25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 21

Paul Winter – Wintersong (Tomorrow Is My Dancing Day) [Living Music Records LM0012, 12″ LP, 1986.]

Paul Winter frontToday is the December Solstice. We here in the Northern Hemisphere commonly call it the Winter Solstice, but I sometimes forget that for those in the Southern Hemisphere it is the Summer Solstice. For us in the northern climes, it is the darkest day of the year, the time of year with the least amount of sunlight. It’s no wonder we have created traditions which help us bring light and hope into our lives. And so it is with Christmas.

Looking back on what I’ve featured during these 25 Days of Christmas Records, I suppose it would have been much more apropos to write about A Winter’s Solstice, the album by artists on the Windham Hill record label, today rather than when I did earlier in the series. As luck would have it, though, featuring the Paul Winter album works out nicely for today since it coincides with the annual National Public Radio broadcast of the Winter Solstice concert which Paul Winter has presented at New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine for 35 years now. What a wonderful tradition. (See below for details about the radio broadcast.)

Paul Winter back

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Wintersong (Tomorrow Is My Dancing Day) is a beautiful album of mostly traditional folk tunes that may not be familiar to most of us as part of the usual Christmas music canon. It was released in 1986 on Paul Winter’s own Living Music Records label. My copy of the album pictured here is a promotional copy I received at the record store I was working at in 1986. As the jazz and New Age music buyer for the store, this album came into my hands and has been a treasured part of my Christmas collection ever since.

The Paul Winter Consort has long been an outstanding collective of performers making music without bounds. Music writer John Diliberto describes the genesis of the Paul Winter Consort in a piece entitled “Paul Winter Goes Where the Wild Things Are” at his website Echoes:

“World music has always been part of the Consort mix. In the mid-1960s, Winter made a conscious turn from the button-down be-bop and bossa nova jazz that he recorded on three albums for Columbia. Emerging out of jazz, 60s folk eclecticism and eastern influences via the Beatles and rock, the Consort was a group where you were as likely to hear darbuka and sitar as saxophone and guitar.”

He goes on the quote Winter’s own thoughts about the creation of the group:

“The aspiration of the Consort was to see if we could achieve with the symphonic, jazz and ethnic instruments, that kind of soulful tapestry that was orchestral and that had improvising in which you didn’t know where the blowing began and the writing stopped,” [Winter] recalls.

These are apt descriptions of the music you can hear on this album. It goes far beyond the “New Age” label that the Paul Winter Consort gets tagged with. I’ve always been a fan of the Paul Winter Consort and really enjoy the soulfulness, the spirit, the joy, the quiet and the peacefulness that can be heard in their recordings. These are all things I particularly revel in hearing at this time of year.

You can hear Wintersong (Tomorrow Is My Dancing Day) in its entirety here as a YouTube playlist. (As with other playlists like this, be aware that ads may play between tracks; you can usually skip them after a few seconds.)

And, as I mentioned above, many NPR stations will air the Winter Solstice concert tonight, including KWGS – Public Radio Tulsa 89.5 FM, which will broadcast it from 9-11 p.m. Central Time. (Click on the “Listen Live” button in the upper left of the page.) It appears that each year NPR Music broadcasts the previous December’s concert. They also have the Winter Solstice concert archived on their website, along with some of the previous concerts as well, if you don’t get a chance to hear it on the radio.

I hope this music brings some light into this time of darkness. Enjoy the Solstice.

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 20

Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns – ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas [Ace Records ACE LP1027, 12″ LP, 198? Reissue, originally released 1962.]

Huey Piano Smith Christmas frontI have a deep affection for the music and culture of New Orleans. That passion goes back to the early 1980s when I moved to the Monterey Peninsula in California and first heard a lot of New Orleans music being played during various blues, rock and jazz programs on radio station KAZU 90.3 FM. My first post on this blog appeared by design on Mardi Gras Day, 2010. When I came across this album sometime in the late 1980s, I was one happy camper. New Orleans music and Christmas music all in one record – how could it get any better?! ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Huey “Piano” Smith is another one of these albums that’s perfect for setting a rockin’ mood at any Christmas celebration. (This will likely be the last of the more rowdy Christmas records I’ll feature during this project; the winter solstice is fast upon us tomorrow on Day 21 and I’ll focus on the mellower side of things as we lead up to Christmas Day.)

