Wednesday, December 26, 2018

It's the "Have We Hit Rock Bottom Yet?" Edition of the Boxing Day Horror Show

Greetings, Dear Readers, and welcome to another edition of the Boxing Day Horror Show, an annual event in which we post a perfectly dreadful holiday-themed video each December 26 in order to help the transition from the excitement and anticipation of the pre-Christmas season to the melancholy and torpor of the dreadful hangover that follows. Think of it as a pail of ice water to the face as you're nodding off in your favorite armchair in front of a crackling fire. BACK TO REALITY, EVERYONE!

Let's start by taking stock:
  • We've got a president who took office despite receiving some 3 million fewer votes than his competitor who cheerfully allowed the federal government to be shut down just days before Christmas as a means of securing billions of dollars to build a useless wall on our southern border to mollify the racist minions that put him in office;
  • An ongoing investigation into this same president's alleged collusion with our country's enemies has already led to a slew of resignations and indictments as well as evidence that the president conspired to violate federal election law by paying off a woman he is alleged to have slept with while his wife was at home with their newborn son;
  • In the midst of destroying our relationships with our best longstanding allies, our current president seems intent on cozying up to some of the most dangerous dictators in history . . . 
No, no, no -- I'm not going down that road today. This is a holiday music blog and as angry as I am about the disgraceful state of our national affairs at the moment I shall try to keep those issues off to the side as much as possible. But let's not soon forget that this president ridiculed a 7-year-old girl on Christmas Eve for still believing in Santa Claus. Anyone left out there who doesn't think that our current president isn't fit to shine Franklin Pierce's or Warren Harding's boots?

So it's on to this year's show, Santa and the Fairy Snow Queen, a 1951 train wreck produced by Sid Davis, who is best known for creating a string of "social guidance" films, which his Los Angeles Times obituary describes as "dark, cautionary tales crafted to frighten captive classroom audiences away from even thinking about misbehaving."  A friend and former movie stand-in for John Wayne, Davis got his start as an extra in the "Our Gang" series in the 1930s. A high school drop-out, he claims his penchant for preachy, judgmental motion pictures was based on his interest in helping young people avoid some of the mistakes he'd made. I have to admit that this makes me look at his works in a whole new light. Kind of makes me think a bit more about the title of this one, too.

Now, please enjoy Santa and the Fairy Snow Queen:

Saturday, December 22, 2018

John Malkovich Is Filled to Overflowing with Holiday Cheer

We've taken to celebrating the gift of holiday comedy each year by posting a classic clip from Saturday Night Live each Saturday from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. This week's clip features the monologue from actor John Malkovich's third appearance hosting SNL back on December 6, 2008. This one's filled to the brim with holiday cheer as Malkovich subjects the children of various SNL staff to a toneless rendition of the holiday classic "Twas the Night Before Christmas," complete with a series of gloomy observations that may send viewers straight to the liquor cabinet:

Sunday, December 16, 2018

My Christmas Time Philosophy, Part 3

Let's continue with the next three tracks on this year's mix:

Track 9
I Like Christmas (But I Can't Stand the Cold), by Tangarine (2013)
Tangarine is a Dutch folk duo consisting of twin brothers Sander and Arnout Brinks. They've been playing and writing songs together since they were 12 years old, and initially served as their own promoters and business managers as well. They were signed to the Excelsior label in 2013 and subsequently released an album called Seek and Sigh and this non-album holiday track:

Track 8
Hanukkah Hymns, by the Cast of Saturday Night Live, featuring Alec Baldwin (1998)
Alec Baldwin's been a key SNL player for the past couple of seasons portraying an appropriately idiotic Donald Trump, but he's got a history with the show that goes back many years. In fact, he's hosted the show a record 17 times -- more than any other performer. The eighth track on My Christmas Time Philosophy is an audio version of a 1998 clip featuring Baldwin as the pitch man for a fictional holiday album called Holiday Hymns:

Track 7
Jingle Bell Rock, by BoDeans (1989)

I first heard of the band BoDeans way back in 1987 -- not in connection with anything the band had done per se, but rather because a couple of the founding members sang back-up for Robbie Robertson on several of the tracks from his first wondrous solo album, Robbie RobertsonSam Llanas (credited as Sammy BoDean) also appeared on the video for one of the album's most memorable tracks, "Somewhere Down the Crazy River," which was directed by Martin Scorsese:

It's a long way from the sultry summer heat of that track to the snowy world of the Christmas song, but I remember reading once that BoDeans had cut a few Christmas tracks over the years and so I went searching for them as I started pulling together the tracks for this year's mix. The first of the two BoDeans tracks I've included this year is a tune called "Jinga Bell Rock," which was released in 1989 as a double-sided 45 RPM single backed by a tune called "Christmas Time." I'm embarrassed to say that the track list for most of the CDs I distributed this year refers to this track as "Jingle Bell Rock," which, of course, is not correct. "Jinga Bell Rock" is an infectious tune that's likely to get stuck in your head for a long while once you listen to it, but I can think of far worse tracks to have stuck there.

