Saturday, December 01, 2007
Dig the cover photo--a relic of the day when people married and had families (and fireplaces). Nowadays, of course, kids are hatched in labs. Way back in 1957 (my birth year), though, things were different. And I think 1957 was the first year that anything was in color. Not sure. Any "color" photos that predate 1957 were hand-colored. You can (possibly) be sure of that.
This Tops Christmas LP is best described as incredibly tacky. In a good way, to the extent that's possible. Sound quality is decent on some tracks, awful on others (I think the term "wow" was invented in honor of this collection), the condition is acceptable, and the choral singing is nice. The pop sides, however, suck, and the singers sound dazed, sort of. They're not trying very hard, but would any of us in their situation?
I'll bet you can't wait to download this one!!
Actually, it's not as bad as I'm making out. (Yes, it is.) But I love it, anyway.
Truth is, I'd rather listen to this chintzy, tacked-together rip-off than many a major-label Christmas collection. And it takes a brave person to admit as much, especially under his real name.
And I'm brave. Either that, or my self-regard just took flight. Whichever the case may be, you know you want to hear Christmas Favorites: Christmas Favorites--Tops O. and Cho.
Don't worry about the track listing starting on number 2--all the tracks are there. I'm not cutting anyone any slack....
Christmas Favorites--Tops Orch. and Choristers (Tops L1525; 1957)
Deck the Halls
Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer
Joy to the World
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Frosty the Snowman
'Twas the Night Before Christmas
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
O, Come All Ye Faithful
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Santa Claus is Riding Through the Sky
The First Noel
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Away in a Manger
Good King Wenceslaus
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
"Merry Christmas from Line Material!" Here's some history on Line Material itself, courtesy of Cooper Power Systems. All we need to know (for the purposes of this post) is that LM annually produced cool Christmas give-away 45s from 1957-1962. Whether they produced any prior to, or later than, this period, I do not know. If you know, please let me know. Know that I'll appreciate it on this Noel. Ernie has, for a year or so, been sitting on a LM 78. And sitting on 78s is not advised, at least if you want to play them in one piece.
If you're wondering why the music sounds so spectacular on these street-lamp-company holiday affairs (I've always wanted to type that), consider the talent involved: choral arranging by John McCarthy (of Ambrosia/John McCarthy Singers fame) and instrumental arranging by David Carroll (of Mercury). I know for sure they were behind Santa's Factoree, and I'm guessing they're the architects of/on the others. Line Material was apparently able to hire the best, though I'm guessing that John McCarthy's services were cheaper prior to his 1961-66 stint as choral director for the London Symphony Orchestra. (What do you mean, I guess too much?)
And my guess is that, if you haven't heard these before, you'll love them. And that you'll love them even if you have.
I've added a bonus track--the REMC (Rural Electric Membership Company) self-advertising classic of 1966 called A Delightful Story of a Boy and Girl on Christmas Eve, narrated by Jack Underwood. The REMC in question is very likely in Indianapolis (Clue: the Cranfill Advertising Agency is credited on the label. This I know because of an anonymous comment from 2005).
And Randy Meyer (not the Randy portrayed on this record) informed me that narrator Jack Underwood "did the midday show on WOWO (Fort Wayne, IN) from the early 1960s to the mid 80s. He passed away a little more than ten years ago." Many thanks to Randy for those details.
The REMC holiday side was produced for a tiny fraction of the Line Material budget, sounds like. But it's just as charming in its own way, and the REMC jingle at the end is priceless.
Hopefully, this essay made sense--I wrote it in a rush, so I can't be sure. And YOU should rush to the seven-of-a-kind Christmas classics featured here: Have a Line Material (and REMC) Christmas!
Santa's North Pole Band--Line Material, 1957.
The Sounds of Christmas--Line Material, 1958.
The Kinds of Christmas--Line Material, 1959.
Santa's Factoree--Line Material, 1960.
The Day That Santa Was Sick--Line Material, 1961.
Let's Trim the Christmas Tree--Line Material, 1962.
A Delightful Story of a Boy and Girl on Christmas Eve--Jack Underwood (for REMC), 1966.
Merry Christmas, from Line Material! Merry Christmas, etc.--
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Christmas Music 2007, Part One--Buzzy, the Christmas Bee; Rabbits Have a Christmas; Christmas Eve (Grofe); Bobsled; Christmas City; more!
"You will become one of us...."
Top (l to r): John and Sue (Bev's brother and sister-in-law)
Bottom (l to r): Bev and Lee
Do you ever get the feeling that people are staring at you? You do? That's odd.
You're looking at about one-third of the folks who showed up for Thanksgiving and for John's service. I'm the big, terribly distinguished-looking guy on the right. We're all engaged in trying to look "natural." No one, from the earliest days of photography to the present, has had any idea what it means to look natural before a camera, but people keep on trying, anyway.
