Saturday, December 25, 2021

Martin Short and Paul McCartney Try Out for the Christmas Pageant

On Saturdays during the Christmas season we typically rummage around our video vault to find an old  holiday-based sketch from Saturday Night Live to share. Today's sketch is from December 15, 2012 featuring guest host Martin Short and musical guest Paul McCartney, It's immediately followed by Paul McCartney performing "Wonderful Christmastime," which, in my opinion is one of the worst holiday songs and wost Paul McCartney songs ever. The sketch is pretty good, though. Enjoy!

Friday, December 24, 2021

Be a Santa, Part 11

It's Christmas Eve, everybody — that magical evening when many families around the world will be spending time together in anticipation of Christmas Day. I've got time to share just a little bit of background about the remaining three tracks on Be a Santa!, my holiday mix for 2021. I'll probably have some additional comments over the next few days before we close out this holiday season, but for now let me wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Here's some thoughts on Tracks 35-37 of this year's mix:

Track 37
Peace at Least, Rotary Connection (1968)

The Chicago-based band Rotary Connection was founded in 1966 by Marshall Chess, the son of the founder of Chess Records. Most of the groups on the Chess label played either rock or blues and Marshall was hoping to lead his new group in a different direction. His wanted Rotary Connection to experiment with different styles of music, so he recruited musicians of varied backgrounds and styles to join, many pf whom had previously played with other Chess bands. 

Among the last to join the new band was the label's receptionist, Minnie Riperton, who would later go on to have a successful solo career that was tragically cut short due to her death from cancer in 1979. Riperton, who topped Billboard's Hot 100 in 1975 with her hit "Lovin' You," was the mother of actress and comedienne Maya Rudolph

As its founder had intended, Rotary Connection proved to be a difficult band to characterize, although a number of critics have described the group's style as "psychedelic soul." Unfortunately, the lack of a signature sound effectively limited the group's popularity and while their first two albums attracted attention in some quarters, neither sold especially well.

Their third album "Peace," released in late 1968, featured a collection of Christmas songs, nearly all of them original. True to form, the musical style of the album varies from one track to the next; however the emphasis on peace and love never wavers, and it made the album the perfect tonic for the end of traumatic year then winding down. "Peace" was only a modest success commercially, but in many homes its socially conscious message made it among the most consequential holiday albums ever recorded.

"Peace at Least" is a particularly impious track, suggesting, as it does, that Santa's generosity and goodwill is the result of smoking mistletoe. 

Every year, I have the same question
Something that puts me so very uptight
Where does Santa get all those gifts from
Why is he riding so late at night
I know why (I know why)
The kid is high (he's high)
The kid is stoned (stoned)

'Cause he smokes (mistletoe)
I said, I said he smokes (mistletoe)
Oh, he smokes (mistletoe)
Everyone should have a peace at least once a year

But he's an institution
We like him like he is
What would ever happen
If he gave some to the kids

Track 36
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, William Shatner, featuring Billy Gibbons (2018)

Track 35
Santa Rides Again, Sam Watt and the Gang at Gallo Wine (1950)

This track comes from a promotional record produced and presumably circulated in 1950 by the E.& J. Gallo Wine Company of Modesto, California. It seems to have been created to promote Gallo Wine, to thank the company's customers and to give listeners a healthy dose of holiday spirit:

The folks who sell you Gallo wine are really most sincere
When we say "Merry Christmas and a Happy, Bright New Year!"
Thanks to you and you and you — the friends of Gallo Wine
We're lucky to have friends like you
We hope you're doing fine

All year long we tell you that Gallo can't be beat
But leave that for another time, right now let us repeat
Thanks to you and you and you — the friends of Gallo Wine
We're lucky to have friends like you
We hope you're doing fine

These sorts of holiday promotions were not uncommon in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, as they were a good way for businesses to thank their customers and encourage them to maintain their relationships in the year ahead. 

One of the better known such holiday promotions was by the Line Material Company, a manufacturer of electric equipment. From 1957-62, Line Material produced a series of annual promotional records that were send to employees and customers to celebrate the holidays. These holiday tunes were produced by a fellow named John McCarthy, and they were both entertaining and professional. I've included a number of these songs on previous mixes of mine, including the title track to my 2007 "Let's Trim the Christmas Tree" mix and "The Day that Santa Was Sick," which appeared on last year's mix, "All Alone on Christmas." I and most other holiday music collectors first learned of these Line Materials tracks from Lee Hartsfeld, who curates the terrific "Music You Possibly Won't Hear Anyplace Else" blog.

