Monthly Archives: December 2010

Gone in threes (again)

They say celebrities and prominent people go in threes. Here’s proof.

Gone in 2010 …

“Airplane!” stars: Peter Graves (“You ever seen a grown man naked?”), Barbara Billingsley (“Oh, stewardess. I speak jive.”), Leslie Nielsen (“I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”).

Badasses: Dennis Hopper (actor and artist), Daniel Schorr (journalist), Howard Zinn (historian).

Baseball voices: Ernie Harwell (Tigers), Lorn Brown (Brewers), Ron Santo (Cubs).

Basketball was better then: Maurice Lucas (Marquette, ABA and NBA), Hank Raymonds (Marquette), Manute Bol (NBA).

Comic geniuses: Alex Anderson (“Rocky and Bullwinkle”), Harvey Pekar (“American Splendor”), Blake Edwards (“S.O.B.”).

Heard but not seen: Fred Foy (“The Lone Ranger”), John Forsythe (“Charlie’s Angels”), Jan C. Gabriel (“Sunday, Sunday, SunDAYYYYYYY!”).

Mystery men: J.D. Salinger (author), Dwight Armstrong (’70s antiwar bomber from Wisconsin), Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart).

Rough-hewn charm: Don Meredith (NFL), James Gammon (“Major League”), Leonard Skinner (future Southern rock stars’ gym teacher).

World War II’s iconic women: Geraldine Hoff Doyle (inspired the “We Can Do It” poster, 1942), Lena Horne (“Stormy Weather,” 1943), Edith Shain (the nurse kissed in the famous V-J Day photo from Times Square, 1945).

They rocked: Ronnie James Dio (Rainbow), Doug Fieger (the Knack), Alex Chilton (the Box Tops, Big Star).

They had soul: Solomon Burke (the King of Rock and Soul), Robert “Squirrel” Lester (the Chi-Lites), Al Goodman (the Moments).

They were country: Dale Hawkins (“Suzie Q”), Carl Smith (Mr. Country), Fred Carter Jr. (session guitarist).

They played the music: Robert Wilson (Gap Band bassist), Marvin Isley (Isley Brothers bassist), Mike Edwards (Electric Light Orchestra cellist).

They shaped the music: Willie Mitchell (Hi), Harvey Fuqua (Chess, Motown), General Norman Johnson (Invictus).

They sold the music: Bill Aucoin (KISS manager), Malcolm McLaren (Sex Pistols manager), George Richey (Tammy Wynette’s husband and manager).

They wrote the music: George David Weiss (“Can’t Help Falling In Love”), Bobby Charles (“Time Will Tell”), Hank Cochran (“I Fall To Pieces”).

You never heard of them, but they matter: Albertina Walker (Chicago gospel singer), William Foster (Florida A&M Marching 100 director), Claude Dorsey (Milwaukee jazz pianist).

The end of an era: Amazing Records (Green Bay, Wisconsin), Smart Studios (Madison, Wisconsin), Nancy Faust (still with us but retired as White Sox organist).

“The Letter,” Al Green, from “Green Is Blues,” 1969.

Produced by Willie Mitchell, who we lost this year. A cover of a song done by the Box Tops and Alex Chilton, who we lost this year. Record dug up at Amazing Records in Green Bay, which we lost this year.

In which the Rev. Al Green reminds us that we go forward with hope.

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And so another year ends

This summer marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Frank Loesser, the great songwriter who came up with that holiday favorite, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and the best New Year’s Eve song ever.

I know that because I somehow managed to see “Heart & Soul,” a documentary about Loesser, twice this year on Turner Classic Movies.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has a great story behind it. Loesser wrote it in 1944 for their housewarming party, singing it with his first wife, Lynn Garland. They often performed it for friends at parties. Four years later, he sold the song to MGM. His wife didn’t approve. She’d always thought it was theirs alone, something special.

Well, it was special. MGM used it in the 1949 film “Neptune’s Daughter,” and it became a big hit, released by at least seven duos that year. Often covered since then, it’s a bit of an acquired taste. If breathy, baby-doll vocals are your thing, then you probably like it.

But the most special of Loesser’s tunes — at least at this time of year — is “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.”

