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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Follow Santa's Trip via NORAD

Once again this year, our nation's chief air defense agency will be on the alert throughout Christmas Eve keeping track of Santa as he winds his way around the world delivering presents to all good boys and girls. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is typically busy scanning the skies for enemy missiles, but one night each year, NORAD goes on Santa patrol and shares its latest findings with the world HERE. From what I can see as I write this, Santa is currently visiting homes in Bangladesh. You might leave a few extra presents for those children, Santa. God knows they deserve some joy.

For some history about how NORAD got in the Santa-tracking business, click HERE.

C'est Noel, Part 13 and Out (Tracks 33-35)

Today is Christmas Eve, and I'm writing this post from North Yarmouth, Maine, where it's cold and slightly overcast with a nice coating of snow on the ground. Our chief piece of unfinished business is posting a few thoughts on the three remaining tracks from my latest holiday mix, C'est Noel!  I do this in reverse order within each day's entry so you can scroll the blog in reverse to read all of the track entries in reverse order without having the list jump back and forth too much. It seemed like a good thing to do when I started the blog three seasons ago, but now I'm not sure that it just doesn't make me appear that much more eccentric than I already am. OK, then . . . let's get started!

Track 35
Cristo Redentor, by Donald Byrd (1963)



The jazz world lost one of its truly iconic artists this year with the passing of Donald Byrd, an American jazz, funk and rhythm and blues trumpet player who died in February at the age of 80. A native of Detroit, Byrd left for Manhattan in the 1950s where he earned his master's degree at the Manhattan School of Music and began to play with some of the best jazz musicians of the day including John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk. Pianist Herbie Hancock credits Byrd as one of his principal mentors, and Hancock was a key contributor to several of Byrd's most successful jazz albums, including the popular Blue Note release Free Form (1961). Following a brief sabbatical in Paris, Byrd released the brilliant album A New Perpective in 1963, which, among other things, added touches of gospel to the mix. "Cristo Redentor" is perhaps the most notable of the tracks on that record – indeed, of Byrd's career. Of the album, Byrd later said:
I mean this album seriously. Because of my own background, I've always wanted to write an entire album of spiritual-like pieces. The most accurate way I can describe what we were all trying to do is that this is a modern hymnal. In an earlier period, the New Orleans jazzmen would often play religious music for exactly what it was - but with their own jazz textures and techniques added. Now, as modern jazzmen, we're also approaching this tradition with respect and great pleasure.
"Cristo Redentor," which translates as "Christ the Redeemer," isn't, strictly speaking, a Christmas song, for its meaning extends well beyond Christ's birth and its celebration. But it's a magnificent piece of jazz whose soaring trumpet and soothing vocals elevate the spirit and captures the joyous celebration that Christmas has come to embody. It strikes me as a wonderful way to close almost any collection.

Track 34
Christmas on the Block, by Alan Mann (1986)



In this increasingly homogeneous age, where shopping malls from Anchorage to Miami are anchored by identical Bed Bath and Beyonds, it's nice to see a bit of local color and tradition survive in different cities and towns across the country. If you're not from Philadelphia, you've probably never heard this tune before; but, if you've ever lived in the City of Brotherly Love during the holidays, it's almost sure to ring a bell or two. The song was written by Alan Mann, who was active in Philadelphia's South Street punk scene in in the early 1980s. Before that, he'd been into folk music, and his fledgling band could pretty much play anything from the Byrds to Springsteen to the Sex Pistols. While walking around Philadelphia's Overbrook neighborhood one day, he spotted a lavishly decorated house and asked someone who lived there. It turns out the building was a group home for the blind, and even though the residents of the home were unable to see the fruits of their labor, each year they spent hours putting up Christmas lights and decorations for their sighted neighbors to appreciate. This got Mann to thinking, and the result was this song, which he wrote in 1982. Mann first recorded the song with his band, and later brought in a second grade class to add the adorable vocals you hear in this version. The song received modest local airplay at first, but it didn't really achieve classic status until it was turned into a video several years later and became the first independent video aired on MTV in regular rotation. Although this wasn't disclosed for many years, the original video wouldn't have been made without the quiet backing of Yoko Ono, who was moved by the story and the children's choir Mann had used, which reminded her of the song she and John Lennon had recorded several years earlier, "Happy Christmas (War is Over)." Tragically, Mann was killed in a fire several years after this song was recorded. But both Mann and this song are still celebrated each Christmas season, and the message of "Christmas on the Block" still resonates today.

Track 33
I'll Always Believe in Santa Claus, by the Russ Morgan Orchestra, with Joey Alfidi (1956)
I'm afraid I don't have an awful lot of information to share about this track, which was recorded in 1956 by the Russ Morgan Orchestra. Morgan was a pianist, trombone player, composer and big band leader who was active and popular from the 1930s until his death in 1969. He traveled extensively throughout the period, recorded for films, hosted a number of very popular radio shows, and had several hit records, but he was best known for his lengthy live performance runs at some of the better known hotels in the country, including the Biltmore in Los Angeles, the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago and the Dunes in Las Vegas, where he was the headliner at the Top O' the Strip club for nearly 12 years. This track is a rather obscure record, but one that seemed appropriate for the end of this year's mix as a nice way to bring things down a bit.

That concludes our look at the 35 tracks on this year's mix. I hope you've enjoyed my latest collection of holiday mishegas, and that we'll be able to get together again next Christmas for another mix of interesting holiday music. I'll have a few more items to post before we close down the blog until next season, so be sure to check back between now and January 1. But for now, I hope you enjoy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in whatever way is most meaningful to you.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Time Out for a Holiday Tiny Desk Concert from New Orleans

I'm a big fan of little things, and I've long believed it's essential for busy people to take occasional short breaks from their work and other activities to simply let their minds roam free. Not surprisingly, I love NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series, which features various musical groups performing short shows lasting around 15 minutes from the NPR Music offices for people to enjoy anytime from their desks. They're just the ticket when you need to recharge your batteries, and a good introduction to new acts, too. Last week's show featured the Preservation Hall Jazz Band performing a few of their favorite New Orleans Christmas songs, and it was a terrific bridge to the Christmas holiday. Here's the full show, which included the tunes: (1) Sugar Plum, (2) I Think I Love You, (3) Happy Holiday, and (4) Dear Lord. Enjoy!



