Tag Archives: 1987

An 18th-century hymn done with soul

Did you know George Harrison wrote “My Sweet Lord” but that Billy Preston recorded it first in 1970?

Neither did I until I read Matthew Bolin’s fine piece, “The 10 Best Cover Songs (You Didn’t Know Were Covers)” over at Popdose earlier tonight.

Not to get all preachy on you, but as I listened, it seemed an appropriate selection for this weekend. It has a nice gospel vibe.

I’m far from knowledgeable about gospel music, and I’m not particularly reverent, but I do enjoy exploring the funk and soul aspects of gospel music.

However, the progressive but predominately white mainstream church we attend rarely explores gospel music, and when it does, it rolls out the same few songs on the same few occasions. Apparently we can dig gospel music only when Martin Luther King Jr. Day draws near. But that is another issue for another day.

Perhaps some day we’ll hear this. It’s been one of my favorites for years. It still delivers chills.

“Oh Happy Day,” the Edwin Hawkins Singers, from “Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord,” 1968. The LP is out of print, but the song is available digitally. This was recorded live in 1967 at Ephesian Church of God in Christ in Berkeley, California.

Dorothy Combs Morrison is the lead singer. She was in her early 20s at the time. The rest of the Edwin Hawkins Singers also were young, ranging from their late teens to mid-20s.

The LP originally was to be released only locally, but it got a worldwide release after “Oh Happy Day” became a smash on San Francisco radio in 1969.

Did you know “Oh Happy Day” is a reworking of an English hymn that dates to the 18th century? Neither did I. Here’s another version.

“Oh Happy Day,” Aretha Franklin with Mavis Staples, from “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,” 1987. This LP also is out of print, but the song is available digitally. This was recorded live at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit in late July 1987.

(Curiously, my copy of this song is from “Joy To The World,” a 2006 CD that was marketed as a Christmas release. However, only half of its 10 cuts are Christmas songs. Go figure.)

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Filed under April 2012, 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

Three under the tree, Vol. 43

Christmas lurks out there, scarcely 10 days away now.

Everyone’s busy, no time to read, no time to write.

This is going to be it for Three Under the Tree. I get the feeling this series has run its course, anyway. I have something in mind for next year, something a little different.

So as we go out, three more good ones:

“All I Want for Christmas,” Timbuk 3, 1987, from “A Different Kind of Christmas,” 1994. It’s out of print.

Gotta support your local musicians. Pat MacDonald, born right here in Green Bay and kicked out of West High School in the late ’60s over his long hair (and that’s only part of a great story), was half of Timbuk 3 with his ex-wife Barbara K. He’s living in our corner of Wisconsin these days, doing a variety of gigs and billing himself as pat mAcdonald.

“Winter Wonderland,” Steve Goodman, from “Artistic Hair,” 1983.

Recorded live, but not otherwise a Christmas record. On which Steve struggles to remember the lyrics but comes close enough, and in so doing comes up with a delightful acoustic version. I bought this record at a Steve Goodman show in 1983. He autographed it for me: “Joe, Hello”

“Merry Christmas Baby,” Chuck Berry, 1958, from “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade, Vol. 2,” 1973. The LP is out of print, but this tune — and a shorter alternate take — are available on “Johnny B. Goode: His Complete ’50s Chess Recordings,” a 2008 compilation, and digitally.

On which Chuck demonstrates how well he does those quiet, slow blues. Listen for a snippet of “White Christmas” at about 1:40. Mostly, though, it’s just Chuck’s voice backed by Johnnie Johnson’s piano. The rest of the group is Willie Dixon on bass and Fred Below on drums.

And to think I got to see Chuck Berry this year. Christmas came early.

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Filed under December 2009, 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.)

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Filed under December 2009, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 24

Today under the tree, something a little different. One modern Christmas classic, three contemporary singers, which means … Diva Throwdown!

Truth be told, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is a protest song. It’s a call for peace written in October 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis. The music was written by Gloria Shayne. The lyrics were written by Noel Regney. The Harry Simeone Chorale had the first big hit with it that year. Bing Crosby had an even bigger hit with it in 1963.

It’s been widely covered since, and one of the more familiar versions is up first on Diva Throwdown! Because sometimes Christmas isn’t Christmas unless someone sings the bejeezus (the be-baby-jeezus?) out of a tune.

veryspecialxmascd

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” Whitney Houston, from “A Very Special Christmas,” 1987.