Here's the Gallo Wine promotion included on this year's mix:

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Be a Santa, Part 10

Track 34
Christmas at the Airport, Nick Lowe (2013)

Nick Lowe
Around the time I left for college in the late '70s there were some big changes taking place in the American rock music scene. I'd been into the whole California soft rock scene (CSN and CSNY, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Steely Dan); I loved the Beatles, the Stones and David Bowie; I was crazy about Motown and all kinds of R&B  hell, I was even getting into disco. I had a couple of shows on our college radio station and hung around with other folks who were big into music and what was really capturing the attention of my edgier friends was the punk, new wave and power pop stuff that was coming out of London and New York  The Clash, Elvis Costello, The Police, Talking Heads … and British rocker Nick Lowe, for example. 

Lowe earned his chops on the London pub scene in the early to mid '70s as a member of the band Brinsley Schwarz. After leaving that band in 1975, Lowe played with Rockpile with Dave Edmunds, recorded a number of well-received solo albums and produced records by such artists as Elvis Costello, Graham Parker and the Rumour and The Damned. He was a prolific songwriter during this period, writing or so-writing such hits as "So It Goes," "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass," "Cruel to Be Kind," and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding." Lowe's version of "Cruel to be Kind" made it all the way to number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979, and his singles "Crackin' Up" and "Switchboard Susan" were also big hits. 

Although he released a string of fine records over the next 30 years, Lowe wasn't able to match the success he enjoyed in the late 1970s. To be honest, I sort of lost track of Nick Lowe until 2013, when he released a terrific holiday album called Quality Street:  A Seasonal Selection for All the Family, which record I'm happy to say was noted in this blog. David Letterman had Lowe on the Late Show in December 2013, and we reported on that here, too. For some reason, however, I've never included anything from Quality Street on my previous mixes. I'm happy to remedy that oversight this year by featuring "Christmas at the Airport."

Track 33
Rudolph (You Don't Have to Put on the Red Light), mojochronic (2010)

I found this little number in a file on my computer marked "Holiday Mashups," where it's been sitting for about ten years. I can't say I know a whole lot about mojochronic, but from what I can tell it's a person or group of people who combine two or more individual tracks into surprising and not-quite-discordant mashups. The two songs mashed together here, of course, are Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Roxanne, by The Police. The common element is that Rudolph's nose is red and Roxanne, a prostitute, likely plies her trade in a red-light district. I'm not sure there's very much more that needs to be said about this one, other than the fact that the video does a great job of cutting up the classic 1964 Rankin Bass television special to track to the beat of The Police. Enjoy.

Track 32
St. Nicolas, Filobin (1978)

This is another track I've had on my computer for quite a while but haven't found the right spot for until now. Unfortunately, I don't have a whole lot of information about this track. All I can really report is that Filobin is the stage name of Guy Philobin, a French animator and musical clown who released this holiday single in 1978 with a B-side titled "The Toys of a Wise Child." It's a cute little number, and I remember just enough of my high school French to be able get a rough gist of what the guy's saying.

Only three more tracks to review, and I'm hoping to post something on them around the same time Santa finishes his Christmas Eve deliveries in France tomorrow night!

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Be a Santa, Part 9

Continuing with our review of the 37 tracks on this year's holiday mix, here's a look at the next batch of songs and clips:

Track 31
Excerpt from "A Visit from St. Nicholas," read by Ed Asner (1987)

As noted earlier, we lost three stars of The Mary Tyler Moore Show this year:  Cloris Leachman, Gavin MacLeod, and one of my favorite celebrities of all time, the great Ed Asner. Asner, of course, played newsman Lou Grant two different TV series:  The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77), half-hour sitcom based in a Minneapolis TV station; and Lou Grant (1977-82), a one-hour drama based in a Los Angeles-based daily newspaper. Asner won Emmys for his work on both series and others as well; in fact, he won more performance-based Emmys than any other male actor.

Asner was also known for his political activism and generous support of a wide range of charitable causes. In the early 1980s, he served two terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild, a job previously held by Republicans George Murphy and Ronald Reagan. During his tenure as SAG's president, Asner actively opposed President Reagan's policies in Central and South America while advocating for union members and the less fortunate in this country and elsewhere. 

Upon learning of Asner's death, filmmaker and activist Michael Moore recalled as follows:
When I was making my first film, Roger & Me, I was broke, so I wrote to some famous people to ask for help. Only one responded: Ed Asner.
“I don’t know you, kid, but here’s 500 bucks,” said the note attached to the check. “Sounds like it’ll be a great film. I was an autoworker once.”
Asner loved to work, and he played hundreds of other characters in addition to his iconic Lou Grant role. Generations of children know him for voicing the role of widower Carl Fredricksen in Disney's animated film Up! I'm not sure if this was intentional or happenstance, but he had significant roles in at least a dozen popular Christmas movies, including the Emmy-winning 1977 TV film "The Gathering." Remarkably, he played Santa Claus himself in at least half a dozen movies and TV shows, including the hit film Elf (2003).
Asner remained active to the very end — in fact, he was posting tweets just a couple of days before he died this past August 29. Ed was a powerful presence in the world and we won't soon see his like again.


