Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Boxing Day Horror Show for 2017

Several years ago, this blog started an inspiring little tradition to help our readers adjust to the end of the holiday season by posting the most dreadful holiday movie imaginable each Boxing Day.Why? Oh, I don't know. It seemed like a good way to bridge that huge divide between the thrills and beauty of Christmas and the despair and let-down of the following day. I can assure you of one thing, we'll be able to test out this theory for quite a few more seasons yet as there is an awful lot of dreadful material out there. And I'm not talking about three or four stars on a five-point scale. I'm talking about vile, nauseating films that leave you wondering how in the name of God anyone outside of a sheltered workshop would ever have anything to do with them,

Take this year's selection, for instance: "A Visit to Santa," the 13-minute short released by Clem Williams Films back in 1963. There's no evidence that Clem Williams Films ever released a follow-up to this winner -- or anything else, for that matter. Once you see this, it's pretty clear why. Please enjoy this year's Boxing Day Holiday Horror Show feature, "A Visit to Santa."

Sunday, December 24, 2017

It's Christmas Time Again, Part 6

These next three tracks will drag us across the half-way point for this year's mix, so let's get right to it:

Track 19
Christmas Seals Promotional Spot, by George Takei
George Takei
After adding the two Mark Jonathan Davis clips featuring Lt. Hikaru Sulu on the bridge of the Enterprise (Tracks 8 and 15 from this year's mix), I did a quick internet search to see if I could find any holiday-themed audio featuring George Takei, the actor who played Lt. Sulu on the Star Trek series. This Christmas Seals promotion was the first and best clip I found, although the "Oh myyyy" tagline at the end wasn't in the original promo, but rather copied and added from one of Takei's many appearances on the Howard Stern program. The rich baritone of Takei's "Oh My" has become something of an audio meme of Takei's, and well it might be. It's an appropriate comment on this actor's rather amazing career history. As a child, he was forced into a World War II internment camp in California due solely to his family's Japanese heritage. As an adult, he became a moderately successful actor, best known for his work on Star Trek. But it's only in the past decade that he's reached the highest levels of popular recognition and popularity, and that's due primarily to his coming out as a gay man and his tireless advocacy for the rights of the LGBT community. Takei's odyssey is well-described by a recent New York Times profile about his role as a gay icon. It's hard not to be wowed by how much progress he and the rest of us have made over the past 75 years. But as Takei himself would no doubt agree, it's frightening to contemplate how precarious this progress truly is as a result of the current administration in Washington.

Track 18
Mrs. Claus's Kimono, by Drive By Truckers (2009)
I believe this is the very first track on any of my 20-plus holiday CDs over the past 17 years to merit a parental warning, but I included it nonetheless because I've become such a fan of the group that recorded it. They're called the Drive-By Truckers and while they're currently based in Athens, Georgia, the two lead vocalists who also write most of their songs (Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood) are both from the Shoals region of Northwestern Alabama, and their home state plays a prominent role in a lot of their music. The band got started a little over 20 years ago and they've built up a loyal following as a result of their heavy touring schedule and substantial library of fine material. I'm embarrassed to say that I knew little about the band until I happened to hear a few tracks from their powerful album American Band shortly after its release in 2016. It's a courageous album in a bunch of different respects, from the opening notes of  "Ramon Casiano," which tells the story of the militant former National Rifle Association leader who shot a 15-year-old Hispanic youngster near the Mexican border to "Baggage," in which Patterson Hood reflects on his own struggles with depression in the wake of comedian Robin Williams' suicide. It's a driving, guitar-based album marked by the band's deeply-held political views, the proud Southern sensibilities of its members and the conflicts that sometimes arise between these two powerful forces. The track that first caught my attention was "What It Means":

I've always enjoyed introducing friends to new music I like, and its been years since I've followed the music scene closely enough to be able to do that very often. About the closest I can come today is sticking the occasional odd track on one of my holiday mixes, which I'm not above doing. After falling hard for this band last year I was determined to find something holiday-related that I could use on last year's compilation, "Let It Snow," but the only track I could find was this crazy number about a guy who conspires with red-nosed Rudolph to get Santa arrested on drug charges so he can bed Mrs. Claus. It was way too raunchy for my holiday mix, I thought -- after all, there are lots of kids who listen to these things. In fact, I'm certain that at least a couple of my friends have yet to listen to a one of them but rather give them immediately to the little ones to play.

