Your Boxing Day Horror Show for 2015: Magic Christmas Tree

Several years back, we started a perfectly awful post-holiday tradition that we thought was in keeping with the emotional angst so many of us suffer from on the day after Christmas. In many parts of the world, the 26th of December is celebrated as Boxing Day. Stores and other businesses remain closed, and people tend to stay home with their families to enjoy the good feelings kindled during the preceding two days. There's lots of laughter and fellowship and plenty of leftovers to share, and everyone benefits from an extra day away from the cares of everyday life. In our country, unfortunately, the the 26th of December typically means a trip to the mall to return the gifts we didn't like, and maybe pick up an extra helping of fried dough or something.

So, in order to coax people to at least consider staying close to home and hearth, we've taken to posting a choice holiday movie from the dreadful bin on Boxing Day – you know, a movie so bad it's good. Well, this year's selection certainly qualifies. Filmed in 1964 "on an extremely low budget," this year's feature is Magic Christmas Tree, which has been called "one of the worst and most depressing holiday films of all time."  Get ready for this year's Boxing Day Horror Show:

Haven't had enough horror for one day?

Watch Last Year's Horror Show, "Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny"

Watch Our First Boxing Day Horror Show, "Santa Claus"

Deck Those Halls, Part 8 (Tracks 22-30)

Merry Christmas to one and all, and my sincere apologies for falling so far behind this year with my summaries of the tracks on this year's holiday mix, Deck Those Halls! It's been a busier December than I'm used to, and there hasn't been much free time to tend to this sort of business, so let me take a few minutes here to at least hjit diown a few words about some of the other tracks I included on thisd year;s collection.

Track 30
Holiday News Brief, by the American Comedy Network
Dr. Demento
This track was a favorite on the old Dr. Demento Show, which started in the early 1970s on KPPC-FM and later enjoyed considerable popularity in syndication throughout and even outside the United States. Hosted by Barry Hansen, the Demento show featured a wide variety of novelty and comedy bits. I first heard it as a college freshman, where it was popular with a small group of guys in my dorm who played Dungeons and Dragons and dressed up in Star Trek outfits. I gave them pretty wide berth and steered clear of Dr. Demento as well, but I rediscovered the show a few years ago in its current internet version, and I'll be the first to say that I wished I'd started listening earlier. A lot of it's pretty cornball, but there's lots of fun stuff, too. This little clip falls dead center in the cornball bucket, but, what the heck. That's what makes it fun.

Track 29
Claude De Santos, by Mudlow
I love surfing the internet to find new music and other goodies, and I’m pretty good at turning up interesting stuff, as I hope my collections bear out. Unfortunately, I’m not so good at documenting where I’ve been and how to get back there. So I don’t have any idea where I ran across this track, or where you can find a copy of your own. I love this one myself. I love its film noir feel, and its dirty, almost sinister swagger. However, at least several friends have cited this as their least favorite cut on this year’s mix, which is really saying something when you consider it’s a collection that includes selections from Laffy and Little Marcy Tigner. 

I can tell you (and I believe this is reasonably accurate) that Mudlow is “a three piece rock band from Brighton, England, inspired by country, f@#*ed-up blues, garage, striptease, klezmer …  stuff like Bo Diddley, Tom Waits, Morphine and The Cramps.“ I know that because I did manage to save that quote along with the song. But I’ve no idea who “Claude De Santos” is, what he’s got to do with Christmas, or whether he or anyone else really “gave Rudy a red nose with a trash can lid.” Anyone with further information is invited to contact me ... or your local police department.

Track 28
Holiday Greetings from Bjork
I actually like Bjork's music -- both her work as a solo artist, and with The Sugarcubes. But I confess that whenever her name comes up, the first thing I think of is this clip from Saturday Night Live, where she's portrayed, believe it or not, by Winona Rider:

Watch the entire clip of "Rock and Roll Jeopardy" featuring Bjork from SNL

Track 27
How NOT to Make Gravy, by Benny Davis, featuring Mark Sutton (2014)
Please refer to the description for Track 25, below.

Track 26
Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny Radio Spot, featuring Jay Ripley as Santa Claus (1972)
This track is a radio ad for a the God-awful monstrosity  we featured as last year's Boxing Day Horror Show, the 1972 film, "Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny." I shudder just thinking about it.

Hear the Radio Promo Spot

Watch the Entire Video (WARNING:  Are You Really Sure You Want to Do This?)

Watch an Excerpt from the RiffRax Version of the Video

Track 25
How to Make Gravy, by Paul Kelly (1996)
I have to admit I had some doubts about including both this track and the 2014 take-off by Benny Davis (Track 27) on the same mix. The Paul Kelly original is a beautifully crafted and touching song written as a letter from a newly imprisoned man to his brother just a few days before Christmas. In it, the author imagines all the fun he'll be missing at the family's traditional holiday gathering, and in so doing, conveys the value of each small piece and the enormity of the loss he will suffer. It's a terrific record and therefore not surprising that it's become a treasured part of the holiday oeuvre in Australia, which is where the artist Paul Kelly resides. I mean, just listen to it:

The Benny Davis send-up, by contrast, is irreverent and unseemly. And yet, from the moment I first heard last year's "How NOT to Make Gravy," I knew I had to use it. It's just too perfect! What do you think?  Appropriate, or not?