Watch the Documentary "Ed Asner: Loveable Grouch" from this Biography Channel 

Watch Ed Asner in the Holiday Film "The Gathering" (1977)

Watch a Collection of Ed Asner's Appearances on David Letterman's "Late Night" and "Late Show"

Hear Ed Asner share some quick thoughts about the U.S. Constitution as "The Grumpy Historian"

Track 30
Holiday Greetings from Jamie Farr

When actor Jamie Farr was hired to appear on the new CBS TV series M*A*S*H in 1972 he was scheduled to appear in a single episode as Maxwell Klinger, a corporal who wore female clothing in the hope that he'd be discharged from the service as unfit for duty. The Klinger character proved popular, however, and Farr was asked back for several additional episodes until by the fourth season of the popular program he became a regular cast member. 

M*A*S*H has always been one of my favorite shows, and while Klinger was never one of my favorite characters I've always thought that Jamie Farr seemed like an awfully good guy. Unfortunately, his work as Klinger seems to have permanently typecast him and he's had trouble landing other work. Believe it or not he's now 87 years old, and I know everyone will join me in extending him our warmest holiday wishes this year, too.

Track 29
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, Arthur Treacher (1966)

Arthur Treacher was an English stage and film actor best known for his portrayal of butlers Jeeves in a series of Shirley Temple movies and Constable Jones in the classic Disney film Mary Poppins. He's also known for his work as announcer and sidekick on the Merv Griffin Show from 1965-70. I guess what I remember him best for is the chain of fast food restaurants to which he lent his name starting in the late 1960s. Arthur Treacher's featured fried fish, fried chicken and chips (french fries), and at its peak the chain boasted more than 800 stores. Today, only one remains.

Treacher's version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" was recorded as part of a holiday album released in 1966 by "Merv Griffin and his TV Family." The collection also included songs by Frankie Michaels, who had won a Tony Award earlier that year for his role in the Broadway show Mame; actor David Soul; Gilbert Price, operatic baritone and actor; and, of course, several by Griffin himself. This track was ultimately released as a single and selected by Billboard magazine as one of the standouts of the holiday releases that year. I don't know that I'd give it that much credit myself, but it's a cool little number and a good representative song from its time.

Track 28
Little Drummer Boy, William Hung (2004)

I'll likely be back tomorrow with some quick thoughts on one or more of the six remaining tracks on this year's mix.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Be a Santa, Part 8

Only four more shopping days until Christmas and we've got lots of ground to cover before we complete our look at the tracks on this year's mix. (Got a lot of holiday shopping left to do, too, but that's a whole 'nother Oprah show.) Let's get at it!

Track 27
Holiday Greetings from Harvey Fierstein (1997)

I'm afraid I'm running out of these short celebrity greetings that I like to use to break up the musical numbers. You'd think there would be lots of them out there, but most of the clips you can find on YouTube or elsewhere have too much background noise or fail to identify the celebrity by name. You may know who Simu Liu is on sight, but without video a clip of him saying only "Happy Holidays" doesn't identify him sufficiently for listeners of an audio mix.

One of my few remaining greetings clips is this one from actor, playwright and screenwriter Harvey Fierstein, who has to have one of the most distinctive voices in show business. Actually, a tape of him saying "happy holidays" without identifying himself probably would work out OK. At least folks would know who was sending along best wishes.

The few words at the end of this clip weren't something Harvey really said. I just added them to be funny.

Track 26
Santa's Coffee, Billy Beau (1960)

I've written before about my prejudice against songs that are heavily produced to make the performer sound extra cute and adorable — especially where adults are masquerading as little children. The prime example of this practice is "Little" Marcy Tigner, who's already received more attention than she deserves in these pages. (See HERE and HERE, if you must.) "Santa's Coffee," isn't anything like that. Sure, it's sung by what sounds to be a young boy, but it doesn't overplay the cute angle and therefore comes across as — well, cute. 
Billy Burnette

The artist is credited as Billy Beau, but his real name is Billy Burnette, who went on to have a pretty successful career in pop music. His father, Dorsey Burnette, and his uncle, Johnny Burnette, were two-thirds of the '50s group The Rock and Roll Trio and both worked closely with recording star Ricky Nelson. In 1960, 7-year-old Billy recorded a novelty song with Nelson called "Hey Daddy (I'm Going to Tell Santa Claus on You)." Several other holiday tunes were recorded in that same session including this one, which was release by Billy as a solo artist.

Billy's family connections helped him to get other gigs as the years went on, including touring work with Brenda Lee, Roger Miller and others, and by the early 1970s he released his first solo album. Burnette later scored contracts with Polydor and Columbia, scored a couple of country hits and had written songs for Greg Allman, Tanya Tucker and Ringo Starr. Following Lindsey Buckingham's 1987 departure from the band, Burnette was asked by Mick Fleetwood to join Fleetwood Mac.