But that was last year, and things sure have changed a lot in the past 12 months. God knows the children of this country have been exposed to lots worse than a couple of risque lyrics since Mr. Trump took the oath of office, and unlike most of his shameful shenanigans, this song just a made-up story. Well, come to think of it, nearly everything he says seems to be a made-up story, too. Anyhow, I doubt that this song is going to hurt anyone . . . and it's a whole lot of fun.

Track 17
We Three Kings, by Rev. Horton Heat (2005)
I would have bet anything that I'd included at least one track from the good Rev. Horton Heat on one or more previous mixes of mine, but I've just checked and it seems this is the first. Rev. Heat, of course, is the stage name of both musician Jim Heath and his Dallas-based psychobilly band of renown. Their 2005 album We Three Kings is a treasure trove of Christmas classics that are just off enough to be interesting but not so odd as to raise a whole bunch of eyebrows if you were to bring it along to a holiday gathering (speaking hypothetically, of course). Try bringing a copy of Johnny "Bowtie" Barstow's album  to your next party and see how well that works out!

* * *

Tonight is Christmas Eve — a night of pure magic for most kids and for many adults as well. None of us is ever too old to search for and even to find some small doses of magic from time to time. Whatever you do and whoever you are I hope you can find some in this wonderful season and that when you do, you can pass it on.

Back soon with more jottings on the remaining 18 tracks of this year's mix. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

SNL Holiday Flashback

Another Saturday night -- the last before Christmas -- and that means it's time for us to raid the SNL vault for another vintage holiday flashback. With the Big Day just a little over 24 hours away, we couldn't decide whether to go with despair or elation as today's theme, so we opted for one of each. First up, nothing says despair quite like Debbie Downer, whose practical yet cheerless take on life manages to even bring Santa down:

And what's better to bring everyone up real fast than Sue the Surprise Lady? Watch up that you don't get the bends, as Debbie Downer would be quick to remind us:

Thursday, December 21, 2017

It's Christmas Time Again, Part 5

Here we come with notes on four more of this year's tracks, including the second of the 12 songs on this year's mix that pay homage to one of the many entertainers we lost during 2017. Since we first started recognizing recently departed entertainers in this way several years ago the list of recent deaths has grown longer with each passing year, and this year's list includes some real superstars and trailblazers. Here are the next four tracks:

Track 16
It's Christmas Time Again, by Harley Poe (2006)
I ran across this little gem on an EP from several years ago called "A Very Standard Christmas," which featured holiday tunes from artists on the Standard Recording Records label. It's by a group named Harley Poe, which has been described as a "[h]orror infused folk punk act out of Kokomo, Indiana." With a rap like that, you just know these guys have got to be infused with the Christmas spirit, right? The band was formed by the former lead singer of Calibretto 13, a "Christian surf punk band" (I kid you not), only I'm told that Harley Poe dropped the Christian angle. Another blogger describes the act this way:
Horror-folk artist Harley Poe is one of the fright scene’s best-kept secrets. He’s kinda like Voltaire, but less pretentious and actually funny. This is probably the best “Santa as a serial killer” song ever. Sleigh bells and jangly guitars back a stern warning about making Santa’s acquaintance on Christmas. You don’t want to find out what’s in his sack!

Any wonder why I chose to make this cut the title track of this year's mix?

Check out the Blog of Harvey Poe Front Man Joe Whiteford

Track 15
The Christmas Song, Mark Jonathan Davis as Lt. Hikaru Sulu (1995)
See notes to Track 8, HERE.