Thanks to Stubby's House of Christmas.

Track 24
After Christmas Sale Radio Spot from Crazy Eddie's Appliance Store
The Crazy Eddie's story has an awful, tragic ending, but for a time there in the early- to mid-1980s, you couldn't turn on a TV in the Tri-State area (Connecticut, New York and New Jersey) without hearing one of their advertisements. This is just one of many.

Track 23
We Celebrate Kwanzaa, by the Cast of Sesame Street
I've been looking for quite awhile to find a short clip that actually describes Kwanzaa in terms that are understandable and accessible. This clip from Sesame Street does a terrific job, I think.

Watch the Actual Sesame Street Clip

Read More HERE

Track 22
Poor Mr. Santa Claus, by Andre Williams 

Commentary Coming Soon

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town!

The final Saturday Night Live of 2015 welcomed Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as the featured musical guest last night, which for many of us proved to be an early and much appreciated holiday gift. Bruce and the Band played two tracks from his recently released box set The Ties that Bind: The River Collection -- "Meet Me in the City" and "The Ties that Bind," both of which sounded great. But then there was this show-stopper to close out the night, featuring a very special guest:

I received a holiday gift of my own last Friday in the form of tickets to see Bruce and the E Street Band at the L.A. Sports Arena in March. Sadly, that wonderful old venue is scheduled to close its doors soon afterward. And might I suggest a few lumps of coal for the bastards at TicketMaster, whose near monopoly status allows them to run one of the most despicable businesses in the country. The process for buying tickets to popular acts was easier, fairer and less costly 25 years ago than it is today, which is exactly what a lack of competition guarantees.

But enough of that for now. After all, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Andy Cirzan's 2015 Christmas Comp Is Here

Andy Cirzan
As longtime readers of this blog can attest, one of the things I look forward to every holiday season is the annual appearance of Andy Cirzan on Sound Opinions, the weekly radio talk show about rock and roll produced by WBEZ Chicago and hosted by by Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot. You see, Andy is one of the patron saints of the genuine holiday music aficionados. He's been making and circulating holiday music mixes for 27 years now  a full dozen years more than me. And it's always a treat to hear what he's selected for his annual "Christmas comp" ("comp" in the vernacular of the holiday music collector, is short for is short for compilation). It's also fun to hear him talk about his choices on Sound Opinions, which we can all do this week thanks to the magic of the internet. Andy's latest Christmas comp is titled Holiday Hangout at Hillbilly Holler, which features an assortment of little-known holiday tunes from the world of country and bluegrass. Be sure to check it out.

Incidentally, Andy is one of the many collectors and performers featured in Jingle Bell Rocks, the amazingly wonderful 2014 film by holiday music collector Mitchell Kezin. It's been described as an
exclusive backstage pass into a fascinating underground world of alternative Christmas music. Starring an eclectic cast of characters  The Flaming Lips, Run DMC, John Waters  plus two dozen amazing & original songs, JINGLE BELL ROCKS! is a cinematic sleight ride into the strange and sublime universe of alternative Christmas music.
For me, it's a touching and spirited look at the beauty and fun to be had from the world of offbeat holiday music. It will certainly resonate with other holiday music enthusiasts, and it might serve as a kind of explanation to friends and family of the obsessive collectors – or at the very least a welcome piece of evidence that there are others out there with this same addiction. Here's a trailer for the film, which is now available on iTunes or through amazon.com: 

Hear the Sound Opinions s Year's Holiday Spectacular for 2015, with Andy Cirzan

Download Andy Cirzan's 2015 Christmas Comp, Holiday Hangout at Hillbilly Holler (available through 1/1/16 only)

Purchase Mitchell Kezin's 2014 Film, "Jingle Bell Rocks"

Friday, December 18, 2015

Deck Those Halls, Part 7 (Tracks 19-21)

Well, we're now at the half-way mark. There are 42 tracks on my latest holiday mix, Deck Those Halls, and, by the end of this post, we will have looked (albeit quickly) at 21 of them. But we have to offer something about each of these songs to get there, so let's have at it:

Track 21
Jingle Bells, by Laffy (2004)
April Winchell
Ten years ago, I included a little piece of something by an individual named "Laffy" on one of my first mixes, Don't Wake the Kids. It was actually Laffy's unique take on the holiday classic, "Carol of the Bells," which consisted of someone (I assume it was Laffy) basically laughing in rhythm to the song. I'd found it not long before among the hundreds of MP3s posted at the time on April Winchell's excellent website.  I'd never heard anything quite like it before -- I mean, have you?