There’s a nice slow groove underneath this one. Then add a little bit of gospel. Once Houston gets revved up, she soars right over the top of those gospel singers. This cover makes it clear that Houston did indeed get her start in the junior gospel choir at her church in Newark, New Jersey.

Next up …

martinamcbridewhitexmascd

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” Martina McBride, from “White Christmas,’ 1999. (The link is to the 2007 reissue with extra tracks and new cover art.)

This is a fairly laid-back cover, the most straightforward of the three, showcasing McBride’s lovely voice. She’s as much a pop singer as a country singer. After seeing McBride duetting with Pat Benatar on CMT’s “Crossroads” show — that was five years ago already? — she rocks, too.

Next up …

vanessawmsstarbrightcd

“Do You Hear What I Hear?/The Little Drummer Boy,” Vanessa Williams, from “Star Bright,” 1996. It’s out of print, but is available digitally.

We’ve saved the best for last … and no pun intended.

Williams’ voice isn’t as powerful as Houston’s or McBride’s, but she has a terrific arrangement behind her. There’s a little R&B, there’s a little Afrobeat, there’s a gospel choir. The curious thing about this tune it its title. As far as I can tell, there’s no “Little Drummer Boy” in it.

I picked up several used CDs as I prepared for Diva Throwdown! These so-called divas’ records aren’t really my cup of tea, but I enjoyed Williams’ record. McBride’s record is Midwest nice, and we’ll keep that one, too. But I bought some others — no need to name names — that were disappointing and still others that were almost unlistenable.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 19

By now, you may be getting weary of all the familiar Christmas songs. Time, then, to explore three originals left under the tree tonight. You’ll quickly see that may be all they have in common.

First, let’s fulfill a request from my old pal Doug, who just about knocked me off my chair when he wrote the other day to ask for this, his “top Christmas song of all time.” I dig it. I had no idea Doug did.

veryspecialxmascd

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

Direct from Hollis, Queens, to the frozen hinterlands of Wisconsin, just for you, my man. Written by Joseph Simmons (Rev. Run) and Darryl McDaniels (D.M.C.) and produced by Rick Rubin and Steve Ett.

Oh, yes, and the video, too.

Our next song comes from another pair of native New Yorkers. From the artists formerly known as Sidney Liebowitz of Brooklyn and Edith Gormezano of the Bronx …

steveeydieholidayfeelinglp

“That Holiday Feeling,” Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, from “That Holiday Feeling!” 1964.

I bought this record on a whim right after Christmas last year. I didn’t put it on the turntable until last month. It’s terrific, a bubbly, sophisticated slice of the seemingly lost art of the pop duet. I saw Steve and Eydie so many times on TV in the ’60s and ’70s, watching with my dad, that they’re like members of the family. This is my favorite record and my favorite song this year.

Dig this sassy, sexy duet written by Bill and Patty Jacob, orchestrated by Don Guercio and arranged by the great Don Costa:

“On New Year’s Eve at 12 o’clock we’ll stop to kiss
And while the whole world will be whistleblowing
We will still be mistletoeing
You think you’re such a smartie
Come on, let’s have a party
I know what’s running through your mind
This is the season to be kind.”

What comes after old-school hip-hop and classic nightclub pop? Roadhouse rock from Oklahoma, of course!

tractorsxmascd

“Jingle My Bells,” the Tractors, from “Have Yourself A Tractors Christmas,” 1995.

The Tractors got relegated to the country bins when they hit the scene in the mid-’90s, and unfairly so. There’s a fair amount of swing, a dash of rock (perhaps a dash of riprock?) and a laid-back vibe a mile wide. They have more in common with Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen than with Asleep at the Wheel, I’d say.

“Jingle My Bells” is one of eight originals on this fine Christmas record. It’s written by keyboard player Walt Richmond, and that’s him on the Wurlitzer electric and Steinway pianos. It almost feels as if guitarist/singer Steve Ripley and Richmond have a little Chuck Berry-Johnnie Johnson thing going on. Ripley’s liner notes say they were almost done with the album when Richmond came up with this one. Richmond explains:

“I woke up singing this song. Got up. Wrote it down. It was a gift.”

And now it’s a gift for you.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds