Tag Archives: 1995

Have a Harry Halloween, everyone

Saw this earlier today on Twitter.

This is another of those records I’ve had forever.

“Nilsson Schmilsson,” its 1971 predecessor, was one of the first few LPs I ever bought. Thinking back, I probably bought it with Christmas money. I know it from front to back. Loved it then, love it now.

So of course when “Son of Schmilsson” came out in the summer of 1972, I bought it right away. Thinking back, I probably bought it with birthday money.

“Son of Schmilsson” fell right into a 15-year-old’s wheelhouse. I was a sophomore-to-be, and this record was sophomoric if nothing else. It’s full of irreverent and rude humor, lapsing into vaguely bad taste well before that notorious belch between songs on Side 2. Oh, yeah, I know this record from front to back, too. We had a lot of fun listening to “Son of Schmilsson” back then.

Listening to it now, though, and knowing how Harry Nilsson’s life unfolded — and of course, unraveled — it’s a little sad.

“It’s a deeply strange record, one which seems to be almost willful self-sabotage in places,” Mr. Andrew Hickey wrote this summer in a fine, must-read breakdown of “Son of Schmilsson” at his blog, Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

That pretty much nails it.

So please enjoy the most elegant cut on “Son of Schmilsson,” a song that went unappreciated by a certain 15-year-old in 1972. All those years later, its poignant message hits home.

Long ago, far away / Life was clear / Close your eyes / Remember …

“Remember (Christmas),” Nilsson, from “Son of Schmilsson,” 1972.

Bonus cover!

“Remember,” Randy Newman, from “For the Love of Harry: Everybody Sings Nilsson,” 1995.

The proceeds from this tribute record, which was released after Nilsson’s death in 1994, went to The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Nilsson became passionate about the cause after the shooting death of his friend John Lennon in 1980.

 

 

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Filed under October 2018, Sounds

The missing Christmas hits

Fascinating to read in the Milwaukee paper the other day that no Christmas song has been a hit since Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” in 1994.

My pal JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ also took note of that story, which prompted him to ponder the state of Christmas radio then and now.

All that said, there certainly are some Christmas songs that should have hit the charts in the last 17 years. Here are some of them.

“Who Needs Mistletoe,” Julie Roberts, from “Who Needs Mistletoe,” 2011. A country song every bit as filthy as Clarence Carter’s great “Back Door Santa.”

“Oi To The World,” Severe, from the wonderful Punk Rock Advent Calendar, 2009. Well, it’s reverent as far as UK punks go.

“We Three Kings,” Blondie, a 2009 holiday release. Always fun to find Debbie Harry under the tree. Always fun to hear Blondie’s classic sound.

“Merry Christmas Baby,” Melissa Etheridge, from “A New Thought For Christmas,” 2008. Blistering vocals and blistering blues guitar. Move over, fellas.

“Silent Night,” the Blackhearts and special guests, from “A Blackheart Christmas,” 2008. Some sound bites from that year’s presidential race make it a bit of a time capsule. It once had a bit of a valedictory feel. Now it has the feel of opportunities lost.

“Silent Night,” Bootsy Collins, from “Christmas Is 4 Ever,” 2006. A sweet mashup of reverent narration, funk, R&B and gospel.

“Winter (Basse Dance),” Blackmore’s Night, from “Winter Carols,” 2006. It’s out of print but is available digitally. If you can get past that Ritchie Blackmore is no longer rocking out as he did in Deep Purple and Rainbow and not cede all the elegant guitar work to Trans-Siberian Orchestra, you might dig this instrumental.

“Wonderful Dream (Holidays Are Coming),” Melanie Thornton, from “Memories,” 2003. It’s an import that has gone out of print. This tune was used in a Coca-Cola ad after the R&B singer’s death 10 years ago, but its back story transcends marketing.

“It’s Christmas And I Miss You,” .38 Special, from “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night,” 2001. It’s out of print but is available digitally. A gentle ballad reflecting the loneliness the season can bring. It’s co-written by guitarist Don Barnes and our friend Jim Peterik.

“Little Drummer Boy,” the Dandy Warhols, from “Fruitcake,” 1997, a Capitol Records promo EP. It’s out of print. In which the Little Drummer Boy takes a psychedelic trip.

“Santa Claus Is Comin’ (In A Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train),” the Tractors, from “Have Yourself A Tractors Christmas,” 1995. It’s out of print but is available digitally. This fine bit of country swing actually was a modest hit on country radio in in 1995 and again in 1998. After all, it’s just their 1994 hit “Baby Likes To Rock It” retooled with new lyrics for Christmas.

