Tag Archives: 1988

‘Happiness, through the years, to you’

Six years ago, readers who made their way to this corner of the blogosphere found “Three Under The Tree,” a series of Christmas music posts. 

Every December that followed, readers who made their way here found Christmas music, some of it the same year after year.

Last year, though, I wrote that my passion for Christmas music had waned, so things were downsized to “A Smaller Christmas.”

I’ve bought just two Christmas records in the last year, and both because they were on colored vinyl. I’ve been loath to listen to them, but I finally gave one a spin last night. Turns out it’s kind of charming, an unexpected joy.

There will be some other cuts as Christmas draws near, but let’s start with holiday greetings from Lou Reed from 25 years ago.

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“Holiday I.D.,” Lou Reed, from “Winter Warnerland,” 1988. It’s out of print, and apparently a collectible. I found it for a dollar.

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 2013, Sounds

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

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

Three under the tree, Vol. 35

You know those Christmas records you can enjoy cut after cut, start to finish? We came up with three from the ’00s and three from the ’90s. Today, the ’80s.

I have no idea how I learned of today’s record when it came out in 1988. Maybe I heard something on WORT, our local indie FM radio station in Madison, Wisconsin. (WORT is celebrating its 34th birthday tonight, by the way.) Maybe I saw something on BET one night. Sorry, just can’t remember.

But every Christmas for 20 years, I’ve enjoyed “My Gift To You” by Alexander O’Neal. It’s a great mix of late ’80s funk and soul and a more traditional big band sound. O’Neal’s smooth, silky high tenor is the icing on the cake.

It’s produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis — the great Flyte Tyme team.

Their lush, more traditional string and horn arrangements stand the test of time. Hear them on O’Neal’s covers of “This Christmas,” the Donny Hathaway classic, and “Winter Wonderland.”

Whether their more contemporary tunes have held up, well, that’s more subjective. You make the call on “The Little Drummer Boy,” which is funked-out and drum-programmed in the style of the day. But it works.

All from “My Gift To You,” Alexander O’Neal, 1988. It’s out of print and hard to find. It still sounds good to me, from start to finish.

The odd thing? I don’t think I’d heard anything by O’Neal before I heard this, and I don’t have any other records by O’Neal, even now. Yet I can’t imagine a Christmas without Alexander O’Neal.

A couple of other good long-players from the ’80s: “A Very Special Christmas,” from 1987, has become the standard against which every all-star Christmas compilation is judged. “An Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas,” from 1986, features scorchers by Lou Ann Barton and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, a couple of my Texas faves.

Tomorrow, a good one from the ’70s.

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Filed under December 2009, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 12

It’s snowing outside. It started about 5 p.m. It’s going to snow for about 24 hours. When it’s done, we’ll likely have close to a foot of new snow.

snowstreet

When it snowed like that last December, this is what our street looked like. That, my friends, is a winter wonderland.

And that, my friends, is our theme for the next couple of days.

“Winter Wonderland” was written in 1934, with music by Felix Bernard and lyrics by Richard B. Smith. The story goes that Smith wrote the song after admiring a snow-covered park in his hometown of Honesdale, Pennsylvania.

It was first recorded that year by Richard Himber and his Hotel Carelton Orchestra. Later that year, Guy Lombardo and His Orchestra had a hit with it. It really rocked the charts in 1946, when the Andrews Sisters (backed by Lombardo), Johnny Mercer and Perry Como all had hits with it.

It has since become one of the most familiar holiday tunes, even though it’s more about winter than about Christmas.

The ’80s were a good decade for “Winter Wonderland.” Three of my favorite versions came out then.

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“Winter Wonderland,” Steve Goodman, from “Artistic Hair,” 1983. Recorded live, he forgets the lyrics, then improvises some unforgettable new lyrics. This otherwise isn’t a Christmas album, but it’s certainly worth getting for live versions of “Elvis Imitators,” “Chicken Cordon Bleus,” “City of New Orleans” and “You Never Even Call Me By My Name.”

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“Winter Wonderland,” Eurythmics, from “A Very Special Christmas,” 1986. These days, this is the most frequently heard version of the song. And why not? Annie Lennox’s voice is terrific, as is the percussion by Dave Stewart and Richard Feldman. Drum machines, to be sure, but entirely appropriate.

alexonealxmaslp

“Winter Wonderland,” Alexander O’Neal, from “My Gift To You,” 1988. It’s out of print. Buy it if you ever see it. This is one of my all-time favorite Christmas records. The smooth R&B and soul singer goes with a big band arrangement on this one, recorded at the peak of his U.S. success.

It’s still gonna look like a winter wonderland around these parts on Wednesday, so stop back for more.

One more thing: I’d like to do some all-request posts, but I need your requests! We have some, but there’s room under the tree for more.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

Mystery solved!

Update: It took 12 hours, but the mystery detailed below has been solved. The story behind our mystery starts now …

I’ve been working behind the scenes, getting ready for the second edition of our Three Under The Tree series of Christmas music posts.

In so doing, I’ve come across a tune — it’s not a Christmas song — that I dig, but I have absolutely no idea who it’s by or what it’s named.