Track 25
Holiday-ish, The Regrettes (featuring Dylan Minnette (2019)


The Regrettes are a Los Angeles-based punk band that signed with Warner Records shortly after forming in 2015. Known for their brash and unapologetic style, they opened for twenty-one pilots for part of their 2019 Bandito tour. "Holiday-ish" features guest vocalist Dylan Minnette of the rock band Wallows. Minnette is also known for his starring role in the controversial Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, a mystery series that revolves around the suicide of a suburban high school student.

Although it's typically described as a punk holiday song, "Holiday-ish" sounds a little too tame to me to merit that description. But then again I was raised on the music of the 1970s, when punk was punk. Kids today — well, you know ...

Track 25
Samantha's Holiday Spell, Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens (1969)

This one's a clip from Bewitched, the ABC fantasy sitcom series starring Elizabeth Montgomery. The show ran from 1964 through 1972 and told the story of a witch in human form who lived a relatively normal mid-century suburban life wither her mortal husband, Darrin (played first by Dick York and subsequently by Dick Sargent). A long description of the show is beyond the scope of this blog, but it was exceptionally popular during its eight-year run and remains widely watched in syndication. From what I've read, Elizabeth Montgomery was a thoroughly wonderful woman who donated generous amounts of time, money and energy to a range of progressive causes. She also advocated for Bewitched to address a variety of important social issues, including the holiday episode "Sisters at Heart," in which young Tabitha Stephens invites a young African -American classmate to spend Christmas with the Stephens. It may not sound so big these days, but in the 1960s, this was a notable storyline indeed!

Just ten more tracks to cover and four days left until Christmas. With a little luck we should get this done before Santa arrives!

Monday, December 20, 2021

Andy Cirzan Joins Sound Opinions for Its Annual Holiday Spectacular

One of my annual holiday traditions is to piggyback on the longstanding holiday tradition of the fabulous Sound Opinions show and celebrate the holiday tradition of concert promoter Andy Cirzan (a/k/a DJ LoFi), who's been putting together one of the most widely-anticipated holiday compilations for more than 20 years. Sound Opinions is a weekly Chicago-based rock talk show broadcast for years on public radio station WBZE. Hosted by Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, it is now independently produced. Cirzan is the program's special guest each December for its annual holiday spectacular, featuring a wild mix of offbeat and largely overlooked holiday tunes from a wide variety of genres.

While it seems difficult to believe, I didn't know anything about Andy Cirzan or his incredible holiday compilations until several years after I started making my own. I say that not because mine offer anything close to the levels of quality and originality Andy achieves but rather because we seem to favor some of the same unusual qualities in our holiday music fare. I freely admit that I've cribbed off Andy's mixes rather generously over the years, and I'm grateful to him and so many other enthusiasts for introducing me to some of the terrific material out there.

This year's Sound Opinions Spectacular is another great one, featuring tracks from Cirzan's latest holiday compilation as well as a number of lesser known holiday hits, a batch of unbelievable vintage Korean psychedelic tunes, and a brief clip from an orchestral holiday piece created in the 1960s by Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. You can enjoy the show by way of the widget below.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

British Newsreel Highlights Boston's Enchanted Village

A few days ago I happened to ask my brother if he remembers visiting the Enchanted Village holiday display at Jordan Marsh's department store in Boston when we were kids. We lived about 20 miles west of Boston during the 1960s and '70s, and I have vivid memories of standing in line for what seemed like hours to see the Enchanted Village and meet Santa. Unfortunately, my brother, who's a few years younger than me, has no memories of this holiday tradition. But this morning I woke up in California to an email from him in Maine with a link to a British newsreel story about the Enchanted Village:

The Enchanted Village was created in a small German town and purchased by Jordan Marsh shortly after World War II. It took up an entire floor of Jordan Marsh's flagship store in Boston and was wildly popular for many years. Of course, good things rarely last forever, and this attraction eventually came to be seen as too old-fashioned for the times, so it was put into storage in 1972. 

Following Macy's acquisition of Jordan Marsh in 1992, the Enchanted Village was sold to the City of Boston and  displayed for several years in City Hall Plaza and the Hynes Convention Center. Unable to maintain the display, the City put it up for auction in 2009, when it was purchased by Jordan's Furniture, a regional chain whose tagline used to be "Not to be confused with Jordan Marsh."  The display is now set up for all to see each holiday season in Jordan's store in Avon, Massachusetts. Admission is free, and guests can purchase Jordan Marsh's old-fashioned blueberry muffins while they wait.

My brother and his family are thinking of visiting Jordan's later this month. Good to see that some holiday traditions continue. 