Huey Piano Smith Christmas back

Click on an image to enlarge it.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas was first issued by Ace Records in 1962. Somewhat atypical for a Christmas album is that six of the ten tracks on here are originals written by Smith himself. They all feature his trademark rollicking, boogie-woogie piano style with Christmas-themed lyrics. One other track was written by Earl King and only three tracks are traditional Christmas tunes. I like the whole album, but my favorite song on here is probably “Almost Time for Santa” with its really snappy groove. As the cover of my 1980s reissue album states, Dr. John appears on the recording as well, although the original cover did not include this information. At the time the album was made, he had not yet adopted that moniker and would have gone under his real name, Mac Rebennack, but I assume the record company wanted to add his name on there to help push sales of the reissue.

Huey Piano Smith Christmas labelUpon its initial release in 1962, the album received some very negative publicity due to people thinking it was rather sacrilegious. New Orleans music and culture writer Alex Rawls gives more background on this in a story entitled “Huey ‘Piano’ Smith Deemed ‘Naughty’ in 1962,” which was posted at his website, My Spilt Milk, earlier this December. Definitely give that a read. Whether you think it’s naughty or nice, I think there’s no argument that this is one merry Christmas album!

You can listen to ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in its entirety on YouTube. Once again, there’s a playlist with the whole album on it, and it appears to have been uploaded by whomever holds the license to these recordings at this time. (As with other playlists like this, be aware that ads may play between tracks; you can usually skip them after a few seconds.)

Do the Santa Claus!

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 19

Various Artists – An Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas [Epic Records PE 40576, 12″ LP, 1986 Reissue – originally released 1983.]

Austin Christmas frontIt’s a Friday and the beginning of the weekend (at least this year it is.) It’s less than a week until Christmas. Whether you’re ready or not, here’s a really rockin’ album to brighten up your day or night! (I’m keeping this brief today since I’ll be undergoing a minor foot surgery this morning and will be laid up a bit as I recover from that. Holly jolly!)

An Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas has always been one of my favorite Christmas albums. I bought this reissued version back in the late 80s, having been familiar with some of these great acts from the Texas blues and rock scene. There are also a couple of swing jazz pieces on here. The album was originally released on Austin Records in 1983 with different cover art. It kicks off with Angela Strehli’s hot version of “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” and doesn’t look back. Here’s the brief review by Dennis MacDonald at AllMusic to give you the idea:

Austin Christmas back

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Originally issued on the Austin label in 1983, this rockin’ release was reissued with a new cover on Epic in 1986. Standouts include The Fabulous Thunderbirds‘ spirited instrumental “(Rockin’) Winter Wonderland” and vocalist Kim Wilson pouring his harp and soul into Hop Wilson’s “Merry Christmas, Darling.” Two of Austin’s finest blues divas, Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton, turn in smokey and sultry covers of yule classics, but it is bassist/vocalist Sarah Brown who sizzles with her original “My Christmas Is Hung with Tears.”

And luckily enough, there’s a whole playlist on YouTube with all the songs from album collected together. Take a listen to An Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas (be aware that ads may play in between the videos on a playlist like this; you can skip them after a few seconds usually.)

Hope you have a yourself boogie woogie Christmas! (I guess I won’t be dancing for a little while myself…)

 

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 18

Various Artists – A Very Special Christmas [A&M Records SP 3911, 12″ LP, 1987.]

Very Special Christmas frontThis album has a little something for everyone who is a fan of 80s music or those who don’t mind contemporary Christmas music in general. It’s a modern day classic. You can read the details behind the creation of A Very Special Christmas at the official website. Since this first volume was made in 1987, they have produced 10 more volumes. During that time, according to their website, “Approximately $116 million in royalties and investment proceeds has been generated by the sale of the AVSC albums to support Special Olympics’ athletes with intellectual disabilities.” This series of albums has raised a lot of money and awareness!

Very Special Christmas notes

Read the original liner notes by Eunice Kennedy Shriver. (Click on an image to enlarge it.)