Track 14
Christmas All Over Again, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1992) 
The death of Tom Petty on October 2 was unexpected and profoundly sad, as he was, in many ways at the top of his game and widely recognized as among the most successful musicians in rock history. He had spent the previous six months on a nationwide tour with his longtime band the Heartbreakers, finishing it up with a hugely successful performance at the Hollywood Bowl exactly one week before his death. Between his work with the Heartbreakers and the Traveling Wilburys and as a solo performer, Petty sold close to 90 million records, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. I had a couple of different shows at my college radio station in Baltimore and I prominently featured Petty's music on each of them. Starting with "Breakdown" in 1977, "I Need to Know" the following year, the album "Damn the Torpedoes" in 1979 and 1981's "Hard Promises," there was always a Tom Petty record within easy reach of my turntable.

"Christmas All Over Again was released in 1992 on "A Very Special Christmas 2," the second in a series of compilations of holiday songs by established rock artists to benefit the Special Olympics. Petty contributed another song, a fine version of the blues classic "Little Red Rooster," to "A Very Special Christmas 5."

Track 13
The Best Santy Claus I Ever Heard, Andy Griffith and Don Knotts (1960)
Don Knotts as Deputy Barney Fife
As I noted five years ago, The Andy Griffith Show has always been one of my very favorite programs. I ran across this brief clip several years ago on the wonderful Check the Cool Wax blog and adding it to the mix was an easy call. I could be way off on this, but I think including short little bits like this between songs not only helps to break things up but also seems to pick up the pace of the whole CD, thereby making for a more upbeat feel. If you don't believe me, search for any of the classic Check the Cool Wax mixes, many of which are relatively easy to find via Google. Unfortunately, I've only just now noticed that the blog seems to have stopped in its tracks in early 2015 and I've been unable to locate any explanation anywhere. I'm hoping there's some good explanation for this -- like maybe the blog switched to a different hosting service? The blog's author who goes by the name Brainwerk is obviously a very talented entertainer who's responsible for a lot of smiles and laughter -- not just during the holiday season but throughout the year. I hope all's well.

This clip comes from Season 1 Episode 11, of The Andy Griffith Show, "The Christmas Story," and it's a classic. It's also the only Christmas-themed show in the entire series. While many episodes of this series are apparently in the public domain and therefore freely available online, this one isn/t. The only version I could come across is available HERE, but it comes in a pretty creepy format. See if you can block the woman watching with you from your mind while you watch. I know I couldn't.

Watch Matt Lauer's 1996 Today Show interview with Andy Griffith and Don Knotts

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

It's Christmas Time Again, Part 4

Looks like we've fallen hopelessly behind with our look at this year's tracks, so I've accepted the fact that this enjoyable exercise will continue until well after Christmas Day. Hey, that's OK. It's kind of fun to be able to stretch the Christmas season past its ordinary limits. Ready to get back to work? Well, I am . . . so here we go!

Track 12
One Christmas Catalog Too Many, Captain Sensible (1984)

The lyrics to this song don't make a whole lot of sense, and I don't suppose it's a track many people have ever heard. It's got a catchy enough beat and a tuneful melody, I guess, and it's probably worth including on that basis alone. But there's another reason I chose this song for this year's mix and that  has to do with another song by the artist who made this one. This track and the other are by a guy named Raymond Ian Jones, a British singer/songwriter better known as Captain Sensible. He was one of the co-founders of the punk group The Damned, which was among the first group of British punk bands to catch on back in the late 1970s. Sensible has also enjoyed a moderately successful solo career before, during and after his his work with The Damned. I can recall hearing his version of "Jet Boy, Jet Girl" back in the day, and his cover version of the song "Happy Talk" from South Pacific made it all the way to #1 on the British charts in 1982. But I first became acquainted with Captain Sensible as the guy who wrote a pop song about one of my favorite characters in Washington political history -- one of the genuine heroes of the Watergate scandal, the inimitable Martha Mitchell.

