Tag Archives: Edwin Hawkins Singers

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.)


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.


Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

Three under the tree, Vol. 32

You never know where you’re going to find that next great Christmas record. Today’s three under the tree are more recent, quite unexpected and altogether pleasant finds.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jim was having another record sale. Jim lives in one side of a tiny duplex. His basement is wall-to-wall records. He’d just put out a bunch of new additions, but hadn’t pulled the Christmas records from them. So I did it for him as I went through the boxes.

Then Jim pointed me to the rest of his Christmas records. I found this:

“White Christmas,” the Edwin Hawkins Singers, from “Peace Is ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’.” 1972. It’s out of print.

You probably know the Edwin Hawkins Singers as great gospel singers, which they are. But they also did a little R&B. Here’s proof. “White Christmas” isn’t one of my favorite Christmas tunes, but this is a wonderfully smooth, stylish version, with the solo by Tramaine Davis.

Although five of the eight cuts on this record are Christmas songs or hymns, it’s not presented as a Christmas album. The liner notes say: “This album contains Edwin Hawkins’ message, peace poetry.”

Our second tune comes off a record I came across almost two years ago. I couldn’t afford it that January day, but I found a more reasonably priced copy at our local record show a couple of months ago.

You probably know Charles Brown for his classic “Merry Christmas Baby” and “Please Home For Christmas.” Here’s another, a slow R&B number that’s reminiscent of Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody.”

“Let’s Make Every Day A Christmas Day,” Charles Brown, from “Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs,” 1975. It’s out of print.

My vinyl copy is the Gusto Records re-release of the 1961 original on King Records. It adds “Merry Christmas Baby” but drops “My Most Miserable Christmas.” Some of the tunes were re-recorded for the 1975 release. I don’t know whether this one was recorded in 1961 or 1975. This record also was released on CD in 1995.

Our third tune comes from a record I never would have heard it if not for our son Evan, a middle school kid at the time. If you know Relient K as a Christian band, don’t let that put you off. Its 2007 release, full of bright pop-punk, has become one of our favorites.

“Angels We Have Heard On High,” Relient K, from “Let It Snow Baby … Let It Reindeer,” 2007. It’s an expanded version of their out-of-print 2003 release “Deck the Halls, Bruise Your Hand,” on which this cut originally appeared.

Shredding the guitars and bashing the drums, they rip through this in 1:55. You don’t often hear this song on Christmas records, which makes this energetic version all the more remarkable. (Anyone for Handel’s “Messiah” in a breathtaking 1:10?)

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Filed under December 2009, Sounds

Farewell to the New Frontier

Today was payday, and my day off, so I decided to drive a half-hour south to the used record store in Appleton, Wisconsin.


I visit the used record stores only on or just after payday, if only to avoid financial ruin. I also spread out my visits, lest I wind up looking at the same old stuff month after month.

When I pulled up in front of the store, there was a sign on the door. After 25 years in business, the New Frontier Record Exchange is going out of business. Stan Erickson and his partner Fred and thousands of old vinyl albums have to be out of the building by Tuesday.

As used record stores are wont to be, New Frontier is cluttered. You have to move old stereo components and pieces of guitars and drum kits to look at some of the bins. You can’t look at all of the bins, either. There’s just too much stuff piled on top. No complaints, though. It’s just the way it is.

Or, in four days, the way it was.

New Frontier sits in a narrow old storefront on a side street on the east end of Appleton’s downtown. It’s just off the main drag and a couple of blocks from the Lawrence University campus. I can only imagine New Frontier’s heyday in the ’80s, in the time before CDs arrived.

So I spent more than an hour at New Frontier this afternoon, leisurely going through the bins. Because it was the last trip, I picked up a handful of albums, if only as a way of saying thanks.

Today’s haul included:

“Local Hero” soundtrack, by Mark Knopfler, from 1983. (Now that I think about this, we may already have this on vinyl. Oh, well. It’s one of our favorite movies from that time.)

“Greatest Disco Hits,” a 1978 compilation album by the Salsoul Orchestra. Upon closer inspection, there was another album inside the jacket — “Disco Boogie Vol. 2,” also on the Salsoul label and featuring some early Tom Moulton mixes. “Just take it,” Stan said.

And a couple of Christmas albums — Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” from 1984 and still another vinyl copy of “Christmas Jollies,” the 1976 album by the Salsoul Orchestra. I bought a copy of the latter a couple of months ago, but it was in pretty bad shape.

I took another Christmas album up to the desk, but Stan had to look up the price.

“You don’t want this,” he said quietly. He pointed to the price guide.

That album, “Merry Christmas Baby,” a 1956 compilation of R&B Christmas singles from the Starday-King label and put out on the Hollywood label, goes for $100 or better on vinyl.

Well, yes, I do want it, but $100 is beyond my budget today. “I’ll put it on eBay,” Stan said. Guess I’ll have to settle for the CD version.


Another Christmas oldie but greatie also was beyond my financial reach today: “Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs,” from 1962. Guess I’ll have to pursue the CD version of that, too. (Update, five or so years later: I eventually found a vinyl copy of this.)

However, having picked up the following album this afternoon more than made up for the disappointment of not being able to get the others. Enjoy these cuts.

“O-o-h Child” and “Wake Up to What’s Happening,” both by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, from “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” 1972. The album is out of print.

“O-o-h Child” is a terrific pop-gospel rendering of The Five Stairsteps’ hit from 1970. I have four versions of this song, including the original, and they’re all great.

“Wake Up to What’s Happening” is fairly self-explanatory, a song of its time. However, the message applies now as then. And, yes, it cooks! It has a great mix of rhythm section, strings and horns.

“O-o-h Child” is available on “Oh Happy Day! The Best of the Edwin Hawkins Singers,” a 2001 compilation on CD.

“Wake Up to What’s Happening” is available on “The Very Best of the Edwin Hawkins Singers,” a 1998 import compilation on CD.


Filed under January 2008, Sounds