April was a weekend personality on KFI-AM 640 at the time, and I absolutely loved her show, which was funny, fast-moving and irreverent. The collection of MP3s she offered in the holiday section of her website contributed quite a few tracks to my holiday CDs for a couple of years. Well, I assumed that "Carol of the Bells" was a unique item and that Laffy was a one-hit wonder, though even that may be stretching things beyond what they are. But this past summer I learned there's a whole album of these things. The thrill of that discovery faded quickly, as did my ability to even listen to this schlock for more than 15 seconds. However, I felt a strange sense of obligation to add a second track to my Laffy canon. Here it is, and I'd like to dedicate it to April Winchell. By all means. enjoy!

Listen to April Winchell's First KFI-AM 640 Radio Show in August 2000

Listen to April Winchell's KFI-AM 640 Radio Show from May 18, 2001

Listen to April Winchell's KFI-AM 640 Radio Show from November 23, 2002

Track 20
Deck the Halls, by Tom's Computer (2001)

I can't tell you much about this one, except that it was sent to me a number of years ago as part of a collection called "Come Deck the Halls with Strangeness," which was put together by Frank "Bongolong" Lord, a longtime collector of offbeat music and pop cultural ephemera. You can read more about him in a nice profile on Blogio Oddio. It's a fascinating collection of tunes and clips, most of which are "nontraditional interpretations" of "Deck the Halls." My 2015 mix, like several of my previous annual mixes, skirts around a sort of loose and unstructured theme. Winter Wonderland offered several versions of that tune, while Let's Trim the Christmas Tree celebrated the holiday stocking. Just kidding. Many of its songs were about Christmas trees. My first several versions of this year's mix included at least three or four additional versions of "Deck the Halls," but that seemed excessive. The final CD has four versions of the song, though it seems like more.  The Bongolong album has 34 versions, more or less! I haven't found anything to report on Tom's Computer, the artist apparently responsible for creating this song, but it's an offbeat track that seems to fit in well. Here are a few versions that got left behind:

Listen to "Wreck the Malls," by Bob Rivers (1987)

Listen to "Deck the Halls with Parts of Charlie," by the Crypt Keeper (1994)

Listen to "Wreck the Halls," by The Three Stooges (1960) 

Track 19
Church Chat (Holiday Edition)
In the Fall of 1986, Dana Carvey and four other new cast members joined Saturday Night Live as part of a near wholesale makeover of the groundbreaking show. SNL had been on the air for eleven seasons by this time and the preceding season had been an all-out disaster. Most of the cast from the preceding season were released at the end of the 1985-86 season, and the show itself was on the verge of being cancelled. Between them, however, Carvey and the other newcomers (including Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Kevin Nealon and Victoria Jackson) helped turn the show around, and Carvey's signature Church Lady character played a significant role in the revitalization.

The clip I included in this year's mix is a very short bit that opened one of the Church Lady's pre-holiday episodes. It remains rather difficult to find many of the best SNL bits, even when you're willing to pay for them. I'm not sure why, but there's no question that Lorne Michaels or whoever runs the show over there is missing out on some real opportunities.

Anyway, this sketch first aired on December 5, 1987, 28 years ago. I actually remember watching and loving it back then for two reasons:  Jan Hooks' brilliant impression of Jessica Hahn, the woman accused of a sexual liaison in a cheap motel with the Rev. Jim Bakker; and Danny DeVito's appearance with the Church Chat Band doing "Here Comes Santa Claus." The only clip I could find online has been shortened and isn't top quality, but it's good to see all the same:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

These Holiday Tunes Are OUTRAGEOUS!

What is it about us that simply loves being outraged about one thing or another? The feeling goes way back in time and typically gets expressed in connection with trivial matters and the expressions of marginal groups, who, in a deliciously ironic twist, are usually strengthened by the dunderheads who try to silence them. That's the standard set-up in this country anyway. In less tolerant lands, the blasphemers are often shot before anyone can debate the issue. But we'd rather shake and swoon in our affected indignity. Today's post features a short piece about five holiday songs that sparked significant outrage among various constituencies. Of course you and I know it's barely scratched the surface. You want to hear outrageous? Come back after you've listened to 20 minutes of Wing, or William Hung!

Deck Those Halls, Part 6 (Tracks 16-18)

Greetings holiday music fans. It looks like we're going to have a race to the finish here, because with only nine days to go before the big day I've still got 27 tracks to discuss here in some form or fashion. That's a pretty tall order, so I'd best get to it.

Track 18
C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S, by "Little" Marcy Tigner (1973)
When I put together my first few holiday mixes some 15 years ago, a significant number of the tracks I included were selected solely because of how awful they were. Seriously! Wait, you don't believe me? Try this little number on for size:  Track 32 from my 2005 mix. Or this one:  Track 34 from my 2006 mix. OK, I can hear the cries of "Uncle!" I'll stop. I only wish I'd shown that same sort of mercy and self-restraint when it came to picking this year's Track 18, but for some reason I turned sadistic and chose this monstrosity by the deceitful Marcy Tigner.