I was just finishing the 6th grade when a group of agents from the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) were arrested in Washington's Watergate Hotel as they tried to bug the offices of the Chairman of the Democratic Party on behalf of Republican Richard Nixon in June of 1972. Nixon was running for re-election that year and he desperately wanted to not only win but win big. Knowing that a very large portion of the electorate opposed both him and his policies, Nixon and his henchmen decided that their best shot was to rig the Democratic contest to ensure that the opposition party nominated its weakest challenger, Senator George McGovern, and then paint him as a crazy kook far outside of the American mainstream. And they succeeded. The bugging of the Watergate was just one small piece of an elaborate scheme that included manufacturing fake news, interfering with Democratic rallies and events, raising millions in illegal campaign contributions, and even breaking into the psychiatrist's office of a well-known Nixon opponent. By Election Day, the Nixon team managed to secure exactly what Nixon had wanted -- a landslide election victory. They had also managed to keep the arrest of the Watergate burglars from becoming a major story. But once Nixon was sworn in for his second term, the story started to capture the nation's attention, due in no small part to the outspoken and colorful Martha Mitchell.
Martha and John Mitchell, c. 1973

Martha was already a major public figure as the Watergate story took off, for she was the wife of John Mitchell, former attorney general and the manager of Nixon's re-election campaign. In fact, Martha herself was one of the original founders of CREEP. During most of Nixon's first term she was a stalwart defender of the President. She had a high profile and her sharp tongue was frequently unleashed against the liberals and hippies whose criticism of her husband and the President led her to suggest they be "torn limb from limb." However, one of the men arrested for the break-in was a man named James McCord, a former CIA agent who had also worked for a time as a security guard for Martha and her daughter. Unlike many other observers, Martha realized almost at once that the Watergate break-in was a Nixon operation and with one of the chief architects of the operation and cover-up living under her same roof she had access to more information than most about what was going on. To her credit, she did what she could to set things right.

It wasn't easy. Following the arrest of the burglars, CREEP sent several thugs to detain her against her will in a California hotel. When one of them discovered Martha on the phone with the UPI's Helen Thomas, he grabbed the receiver out of Martha's hand and ripped the phone from the wall. Several others threw her onto the bed and held her down while she was forcibly sedated. Then the Nixon people put out the word:  Martha was crazy; she was an alcoholic; she was delusional. Yet Martha persisted, decrying the administration's illegal activities and calling on Nixon to resign.

Martha with Merv Griffin
Eventually, the various official investigations revealed that Martha's reports were anything but crazy. She and former White House counsel John Dean are now widely recognized as the true whistleblowers of Watergate. Tragically, Martha died of cancer less than two years after Nixon's resignation. At her sparsely attended funeral someone sent a large collection of flowers that spelled out the words "Martha Was Right." While her good sense and courage fail to receive the respect they are due, her name is now invoked as the name of a unique psychological condition. The Martha Mitchell effect describes a situation where someone has made claims so preposterous on their face that the reporter is diagnosed as delusional, only the claims are later determined to be accurate.

So why the long diatribe about Watergate in what's supposed to be a humble little Christmas music blog? I don't know, I've long been taken by Martha Mitchell's story as the unlikely hero of the Watergate scandal, and my hat's off to Captain Sensible who appears to have felt similarly some 33 years ago when he wrote and recorded "Martha the Mouth." Of course, more than a few observers are drawing parallels between the current administration and the Nixon White House. Both appear to be under fire, both appear to have engaged in treacherous and illegal activities, and both seem to have trouble telling the truth. Today, as then, we need a colorful and brutally honest character to step into the ring and tell it like it is. 

Hear an interesting take on Martha's story by the late comedian and social activist Dick Gregory.

Listen to "Martha," the first episode from the excellent podcast about Watergate called "Slow Burn"

Check out "Get Off that Phone, Martha," by Gene Burns

Listen to "The Ballad of Mrs. Martha Mitchell," by Gary Paris

Track 11
I'm Christmas Day, The Three Stooges (1955)

Back when I was growing up, it seemed like The Three Stooges were always on TV. They were particularly popular on the lower-budget UHF stations, where they had a certain allure for pre-adolescent boys (to whom Moe's swagger and violent tendencies were appealing) and older men (who likely appreciated the bygone era their black and white reels conjured up). I never liked the Stooges myself. Not these Stooges, at least. (I was partial to the ones who played with Iggy.) I recoiled instinctively every time the sadistic Moe belittled Larry, or poked his finger's in Curly's eyes. But I clearly recall pretending that I liked them in front of certain of my friends. It seemed like the cool thing to do -- better, certainly, than having them think of me as soft or effete. I suppose I felt a little of that same feeling this year when I opted to include their shabby little excerpt on this year's mix. I probably deserve a quick poke in the eye for that. And maybe the Hugh Hefner clip, as well. Ouch!

