Tag Archives: 1976

12 days of Christmas, Day 12

We were talking the other night about Christmas presents for our son, who’s 15, a sophomore in high school. At issue was whether we have that one big gift, the one with the wow factor.

I was thinking back to when I was 15, what that one big gift was. It was Christmas 1972. That one big gift was this:

That is a suede leather Converse All-Star basketball shoe, gold with black trim. I, too, was a sophomore the year I got a pair. It was a big deal. I’m not sure my parents fully understood the attraction, but they popped for the $15 — almost $75 in today’s dollars — to get them. I wore them until they wore out, then kept them around for years as something close to sandals.

There are other good memories of that one big gift. The Tickle Bee game, G.I. Joe, the Packers helmet and jersey, and, of course, that Panasonic AM-FM radio.

Now we have one big gift for you. More of our favorite Christmas tunes, the ones without which it wouldn’t be Christmas.

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir, released as a single, 1971. A remastered version is available on  “Gimme Some Truth,” a 4-CD compilation released earlier this year.

“And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?

“Snoopy’s Christmas,” the Royal Guardsmen, from “Snoopy and His Friends,” 1967. (The link is to a double CD also featuring “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” their debut album from 1966.)

“Merry Christmas, mein friend!

“Winter Wonderland,” Steve Goodman, from “Artistic Hair,” 1983. I bought this record at his show in Madison, Wisconsin, in April of that year. He signed it “Joe — Hello.”

“It’s kind of absurd/when you don’t know the words/to sing/
walkin’ in a winter wonderland!”

“All I Want for Christmas,” Timbuk3, 1987, from “A Different Kind of Christmas,” 1994. It’s out of print. Pat MacDonald grew up here in Green Bay and has returned. These days, he performs as pat mAcdonald — he insists on that spelling. His gig notices also say “Timbuk3 (no space!) is to be mentioned in a biographical context only.” So there!

“All I want for Christmas is world peace.”

“Merry Christmas Baby (alternate edit),” Elvis Presley, 1971, from “Reconsider Baby,” 1985. It’s out of print, and pricey if you can find it. It’s my favorite Elvis record, full of his blues tunes. That it’s on blue vinyl is just icing on the cake.

“Wake up, Putt!”

“Twelve Days of Christmas,” Bob and Doug McKenzie, from “Great White North,” 1981.

“OK, so g’day, this is the Christmas part.”

“Santa Claus and his Old Lady,” Cheech and Chong, from Ode single 66021, released December 1971. Also available on “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Cheech and Chong,” a 2-CD best-of compilation released in 2002.

“We could sure use a dude like that right now.”

No great lines, just great tunes

“White Christmas,” the Edwin Hawkins Singers, from “Peace Is ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’.” 1972. It’s out of print with that title, but is available as “Edwin Hawkins Singers Christmas,” with essentially the same cover. This has a great solo by Tramaine Davis.

“Christmas Medley,” the Salsoul Orchestra, from “Christmas Jollies,” 1976. This is 12 minutes of soul, salsa and dance bliss. An instant party starter.

“Halleujah! It’s Christmas,” .38 Special, from “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night,” 2001. Re-released in 2008 as “The Best of .38 Special: The Christmas Collection,” one of those 20th Century Masters reissues. This joyous, upbeat tune — written by guitarists Don Barnes and Danny Chauncey and lead singer Donnie Van Zant — ought to be a classic.

“Feliz Navidad,” Robert Greenidge, from “It’s Christmas, Mon!”, 1995. It’s out of print. Though Greenidge gets no cover billing on this CD, he’s playing the steel pan. He’s been with Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band since 1983. Earlier this year, Greenidge and his bandmates released “A Coral Reefer Christmas” on Buffett’s Mailboat Records label. This tune is not on that record.

“Christmas in the City of the Angels,” Johnny Mathis, from Columbia 1-11158, a 7-inch single, 1979. Though Mathis has recorded several Christmas albums, this cut never made it onto one. People ask for it every year. (This cut has gone from radio to tape to CD, and then ripped, so that may explain the sound quality if you find it lacking.)

Bonus gifts!

Some of our friends have sent along some tunes they thought you’d like.