Written in 1947, it’s been described as “the only notable jazz standard with a New Year’s Eve theme.” This sophisticated tune tempers an unrequited love with some hope. It’s great no matter who does it. Listen for yourself.

It’s the ’60s. You are in a nightclub, one hard by the tracks. You hear this …

soulxmascd

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” King Curtis, from “Soul Christmas,” 1968. (Recorded on Oct. 23, 1968, at Atlantic Studios in New York. That’s Duane Allman on guitar.)

Then you head to a nightclub uptown. You hear this …

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” the Ramsey Lewis Trio,” from “Sound of Christmas,” 1961.

… and this …

steveeydieholidayfeelinglp

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” Eydie Gorme, from “That Holiday Feeling!” Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, 1964. (Sorry, Steve sits this one out.)

… and this.

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” Lou Rawls, from “Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho,” 1967. It’s out of print.

Years later, a husband-and-wife duo revives that style.

setzerdigcrazyxmascd

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” Brian Setzer and Julie Reiten, from “Dig That Crazy Christmas,” the Brian Setzer Orchestra, 2004.

This is for Jeff O. Better late than never, my man.

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Embrace the moment

On a winter day almost 40 years ago, Louis Armstrong went to work in the den at his home at 34-56 107th Street in Corona, Queens, New York.

That day — Friday, Feb. 26, 1971 — he recorded this:

“The Night Before Christmas (A Poem),” Louis Armstrong, 1971,  from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985. It’s out of print, but you can find the original 7-inch single (Continental CR 1001) on eBay for around $10.

(This is the sleeve for that 45. You could have bought it for 25 cents if you also bought a carton of Kent, True, Newport or Old Gold cigarettes.)

There’s no music. Just Satchmo’s warm, gravelly voice and Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem.

“But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night. A very good night.’

“And that goes for Satchmo, too. (Laughs softly.) Thank you.”

It was the last thing he ever recorded. Satchmo died the following July.

You just never know.

Embrace the moment, especially at Christmas.

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12 days of Christmas, Day 12

We were talking the other night about Christmas presents for our son, who’s 15, a sophomore in high school. At issue was whether we have that one big gift, the one with the wow factor.

I was thinking back to when I was 15, what that one big gift was. It was Christmas 1972. That one big gift was this:

That is a suede leather Converse All-Star basketball shoe, gold with black trim. I, too, was a sophomore the year I got a pair. It was a big deal. I’m not sure my parents fully understood the attraction, but they popped for the $15 — almost $75 in today’s dollars — to get them. I wore them until they wore out, then kept them around for years as something close to sandals.

There are other good memories of that one big gift. The Tickle Bee game, G.I. Joe, the Packers helmet and jersey, and, of course, that Panasonic AM-FM radio.

Now we have one big gift for you. More of our favorite Christmas tunes, the ones without which it wouldn’t be Christmas.

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir, released as a single, 1971. A remastered version is available on  “Gimme Some Truth,” a 4-CD compilation released earlier this year.

“And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?

“Snoopy’s Christmas,” the Royal Guardsmen, from “Snoopy and His Friends,” 1967. (The link is to a double CD also featuring “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” their debut album from 1966.)

“Merry Christmas, mein friend!

“Winter Wonderland,” Steve Goodman, from “Artistic Hair,” 1983. I bought this record at his show in Madison, Wisconsin, in April of that year. He signed it “Joe — Hello.”

“It’s kind of absurd/when you don’t know the words/to sing/
walkin’ in a winter wonderland!”

“All I Want for Christmas,” Timbuk3, 1987, from “A Different Kind of Christmas,” 1994. It’s out of print. Pat MacDonald grew up here in Green Bay and has returned. These days, he performs as pat mAcdonald — he insists on that spelling. His gig notices also say “Timbuk3 (no space!) is to be mentioned in a biographical context only.” So there!

“All I want for Christmas is world peace.”

“Merry Christmas Baby (alternate edit),” Elvis Presley, 1971, from “Reconsider Baby,” 1985. It’s out of print, and pricey if you can find it. It’s my favorite Elvis record, full of his blues tunes. That it’s on blue vinyl is just icing on the cake.

“Wake up, Putt!”