I was working in a record store when the album was released and I remember that everyone on the staff found something to like about A Very Special Christmas. It has soul music, pop music, R&B, all kinds of rock ‘n’ roll, synthpop and one truly memorable hip hop tune. And it has an iconic cover that was created especially for the album by renowned artist Keith Haring. It is an instantly recognizable cover to this day. All of the tracks are new versions of mostly familiar traditional and modern Christmas carols and songs, with the exception of that hip hop song, “Christmas in Hollis” by Run-D.M.C. That song was one of the stand-outs on this album and I still love listening to it every Christmas. And you have to remember that this was released in the Age of MTV when music videos played a huge part in the marketing of a song or an album. Many of the songs on this album had videos and that certainly helped make this album a success right out of the gate.

Very Special Christmas backWatch the official video for “Christmas in Hollis” by Run-D.M.C.

This is a great song. I love how they riff and rhyme on traditional Christmas imagery backed with some heavy rap beats and R&B horns. And it’s humorous!

I was always a big fan of the Eurythmics and their artful New Wave synthpop, and their contribution to A Very Special Christmas is another one of my favorites. You can watch the video for their version of “Winter Wonderland” here. This has the 80s stamped all over it but still sounds fresh today, unlike some of the more poorly realized synthesizer-based tunes from that time.Very Special Christmas label

This video of U2 (one of my favorite bands of all time) performing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” will give you a taste of how we might have watched these videos on our little old TV sets at home. This footage comes from a Top of the Pops TV special that coincided with the release of A Very Special Christmas and featured many of the songs from the album. The host seen in the footage is singer Nia Peeples.

I’ve created a playlist on YouTube featuring versions of all the songs from the album. Most are from that time period (the Sting video is also from that Top of the Pops special) but some are live versions that I thought were more interesting than just hearing the audio.

Here’s to A Very Special Christmas and the world of good that it has done.

 

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 17

Various Artists – Christmas Time With… [Vocalion VL 73812, 12″ LP, 1967?]

Country Christmas Time frontSo far, I’ve covered many of the very different genres of Christmas music that I have in my vinyl record collection: pop, rock, classical, jazz, novelty, R&B, disco, even heavy metal. And now it’s time for some good ol’ country music. I’m not talking about that new-fangled, slick country music that’s so popular these days, I’m talking about classic Country & Western. I don’t have a whole lot of country in my collection in general, and what I do have tends to be older stuff or things that kind of dance around the fringes of country music: Americana, alt-country, some bluegrass and a lot of New Grass, singer-songwriters and folk music.

Country Christmas Time backBut I do like to delve into some truly classic country every now and then, and this album is chock full of vintage country Christmas tunes. It’s on the Vocalion label, which has had a long history as a record label starting way back in 1917; after being bought out and changing hands many times, this version of Vocalion was a subsidiary of Decca Records geared toward budget reissues and was in existence from the 50s to 1973.

As you can see on the front cover, Christmas Time With… features a bunch of musicians who were big stars back in the day. Loretta Lynn is probably the most familiar name on there, but anyone with a passing knowledge of classic country will know many of these folks. It’s interesting that they also include “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms on this compilation. I’m guessing that even though the song is more rockabilly than country, they most likely figured they might as well slap it on wherever they could since it was originally a Decca recording (and a huge hit.)

Country Christmas Time vinylI’ve always been a fan of the Maddox Brothers and Rose, who do “Silent Night” to end Side 1 of the album. I had first heard of them when Rose Maddox was featured in the 1984 documentary film Hard Travelin’, about Woody Guthrie. I liked their sound, and found a couple of her tracks on an excellent compilation that came out in the late 1980s called Hillbilly Music…Thank God! Volume 1. I noticed on the back cover track listing that Red Foley is joined by “The Little Foleys” on his rendition of “Frosty the Snowman.” Those are indeed his three daughters singing with him on the recording! (And fancy this: Shirley Foley later married Pat Boone, and one of their children also went on to musical fame – Debby Boone.)

There are several up-tempo numbers on this record, but a couple of them are fairly slow and plodding and have begun to show their age a bit. They are relics of a bygone era, that’s for sure. Some of the original recordings are not of the highest quality, but that’s all part of their charm. It’s almost like hearing them from some long lost radio waves.

Take a listen to a selection of these mighty fine country tunes here:

Loretta Lynn – “Silver Bells”

The Maddox Brothers and Rose – “Silent Night”

Red Foley and the Little Foleys (Shirley, Julie and Jenny) – “Frosty the Snowman”

Lonzo and Oscar – “Jangle Bells”

Yee haw!

