One of the great joys of growing up in the ’70s was experiencing the last days of free-form FM radio. Even in central Wisconsin, our local top-40 station turned freaky late at night.
After 10 p.m., the WIFC jocks played anything and everything. There were deep album cuts from David Bowie and Uriah Heep followed by mind-blowing cuts from Gil Scott-Heron and the jazz sax player Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
This is for the wonderful Meadowlark Lemon, the Globetrotters star who died Sunday. He was 83.
We watched him countless times on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” By the time I was old enough to take myself to see the Globetrotters in their annual New Year’s Eve game in Milwaukee, Meadowlark had left the team.
Now I kinda wish I’d bought this Meadowlark Lemon funk/soul/disco record when I came across it while digging for records in my friend Jim’s back yard a few years ago. It’s from 1979.
My apologies for not posting it here for the last three years.
As always, it’s for Rob.
“A Creole Christmas” also features the great Allen Toussaint, whom we lost this year. Enjoy his swinging piano take on “White Christmas,” a song you rarely hear with a big band arrangement, or any kind of an upbeat arrangement.
Man, hard to believe this record is 25 years old now.
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 my copy two years ago, 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.
This used to be the place where you could find all kinds of Christmas music come this time of year. If you’re disappointed that it no longer is, well, sorry/not sorry. It just isn’t my cup of tea anymore.
That said, here’s a fun little story about a Christmas record. This one.
Seeing the cool cover, I dug it out of a dollar bin at one of my favorite record stores several years ago. But I didn’t look at it closely, and when I got it home, I found there was another Christmas record inside. That record did not have 13 great Christmas favorites sung by Warner Bros. stars.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago. While digging through the crates at a record show, I found this record again. This time, it has the right record inside. My friend Scott says it’s mine for half-price, which is fine.
Tonight, as Christmas draws near, enjoy what all the cool TV watchers enjoyed at Christmas 1959. Warner Bros. had hauled the stars of some its TV productions into a recording studio and cut “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” for its year-old record label.
So, that guy at the top, at the top of the tree? That’s Edd Byrnes. In 1959, he was just about the hottest thing on TV. He played Kookie, a real cool cat, on “77 Sunset Strip,” a detective show set in Los Angeles. His Christmas song is “Yulesville,” a mashup of jazz and noir and Christmas and hipster jive patter.
That said, “Yulesville” is really the only the thing that veers into novelty on this record.
Long forgotten is “Bourbon Street Beat,” a detective show set in New Orleans that lasted just one season. One of its supporting players, Eddie Cole, is featured here with a swinging take on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” Cole has the chops. His younger brother? Jazz singer Nat King Cole.
If I tell you Robert Conrad also sings “White Christmas” on this record, you might think of anything from “The Wild Wild West” to “Baa Baa Black Sheep” to those old Eveready battery commercials, then you might smirk and scoff. But Conrad, who in 1959 was one of the stars of “Hawaiian Eye,” a detective show set in Honolulu, does a nice job. He also was a singer before turning fully to acting.
The guy sitting next to him is Poncie Ponce, a Hawaiian actor who played a cab driver on the show. He parlayed his role in the popular show into a modest music career in the early ’60s. His song on this record? “Mele Kalikimaka,” of course.
Long before he was the fifth Bond, James Bond, even before he was the first Bret Maverick, Roger Moore starred in “The Alaskans,” a forgotten Western that lasted only one season. Thus, he’s featured here. Moore gives an elegant reading of “Once In Royal David’s City.”