Tag Archives: 2001

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

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

Baby, you can drive my car

When a story asks “Hey, was that Paul McCartney at the Route 66 Welcome Center at the museum in Joliet, Illinois?” you must read it.

Mary Schmich has that story in today’s Chicago Tribune.

Need further proof? People magazine confirms it. Macca and his new girlfriend, Nancy Shevell, are on vacation, driving the Mother Road from Chicago to L.A.

And then another Macca sighting along Route 66! He stops to use the restroom in Springfield, Illinois.

In that spirit, here are three swell versions of the tune written in 1946 by Bobby Troup.

“Route 66,” Chuck Berry, from the “Cars” original soundtrack, 2006.

Because you must have a road song by Chuck Berry. Listen for the detour at the end.

“Route 66,” Marcia Ball, from “More Songs of Route 66: Roadside Attractions,” 2001.

Because I would ride anywhere with Miss Ball, the lovely swing pianist from Austin, Texas. (And because this version has a trippy, Beatlesque intro that’s reminiscent of “A Day in the Life.”)

“Route 66,” the Joneses, from “Tits and Champagne,” a 1989 EP that’s out of print but is available on eMusic.

Because I wouldn’t have heard this cover from this ’80s “rock ‘n’ roll sleaze band” from Hollywood were it not for our man Aikin over at Licorice Pizza, who posted it a month ago. Thank you, sir.

As long as we’re talking about the road, check out this week’s series of songs about cars over at Star Maker Machine, a swell read in its own right.

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Filed under August 2008, Sounds

20/20/20 vision, Part III

We’re back with the third installment of 20 Songs from 20 Albums for $20.

These tunes are part of the haul from a recent morning of crate digging in the back yard of one of our local used record dealers.

Please enjoy the tunes, spun at random, much the way I came across them in the tents in Jim’s back yard a couple of weeks ago.

“Lean On Me,” Tom Jones, from “The Body and Soul of Tom Jones,” 1973. Out of print, and I can’t find it on any compilation CD.

I usually buy TJ’s albums based largely on the quality of the covers. Some, I pass on. Others, I pick up. On this one, Tom covers what at the time were Bill Withers’ big hits, this tune and “Ain’t No Sunshine.” I thought about posting his cover of “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Wanna Be Right).” But no. And certainly not his rather bizarre cover of “Runnin’ Bear.”

“Goodbye, So Long,” Ike and Tina Turner, from “Workin’ Together,” 1971. Out of print.

You know every other song on this side — “Ooh Poo Pah Doo,” “Funkier Than A Mosquita’s Tweeter,” “Proud Mary” and “Let It Be” — so we’ll spin the lesser-heard tune.

“‘Nuff Said (Part I)” and “‘Nuff Said (Part II),” Ike and Tina Turner, from “‘Nuff Said,” 1971. Out of print.

An instrumental raveup orchestrated by Ike. Equal parts nasty wah-wah guitar, screaming electric lead guitar, horns and Hammond organ. Part I cooks from start to finish. Part II starts hot, then brings it back down. (Some day, I’ll edit them together as they should be.)

For no apparent reason, Ike announced on this album: “Ike & Tina Turner’s band formerly known as ‘The Kings of Rhythm’ has changed their name to ‘Family Vibs.'”

“Unhooked Generation,” Freda Payne, from “Band of Gold,” 1970. Out of print, but available on a couple of import compilations: “The Best of Freda Payne,” a 2002 release, and “Unhooked Generation: The Complete Invictus Recordings,” a 2001 release.

You know “Band of Gold.” You may know “Deeper and Deeper.” They were the biggest singles off this classic album produced (and largely written) by the mighty Holland-Dozier-Holland team. This tune also was released as a single, but didn’t fare as well as the others. Still a pretty good tune, though.

More to come! (As soon as I rip them.)

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Filed under May 2008, Sounds

20/20/20 vision, Part I

One of our local used record sellers had a “spring cleaning tent sale” in his back yard last weekend.

Jim promised “thousands of $1 LPs … under the tents!!” Indeed, Jim had lots of swell stuff.

When I was done rummaging through the boxes in the two tents, I had 20 albums for $20. That’s the raw material for a brief series of posts that begins … now!

Welcome to the first installment of 20 Songs from 20 Albums for $20.

Nothing real deep here. Just enjoy the tunes, coming at you more or less at random, the way I came across all these goodies under the tents.

“You’re the Love of My Life,” the Spinners, from “Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow,” 1977. Out of print. The link is to a CD release with this album and part of another Spinners album, “Labor of Love,” from 1981.

Great opening guitar riff and horn charts on this classic slice of Philly soul.

“When the World’s At Peace,” the O’Jays, from “Back Stabbers,” 1972. The album is out of print, but this tune is available on “The Ultimate O’Jays,” a 2001 CD release.

A nice, nasty bit from the place where Philly funk meets James Brown.

“Always Something There To Remind Me,” R.B. Greaves, from “R.B. Greaves,” 1969.

R.B. covers the great Burt Bacharach-Hal David tune.

“See Saw,” Tom Jones, from “I (Who Have Nothing),” 1970. Out of print, and not on any CD release I can find. However, it is on “This Is Tom Jones,” a 2007 DVD release of some of his classic TV variety shows.

TJ covers a little bit of Memphis soul by Don Covay and Steve Cropper.

More to come! (As soon as I rip them.)

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Filed under May 2008, Sounds