(A quick personal note: I will undergo a minor foot surgery on December 19, so I may have to keep the posts relatively brief after this while I’m somewhat laid up during my recovery. I’ll see how it goes. I can’t believe we’re nearly one week away from Christmas Day! Thanks for following along so far…)

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 16

Spinal Tap – “Christmas with the Devil” [Enigma Records E-1143, 7″ 45 rpm, 1984.]

Spinal Tap cover

Click on an image to enlarge it.

It’s a parody, folks. Let’s make sure that’s clear from the beginning. As I mentioned from the start, this project explores the broad spectrum of Christmas records in my personal collection, from the sublime to the ridiculous and from the sacred to the profane. Well, here’s the profane – in all its revved up and humorous glory.

If you aren’t familiar with this band, you should watch the film This Is Spinal Tap at your earliest convenience. Its send-up of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle is hilarious. I hate to spoil all the fun for those who haven’t seen the movie, but I feel a little background is needed here. The film is a mock documentary based upon the fictional English heavy metal rock band called Spinal Tap. The core members of the band are David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) on lead vocals and guitar; Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) on lead guitar and vocal; Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) on bass. It’s a fictional band, but the actors actually play their instruments and they wrote all of the music for the film along with director Rob Reiner. And so the madness begins. Spinal Tap may be the only band I know of that has a fictional discography and a real discography. You see, there are all the fictional albums that they supposedly released within the story of the band as portrayed in the movie, and then there are the real albums that the actors made and released under the name Spinal Tap. Oh boy. Just go with it. (Hey, I just noticed this: at the IMDB listing for the movie, the rating function shows you can give the movie up to 10 out of 11 stars! I like their sense of humor.)

Spinal Tap backThis 7″ single that I have in my collection was released in 1984, the same year the film came out. It was also released as a picture disc with art work similar to that seen on the picture sleeve on my copy of the record. Boy, I’d love to find that picture disc someday! The song itself uses classic heavy metal rock trappings to create a twisted Christmas tune. You can read the close up of lyrics that are found on the back cover. These guys are very clever, they are. I like how they take all this classic Christmas imagery and turn it on its head. They’re really brilliant at what they do. And notice the line about halfway into the lyrics, “There’s someone up the chimney hole and Satin is his name.” I’m guessing the “band” really thinks that’s how Satan is spelled and it’s no typographical error! Just another nice touch of Spinal Tap humor there.

Spinal Tap lyricsFor me, the song reaches its apex of absurdity at around 3-1/2 minutes in. The whole thing is a very stereotypically loud heavy metal rocker, complete with wailing guitar solo and screeching vocals, and right when the song reaches its orgiastic climax of sound, the band suddenly breaks in with this utterly sincere unison Christmas greeting: “This is Spinal Tap, wishing you and yours the most joyous of holiday seasons. God bless us, everyone.” I love it! That’s what makes the song so great for me. It’s actually a well done heavy metal song, but that little touch of holiday kitsch is a great example of the kind of perfectly balanced irony that Spinal Tap is so good at pulling off. They walk that fine line between having us willingly suspend our disbelief, as good fiction does, and having us think it’s just an over the top joke. It’s not easy to do that, and they do it really well.

Take a listen to “Christmas with the Devil”  – you know what to do: turn it up to 11.

P.S. There’s also the B side to the record: “Christmas with the Devil (Scratch Mix”) – the only difference is that the song begins with the sound of a turntable needle scratching the surface of the record, and there’s no holiday greeting. Again, too clever for their own good!

The original 7" single, with the small LP sized spindle hole.

The original 7″ single, with the small LP-sized spindle hole.

P.P.S. While doing some more reading about the song, I found this new jazz version of “Christmas with the Devil” that was released by Spinal Tap’s bass player Derek Smalls/Harry Shearer and Judith Owen, his musician wife, in November 2014. Definitely watch this! If heavy metal isn’t your cup of tea, then maybe this swinging jazz trio rendition will help cleanse your palate. It’s fantastic.

 

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 15

The Mistletoe Disco Band – Christmas Disco [Mistletoe Records MLP-1232, 12″ LP, 1978.]

(Click on an image to enlarge it.)

(Click on an image to enlarge it.)