Saturday, December 21, 2013

C'est Noel, Part 12 (Tracks 31-32)

Here are a couple of thoughts about the next two tracks from my latest holiday mix, C'est Noel:

Track 32
Happy Holiday, by Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé (1964)
Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé
Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé were most popular with folks a couple of generations before me, and I can't say I know an awful lot about them or their music. I know them more as cultural icons, thanks to their appearances on shows like The Nanny and satirical bits about them like Phil Hartman's 1991 Sinatra Group sketch on Saturday Night Live. Nevertheless, the news of Eydie's passing pained me. Since her marriage to Steve in 1957 the two were practically inseparable, and they seemed to love working together. I've enjoyed what music of theirs I've heard, and they've certainly released a prodigious amount of great Christmas music. For this year's mix, I chose their version of "Happy Holiday," which was written by Irving Berlin and first performed by Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. In the movie, the song was performed on New Year's Eve, and the lyrics are sufficiently vague so that it could actually be sung on almost any holiday and still work. But it's come to be seen as a Christmas song, and it's usually presented as "Happy Holiday" instead of "Happy Holidays" to emphasize the identification with Christmas alone.

Track 31
Christmas Is for the Children, by David Frost (1970)
David Frost and Richard Nixon


I can remember when David Frost's talk show first started to air in the United States, and for awhile here, he was a huge success. This was the late 1960s, and Frost was showing up the likes of Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas. I remember at the time that my mother and the other stay-at-home moms in the neighborhood were especially keen on him, and somehow I associated a British accent with popularity and success. Frost didn't stay on top for long, but his career enjoyed a definite resurgence in 1977 when he scored a major interview deal with former President Richard M. Nixon and managed to get the former president to acknowledge that he'd let the country down. Frost died this summer at the age of 74, and in his honor I added a little snippet he recorded in 1970 about a fellow hotel guest he'd met whose words and actions on the subject of Christmas are at odds with one another.




(Some people have reported problems listening to the SoundCloud clip, above. If you can't hear it, try clicking HERE.)

McEnroe Steps Into Jay Thomas' Shoes to Preserve a Late Show Holiday Tradition

When it comes to Christmas traditions, little things mean a lot. That's why I was so sorry to learn that Jay Thomas wouldn't be appearing on the Late Show with David Letterman this year for the program's final pre-Christmas broadcast. Letterman's final show before Christmas has become a special treat for many fans, largely because of the annual appearance of Darlene Love. For the past 28 years, she's closed the show with a rousing version of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," a song she first recorded for the classic holiday album A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, which was released 50 years ago last month. By those standards, Thomas is a relative newcomer to Letterman's pre-holiday festivities, but he's been part of the show for the past 14 years, which surely establishes his contributions as traditional. Thomas is tasked with two jobs each year – participating in the annual Quarterback Challenge, and telling his hilariously funny Lone Ranger Story – and while neither seems to be inescapably seasonal, they've taken on all the trappings of mistletoe and Christmas stockings. Thus, the news that Thomas would be sidelined this year due to a recent surgery was akin to seeing Santa take off without Donner and Blitzen. It might work, but it just wouldn't be the same. Little did we know that last night's first guest, tennis star John McEnroe, had been specifically recruited to fill Thomas's shoes for the night. That's right, McEnroe not only assumed the Quarterback Challenge (albeit with tennis balls instead of a football), but he also took on the greater challenge of telling Thomas's Lone Ranger story:



If you ask me, McEnroe did an amazing job, and he sure made it seem like Christmas again. And things got even more festive toward the end of the show when it was time for the pièce de résistance 

Ladies and gentlemen, the incomparable Darlene Love:



Now it's really time for Christmas. Let the celebrations begin!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Don't Miss Darlene Love on Letterman TONIGHT!

Darlene Love singing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on The Late Show





















Tonight's the night for one of my very favorite holiday traditions:  Darlene Love joins David Letterman, Paul Shaffer and the gang for the final pre-Christmas Late Show and a rousing rendition of my favorite holiday song, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." This will be Darlene's 28th pre-Christmas appearance on The Late Show, and somehow she seems to look and sound better with each passing year. Unfortunately, Letterman's other holiday tradition has been sidelined this year, and that's the annual appearance of Jay Thomas to compete with Dave in the annual Quarterback Challenge and tell the famous Lone Ranger story. Thomas recently had minor surgery and had to cancel this year's appearance. We hope he returns next year, but, in the meantime, here's a look at the outrageously funny Lone Ranger story he tells each year:




The Late Show with David Letterman, tonight at 11:35 pm on CBS TV.

twothirtytwo Pull Off a Christmas Music Miracle

If you want to get rid of me in a hurry, start playing Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" and I guarantee I'll be gone before the first chorus begins. I'm sorry, but I can't stand that song. In fact, I'm not really too keen on anything Mariah Carey's released. But I was thrilled to learn that twothirtytwo, a self-described "post melodic alt-rock band from Aldershot, UK," has recorded a new version of this awful song . . . and that it actually sounds great:



What do you think? Not bad, huh?! If they can do something with "Wonderful Christmastime," I'm going to conclude that there's witchcraft involved.

Thanks to Elves Bells.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Killers Spend Christmas in LA

For the past eight years, Vegas-based rockers The Killers have released an original Christmas song and video in early December with proceeds going to support Project Red and the fight against AIDS and TB in Africa. Some of their previous holiday efforts have been awesome, particularly A Great Big Sled (2006) and I Feel It In My Bones (2012). This year's release is called Christmas in L.A. and features the L.A. folk rock band Dawes:



This isn't my favorite of their annual Christmas songs; it's a little depressing, and hits kind of close to home. But they're as reliable as Santa every December, and their commitment to raising money for an important cause is nothing short of awesome. All of their previous Christmas tunes can be had for a song via The Killers website or iTunes, and the (Red) Christmas EP features six of the song collected just for you.

C'est Noel, Part 11 (Tracks 29-30)

Here's some dirt on two more of the songs that appear on my latest holiday mix, C'est Noel!

Track 30
New Baby for Christmas, by George Jones (1964)
George Jones (right) reviews a painting his wife commissioned of his famous DWI arrest while driving a riding lawnmower to the liquor store.