When it happens, we'll know it. Collectively, I mean, as a species.
Soooo.... Most of the music in this post is a repeat from last year (or even the previous one). A mere six are new. The rest I re-ripped, since things are tracking a lot better with my new Stanton stylus--the one without the brush attachment. As I've discovered, all the stupid brush assembly did (besides pick up dust) was add a huge amount of VTF to the tonearm. And since Dual arms weigh less than an adult ant, this causes tracking error galore. So, you're going to be hearing fresh new, brush-attachment-less rips. Aren't you excited?
What is there to say about the music? Well, there are a lot of notes. And chords. Some words, too. All of the sounds were recaptured from discs. Music in/music out.
Anyway, I had these in some kind of uploading order, and now I don't. We shall proceed, however, as if everything were normal (Ho ho! Hee hee!). Things are always normal around here (Hee-yee-ho-ha-hee!).
We have three shellac 78s and one plastic 78 (selections 1-4). The oldest, and noisiest, is from 1912. Children's Toy March, it's called. Prince's Band also recorded it in 1911 as part of On a Christmas Morning. In case this pops up on a quiz sometime.
And we hear Carl Weismann's The Singing Dogs from their original 1955 release, complete with circus sounds and extra (bonus?) barking. As opposed to the 1971 reissue, which chopped the first two songs from the medley, along with the intros, leaving only Jingle Bells. An arf-ful thing to do, if you ask me.
Buzzy, the Christmas Bee is back for its third sting--spin. Whatever. (Actually, Buzzy has no stinger. How could I forget?) A while back, I hear from Jeff Mitchell, who gave me some cool background on the recording. Then I never heard back from him. Since I didn't get permission to post his words, I shant. Delightfully weird record, and I mean that in a good way, not a smirkier-than-thou one.
Grofe's Christmas Eve, written in 1934, is played by Barron Smith at the John Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia. No recording date on the jacket (is there ever?), but it's 1958. I knew I had all those old Schwann catalogs for a reason.
Two TV greats, both deceased, grace our sleighlist--there's Merv Griffin with the timeless Christmas City, and Linn (Barnaby) Sheldon with two charming ditties from the Cosmic label. I've always wanted to type "two charming ditties from the Cosmic label."
Les Paul and Mary Ford's Jungle Bells was penned by Sid Bass (producer for Merv Griffin during his Carlton days) and Roy Jordan. When it first came out, TIME magazine had this to say: New Pop Records (Dec. 7, 1953).
The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot, from 1937, was a big hit in WWII but is apparently best-known in its later version by Nat King Cole. Since a lot of children were left without a Daddy by that terrible war, the lyrics are quite documentary in nature. How easily we forget that most "maudlin" songs are straight from real life, that such lyrics describe--very eloquently, in this case--very real human suffering. The Sun Tones' close harmony, by contrast, is a joy.
Paddy Roberts' trite but amusing Merry Christmas, You Suckers is beloved by fans of safely subversive holiday numbers. I like the charming waltz tune and the quiet sarcasm, though the sentiments date back to (and, likely, before) Ebenezer Scrooge.
To the Yule-tunes!
Click here to reach Christmas 2007, Part One!
CHILDREN'S TOY MARCH (L. Currie)--Prince's Band, 1912.
PARADE OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS--Sandpipers, Ann Lloyd, Mitch Miller, 1951.
THE NEW BORN KING--Hamilton Hill, 1909.
PARADE OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS--International Novelty Orch., 1928.
PAT-A-CAKE--THREE BLIND MICE--JINGLE BELLS--The Singing Dogs, 1955.
BUZZY, THE CHRISTMAS BEE--Jeff and Sue Mitchell.
JOY TO THE WORLD--Barron Smith, organ, 1958.
DECK THE HALLS--Barron Smith, organ, 1958.
MARCH OF THE THREE KINGS--Barron Smith, organ, 1958.
CHRISTMAS EVE (Ferde Grofe)--Barron Smith, organ, 1958.
BOBSLED--Clebanoff and His Orch., 1962.
SLEIGH RIDE (L. Anderson)--Ramona Gerhard.
THE LITTLE BOY THAT SANTA CLAUS FORGOT--The Sun Tones.
JINGLE BELLS--Dick Byron, Sandpiper Chorus, Mitch Miller.
JINGLE BELLS--The Royale Orch. and Singers.
WHITE CHRISTMAS--The Royale Orch. and Singers.
SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN--The Royale Orch. and Singers.
MERRY, MERRY, MERRY, MERRY CHRISTMAS--Ruby Wright, 1957.
SEASON'S GREETINGS (A CHEERFUL HELLO)--Larry Noble w. Pete Pontrelli Orch., 1959.
