Tag Archives: Salsoul Orchestra

A smaller Christmas, Day 2

No requests yet, but the dashboard shows people searching for a certain Philly band’s Christmas music.

So we’ll make that wish come true tonight.

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“Christmas Medley,” the Salsoul Orchestra, from “Christmas Jollies,” 1976.

This is 12 minutes of soul, salsa and dance bliss, putting together “Joy to the World,” “Deck the Halls,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Jingle Bells,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “The Christmas Song,” “White Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “The First Noel” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

You need this at your Christmas party. Don’t get too far away from the mistletoe as you get down to this.

Your Christmas music requests in the comments, please.

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 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.

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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, Day 21

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Willie’s Hot Christmas continues.

In this little series within a series, we’re recreating a radio show I taped off the air while living in Madison, Wisconsin, in the late ’80s. For the back story, check out the Day 20 post.

The first part consisted of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” by Jimmy Smith, an unknown jazz sax instrumental version of “The Christmas Song” and “Merry Christmas” by Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Now back to the old WORT-FM show, where Willie Wonder has cued up …

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“Christmas Blues,” the Ramsey Lewis Trio, from “Sound of Christmas,” 1961.

This is a cool, laid-back bit of instrumental jazz — just Lewis on piano, Eldee Young on bass and Red Holt on drums. I found this cut on a budget CD several years ago, then picked up the album when it was re-released on CD in 2004.

“Christmas in the City of the Angels” Johnny Mathis, from a Columbia 7-inch single, 1979.

Mathis offers his take on Christmas in Los Angeles in a tune perhaps cut exclusively for Los Angeles radio stations. This was released as Columbia 1-11158, with “The Very First Christmas Day” as the flip side. I can’t find it available anywhere. Though Mathis has recorded several Christmas albums since the early ’60s, this cut never made it to an album.

(The Mathis cut has gone from radio to tape to CD, and then ripped, so that may explain the sound quality if you find it lacking.)

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“You’re All I Want For Christmas,” Salsoul Orchestra with Jocelyn Brown, from “Christmas Jollies II,” 1981. It’s out of print, but can be found on eBay and from vinyl record sellers.

The Salsoul Orchestra pumps out its great blend of Philly soul, funk and Latin sounds — all orchestrated by Vincent Montana Jr. — and Brown adds some lovely vocals on this upbeat tune.

Willie’s Hot Christmas continues tomorrow.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 29

For all the Christmas tunes we have, there really wasn’t much question about which three we would start with and which three we would end with.

With a near blizzard howling outside — the snow is coming down sideways — we offer three swinging tunes that capture the spirit of the season.

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“Christmas Medley,” the Salsoul Orchestra, from “Christmas Jollies,” 1976. Though seemingly not out of print, it’s getting increasingly harder to find.

This is 12 minutes of soul, salsa and dance bliss, putting together “Joy to the World,” “Deck the Halls,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Jingle Bells,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “The Christmas Song,” “White Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “The First Noel” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

You simply can’t go wrong with this medley anytime, anywhere.

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“Cool Yule,” and “‘Zat You, Santa Claus?” Louis Armstrong and the Commanders, 1953, from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985. It’s out of print, but these two cuts are widely available on a variety of Christmas compilation albums and CDs.

Both of these hipster tunes were recorded on Oct. 22, 1953.

“Cool Yule” gets the big-band treatment, driven by Sandy Block’s bass and Ed Grady’s drums. This one features a trumpet solo by Satchmo in addition to his familiar, raspy vocals.

“‘Zat You, Santa Claus?” opens with a rat-a-tat-a-tat drum break by Grady, and he and Block again drive this swinging, swaying tune in which Satchmo stalks “Santy Claus,” waiting for him to arrive on Christmas.

(Did you know? “Cool Yule” was written by Steve Allen. Yep, that Steve Allen. The guy who virtually invented the talk show, the guy who did “The Tonight Show” long before Johnny Carson. “‘Zat You, Santa Claus?” was written by James Fox, about whom I can find nothing.)

Enjoy.

But do stop back tomorrow, on Christmas Eve.

We’ll have one more thing for you to put under your tree.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2007, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 17

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Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.

Tonight’s three under the tree are tunes from albums with covers that are, shall we say, easy on the eyes. In each case, the cover girl is not the singer.

