What are we doing New Year’s Eve? Oh, not much. Just sticking close to home, staying socially distanced.
“When the bells all ring and the horns all blow “And the couples that we know are fondly kissing “Will I be with you or will I be among the missing?”
We’re all among this missing this year, making this classic all the more poignant as 2020 finally ends. Maybe next New Year’s Eve.
Written by Frank Loesser in 1947, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” has been described as the only notable jazz standard with a New Year’s Eve theme. This sophisticated tune tempers an unrequited love with some hope. We all could use some hope these days.
It’s great no matter who does it. Let’s go.
It’s the ’60s. You’re in a roadhouse, the one hard by the tracks. You hear this.
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” King Curtis, from “Soul Christmas,” 1968. (Recorded on Oct. 23, 1968, at Atlantic Studios in New York. That’s Duane Allman on guitar.)
Then you head uptown to a nightclub. You hear this …
Record digging — the actual physical act of flipping through bins of records — is just one of things you can’t do during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our local record stores closed, then found ways to reinvent their business. The Exclusive Company in Green Bay, one of seven stores statewide, has turned to phone orders and curbside pickup. Rock N Roll Land, an indie, has turned to a Discogs online store, gift certificate sales and something creative and fun.
On Saturday, April 18, which would have been Record Store Day, my friend Todd from RNR Land posted this on Facebook:
“Would anyone be interested in a Record Grab Bag Special today? X amount of Records. Curbside Pickup first come first serve. $20 Cash mystery bag.”
The results were “awesome,” Todd said. Lots of people came out on one of the first really nice spring days in our corner of Wisconsin.
I missed out on that party — found out about it too late — but the results have been so awesome that Todd has continued to offer record grab bags. I stopped by last week to get a couple of them. Grabbed a couple from these crates just inside the front door.
Do I need a couple of bags of records I’d probably never otherwise buy? No. Could my friend’s store use a little help? Yep. That’s what it’s all about.
So let’s dig through the grab bags!
Bag No. 1
How I grabbed it: I saw the last record through the white plastic bag — “24 Groovy Greats.” That can’t be all bad, I figured. It’s not.
How many records in the bag: 13.
Best 3 records: Dean Hightower — “Guitar … Twangy with a Beat” (1959); Frank Sinatra and Friends — “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (1961); “24 Groovy Greats” (1965).
Oldest record: “The Vikings” soundtrack by Mario Nascimbene from 1959.
Newest record: “Plumbline” by Justo Almario from 1987.
Best-looking cover: Jack Davis drew the cover for “Wine, Women & Song” by Ben Colder from 1967. Ben Colder is actually Sheb Wooley, moonlighting.
Found first: The first record in the bag is from 1965, an Everest Records comp of instrumental folk played by Wrecking Crew session guitarists — Glen Campbell, Billy Strange and Tommy Tedesco — plus Roger McGuinn (billed as James McGuinn) and Mason Williams.
“Ramblin’ On” by Roger McGuinn, recorded as James McGuinn in 1963.
“Thirteen Dollar Stella” by Mason Williams. He later re-recorded it for “The Mason Williams Ear Show” LP in 1968 and released it as the flip side to his “Greensleeves” single in 1969.
Fun find: Dean Hightower is actually electric guitarist George Barnes, the jazz swing session legend, moonlighting in the Duane Eddy style popular in 1959. This was a one-off, not even mentioned on Barnes’ Wikipedia page. (I’ll go fix that.) Dig a couple of George Barnes originals!
“Train To Teentown”
Fun facts: One of the records has a price sticker from Plan 9 Records in Richmond or Charlottesville, Virginia. … The next record in the bag has a price sticker from Academy Records in Brooklyn. … The next record in the bag has a price sticker from Steady Sounds, a record store in Richmond, Virginia. … “24 Groovy Greats” features great singles by Little Eva, Tommy James and the Shondells, James Brown, the Dixie Cups, Ramsey Lewis, the Dave Clark Five, Wilbert Harrison, Lee Dorsey, Ike and Tina Turner, Ray Barretto, Percy Sledge, Fontella Bass and more! Single edits, of course, but yeah!
Bag No. 2
How I grabbed it: Pretty much at random.
How many records in the bag: 13*.
Best records: “The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper” (1968); Iron Butterfly — “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (1968); Roberta Flack — “First Take” (1969).
Oldest record: “Moondreams” by the Norman Petty Trio from 1958.
Newest record: “Body Wishes” by Rod Stewart from 1983.
Best-looking cover: Norman Rockwell painted the cover for “The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.”
Covers worth noting: “Dear Mr. Fantasy” by Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.
“Compared To What” by Roberta Flack.