SNL Cancels Planned Christmas Special Due to Alarming Spike in NYC COVID Cases

Plans for the annual Saturday Night Live Christmas show were scrapped just hours before air time last night due to concerns about exploding COVID infection rates in New York City over the past several days. All but two of the show's regular cast were sent home along with musical guest Charli XCX, many of the crew and the entire studio audience. In its place, the show's producers cobbled together a replacement show featuring Tom Hanks, Tina Fey, scheduled host Paul Rudd and regular cast members Kenan Thompson and Michael Che. 

In place of the sketches the cast had been working on all week, the show ran videos of the dress rehearsals of several sketches, an improvised "Weekend Update" featuring Tina Fey and Michael Che, and clips from previous shows selected by special guest hosts Fey and Hanks. The two guests were on hand to recognize Rudd for joining SNL's Five-Timers Club, which consists of those who have hosted the program five times or more. Rudd was scheduled to host the show for the fifth time last night. Fey has hosted SNL six times and Hanks, who founded the Five-Timers Club in 1990, has hosted ten times.

As his selected sketch, Tom Hanks selected the following clip from a show he hosted in 1990 — that's 31 years ago, folks. It's the Global Warming Holiday Special, in which Hanks plays the favorite artist from my latest holiday mix, Dean Martin. I can't say this is one of my favorites, but under the circumstances I thought it appropriate to share:


Saturday, December 18, 2021

Chance the Rapper Joins Kenan Thompson to Mark the Last Christmas Under Obama

Each Saturday during the Christmas season we try to post a vintage Saturday Night Live holiday sketch to delight and entertain. Today's sketch is from December 17, 2016, and it features musical guest Chance the Rapper and veteran cast member Kenan Thompson marking the last Christmas of the Obama presidency.

Be a Santa, Part 7

Track 23
Here Comes Santa Claus, Mrs. Miller (2020) 

A lot of strange things took place in the 1960s, and among the strangest bits of pop cultural history was the discovery and modest success of musical artist Elva Ruby Miller, a Missouri native known to millions simply as "Mrs. Miller." Her popularity, such as it was, came not from any innate talents or musical knowledge, but rather for her shrill and off-tempo renditions of numerous pop classics. She was, in other words, so bad she was good — something we routinely celebrate in these parts, to which our 15+ years of holiday mixes will attest.

Mrs. Miller was discovered in the early 1960s by radio DJ Gary Owens, who later became semi-famous himself as the announcer for Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Her first album, playfully titled "Mrs. Miller's Greatest Hits," was released in 1966 on Capitol Records, selling over 250,000 copies within its first three weeks on the shelves. Her first single, "Downtown," actually made the Billboard singles chart. Subsequent albums included "Will Success Spoil Mrs. Miller," "The Country Soul of Mrs. Miller," and "Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing." Somehow along the way, however, this musical juggernaut ran out of gas and Mrs. Miller officially retired in 1973. She died at Garden Terrace Retirement Center, in Vista, California, in 1997, at the age of 89.

You might think that would have been the end of the Mrs. Miller story, but no. In fact, right in the middle of 2020, among the most challenging years in recent memory, the folks at Ship to Shore Records discovered a collection of holiday tunes recorded by Mrs. Miller but never released. Well, before you could say "Capitol Records," those same folks pulled together and released a "new" album of Mrs. Miller tunes called "A Christmas Gift from Mrs. Miller" — just when we needed them most.

This release includes eight holiday classics and eleven "stocking stuffers" — non-Christmas tunes that can brighten your days all year long. The whole album is a delight, but of the stocking stuffers I like the naughtiest ones the best:  "The Weekend of a Private Secretary," "I Said No," and "She Had to Go and Lose It at the Astor." Of course, I've got the holiday tunes on my frequently played list.

Track 22
Merry Christmas, Baby, Mae West (1966)

Mae West was big a little before my time (believe it or not), so she's not someone I think about very often. Moreover, she was born around the same time as my grandmother so listening to her bawdy comments feels a little too twisted, even for me. Of course, I'm certainly familiar with her album of holiday renditions, which was released in 1966 as "Wild Christmas" and subsequently repackaged in several versions, each with different covers. I have to say I don't enjoy her songs very much. I always get the uncomfortable sense that some fast-talking grifter talked her into humiliating herself so he could score a couple of quick bucks. Also, I'm not so keen about her obvious trolling for expensive gifts, which is especially apparent in "Put the Loot in the Boot," another West classic that I used in my special "Hooray for Santa Claus" mix in 2007.

"Merry Christmas Baby," is one of Bruce Springsteen's go-to Christmas songs. For my money, the Boss kicks Mae West's ass on this tune.

Track 21
Free Christmas Ornaments from Ivory Snow, Procter & Gamble (1956)

I'm not sure there's too much to say about this one over and above what's in the clip itself. You may notice that the version I included on this year's mix is a little shorter than the original, as I've trimmed a few lines for the sake of brevity. I'm not sure many modern consumers would have the patience to save and submit their detergent boxtops in exchange for a cheap plastic ornament. I doubt whether many of today's  companies would want to mess with this sort of thing either.

