Tag Archives: 1981

12 days of Christmas, Day 9

In the e-mail today is a note about NPR Music’s Jingle Jams holiday mix.

They asked 10 stations to suggest 10 Christmas songs each, then put it all together into one playlist. You can stream it here.

Here are 12 of the songs, in the order they appear on the Jingle Jams playlist. The station or program suggesting the song is in parentheses.

“Let It Snow,” Leon Redbone, from “Christmas Island,” 1989. (Folk Alley)

“‘Zat You, Santa Claus” Louis Armstrong, 1953, from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985. It’s out of print. (NPR suggests finding it on “Hipster’s Holiday,” a 1989 CD compilation.) (WBGO, Newark, New Jersey; WDUQ, Pittsburgh)

“Last Month Of The Year” the Blind Boys of Alabama, from “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” 2003. (WXPN, Philadelphia)

“Santa Claus, Santa Claus,” James Brown, from “Santa’s Got A Brand New Bag,” 1966. The LP is out of print but all the songs are on “The Complete James Brown Christmas,” a 2-CD set released earlier this year. (KUT, Austin, Texas)

“Back Door Santa,” Clarence Carter, from “Soul Christmas,” 1968. (KUT)

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” Darlene Love, from “A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector,” 1963. (WXPN)

“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)

“Greensleeves,” the Vince Guaraldi Trio, from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” 1965. The buy link is to a 2006 remastered CD release with extra tracks, including an alternate take on this one. (WDUQ)

“Jingle Bells,” Jimmy Smith, from “Christmas ’64,” 1964. Smith’s “Christmas Cookin’,” from the same year, is the same record but with a much cooler cover.  (WBGO)

“Must Be Santa,” Brave Combo, from “It’s Christmas, Man!” 1992. Hard to find, but available from the band or digitally. NPR’s version is from a live performance at KUT. This version is done as a polka.

“Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney,” Ella Fitzgerald, 1950, from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985. It’s out of print. (NPR suggests finding it on “Yule Be Miserable,” a 2006 CD compilation) (WDUQ)

“The 12 Days of Christmas,” Harry Belafonte, from “To Wish You A Merry Christmas,” 1962. (NPR Music staff)


Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

The fog of winter

Tonight is one of those late-winter nights in our corner of Wisconsin on which the air is mild, the snow is melting and the fog is thick. It’s been that way for the better part of a week, but no complaints.

It feels as if I could drive into this fog, make my way through it and find myself in another time. I see all the people gathered around TVs, watching college basketball, and I think: “That used to be us.”

Emerging from the fog, I might find myself in March 1982, when we watched the NCAA games, downed countless beers and listened to a quirky, distant record that had come out about six months earlier.

I think it was the Hose’s record. At the time, I didn’t dig it all that much. Over time, it’s become part of the soundtrack to that time in our lives. On a foggy winter’s night, it evokes that time.

“Invisible Sun,” the Police, from “Ghost in the Machine,” 1981.

Released as a single only in the UK, and controversial at that, “Invisible Sun” was a beacon amid the strife in Northern Ireland at the time.

“There has to be an invisible sun

That gives us hope when the whole day’s done”

“Ghost in the Machine” is, of course, a well-known record. You don’t need me to introduce you to it. But perhaps this is a song you have not heard in some time. A couple of other cuts — “Secret Journey” and “Darkness” — could have filled the bill as well.

Winter’s fog inspired a similar post at this time last year. Check it out. If this tune is not your cup of tea, perhaps the one posted then will be.


Filed under March 2010, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 42

Watching that old George Thorogood video last night, it struck me how cutting-edge MTV seemed at the time and how quaint and innocent those old videos seem now.

It sure would be nice to sit down with our 14-year-old son and watch something like that now.

Of course, he’d roll his eyes and say, “Dad! That’s so corny!”

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

Take 1:

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

Here’s a little behind-the-scenes bonus: Bob Leafe was taking photos on the set when Billy Squier and Co. shot that video in the MTV studios. He shares some memories and photos.

Take 2:

“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.

Take 3:

“Christmas In Hollis,” Run-D.M.C., from “A Very Special Christmas,” 1987. (This one is for Doug.)


Filed under December 2009, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 21


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 …


“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.)


“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.


Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 6

If you were with us last year, today’s post may be familiar.

One of the advantages (or drawbacks) to being older than dirt is that you can be nostalgic about several decades. So it is as we fondly recall the early ’80s and bring you three from the early days of MTV.