“Must Have Been A Mighty Day,” Emily Hurd, from “Tins and Pins and Peppermints,” 2010. She’s a singer-songwriter from Chicago by way of Rockford, Ill., where we have a mutual friend. It’s been interesting to listen to her style evolve, moving from loose and gritty to far more poised and polished. This tune has a bit of both styles. She previewed this record for fans last year, then released it this year.

“Cashing In On Christmastime,” Charles Ramsey, 2010. He’s a singer-songwriter from Philadelphia who has some other nice, non-holiday stuff on his MySpace page. This genial, laid-back cut reminds me of Bob Dylan or Tom Petty with the Traveling Wilburys.

“Christmas Medley,” the Midwesterners, 2009. A pleasant little instrumental featuring Richard Wiegel, the guitarist in this band out of Madison, Wisconsin. He was one of the guitarists in Clicker, the much-loved ’70s Wisconsin rock/pop/glam/show band we write about from time to time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

12 days of Christmas, Day 7

There isn’t much middle ground with “The Little Drummer Boy.” Either you like it, or you don’t.

It was written in 1941 by composer Katherine Davis, who called it “Carol of the Drum.”

It became a Christmas favorite in 1958, when Harry Simeone, a popular arranger for radio, TV and film, did a new version for a 20th Century Fox record, “Sing We Now Of Christmas.” The song, which he called “The Little Drummer Boy,” was sung by a group he called the Harry Simeone Chorale.

He’d been pitched the song by fellow arranger Henry Onorati, who’d done a version a year earlier with the Jack Halloran Singers. The only problem? Dot Records didn’t get that version out in time for Christmas 1957.

The story behind the song — a poor boy who plays his drum as a gift for the baby Jesus — is timeless. All too often, though, you hear covers that lack a sense of adventure. These don’t.

Obscure early ’70s funk/soul: “Little Drummer Boy,” Lenox Avenue, from the Chess 7-inch 2101, 1970. It’s out of print. (Shared last year by Larry over at Funky 16 Corners.)

Late ’70s dance/salsa: “Little Drummer Boy,” the Salsoul Orchestra, from “Christmas Jollies,” 1976.

Late ’80s drum machines: “The Little Drummer Boy,” Alexander O’Neal, from “My Gift To You,” 1988. It’s out of print but is available digitally.

A guaguanco, a style of rumba: “The Little Drummer Boy,” Brave Combo, from “It’s Christmas, Man!” 1992. Hard to find, but available from the band or digitally.

Sweet, trippy sounds: “Little Drummer Boy,” the Dandy Warhols, from “Fruitcake,” 1997, a Capitol Records promo EP. It’s out of print. (Quite the video for it, though!) They released a different version as a single in 1994.

Sweet, reverent sounds: “Little Drummer Boy.” .38 Special, from “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night,” 2001. Re-released in 2008 as “The Best of .38 Special: The Christmas Collection,” one of those 20th Century Masters reissues. If you seek it digitally, search for that title instead of the original.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

The party crasher

Vietnam veterans are in town this weekend for an event called LZ Lambeau. It’s being billed as a long-overdue welcome home. There are four days of events, with the biggie tonight at Lambeau Field.

One of the bars within walking distance of the stadium booked the Commander Cody Band for Friday night.

They once were called Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. They’ve long been a guilty pleasure, and I’ve never seen them, so I went.

The group is just a quartet these days, not the eight-piece big band of old. It’s still fronted by the fine piano player George Frayne and it still cranks out a crowd-pleasing mix of rock, boogie, country and swing.

Good show, but an interesting vibe, one I’d not experienced in quite some time.

As you’d expect, most folks at the show wore something, most often black, proudly proclaiming themselves as Vietnam vets. That also made it clear who was not. Even though it was a friendly, mellow crowd of about 200 that turned out for Commander Cody, it still left me feeling a little like a party crasher.

I’m in my early 50s, and I’m too young for this group. Always will be. I didn’t graduate from high school until five weeks after the fall of Saigon.

So there’s that, and there’s this.

The band was set up in a banquet hall with a couple of cash bars along the side. Seeing all the slightly older folks at the bar and on the dance floor, it felt like I was crashing another wedding at the Colonial Ballroom, a big old rural dance hall not far from where I grew up.

If anyone was on to me one way or the other, they were cool about it. We were all digging Commander Cody, anyway. Here’s a little of what we heard. All are live tracks. The Commander is best heard in the wild.