News flash! This hateful mess of audio was recorded by a middle-aged woman impersonating a child, and not by a cute little girl, as the "artist" would have you believe. Well, I already wrote about this woman in a 2011 post, and I have nothing more add. I apologize for my cruelty in selecting this track and promise it won't happen again.

(NOTE: I thought I'd amuse myself just now by doing a Google search for pictures of "Little" Marcy and her keeper online and discovered two horrifying facts. First, this obnoxious young child appears to have had quite a time of it in the 1970s, because  my Google Image search turned up at least 20 different album covers featuring her happy little face.  Even worse, tucked among the pictures the search turned up were several of my 2011 mix! Never again I promise! (Look at this kid closely, by the way. I'm not even sure she's a human being.)

Track 17
Holiday Greetings, by Eddie Kendricks 
Eddie Kendricks
An Alabama native known for his distinctive falsetto voice, Eddie Kendricks is perhaps best known for his work during the 1960s as a member of R&B supergroup The Temptations. From 1965 through 1973 the group had 15 Top 10 records, including four Number One singles:  "My Girl," "I Can't Get Next to You," "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," and "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)." Kendricks sang lead vocals on the latter song, which has been described as "Eddie's finest moment." Another song featuring Kendricks on lead vocals was intended to be the follow-up single to "Just My Imagination," but Kendricks left the band on bad terms around that same time, and the would-be follow-up, "Smiling Faces," was given away instead to the band The Undisputed Truth.

Kendricks was quickly signed by Motown after leaving The Temptations, and though it took awhile to get started, he enjoyed a very successful solo career. I was a huge fan of R&B, soul and even disco when I was growing up, and I first got turned on to Kendricks after hearing his rather touching single, "Shoeshine Boy." That was only a modest hit, but Kendricks also had smash hits like "Keep on Truckin'" and "Boogie Down," which made it to #1 and #2, respectively, on Billboard's Hot 100.

Tragically, Kendricks died of lung cancer in 1992. But he will be remembered as a huge contributor to an era of amazingly rich music.

Listen to "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," by the Temptations, featuring Eddie Kendricks on lead vocals

Track 16
O Christmas Tree, by The Orphan, The Poet

Drum roll, please . . . for now we come to my very favorite song on this year's mix, "O Christmas Tree," by the Dayton, Ohio band The Orphan, The Poet. You can hear the song HERE. I've played it at least 30 or 40 times over the past couple of months, and it hasn't lost a bit of its original appeal to me. They also have a number of other awesome holiday tunes kicking around, such as their version of "Have Yourself a Merry, Little Christmas," which, through the magic of the interweb, is available below:

If you're lucky enough to live in Dayton (did I just write that?), be sure to attend the band's Christmas Extravaganza at the Canal Public House in Dayton this Friday night, starting at 7:30. And wherever you're from, check out their beautiful version of "O Christmas Tree."

We'll be back with more sometime soon.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Office! Christmas! Party!

Here's a true feel-good video from last year's season of Saturday Night Live. Any of this look familiar? I'd stay away from Payroll and New Media the morning after, if I were you!

Deck Those Halls, Part 5 (Tracks 13-15)

Christmas is fast approaching, like some demented maniac in a third-rate horror film – and I realize that I'd better put a little more time into this project if I'm to have any hope of sharing at least a little something about each of the 42 tracks on my latest holiday mix before Christmas. My latest mix, Deck Those Halls, is available on my holiday music website, where you'll also find a track list, CD label and jewel-box insert card – everything you need to make a copy of your own. But several big projects at work have been taking more time than I'd hoped, which leaves less time than I'd hoped, and, of course, my computer printer chose Thanksgiving weekend to die, just as I was starting to prepare my annual mailing to family and friends. So, yes, I'm running well behind this year. Who isn't? But we'll all survive, I'm sure. There's no sense in letting time pressure or the fear of running late ruin this wonderful time of year!

Track 15
D'yer Santa (Sled Zeppelin), by Bob Rivers (1997)

I've always liked the music of Led Zeppelin, as well as most of the solo and side project stuff released by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. But I'm not the kind of fan who can discuss any of the above with even the slightest degree of confidence. So when I first noticed this holiday number, I believed what I was told, which is that it was the work of the actual Led Zeppelin – well, the surviving members, anyway. Of course, it's not. It's actually the creation of Bob Rivers, who's both a very successful rock radio DJ and a talented musical parody artist who specializes in holiday material, among other things. To date, he's released five studio albums of Christmas parodies, each of which offers at least as much good material as not, which, in this genre, is pretty damn good.

Rivers has been into radio since his early teens, and he's had a long and – well, I was going to call it a "distinguished" career, but that might be pushing it a little. Let's just say it was long and lots of fun. He started doing parody records during a stint at WAAF-FM in Worcester, Massachusetts, and in 1988 he released his first parody album, Twisted Christmas, featuring "The 12 Pains of Christmas." During the next quarter century, Rivers continued to work his day job as a radio announcer but also put out a string of successful parody records, many of which had a decidedly Christmas feel to them. 

