Tag Archives: 1997

A smaller Christmas, Day 14

After today’s news out of Newtown, Connecticut, what can you say?

No words today. No visuals, either.

Just this.

“Amazing Grace,” Jeff Beck, 1997.

This comes from a record partially titled “A Guitar Christmas.” It’s out of print, but is available digitally.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2012, Sounds

The missing Christmas hits

Fascinating to read in the Milwaukee paper the other day that no Christmas song has been a hit since Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” in 1994.

My pal JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ also took note of that story, which prompted him to ponder the state of Christmas radio then and now.

All that said, there certainly are some Christmas songs that should have hit the charts in the last 17 years. Here are some of them.

“Who Needs Mistletoe,” Julie Roberts, from “Who Needs Mistletoe,” 2011. A country song every bit as filthy as Clarence Carter’s great “Back Door Santa.”

“Oi To The World,” Severe, from the wonderful Punk Rock Advent Calendar, 2009. Well, it’s reverent as far as UK punks go.

“We Three Kings,” Blondie, a 2009 holiday release. Always fun to find Debbie Harry under the tree. Always fun to hear Blondie’s classic sound.

“Merry Christmas Baby,” Melissa Etheridge, from “A New Thought For Christmas,” 2008. Blistering vocals and blistering blues guitar. Move over, fellas.

“Silent Night,” the Blackhearts and special guests, from “A Blackheart Christmas,” 2008. Some sound bites from that year’s presidential race make it a bit of a time capsule. It once had a bit of a valedictory feel. Now it has the feel of opportunities lost.

“Silent Night,” Bootsy Collins, from “Christmas Is 4 Ever,” 2006. A sweet mashup of reverent narration, funk, R&B and gospel.

“Winter (Basse Dance),” Blackmore’s Night, from “Winter Carols,” 2006. It’s out of print but is available digitally. If you can get past that Ritchie Blackmore is no longer rocking out as he did in Deep Purple and Rainbow and not cede all the elegant guitar work to Trans-Siberian Orchestra, you might dig this instrumental.

“Wonderful Dream (Holidays Are Coming),” Melanie Thornton, from “Memories,” 2003. It’s an import that has gone out of print. This tune was used in a Coca-Cola ad after the R&B singer’s death 10 years ago, but its back story transcends marketing.

“It’s Christmas And I Miss You,” .38 Special, from “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night,” 2001. It’s out of print but is available digitally. A gentle ballad reflecting the loneliness the season can bring. It’s co-written by guitarist Don Barnes and our friend Jim Peterik.

“Little Drummer Boy,” the Dandy Warhols, from “Fruitcake,” 1997, a Capitol Records promo EP. It’s out of print. In which the Little Drummer Boy takes a psychedelic trip.

“Santa Claus Is Comin’ (In A Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train),” the Tractors, from “Have Yourself A Tractors Christmas,” 1995. It’s out of print but is available digitally. This fine bit of country swing actually was a modest hit on country radio in in 1995 and again in 1998. After all, it’s just their 1994 hit “Baby Likes To Rock It” retooled with new lyrics for Christmas.

“Soul Christmas,” Graham Parker and Nona Hendryx, from “Christmas Cracker,” 1994. If there were any justice, this scorcher would have been the hit from 17 years ago.

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Filed under December 2011, Sounds

Thundersnow and lightning licks

Earlier today, we had the second outbreak of thundersnow in our corner of Wisconsin this year. Thundersnow is exactly what it sounds like — thunder and lightning during a snowstorm.

It was just another surreal aspect of what was kind of a weird day.

I wonder what Bill Kirchen thought about it all.

“The Titan of the Telecaster” was in town, wrapping up a three-night stand in our local casino lounge, sharing a bunch of fine, good-humored country, rock and rockabilly tunes and showing off some mad guitar skills.

But I think Bill Kirchen can handle weird. After all, he went to high school with Iggy Pop. And he was part of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen from the late ’60s to the mid-’70s.

Kirchen played a bunch of his own fine material before ever getting to any Commander Cody stuff. There were some nice tunes off his most recent CD — “Word To The Wise,” on Proper American Records — but he had none to sell us. The shipment hadn’t arrived.

(On that CD, you’ll hear Kirchen with Elvis Costello on the hard-edged “Man In the Bottom of the Well” and with his old friend George Frayne, the Commander himself, on the rowdy “I Don’t Work That Cheap.” Other guests include old friends Dan Hicks, Paul Carrack, Nick Lowe and Maria Muldaur.)

I usually don’t read up on acts I haven’t seen. I like to be surprised. So it was when Kirchen tore into “Hot Rod Lincoln” as the final number. He turned it into an extended jam in which that Lincoln was passed by cars driven by about two dozen guitar players. In so doing, Kirchen showed those mad guitar skills by offering a signature riff each time. Turns out it’s a staple of Kirchen’s shows. I could list them all, but listen to Kirchen channel them instead.

“Hot Rod Lincoln,” Bill Kirchen, from “Hot Rod Lincoln Live,” 1997.

Hearing all those guitar styles crammed into one song reminded me of something I heard on that same casino lounge stage two years ago.

In that show, Chris Spedding did “Guitar Jamboree,” showing off his considerable skills by playing “a few flash guitar solos” in the style of almost a dozen different guitarists.

“Guitar Jamboree,” Chris Spedding, from “Ready Spedding Go,” 1984. That LP is out of print. The song originally was released in the UK on “Chris Spedding,” 1975. It’s also available on “The Very Best of Chris Spedding,” a 2007 import.

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Filed under April 2011, Sounds

Like Queen, but with more soul

The Green Bay Packers have brought the Vince Lombardi Trophy home.

Time to cue up a song that gave me chills the first time I heard it at a football game. On Christmas Eve 1995, my brother and I were at Lambeau Field, watching the Packers.

That day, the Packers were clinging to a five-point lead late in the fourth quarter. Their opponent was driving for what seemed would be the winning score. With 16 seconds left, on fourth-and-goal, the quarterback stepped back, found a receiver wide open in the left corner of the end zone and fired it his way.

Yancey Thigpen made it a merry Christmas in Green Bay. He dropped a sure touchdown pass, and the Packers clinched the NFC Central Division title. After the game, they cued up Queen’s “We Are The Champions” at Lambeau Field.

Wow. Chills, because the Packers had not won a title of any kind in 23 years. I vividly remember that play and the sheer joy that followed.

That day, the Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers.

On Sunday night, the Packers defeated the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. It has been only a 14-year drought this time, but it is no less sweet.

“We Are The Champions,” Darnel Alexander, David Booker and Tracy Harris, from “(Eugene Robinson Presents) Titletown,” 1997. It’s out of print.

In 1997, after Green Bay’s victory in Super Bowl XXXI, Packers safety Eugene Robinson produced this eclectic urban/soul/R&B EP. This cut features three performers from Seattle, where Robinson played before coming to Green Bay.

Hope you dig this slow, smooth cover as much as I do.

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Filed under February 2011, Sounds

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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Filed under Christmas music, December 2010