If you are a fan of the Three Stooges, you may enjoy this bit by Billy West, the comedian, voice actor and former radio personality:

Listen to "The Three Stooges Record the 12 Days of Christmas," by Billy West

Track 10
Melt Our Way Out, The Rosebuds (2012)
This is, without question, my favorite track on this year's CD. It comes from the 2012 album Christmas Tree Island, a wonderful collection of original holiday tunes by the indie rock band The Rosebuds. The group is based in Raleigh, North Carolina and consists of musicians Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp. They're a prolific duo with a unique and very tasty sound not to mention a fun sense of humor and what appears to be a strong commitment to basic Christmas sensibilities. I strongly recommend checking out Christmas Tree Island in its entirety, and the rest of their catalog, too, but the track I used and "Christmas in New York" are truly outstanding. Listen to them below and support the band with a purchase, if you can.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

SNL Holiday Flashback

It's Saturday, which means it's also time to post a classic holiday flashback clip from Saturday Night Live. This week's clip was first broadcast in 1984, some 33 years ago, and it features Eddie Murphy in a parody of the PBS mainstay"Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," starring the late Fred Rogers. Murphy's spoof, called "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood," is pretty far removed from PBS's neighborhood of make believe.  In Robinson's neighborhood, Christmas is the time when flim-flam artists cash in bigand a Santa suit is best used to evade the landlord.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

It's Christmas Time Again, Part 3

Today we look at the next three tunes on my 2017 holiday mix, titled It's Christmas Time Again! 

Track 9
Holiday Message from President and Mrs. Barack Obama (2016)
To hear a good many Republicans tell it, the Obama Family was on the front lines of the War Against Christmas throughout their entire tenure as the nation's First Family. Not only did the President and First Lady stubbornly refuse to use the word Christmas themselves, but they somehow outlawed its use by others as well. Of all the bilge peddled by the Right during the past decade, the fictional War on Christmas has got to be among the craziest lies of all. In truth, of course, the Obamas threw themselves into the Christmas scene each year and seemed to enjoy every minute of it. Track 9 is a brief excerpt from the President's eighth annual Christmas message in December 2016 (Listen HERE.). It sure doesn't sound like someone conducting a war against Christmas. And despite what you may have heard, the Obamas frequently wished people a "Merry Christmas." You'd have to be crazy or stupid to think otherwise.

Track 8
Let It Snow, Mark Jonathan Davis as Lt. Hikaru Sulu (1995)
Mark Jonathan Davis is a Los Angeles-based actor, writer, singer and radio producer who sometimes performs under the name Richard Cheese. Davis has released nearly 20 albums as Cheese over the past couple of years, mostly with his band, Lounge Against the Machine. In the late 1990s, Davis recorded a couple of holiday songs as Lt. Hikaru Sulu from Star Trek, a character previously made famous by George Takei. In each case, the appearance of the word "fire" in the lyrics leads Sulu to launch some kind of attack from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. The first song to get the Sulu treatment is "Let it Snow," with another to follow as Track 15.

Track 7
Excuse My Christmas, by Jan Terri (2013)
If you've heard any of my previous holiday mixes you're probably familiar with some of my regular guests -- artists like Johnny "Bowtie" Barstow, Red Sovine, and Wing, just to name a few. These are the artists I've featured most prominently on my collections because they're such original characters, and while they may not produce songs as wonderfully memorable as "White Christmas," their stuff is pretty damned memorable for other reasons. (Oops, my bad. Wing's also done her own unique version of "White Christmas," too.) Well, this year we welcome a new member to this inspirational group of artists, and her name is Jan Terri.