“Twelve Days of Christmas,” Bob and Doug McKenzie, from “Great White North,” 1981.

“OK, so g’day, this is the Christmas part.”

“Santa Claus and his Old Lady,” Cheech and Chong, from Ode single 66021, released December 1971. Also available on “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Cheech and Chong,” a 2-CD best-of compilation released in 2002.

“We could sure use a dude like that right now.”

No great lines, just great tunes

“White Christmas,” the Edwin Hawkins Singers, from “Peace Is ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’.” 1972. It’s out of print with that title, but is available as “Edwin Hawkins Singers Christmas,” with essentially the same cover. This has a great solo by Tramaine Davis.

“Christmas Medley,” the Salsoul Orchestra, from “Christmas Jollies,” 1976. This is 12 minutes of soul, salsa and dance bliss. An instant party starter.

“Halleujah! It’s Christmas,” .38 Special, from “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night,” 2001. Re-released in 2008 as “The Best of .38 Special: The Christmas Collection,” one of those 20th Century Masters reissues. This joyous, upbeat tune — written by guitarists Don Barnes and Danny Chauncey and lead singer Donnie Van Zant — ought to be a classic.

“Feliz Navidad,” Robert Greenidge, from “It’s Christmas, Mon!”, 1995. It’s out of print. Though Greenidge gets no cover billing on this CD, he’s playing the steel pan. He’s been with Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band since 1983. Earlier this year, Greenidge and his bandmates released “A Coral Reefer Christmas” on Buffett’s Mailboat Records label. This tune is not on that record.

“Christmas in the City of the Angels,” Johnny Mathis, from Columbia 1-11158, a 7-inch single, 1979. Though Mathis has recorded several Christmas albums, this cut never made it onto one. People ask for it every year. (This cut has gone from radio to tape to CD, and then ripped, so that may explain the sound quality if you find it lacking.)

Bonus gifts!

Some of our friends have sent along some tunes they thought you’d like.

“Must Have Been A Mighty Day,” Emily Hurd, from “Tins and Pins and Peppermints,” 2010. She’s a singer-songwriter from Chicago by way of Rockford, Ill., where we have a mutual friend. It’s been interesting to listen to her style evolve, moving from loose and gritty to far more poised and polished. This tune has a bit of both styles. She previewed this record for fans last year, then released it this year.

“Cashing In On Christmastime,” Charles Ramsey, 2010. He’s a singer-songwriter from Philadelphia who has some other nice, non-holiday stuff on his MySpace page. This genial, laid-back cut reminds me of Bob Dylan or Tom Petty with the Traveling Wilburys.

“Christmas Medley,” the Midwesterners, 2009. A pleasant little instrumental featuring Richard Wiegel, the guitarist in this band out of Madison, Wisconsin. He was one of the guitarists in Clicker, the much-loved ’70s Wisconsin rock/pop/glam/show band we write about from time to time.

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12 days of Christmas, Day 11

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was on the other night. Mariah Carey and her mom had their Christmas special, too. “Scrooged” has been on. “Miracle on 34th Street” — the good one, from 1947 — is coming up.

They even screened “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” in Santa Monica, California, today. (Did you know that when it aired on NBC in 1962, it was the first animated Christmas special?) That was one of my favorites. Kinda scary in places, but still one of my favorites.

I wonder whether they’re showing some of my favorites from another time.

Gather around the hearth, kids, and hear how MTV once aired Christmas videos. It was the early ’80s, and MTV seemed so cutting-edge at the time. Those old videos seem so quaint and innocent now. Our 15-year-old son would take one look at them, roll his eyes and say, “That’s so corny!”

Absolutely. And it wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

Take 1:

“Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You,” Billy Squier, 1981, from “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,” 1995.

Squier lip-syncs it with the MTV VJs and crew on the video. A good memory from that time. It revives the age-old debate: Nina Blackwood or Martha Quinn?

Take 2:

“Rock & Roll Christmas,” George Thorogood and the Destroyers, 1983, from “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,” 1985.

This once rocked the house at MTV. Mark Goodman gets a nice long smooch from a cutie under the mistletoe at 1:55!