On the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination last month, some 112 artists gathered with thousands of fans at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena for what co-host Charlie Chase called "the largest tribute event in music history" in honor of the late country music legend George Jones. Jones' facial features led him to be nicknamed "The Possum," and his long battle with alcoholism caused him to miss more than a few gigs over the years, so last month's show was aptly christened "Playin' Possum:  The Final No Show," and it seems to have been a night to remember. As former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee remarked from the stage, "You're all going to remember where you were on November 22, 1963." That's a different issue, of course, but everybody knew what he meant. Jones, who died on April 26 at the age of 81, had his first #1 country hit in 1959 with the song "White Lightnin'," and despite a good number of ups and downs, he went on to top the country chart with 13 additional songs and remained a vital presence in country music throughout his life. "New Baby for Christmas" is one of about a dozen Christmas songs Jones recorded over the years, although I don't believe he released a holiday album until this year's Classic Christmas Album, which consists of songs previously recorded with his ex-wife, Tammy Wynette. "New Baby for Christmas" appears in its original form on the Classic Christmas Album, and it's a great little tune from an extremely talented man who epitomized the hard-living, hard-working country musician.

Hear George Jones and Tammy Wynette Sing "Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus"

Hear George Jones Sing "Lonely Christmas Call"

Read About How George Was Arrested for Riding a Lawnmower to the Liquor Store


Track 29
O Christmas Tree, by James Gandolfini and Ben Affleck (2004)
Gandolfini (left) and Affleck
More than a few of us were taken aback by the sudden death of actor James Gandolfini this past June, partly because he was only 51 years old, but also because he was such a vital and vigorous man who seemed to be really hitting his stride. Best known for playing mob boss Tony Soprano in HBO's smash hit series The Sopranos, a role that won him three Best Actor Emmys, Gandolfini also produced several documentaries for the network about issues of concern to U.S. veterans of the War in Iraq. I'd hoped to include a clip in this year's mix from one of the Soprano family's holiday extravaganzas, but despite a painstaking review of Tony's many holiday appearances, I was unable to find a suitable audio clip lasting longer than five seconds that wasn't interrupted by profanity. (If you're over 18 and don't mind adult language, be sure to check out this classic scene in which Tony Soprano realizes in a holiday flashback that a former associate was wearing a wire for the feds while playing Santa Claus for a neighborhood Christmas party.) Lucky for me, Gandolfini also appeared alongside Ben Affleck in the 2004 movie Surviving Christmas, which is where I found the clip for Track 29. In the movie, Affleck plays a wealthy but lonely executive who pays Gandolfini's character $250,000 to spend the holidays with him and his family. The movie received bad reviews and did poorly at the box office, but I thought the clip I used was rather endearing, and a whole lot more acceptable than the kinds of scenes that made The Sopranos so successful. By all accounts, Gandolfini was about as different from Tony Soprano's bad qualities as one could get. He's another man gone too soon.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

C'est Noel, Part 10 (Tracks 26-28)

We've been examining each of the 35 tracks that comprise my latest holiday mix, C'est Noel!, with an eye toward offering some background on the whole lot before Christmas Day. Once the today's post is up, a mere seven tracks remain and we've got six days to chat about them, so I'd say we're in pretty good shape. As a reminder, C'est Noel will be available on my holiday music website only through the end of 2013, so be sure to check it out 'twixt now and then.

These next few tracks were selected to honor several gifted entertainers who died during the past year. It's a tradition I started a couple of years ago, and it makes me acutely aware of just how many talented folks are living, and aging, among us. Eight of this years tracks celebrate the lives of artists no longer with us – Tracks 26-32 and Track 35. Here are the first three:

Track 28
Just a Toy, by Annette Funicello (1961)
Annette Funicello
Most of her best professional work was done before my time, but I've always thought highly of Annette Funicello, who passed away this past April at age 70. From her earliest days in show business as one of the original Mouseketeers, to her post-adolescent years frolicking on the beach with Frankie Avalon and their friends, Funicello helped an entire generation of young Americans grow into adulthood. Painfully shy as a child, her parents enrolled her in a Burbank, California dancing school, where she was spotted by Walt Disney himself in 1955 and recruited for his new Mickey Mouse Club program. Disney maintained a close eye on her career, signing her alone to a film deal after the first group of Mouseketeers graduated from the program. In 1961, she starred in Disney’s production of Babes in Toyland, the movie that featured “Just a Toy,” which appears on this year's mix. Unlike so many other child stars, Funicello maintained her wholesome image throughout her life. Except for a brief stint as a spokesperson for Skippy Peanut Butter, Funicello kept out of the public eye for most of her adult years, raising three children and living a relatively modest and by all accounts happy life outside of Los Angeles. In 1992, she announced that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which she fought courageously, both privately and by raising awareness and money to fight the disease. She was a model Mouseketeer and a class act to the end.

Watch Annette and the Other Original Mouseketeers During Roll Call

Watch Episode 1 of the Mickey Mouse Club Serial, "Annette"

Watch the film Babes in Toyland (1961)*
*Annette sings "Just a Toy" at the 1:18:25 mark
Watch the Opening of Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

Watch One of Annette's Skippy Peanut Butter Commercials


Track 27
Edith Greets the Carolers, The Cast Of “All In The Family,” featuring Jean Stapleton (1971)
Jean Stapleton
Best known for her portrayal of Edith Bunker, the simple, long-suffering, loving wife of America's best-known bigot, Archie (played by the late Carroll O'Connor), on television’s All in the FamilyJean Stapleton played a wide range of challenging roles in films and on stage and TV. Following her death this past May at the age of 90, she was remembered by fellow co-stars and others as a talented professional and a delightful colleague. Actor, director and producer Rob Reiner, who starred with Stapleton in All in the Family, said, "Working with her was one of the greatest experiences of my life." Sally Struthers, who played Gloria in the same show, said, "Jean lived so in the present. She was a Christian Scientist who didn't say or think a negative thing. She was just a walking, living angel.” The short clip I used in this year's mix typifies the Edith Bunker character Stapleton played – and, apparently, Stapleton herself. It’s taken from the episode “Christmas at the Bunkers,” which appears in full below:

UPDATE, 11.18.14:  It seems the video originally posted below is no longer available; however, this same episode can be streamed via Hulu by PRESSING HERE. Fans of All in the Family may also want to check-out the two-part holiday episode that aired during Season 7 in 1977, which posted two days ago HERE.


 


If you'll notice, at about 22:05 Archie kicks off the same argument I posted about yesterday – namely, are Santa Claus and Jesus white, or black? Megyn Kelly doesn't seem to have moved the ball too much farther down the field than when Archie Bunker tried to field the issue in 1971 – 42 years ago.

