zondag 4 december 2016

Overview of all 2016 Christmas singles

We've entered December, so it's time to give you an overview of all Christmas 45s that, until now, have been released this year - as Christmas 45s, that is what this blog is about! I've counted 29 - that's only six less than last year (not counting lathe cut 7"'s and flexi's). Not bad at all, especially since some of the usual suspects, like the labels Kingfisher Bluez and Too Pure, have sadly been absent from this year's list of Christmas 7" vinyl.

It's a again a nice mixture of singles with completely new songs, with songs that have been around for some time, but have never been released on vinyl before and re-issues. A few big names and many artists and bands that I never had heard of before. Where to start? Well, I decided to start close to home, in Amsterdam.

The Sleigh Shakers: Jingle Hell / Christmas Chicken Blues (This Could Be Your Music Label, The Netherlands)

The mysterious Sleigh Shakers, described as 'Five merry bluesmen from Amsterdam' who 'kick out their slippers and put on their rock and roll shoes for the ultimate celebration of X-mas cheer' come up with two blues-y Christmas originals on their single 'Jingle Hell'. The single comes in a great looking sleeve that features a drawing of the late Dutch punk illustrator Peter Pontiac, with a very angry and dangerous looking Christmas tree about to attack a sweet looking Maria, Joseph and Jesus. Indeed, Jingle Hell. The title tracks is an uptempo blues stomper, while the B-side, 'Christmas Chicken Blues' is a slowtempo blues. Rumors claim that The Sleigh Shakers include Jan Vollaard, not only a well-known Dutch music journalist, but also the man who probably owns the biggest collection of Christmas records in Holland. So now he can add his own single to his collection.

Both songs can be listened to on Soundcloud through the press page of the release.

High Five Four: Good Old Christmas / Hey Father Christmas (Tombstone Records, USA)
Last year, the Amsterdam rock 'n roll / rockabilly band High Five Four recorded the Christmas song 'Good Old Christmas', that only was released as a digital single. This year, the band released the song on vinyl through their own Tombstone Records, not be confused with the Dead Moon-connected US label of the same name. Unfortunately, the record was somewhat delayed - the band was planning to present the single on a release party on November the 19th - the release party did happen, but without the actual single available. But it was finally released December 4, so it is available now! 'Good Old Christmas' is a relax-sounding and gently swinging rock 'n' roll song that really fits the title well and brings early 1960 Elvis Presley to mind. I haven't heard the B-side 'Hey Father Christmas' yet.

You can listen to 'Good Old Christmas' on Youtube and order the record through contacting Tombstone Records - see the Facebook page of the band.

Drs. P: A Few Thoughts On Sinterklaas / A Dutch Christmas (Topnotch, The Netherlands)
I've always been a big fan of Dutch songwriter, singer, pianist and language wizard Drs. P - in reality the Swiss born economist Heinz Polzer, who used a name combining his university degree (the title Drs. is comparable to MA) and the first letter of his family name as his stage name. Polzer died in the Summer of 2015, in the respectable age of 95 years. His song 'De Kerstengel' (which translates as 'The Christmas Angel') is one of my favorite Dutch language Christmas songs. It's a short funny song, that reflects on Christmas through the eyes of a Christmas angel that is hanging from a Christmas tree - an angel that is fed up with just hanging there and wants to go out. It's very funny, also because of the strange sound effects used. When visiting Amsterdam record shop Concerto recently, much to my surprise I noticed a new Christmas single by Drs. P. It did not have 'De Kerstengel', but two new songs that I never had heard of before. It turned out that earlier this year, in the archive of Polzer some 'lost songs' had been discovered. Polzer always sang in Dutch, so it was quite surprising that two of the songs that were discovered, were actually in English. Although in the typical kind of English that is spoken by people from Holland. One of those songs was about Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Saint Nicholas, who of course was also the inspiration of Santa Claus, and the other was called 'A Dutch Christmas', and described a typical Dutch Christmas celebration. In both songs, the eating traditions of Sinterklaas and Christmas were the central focus. Of course, I bought the single, and I loved the songs. Easily one of my favorite Christmas singles of this year! The Christmas song is not online, but you can listen to the Sinterklaas song, that by the way also makes some references to Christmas, on Youtube.