(Is that really John Lee Hooker as Santa Claus? My friend Larry says: “I think that may in fact be Hooker as Santa” and points to the photos of Thorogood and Hooker taken by Bob Leafe at an MTV taping in 1984. “I’d love to know for sure,” Larry says. So would I. Ah, those little mysteries.)

Take 3:

“Run Rudolph Run,” Dave Edmunds, 1982, from “A Different Kind of Christmas,” 1994. The CD is out of print but the song is available digitally.

This is from the MTV New Year’s Eve Rock ‘n’ Roll Ball, so Happy New Year 1987, everyone in the Central time zone!

And some others seen on MTV …

Take 4:

“2000 Miles,” the Pretenders, from “Learning to Crawl,” 1983.

Talk about playing a guitar like ringing a bell, quietly, gracefully. A modern Christmas classic about a loved one gone at Christmas. That it came from an album with so many other great, straight-up rock songs — this was the flip side to “Middle of the Road” — makes it all the more remarkable.

Take 5:

“Do They Know It’s Christmas (single edit),” Band Aid, 1985, from the 12-inch single. It’s out of print but is available on “Now That’s What I Call Christmas!” 2001.

Before “We Are The World,” there was this. In 1984, everyone who was anyone on the UK music scene came together as Band Aid to sing “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” Bob Geldof wrote the words. Midge Ure wrote the music. The song, which benefited hunger relief in Ethiopia, was huge — a solid No. 1 in Britain and close to it in the States.

So, how many of those performers you can name?

Take 6:

“Christmas In Hollis,” Run-D.M.C., from “A Very Special Christmas,” 1987.

This one, as always, is for Doug.

Bonus video!

Grace Jones sings “The Little Drummer Boy” on Pee-Wee Herman’s 1988 Christmas special!

 

And now, a word from our sponsor.

It may just be a Midwestern thing, but this used to be a familiar sight at this time of year. It debuted in 1977; this clip is dated 1981.

A friend who once worked at Miller Brewing in Milwaukee told us people so loved this commercial that they’d start calling the brewery in November to try to find out when it was going to air.

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12 days of Christmas, Day 10

When we started these 12 days of Christmas, I noted that in writing the Three Under the Tree series for the last three years, I picked up a bunch of old Christmas vinyl and CDs, more for you than for me.

In so doing, there were a bunch of records that had more misses than hits. Most of them were used, so there wasn’t a lot of money wasted.

This year, I bought only one Christmas CD, one I’d been seeking for a while. I bought it new, and it turned out to be another one with more misses than hits. So it goes.

Rarely do I come across a Christmas record that doesn’t have something worth hearing. I can think of a couple, but there’s no need to name names.

We’re here to put some nice things in your Christmas stocking, so hope you will enjoy these tunes from records that had some nice moments.

“Christmas Time,” the Mighty Blue Kings, from “The Christmas Album,” 2000. This Chicago group covers a tune by West Coast bluesman Jimmy McCracklin.

“Christmas Is A Special Day,” Fats Domino, from “Christmas Gumbo,” 1993. It’s out of print as such, but is available as “Christmas Is A Special Day,” a 2006 CD re-release with a different cover. Fats wrote this charming little hymn and does it in — what else? — a laid-back New Orleans style.

“We Four Kings (Little Drummer Boy),” the Blue Hawaiians, from “Christmas On Big Island,” 1995. Let a little surf wash into your Christmas.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Shawn Colvin, from “A Different Kind of Christmas,” 1994. It’s out of print. A lovely, low-key version.

“Merry Christmas Darling,” Deana Carter, from “Father Christmas,” 2001. What makes this cover of the Carpenters song so remarkable is its acoustic arrangement with Carter’s father, veteran Nashville session man Fred Carter, on guitar. Deana Carter sings this in a higher register than did Karen Carpenter — and that may not be for everyone — but she nicely complements her dad. Fred Carter died earlier this year.

“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” the Whispers, from “Happy Holidays To You,” 1979. (The buy link is to a 2001 import CD.) Off the same album that delivered “Funky Christmas,” this is a smooth, jazzy arrangement clearly from the late ’70s.