“Down To Seeds and Stems Again Blues,” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, from “Lost in the Ozone,” 1971. Recorded live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in April 1971.

Frayne proclaimed it the only slow song they play, and it was.

“Beat Me Daddy (Eight to the Bar),” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, from “Live From Deep in the Heart of Texas,” 1974. Recorded live at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, Texas, in November 1973.

This is what they play to pick up the pace after playing that slow song.

“Lost in the Ozone,” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, from “We’ve Got a Live One Here!” 1976. Recorded live in England in January or February 1976.

This closed those long-ago shows, and it closed Friday night’s show.

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Filed under May 2010, Sounds

Change of seasons

Baseball season is almost over. That used to mean the start of an even more exciting time — basketball season.

Over a roughly 25-year stretch that started in the late ’60s and ended in the early ’90s, basketball was my great passion.

It was the game I hoped to play … until I got cut in seventh grade. It was the game I stayed close to as a team manager in high school … until they hired a coach everyone hated. It was the game I played into my 40s … until my ankles and Achilles said it was time to go.

The lovely Janet also was a basketball fan. We were fortunate enough to see lots of NBA games during the ’80s, when our once-beloved Milwaukee Bucks were good and when we were treated to playoff showdowns against Bird’s Boston Celtics and Dr. J’s Philadelphia 76ers at the old Milwaukee Arena. Do you remember the floor?

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But those days are gone. The NBA is all but unwatchable these days.

Besides, it won’t be long before The Spectrum, where those Sixers played, will be gone, too. We never made it to The Spectrum.

Neither did our friends over at Barely Awake in Frog Pajamas, who nonetheless have written a lovely tribute to The Spectrum. It says everything I could have hoped to say about the place, from pretty much the same vantage points of distance and time.

They also dug up a great picture of Dr. J dunking on Lonnie Shelton. They also laid out some nice Philly soul. Here’s more from Philly.

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“The Rubberband Man,” 1976, from “The Best of the Spinners,” 1978. Philly soul meets the dance floor. A tune that suggests the athleticism of the NBA that was.

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“Cheaper To Keep Her,” MFSB, from “Love is the Message,” 1973. (It’s out of print, but the song is available digitally.) Philly soul meets jazz. A tune that suggests the sophistication of the NBA that was.

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“Never Love Again,” Dusty Springfield, from “A Brand New Me,” 1970. (It’s out of print, but is available digitally.) This is Dusty in Philly, doing tunes written by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff (and Roland Chambers on this one), arranged by Thom Bell and performed by the studio musicians that became MFSB. An all-star lineup that suggests the NBA that was.

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Filed under November 2009, Sounds

Halloween is still not my bag

Working on Saturday night, sometimes a drag, will be a delight this Saturday night. Nothing like sitting within earshot of the police scanner on Halloween night.

As noted here a while back, Halloween is not my bag.

However, at this time of year, I always enjoy listening to “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” the first album by the Alan Parsons Project. It’s full of tunes inspired by Edgar Allan Poe.

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We’re revisiting that LP over at our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, which resurfaces at the end of every month, emerging from the haze of time, reviving an old late-night FM radio show on which one side of a new or classic album would be played.

Here’s a little sample of “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” a tune we’ve not shared before. Nothing quite like the voice of Arthur Brown — yes, as in the Crazy World of Arthur Brown — to unnerve you.

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“The Tell-Tale Heart,” the Alan Parsons Project, from “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” 1976.

Enjoy, then head to The Midnight Tracker for Side 1 in its entirety.

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Filed under October 2009, Sounds

Quiet night at Ray’s Corner

It’s been a while since we visited Ray’s Corner.

As our regular readers know, Ray’s Corner is the apartment with the loud music, and the place where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away.

Ray is my dad. He’s 83. He likes his tunes more upbeat than downbeat, as I do. His taste in male singers from his time runs more to Dean Martin and Al Martino than to Frank Sinatra.

Dad never has been a big Tony Bennett guy, but that’s changing. A while back, I gave him a CD from a series called “Artist’s Choice.” It was a collection of Bennett’s favorite songs performed by others. Dad dug it.

Tonight, we have something else Dad might dig.

