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.”
“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.)
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.