This particular track is from Rivers' 1997 release, "More Twisted Christmas," and it's inspired by the classic rock song "D'yer Maker" by Led Zeppelin. 

Rivers retired last year, and currently lives with his wife in Washington State.

Track 14
I Adore Christmas, by Barry Humphries as Dame Edna Everage (c. 1987)
Barry Humphries as Dame Edna Everage

This is just a short soundbite I first heard on The Daily Wav, a wonderful website that posts a simple audio clip each day, typically under ten seconds long. This one's a perfect transitional soundbite from one song to another, and I'm always pleased to give Dame Edna a little attention. I've known a number of drag performers over the years, most of whom have been delightful people, and very funny. Dame Edna is the creation of Australian performer Barry Humphries, who first started using the character in the 1950s, believe it or not. The Dame has certainly evolved over the years, but she has always been loved best for her ability to connect with everyday people as she quietly skewers the notions of celebrity that she simultaneously adores and reviles. I will have to add some further thoughts about her another time.

Track 13
Santa's Lost His Mojo, by Jeremy Lister (2008)

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings Celebrate Hanukkah on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert Series

I've raved previously about Brooklyn soul singer Sharon Jones and the terrific music she's made with the Dap Kings, including the holiday masterpiece "Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects," which is the only track intentionally included in two of my previous holiday mixes. I've also given mad props to NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts, which I've recommended in my professional life as great way to recharge your batteries and your spirit at work during particularly stressful times. So you can imagine my reaction to a Tiny Desk Concert featuring Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, right? How about one where the band's doing nothing but holiday tunes?  OK, no gifts needed for me this year; I've got all I need right here!

The Tiny Desk Concert's scheduled for broadcast on December 21, but NPR's wisely chosen to whet out appetite by releasing a choice preview track called "Eight Days of Hanukkah":

The NPR appearance coincides with the release of the group's latest album, "It's a Holiday Soul Party!," and as if they haven't already done enough to brighten the holidays, NPR's made the whole album available for listening HEREfor a limited time only. Enjoy, and consider buying some of the other great stuff now available from Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings.

Check Out Music from Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings on amazon.com.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Deck Those Halls, Part 4 (Tracks 10-12)

Here are some random thoughts about the next three tracks on my latest holiday mix, Deck Those Halls!:

Track 12
Holiday Greetings from Bill and Hillary Clinton (1997)
Things can change pretty quickly in politics, but, for the moment at least, it's looking like Hillary Clinton will likely be the Democratic nominee and win election next year as President. I wanted to be president myself when I was a child. Now, I can't imagine why anyone would want the job -- and I'm a little wary, frankly, of anyone who seems to want it too much. Still, perhaps we should all be getting ready to hear at least four more messages like this one, don't you think?

Track 11
Deck the Halls, by The Klezmonauts (1998)
Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, which absolutely makes it a night to celebrate. And what better way to celebrate than with a rousing dose of klezmer music! But a klezmer version of Deck the Halls?! Well, why not? In fact, the Klezmonauts 1998 album Oy to the World gives the klezmer treatment to a collection of traditional songs and the result is a rollicking good time. A customer named Martin Keller wrote a wonderful review on amazon.com that I'd say captures the spirit of things pretty well:
Oy to the World! is an unrepentant collection of traditional carols, hymns, and Christmas high jinks played in the rousing, Jewish klezmer tradition. Talk about worlds colliding, this set throws its considerable, klezmetric weight around, turning the real "Joy to the World" into a dramatic, jazzy piece that swings and romps. With a few witty musical asides sprinkled into select songs among the 10 tracks, the Klezmonauts' only fault is that they may be too hip for the holiday party. Guaranteed either to send goyim fleeing from the room or your Yiddish grandmother rushing into the room to see what's the matter. In any event, it's fun, funny, and as effective as a shot of J├Ągermeister and just as unkosher. 
As much as I truly enjoyed the group's treatment of the traditional carols, my personal favorite has got to be Santa Gey Gezunderheit (Santa, Go in Good Health). Would that we could all enjoy a little more of this kind of fun over the holidays, secure in the knowledge that nobody was going to be shot as a result.

Track 10
Christmas at K-Mart, by Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band (1979)
Here's another artist from Bawlmer, and like "Fat Daddy" Johnson, the "the 300-pound King of Soul" who was responsible for creating one of yesterday's featured tracks, Root Boy Slim lived awfully fast and died way too young. Born in Asheville, NC as Foster MacKenzie III, he bounced around among a number of elite prep schools before winning a full scholarship to Yale. In New Haven, he played football, majored in African American studies and pledged for the same fraternity as George W. Bush. In fact, Bush allegedly had MacKenzie banned from the house after he tried to visit the place after graduation. 
Foster MacKenzie III

Armed with his Yale diploma, MacKenzie held a variety of short-term largely unskilled jobs for a while, including a stint as an ice cream truck driver. He was allegedly arrested for climbing the White House fence after taking LSD and wound up being committed to St. Elizabeth's mental hospital, where he was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

By the mid 1970s, MacKenzie had formed a band called Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band, which eventually made quite a name for themselves in the mid-Atlantic area. I can remember seeing them perform at The Marble Bar when I was in college; in fact, the crowd I hung with at the time was especially keen on Root Boy and The Original Fetish, another band with a sizeable following in the DC area. 