In the mid-’70s, Bennett teamed up with jazz pianist Bill Evans to record two albums. It’s just Bennett’s voice and Evans’ piano, the songs chosen by them, the arrangements worked out by them.

When those albums came out, Dad was in no position to buy them even if he did dig them. Then as now, the economy was bad. Money was tight, especially with three teenage boys.

Those albums have long been regarded as among the best of Bennett’s career. They’ve been remastered and re-released by Fantasy Records. “The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings” is spare, yet elegant and graceful. It’s perfect for a quiet evening at Ray’s Corner.

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“When In Rome” and “Lucky To Be Me,” Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, from “The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings,” 2009.

“When In Rome” comes from “The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album,” released in 1975. Written in 1963 by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, its full title is “When In Rome (I Do As the Romans Do).” Coleman and Leigh were among Bennett’s favorite songwriters. It’s perhaps the most light-hearted cut.

“Lucky To Be Me” comes from “Together Again,” released in 1976. It’s from the 1944 Broadway musical “On The Town,” with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Adolph Green and Betty Comden. On this cut, Bennett and Evans “examine the melancholy underside of (this) traditionally peppy, lucky, and happy showtune,” according to the Will Friedwald essay that accompanies the new release.

The new release also features two unreleased tracks and 25 alternate takes. Here’s one of the latter.

“Some Other Time (alternate take 7),” Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, from “The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings,” 2009.

This one also is from “On The Town,” with music by Bernstein and lyrics by Green and Comden. It was one of Evans’ favorite songs.

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Filed under April 2009, Sounds

And so our story begins

“It’s cold out here. I’ve knocked on this door a couple of times.
I sure hope they remember today is the day.”

That’s what I remember thinking early on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 18, 1975 — the day I did the first real interview of my journalism career.

I’d pitched a story for my school paper — then called the D.C. Jet — on seeing what it was like to be the morning DJ at our local FM rock station in Wausau, Wisconsin, the one almost everyone listened to.

When I called Bruce Charles to ask whether I could do so, he said sure — but I had to be there at 5:30 a.m. So there I was, knocking on the back door of the studios WIFC shared with WSAU-TV and WSAU-AM.

wifc275aI spent the 6-to-10-a.m. shift with Bruce. He joked on-air that we had wine and were kicking back. He took calls and played 45s. We chatted during songs. I got a little air time.

The photographer from my school paper came by. That’s Bruce showing me David Bowie’s live album for no apparent reason. Both of us are making fashion statements of some kind, but we’ll leave that for cultural historians to deconstruct.

I wrote the story. I still have it. But it’s hardly the end of the story.

I always wondered what became of Bruce Charles. Until last August.

That’s when a certain quarterback unretired and was traded to New York. Big news in Green Bay, of course, so we asked our readers to share their thoughts. It was my job to sort through the hundreds of e-mails and choose some to be published.

As I went through them, I came across one from a gent whose name I immediately recognized. So I e-mailed back: “I knew a Bruce Heikkinen who worked at WIFC radio in Wausau in the mid-70s. Is that you?”

The next day, I heard back: “Rock n roll! … yes!!!”

It was Bruce Charles. We exchanged some more e-mails and we eventually chatted on the phone. A follow-up interview, 33 years later. That it was with the subject of my first real, out-in-the-world interview made it all the more special.

Way back when, I wrote in the D.C. Jet that we played stuff from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Ringo Starr, Bachman-Turner Overdrive and the Four Tops on Tuesday morning, Feb. 18, 1975.

We might have played the following tunes that morning. They were on the charts at the time. You wouldn’t hear them together today, though. Rock stations wouldn’t play one. Urban stations wouldn’t play the other. What a blessing it was to grow up in a time when the radio exposed you to all kinds of music.

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“Fire,” Ohio Players from “Fire,” 1975.

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“Roll On Down The Highway,” Bachman-Turner Overdrive, from “Best of B.T.O. (So Far),” 1976. It’s out of print. This tune first appeared on “Not Fragile,” 1974. It’s also available on “20th Century Masters: The Best of Bachman-Turner Overdrive,” a 2000 CD compilation.

Our story continues later this week. (Sorry, this is Wisconsin. I have to go out and shovel instead of blogging.)

6 Comments

Filed under February 2009, Sounds