‘We could sure use a dude like that’

So, anyhow, Santa Claus. Right, yeah. Before Christmas Day gets away from us, sit down, kids, and let Cheech and Chong tell the story.

The premise, in the unlikely event you’ve not heard this: One stoner tries to explain Santa Claus to another stoner. Santa used to live in the projects, then started a commune, then got busted at the border, but is not a musician. Sorry. You really had to be there. Being under the influence helps.

A gem of truth tucked inside this bit: “We could sure use a dude like that right now.”

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“Santa Claus and his Old Lady,” Cheech & Chong, Ode 7-inch single 66021, released December 1971. (The flip side to the single was “Dave,” another stoner classic.)


This bit never appeared on any of their albums. It’s available on CD on “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Cheech and Chong,” a 2-CD best-of compilation released in 2002.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2013, Sounds

‘And that goes for Satchmo, too’

On this Christmas Eve, a post that has become a tradition.

On a winter day more than 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 $10 or less. I found it last year when my friend Jim threw open his garage door and sold some of his records.

(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 “Little Satchmo Armstrong talkin’ to all the kids,” reading Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem in a warm, gravelly voice.

“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.

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2013, Sounds

I still want my MTV Christmas

Believe it or not, there was a time when artists made Christmas videos and MTV played them at Christmas time, just as radio would play their Christmas singles at Christmas time. ‘

“Christmas In Hollis” by Run-D.M.C. has become a Christmas tradition. You know that one.

So here are three that are less seen today, yet still among my favorites.

* * * * *

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“Rock & Roll Christmas,” George Thorogood and the Destroyers, 1983, from “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,” 1995.


As you can see, it once was used to rock the house at MTV. Damn! Mark Goodman gets a nice long smooch from a cutie under the mistletoe at 1:55!

And, yes, that appears to be John Lee Hooker as Santa Claus. I once was skeptical, but my friend Larry pointed me to photos of Thorogood and Hooker taken by Bob Leafe at an MTV taping in 1984.

When I went looking for this video last year, it had been wiped from YouTube. Delighted to have it back.

* * * * *

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


Squier was one of the biggest stars on MTV at the time, so a Christmas single seemed logical. And who could forget these lyrics: “From grownup to minor/No one could be finer” and “From rooftop to chimney/From Harlem to Bimini.” I know of no other Christmas song with “Bimini” in the lyrics.

Squier lip-syncs it with the MTV VJs and crew on the video. It’s a guilty pleasure, perhaps even corny, but it’s a good memory from that time. Of course, it revives the age-old debate: Nina Blackwood or Martha Quinn?

* * * * *

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“Do They Know It’s Christmas (single edit),” Band Aid, from the 12-inch single, 1984. It’s out of print but is available on “Now That’s What I Call Christmas,” a 2001 CD compilation, and digitally.


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.

As you watch the video to see what all the fuss was about, see how many of those performers you can name.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2013, Sounds

Another Christmas with old friends

It was late 1969, when I was 12, that I really started listening to music. That year, I got a Panasonic AM-FM radio for Christmas. This model, though this is not my radio. I still have mine. It still works, even though the antenna long ago was bent, then broken off.

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I put it atop the filing cabinet where I kept my baseball, football and basketball cards and tuned it to 920 AM — WOKY, the Mighty 92 out of Milwaukee. WOKY was one of the big Top 40 stations of the day.

When it came to this time of year in 1970, I heard a song that blew me away. This song.

“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” the Jackson 5, 1970, from “A Motown Christmas,” 1973.


I had no idea there was that kind of Christmas music — pop, rock, R&B and soul versions of Christmas songs, all played only at a certain time of year. I once was passionate about that kind of Christmas music. Now, not so much.

Today’s tunes are the ones I dug first. I still dig them. It wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

“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!”


“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 in 2010.

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


Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2013, Sounds

Freed, Nelson Mandela

Originally published in slightly different form on July 1, 2013, on our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker.

Among my great memories of the mid-’80s are the politically-tinged protest songs so often heard on WORT-FM, then and now the intensely local, intensely progressive radio station in Madison, Wisconsin.

There was “If I Had A Rocket Launcher,” Bruce Cockburn’s lament for the plight of Guatemalan refugees in Mexico.

There was “World Destruction,” a fierce, desperate, bleak view of the future from John Lydon and Afrika Bambaataa working together as Time Zone.

