Our 3 Christmas wishes

The first wish

Christmas bells, those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

“Snoopy’s Christmas,” the Royal Guardsmen, from “Snoopy and His Friends,” 1967.

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, with gunfire and with a solid message of hope that came as the Vietnam War escalated.

The second 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

"Someday at Christmas" LP by Stevie Wonder, 1967.

“Someday at Christmas,” Stevie Wonder, from “Someday at Christmas,” 1967.

My friend Derek reminded me of this one on Christmas Eve morning last year. Thanks, man. When Stevie sings of “men” throughout this one, songwriter Ron Miller clearly means everyone, of any age.

I have this cut on “A Motown Christmas” from 1973, a record we’ve had since we had only a few Christmas records. The others from way back when? “The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album” from 1968 — here’s some of that — and “A Festival Of Carols In Brass” by the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble from 1967.

The third wish

A very Merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

“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’d always had it on “Shaved Fish,” the 1975 compilation LP from Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, until I found the single.

War is over, if you want it

Merry Christmas, mein friends!

Enjoy your holidays, everyone!

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2020, Sounds

Christmas Eve with Louis and Irma

Please enjoy our traditional Christmas Eve post.

On a winter day almost 50 years ago, Louis Armstrong went to work in the den at his home at 34-56 107th Street in Corona, Queens, New York.

That day — Friday, Feb. 26, 1971 — he recorded this:

“The Night Before Christmas (A Poem),” Louis Armstrong, 1971, from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985. That LP is out of print, but the original 7-inch single (Continental CR 1001) seems to be fairly common.

(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.

And now, we’re fulfilling another Christmas wish.

Thirteen 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.

“O Holy Night,” Irma Thomas, from “A Creole Christmas,” 1990. It’s out of print. It’s also on “MOJO’s Festive Fifteen,” the fine Christmas compilation CD that came with the January 2011 issue of MOJO magazine, if you can find that.

Speaking of Christmas wishes, still hoping to meet Rob in real life someday.

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2020, Sounds

Cuts from the Christmas crate

There are just too many Christmas records scattered around the blog’s world headquarters. Guess things get that way after 40-plus years. You find a couple every year while digging, and — BOOM! — you find yourself with 100 or so between the albums and the CDs.

Many I know by heart, so they get played less often. Last week, though, I pulled out the crate with the Christmas (and comedy) records and started playing some I haven’t listened to. Most are pleasant enough, but nothing to write home about. That said, here are a couple of cuts I enjoyed last week:

“Jingle Bells,” the Mistletoe Disco Band,” from “Christmas Disco,” 1978. I especially enjoy the Three Degrees/MFSB/”The Sound of Philadelphia” thing going on halfway through. It would not surprise me if the Mistletoe Disco Band was out of Philadelphia.

Of all the styles of Christmas music I’ve listened to lately, Christmas disco is the most fun and most vigorously resists being elevator music.

“Jingle Bells,” Jimmy McGriff, from “Christmas With McGriff,” 1963. Cool Hammond groove on this soul/jazz version arranged by McGriff, who was just 27, just getting started, at the time.

Please stop back for our traditional Christmas Eve and Christmas Day posts.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2020, Sounds

Thanksgiving night

This is Thanksgiving night. You may have eaten more than you should. You may have drank more than you should.

On Thanksgiving night 1969, similarly overstuffed, all you can manage is to plop down into an overstuffed chair, turn on the TV and hope to be entertained.

You turn on ABC. Starting at 8 p.m./7 Central, you watch “That Girl” and “Bewitched.” Mindless enough. Then, at 9/8 Central, you watch “This Is Tom Jones.” Tom does a 6-minute medley with Little Richard. Mind blown.

On Thanksgiving night 1974, if you can manage it, you are among the 20,000 staggeringly fortunate people for whom their nightcap is seeing and hearing Elton John at Madison Square Garden in New York. Kiki Dee opens. It is percussionist Ray Cooper’s first New York show with Elton’s band.

Then Elton introduces a special guest.

“Seeing it’s Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is a joyous occasion, we thought we’d make tonight a little bit of a joyous occasion, ah, by inviting someone up with us onto stage. 
And, ah, I’m sure he will be no stranger to anybody in the audience when I say it’s our great privilege and your great privilege to see and hear Mr. John Lennon!”

They spend 13 minutes together on stage, performing “Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” It is Lennon’s last live performance before an audience.

Elton John Band Featuring John Lennon and the Muscle Shoals Horns LP

“Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There,” Elton John and John Lennon, from “Elton John Band Featuring John Lennon And The Muscle Shoals Horns,” 1976. (My copy is a German import from 1981.)

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Filed under November 2020, Sounds

Now playing: Rarest Earth

Last month, I pulled out “Dreams/Answers,” Rare Earth’s debut LP from 1968, and announced on Facebook and Twitter that it was “Now playing.”

“New to me!” Casey said from Kansas.

“Never heard it, but I love Rare Earth,” Mark said from right here in Green Bay.

“NEED!” Vincent said from Maryland.

“I have never seen this or heard it, or heard of it!” Bill said from Missouri.

When I bought “Dreams/Answers” in Madison a couple of years ago, I’d never seen it before, either. One of my record-digging rules is that if I see a record I’ve never seen before, I oughta think about getting it. Glad I did. I’ve never seen “Dreams/Answers” since.

Rare Earth in 1968 consisted of John Parrish (vocals, bass, trombone), Rod Richards (vocal, guitars), Kenny James (organ, piano), Gil Bridges (vocals, sax) and Peter Rivera (vocals, drums). Percussionist Eddie Guzman — a key element of the classic Rare Earth sound — doesn’t join until 1969, after this record.

Bridges and Rivera had been together since 1960, when they formed the Sunliners, an R&B group that played the Detroit club circuit. Parrish joined in 1962 and the others in 1966. The new name came in 1968.

“Dreams/Answers” was produced, arranged and conducted by Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey, young guys who also had been working on the Detroit music scene for most of the ’60s, Theodore as a producer and arranger and Coffey as a great session guitarist. They’ve since worked together for decades, including all of Coffey’s great work as a solo artist.

“Dreams/Answers” appears to be the first LP they ever produced, though by 1968 they’d already produced a handful of singles for local labels. As the Theo-Coff Invasion, they released the soundtrackish instrumentals “Lucky Day” and “Nocturnal Flower” on the Dearborn label in 1966.

“Dreams/Answers” isn’t the powerful Rare Earth sound we all know. It wasn’t a hit, either. Those were still to come. No, this is a hodgepodge of styles — pop and prog and psychedelia and R&B and soul — from a group of young guys trying to find their groove.

This record wraps covers of the Supremes, Wilson Pickett, the Temptations and the Coasters around original songs from Theodore and Coffey, and from singer-songwriter Paul Parrish and Detroit guitarist Ron Koss, for whom their writing credits are their first. (Parrish’s 1968 pop-folk-psych LP “The Forest Of My Mind,” also was arranged by Theodore and Coffey.)

"Dreams/Answers" LP by Rare Earth from 1968

So let’s listen to it as Rare Earth intended for it to be heard.

First, though, here’s their original cover of “Get Ready,” from Side 2.

“Dreams/Answers,” Side 1, Rare Earth, 1968.

“Dreams/Answers,” Side 2, Rare Earth, 1968.

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Filed under October 2020, Sounds