Ah, the extremes of Christmas music. Here we go from the sublime sounds of yesterday’s record to the quirkiness of today’s: Christmas Disco by The Mistletoe Disco Band. It’s everything you would expect, or fear, from an album with that name. It’s pure Christmas schlock, but I can’t avert my ears. I was never a fan of disco music at the time of its popularity in the mid to late 1970s, but I’ve come to appreciate some of the better disco songs and performers of the era as I’ve grown older. But even though I’m not a big fan of disco and don’t have much disco at all in my collection, there was no way I would pass up buying a disco album of Christmas music! The cover alone was enough to hook me, let alone the swinging sounds I knew had to be contained therein.

And it appears that the company that still releases the CD for this album has uploaded the whole thing to YouTube. Aren’t we lucky?! This might be a great way for some of you to kickstart your work week, or it might be a form of slow torture for others. It all depends on your perspective, eh? If you don’t mind a dose of schlock every now and then, give it a spin.

Listen to the full album Christmas Disco – The Mistletoe Disco Band

Christmas Disco backThere’s not much I can tell you about this album. It was performed by the anonymous Mistletoe Disco Band for Mistletoe Records, the Christmas music subsidiary of Springboard International Records, a budget label of the 1970s. What you see on the album is what you get. Hey, it does say it was also released on 8-track  and cassette! Oh, and The Mistletoe Disco band released More Christmas Disco in 1980. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for that one. Maybe. I’m not sure how much Christmas disco I need. But there are a few more of these kinds of albums out there. Check out this rundown of Christmas Disco at Yuleblog, the site of an avid Christmas music collector. I do own one of the albums mentioned there, Yuletide Disco, on cassette no less. That cover rivals this one.

And I can’t even begin to expound upon the unique qualities that each of these disco-infused renditions of Christmas classics brings to the world of holiday music. Each arrangement warps the original familiar tune in such a wonderfully kitschy way that it leaves me speechless.

One listen to this album is enough to fill me with Christmas disco cheer each year, but you can keep the music playing in your browser window while you go about your business today. Go ahead. It’ll keep you hustlin’ on your merry way.Christmas Disco LP

 

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 14

The Deller Consort (Choir and Instrumental Ensemble) – From Heaven Above [RCA Victrola VICS-1376, 12″ LP, 1968.]

Deller Consort frontIt’s time for some quiet again. There’s something comforting about listening to quiet music on a cold winter’s day. It helps warm the soul. Most of the music on today’s record is quiet, but not all of it. There are some bright bursts of sound that ring out as well. And there’s an unusual vocal style you’ll hear on the recording which may not be familiar to some: that of the countertenor, as sung here by Alfred Deller. As the cover says, From Heaven Above by the Deller Consort is an album of old English, German and French Christmas carols and Baroque Christmas music. Seven of the carols are performed using arrangements by 20th-century composer Carl Orff, but they all still have the feel of much earlier times. You can view the whole track listing by clicking on the image of the back cover. (The link to where you can listen to this entire album is found at the bottom of the post.)

Deller Consort back

I am an admirer of classical music, but by no means any kind of expert. Read the very informative liner notes by Lincoln Stoddard, which I have included here (below right,) for insight into these wonderful works. I have always been a fan of Early Music, and this album is a beautiful example of some very old styles of Christmas music. The almost haunting sound of the countertenor vocal style is something to behold. If you haven’t heard this unusual style of singing by an adult male with a high, clear voice before, you might be somewhat taken aback. I’ve always enjoyed hearing it in some of the works of Medieval and Renaissance composers. My classical record collection is small, but I’ve just noticed that a disproportionate amount of it consists of Early Music recordings by composers such as Josquin, Dufay, Desprez, Monteverdi, Purcell and Hildegard von Bingen or compilations featuring that type of music. Deller’s countertenor part is not heard until the fourth song on Side 1, “There Is No Rose.” The pieces before that feature a girls choir that performed on seven tracks on the album. Deller’s voice is also very prominent in “The Coventry Carol.” Here are some video examples of Alfred Deller singing that can be found at the NPR Music website. It’s fascinating to watch him sing. All the things I’ve read about him say he was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing the countertenor part back into existence after it had faded from popularity.

Liner notes to the album by Stoddard Lincoln.

Liner notes to the album by Stoddard Lincoln. (Click on an image to enlarge it.)