The track featured on this year's mix was the first single from Jan's 2011 album The Wild Ones, and it's called "Excuse My Christmas":

Isn't that something? Jan's got quite a following on the internet, and she's produced a pretty amazing collection of very original material n a career that's spanned well over 20 years. She may not be the most glamorous singer out there, and sometimes her lyrics come across as rather simple, but as Paul McCartney once famously observed, "What's wrong with that?"

One of her most outspoken fans is a guy named Chris Canote, who's posted several videos with and about Jan Terri. Frankly, I find him irritating as hell, but it's only due to his in-depth reporting that we know from Jan herself what "Excuse My Christmas" is really about.  Ready?  "I don't know." That's what she says. well, when you really think about it, what else could the answer possibly be?

Finally, in order to give everyone a bit more perspective on Jan's career, I thought I should post what is perhaps her best known record -- the 1991 release "Losing You." This is Jan Terri's "Born to Run," -- her "I Want to Hold Your Hand."  Check it out:

Wow. I mean -- wow! Want to see more?

OK, here's just one more. I want to save some for later, after all. Why? Because Jan's recorded at least one additional Christmas son and I might well choose to put that on a future mix,

Saturday, December 9, 2017

SNL Holiday Flashback

Several years ago, I posted a holiday-themed clip from Saturday Night Live every Saturday during December. I'd say that's a tradition worth reviving, and who better to lead the revival than SNL's "iron man" Kenan Thompson, who, after 15 seasons on the show, is now the longest-serving cast member ever. In this clip from the 2014 season, Thompson plays a non-judgmental version of Santa who works to make sure "everybody gets sump'n."

It's Christmas Time Again, Part 2

Track 6
Holiday Message from Ian Anderson
I found this short track during a random Google search for recorded celebrity holiday greetings several years ago, stuck it in a folder of assorted holiday tracks and stumbled on it when I was throwing this year's mix together. It's a greeting from Ian Anderson, perhaps best known as the front man for the British rock group Jethro Tull.

My first memory of Anderson was his appearance on the cover of Time magazine in early 1973 along with several other pop stars as part of a story on pop records. I devoured Time magazine in those days, grabbing it from our mailbox as soon as it arrived each week and reading every story on politics, national affairs and music at least two or three times -- in fact, to this day I can recall every cover from 1973 through around 1977, after which I started to become less fanatical. Not long after this cover Jethro Tull released their album War Child, which featured the hit "Bungle in the Jungle," my favorite track by the band.

I liked that Anderson played the flute. I played clarinet in our school's concert band and at this point I identified more with brass and woodwinds than I did guitars. Anderson has remained active in the 43 years since I first became aware of him, and I liked the way he set up this short greeting. He sounds as though he'd be a fun guy to hang out with.

Track 5
Bo Derek on My Mind, Matt Vincent (1980)
I've been holding on to this one for nearly 10 years, and each year I wonder if this will be the year I finally break down and include it. Well, 2017 was a year in which we broke down and did a whole lot of things we'd managed to avoid previously, so what's one more travesty, right?

This track falls into that very special category of  music called "song poems," which boasts a sizeable number of holiday-themed nightmares such as this:
I want Bo Derek for Christmas 'til I'm 63,
Figure after that, I'll be stiffer than a tree,
Is that too much to ask out of Santa for a hard-working man,
Trying to make a buck, any way he can.
This song was recorded by Matt Vincent based on the lyrics of an ordinary American like you or me. "Matt" was employed by a company that charged the poet $100 or so to turn their beautiful words into an actual record. And if you think this song's a little lame, check out a few more currently available thanks to WFMU's "Beware of the Blog." There's even a few more Matt Vincent gems for you to enjoy.

Back soon with more.

Friday, December 8, 2017

It's Christmas Time Again, Part 1

Well, it's time to kick things off for 2017 and take on the chief responsibility I set for this blog when I first launched it back in 2011 -- namely, to offer some background, comments and fun facts about the various tracks on each of my holiday CD mixes. We typically attack the tracks in clusters of two or three each day in reverse order each day, so that once the comments are done you can read them straight through in reverse chronological order. So without further ado, here's our look at the tracks included on my latest holiday mix, It's Christmas Time Again!

