Tag Archives: 1981

I still want my MTV Christmas

Believe it or not, there was a time when artists made Christmas videos and MTV played them at Christmas time, just as radio would play their Christmas singles at Christmas time. ‘

“Christmas In Hollis” by Run-D.M.C. has become a Christmas tradition. You know that one.

So here are three that are less seen today, yet still among my favorites.

* * * * *

rnrxmascd

“Rock & Roll Christmas,” George Thorogood and the Destroyers, 1983, from “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,” 1995.

As you can see, it once was used to rock the house at MTV. Damn! Mark Goodman gets a nice long smooch from a cutie under the mistletoe at 1:55!

And, yes, that appears to be John Lee Hooker as Santa Claus. I once was skeptical, but my friend Larry pointed me to photos of Thorogood and Hooker taken by Bob Leafe at an MTV taping in 1984.

When I went looking for this video last year, it had been wiped from YouTube. Delighted to have it back.

* * * * *

rnrxmascd

“Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You,” Billy Squier, 1981, also from “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,” 1995.

Squier was one of the biggest stars on MTV at the time, so a Christmas single seemed logical. And who could forget these lyrics: “From grownup to minor/No one could be finer” and “From rooftop to chimney/From Harlem to Bimini.” I know of no other Christmas song with “Bimini” in the lyrics.

Squier lip-syncs it with the MTV VJs and crew on the video. It’s a guilty pleasure, perhaps even corny, but it’s a good memory from that time. Of course, it revives the age-old debate: Nina Blackwood or Martha Quinn?

* * * * *

bandaiddotheyknowlp

“Do They Know It’s Christmas (single edit),” Band Aid, from the 12-inch single, 1984. It’s out of print but is available on “Now That’s What I Call Christmas,” a 2001 CD compilation, and digitally.

Before “We Are The World,” there was this. In 1984, everyone who was anyone on the UK music scene came together as Band Aid to sing “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” Bob Geldof wrote the words. Midge Ure wrote the music. The song, which benefited hunger relief in Ethiopia, was huge — a solid No. 1 in Britain and close to it in the States.

As you watch the video to see what all the fuss was about, see how many of those performers you can name.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2013, Sounds

Another little mystery

So I’m over at Funky 16 Corners not too long ago, digging what my friend Larry had cued up.

He’d dropped both sides of “Do What You Wanna Do,” a single I’d never heard, from Frank Howard and the Continentals, a group I’d never heard of.

When I think of Frank Howard, I think of the guy who used to play baseball for the Washington Senators. The guy whose cocktail lounge — and that’s what it was, a lounge, and not a bar — I used frequent in the early ’80s. But I digress.

frankhoward_dowhat_45

Barely 20 seconds into “Do What You Wanna Do (Part I),” an obscure 1969 single on the DeLuxe label, I got an odd sense of deja vu. I’d heard this before. More precisely, I’d heard this bass line before. But where?

So I played it over and over, wracking my brain, trying to solve that little mystery. After about 20 minutes, it rolled into my head. Oh, I heard it here.

blasters lp 1981

“I’m Shakin’,” the Blasters, from “The Blasters,” 1981. The LP appears to be out of print but the song is available digitally.

Instead of the bass line, it’s the sax line, but it’s the same.

Wanting to accurately document this for Larry, I did a little digging and found this was a cover of a Little Willie John song from 1960. Which I’d never realized. Just never paid all that much attention 30 years ago, when this was one of my favorite LPs, getting lots of time on the turntable.

Then along comes my friend Derek, who’s sending out the “daily” portion of his equally wonderful Derek’s Daily 45 blog in a blaze of glory this month.

On the second day of his retrospective, The Best of Daily 45, Part 2, Derek dropped this, the final clue to that little mystery.

im shakin little willie john

It was Little Willie John’s original 1960 version from the King 7-inch, which I’d never heard. Same sax line.

And that is how you solve a little mystery. With a little help from your friends.

(Now why Larry and Derek, little-known but influential curators and champions of little-known but influential American popular music, are not getting MacArthur Fellowships — the genius grants — is another little mystery.)

Please visit our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under October 2013, Sounds

A smaller Christmas, Day 22

Tonight, we present “Scrooge.”

In the two years since we last enjoyed watching George Thorogood and the Destroyers frolicking on the MTV set in 1985, that clip has been removed from YouTube. It was the one with John Lee Hooker as Santa, the one with Martha Quinn dancing with Santa, and the one with Mark Goodman getting a nice long smooch from a cutie under the mistletoe. Bummer.