I'm not sure quite what I can tell you about "Christmas at K-Mart" other than the fact I've been meaning to include it on one of my mixes for at least the past several years. It's a classic. And so was Root Boy.

Deck Those Halls, Part 3 (Tracks 7-9)

I'm running behind schedule this year, which is hardly unusual, but it is frustrating. Due to printer problems, I haven't even started making the discs I send to friends and family yet, and with a mere 20 days to go before Christmas, I've only written about six of the 42 tracks on my latest mix, Deck Those Halls! I'd say it's time to pick up the pace a little, right? So without further ado . . . here's the lowdown on tracks 7 through 9:

Track 9
Holiday Greetings from Tito, Marlon and Jackie Jackson
Tito, Jackie and Marlon Jackson
The story of the Jackson family is a truly extraordinary saga that contains just about every element of the human condition. Born into relatively modest surroundings, the children of Joe and Katherine Jackson have experienced unbelievable levels of success and adoration, and yet they also seem have known more than their share of hardship and adversity. I can't say I follow them all that closely, although they've certainly provided us with some great entertainment over the years. I've always felt a little sorry for Tito, Jackie and Marlon -- well, and to Rebbie and LaToya, too, of course. It mustn't have been easy to have been so completely eclipsed by your younger brother. Anyway, it was nice for them to have taken the time to send along their holiday greetings.
Same to you, gentlemen.

Track 8
Fat Daddy, by Fat Daddy (1963)
This is a wonderful old tune that I'll wager is all but unknown to most anyone who didn't grow up in Baltimore. But if you're a native of Bawlmer, the sounds of "Fat Daddy" will almost certainly tug at the heart. You see, Paul "Fat Daddy" Johnson, "the 300-pound King of Soul," was the host of The Fat Daddy Morning Show on WWIN-AM throughout most of the 1960s. His show primarily featured hits from the R&B and soul genres, but its popularity came as much from his oversized personality as it did from anything he played.

In a 2001 tribute by Frederick N. Rasmussen, the Baltimore Sun, described Johnson's style in colorful terms:
His voice and delivery have been described as "precise and sonorous" yet "high-pitched and pressurized." His outrageous monologues rolled forth with a "gospel-like fervor."
"Hear me now," he'd hiss into the mike.
 "Up from the very soul of breathing. Up from the orange crates. From the ghetto through the suburban areas comes your leader of rhythm and blues, the expected one - Fat Daddy, the soul boss with the hot sauce. Built for comfort, not for speed. Everyone loves a fat man! The Fat Daddy show is guaranteed to satisfy momma. I'm gonna go way out on a limb on this one, Baltimore. Fat poppa, show stoppa."
Ringing bells gave way to several pulses of the organ followed by the recorded voice of a young girl saying, "Lay it on me, Fat Daddy, lay it on me."
"Fat Daddy, your king, and I've got soul for you. This is for all the foxes wakin' up this morning. Here's a soul kiss for ya, mmmmmmmh! From the lips of the high priest, from the depth of a fat man's soul. ..."

Here's a taste of the Fat Daddy style from a July 1966 aircheck recording:

Back in the '60s, '70s and early '80s, the most popular radio DJs in any city had sizeable followings and were genuine celebrities in their market. Of course, in those days, each station had its own unique personality, and individual announcers typically enjoyed considerable discretion in choosing what to play on their shows. It wasn't at all unusual for announcers to record various records of their own, sometimes wearing their announcer's hat, and other times performing music of their own. Johnson recorded "Fat Daddy" in 1963, and it became an instant hit in and around Baltimore, where it was played repeatedly throughout every holiday season. In recent years it's enjoyed something of a comeback thanks to its inclusion in the John Waters collection, "A John Waters Christmas." It's a sad and yet wonderful thing to watch the styles and features you think of as ordinary and everyday gradually pass into nostalgic, and this number's pretty much done that on three or four different levels. Here's to Fat Daddy -- the song, the DJ and the recording artist. And here's to a time that will never come again.

Track 7
Holiday Greetings from the Cast of Sanford and Son, featuring Redd Foxx and LeWanda Page (1975)
Redd Foxx and LaWanda Page
Sanford and Son was a situation comedy that aired for six seasons on NBC, starting in early 1972. Based on a British comedy called Steptoe and Son, it was supposed to be NBC's answer to All in the Family. Both were adapted for television by Norman Lear; both deliberately fought prejudice with humor, and both used bigoted, narrow-minded, middle-aged men to do the job -- one black, one white, and each more like the other than either could admit.