Track 4
Holiday Traditions at the Playboy Mansion
Hugh Hefner
As in previous years, a number of the tracks on this year's mix pay tribute to well-known celebrities who died during the past 12 months, and the first such person year is Hugh Hefner, the founder and publisher of Playboy magazine. Recognizing Hefner was a difficult decision, for while he championed the principles of sexual liberation and free expression, which I enthusiastically support, he and his magazine objectified women and promoted images and stereotypes that many women found deeply offensive. I ultimately chose to include a short excerpt from an interview in which Hef described some of the holiday traditions observed at the Playboy Mansion. It was obvious from his remarks that this was a guy who loved Christmas -- after all, it was one of times each year when he ate dinner sitting in a chair rather than propped up in bed. Kind of a nice tradition, don't you think?

Listen to Hugh Hefner describing holiday traditions at the Playboy Mansion

Track 3
Here I Come, Unknown Artist
I first ran across this creepy little number via the Internet Archive, which, among millions of other websites, songs and video clips stores recordings of a program called "Crap from the Past" that ran every Sunday night from March 1999 through October 2002 from midnight to 2:00 a.m. (so Monday morning, really) on KFAI-FM, 90.3 FM Minneapolis, 106.7 FM St. Paul, and KFAI.org. The show's host, Ron "Boogiemonster" Gerber, liked to call it "a pop music radio show for people who already know plenty about pop music," and I'd say that's as good a description as any. The December 17, 2001 show featured the third track on this year's CD, called "Here I Come." As Gerber explains, it came on a three-track record that also included a couple of spoken word stories. No artist was willing to claim credit for any of it, but it seems the record was made in Finland. 

Listen to the December 17, 2001 "Crap from the Past" Show

Track 2
Jing, Jing a Ling, by Honey and the Bees (1969)
Honey and the Bees
I'm a huge fan of '60s and '70s Motown, soul and R&B, and there's a whole lot of fine but forgotten "urban" Christmas tunes from that era, several of which, I'm pleased to say, I've featured on previous CDs. This one's really special, and it manages to kick this year's mix into a dynamite groove from almost the very start. (Of course, we don't stay there for long, but it was nice while it lasted.)

Honey and the Bees were a short-lived and underappreciated girl-group based primarily in Philadelphia and made up of Nadine Felder, Jean Davis, Gwendolyn Oliver and Cassandra "Ann" Wooten "Jing Jing a Ling' was released as a 45 in 1969 (b/w Auld Lang Syne), made it one of their first releases. That was followed by a nice but relatively unsuccessful album called Love in 1970. The group broke up sometime around 1972, but within a short time, Oliver and Wooten hooked up with Cheryl Mason-Jacks and Richie Rome to form The Ritchie Family, a disco group that scored with two decent hits, "Brazil," which made it to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975 and "The Best Disco in Town," which made it to #17 the following year. Wooten and Mason-Jacks later contributed backgrounds vocals to the John Lennon/Yoko Ono "Double Fantasy" album as well as several solo albums by Yoko Ono.

Listen to "Jing Jing a Ling," by Honey and the Bees

Track 1
Christmas in Heaven, by Monty Python (1983)

This year's mix starts off with a track from the 1983 movie "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life." I've never seen it myself, and I don't really have any interest in seeing it. I understand the guests at the giant Christmas party depicted when the song is performed are either dead or on their way to their miserable demise and that the song is meant to ridicule the modern Western materialist lifestyle most of us pursue and enjoy today. I heard the song earlier this year and immediately felt it could work as an intro song to an upcoming holiday CD, and when I decided to assemble a knock-off version of my regular mix this year, "Christmas in Heaven" just happened to be one of the first tracks I saw. I think it kind of works out in the lead position this year.

I'll be back with more tomorrow. It's another beautiful warm day in Los Angeles and I aim to enjoy a little bit of this beautiful weather while it's there for the taking.

