Tag Archives: .38 Special

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 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. 23

You aren’t going to believe this, but here goes anyway.

One of this decade’s best Christmas albums is “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night” by .38 Special.

I know what you’re thinking. There’s no way .38 Special — a Southern rock band — could do a decent Christmas record. How can that be?

Let me try to explain. If you’re a regular reader of AM, Then FM, you know I dig Lynyrd Skynyrd. And, yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd has done a Christmas album. And, no, it is not anywhere near as good as “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night.” Not even close. No contest.

“A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night” is a terrific mix of originals and covers. Some of it rocks. Some of it is heartfelt and touching. Some of it is reverent. The performances, vocal and instrumental, are outstanding. All this despite an unfortunate album cover that in no way conveys the quality of this album.

Those wild-eyed Southern boys can be gracious, too.

38specialxmascd.jpg

“Halleujah! It’s Christmas.” A joyous, upbeat original that rocks, yet has a sing-along, clap-along feel to it. It’s written by guitarists Don Barnes and Danny Chauncey and lead singer Donnie Van Zant.

“It’s Christmas and I Miss You.” This is one of two fine original songs about longing for lost loved ones at Christmas. This one is written by Barnes and Jim Peterik. The other, “That Old Rockin’ Chair,” is written by Van Zant and Chauncey, and is dedicated to Van Zant’s mother.

“O Holy Night.” An elegant, reverent, piano-driven treatment for this Christmas classic.

All by .38 Special, from “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night,” 2001.

Enjoy. More to come.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2007, Sounds