One night back in the late ’80s, I taped part of a show from WORT, our local indie radio station in Madison, Wisconsin. It was a soul/R&B/funk show called “Cross Currents.” That night, the host — Willie Wonder — was playing Christmas tunes from those genres. It’s taken me all these years, but I’ve finally identified all but one track on that tape.

Like I said, it isn’t a Christmas song. Willie put a couple of straight-up soul/blues tunes into the mix that night.

It’s the tale of a man who’s seeing two women. It’s a soul/blues number with some nasty bass lines on the bottom, some nice blues guitar over the top and some synth keyboards and percussion in the middle. The latter clearly dates it to the ’80s.

I’ve done all kinds of lyrics searches and have come up blank. The lyrics follow. Can you help solve my little mystery?

Well I see her and I see you/The first time that comes to my mind/What am I going to do?

They say it’s impossible to love two women/And in the name of love, love them both at the same time

I keep tellin’ myself night after night, oh what a shame/But I swear to you I love both of them about the same

Oh I’ve got double trouble she knows I have another/You know what it’s a mother when you got double trouble

It started real early on the phone/My wife was in the kitchen when I thought she was gone

My girlfriend was on the line/How was she to know we were gonna blow this time

Then I said to my conscience, hey conscience, oh what a disgrace/That I’m running with two women in this race

You know what, I’ve got double trouble she knows I have another/You know what it’s a mother when you got double trouble

Oh well I said to myself I’m gonna leave one of you alone/But I’ve been loving both of you soon after that still it’s on its own

Know what, I’ve got double trouble she knows I have another/You know what it’s a mother when you got double trouble

Slippin’ and a slidin’, peepin’ and a hidin’/It’s a mother when you got double trouble

Double trouble she knows I have another/You know what it’s a mother when you got double trouble

Any ideas? Anyone?

Update: I’d just finished watching “Iron Man” on my Mac a few minutes after midnight, and I opened my e-mail. There, sent just a couple of minutes earlier, was a message from Dan Phillips, the proprietor of the Home of the Groove, the fine New Orleans music blog. You’ll see Dan’s note in the comments.

“That’s B.B. King doing disco!!!!! … Don’t hear that every day.”

Indeed not. But I’ve heard it on my Christmas tape for almost 20 years, and now I know what it is.

Dan’s note was confirmation of a note I’d received earlier in the day from the Hose, whom I’ve known forever. He wrote: “The tune ‘Double Trouble’ appears on a B.B. King import release on Universal/MCA titled ‘Six Silver Strings.’  It’s the last cut on the album. … I’m not sure if your song is the same as what appears on this album.”

Here’s the most interesting thing. Dan and the Hose figured it out, but neither had ever heard the song.

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“Double Trouble,” B.B. King, from “Six Silver Strings,” 1988.

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Filed under November 2008, Sounds

A night with Jeff Healey

Seen, but not comprehended.

That about sums up most of an evening I spent at a Memphis nightclub about 20 years ago. It was an evening spent with blues guitarist Jeff Healey, who died Sunday at age 41, and my friends Mike and Tam.

Mike and Tam were living in Memphis at the time, and I was visiting. We went out. One of the places we went was Night Moves.

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My hazy memory tells me Night Moves was a big nightclub with an open second floor, sort of a wraparound overlook or promenade. On that long-ago night, a young Jeff Healey was playing on the stage at the back of the first floor. We were above, looking down.

I would like to say we graciously, politely watched Healey’s show. To be honest, we spent most of that night drinking beer. We heard most of the show, but managed to catch glimpses of it only now and then.

We drank so much beer that the lovely Tam trounced Mike and I in Pop-a-Shot basketball. Sad to say, Mike and I were basketball players at the time. It’s entirely possible we retired, or were retired, that night.

My only lingering memory of Healey is of looking down on a young guy sweating in a hot spotlight and furiously playing that guitar on his lap. I could not begin to tell you what he was playing.

Back before Christmas, I came across that old matchbook from Night Moves. I mentioned it to Mike and we reminisced about that night. Mike’s hazy memory is much the same as mine:

“We were listing to the music and knocking down the brews.”

I know Mike meant to type “listening.” But saying “listing to the music” might be more accurate. I’m not sure either of us could stand up straight.

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Jeff Healey died Sunday of complications of the cancer that blinded him as an infant and dogged him throughout life. He started out in the blues — he was just 16 when Stevie Ray Vaughan came across him in a Toronto club — and made his name there, then moved on to old-time jazz. Also a beloved CBC Radio host, he was one of Canada’s musical icons.

However, I think my only Jeff Healey CD went out in a garage sale a couple of summers ago. But I did turn up a pretty good cut on a CD of John Hiatt tunes covered by other artists. Enjoy.

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“Confidence Man,” the Jeff Healey Band, from “Love Gets Strange: The Songs of John Hiatt,” 1993. It appears to be out of print. (Jeff Healey photo by Chuck Pulin from the CD booklet.)

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It also is the lead cut on “See the Light,” the band’s 1988 debut album.

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Filed under March 2008, Sounds