Holiday Greetings from Rep. Gerald R. Ford

I'm not sure we'll see many greetings of this sort coming out of Washington, D.C. this year. But, lest we forget, the 1950s weren't so great for everyone. We still had two different sets of drinking fountains in some parts of the country, and there were millions more who were relegated to lives completely outside of mainstream society because of their race, religion, national origin or sexual orientation. Still, you have to admire the man's optimism. (Courtesy of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Jim Nabors, 1930-2017

I was terribly saddened to learn of Jim Nabors' death this evening. Best known for his portrayal of North Carolinian auto mechanic and Marine private Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show and, later, Gomer Pyle, USMC, Nabors was also a successful singer and recording artists who produced a number of best-selling Christmas-themed albums in addition to a range of popular releases.

In 2013, shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized in Washington state, Nabors married his longtime partner Stan Cadwallader at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle. Following the announcement of his death earlier today, Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President and former Indiana Governor Mike Pence, issued a statement mourning the loss. 

 "So sad to hear about the passing of Jim Nabors," she wrote. "We heard him sing 'Back Home Again in Indiana' at the Indianapolis 500 countless times. We will miss his beautiful voice."

Ho! Ho! Ho! It's 2017 and We're (Finally) Ready to Rock!

A warm season's greetings to you and yours -- or, better yet, as our esteemed former President and his fellow travelers frequently exclaimed during what must currently be described as the Golden Era of American Democracy:  "Merry Christmas!" It's great have you with us as we throw a couple of logs on the fire and begin to string up the festive holiday lights for another year. It's always nice to see the warm faces of good friends during the holidays, even as we remember those we've lost during this most discouraging of years.

I want to start with a heartfelt apology to anyone who's looked this way in vain for news about my latest holiday CD, as I'm at least several weeks late in opening up the store this year. The truth is that until last Sunday I wasn't planning to open up at all. I've been exceedingly busy the past couple of months and expect that to continue for the next couple of months or more, and I've been finding it difficult to scare up the old Christmas spirit of late. Moreover, for the first time ever I've been having trouble finding the kind of material I like to use in my annual compilations. The combination of these various factors led me to regretfully conclude that I wouldn't be able to create a Christmas mix this year.

Toward the end of the recent Thanksgiving weekend, however -- right around 2:00 on Sunday afternoon -- I was overcome by feelings of guilt and inspiration in roughly equal measure and found myself starting to poke around in my files to see whether there was anything there I might be able to use. Perhaps I could throw together an EP, I thought. Even a few tracks would be better than nothing.

Well, within an hour or so I started to feel some of the old magic returning, and before I knew it I'd assembled the rough outline of another full CD. While it usually takes me a month or more to assemble each annual mix, I actually created this year's mix in a single, albeit extremely late evening and I'm pleased to report that my 2017 mix, titled "It's Christmas Time Again" is now complete and ready to go!

Over the next several weeks I will try to follow the model I've used in previous seasons -- that is offering a few words about each of the tracks included on this year's CD. There are 34 tracks in all, so I'll be lucky to finish the project in time for Santa's arrival on Christmas Eve. But I'm going to try, even if I have to cheat a little bit and clean up a post or two after the fact.

I'll be on the road sporadically throughout these next several weeks -- tonight I'm in Exton, Pennsylvania, where it's drizzling and in the upper 40s. Today's news brought little cheer or solace as our nation's elected leader retweeted a series of anti-Muslim videos and continued to promote legislation that would slash the taxes of many of our wealthiest citizens at the expense of million of middle class and working Americans who are going to have trouble buying holiday gifts this year. Several more once-respected public figures have been exposed as sexual predators, and North Korea has successfully launched another intercontinental missile test. And to top it off, another beloved celebrity has died. Against that background, I'm mighty glad to have something nice to throw into the mix. There's an awful lot of good still out there. I'm hoping we can salvage something better from this year's holidays and begin to set things on a better and more uplifting course -- after all, whatever else is going on, It's Christmas Time Again!