Track 26
Holiday Greetings, by Lou Reed (1988)
Lou Reed
When I was 14 1/2 years old, I started my first “real” job as a junior kitchen assistant for the girls’ summer camp my grandmother and godmother ran for more than 40 years in Raymond, New Hampshire. There were five of us "boys" in the kitchen – three juniors and two assistants – plus the chef, and we regularly fed about 250 people, only 15 of whom were male. We worked 70 hours each week and the juniors were paid $25 per week, plus room and board, and I loved every minute of it. Hell, I guess it would have been a dream job for most guys my age. When I first heard that Lou Reed had died this past October, I suddenly remembered something from that wonderful summer that I hadn’t thought of in ages. The senior kitchen assistant had just graduated Andover Academy that year, and he was a big Lou Reed fan. I was considerably younger and liked Elton John. The other “kitchen boys” were “townies” from Raymond and liked mostly country and heavy metal music. They ragged on us something awful at first for our taste in music, although by the end of the first week I noticed we were kicking off most of our lengthy afternoon breaks by playing either Rock and Roll Animal or Goodbye Yellow Brick Road at full blast as we fell asleep on the roof of our tiny cabin. Music can bring people together, and it can expand people’s horizons. Lou Reed’s certainly did both that summer. It can also transport people backward in time, as Lou's timeless record just did for me. I'm grateful.
Jenny said, when she was just five years old
There was nothin' happening at all
Every time she put on the radio
There was nothin' goin' down at all, not at all
Then, one fine mornin', she puts on a New York station
You know, she couldn't believe what she heard at all
She started shakin' to that fine, fine music
You know, her life was saved by rock'n'roll . . .
Listen to "No Lou this Christmas," by Tom Dyer and His Queen's Pajamas


We'll be back again soon with more.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Apple Reminds Us that Your Unresponsive Emo Cousin May Be Up to Something Nice

I loathe most forms of advertising, but I'm hardly immune to the feelings the most effective ads play to in order to do their dirty work. A good number of TV ads can get me to cry, literally. Like this one, for Apple's iPhone:




I'm not sure this ad would necessarily affect my decision about which mobile phone to buy, but it could color my overall view of Apple, and, for me, it sure packs an emotional wallop. What do you think?

The Free Design Helps to "Bring Your Mind and Body Back from the Store"

This is one of my favorite YouTube videos ever, which I'm pretty sure was put together by a guy named David Rerecich, to whom I'm grateful. The music was recorded by The Free Design, a fabulous group made up of various members of the Dedrick family that flirted with commercial success in the late 1960s. To me, their music symbolizes the wonderful spirit of possibility that was abroad in this country in the late '60s. I love the way the music and images in this video match so effectively:


If you like mod pop like this, don't miss my special bonus holiday mix "The NOW Sound of Christmas," which I posted about earlier this season HERE.

Visit my Holiday Music Website to listen to or download The NOW Sound of Christmas (for a limited time only)

Santa Claus Is a Black Man? Not So Fast, Says Fox's Megyn Kelly

While I try to ignore as much of the nonsense media as possible these days, it's impossible to avoid it altogether and sometimes I'm left scratching my head about some ridiculous story they're pushing to sell us more hamburgers and flat screen TVs. The latest viral flap is different, however, because it concerns a vitally important issue that this blog was among the first to address. The issue? Is Santa Claus black or white? Yes, forget about health care, drone strikes and the federal budget, we're discussing Santa's race this week. I'm pleased to say that this blog, unlike its competitors, has already taken a firm and unambiguous stand on the issue (PRESS HERE). Other outlets are now scrambling to catch up.

Their coverage of the issue started one week ago today when Newsday ran a column by Aisha Harris, an African-American woman, in which she described the confusion she felt as a child seeing conflicting depictions of Santa Claus. At home and within the black community, Harris wrote, Santa was pictured for the most part as black. On TV, in the stores and at school, however, he was white.
I remember feeling slightly ashamed that our black Santa wasn't the "real thing." Because when you're a kid and you're inundated with the imagery of a pale seasonal visitor - and you notice that even some black families decorate their houses with white Santas - you're likely to accept the consensus view[.]
Harris went on to suggest that perhaps we might consider recasting Santa as someone or something more universally accessible – a penguin perhaps? Is that even possible? "Of course," says Harris. "[S]ince we created Santa, we can certainly change him however we like, and we have. Many times over." Fair enough.

But the story took a sharp turn into the fast lane of crazy the following day when Fox TV personality Megyn Kelly got into the act. Kelly not only took issue with Harris's column, which, after all, was agnostic on the ultimate question of Santa's race, but boldly declared that no matter what else children may have been told, Santa Claus is white. Period. So, too, was Jesus. Exclamation Point! Here's the tape:



Leave it to Fox to eliminate all of those messy historical uncertainties from the picture. Don't let any of those pointy-headed liberal professor-types confuse you, Kelly decreed. Santa is white. He's always been white. Jesus, too. It's simple, or as Archie Bunker might say, "case closed." Well, to be factually accurate, there isn't all that much about either Santa or Jesus that's demonstrably clear from our vantage point. There are plenty of open questions, many of which may never be resolved. Santa, of course, is a mythical figure loosely based on St. Nicholas, a Christian bishop from an area that is now part of Turkey. Jesus was born a Galilean Jew. As a result, it's likely neither of these two men would appear to be white by contemporary standards. There is certainly no clear or simple answer to longstanding questions about their race.

As so often happens, it took Jon Stewart, anchorman for a comedy news program called The Daily Show, to bring this topic back down to Earth:


(Hey, what's with Gretchen Carlson? Is it me or does she look completely unhinged in the Daily Show video, above.) Count on us to keep you up to date on any significant new developments in this story. Until then, from where we're seated, PRESS HERE.

Read some Children's Letters to Megyn Kelly

Watch Megyn Kelly's Response to the "Santa is White" Controversy

Watch Jon Stewart's Response to Megyn Kelly's Response

Read "How to Explain Megyn Kelly's Fear of a Black Santa"

Check Out Comedy Central's "War on Christmas" Advent Calendar



Ray Price, 1926-2013

American country music singer, songwriter and guitarist Ray Price died at his home in Mt. Pleasant, Texas today, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Price was widely respected in the country music world for his strong baritone voice and for being a true gentleman. "I just like what I've done and how it's worked out, and it's been great," Price told Rolling Stone earlier this month, in his final interview. "I haven't lost my voice, thank God for that." He was 87 years old.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Roger McGuinn's Christmas Tradition

Roger McGuinn
I'm embarrassed to say that I've only just learned today that the legendary folk/rock singer/songwriter Roger McGuinn is a holiday music enthusiast like us – and, what's more, he's been posting his own new versions of classic holiday tunes on his blog for over a dozen years every December 1. McGuinn, of course, is a former member of The Byrds, where he played with one of my idols, David Crosby,before Crosby split to form the even more successful Crosby, Stills and Nash, which expands from time to time to become Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. McGuinn's latest holiday tune is "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear," which he "recorded with layers of Rickenbacker 12-string guitar to emulate bells ringing from an old grey stone church tower."  Tunes from previous years are available in the blog's seasonal archives HERE. And speaking of that other former Byrd, David Crosby's got a new solo album due out on January 28 called CROZ, which he'll be promoting with a club tour including five sold-out nights at Los Angeles's Troubadour in February. If anyone has a spare ticket to sell …

Thanks to Hip Christmas.

C'est Noel, Part 9 (Tracks 24-25)

Here's some background on two more tracks from this year's holiday mix, titled C'est Noel. Only ten more tracks to go after this post is done, eight of which are tributes to great entertainers we lost in 2013. Only eight more days until Christmas. How are your preparations coming?

Track 25
A World to Grow Up In, by William B. Williams (1961)

(L to R): Williams with Eydie Gormé and Peggy Lee
This next track is a rather frightening period piece from 1961 by William B. Williams, legendary WNEW radio announcer and longtime host of  “The Make Believe Ballroom.” Williams first joined WNEW's on-air team in 1944, working several different shifts until he was fired in 1947 for either putting his shoeless feet up on the studio console (management’s story) or taking aggressive positions in his role as union shop steward (Williams' explanation). He was rehired by the station in 1953 following a change in management, and remained at WNEW for the next 33 years. In 1954, he took over the station’s popular “Make Believe Ballroom” show, which had already been on the air for 20 years by that time and featured popular standards and big band hits. As host, he developed his own unique style for the program, offering anecdotes and observations about the various performers he played and inviting the artists themselves to appear on the air from time to time. Williams, who came to be known to listeners as “Willie B.,” was an enthusiastic booster of pre-rock radio and an especially big promoter of stars like Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra. In fact, it was Williams who coined the tag “Chairman of the Board” for Sinatra, who was so pleased with the moniker that he recorded the following promo* for Williams’ show:
 



A World to Grow Up In” is reminiscent of the letter that sparked the famous “Yes Virgina, There Is a Santa Claus” editorial in the New York Sun. This track is supposedly based on a young boy’s letter to Santa Claus in which he expresses his fear of thermonuclear war and writes that he’d gladly forego this year’s allotment of toys in exchange for “a world to grow up in.” The way he figures it, if Santa could only instill a little Christmas spirit in the world’s leaders, there would never be another war. You may think this record reflects a pretty naïve way of thinking, but recall for a moment what happened just ten months later, in October 1962. Following the discovery of Soviet nuclear weapons on the island of Cuba, hardliners in both Washington and Moscow urged immediate military action that could have easily led to nuclear war. Thankfully, President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev were able to negotiate a way out of the crisis, at great risk to their reputations in their own countries. Do you suppose they each had a visit from Santa the previous Christmas, and received the dose of Christmas spirit the  young author had prescribed?
____________
*The image that appears in the promotional video (above) of Williams holding his nose was taken from a 1950s print ad that appeared under the headline "We asked William B. Williams of WNEW Radio what he thought of rock 'n' roll." I can't agree with Willie B. on that point, but I share his optimism about the power of the holiday spirit.

Track 24
What Would You Put on My Christmas List, by Pee-wee Herman (1988)
Ask a few average adults what they know about Pee-wee Herman and they’ll probably mention a single indiscretion that took place many years ago in Florida. I don’t know exactly what went down that day, but I do know it shouldn't unduly besmirch this fellow's contributions to popular American culture. What should be remembered is that Pee-wee developed and starred in a terrific children’s show called Pee-wee’s Playhouse and that the “Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special” episode that aired during the show’s third season is a bona fide holiday classic. Guest stars included Grace Jones, k.d. Lang, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopie Goldberg, Magic Johnson, Dinah Shore, Cher, Little Richard and Zsa Zsa Gabor – and that's for this single one-hour episode, mind you. Track 24 of my latest holiday mix features a short clip from this holiday episode in which Pee-wee starts to prepare his Christmas wish list for Santa. You’ll have to listen to the clip for details, but let’s just say it’s a pretty comprehensive list – so lengthy, in fact, that Santa later visits the Playhouse to explain that if he fulfilled Pee-wee’s wishes, many other good children would have to go without. (Therein lies the lesson, you see.)

The Christmas Special was the third and final episode of the program’s third season, which was dramatically shortened by a television writers’ strike. I almost used a second clip from the Christmas episode on this year’s mix, in which two additional guests, Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, show everyone how to make Christmas cards. Unfortunately, I had to cut that clip at the last minute due to lack of space. Here’s a video clip of what wound up getting cut:




And here, thanks to the magic of YouTube, is the full episode of the “Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special,” from 1988:




More Christmas fun will be coming up soon, and we'll resume our review of the tracks from my latest holiday mix on Wednesday (or thereabouts).

Sunday, December 15, 2013

C'est Noel, Part 8 (Tracks 21-23)

Here's some background and random thoughts about the next three tracks from my 2013 holiday mix, C'est Noel!:

Track 23
WrestleMania Christmas, by The Yule Logs (2011)
I've posted previously about The Yule Logs, a great group from Chico, California billed as "the hardest working band in snow business." This track is from their 2011 album You Ruined Christmas, and, according to the band's drummer, Jake Sprecher, it's based on a true story:
When I was six years old I desperately wanted WrestleMania for Nintendo, as I was obsessed with the WWF. Christmas day at my Gram's house I began snooping under the tree till I found what I was certain was a video game, and tore part of the wrapping to be sure. Indeed it was WrestleMania. But then I had something of a freak-out, and decided that instead of being caught red-handed, I would take the present out to the backyard and bury it in the dirt. Later that evening as our entire family was opening presents, my Gram confusedly said something to the effect of, "Jacob, I think you're missing a present." I tried to play it off, ran out back and unearthed WrestleMania. I then brought it back inside and promptly began to weep like the child that I was.
Touching story, huh? Well, not really. But The Yule Logs have no peers when it comes to putting out first-rate holiday music, featuring both classic and original tunes. This song's a good example of that, and I urge you to buy one or more of their records to brighten your home during the holidays. The MUSIC page on their website contains a list of available albums, and you'll find links to various online vendors under each of the album pictures.

I used to love professional wrestling myself when I was a kid, although that was before wrestling really caught on in the 1980s. Back in my day, wrestling was a cheaper and more tawdry affair starring fat, out-of-shape villains; crazy, ill-tempered "managers" and a svelte, pre-steroid version of Vince McMahon, who played the role of a mild-mannered announcer. In honor of the good old days, here's an old-fashioned recipe for holiday cookies from the craziest of the crazy managers, the late "Captain" Lou Albano. (CAUTION: Do NOT make these cookies at home, or anywhere else for that matter.)  If you watch carefully, you'll see a very brief cameo by McMahon at the 0:30 mark, and a longer, more twisted appearance by former villain George (the "Animal") Steele:




Track 22
I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas, by Wing (2006)
I've used 398 different songs on my various holiday mixes to date, but only a handful of performers show up on the cumulative track list more than once. Six different songs by Johnny "Bowtie" Barstow have appeared on previous mixes I've circulated, which puts him in first place, followed by William Hung and Wing, who are tied for second place with four appearances each. This year's mix includes the fourth track I've used from Wing, which she calls "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," also known simply as "White Christmas." The song was written by Irving Berlin in 1941, although there's apparently some dispute about where it was written. Several reports suggest it was written at the La Quinta Hotel in California's Coachella Valley, although Phoenix's Arizona Biltmore Hotel claims Berlin wrote it there. There appears to be general agreement about where and when it was first performed in public:  Christmas Day 1941 on NBC Radio's Kraft Music Hall show by Bing Crosby. Crosby's performance was well-received, but it wasn't until the following year when the song was featured in the Paramount film Holiday Inn  that it really caught on. At first, it was overshadowed by another song from the Holiday Inn soundtrack, but as Fall arrived, it started to climb the record charts, eventually reaching the #1 position, where it remained for 11 weeks. "White Christmas" charted again when it was released several years later, reaching the #1 spot in both 1945 and 1946. One factor that probably accounts for its phenomenal success is its popularity with American soldiers during World War II. After all, the song played to people who were feeling melancholy ("Just like the ones I used to know") and eager for images of home ("Where the tree tops glisten"). For many years, this was the uncontested champion of the bestselling single contest, with total worldwide sales of over 50 million copies (100 million, including copies that were sold on various LPs in addition to the 45 RPM single version). In recent years, the song's faced competition from Elton John's tribute to Princess Diana, "Candle in the Wind 1997." But according to the latest Guinness Book of World Records, Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" retains the title of bestselling single of all time, an honor it's held consistently since the Guinness people published their first records book in 1955.  This song has been recorded by hundreds of acts over the years, but I guarantee you've never heard a version of it quite like Wing's.

Track 21
Santa Claus Is a Black Man, Akim and the Teddy Vann Production (1973)

I'm indebted to John Waters for introducing me to this song – and for lots more, if I'm going to be honest about it. This one appeared on the wonderful album A John Waters Christmas, along with several others I've used previously such as "Little Mary Christmas," by Roger Christian; "Happy Birthday, Jesus," by Little Cindy; and Tiny Tim's version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."  This is sort of ironic because Teddy Vann wound up suing Waters for including the song on his album without first securing the proper approvals and making arrangements to pay for using it on a commercial venture, although it's likely Vann's real beef with Waters was the fact that Waters had called the song a "crackpot carol" and a "lunatic holiday song." I can't agree with Waters about those descriptions. "Happy Birthday, Jesus" is a crackpot carol; "Santa Claus is a Black Man" is a delicious period piece that represents what Teddy Vann was all about – namely, multiculturalism, joy and respect. Vann, who died in 2009, is a Brooklyn record producer who won a Grammy in 1991 for co-writing the Luther Vandross smash "The Power of Love/Love Power." He was one of the early adherents to the Black Consciousness movement of the 1960s, although he was also quick to celebrate the history and achievements of people of other backgrounds, too. I understand he learned Yiddish so he could communicate more readily with some of his older Jewish neighbors. This song features his daughter, Akim, who claims to have seen Santa Claus in the living room with her mother the previous evening. She reports that Santa looked like her Daddy in that he was black, handsome, had an Afro, and was really out of sight. This is one of the few songs I've heard that wishes its listeners both Merry Christmas and Happy Kwanza. It's a great holiday song by any measure, and I can't imagine why it's not in the heavy airplay rotation at radio stations across the country at this time of year. Oh yeah, that's right – we need to hear that abomination by Wham! more often.


BULLETIN! BULLETIN!  (12/16/13):  I've just seen the tail end of a story Chris Hayes reported on MSNBC tonight concerning a brewing dispute about Santa Claus's race. It seems Fox TV personality Megyn Kelly recently reported that both Santa and Jesus Christ are white, and that because these are indisputable facts, there can be no further debate on the subject. Because this report calls into question one of the many assertions made by this blog (see "Santa Claus Is a Black Man," above) I feel compelled to investigate. I haven't time to do this vital story justice tonight, however, so I'll simply post a link to the Media Matters report on the story and promise to add a new post when I'm able. 



More tunes from C'est Noel! examined tomorrow!

Santas Behaving Badly on Video








I don't know what's happening in this world anymore, but it surely isn't the world I grew up in. Here's a video that was filmed in a shopping mall parking garage a couple of years ago showing  some poor department store Santa as he tries to make his way back to work after his (apparently liquid) lunch break. I've had trouble finding my car in plenty of parking garages, but I don't recall ever having such trouble finding the elevators:


As disappointing as it is to see Santa stumbling around drunk in a parking garage, an even more horrifying display unfolded in New York City yesterday with the arrival of the annual SantaCon pub crawl. SantaCon takes place in cities throughout the world and involves hundreds of idiots who travel from bar to bar dressed as Santa Claus in an effort to become as drunk as possible and wreak havoc on the local community. Here's video of the carnage captured last evening in New York City:



Remember when people celebrated Christmas by breaking up into small groups of carolers and going from house to house singing Christmas carols?

Friday, December 13, 2013

It's a Big Weekend for Andy Cirzan Fans!















