Tag Archives: 1961

And so another year ends

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.”

Written in 1947, it’s 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. It’s great no matter who does it. Listen for yourself.

It’s the ’60s. You are in a nightclub, one hard by the tracks. You hear this …

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“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 to a nightclub uptown. You hear this …

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” the Ramsey Lewis Trio,” from “Sound of Christmas,” 1961.

… and this …

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“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” Eydie Gorme, from “That Holiday Feeling!” Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, 1964. (Sorry, Steve sits this one out.)

… and this.

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” Lou Rawls, from “Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho,” 1967. It’s out of print.

Years later, a husband-and-wife duo revives that style.

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“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” Brian Setzer and Julie Reiten, from “Dig That Crazy Christmas,” the Brian Setzer Orchestra, 2004.

This is for Jeff O. Better late than never, my man.

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Filed under December 2010, Sounds

12 days of Christmas, Day 6

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.

The ones you know.

“Merry Christmas Baby”

“Please Come Home For Christmas”

The ones you don’t.

One hard blues, one nightclub blues, one roadhouse blues.

“Christmas Blues”

“Christmas With No One To Love”

“Christmas Comes But Once A Year”

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.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

12 days of Christmas, Day 3

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.

“Christmas Blues”

“Merry Christmas Baby”

“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

All from “Sound of Christmas,” the Ramsey Lewis Trio, 1961.

Recorded in October 1961 at Ter Mar Recording Studios in Chicago. Ramsey Lewis on piano, Eldee Young on bass and Red Holt on drums. They were joined by a 10-piece string ensemble on the latter.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

Three under the tree, Day 21

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Willie’s Hot Christmas continues.

In this little series within a series, we’re recreating a radio show I taped off the air while living in Madison, Wisconsin, in the late ’80s. For the back story, check out the Day 20 post.

The first part consisted of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” by Jimmy Smith, an unknown jazz sax instrumental version of “The Christmas Song” and “Merry Christmas” by Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Now back to the old WORT-FM show, where Willie Wonder has cued up …

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“Christmas Blues,” the Ramsey Lewis Trio, from “Sound of Christmas,” 1961.

This is a cool, laid-back bit of instrumental jazz — just Lewis on piano, Eldee Young on bass and Red Holt on drums. I found this cut on a budget CD several years ago, then picked up the album when it was re-released on CD in 2004.

“Christmas in the City of the Angels” Johnny Mathis, from a Columbia 7-inch single, 1979.

Mathis offers his take on Christmas in Los Angeles in a tune perhaps cut exclusively for Los Angeles radio stations. This was released as Columbia 1-11158, with “The Very First Christmas Day” as the flip side. I can’t find it available anywhere. Though Mathis has recorded several Christmas albums since the early ’60s, this cut never made it to an album.

(The Mathis cut has gone from radio to tape to CD, and then ripped, so that may explain the sound quality if you find it lacking.)

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“You’re All I Want For Christmas,” Salsoul Orchestra with Jocelyn Brown, from “Christmas Jollies II,” 1981. It’s out of print, but can be found on eBay and from vinyl record sellers.

The Salsoul Orchestra pumps out its great blend of Philly soul, funk and Latin sounds — all orchestrated by Vincent Montana Jr. — and Brown adds some lovely vocals on this upbeat tune.

Willie’s Hot Christmas continues tomorrow.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 13

Well, we wound up with only 8 inches of snow, but it still looks like a winter wonderland out there. Even if it meant shoveling twice in one day.

Yesterday, we served up three versions of “Winter Wonderland” with vocals. Today, we have three instrumental versions.

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“Winter Wonderland,” Arthur Lyman, from “With A Christmas Vibe,” 1959.

Vibes, bass, piano and bongos rule the day. This is a laid-back bit of Hawai’ian lounge/exotica from the master, accompanied by Harold Chang, John Kramer and Allan Soares. This classic was re-released on CD in 1996, at the height of the lounge wave. Its original title was “Mele Kalikimaka.”

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“Winter Wonderland,” Ramsey Lewis Trio, from “Sound of Christmas,” 1961.

Lewis’ sprightly jazz piano drives this version, complemented nicely and subtly by El Dee Young on bass and Red Holt on drums. This classic was re-released on CD in 2004.

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“Winter Wonderland,” Reverend Horton Heat, from “We Three Kings,” 2005.

