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.
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.]
That realization comes more often as those of us of a certain age get older. When we were kids in the ’60s, there were four TV channels.
On those four channels, there was a thing called the variety show. You could hear some comedic and dramatic monologues, see some skits and production numbers, and hear Broadway songs, pop standards, pop hits and — after a while, grudgingly, it often seemed — rock music.
Folk music was part of that rich cultural stew, too. That’s where I must have heard Pete Seeger and his songs.
In a lifetime of listening to music, his songs are part of the foundation of everything I know. They’re some of the first songs I ever came to know as a grade-school kid in the ’60s. “This Land Is Your Land” was the most memorable. But I also came to know “If I Had A Hammer,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” “Goodnight Irene,” “Rock Island Line” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
But as I grew up and my tastes changed, folk music just wasn’t my bag. John Prine and Steve Goodman were as close I got to folk. Pete Seeger was, and is, no less great, but I’ve long known more of his songs done as covers than as his originals. I don’t have any Pete Seeger records.
“This Land Is Your Land,” Peter, Paul and Mary, from “Moving,” 1963. Also available digitally.
My dad had this record, so we played it endlessly as kids. This song and “Puff,” one of the saddest songs I know, over and over.
It’s snowing in our corner of Wisconsin today. It started about an hour ago and is starting to stick to the ground. There might be 5 or 6 inches on ground by the time the athletes walk out onto Lambeau Field tonight.
“Let It Snow,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, from “Christmas with the Miracles,” 1963. It’s out of print. Many of the tunes on this album, including this one, also are on “Our Very Best Christmas,” a 1999 CD release that also is out of print but is availabledigitally.
We rediscovered this vintage Christmas album in our collection a few years back. We’d forgotten that we had it.
This version of the familiar holiday song has a lot going for it. It’s the group’s original lineup, with Claudette Robinson singing the lead. After an elegant piano intro, this swings, driven by some Latin-flavored percussion.
If this song isn’t your cup of tea, it is short. This runs barely 1:40.
Your Christmas music requests in the comments, please.
“Christmas Wrapping,” the Waitresses, 1981, from “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,” 1994. It’s out of print. (NPR suggests finding it on the “Christmas Wrapping” EP. That also appears to be out of print, but the song is available digitally.) (KUT)
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About the music
These are mp3s from my collection, taken from vinyl whenever possible. Enjoy. All music presented here is shared under the premise of fair use. This blog is solely intended for the purpose of education, a place for me to tell stories and write about music and cultural history. If you are a rights holder to any of the music presented and wish for it to be removed, please email me directly and it will be taken down.
About the words
The text is copyright 2007-2023, Jeff Ash. Text from other sources, when excerpted, is credited.