Around this time each year, the hosts of WBEZ-FM's nationally syndicated Sound Opinions show set aside an entire program to celebrate the season with their very own Kris Kringle, the one and only Andy Cirzan. By day, Cirzan is vice president of Jam Productions, one of the country's leading independent concert promoters. After hours, however, he becomes the jolly DJ LoFi, one of the country's preeminent collectors of offbeat and unusual Christmas music. This guy's been sending around dazzling holiday mixes for a good 20 years longer than I have, and they're chock full of delightful tunes you've almost certainly never heard before.

Andy's latest mix is called Space Age Santa Sounds, it's made up of the most interesting tracks from his 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 compilations, and it's available as a free download, below. You'll also find a link to Andy's annual Sound Opinions Holiday Extravaganza, which is trying something different this year. Rather than playing tracks from Andy's latest mix, this year's show offers a whole separate batch of slightly more mainstream holiday fare in a show they're calling "Rock 'n Pop Xmas." The show features Christmas music from The Beatles, The Kinks, The Band, Lou Reed and more, along with lively commentary from Andy and hosts Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, two of the sharpest and most insightful pop music writers in the nation. Be sure to grab both the latest Andy Cirzan mix and this weekend's Sound Opinions broadcast. And don't delay! Like Christmas, these treats won't last forever.






Download Andy's Latest Mix, Space Age Santa Sounds

Download or Hear this Week's Sound Opinions Holiday Show, featuring Andy Cirzan

C'est Noel, Part 7 (Tracks 19-20)

More background on the tracks that make up my latest holiday mix, C'est Noel:

Track 20
Wonderful Christmastime, by Martin Sheen, John Spencer and Stockard Channing (2000)

(L to R): Martin Sheen, Stockard Channing and the late John Spencer 
























I don’t watch much TV, but when I find a show I like, I tend to really get into it. The last broadcast series I really fell for was The West Wing, which ran on NBC for seven seasons from 1999 through 2006. Created by Aaron Sorkin, the show was based in the White House during the fictional presidency of Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen), a liberal Democrat from New England. Bartlet had been urged to seek the presidency by his close friend Leo McGarry (John Spencer), who, upon Bartlet's election, was appointed White House chief of staff. As a liberal Democrat from New England myself, I simply adored this program, which depicted the kind of administration many Americans yearned for during the real-life administration of Republican George W. Bush. The show was a smash with the critics, winning the Emmy for Best Dramatic series four years in a row. The writing was sharp and carefully researched, and the cast was remarkably talented – particularly Sheen, Spencer and Stockard Channing, who played First Lady Abigail Bartlet.

As luck would have it, I got to spend some time with John Spencer in October of 2000, just as the show was starting its second season. I'd helped put together a group of coworkers to participate in the annual L.A. AIDS Walk that year, and he just happened to be milling around near us as the Walk took off. He appeared to be alone, so I invited him to join us and he ended up walking the entire route with our group. It was great fun to get his thoughts about the show, his career and the current political scene, and he couldn't have been more friendly and down-to-earth. Tragically, John suffered a fatal heart attack five years later, just as the show was winding down. It was a great loss.

With all this as background, you can imagine how excited I was several years ago when I discovered that Sheen, Spencer and Channing had contributed a Christmas song to a charity album recorded in 2000 by a variety of NBC’s then-current stars.

It kills me to say it, but this trio really should have written checks instead.

To start with, "Wonderful Christmastime" is perhaps my least favorite holiday song of all time. And it's not simply that I don't like it as much as the other hundred thousand or so holiday songs out there – I mean I actually detest this song. I can't listen to it for more than ten seconds without feeling physically unwell. Why? I'm a little uncertain myself. The demonic synthesizer riff that opens the song has something to do with it, I'm sure. I don't care for synthesizers much. I've always preferred songs made with traditional instruments like electric guitars and the themerin, and when this song was first released in 1979 I remember thinking of it as the first in a likely wave of computer-generated music to be made by individuals working alone late at night in their basements. Another factor was my feelings about McCartney himself. I'd always been a huge fan, but by the time this song came out I was beginning to cool on him. This song followed his 1978 album Back to the Egg, which I found very disappointing. In fact, it's the first McCartney album I didn't purchase. I liked his next album, McCartney II, even less.  My diminishing enthusiasm for Sir Paul coincided with a growing interest in the music of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. And, what do you know? It was around this same time that I transformed from a moderate Republican to a left-wing Democrat by way of a brief flirtation with several more radical organizations. In any case, I loathe "Wonderful Christmastime," and I'm pretty sure that even a joint cover by Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young couldn't change my mind.

Finally, the version these good folks recorded isn't even as good as McCartney's. It starts with a hurried and completely artificial discussion about the different ways of decorating Christmas trees. As happy as we are to have that business end, it doesn't take long to realize that the cost for this trade-off is listening to them sing. Had I been there, I think I would have asked them to discuss their differing views on carving the roast instead. I feel awful about trashing what was clearly a generous gesture on their part, but on a scale of 1 to 10, this thing's more like that temperature reading the other day from Antarctica. What was it, something like –135°?


Track 19
Party for Santa Claus, by Lord Nelson (1963)

Lord Nelson

Three cheers for Lord Nelson, who's established himself as one of those rare good souls who actually considers poor Santa's well-being rather than merely his own. Here's what he has to say on the subject in our next track, "Party for Santa Claus," which became a hit for Lord Nelson 50 years ago, in 1963:

Christmas time is the time for giving we learned from since we’re small
But year to year it’s the same old thing, Santa’s coming to call.
We always ignore it or forget it, this year we know it’s true
So this coming Christmas let’s all make an effort get a present for Santa too!

Let’s trade in the old sleigh and the reindeer for a big car with a chauffeur
get a helicopter, because everybody loves dear old Santa Claus.

Christmas is here and we’re all having fun, Santa brought presents for everyone
But he had to squeeze through a chimney, poor Nicholas, what a horrible place to pass. 
Why not open your window, or your front door, so Santa could bring his gifts,
I find that climbing on a rooftop and coming through a chimney is a whole lot of stupidness.

Move him from the North Pole, ‘cause it’s so cold
Give him an apartment, modern equipment, a maid, a butler, he deserves
Let’s show our love to dear Santa Claus.

Everybody drinking beer, whiskey and rum, poor Santa ain’t getting none.
And as jingle bells jingle, there’s dear old Santa wearing the same old red clothes
We should be ashamed, we should be blamed, to treat Santa Claus like a brute,
So let’s chip in some dollars, take him to the tailors for a new Continental suit.