I’m not sure where or when I bought this album, but I think I found it in California before I made my move to Oklahoma in the early 90s. I haven’t listened to it in a very long time and I’ve really enjoyed revisiting this wonderful music. I was somewhat familiar with the work of The Deller Consort, so when I saw that name on the album I knew it would be something good. Some of my favorite carols, such as “Good King Wenceslas” and “Ding Dong, Merrily on High,” are heard in nice versions on this record. The rendition of “Silent Night” that ends Side 1 is truly beautiful in its hushed simplicity.

And once again, some kind soul has taken the time to upload this whole album to YouTube where others can enjoy it. The audio was created directly from an LP and it’s a mostly very clean recording. The album has long been out of print and never appeared on CD as far as I can tell, so it’s nice that people have access to this beautiful recording.

Listen:

The Deller Consort – From Heaven Above (Side 1)

The Deller Consort – From Heaven Above (Side 2)

I hope you enjoy this little slice of classical Christmas music history.

 

 

 

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 13

Various Artists – A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector [Rhino Records/Phil Spector International RNLP 70235, 12″ LP, 1987 Reissue. Originally released in 1963.]

Phil Spector front

Around a week ago, I talked a bit about “Sunday morning music.” Well, now it’s time to talk about “Saturday night music,” and that’s a whole different ballgame, folks. Whereas Sunday morning tends to be on the quieter side of the spectrum, Saturday night is for rockin’ and rollin’ and boogie-woogie-in’. You know what I mean. Saturday night is the party night. And the perfect Christmas-time party music can be found on A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector

(You might as well get started listening to the album now, so you can enjoy it while reading, or hosting a Christmas party. Here’s a nice YouTube playlist featuring the entire album for your listening pleasure. Click on the link and it’ll play the whole thing through, but you may hear an ad during that time.)

(Click on an image to enlarge it.)

(Click on an image to enlarge it.)

Originally released in 1963 with the title A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, the compilation features most of the acts signed to Philles Records, which was run by Phil Spector and his partner Lester Sill – hence the name, “Phil” “Les” Records. I highly recommend you read the liner notes found on the back cover of the album (click on the image to the right.) Spector makes it clear he was intent on making a great pop Christmas record, and while it may have taken almost a decade for it to become so highly regarded, most people agree he succeeded in making one of the great Christmas albums of all time.

One of the unfortunate things that contributed to its initial lackluster sales performance was this: it was released on November 22, 1963 – the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. That’s certainly unlucky timing. But the situation turned around in 1972 when a little label called Apple Records reissued the album (with different artwork) after Spector had worked with John Lennon on his song “Instant Karma,” the Beatles on the Let It Be album and George Harrison on his 3-LP album All Things Must Pass. With a renewed listenership, the album has been a holiday staple ever since. It’s one of those great Christmas albums that I never get tired of hearing. And Spector’s unique production values made it sound like nothing else that had come before it as far as Christmas music is concerned. I mentioned in previous posts how Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” technique was evident in both the Elton John and Bruce Springsteen Christmas songs. Many rock or R&B versions of the classic Christmas tunes found on this album are based on these versions. This album has been hugely influential upon Christmas music in the past several decades, and will surely be influential for decades to come.

Phil Spector Christmas labelMy copy of the album shown here is a 1987 reissue that Rhino put out in conjunction with Phil Spector International. I had known of the album and had heard much of it on the radio, but hadn’t owned a copy myself. Rhino did their usual excellent job in reissuing it with the original artwork. It’s interesting to note that even though this was digitally remastered, they chose to use the original mono mixes for this reissue and not a stereo remix as had been done on the Apple versions. Many purists prefer this.

Also of note is the list of musicians who played on this album. Many of these musicians were part of the famed “Wrecking Crew” group of studio players who appeared, often anonymously, on many of the greatest albums of the 1960s. Among the more familiar names you can see listed on the back cover are Sonny Bono and Tulsa’s own Leon Russell.
Sadly, Phil Spector’s later life has been seemingly filled with turmoil. He’s currently serving his prison sentence for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson. There’s no denying he brought some brilliant music into the world. It’s too bad he seems to have fallen from grace.

Have a rockin’ good Saturday night…

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 12

 Bruce Springsteen – “My Hometown” / “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” [Columbia 38-05728, 7″ single, 45 rpm, 1985.]