“Soul Christmas,” Graham Parker and Nona Hendryx, from “Christmas Cracker,” 1994. If there were any justice, this scorcher would have been the hit from 17 years ago.

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Filed under December 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 10

When we started these 12 days of Christmas, I noted that in writing the Three Under the Tree series for the last three years, I picked up a bunch of old Christmas vinyl and CDs, more for you than for me.

In so doing, there were a bunch of records that had more misses than hits. Most of them were used, so there wasn’t a lot of money wasted.

This year, I bought only one Christmas CD, one I’d been seeking for a while. I bought it new, and it turned out to be another one with more misses than hits. So it goes.

Rarely do I come across a Christmas record that doesn’t have something worth hearing. I can think of a couple, but there’s no need to name names.

We’re here to put some nice things in your Christmas stocking, so hope you will enjoy these tunes from records that had some nice moments.

“Christmas Time,” the Mighty Blue Kings, from “The Christmas Album,” 2000. This Chicago group covers a tune by West Coast bluesman Jimmy McCracklin.

“Christmas Is A Special Day,” Fats Domino, from “Christmas Gumbo,” 1993. It’s out of print as such, but is available as “Christmas Is A Special Day,” a 2006 CD re-release with a different cover. Fats wrote this charming little hymn and does it in — what else? — a laid-back New Orleans style.

“We Four Kings (Little Drummer Boy),” the Blue Hawaiians, from “Christmas On Big Island,” 1995. Let a little surf wash into your Christmas.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Shawn Colvin, from “A Different Kind of Christmas,” 1994. It’s out of print. A lovely, low-key version.

“Merry Christmas Darling,” Deana Carter, from “Father Christmas,” 2001. What makes this cover of the Carpenters song so remarkable is its acoustic arrangement with Carter’s father, veteran Nashville session man Fred Carter, on guitar. Deana Carter sings this in a higher register than did Karen Carpenter — and that may not be for everyone — but she nicely complements her dad. Fred Carter died earlier this year.

“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” the Whispers, from “Happy Holidays To You,” 1979. (The buy link is to a 2001 import CD.) Off the same album that delivered “Funky Christmas,” this is a smooth, jazzy arrangement clearly from the late ’70s.

“Joy To The World,” Aretha Franklin, 1994, from “Joy To The World,” 2006. This is an odd little compilation of Christmas songs, gospel songs and show tunes recorded over 30-plus years. This cut features Aretha backed by the Fame Freedom Choir, from the soundtrack to the 1994 remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.” That is about the only nice thing we have to say about any remake of the 1947 classic, long one of our favorite films.

“What Christmas Means To Me,” Darlene Love, from “It’s Christmas, Of Course,” 2007. A cover of the Motown song done first by Stevie Wonder.

“Christmas Is,” Lou Rawls, from “Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho,” 1967. It’s out of print. This tune starts out with a swinging big-band arrangement, then has Lou channeling Santa Claus midway through before wrapping up with some smooth nightclub cheer. This Percy Faith tune never sounded so good.

“Merry Christmas Baby,” Melissa Etheridge, from “A New Thought For Christmas,” 2008. Etheridge lets it rip on this Charles Brown blues tune.

“Christmas Celebration,” Roomful of Blues, from “Roomful of Christmas,” 1997. The B.B. King version may be more familiar, but this take by the veteran East Coast group is pretty good.

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time,” Pete Jolly, from “Something Festive!” 1968. Long out of print. This is a Christmas sampler from A&M Records. It was sold at B.F. Goodrich tire dealers in 1968. This cut is a cool, stylish, upbeat rendition by the California jazz pianist. (You’ll also find it on “Cool Yule: The Swinging Sound of Christmas,” a UK compilation released in 2004.)

“Blue Christmas,” Ann and Nancy Wilson, from “A Very Special Christmas 2,” 1992. Not a big fan of this tune, which everyone associates with Elvis, but this is a pretty good version. Melissa Etheridge also does it justice.

“What Child Is This,” Reverend Horton Heat, from “We Three Kings,” 2005. An upbeat yet moody take — it feels a little like Morricone — on a song usually done with much reverence.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

A time for honkin’ and healing

It was the last line in today’s news ticker on Uni Watch, a blog run by my friend Paul from Brooklyn and otherwise devoted to “the obsessive study of athletics aesthetics.”