JUNGLE BELLS (Dingo-Dongo-Day)--Les Paul and Mary Ford, 1953.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, YOU SUCKERS--Paddy Roberts, 1962.
SANTA'S CHRISTMAS PARTY--Kathryn Hume, Grace Lynne Martin.
SLEIGH RIDE (L. Anderson)--Boston Pops Orch., Arthur Fiedler
CHRISTMAS CITY (Don Peterson)--Merv Griffin.
BOOFO GOES WHERE SANTA GOES--Linn Sheldon, 1960.
RABBITS HAVE A CHRISTMAS--Linn Sheldon, 1960.
People who don't like to read my essays have my permission to skip this. Don't go saying I forced you. You won't hurt my feelings--honest!
Every year, about this time, it's hard to believe it's Christmas. It's a yearly ritual (i.e., being surprised that it's Christmas already). It's as if, as a species, we were not genetically predisposed to believing that it's Christmas already.
And there's the yearly ritual of not believing how early the Christmas displays and the Christmas music are coming out in the malls, on TV, on radio, etc. ("They're playing Christmas songs already?") This is invariably followed by Dickens- and Schultz-style complaining about the commercializing of Christmas, a process which presumably is still going on after Scrooge denounced the holiday in so many terms (by way of excusing his cold Yuletide heart). Those commercializers need to get their act together if it's been that long and they're STILL working on the plasticizing of Dec. 25.
Then there's the being-embarrassed-to-admit-that-you-have-a-favorite-Christmas-song ritual. "Sure, this is dreck/kitsch/fluff/garbage, but I heard it as a kid, so I'm excused." The implication being, of course, that our regular musical diet does NOT consist of dreck/kitsch/fluff/garbage, but, rather, great art music like Beck, Johnny Cash, Esquivel, Boxcar Willie, or The Stones.
Unlike Thanksgiving, which Boomers and their imitators trash at will as a horrible and disgusting middle-class ritual, Christmas is fairly free from such attacks, mainly because the attackers don't have the guts to trash it. NOBODY touches Christmas. Christ himself? No problem. Expect fifty or so essays explaining that Christ has nothing to do with CHRISTmas, and vice versa. For the few people who read those things.
And expect some messing around with the history of the holiday. We'll learn that the Pilgrims used Dec. 25 to consume their young, and that Christmas trees were originally Christmas tepees--hence, their conical shape. Don't laugh--I just learned, via an essay being plagiarized across the 'Net, that the same awful folks were having numerous "Thanksgivings" a year (one for each time they wiped out an Indian tribe) until George Washington (!) called a halt to the practice, insisting that only one Thanksgiving be held annually. I never knew that George was around (let alone was exercising any authority) in the seventeenth century, but what do I know about anything.
And some atheists will remind us (in "Did you know..."? fashion) that Christmas is just another winter solstice celebration. Which is nice to know. For the zillionth time.
As for faith-bashing activities of the richard dawkins type, who knows what those will be or how noisy? I suspect we'll see the usual gripes about Nativity scenes and read a few low-key church/state-separation essays, but no major pop-cultural wars are on the horizon. The idiots to the right and left of the "God issue," whose job it is to feed each other's complaints, will do as they always do and use the days up to and including Thanksgiving to bitch about stuff. And they'll cower from Christmas. People are usually afraid of that (or those) which they trash, and middle-class-bashers are no different. You don't want to rile everyday folks during the loudest and busiest of all vernacular celebrations.
At this blog, where pop culture rules, the middle class is treated as what it is--the majority. A proud and noble majority. The middle class is us. Pop culture is ours. The culture that surrounds, informs, consumes, and makes us what we are (?) has somehow become something remote--something to do with kitsch or camp or (if you stick around Huff-Po) the "unwashed masses." It's as if nothing were worse than the cultural middle-ground. What we're looking at is an attitude that used to exist solely among the elite--an anti-masses attitude that has somehow become the attitude OF the masses.
Note, when you have a moment, how often we apologize for average, everyday things. Notice that I never devote so much as a nanosecond to that ritual at this place, unless I'm criticizing it.
The hardest things to see clearly are, invariably, the closest. While I participate, to some extent, with the ritual of treating Christmas as something novel or campy or silly, I'm not totally comfortable with it. Christmas, after all, is a celebration of the most vital and needful things in life--family, shelter, food, and the spirit of charity, to name four. And, if you're an "xian" like me (don't you love that reduction?), you might see it in terms of a Savior--a soul liberator--born in the most squalid of circumstances. Last year, I wrote that the tragedy and majesty of Christ's birth were one and the same. To me, that's the message of Christmas.
But that's me. Anyway, my yearly, without-apology embrace of all things gloriously ordinary begins with the next post, which will contain a bunch of music. (Or a link to same.)
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season's Greetings, Happy Solstice, whatever.