“Joy To The World,” Aretha Franklin, 1994, from “Joy To The World,” 2006. This is an odd little compilation of Christmas songs, gospel songs and show tunes recorded over 30-plus years. This cut features Aretha backed by the Fame Freedom Choir, from the soundtrack to the 1994 remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.” That is about the only nice thing we have to say about any remake of the 1947 classic, long one of our favorite films.

“What Christmas Means To Me,” Darlene Love, from “It’s Christmas, Of Course,” 2007. A cover of the Motown song done first by Stevie Wonder.

“Christmas Is,” Lou Rawls, from “Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho,” 1967. It’s out of print. This tune starts out with a swinging big-band arrangement, then has Lou channeling Santa Claus midway through before wrapping up with some smooth nightclub cheer. This Percy Faith tune never sounded so good.

“Merry Christmas Baby,” Melissa Etheridge, from “A New Thought For Christmas,” 2008. Etheridge lets it rip on this Charles Brown blues tune.

“Christmas Celebration,” Roomful of Blues, from “Roomful of Christmas,” 1997. The B.B. King version may be more familiar, but this take by the veteran East Coast group is pretty good.

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time,” Pete Jolly, from “Something Festive!” 1968. Long out of print. This is a Christmas sampler from A&M Records. It was sold at B.F. Goodrich tire dealers in 1968. This cut is a cool, stylish, upbeat rendition by the California jazz pianist. (You’ll also find it on “Cool Yule: The Swinging Sound of Christmas,” a UK compilation released in 2004.)

“Blue Christmas,” Ann and Nancy Wilson, from “A Very Special Christmas 2,” 1992. Not a big fan of this tune, which everyone associates with Elvis, but this is a pretty good version. Melissa Etheridge also does it justice.

“What Child Is This,” Reverend Horton Heat, from “We Three Kings,” 2005. An upbeat yet moody take — it feels a little like Morricone — on a song usually done with much reverence.

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12 days of Christmas, Day 9

In the e-mail today is a note about NPR Music’s Jingle Jams holiday mix.

They asked 10 stations to suggest 10 Christmas songs each, then put it all together into one playlist. You can stream it here.

Here are 12 of the songs, in the order they appear on the Jingle Jams playlist. The station or program suggesting the song is in parentheses.

“Let It Snow,” Leon Redbone, from “Christmas Island,” 1989. (Folk Alley)

“‘Zat You, Santa Claus” Louis Armstrong, 1953, from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985. It’s out of print. (NPR suggests finding it on “Hipster’s Holiday,” a 1989 CD compilation.) (WBGO, Newark, New Jersey; WDUQ, Pittsburgh)

“Last Month Of The Year” the Blind Boys of Alabama, from “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” 2003. (WXPN, Philadelphia)

“Santa Claus, Santa Claus,” James Brown, from “Santa’s Got A Brand New Bag,” 1966. The LP is out of print but all the songs are on “The Complete James Brown Christmas,” a 2-CD set released earlier this year. (KUT, Austin, Texas)

“Back Door Santa,” Clarence Carter, from “Soul Christmas,” 1968. (KUT)

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” Darlene Love, from “A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector,” 1963. (WXPN)

“Christmas Wrapping,” the Waitresses, 1981, from “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,” 1994. It’s out of print. (NPR suggests finding it on the “Christmas Wrapping” EP. That also appears to be out of print, but the song is available digitally.) (KUT)

“Greensleeves,” the Vince Guaraldi Trio, from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” 1965. The buy link is to a 2006 remastered CD release with extra tracks, including an alternate take on this one. (WDUQ)

“Jingle Bells,” Jimmy Smith, from “Christmas ’64,” 1964. Smith’s “Christmas Cookin’,” from the same year, is the same record but with a much cooler cover.  (WBGO)

“Must Be Santa,” Brave Combo, from “It’s Christmas, Man!” 1992. Hard to find, but available from the band or digitally. NPR’s version is from a live performance at KUT. This version is done as a polka.

“Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney,” Ella Fitzgerald, 1950, from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985. It’s out of print. (NPR suggests finding it on “Yule Be Miserable,” a 2006 CD compilation) (WDUQ)

“The 12 Days of Christmas,” Harry Belafonte, from “To Wish You A Merry Christmas,” 1962. (NPR Music staff)

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2010