Track 20
Santa's Little Helpers, Rotary Connection (1968)

Rotary Connection is a Chicago-based band that was formed in 1966, played back-up for bluesman Muddy Waters and released several albums in the late '60s and early '70s. They've been described as a psychedelic blues band, and their 1968 album "Peace" is made up primarily of Christmas-themed tunes, two of which are included on this year's mix. The first of these is Santa's Little Helpers, which is a beautiful little clip with just one flaw 
— it's entirely too short!

I'll have a little more to offer on Rotary Connection down the road when we reach the final song on this year's mix. In the meantime, this clip goes out to all of those good folks who are out shopping today or supporting the work of anyone dressed in a Santa suit.

That's it for now, but I'll be back soon with more.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Be a Santa, Part 6

With only ten days left to go until Christmas, let's keep going with our summary review of the 37 tracks on my latest holiday mix, Be a Santa!

Track 19
I Feel It In My Bones, The Killers (2016)

Founded in Las Vegas in 2001, The Killers are among the most successful rock bands of the 21st century. Their latest album, Pressure Machine, released this past August, was their seventh consecutive Top 10 album in the United States, Comparisons to Bruce Springsteen have been common throughout the group's history and Springsteen's influence sounds especially strong throughout "Pressure Machine." Shortly before that album's release the group released a new version of their 2013 song "A Dustland Fairytale" featuring a guest appearance by the Boss.  

Readers of this blog should know that the band is widely recognized for their practice of releasing a new holiday-themed single each year since 2006 to benefit Product Red, a group that supports The Global Fund to Combat AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. "I Feel It In My Bones" was The Killers' holiday single for 2012 and I think it's one of their strongest Christmas offerings yet. In fact, it's probably my favorite track on my 2021 holiday mix. You can hear it in the clip below. What do you think?

Track 18
Beware All Ye Faithful, American Comedy Network (2002)

I'm honestly not sure where I found this clip, but I included it in this year's mix as a short bit of comic relief. As with most comedy, however, there's a kernel of truth in here. The holidays have always carried a certain amount of risk and danger. Be careful out there, friends!

Track 17
Jada's Christmas Song (Santa Claus' Helper), Jada with The Vise Squad (1975)

This little winner comes to us by way of WFMU's first 365Days Project in 2003. The project's chief aim was to collect and share a grab bag of offbeat aural experiences — one each day — reflecting the broad tapestry of the human experience. WFMU is a listener supported independent community radio station based in New York City, and for my money it offers the greatest collection of audio madness the world has ever known. The 365 Days Project is simply one particular slice of the madness. The daily offering throughout 2003 attracted enough attention to spur a second installment that featured daily selections throughout 2007.

Jada's Christmas Song was presented on March 31, 2003 along with the following explanation:

Johnny Mack Vise was an Anniston, Alabama radio hack and church choir director who inexplicably decided that his small children should be singers. This 45 RPM single to which this song provides the a-side is — to my knowledge — the only release by five-year old Jada Vinmarjay Vise (her middle name was a combination of the names of her three older Brothers — isn't that precious!). The contrast between the normal kid voices of the Vise Squad (the brothers) and Jada's otherworldly screech is sure to set any first-time listener's teeth on edge.

It's hard for me to take issue with any of that, but you can decide for yourself

Track 16
Indian Santa Claus, Lorene Mann (1969)

The final of today's four tracks is something I remember hearing as a kid and knowing even that it was objectionable. I had to think really hard before including it on this year's mix due to its unfortunate descriptions of Native Americans. I ultimately decided stuff like this should probably be exposed rather than hidden, but I offer it with some misgivings and my apologies.

This track was written and performed by Lorene Mann, a Tennessee native who settled in Nashville at the age of 19 to pursue a career in music. Signed by RCA Records in 1964, she went on to write for singers such as Kitty Wells and Skeeter Davis before launching a singing career of her own. Mann also tried her hand at acting, appearing in the 1975 Burt Reynolds vehicle “W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings.” But songwriting was apparently her first love, and she both co-founded the Nashville Songwriters Association International and in 2011 won the Maggie Cavender Award, in recognition of her “extraordinary service to the songwriting community.” I'll let you decide if it's warranted after you listen to the following tracks, all of which carry a warning that these are not for the weak of heart or stomach.

Nation's First Family Celebrates the Holiday Season and Its Many Gifts from the Heart

Each year at Christmas, the nation's First Family traditionally kicks off the holiday season by decorating the White House, circulating their official holiday card and lighting the national Christmas tree. These ceremonial duties become even more important in difficult times, and President and Dr. Biden are giving this work the attention and sincerity it deserves.

