Monthly Archives: November 2008

Three under the tree, Day 4

Your Sunday brings three tunes from an album I found last month at the annual collectible vinyl sale at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store on Willy Street in Madison, Wisconsin, not far from my old neighborhood.

I hadn’t known about the sale before this year, and I hadn’t known about this record until I got there.


“Christmas Gospelodium” was released on the Verve label in 1967. It’s a compilation that was co-produced, arranged and conducted by Robert Banks. Last summer, Jason Stone, who writes the fine Get On Down With the Stepfather of Soul blog had this to say about Banks:

Gospel singer, pianist and choral leader Robert Banks is best known among soul fans, and Northern Soul fans particularly, for the rocking “A Mighty Good Way” on Verve. … Banks recorded an album for Verve, “The Message,” which featured Banks and other soloists doing gospel tunes with touches of soul and pop.”

That’s pretty much what “Christmas Gospelodium” brings to the Christmas table. Enjoy these three.

“Go Tell It On A Mountain,” Alice McClarity, Robert Pinkston and orchestra. Done slowly, in the traditional gospel style, with a big-voiced choir providing backup.

“The Christmas Song,” Lloyd Reese with the Golden Voices Ensemble. Once you get past the over-the-top moments by the choir — especially the intro — you’ll dig Reese’s soul vocals, which go from smooth to urgent. This is the only secular song on the album. (Another cut on the album features Reese with his Solid Rock Chorus, which was 65 singers strong.)

“Sweet Little Boy,” Alice McClarity, Robert Pinkston and orchestra. More blues than gospel, with some sweet piano, bass and harmonica behind it.

All from “Christmas Gospelodium,” 1967. It’s out of print. You might be able to find it on the Web somewhere.

I can’t tell you much more about this record or its artists. I’ve looked, but haven’t been able to find much.

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Three under the tree, Day 3

Today’s tunes come from a guy you may not be familiar with, but it’s someone who’s been a part of our Christmases for at least the last decade.


In 1996, Seattle guitarist Michael Powers released a Christmas album called “Frosty the Bluesman.” It’s billed as “holiday favorites from a bluesman’s perspective,” but there’s more to it than that. There are indeed 14 holiday favorites on the disc, but they go beyond the blues to encompass R&B, soul, jazz and reggae.

I hadn’t heard of Powers before I picked this up at the Exclusive Company, our local record store, all those years ago, and I’m not familiar with his work beyond this. According to Powers’ Web site, he’s been at it for 20 years. Three years ago, he released another Christmas record, “Frosty’s Funky Holiday,” which I haven’t heard.

However, “Frosty the Bluesman” is one of our favorites, and here are three tracks from it, along with some of Powers’ liner notes.

“Frosty the Bluesman” — “gives us a slow 12/8 blues take on the classic, with a little of my Hendrix influences shining through during the solo. Just grab a seat at the bar and sip a cool one.” Powers plays all the guitars on this one. Those Hendrix influences seem rather modest, though.

“Please Come Home for Christmas” — “is a faithful recreation of the Charles Brown classic.” Indeed, another slow blues take on which Powers plays all the guitars.

“God Rest Ye Funky Gentlemen” — “When I first wrote this arrangement, I played it for a young guitar student who was at my studio. He said, ‘This doesn’t sound like Christmas music. It sounds good!’ Nuff said. The feel is a funky shuffle.” Blues meets jazz on this one, on which Deon Estus, the bassist for Wham! and George Michael, plays electric bass. Powers plays the other guitars, horns and drums.

All from “Frosty the Bluesman,” Michael Powers, 1996.

(Update: The Savefile link to the first tune has been fixed.)

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Three under the tree, Day 2

That I found this record a couple of months ago at my favorite record store of all time — Inner Sleeve Records in Wausau, Wisconsin — was simply icing on the Christmas cookie.


“Something Festive!” is a Christmas sampler from A&M Records. It was sold at B.F. Goodrich tire dealers in 1968.

It’s eclectic, to say the least. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass are on it, as are Julius Wechter and the Baja Marimba Band. But so are Liza Minnelli (singing “Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy”) and Claudine Longet (covering Randy Newman’s “Snow.”)

Here, then, are three from “Something Festive!”

“It’s The Most Wonderful Time,” by Pete Jolly. This is a cool, stylish, upbeat rendition by the jazz pianist from California. I’d never heard it before, and it’s great. It’s the best cut on the album. (You’ll also find this cut on “Cool Yule: The Swinging Sound of Christmas,” a UK compilation released in 2004.)

“Partridge in a Pear Tree,” by Julius Wechter and the Baja Marimba Band. An instrumental version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” The finish goes over the top, but after hearing those mellow vibes and marimbas, does it matter? (You’ll also find this cut on “For Animals Only,” the BMB’s third album, released in 1965. It’s out of print.)

“Jingle Bell Rock,” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. I’m not a big fan of this Christmas tune, but I like this arrangement. Its big finish sounds suited to a strip club. (You’ll also find this cut on the TJB’s “Christmas Album,” also released in 1968. It’s out of print.)