Take him out to a nightclub, or a movie, get some fine chicks and give a party
It’s time to chip in and do our share, to make sure he comes more than once a year.


Considering some artists have expressed a desire to lasso Santa Claus. hold him up at gunpoint or glue him to the floor, I'd say we could use a few more folks like this good man around here.

Born and raised off the coast of Venezuela on the island of Tobago, Lord Nelson immigrated to the United States in the early 1950s and had plans to settle in Brooklyn, New York. Before he could get settled, however, Nelson was drafted for service in the Korean War. While in the military, he had a chance to try his hand at entertaining and performing for the troops, which he enjoyed and was good at. Upon leaving the service, Nelson returned to Topanga for good, he soon became one of its most successful calypso artists. Calypso really took off in the 1970s, and Lord Nelson has been playing and performing it for well over 50 years. I only hope someone's watching out for his interests as well as he's watching out for Santa's.
Jack Webb


Oh, yes – the last few seconds of this track are from an old episode of Dragnet. I added them just for fun. What you hear is an apparently overserved patron of one of our city's many fashionable nightspots asking LAPD Sgt. Joe Friday (played by Jack Webb) if he could join Friday's "party."  Friday, who's sitting alone at a table, ramrod straight, responds about as you might expect: "I'm not having any party, fella." And a Merry Ho! Ho! Ho! to you, too!


Preview or purchase A Calypso Christmas, featuring "Party for Santa Claus"





Thursday, December 12, 2013

Denmark's Surf School Dropouts Dream of California and "Another Christmas with You"

It's a relatively short hop from Sweden to Denmark, which brings us to the latest holiday offering from the Danish group Surf School Dropouts. Formed in 2008 by several friends who shared a love for the music of the Beach Boys, this four-member group relies largely on the internet to promote their growing collection of original material. In addition to the Beach Boys, they count Phil Spector as a key musical influence, noting
[h]armony-laden songs of sun, fun and love - with the occasional dash of melancholia and longing – seem to be what being a Surf School Dropout is all about so far.
Happily for us, they seem to be especially big on Christmas music, and they've just released their latest holiday single, "Another Christmas with You":



These guys aren't new to the holiday song racket, by any means. Last year, they released another Christmas single, which, like "Another Christmas with You," would have been a good fit on Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift for You, a holiday classic that was first released 50 years ago last month:



This band shows a lot of promise. Watch for their debut album, Summer Is a State of Mind, which drops December 28.

Swedish Power Pop Group Brainpool Reactivates for "The Last Christmas"

I can't claim to have followed the Swedish power pop group Brainpool too closely before they went on hiatus four or five years ago, but if their recently released holiday tune is any indication of what they're capable of doing, I'm glad they're back. The song is called "The Last Christmas," and it's now widely available around the internets, including this pleasant little backwater village you're visiting now:



I hope you like it as much as I do. At first blush, it's a bouncy pop tune that can't help but reel you in with its infectious melody – but listen to the lyrics. The message is anything but festive and pleasant. As much as I love the holidays, and as happy as I am to wrap myself in the glorious escapism they sometimes offer, I'm unable or at least unwilling to suspend disbelief or divorce myself from reality for too long at a time. Too many people will be spending this holiday season in misery for good-hearted people to close our eyes to their plight. I'm confident that each of us in our way manages to assist others in some form or fashion, and hopefully this includes actively opposing some of the unforgivable actions perpetrated in recent years under the pretense of protecting our safety and security.

Purchase "The Last Christmas" on iTunes HERE.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

C'est Noel, Part 6 (Tracks 17-18)

I started this blog two years ago as a place to share a few occasional thoughts about some of the tracks on my annual holiday music mixes. The scope has expanded slightly since then, but I haven't lost sight of that original mission. My latest mix is called C'est Noel, and we've been looking at each of the 35 tracks it contains. Today we look at Tracks 17 and 18, and once these two are covered, we'll have crossed the half-way mark on this year's release.

Track 18
Christ Was Born on Christmas Morn, by the Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers (1929)
Miller (left) and Jackson
It’s been called “one of the most transcendently joyous, exuberant records ever made,”* and while that strikes me as a bit of an overstatement, this one really does have some spirit, don't you think? Recorded in Chicago in August 1929, it was released a little less than four months later – or two months after the Great Stock Market Crash. I'd guess that whatever exuberance there is was more urgently needed by then than was first supposed. The Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers consisted of Frankie “Half Pint” Jaxon, a cabaret performer, jazz singer and occasional female impressionist; Ernest “Punch” Miller, a jazz trumpet player; and the Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Choir from a small church on Chicago’s West Side. This track is one of only a handful of songs the group recorded together, and it doesn't appear that this one got much traction before the Great Depression tightened its grip across the country. Sometime in the early 1980s, radio host Dick Spotswood began to play the song regularly during the holidays on his bluegrass radio show on Washington's WAMU-FM. In 2002,  it was included on the Dust to Digital CD Where Will You Be Christmas Day? 
_________
*Sullivan, Steve, Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings, Vol. 2 (2013), at 32-33.

Track 17
Transylvanian Christmas, by Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper (1986)
Mojo Nixon (left) and Skid Roper in 2012




















Our next tune is probably among the best 15 or 20 psychobilly holiday instrumental songs released during second half of the Reagan administration, so why wouldn’t it be included in one of my mixes? It was only a matter of time, really. Part of the song’s beauty lies in its simplicity – less is more, and all that, you know. It basically consists of Skid Roper playing two verses of “Joy to the World” on harmonica while Mojo Nixon beats on the bongos. Somehow Roper’s tweaked his instrument to make it sound kind of ominous. That’s sort of the overall MO of these guys, who released six albums during the 1980s before going their separate ways. They liked to shake things up a bit by fusing different styles together and parodying pretty much whatever came into view. Nixon went on to release a few more albums on his own and with others, and recently he’s launched several radio shows on Sirius.

For insight into Mojo Nixon’s First Amendment philosophy, catch his 1990 appearance on CNN's Crossfire with Pat Buchanan and Michael Kinsley, HERE.

Some of you may recall Wesley Willis, the outsider artist whose song “Merry Christmas” was included on my 1997 mix Let’s Trim the Christmas Tree. Well, are you ready for this? Wesley actually recorded a tribute song called “Mojo Nixon,” which is available HERE.