Some sweet roadhouse piano drives this version, though there is plenty of raved-up and rockin’ guitar work by Jim Heath. The liner notes don’t mention the keyboard player, though.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 13

Simply put, three elegantly piano-driven Christmas tunes tonight.

Our friend JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ mentioned our first cut the other day as he started doin’ the Christmas shuffle.

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“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” the Ramsey Lewis Trio, from “Sound of Christmas,” 1961; re-released on CD, 2004.

JB says: “Lewis gives this jolly holiday song a bluesy twist, making it my favorite version.”

Our second cut was another of the tunes on a cassette tape I named “Willie’s Hot Christmas,” when I taped it off WORT-FM in Madison, Wisconsin, some 20 years ago. Circle back to Vol. 7 for more tunes from that tape. (And as I do a little more research on this album, I stumble across another of the unidentified tunes on that tape, one I’ve long been seeking!)

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“I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” McCoy Tyner, 1967, from “Jingle Bell Jazz,” 1985. This CD combines two older Columbia albums, the original “Jingle Bell Jazz” and “God Rest Ye Merry Jazzmen.”

Our third cut I found somewhere on the web earlier this year. Though I know of Tori Amos, I’m not at all familiar with her work. I like what she does with this Christmas classic, though.

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“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Tori Amos, “Spark” EP or B side, 1998.

Enjoy. More to come.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2007, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 7

In addition to all the albums and CDs I dig out at Christmas time, I also dig out one cassette tape.

I can play it in only one place in the house — who has more than one tape deck, if any, anymore? — but I always play it.

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I taped it off the radio one night in the late ’80s. It was from a show on a most remarkable radio station in Madison, Wisconsin.

WORT, 89.9 FM, was — and is — listener-sponsored, volunteer-run, free-form Back Porch Radio. They spin a staggeringly diverse mix of local bands, indie rock, R&B, soul, dance, jazz, punk, country and performance art. (You can stream it live if you live outside Madison.)

The DJ called himself Willie Wonder, and he played R&B, soul and jazz late at night one night a week. One December night, he was dropping Christmas tunes into the usual mix.

I probably was listening to the show as I drove home from the paper, started digging it, and popped in a tape when I got home. I say that because the tape picks up in mid-program and Willie Wonder signs off before the 90-minute tape ends.

In the 20 or so years since I taped it, I’ve been collecting the Christmas tracks from the tape. Here are three of them.

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“This Christmas,” Donny Hathaway, 1970, from “Soul Christmas,” a 1991 compilation.

Widely covered, this is the smooth original, written by Hathaway and Nadine McKinner. It was recorded at Atlantic Studios in New York in November 1970 and released as Atco single 6799 on Nov. 30, 1970 — 37 years ago tomorrow.

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“You’re All I Want for Christmas,” the Salsoul Orchestra, from “Christmas Jollies II,” 1981.

One of my guilty pleasures has long been the Salsoul Orchestra’s “Christmas Jollies” from 1976. I had it first on CD and recently found a vinyl copy. Call it dance, call it disco, it’s certainly of its time, a blend of Philly soul, funk and Latin sounds orchestrated by Vincent Montana Jr.

I’ve long been looking for “Jollies II” and recently tracked it down. It’s out of print and hard to find. But dig a little on the web and you might find it.

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“Christmas Blues,” the Ramsey Lewis Trio, from “Sound of Christmas,” 1961.

This cool, laid-back bit of instrumental jazz — just Lewis on piano, Eldee Young on bass and Red Holt on drums — might have been the hardest to track down. I don’t think Willie Wonder name-checked it that night.

But it all fell into place when I came across this cut — still not knowing its name — on a budget Christmas CD found at Fleet Farm three or four years ago.

(Midwest folks will know how odd it is to find it there. Fleet Farm is a big discount farm and home supply place, with everything from guns to fishing tackle to jeans to tires to work boots to tools to light fixtures.)

Then “Sound of Christmas” was re-released on CD in 2004, and I snapped that up. The first side, the first five cuts, has the trio only. The second side, the next five cuts, has the trio backed by a string section for a lusher sound. I prefer Side 1, but you can’t go wrong with either side.

From the original liner notes by Nelson Noble of radio station WILD in Boston:

“While you’re listening to The Ramsey Lewis Trio’s Sounds of Christmas, please keep in mind that all of us wish all of you a very Merry, Swingin’ Christmas.”

I’ll second that. Enjoy. More to come.

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Filed under Christmas music, November 2007, Sounds