The theme of this year's celebration is "Gifts from the Heart," which was "[i]nspired by the small acts of kindness and experiences that lifted our spirits this year and throughout the pandemic[.]" Different rooms at the White House have been decorated to highlight such gifts, including: faith, community, peace, the arts and gratitude. 

The White House website offers a wonderful look at this year's decorations, including a virtual walking tour of the public areas of the mansion. It's nice to see the holiday season celebrated in style at the White House this year!

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Be a Santa, Part 5

We seem to have some momentum now, so allow me to share some quick comments on another trio of tracks from my latest mix, Be a Santa!

Track 15
Holiday Greetings from George Murphy and the Folks at MGM

George Murphy (2nd from left)
I was born and raised in Massachusetts, where politics and government attract lots of attention. I now live in California, where the entertainment industry is king. Lots of folks are wary of those two lines of work intersecting. Conservatives in particular complain that too many "Hollywood types" seem to be getting involved in politics. Historically, however, most of the actors who've sought and won political office has been Republicans, not Democrats. Remember Ronald Reagan? How about Arnold Schwarzenegger? Each of these actors was elected governor of California as a Republican with little or no prior government experience. They each did OK, too. Hell, they both rank up there with Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson compared to the TV star we elected president in 2016. But Ronald Reagan wasn't the first actor to be elected to high office in the United States. In 1964, two years before they elected Reagan as governor, California voters elected actor and noted song and dance man George Murphy to the U.S. Senate, defeating Pierre Salinger, former press secretary to the late President Kennedy. Like Reagan and Schwarzenegger, Murphy was a Republican; and, like Reagan, he had formerly served as president of the Screen Actors' Guild.

Track 15 features a brief holiday greeting from Murphy that was recorded while he was still working primarily as a contract actor for MGM. I like inserting these sorts of greetings between songs as they tend to break up the mix a bit and make it a little more fun.

Murphy served only a single term in the Senate. In 1970, he was defeated by John V. Tunney, the son of famous boxer Gene Tunney, after it was disclosed that Murphy had continued to receive a salary from his former employer, Technicolor, while serving as senator. In 1976, Tunney, too, was defeated after serving a single term by S.I. Hayakawa, a Semantics professor and political outsider. Murphy died in 1992 at the age of 89.

Track 14
Christopher the Christmas Tree, by George Bowers (1982)

I'm not sure we properly appreciate how awesome it is to have such easy access to such a wealth of information and entertainment these days via the internet. I ran across this song on YouTube several years ago and as I was searching for a link to the song this afternoon I discovered that it's now available on YouTube in a longer video format. What's more, it's remarkably easy to import the video into this blog:

It's a cute little story about a scrawny evergreen whose dream of becoming a Christmas tree appears destined to fail. It's overlooked year after year as all the fuller and more attractive nearby trees are selected until one year when he's told he's grown too big to fit in anyone's house and will instead be cut up into firewood. Fortunately, the many birds and animals the tree had sheltered over the years spring into action and a very happy ending is arranged.

You can hear the shorter version of the story that I've included in this year's mix HERE.

Track 13
Linus and Lucy (from "A Charlie Brown Christmas"), by Los Straitjackets (2015)

When I was growing up, watching A Charlie Brown Christmas was one of our family's most anticipated activities during the lead-up to Christmas — right up there with decorating the tree. I'm pretty sure our family wasn't alone in that respect, In fact, this delightful show has become a true holiday institution. No doubt a big part of the show's success is the sublime soundtrack written by Vince Guaraldi,and performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, including the memorable song "Linus and Lucy":

This year's mix includes an interesting version of the song by Los Straitjackets, an American instrumental rock band founded in Nashville in the late 1980s. While this version of the song isn't necessarily immediately recognizable as a Christmas song, but fans of the Peanuts holiday classic will figure it out soon enough.

Be a Santa, Part 4

Here's some background on another set of tracks from my latest holiday mix, Be a Santa, which was created to celebrate the 2021 holiday season.

Track 12
Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas, Eels (2008)

If this song seems slightly familiar, you may recognize it from my 2006 mix, Stop Singing Those Dreadful Songs. I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've deliberately included a track I'd previously used in an earlier mix, and I did it for two reasons. First, this is a different and harder-edged version of this Eels holiday song, and I like this version a lot. Second, although the song's been around for years, it seems particularly topical and relevant this season. As near as I can tell, this version was produced a after the version I used in 2006 — possibly for the Useless Trinkets compilation released a couple of years later. But doesn't this sound about right for 2021:

Remember last year when you were on your own
You swore the spirit couldn't be found
December rolled around and you were counting on it 
To roll out

Well everything's gonna be cool this Christmas
Everything's gonna be cool this Christmas
Everything's gonna be cool this Christmas

Well everybody's lookin' for you down at the house
The tree is looking so inspired
There's a yuletide groove waitin' for you to move
I'll go and throw another log on the fire 

Eels is a Los Angeles-based rock band formed in 1991 by singer/songwriter Mark Oliver Everett, who also goes by the stage name E. Everett's been rather prolific during the past 20 years, both as the leader of Eel and as a solo artist. Summarizing their stuff in any sort of meaningful way would require more experience with their music than I can claim, but I'm hoping you'll like this neat holiday release as much as I do.