Back someday soon with more.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

George H.W. Bush Appears Lincoln-esque Offering 1991 Holiday Gift Ideas

This week's clip is a flashback to 1991, when the late George H.W. Bush was in the White House and the economy was slipping into the recession that many observers believe helped Bill Clinton defeat him the following year. Some economists are predicting a global recession for 2019, although one can safely expect that the current President's response will be a good bit less dignified:

I wasn't much of a fan of George H.W. Bush in 1991, but I'd take either Bush, Nixon or James Buchanan over the moronic fraud we've currently got in the White House. Happy holidays, everybody!

Andy Cirzan Offers "Best of" Collection for 2019 and It's Available Now!

As longtime readers of this blog are well aware, one of the best and best known of the many holiday music enthusiasts on the web is a fellow named Andy Cirzan, a concert promoter by trade who spends much of his free time collecting interesting and largely esoteric holiday records from around the world. For the past 30 years, Andy has celebrated the holidays by producing a one-of-a kind holiday music mix for the lucky people on his holiday list, and because he works and pals around with some of the most famous music acts on the planet, his CD routinely gets heard by members of bands ranging from Led Zeppelin to Mumford and Sons. Happily, for the past dozen or so years he's expanded his list considerably by posting each new release online for free downloading for a limited time. This coincides what has now become a traditional appearance each year on the pre-holiday episode of Sound Opinions, the weekly radio show about rock music hosted by Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot heard on Chicago Public Radio and great stations around the country.

This being the 30-year anniversary of Andy's first annual holiday mix, he's making the occasion with a collection featuring his greatest hits of the period. True holiday music fans won't want to miss Andy's latest release or his annual appearance on Southd Opinions.

Listen to the Holiday Extravaganza edition of Sound Opinions featuring Andy Cirzan

Download Andy's Greatest Hits CD "Rudolph Pouts" (Available Only through 12/31/18)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

My Christmas Time Philosophy, Part 2

Well, we're off and running, friends . . . we've officially started our review of the 32 tracks on my latest holiday mix, titled My Christmas Time Philosophy. We've fallen a little off our intended pace, however, so we've got a little catching up to do. Today, we'll look at the next four tracks.

Track 6
My Christmas Time Philosophy, by Norris the Troubadour and the Seaboard Coastliners (1969)

This year's title track is an odd little tune that I've been holding onto for at least six or seven years now with the idea of using it as the title track for an upcoming holiday mix. I'm not sure why -- it just struck me that the title of this particular song was equally appropriate as the title for an album. This tune is usually classified as a song-poem, which typically refers to a set of lyrics that have been set to music for a fee, often in response to an ad in the back of some cheap pulp magazine. In the late 1960s and '70s, adding third-rate music to amateur poetry became a pretty good racket for a few folks as frustrated housewives and down-and-outers funneled more money than they could comfortably afford to a handful of companies that would churn out dozens of cheesy tunes every day. Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm a huge fan of the song-poem genre. Indeed, I've included more than a few holiday song-poems on my collections over the years. Song-poems have been attracting increasing attention in recent years thanks to the promotional activities of fans like magician Penn Jillette, the late NRBQ drummer Tom Ardolino and the Rev. Susie the Floozie of the Church of the Subgenius. (More about them several days from now, Praise Bob!) In addition, song-poems have benefitted from the increase in appreciation of so-called outsider art, of which they are considered a particularly interesting subcategory.  

I first ran across this track on the fabulous 2003 collection called The American Song-Poem Christmas: Daddy Is Santa Really Six Foot Four?  In fact, this album has been the source for a number of holiday classics featured on previous mixes over the years, including "Old Year Christmas," by the Sisterhood; "Santa Came on a Nuclear Missile," by Heather Noel; and "Santa Claus Goes Modern," by Rod Rodgers and the Librettos. But "My Christmas Time Philosophy" is a truly one-of-a-kind holiday song that tugs at my heart the way few others do. Part of the appeal, I think, is combination of the painfully earnest lyrics and their slow, almost emotionless delivery:

That's my Christmas time philosophy
Full punch bowls, and happy living
Singing songs, and lots of giving
That's my Christmas time philosophy
Pumpkin pies and turkey roasting
Snow on hillsides, and sleighs out coasting
That's my Christmas time philosophy
Children sending letters off to Santa
as Christmas time draws near
Wrapping presents and families gathering for feasting
What a magic time of the year
Keep those bells ringing high on their steeples
Everybody be kind to old people . . .