Fun facts: The Norman Petty Trio song “Moondreams,” is listed as “Moonbeams” on the jacket. It’s not the version on which Buddy Holly sings and plays guitar. All the songs on Side 1 have “moon” in the title. All the songs on Side 2 have “dream” in the title. … There were two Righteous Brothers records in this bag — “Greatest Hits” from 1967 and “Give It To The People” from 1974. … There were two two-record sets in this bag. However, one is missing a record*. We have only half of “The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.” … The “Urban Cowboy” soundtrack is the other two-record set. Though “Hearts Against The Wind” is credited to J.D. Souther and Linda Ronstadt, it’s said to be mostly Souther and Ricky Skaggs duetting. Skaggs also plays mandolin. But, yes, Ronstadt is there, singing some of the harmonies. … The second-to-last record in the bag is a one-sided James Galway classical flute sampler/promo. On the back, it says: “Do not play this side. This is a silent groove to improve the molding of your pressing.”
[Photos courtesy of Todd Magnuson of Rock N Roll Land.]
This summer marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Frank Loesser, the great songwriter who came up with that holiday favorite, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and the best New Year’s Eve song ever.
I know that because I somehow managed to see “Heart & Soul,” a documentary about Loesser, twice this year on Turner Classic Movies.
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has a great story behind it. Loesser wrote it in 1944 for their housewarming party, singing it with his first wife, Lynn Garland. They often performed it for friends at parties. Four years later, he sold the song to MGM. His wife didn’t approve. She’d always thought it was theirs alone, something special.
Well, it was special. MGM used it in the 1949 film “Neptune’s Daughter,” and it became a big hit, released by at least seven duos that year. Often covered since then, it’s a bit of an acquired taste. If breathy, baby-doll vocals are your thing, then you probably like it.
But the most special of Loesser’s tunes — at least at this time of year — is “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.”
Tonight’s Christmas record is a testament to the Zen of record digging.
I never have a list when I look for records. But there certainly are records I’d like to have. Tonight’s record was one.
The first time I saw it, the price was beyond my budget. Then I went a couple of years without seeing it. Then I found it at a record show, reasonably priced. I got it. I’ve seen it since, but again rather pricey.
So if you, too, have been seeking this record, let’s give it a listen.
“Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs,” Charles Brown, 1961/1975.
Charles Brown was a mellow Texas cat whose gentle blues/R&B style was a big influence on the Los Angeles scene of the late ’40s and early ’50s. But his style was so gentle that he was all but left behind when R&B gave way to rock in the ’60s.
Brown was singing and playing piano with Johnny Moore’s Three Trailblazers when, in 1947, they cut “Merry Christmas Baby,” a tune that’s become a Christmas blues standard. It was written by Moore and Lou Baxter.
In 1960, Brown recorded another Christmas blues standard — “Please Come Home For Christmas” — a tune he wrote with Gene Redd. It was released on this LP a year later and made the seasonal charts for more than a decade.
How great are these songs? I have more than two dozen covers of each one. Maybe we’ll dig those another time. We’re here to dig Charles Brown.
All from “Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs,” Charles Brown, 1961/1975. It’s out of print.
My vinyl copy is the Gusto Records re-release of the 1961 original on King Records. It adds “Merry Christmas Baby” but drops “My Most Miserable Christmas.” Some of the tunes were re-recorded for the 1975 release. I don’t know whether these cuts were recorded in 1961 or 1975. This record also was released on CD in 1995.
There again will be no Christmas party at the newspaper this year.
This, of course, does not qualify as news. Such good will has been an unnecessary expense for some time now.
So I reached in my desk drawer the other day, pulled out my Santa Claus and Rudolph action figures from the vintage stop-action “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” cartoon and put them out on my desk.
Even if the Norelco snowman can slide down the dust on that desk — cleaning anything but office wastebaskets and carpeting also has been an unnecessary expense for some time now — it’s a little Christmas party.
Truth be told, I’m not really much of a party hound, but it’s still nice to get together with folks at the holidays. It probably won’t be with the folks from work, away from work. For many, I am that guy old enough to be their dad. And not that cool guy old enough to be their dad. So it goes.
It may be just those of us gathered around the digital hearth. That sounds like a happening Christmas party. Let me reach over here and cue up some sweet tunes to put us right into that Christmas groove.
Let’s jazz it up with a timeless vibe from another time.
“Sound of Christmas,” the Ramsey Lewis Trio, 1961.
Rest assured that this is one groovy album, way ahead of its time.
I heard a cut off this record almost 25 years ago on a late-night radio show in Madison, Wisconsin. I’d taped the show — mostly a Christmas show — but the cut wasn’t name-checked. I played that tape every Christmas, but the song remained a mystery.
It was probably 10 years ago that I learned the name of the cut, and then only because it was was on a budget Christmas CD I picked up at one of those farm-and-home stores so familiar to the Midwest.
Six years ago, “Sound of Christmas” came out on CD, and I grabbed it.
Earlier this year, a vinyl copy turned up while crate digging. Hope you will forgive its occasional snaps, crackles and pops. Think of it as the fire we’re sitting by as we enjoy some bevvies and snacks.
So we start with that song, then just keep that laid-back groove going.