Screen shot 2012-12-22 at 11.00.14 PM

Sorry about that? Oh, come on. Guess we don’t want new generations to enjoy a classic.

On to Billy Squier, then! Let’s watch him lip-sync it with the MTV VJs and crew. As always, the question remains: Nina Blackwood or Martha Quinn?

rocknrollxmascdgood

“Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You,” Billy Squier, 1981, from “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,” 1995.

Yeah, this CD is still around, and it’s still one of the best compilations. I saw it at Barnes & Noble earlier this month.

Your Christmas music requests in the comments, please.

Please visit our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2012, Sounds, Sounds like bull to me

Gil Scott-Heron, mind blower

They actually played Gil Scott-Heron on the radio in central Wisconsin in the ’70s. Late at night, of course. Then I rediscovered him in the ’80s.

(Here’s that story. I wrote this for the original Jefitoblog in August 2007 as part of a series celebrating what Jeff Giles called suburban rap’s 21st birthday.)

My mind was being blown anyway, so what was another genre?

Twenty-five years ago this summer, I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, one of the most liberal, most eccentric places on the planet. Think Berkeley. Think Austin.

There, I discovered a radio station like none I’d ever heard, like none I’ve heard since.

Because I worked nights, I spent my early afternoons listening to the volunteer DJs on WORT, 89.9 FM, listener-sponsored Back Porch Radio. They spun a staggeringly diverse mix of local bands, indie rock, R&B, soul, dance, jazz, punk, country and performance art.

The Chili Peppers and Fishbone, side by side with Camper Van Beethoven and Mojo Nixon, side by side with Husker Du and fIREHOSE, side by side with Laurie Anderson and Stan Ridgway, side by side with John Hiatt and Richard Thompson

And, yes, side by side with the hip-hop we now recognize as old school.

In that summer of 1982, I was careening through my mid-20s and still rocking out, having been raised on Top 40 radio. AM, then FM, if you will.

Yet some of my formative FM was the late-night, free-form variety. During its heyday in the mid-’70s, I heard Gil Scott-Heron for the first time. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” was quite a revelation to a kid from a small town in central Wisconsin.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the door to hip-hop had opened.

One afternoon, one of the WORT DJs played something new. The voice was a direct, vaguely familiar baritone:

“Well, the first thing I want to say is, mandate, my ass.”

Then the laid-back beat of “B Movie” kicked in and Gil Scott-Heron, circa 1981, ripped Ronald Reagan for the next 6 minutes, 52 seconds.

“B Movie,” Gil Scott-Heron, from “Reflections,” 1981. This version is the radio edit. It runs 6:52. The album version runs 12:10. The LP appears to be out of print. A live version of this tune is available digitally as a cut from “Tour de Force,” a 2004 CD release also titled “The Best of Gil Scott-Heron Live.”

Some other appreciations of Gil Scott-Heron:

Larry Grogan at Funky 16 Corners: “In a word, Gil Scott-Heron was deep.”

Tris McCall, in an excellent piece in the Newark Star-Ledger: “Like Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, Gil Scott-Heron demonstrated that popular music could be as effective a vehicle for serious ideas as a broadside or a political speech.”

Greg Kot in the Chicago Tribune: “Public Enemy’s Chuck D once said hip-hop was black America’s CNN. If so, Gil Scott-Heron was the network’s first great anchorman, presaging hip-hop and infusing soul and jazz with poetry, humor and pointed political commentary.”

The Associated Press via the Los Angeles Times: “Scott-Heron’s influence on rap was such that he was sometimes referred to as the Godfather of Rap, a title he rejected. … He referred to his signature mix of percussion, politics and performed poetry as bluesology or Third World music. But then he said it was simply ‘black music or black American music’.”

David Hinkley in the New York Daily News: “Perhaps Scott-Heron’s more lasting legacy, though, lies in his lifelong insistence that music has to say something and mean something.”

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Filed under May 2011, Sounds

Echoes on a plane

We were on the plane to Savannah last week. It was the first trip for the iPod.

Having cranked up the volume to drown out the engine noise, it was an opportunity to listen to songs more closely than you typically would. It brought one of those revelations you get when you have that kind of an opportunity.

This song came along in the shuffle play.

“He’s Got Your Love,” the Isley Brothers, from “It’s Your Thing,” 1969.

The Isleys’ lyrics go …

“What has he got that I haven’t got/He’s got you, baby/He’s got you, baby”

Now hold on. There’s another song that goes like that. You may remember it.