What makes this tune a bit different from the typical song-poem is that, near as I can tell, the lyricist did more than simply write the lyrics and pay a fee – "Norris the Troubadour" wrote the lyrics, wrote the music, sang, played an instrument … oh, yes, and also paid a fee. "Norris" was actually a former merchant marine named Norridge B. Mayham who has become something of a legend in the song-poem world. As music journalist Phil Milstein explains,
Norridge Mayhams was a first-class card. In a half-century-long career in which he toiled as songwriter, performer and record company executive, Mayhams authored a body of work that is staggering in its scope, quality and general strangeness, with a fast-and-loose approach to crediting his work that confounds discographical comprehension.Mayhams's songwriting career stretched from the mid-'30s up until his death in 1988.
His early songs, cut at various New York sessions between 1936 and '38, were lively but fairly conventional gospel and novelty blues. Even back then he was apparently subsidizing the recording of his own material; since song-poem companies had yet to evolve from sheet music to records, it seems that these early recordings were made with Mayhams' hands-on participation, as opposed to the strictly mail-order nature of the true song-poem companies.
Among Milstein's other credits, he's perhaps best known for writing "We'll Build a Bungalow," which was featured on an episode of I Love Lucy as the piece de resistance of a joint performance by Lucy and Ricky at a benefit show put on by Lucy's women's club. But Mayham was a busy guy throughout much of his musical career, traveling extensively and releasing a good number of 78s, 45s and 33s.

As Milstein writes:
Little is known about Mayhams' performing career. He apparently sang lead on at least some of his own recordings, but he was as likely to farm his songs out to a song-poem factory like Globe Recording Studios – where they'd be sung by the likes of Sammy Marshall (as "Professor Marcell") – as he was to take the mic himself. It's unknown whether or not he played any instruments on his recordings. My guess is that as Norris the Troubadour he spent many years playing coffeehouses and college-town pubs in the Northeast, but the only actual evidence of that is a 21-page booklet he self-published in 1947 entitled Experiences Of A Collegiate Singer by Norris, The Troubadour.
Norridge Mayhams' world started crumbling in 1977, with the death of his wife Shirley. In 1979 his son Benjamin was murdered in a grocery store hold-up. In tribute, Mayhams wrote his final song, "God's Heaven's Heavenly Grocery Store," which he didn't register for copyright until 1986. It's unlikely that a recording of it was ever made. In '81 his other son, Norridge Smalls Mayhams, died. His musical endeavors wound down until, in 1988 Norridge "the Troubadour" Mayhams himself began strolling the aisles of God's heavenly grocery store. 
For more of Milstein's thoughts on Mayham, check out the American Song-Poem Archives

I try to avoid using anything more than once on my holiday compilations and when I used this track as the title song of this year's mix I truly believed I'd never featured it previously. But I discovered to my embarrassment several days ago that the song appears on Hooray for Santa Claus, a special mix I put together in 2007 for a charity program my employer at the time was hosting. Sorry about that. I'll try not to use it ever again!

Track 5
Gay Bright Christmas, by Cara Stewart (1975)

Cara Stewart is another big name in the world of song-poems, although unlike Norris the Troubadour, she only sang her contribution to this year's mix. She's not to blame for the lyrics or the music of "Gay Bright Christmas." I'd say that will only get her but so far as we work to assess the blame for this one.

Listen to Cara Stewart's Incredible "Song of the Burmese Land"

Track 4
Holiday Greetings from Vice President Mike Pence (2014)

Although I occasionally do feel guilty about it, I don't do too much to hide my political beliefs in this blog. I'm a proud, liberal Democrat and I can't for the life of me understand how any halfway intelligent person could support the disgraceful idiot who's currently in the White House. I'm especially incredulous when I see so-called Christians in his corner considering that the values he espouses are just about the polar opposite of the teachings of Jesus Christ. But it's Christmas and I believe we're called to overlook other people's flaws as best we can. "Judge not lest ye be judged," as the Good Book says, and I surely don't care to be judged by those who believe building walls and teargassing toddlers is acceptable conduct. In fact, this year I've yielded the time typically reserved for holiday greetings solely to the Republicans and we're starting them off with remarks from Vice President Mike Pence. He'll likely succeed to the presidency before next year is out so I figure we'd better start getting used to him.