There was “Five Minutes,” the  hip-hop tune that used snippets of Ronald Reagan’s radio gaffe to satirize Reagan’s policies, with Jerry Harrison and Bootsy Collins and pals billing themselves as Bonzo Goes To Washington.

Those songs shared a sense of anger, and rightly so, given the world in 1984.

There was one more that year, another call for action. It was no less urgent.

But unlike the others, “Free Nelson Mandela” by the Special A.K.A. was a joyful noise, a ska song written in England by Jerry Dammers, its rhythms partly inspired by South African music.

Unlike the others, it expressed hope.

Hope that the anti-apartheid activist would be freed from prison after what was then “21 years in captivity.” Hope that came to pass in the decade that followed the release of “Free Nelson Mandela” in 1984. Apartheid was ended. The song became an anthem. Mandela was elected South Africa’s president, served for five years, then remained active in the cause until retiring.

Nelson Mandela has been much in the news, much in our thoughts since summer, gravely ill. Today, he died. He was 95.

But he long ago passed into legend, one of the giants of our time.

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“Free Nelson Mandela (instrumental)” and “Free Nelson Mandela (LP version),”  the Special A.K.A., from “Free Nelson Mandela: The Special Remix,” 1984. It’s out of print. This is Side 2 of the 12-inch American release on Chrysalis. It runs 8:20.


I’ve had it since 1984. Tonight, it emerges again from that not-so-long-ago time.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under December 2013, Sounds

‘Happiness, through the years, to you’

Six years ago, readers who made their way to this corner of the blogosphere found “Three Under The Tree,” a series of Christmas music posts. 

Every December that followed, readers who made their way here found Christmas music, some of it the same year after year.

Last year, though, I wrote that my passion for Christmas music had waned, so things were downsized to “A Smaller Christmas.”

I’ve bought just two Christmas records in the last year, and both because they were on colored vinyl. I’ve been loath to listen to them, but I finally gave one a spin last night. Turns out it’s kind of charming, an unexpected joy.

There will be some other cuts as Christmas draws near, but let’s start with holiday greetings from Lou Reed from 25 years ago.

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“Holiday I.D.,” Lou Reed, from “Winter Warnerland,” 1988. It’s out of print, and apparently a collectible. I found it for a dollar.


Please visit our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2013, Sounds

With a little help from his friends

Let’s say a new record came out today. All four Beatles are on that record. That would be a big deal, wouldn’t it?

Let’s say some of their pals are on that new record. You might have heard of them. Klaus Voormann and Billy Preston and Harry Nilsson and Marc Bolin and Nicky Hopkins. The Band, too. That would be quite a big deal, wouldn’t it?

But when that new record came out 40 years ago this month, some lamented it for what it was not, rather than celebrating for what it was.

What it was not, was a new Beatles record. As 1973 came to a close, fans clung to the hope that such a thing might still be possible.

What it was, was this.

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“Ringo,” the third solo LP by Beatles drummer Ringo Starr with a little help from his friends, holds up quite nicely all these years later.

It rose to No. 2 on the Billboard album chart, driven by three hit singles: “Photograph,” which Ringo wrote with George Harrison; “Oh My My,” a Ringo original; and “You’re Sixteen,” Ringo’s cover of the old Johnny Burnette song.

Yet the deep cuts had something for everyone seeking that next Beatles record.

“I’m The Greatest,” a whimsical look at fame written by John Lennon. It’s basically a Beatles track with all parties except Paul McCartney.


“Six O’Clock.” There’s Paul (and Linda), with a regret-filled love song written by them. It channels the Beatles and points the way toward Wings.


“Sunshine Life For Me (Sail Away Raymond),” written by George. It’s basically Ringo and George fronting The Band with David Bromberg. It sounds like an Irish folk song. Listen closer, consider The Band’s involvement, and you hear another nod to a Beatle’s American influences.


Back then, I had “You’re Sixteen” on a 45. I loved it. I was 16. Some symmetry there. When you flipped it over, you heard this on the B side.

“Devil Woman,” Ringo Starr, from “Ringo,” 1973. Also available digitally, of course.


On which Ringo, working without the rest of the Beatles, rocks out on a song he wrote with Vini Poncia. Which, as 1973 turned into 1974, was not necessarily what everyone wanted to hear. But I dug it then, and I dig it now.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under November 2013, Sounds