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!

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