Springsteen cover

There really was no method in my madness when I started this “audio Advent calendar” – as one friend has described it – back on December 1. If I had planned ahead better, I would’ve written a few things before that time in order to post them in a more timely manner each day, but that didn’t happen. I’ve been kind of winging it every day, sometimes gathering inspiration from the previous day’s post and other times just choosing what felt right for the moment. Or I just stumbled across something serendipitously, as I did for today’s post.

While looking through my little stack of Christmas 7″ singles yesterday, I picked up the record that has the famous version of  “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” by Bruce Springsteen on it. It has a nice picture sleeve as you can see above. I flipped it over to see what info it had about the recording, and lo and behold, I found this brief note that I had written on the back of it 29 years ago today: “Purchased at Leopold Records (Isla Vista, CA) December 12 1985.” Wow! That brought back some memories. Springsteen back lgI worked at Leopold Records during the one year that I lived in Santa Barbara. (Isla Vista is the little sub-community of Santa Barbara where U.C.S.B. is located; it’s populated mostly by college students.) It was a great little store with a small but knowledgeable and passionate staff. I had worked for the Record Factory regional chain in Monterey, and they had purchased the few, or maybe only two, Leopold stores that existed. The original Leopold’s opened in Berkeley in 1968. The Record Factory chain bought the Leopold stores in the mid 80s but still ran them under the Leopold name. Later in the 80s, one of the West coast’s largest music retailers, Wherehouse Entertainment, gobbled up all the Record Factory stores including Leopold’s. By the mid 90s, the behemoth corporation that Wherehouse had become started having trouble and they shut Leopold’s doors in 1996.

 

Springsteen’s version of this well-known Christmas song was originally recorded live in concert at C.W. Post College in Greenvale, New York on December 12, 1975. (Oh, maybe that’s why I was compelled to make that note: I saw the recording date on there and noticed I was buying it on the same date 10 years later! Serendipity, once again.) It had only been released to rock radio stations for airplay and I looked forward to the chance of catching it every Christmas season. It was released commercially for the first time in 1981, when it was included on the compilation album In Harmony 2 which was aimed at the burgeoning children’s music market. Its existence on there probably went very much unnoticed; I sure didn’t remember that! It finally received a proper coming out party on November 21, 1985, when it was included as the B-Side to “My Hometown,” the record-tying seventh single released from Springsteen’s blockbuster Born in the U.S.A album, which has been certified Platinum 15-times over by the RIAA – that’s 15 million albums sold, in the U.S alone. I remember being quite excited that they were finally putting this great rockin’ Christmas song out there for the public to buy.

I’ve always really loved this version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” It seems pretty clear to me that Springsteen’s interpretation here was based on the very original Jack Nitzsche arrangement performed by the Crystals on the classic 1963 R&B compilation album A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, produced by Phil Spector. (Hint, hint…) Many of the versions that have been recorded since that time also seem to be strongly influenced by that arrangement. But you can also clearly hear how Bruce puts his own unique stamp on it in this version as well. I mean, it’s the Boss and the boys in the E Street Band. They blow the song wide open.

Springsteen on turntable

It starts off wonderfully as Springsteen sets up the wintry scene along the New Jersey shore, with jingle bells and bright piano accompanying his spoken intro. And then he banters with the band and the audience, asking if they’ve been good this year; their noncommittal reply seems to leave him a bit worried about the prospects of them getting any Christmas morning bounty. He breaks into the first lines of the song in his unmistakably powerful voice and it doesn’t take long for the band to kick into the high gear they’re so well-known for and they’re off and running with it. It’s just good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll. There’s a little break near the end of the song where the band quiets down a bit and Clarence Clemons adds his deep-throated “Ho Ho Ho” into the mix a few times. It’s funny to hear how Springsteen chuckles bemusedly at this, sort of revealing how much fun he’s having. It’s a fun song to listen to and it’s one Christmas record that I never tire of hearing.

You can listen to it through this Spotify player here (It’s something new I’m trying. It appears you need a Spotify account, which is free, to listen to it through this player. It will open your Spotify player. If  you get an error message, refresh the web page. If you can, leave a comment below to let me know how it worked for you. Thanks.)

 

If that doesn’t work, here it is on YouTube: “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Ho! Ho! Ho!