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 is the Time to Say I Love You,” Billy Squier, 1981, from “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,” a 1994 compilation.

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?

* * * * *


“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.

* * * * *


“Do They Know It’s Christmas,” Band Aid, from the 12-inch single, 1984.

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.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas” is out of print but is available on this 7-inch single released in 2004 as the flip side to a new, 20th anniversary version.

* * * * *

Enjoy. More to come, including some all-request posts. However, without requests, I can’t do all-request posts. So feel free to drop me a line.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 51

Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure and human jukebox, has covered thousands of songs.

Though many are obscure, others are familiar. It’s always interesting to hear Sleepy interpret a song you’ve heard many times by other artists. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We’ve had both here.

Today, it’s a blues tune done first by Muddy Waters in May 1955. “Mannish Boy” has its roots in the Bo Diddley blues number, “I’m a Man.” It’s a rewrite, a reworking of that tune, which came out in March 1955.

Sleepy isn’t the only one to cover “Mannish Boy,” as you well know. Among the others: Jimi Hendrix, Paul Butterfield, the Band, the Rolling Stones and Hank Williams Jr.


“Mannish Boy,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “Rockabilly Blues,” 2001.

Sleepy recorded this version at Dimension Sound Studios in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, in 1981. His backing band is Scott Billington on harmonica, Bobby Keyes on guitar, Harry Duncan on piano, Russell Keyes on bass and Rick Nelson on drums.

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Filed under February 2008, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 21

As I wrote last night’s post, I heard Christmas carols coming from the living room. In the distinctive, occasionally off-key voice of our 12-year-old son.

“Dad, come out here and see!”

So I walk out to the living room to see Evan has discovered a karaoke channel on the digital cable system. Apparently one of several karaoke channels available to us — who knew? — it’s a holiday karaoke channel.

Evan is working his way through “The 12 Days of Christmas,” but he says there’s one big difference.

“It’s not the one by those two goofy guys.”

There you have it. The inspiration for tonight’s three under the tree. I’m not much for Christmas novelty tunes. This is as close as we get.


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

I had this album during the ’80s, played it only at Christmas time, sold it at a moving sale, then bought another copy in the early ’90s. This is a pretty clever spoof of the traditional Christmas song. Yet other than “Take Off,” the tune Bob (Rick Moranis) and Doug (Dave Thomas) did with Rush’s Geddy Lee, I couldn’t tell you what else is on this album.

Bob and Doug McKenzie were sketch characters on “SCTV,” a show that was sort of Canada’s version of “Saturday Night Live.” It was syndicated in the States, often airing late at night on weekends, sometimes right after “SNL.” Bob and Doug McKenzie were a lot like guys we knew in Wisconsin, pounding beer and acting dopey, thus the appeal.


“Santa Claus and His Old Lady,” Cheech and Chong, from Ode single 66021, released December 1971.

The premise, if you’ve not heard this: One stoner tries to explain Santa Claus to another stoner. Santa used to live in the projects, then started a commune, then got busted at the border, but is not a musician. Sorry. You really had to be there. Being under the influence helps.

A gem of truth tucked inside this bit: “We could sure use a dude like that right now.”

This bit never appeared on any of their albums. It’s available on CD on “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Cheech and Chong,” a 2002 compilation of their best stuff. (The flip side to the single was “Dave,” another stoner classic.)


“Good King Wenceslas,” Mojo Nixon and the Toadliquors, from “Horny Holidays,” 1992.

Certainly the rowdiest Christmas album I have. The liner notes insist it was “recorded at 3 Alarm Studio, Memphis, TN, December ’91, top to bottom in four days and 27 bottles of peppermint schnapps on the floor.”

I don’t doubt it. You won’t, either, especially after you hear Mojo and the lads get started on this traditional Christmas song, struggle to remember the lyrics, throw in the towel, sing “la la las” instead and rev up the pace before collapsing in a heap. What you’ve always wanted to do, right?

This album also features “Mr. Grinch,” perhaps the perfect holiday tune for Mojo, and a version of “Jingle Bells” that, again, is the one you’ve always wanted to do — “Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg.” You get the picture.

Most of it is enjoyable except for the last cut — a profane take on “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” that’s in staggeringly, outrageously bad taste. Really not in the Christmas spirit.

That said, enjoy. More tunes to come.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2007, Sounds