One of the most memorable recurring characters in the show was Aunt Esther, Fred's irascible, Bible-toting sister-in-law, played by the one and only LaWanda Page. Fred and Esther were always fighting and trading insults with one another, as in the clip that appears as the seventh track on this year's mix. It comes from the very beginning of the episode "Ebenezer Sanford," which I think is the only Christmas episode of the series. The entire episode appears below. Enjoy!

Friday, December 4, 2015

President Obama and Crew Light the National Christmas Tree to Kick Off the Season

President Obama and his "crew" were on hand in Presidents' Park last evening to officially light the National Christmas Tree and kick off the 2015 holiday season. The annual tree-lighting ceremony dates back to 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge lit a tree furnished by the District of Columbia Public Schools. This rich tradition has continued unabated for 93 years since then, under Republicans and Democrats, and in good times and bad. Of course, there have been changes. For example, the location has moved back and forth between the Ellipse on the Southern side of the White House to Lafayette Park opposite the Northern Portico. In recent years, the National Christmas Tree has remained in Lafayette Park. The style of lighting has also changed, from old-fashioned light bulbs to energy efficient LEDs. But the spirit of Christmas remains bright and alive, and this year's ceremony offered some much-needed hope during difficult times.

Deck those Halls, Part 2 (Tracks 4-6)

We've just started to examine the 42 songs on my latest holiday mix, Deck those Halls, and being that this is only the second installment in our series, the spotlight today is on Tracks 4 through 6 -- three cute little clips that we can handle with dispatch. Don't believe me? Just watch . . .

Track 6
Merry Christmas, Loopy Lu, by The Kaisers (2003)

I cant remember where I first heard this song, but I know that for at least a year I was under the impression that it was at least 20 years old and that The Kaisers were a very talented American band from the 1960s or thereabouts. Well, they're not. They're a successful and talented Scottish beat band formed in 1992 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Known for their lengthy and amazingly energetic shows, The Kaisers recorded six albums before disbanding in 2002. "Merry Christmas, Loopy Lu" is a fun,pop-style tune that really does seem to have come from a different age, don't you think? I've listened to a number of their other records now, and they certainly were good.

Track 5
Christmas Is Great, by Gentlemen on Escalators (2014)
This is another song I discovered on Stubby's House of Christmas, where it earned barely a mention: 
"Gentlemen On Escalatorssingle is stupid and yet... "
That was it -- well, those few words and a download link. Yet such is the power of Stubby's that even the least consequential offhand mention can yield results. I have to agree with Stubby's assessment. This is a stupid little song, and yet there's something powerful in its simple and straightforward assertion. I haven't heard anything else by the group, but I have a strong feeling that I wouldn't like it if I did. For the fifth track of this year's mix, however, they're perfect.

Track 4
Holiday Greetings from the Producers of Tarzan
I have no idea where this track came from, either, but it cracks me up all the same. The announcer sounds like it could be Johnny Carson. What do you think?

We'll be back tomorrow with more. Hope to see you then. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

My Latest Holiday Mix, "Deck the Halls," Is Available Now

I'm pleased to report that my latest holiday mix is now complete and ready for you to enjoy. Titled "Deck Those Halls," it contains 42 songs and other audio clips and runs for around 78 minutes. This is the 11th consecutive year that I've put together a CD-length mix for Christmas, and the 15th regular holiday mix I've created. Like most of my previous mixes, "Deck the Halls" includes a little something for everyone, and at least several tracks that will likely turn out to be for nobody at all! The oldest track in the mix was recorded in 1958, and the most recent is from 2014. Among the songs, there's rock, soul, swing, traditional, electronica, and nonsense. We've got greetings from a range of notable folk, a few short comedy bits and a recording of a rather amazing Christmas Eve call from an unbelievably obsequious vice president to his president's Texas ranch. I can absolutely guarantee there will be at least one track on this one that you haven't heard before.

As usual, I'm planning to post a little background on each of the tracks that make up this year's mix. I expect to have significantly less time for posting this month than in previous years, so there may be a little less tinsel on the tree this season. But I really enjoy sharing whatever information I can about the tracks I select, so I'll do my best. I typically post about two or three tracks at a time working my way from the front to the back. The tracks in each day's post are presented in reverse order so that the final list, if assembled chronologically as daily posting clusters, would yield a list in true reverse order. Please don't ask me to explain why that's important or what it means because if I ever knew at all, I certainly don't today. Ho, ho, ho and away we go . . .  

