In 1965, Charles Schulz started drawing Snoopy as a World War I flying ace battling the Red Baron. But “it reached a point where war just didn’t seem funny,” he told biographer Rheta Grimsley Johnson. Even so, Snoopy and the Red Baron inspired this novelty Christmas song with explosions, gunfire and a message of hope that came as the Vietnam War escalated.
The second Christmas wish
Someday all our dreams will come to be Someday in a world where men are free Maybe not in time for you and me But someday at Christmastime
(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 “Louis Satchmo Armstrong talkin’ to all the kids … from all over the world … at Christmas time,” 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, who was 69 at the time, died a little over four months later, in July 1971. Satchmo, gone 51 years now.
And now, fulfilling a Christmas wish.
Fifteen years ago, when this blog was not even a year old, our new friend Rob in Pennsylvania declared Irma Thomas’ rendition of “O Holy Night” to be “goosebump-inducing stuff.” It still is, and Rob has long since become an old friend, so we cue up this one for Rob every Christmas Eve.
Long ago, during the first three years of this blog’s existence — I may have been writing it on stone tablets — there was a long series of Christmas music posts when each December rolled around.
There was so much Christmas music in my collection that I posted it here three songs at a time. “Three under the tree” was the name of that 44-part series, which started in 2007 and ended in 2009.
Thirteen years on from the last installment, here’s another.
New to me this year
One of my regular Saturday afternoon stops is “Chris Carter’s British Invasion” on the Underground Garage channel on Sirius XM.
Heard this a couple of weeks ago. Couldn’t believe I’d never heard this Beatles cut. Turns out it’s the not the Beatles. It’s the Fab Four, a Beatles tribute band out of California. Enjoyed it nonetheless.
As this holiday season arrived, I just couldn’t bring myself to listen to Christmas music. I used to collect it. I’ve heard so much of it. The most popular, most familiar, most mainstream Christmas songs … yeesh.
Then, after Thanksgiving, Sirius XM hijacked Soul Town and dropped Holiday Soul on Channel 49. For the first few days, nope, nope, nope, I’d flip one channel up to The Groove for the ’80s and ’90s R&B played there.
Eventually, though, I’d heard enough drum machines, took a deep breath and flipped it back to Holiday Soul. I stayed with it and found it to be a bit like being in the coolest, classiest Black nightclub, the kind that no longer exists.
Sirius XM describes the Holiday Soul channel this way:
“Classic soul and Motown holiday music from the ’60s and ’70s, along with R&B holiday music from the ’80s and early ’90s, including Aretha Franklin, Temptations, James Brown, Lou Rawls, Smokey Robinson, Dionne Warwick, The Jackson 5, The Four Tops, The Supremes, John Legend, Boyz II Men & many more!”
That is true, but there’s more to it. Motown and Stax are the backbone, of course, but the vibe is jazz and gospel. Because the playlist consists of almost entirely Black artists — many of whom were and are steeped in the gospel tradition — the music seems richer than more mainstream Christmas music.
“This Christmas,” the Donny Hathaway single released in 1970, remains THE Black Christmas standard. As I write this a week out from Christmas Eve, covers of it by Gladys Knight and The Pips, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Stephanie Mills, The Whispers, Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin and Johnny Mathis have been played 475 times in the past 30 days, along with Hathaway’s original 79 times.
Back at that nightclub, the one that oozes cool, there’s Nancy Wilson singing “That’s What I Want For Christmas.” There’s Lou Rawls singing “Merry Christmas, Baby” and “Winter Wonderland.” There are the Coles, Nat singing “The Christmas Song,” Natalie singing “My Grown-Up Christmas List.” All no longer with us, a time and a sense of elegance lost.
Pleasant surprises include some cuts from “My Gift To You,” the 1988 LP from R&B singer Alexander O’Neal that’s long been one of my favorites and one I’ve long thought to be underrated and/or underappreciated. Also some cuts from “Christmas is 4 Ever,” the 2006 LP from Parliament-Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins, one as funky and quirky as you’d expect, and another of my favorites.
But if there’s one song that’s been a highlight, it’s this one:
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” Lou Rawls, from “Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho!,” 1967. Complete with swinging and impeccably classy production by David Axelrod.
50 years ago this evening, on Dec. 7, 1972, Milwaukee soul singer Harvey Scales got top billing and a rave review in Warren Gerds’ weekly club music column in the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
“Scales is a dynamo on stage, one of those startling guys who is a constant live wire. At the Sans Souci, the dance floor is his stage. He roams it, putting the microphone through acrobatic stunts, falling to his knees, singing in blazing fashion. When people talk about singers with soul, Scales was one of the originators. He’s always been kinetic. …
“His Seven Sounds, which has been backing him for seven years, is a powerhouse, too. At times, it roars, with the beat pulsating.”
Gerds, then in his late 20s, testified with authority.
“Scales is one of the few cats still around from my college days (in Milwaukee). I remember him still as Twistin’ Harvey. He was a phenomenon on his campus visits.”
Harvey Scales and his Seven Sounds Unlimited were no strangers to Green Bay, two hours north of Milwaukee. In the late ’60s, a young Harvey Scales had played at the 616 Club and the Piccadilly, plus a Riverside Ballroom gig “with Chubby Checker, when he was hot,” he said.
On this visit, the 30-year-old Scales — “Put me down as 29, though. Spare me,” he told Gerds — was riding high, seemingly on the verge of breaking through after playing clubs for 11 years.
Scales had played some tapes for Isaac Hayes while performing in Chicago. Hayes liked them and recommended him to Stax Records, which gave Scales a recording contract and released a single.
“I Wanna Do It,” released in 1972, was a steamy bit of funk that clearly was influenced by Hayes’ style as heard on the “Shaft” soundtrack a year earlier.
“The current record for Scales is being bought by black audiences in Washington, Cleveland and Chicago,” Gerds wrote. “Not many sales here.”
Nope, you likely couldn’t find it — or hear it — in Green Bay unless you were at one of Scales’ shows during his two-week stand at the Sans Souci out on Main Street on the southeast side.
“You know how it is,” Scales told Gerds, acknowledging the realities.
13 years ago, my friend Jameson Harvey — the proprietor of the still-mighty Flea Market Funk blog — came across the 45. His review:
It’s a stone cold groove. This wah wah guitar and drums that are unfuckable with (look that up internet junkies). Scales wants some of that Funky Thang, but when he asks the bass to funk up the place because it ain’t no disgrace, you know the man is serious as a heart attack.
You know how that is.
Decades later, Harvey Scales was still serious as a heart attack, bringing that stone cold groove when he was in his 60s and 70s.
One last note, found while looking for something else: In August 1967, one Harvey L. Scales, 25, of Milwaukee, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Milwaukee for failing to report to his draft board. Can’t find how that turned out, but it doesn’t appear to have slowed his career.
That June, Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds had released a single, “Love-Itis/Get Down,” on Magic Touch Records. By that October, “Get Down” was in the national charts.
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About the music
These are mp3s from my collection, taken from vinyl whenever possible. Enjoy. All music presented here is shared under the premise of fair use. This blog is solely intended for the purpose of education, a place for me to tell stories and write about music and cultural history. If you are a rights holder to any of the music presented and wish for it to be removed, please email me directly and it will be taken down.
About the words
The text is copyright 2007-2023, Jeff Ash. Text from other sources, when excerpted, is credited.