“RIP, Mr. Country,” was all it said. There were almost 200 comments about sports uniforms, but no one mentioned Mr. Country.

But I noticed it. Thanks, Paul.

It was pretty much the same way at work. The news about Mr. Country was on the AP wire early this morning, but the kids who run the entertainment portion of our web site didn’t deem it worthy of posting.

I noticed that, too.

“Mr. Country” was Carl Smith. “The Country Gentleman” was 82 when he died Saturday at his ranch in Franklin, Tennessee.

Peter Cooper, the fine music writer at The Tennessean in Nashville, has a wonderful appreciation of Smith’s life, complete with photos.

Carl Smith was one of country music’s biggest stars during the 1950s, but was just 51 when he retired in 1978 to work on his ranch. His first wife was June Carter. Their daughter is Carlene Carter.

And that is how I came to know Mr. Country.

Carlene Carter has long been one of my favorites. To see and hear her play live last year, and to hear her talk about her family from the stage of that tiny Wisconsin theater, was delightful.

She didn’t sing this one that night, but she could well have.

“Loose Talk,” Carlene Carter with Carl Smith, from “Little Acts of Treason,” Carlene Carter, 1995. It’s out of print but is available digitally.

She’d convinced her dad to come out of retirement and sing with her on this tune. He had a No. 1 hit with it for seven weeks in 1955, the year Carlene was born. It was the last of his five No. 1 hits, but he had six more Top 10 hits by the end of the decade.

“Thanks for letting me sing with you, Daddy,” she said on the liner notes. “When it comes to honkin’, you invented it.”

Carlene Carter has been through much since that 1995 record. She’s recovered from drug addiction. In an eight-month stretch of 2003, she lost her longtime companion Howie Epstein, her mother, her stepfather Johnny Cash and her younger half-sister Rosey Carter. She spoke of all that last year when she played this lovely, elegant tribute to Rosey.

“Stronger,” Carlene Carter, from “Stronger,” 2008.

“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger/I’ll hold on a little longer”

Carter explains in her Yep Roc Records bio:

“It’s the story about how I felt after Rosey died. It actually came because of the combination of all of those losses that year. I knew I had a song in me about it, but I couldn’t quite get there. It was too painful. I was in such grief over everything. That song really helped me to heal a whole lot. … The chorus being about survival is because I could never figure out why I was still here, as hard as I ran.”

Here’s hoping it helps her heal again.

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Filed under January 2010, 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

Explain, please

There are 18,000 people in our suburb, but there’s evidence that it is nonetheless a small town.

Sitting out on a table near the checkouts at the grocery store the other morning was the most recent issue of our local police newsletter. Always good reading. Especially this item:

“(An officer) was on patrol late one night, when he came across a naked male and female having sex in a field of East Lawn Park.”

“Uhh … do it, baby .. uhh … mmm … mmm-hmm!”

“Doin’ It,” Ike and Tina Turner and The Ikettes, from “Come Together,” 1970. Out of print.

Oh, but it gets better.

“Upon seeing the officer, both took off running down the trail into Green Bay. The female was apprehended shortly thereafter …”

“In the daytime Mary Hill was a teaser/Come the night she was such a pleaser/Oh, Mary Hill was such a thrill after dark/In Cherry Hill Park.”

“Cherry Hill Park,” Billy Joe Royal, 1969, from “Billy Joe Royal Greatest Hits,” a 1989 CD release on Columbia. It’s out of print, but Amazon has mp3s. (The single is Columbia 44902. Thanks, Whiteray!)

Oh, but it gets better still.

” … however the male, in an attempt to avoid responding officers, swam out into the middle of the East River. Eventually, he gave up after being told a (police dog) was being deployed to bring him back to shore.”

“Hug me, squeeze me, love me, tease me/Til I can’t, til I can’t, til I can’t take no more of it/Take me to the water, drop me in the river/Push me in the water, drop me in the river.”

“I don’t know why I love you like I do/All the troubles you put me through.”

“Take Me To The River,” Talking Heads, from “More Songs About Buildings and Food,” 1978.

Just one question: How, exactly, is this a threat to the public’s safety?

“I ain’t hurtin’ nobody/I ain’t hurtin’ no one/Hurtin’ nobody/Hurtin’ no one.”

“Ain’t Hurtin’ Nobody,” John Prine, from “Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings,” 1995.

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Filed under September 2008, Sounds