Hear the Earlier Version of "Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas"

Hear the version that appears on Be a Santa 

Track 11
Frosty's Beach Party, The Barbary Coasters (2008)

The Barbary Coasters

One of the interesting facts you learn as a holiday music enthusiast is that the holiday music vaults are comprised of a surprisingly wide variety of styles and subgenres. For example, there's a significant number of beach and surfing-related holiday tunes and groups. I've featured at least a couple such tunes in earlier collections, including "Santa Claus Is Surfing to Town," by Soupy Sales, and "Christmas on the Beach," by Irene, from my 2009 mix, "I Just Can't Wait 'til Christmas," and there's another one this year. "Frosty's Beach Party" is by a group called The Barbary Coasters that was formed in San Francisco in the mid-1980s. Their music has a mid-'60s vibe and includes a number of surf-rock songs and tropical tunes. They also have a sizeable number of holiday tunes in their repertoire, including an entire album of seasonal numbers called "Hark," which is available on Amazon Music, below.

Track 10
¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?, Augie Rios (1958)

I'm guessing that nearly every song on this year's mix will be new to you. Sure, you've heard some of the songs before, but almost certainly not in the versions offered here. This song is the most likely exception, as it's more widely known both in this version and in several other popular versions, as noted below.  Written by George Scheck, Rod Parker, and Al Greiner, the song was first recorded by 12-year old Augie Rios and the Mark Jeffrey Orchestra in 1958 on the MGM Records' Metro label. Rios' parents were both born and raised in Puerto Rico but moved to New York shortly before Augie was born. He started acting at a young age and reportedly played on Broadway before recording this hit, which he subsequently performed on American Bandstand, the Patti Page Oldsmobile Show and numerous other variety programs. He later appeared on TV in the shows East Side/West Side and Naked City, each time playing a gang member.

In 1978, the song was covered by Charo, Spanish-born actress, television personality and former wife of bandleader Xavier Cugat. It was subsequently recorded in Spanish by Mexican TV host Chabelo and by El Vez and the rock group Guster.


Monday, December 13, 2021

Be a Santa, Part 3

Continuing our review of my latest holiday mix Be a Santa, here's some quick background on three additional tracks:

Track 9
Bring Me a Beatle for Christmas, Cindy Rella (1964)

Track 8
Christmas with The Beatles, Judy and the Duets (1964)

Tracks 8 and 9 are but two further examples of the breadth and depth of the effects of Beatlemania on American culture in 1964. While many no doubt recall the various holiday tracks the Beatles themselves recorded and circulated via their official fan club throughout the 1960s, what's less well remembered are the many holiday-themed novelty records that others produced about the supergroup. I've included several of these oddities in previous mixes and links to a couple of these earlier offerings appear below. Lucky for you, I've got two more crazed fan tributes on Be a Santa.

The first is by the cleverly named Cindy Rella (sorry, it wasn't my idea). From what little information there is about Ms. Rella, it seems she previously scored with several very minor hits including "I Want Him to Come Back Home" and "To Tommy with Love." For good or ill, this Beatles tribute appears to have ended her career. 

This may just be me, but I had some trouble understanding some of the lyrics. Ms. Rella sings with a heavy accent, though it's hard to discern exactly where she's from. The lines I did understand were pretty much about exactly what you'd expect:

Bring me a Beatle for Christmas
Bring me a Beatle to love
Which one I don't care
Just as long as he's there

Paul is oh so handsome
When he smiles my heart skips a beat
The smart one is John
But he married a blonde

Ringo, George, John or Paul
Golly I like them all
If you don't bring me one
Christmas won't be any fun

"Christmas with The Beatles" is pretty much more of the same, although Judy and the Duets do not appear to have recorded any tunes other than this one and its flip side, "The Blind Boy."

I got a big charge out of watching the recent Beatles documentary Get Back, which, if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend. The talent and drive of these four guys is amazing and it's wonderful to see signs that their legacy will endure long after most of us are gone.

Track 7
Holiday Greetings from President Joe and Dr. Jill Biden (2020)

I'm going to avoid the temptation of a long political message in describing the seventh track on this year's mix other than to report it is an excerpt from remarks that were recorded last December before President Biden took office. The couple's complete statement appears below. Let me also just add that while I don't agree with everything the current administration has done and there are certain issues I'd like to receive additional attention, it's good to see a sincere a decent leader in the White House again as opposed to someone whose own self-interest and naked greed is the only standard for decision-making. Ho! Ho! Ho! and Merry Christmas to all!