“Something Festive!” is long out of print but can be found on eBay.


Filed under Christmas music, November 2008, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 1

We start this year as we started last year — at the beginning.

It was 1969, when I turned 12, that I really started listening to music. That year, I got a Panasonic AM-FM radio for Christmas. This model. I still have it. It still works, even though the antenna long ago was bent, then broken.


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: “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” by the Jackson 5.

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’ve been hooked ever since.

Today’s tunes are the ones I dug first. I still dig them.


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

This is a classic album of tunes from the ’60s and early ’70s, also featuring Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. It isn’t Christmas at our house without this one. So much so that we have three copies of it — one vinyl LP, two CDs.

Some people are down on this tune, perhaps because of what Michael Jackson has become. That’s understandable, but it’s unfortunate. If you can, appreciate it as a pop gem from a more innocent time.


“Snoopy’s Christmas,” the Royal Guardsmen, from “Snoopy and His Friends,” 1967. A guilty pleasure. I was delighted to find this album at my local used record store just before Christmas last year. The link is to a double CD also featuring “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” their debut album from 1966.


“Happy Xmas (War is Over),” John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir, released as a single, 1971. I found it on “Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon,” a 1998 compilation.

Their message rings true today.

Hope you will enjoy this series. Much more to come.

If you have requests, drop me a line. I’ll see what I can do.


Filed under Christmas music, November 2008, Sounds

Going shopping?

As Thanksgiving draws near, I’m thankful for the handful of record and marketing companies who’ve seen fit to share tunes with AM, Then FM over the course of this year.

Their generosity and their willingness to work with music blogs make the following recommendations possible. These are things I’ve heard and liked, and things you might like.

AC-DC Levy 5-25B

AC/DC: “Black Ice,” the new record, and “No Bull: The Director’s Cut,” a live concert DVD.

Neither breaks any new ground, but if you like AC/DC, you’ll like these. I put “Black Ice” to the usual Car Test, spinning it several times as I was driving. None of the songs struck me as being great, and its 15 songs are at least five too many, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The following cut most of all, I think.

“Spoilin’ For A Fight,” AC/DC. from “Black Ice,” 2008.

It really made me want to see them again. AC/DC is best experienced live. “No Bull” gives that a go, with a July 1996 show set against the spectacular backdrop of the Plaza De Toros De Las Ventas in Madrid. This DVD will give you a taste of what an AC/DC show is like, but you really have to be there. The venue is the best thing about this DVD. The production and sound quality leave a bit to be desired.


Sammy Hagar: “Cosmic Universal Fashion,” the new record.

As I wrote a year ago, Hagar is an acquired taste, but I’ve really come to dig his shows. After listening to this record, I’d really rather see him live. This records is like one of Hagar’s shows — not for everyone, but full of energy, full of attitude, with some new stuff, some old stuff and even a cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Fight For Your Right To Party.” Which, of course, is better heard live.

The following cut has a nice, laid-back vibe to it. The Wabos sing it as they warm up for shows. That’s his bassist, Mona, on the harmonies.

“When The Sun Don’t Shine,” Sammy Hagar, from “Cosmic Universal Fashion,” 2008.


Lindsey Buckingham: “Gift of Screws,” his latest record.

As I wrote last month, I wasn’t all that familiar with Buckingham as a solo artist, but this one passed the Car Test with flying colors.

“Love Runs Deeper,” Lindsey Buckingham, from “Gift of Screws,” 2008. Worth another listen. Buckingham wrote it with his wife, Kristen.


Steve Winwood: “Nine Lives,” his latest record.

I am a bit more familiar with Winwood as a solo artist. As I wrote earlier this year, this one also passed the Car Test with flying colors.

“We’re All Looking,” Steve Winwood, from “Nine Lives,” 2008. Lots of nice Hammond organ on this one.


Alan Wilkis: “Babies Dream Big,” his debut record.

AM, Then FM is mostly about rediscovering veteran artists rather than discovering new indie artists. However, we were part of the first wave of good buzz about this Brooklyn artist when we interviewed him earlier this year. Wilkis takes all kinds of ’60s, ’70s and ’80s influences, throws them in the blender and creates something new, yet it still sounds familiar. He plays almost everything himself and does all the vocals.

“I Love The Way,” Alan Wilkis, from “Babies Dream Big,” 2008. A little blue-eyed soul, anyone?

We exchanged e-mails earlier today, and Alan says he’s “working a lot these days, pluggin’ away on a new EP. Hopefully going to be six songs, hopefully ready in the next two months.” Looking forward to it.


The Boxing Lesson: “Wild Streaks & Windy Days,” its first full-length record.

If you wondered whether anyone still makes music to get stoned to, the answer is yes. This Austin, Texas-based band does the job quite nicely. Heavy, moody, dreamy.

“Muerta,” The Boxing Lesson, from “Wild Streaks & Windy Days,” 2008.

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