Track 3
Christmas Is Starting Now, by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (2009)
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Not having had any little ones running around the house in recent years, it's not always easy to keep up with many of life's most important issues, like boy bands, video games and Disney movies. I've heard this song a bunch of times before and quickly realized how well it would work to kick-off one of my holiday mixes, but it took me awhile to figure out whose song it was and when it was first released. You see, when I first looked up the title, it seemed to have been recorded by the band Phineas and Ferb. It took me awhile to figure out that Phineas and Ferb wasn't so much a band as a Disney cartoon series, and that the song itself was written and recorded by the popular swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, which must have licensed the song to Disney. (I'm still not confident I've got this right.) So far as I can tell, the song first appeared in a special holiday episode of the series titled "Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation," which aired in 2009. Here's a short clip:

I've never been too keen on swing, which is probably why I know so little about Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, although I know more now than I did a month ago. I know the band was formed in 1989 in Ventura, California. I know the primary founder of the band is a guy named Scotty Morris. I know the band's name comes from the language blues legend Albert Collins used when signing a poster for Morris around the time the band was formed. I know they played the Super Bowl half-time show. And, finally, I know they've recorded three Christmas albums:  What'chu Want for Christmas (1997), Everything You Want for Christmas (2004), and It Feels Like Christmas Time (2013). From everything I've heard, they're chock full of fun holiday tunes. That's all I need to know!

Track 2
It's Christmas Time, by Wayne Champion (1967)
I discovered this song and another one by the same artist back in 2008 on a now defunct holiday music blog called The Twelve Months of Christmas. Written by a Kansas City resident known as The Tone King, the blog was created "to bring you Christmas music all year long that is not often (if ever) heard on the radio." By that measure, there's little doubt that Wayne Champion qualified for coverage. Back when Champion's two holiday songs were posted on that wonderful blog, The Tone King couldn't find so much as a whisper about the man or his music on the internet or elsewhere. We're just fortunate he was able to find and post the two songs:  "It's Christmas Time," the second track on this year's mix, and "Merry Yuletide Day," which I featured on my 2009 mix, "I Just Can't Wait 'til Christmas!"  According to The Tone King, the songs were from a double-sided 45 RPM he found the previous summer at a yard sale, but other than Champion's name and the titles of the two songs there was nothing else to report.

I'm proud to confirm that over the past year I did some digging of my own and I have news. It seems Mr. Champion, an Illinois native, graduated from Evanston High School and and studied music before enlisting in the army. While serving in Germany, after World War II, he played in a jazz combo, and after returning to this country he toured the midwest for a while with a group called The Playboys. But the music business is tough, and few musicians can support themselves by their music alone. Eventually, Wayne took a job with Office Reproduction Materials (ORM) in Chicago, and in 1967, he and some friends managed to line-up some studio time and cut these two beautiful tunes. Wayne was popular at ORM, and when the company's executives heard about Wayne's music, they volunteered to bankroll the effort by printing a small run of the record to circulate as a holiday gift to their customers. Sounds to me like that's one business with a lot of class.

But that's not all I discovered. Wayne Champion, it seems, continued to perform publicly, and excerpts from several of his recent gigs have been posted on YouTube. Here are a couple of them:

Now, unfortunately, I've got some bad news:  Wayne Champion passed away in 2012. Several of his fellow musicians and friends put together a memorial service for him at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, where had performed numerous times over the years. Here's a video of part of that event:

Of course, I never met Wayne Champion and I know very little about the man, but it was a little strange to spend such a long time trying to find out about him only to learn that he recently died. The two Christmas songs that The Tone King discovered are wonderful tunes that seem to be infused with a deep love for the holidays and for life. The several video clips I found make it exceptionally clear that the artist who sang those songs was more than just a talented musician, but a fine human being. Here's to you, Wayne. May God bless and keep you.

Track 1
Introduction, by the Jack Coyle Chevrolet Company

This year’s collection opens with another voice from long ago and far away – an announcer introducing customers of the Jack Coyle Chevrolet Company to the dealership's "Free Records and Gasoline program. I can't tell you much more about this short clip, other than the fact I found it on one of the many fine holiday mixes available on Soundcloud. The version below is a little longer than what's in the mix, so check it out. Oh, by the way . . . I'm not giving away either free records or gasoline this year, despite what this guy has to say.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Crosby, Stills & Nash to Perform at National Tree Lighting this Thursday

CSN are (l to r): Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and David Crosby
I've heard tell that the holiday season doesn't begin in Washington, DC until the lighting of the National Christmas Tree in President's Park. This year's ceremony is set for this Thursday, December 3, beginning at 4:30 pm EST, and among the entertainers on hand to perform will be one group at least as iconic as the tree itself:  classic rock legends Crosby, Stills and Nash. I've been high on these guys since shortly after they first teamed up, and while I don't believe they have ever recorded so much as a single holiday tune among them, I expect them to be naturally gifted holiday entertainers. Of course, the fact that all three are still alive, relatively healthy and still performing together after 46 years is nothing short of a Christmas miracle. Moreover, they truly embody the Christmas spirit, for throughout their long careers all three have consistently donated their time, money and talents to a wide variety of worthy causes. Finally, they remain vital and talented entertainers. I've been watching them perform at least once every two or three years going back to the 1970s, and David Crosby, in particular, is sounding better than ever these days. Two years ago, I reported that the group had been exploring the idea of recording a holiday album. Maybe this gig will be the catalyst for just such a record.

Thursday's event will reportedly be rebroadcast on PBS television stations throughout December, so check your local listings for details.