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“The Little Drummer Boy,” the Salsoul Orchestra, from “Christmas Jollies,” 1976. Anything off this album will get your party moving. This tune comes complete with congas.

This lovely young lady’s holiday outfit clearly is airbrushed onto her frame. Hmmm. The group’s next Christmas album, “Christmas Jollies II,” had the same image twice. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, apparently.

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“Frosty the Snowman,” Shirley Alston, from “Christmas Soul Special,” 1987. Alston — known as Shirley Owens when she was the lead singer of the Shirelles — steals the show on an album that also counts ’60s legends Mary Wells and Martha Reeves among its female singers.

This is a nice cover, but I wonder why they didn’t go with the more casual, less posed shot shown above. Maybe the shape of the image didn’t work with the words they needed to put on the cover.

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“I Want a Casting Couch for Christmas,” Kay Martin and Her Body Guards, from “I Know What He Wants for Christmas (But I Don’t Know How to Wrap It),” 1962. Out of print.

Need we explain? Any wonder it’s much in demand among collectors? (If you somehow missed Vol. 10, circle back to it for more about Kay Martin and three more under the tree from this album.)

Enjoy. More to come.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2007, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 7

In addition to all the albums and CDs I dig out at Christmas time, I also dig out one cassette tape.

I can play it in only one place in the house — who has more than one tape deck, if any, anymore? — but I always play it.

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I taped it off the radio one night in the late ’80s. It was from a show on a most remarkable radio station in Madison, Wisconsin.

WORT, 89.9 FM, was — and is — listener-sponsored, volunteer-run, free-form Back Porch Radio. They spin a staggeringly diverse mix of local bands, indie rock, R&B, soul, dance, jazz, punk, country and performance art. (You can stream it live if you live outside Madison.)

The DJ called himself Willie Wonder, and he played R&B, soul and jazz late at night one night a week. One December night, he was dropping Christmas tunes into the usual mix.

I probably was listening to the show as I drove home from the paper, started digging it, and popped in a tape when I got home. I say that because the tape picks up in mid-program and Willie Wonder signs off before the 90-minute tape ends.

In the 20 or so years since I taped it, I’ve been collecting the Christmas tracks from the tape. Here are three of them.

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“This Christmas,” Donny Hathaway, 1970, from “Soul Christmas,” a 1991 compilation.

Widely covered, this is the smooth original, written by Hathaway and Nadine McKinner. It was recorded at Atlantic Studios in New York in November 1970 and released as Atco single 6799 on Nov. 30, 1970 — 37 years ago tomorrow.

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“You’re All I Want for Christmas,” the Salsoul Orchestra, from “Christmas Jollies II,” 1981.

One of my guilty pleasures has long been the Salsoul Orchestra’s “Christmas Jollies” from 1976. I had it first on CD and recently found a vinyl copy. Call it dance, call it disco, it’s certainly of its time, a blend of Philly soul, funk and Latin sounds orchestrated by Vincent Montana Jr.

I’ve long been looking for “Jollies II” and recently tracked it down. It’s out of print and hard to find. But dig a little on the web and you might find it.

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“Christmas Blues,” the Ramsey Lewis Trio, from “Sound of Christmas,” 1961.

This cool, laid-back bit of instrumental jazz — just Lewis on piano, Eldee Young on bass and Red Holt on drums — might have been the hardest to track down. I don’t think Willie Wonder name-checked it that night.

But it all fell into place when I came across this cut — still not knowing its name — on a budget Christmas CD found at Fleet Farm three or four years ago.

(Midwest folks will know how odd it is to find it there. Fleet Farm is a big discount farm and home supply place, with everything from guns to fishing tackle to jeans to tires to work boots to tools to light fixtures.)

Then “Sound of Christmas” was re-released on CD in 2004, and I snapped that up. The first side, the first five cuts, has the trio only. The second side, the next five cuts, has the trio backed by a string section for a lusher sound. I prefer Side 1, but you can’t go wrong with either side.

From the original liner notes by Nelson Noble of radio station WILD in Boston:

“While you’re listening to The Ramsey Lewis Trio’s Sounds of Christmas, please keep in mind that all of us wish all of you a very Merry, Swingin’ Christmas.”

I’ll second that. Enjoy. More to come.

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Filed under Christmas music, November 2007, Sounds