“What’s He Got,” the Producers, from “The Producers,” 1981. It’s out of print and apparently not available digitally, either.

It’s not a cover, and the music is power pop rather than soul, but this Atlanta group covered much the same ground.

“What’s he got that I ain’t got/He’s got you/That’s what he’s got/That’s what he’s got”

I vividly remember this from the early days of MTV, but was surprised to learn it did nothing in the charts.

The Producers were such MTV faves — “Certain Kind Of Girl” and “She Sheila” also were popular videos — that they headlined the network’s second New Year’s Rockin’ Eve at Radio City Music Hall in New York as 1981 turned to 1982.

Lead singer Kyle Henderson, it turns out, has lived just down the road in Madison, Wisconsin, for the past four years. He’s an editor at the University of Wisconsin and teaches at a junior college.

He also leads a group called Kyle Henderson’s Blue Eyed Soul. They do soul and blues covers and originals. And, yes, “What’s He Got” is on their song list.

However, “He’s Got Your Love” is not.

I like ’em both. Might be interesting to put them back to back.

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Filed under April 2011, Sounds

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 11

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was on the other night. Mariah Carey and her mom had their Christmas special, too. “Scrooged” has been on. “Miracle on 34th Street” — the good one, from 1947 — is coming up.

They even screened “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” in Santa Monica, California, today. (Did you know that when it aired on NBC in 1962, it was the first animated Christmas special?) That was one of my favorites. Kinda scary in places, but still one of my favorites.

I wonder whether they’re showing some of my favorites from another time.

Gather around the hearth, kids, and hear how MTV once aired Christmas videos. It was the early ’80s, and MTV seemed so cutting-edge at the time. Those old videos seem so quaint and innocent now. Our 15-year-old son would take one look at them, roll his eyes and say, “That’s so corny!”

Absolutely. And it wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

Take 1:

“Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You,” Billy Squier, 1981, from “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,” 1995.

Squier lip-syncs it with the MTV VJs and crew on the video. A good memory from that time. It revives the age-old debate: Nina Blackwood or Martha Quinn?

Take 2:

“Rock & Roll Christmas,” George Thorogood and the Destroyers, 1983, from “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,” 1985.

This once rocked the house at MTV. Mark Goodman gets a nice long smooch from a cutie under the mistletoe at 1:55!

(Is that really John Lee Hooker as Santa Claus? My friend Larry says: “I think that may in fact be Hooker as Santa” and points to the photos of Thorogood and Hooker taken by Bob Leafe at an MTV taping in 1984. “I’d love to know for sure,” Larry says. So would I. Ah, those little mysteries.)

Take 3:

“Run Rudolph Run,” Dave Edmunds, 1982, from “A Different Kind of Christmas,” 1994. The CD is out of print but the song is available digitally.

This is from the MTV New Year’s Eve Rock ‘n’ Roll Ball, so Happy New Year 1987, everyone in the Central time zone!

And some others seen on MTV …

Take 4:

“2000 Miles,” the Pretenders, from “Learning to Crawl,” 1983.

Talk about playing a guitar like ringing a bell, quietly, gracefully. A modern Christmas classic about a loved one gone at Christmas. That it came from an album with so many other great, straight-up rock songs — this was the flip side to “Middle of the Road” — makes it all the more remarkable.

Take 5:

“Do They Know It’s Christmas (single edit),” Band Aid, 1985, from the 12-inch single. It’s out of print but is available on “Now That’s What I Call Christmas!” 2001.

Before “We Are The World,” there was this. In 1984, everyone who was anyone on the UK music scene came together as Band Aid to sing “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” Bob Geldof wrote the words. Midge Ure wrote the music. The song, which benefited hunger relief in Ethiopia, was huge — a solid No. 1 in Britain and close to it in the States.

So, how many of those performers you can name?

Take 6:

“Christmas In Hollis,” Run-D.M.C., from “A Very Special Christmas,” 1987.

This one, as always, is for Doug.

Bonus video!

Grace Jones sings “The Little Drummer Boy” on Pee-Wee Herman’s 1988 Christmas special!

 

And now, a word from our sponsor.

It may just be a Midwestern thing, but this used to be a familiar sight at this time of year. It debuted in 1977; this clip is dated 1981.

A friend who once worked at Miller Brewing in Milwaukee told us people so loved this commercial that they’d start calling the brewery in November to try to find out when it was going to air.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2010