Track 3
Christmas Is a Drag, Jimmy Jones and the Versatiles (date unknown)

I wish I had even a little news to share about this tune, but I don't. I like the fact that Mike Pence's little clip is sandwiched between "Gay Bright Christmas" and "Christmas Is a Drag," however. I can imagine it's not a comfortable place for someone who thinks as he does.

I'll be back with more musings on this year's tracks sometime soon.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Saturday Night Live Holiday Flashback

In recent years, I've posted classic holiday-themed sketches from Saturday Night Live each Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which strikes me as a pretty neat tradition to keep up. I guess we've missed a couple of Saturdays already, but I say better late than never, right? Let's start off with a great sketch from 2012 by the venerable Keenan Thompson, who is both the first cast member to have been born after SNL was first launched and the longest-serving cast member in the show's history. Enjoy this one and check back next Saturday for another!


Friday, December 7, 2018

My Christmas Time Philosophy, Part 1

The chief reason I started this blog was to share a little background information about the material I included on each of my annual holiday collections. When I first started to develop an interest in offbeat and obscure holiday audio I relied on the internet as the source for most of my material and I found it frustrating to search for even the most basic information about some of the wonderful tracks I was finding online. Happily, a number of collectors went out of their way to include some interesting background about some of the items they shared, and I wanted to try to do the same for each of the tracks I was sharing.

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.

Track 2
Dear Santa (Bring Me a Man This Christmas), by The Weather Girls (1983)

My friend Lorenzo introduced me to this song several years ago and he's asked me each year since why I haven't included it on one of my annual mixes. Sometimes it's tough to to find a place for certain tracks, and that's certainly true of this one. But it's a great song that's not widely known so I'm happy to use it this year on My Christmas Time Philosophy. I'm not at all sure that it necessarily fits where I've put it  in between a children's visit from Santa and '50s-style rockabilly number. But it's a fun, campy tune by a couple of women with among the most memorable voices in post-Beatles pop music, so this year it makes the cut.

The Weather Girls consists primarily of Izora Armstead and Martha Wash, former back-up singers for Sylvester, the flamboyant male diva whose smash hit "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" has long been an anthem to the San Francisco gay community. The pair started out in 1977 under the name Two Tons O' Fun, later becoming The Two Tons, and, finally The Weather Girls. In 1982, they scored their biggest hit  ever with "It's Raining Men," the video of which appeared in heavy rotation on both VH1 and MTV. Despite its phenomenal success in dance clubs around the world, "It's Raining Men" never cracked the Billboard Top 40, and the group's subsequent releases did even less well. For all its passion and intensity, "Dear Santa (Bring Me a Man This Christmas)" failed to even make the Hot 100. Yet this song, which, like "It's Raining Men" was co-written by former David Letterman side-man Paul Shaffer, remains a holiday staple in many dance clubs even today. Enjoy!


Track 1
Holiday on Ice - A ride with Santa (Intro), by Walt Jacobs (1967)
Both the first and last track on this year's mix are by a fellow named Walt Jacobs from his 1967 album Santa's Own Christmas. This first track, cleverly titled "Intro,"
consists of a small number of children watching for – and eventually finding – Santa Claus as he prepares for his annual holiday tour. You can hear the excitement in the children's voices, and it's just that magical anticipation that helps to give me enough of the Christmas spirit each year to start my holiday shopping and what not.

I previously tapped this album for one of my previous mixes, including "What Santa Wants for Christmas" on my 2007 bonus mix Hooray for Santa Claus.

Billboard magazine featured a short piece on the album in its November 4, 1967 edition, which noted the following:
Santa's Own Christmas
Walt Jacobs, Chicago-based performer-writer, is taking on the guise of Santa Claus for his first disk outing on the Capitol label. Playing the role of Santa Claus has been Jacobs’ Christmas commitment for the past several years. He has been Santa at orphanages and schools  in [the] mid-West area. But it was only last year that he decided to play the part on an independently produced album.
In the package, which was also written by Jacobs, Santa Claus presents his view of Christmas for children. ‘The fantasies of children are on a high level,’ Jacobs said on a recent visit to New York, ‘and an adult can only communicate with them on that level.’
Christmas with Santa and His Friends
Jacobs will take off his Santa Claus uniform after the Yule drive to begin work on other projects he’s got in mind to fulfill his seven-year commitment to the label. He’s keeping his ideas under wraps right now but the future projects, he said, will cover both the children’s and adult fields.
I haven't been able to find much evidence that Walt completed any additional original projects, although he is credited as a contributor to a Radio Shack release from 1979 called "Christmas with Santa and His Friends." It appears to include the contents of "Santa's Own Christmas" together with a number of additional tracks.

Listen to Walt Jacobs' 1967 album "Santa's Own Christmas"