Dennis Tyfus & Kris Maes: Stevige Nacht / De Kerstdagen (Meeuw Muzak, Belgium)

Some of the weirdest Christmas singles released in the years 2002-2007 were released on a label called Meeuw Muzak. Meeuw Muzak was the brainchild of Jos Moers, nicknamed Meeuw (Dutch for seagull). The label was first based in The Netherlands, but moved to Brussels, Belgium, several years ago. After not having released any Christmas singles for almost ten years, Meeuw Muzak has released a new Christmas single, by vocalist and tape manipulator Dennis Tyfus and guitarist and 'cutter' Kris Maes, both from Belgium. The B-side has one of the most funny Christmas 'songs' that I have come across, that is, if you like absurdistic humour. Which I do. I guess only people who can understand Dutch will get the joke, so for those who don't, I give a short summary of the song: you hear a voice reciting (in Dutch with a Flemish accent): first day of christmas, second day of Christmas, third day of Christmas, etcetera, with some sound effects that extend the 'song', and after reaching the twenty-fifth day of Christmas, the voice sighs: 'one should not overdo it'. The A-side 'Stevige Nacht' (a play of words on 'Stille Nacht' - silent night) translates as 'Solid Night' is a totally different affair. It starts with some church bells, and then continues with a sort of minimalist melody, with echoing sacral sounding singing. Then a manipulated voice exclaims 'Kerst' (Christmas), and the melody continues with some Pink Floyd-sounding guitar playing over it. At the end the sacral sounding voices returns. It's actually quite listenable and beautiful. Unfortunately, the songs are not to be found on the internet yet, but you can order the single and also some of the older Christmas singles through the label.

Dr. Ring Ding: Christmas Again / The Christmas Song (Jump Up, USA)
A label that has put out Christmas singles in the last two years and also does so this year, is the Chicago ska and reggae label Jump Up Records. This year, they have even put out two 7"'s. First is by the German ska artist Dr Ring Ding, a veteran of the European ska scene, who already has been involved making ska and (later) dancehall since the mid-1980s, first as trombone player in German ska band El Bosso & Die Ping Pongs and from 1992 on as singer of Dr. Ring Ding & The Senior Allstars. After that band dissolved in 2002, Dr. Ring Ding continued as a solo artist. In 2015, he recorded a Christmas album, 'Once A Year', that was originally only released as a CD on German label Pork Pie, and contained a mixture of originals and ska-ed versions of Christmas classics like 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas', 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus' and even 'Petit Papa Noel'. This year, the album was re-released on vinyl by Pork Pie, as a LP plus a bonus 7". That bonus 7" is the same record that has been put out by Jump Up Records, and has the final track of the album, the midtempo brass-filled original 'Christmas Again' on the A-side and a laidback German language version of Nat King Cole's classic 'The Christmas Song' on the B-side. The single comes on red, green or white vinyl, and can be ordered through the Jump Up Record website.
The song can be listened on Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/track/0zf7XT9nJpI3znv2m4ych6

Leo & The Lineup / Napoleon Solo: Christmas Without You / Merry Xmas Everybody (Jump Up Records, USA)
The second Christmas single that Jump Up Records has put out this year is a split 7" by two bands from Denmark, Leo & The Lineup and Napoleon Solo. Leo & The Lineup, around for about five years now, represents the new school of Danish ska, while Napoleon Solo represents the old school, having started already in 1984, and after an absence of ten years, playing again in the original line-up from 2009 on. Napoleon Solo do a ska version of Slade's classic 'Merry Xmas Everybody', while Leo & The Lineup recorded a soulful original, 'Christmas Without You'. The Napoleon Solo song was already released as part of a two track digital single 'In The Midnight Hour' last year, but now gets its first vinyl release. The single comes on red or green vinyl. Listen to it on Youtube
By the way, Jump Up Records also repressed their Christmas singles of the previous two years, by Brooklyn Attractors (now on red vinyl) and Roger Rivas (now on white vinyl) and also have re-released The Toasters Christmas album on (coloured) vinyl. All can be ordered through the Jump Up Records website.

Radka Toneff: Julesang (Nordpolen Musikklubb, Norway)
Now that we are in Scandinavian: there is a Scandinavian label that has been releasing one seven inch single every year since 2014, and also do so tbis year: the Nordpolen Musikklubb from Norway. All three singles they have released, including that of this year, feature existing Christmas songs, but songs that never have been released before on (7") vinyl. The first one was of Norwegian sixties singer Sonja, the second was by contemporary Norwegian indie band Hvitmalt Gjerde and this year's single is by Norwegian jazz singer Radka Toneff. Radka Toneff is considered one of the most important Norwegian jazz singers. She debuted in 1977 with the album 'Winter Poem', not a Christmas album by the way, although the beautiful title track (only around one minute long) and 'A Child Is Born' definitely have a connection to winter/Christmas. But six years before her recording debut she already appeared on Norwegian TV, in the Peggy Fleming Chrismas special, that also featured international artists like Gene Kelly and Jose Feliciano, to perform her own composition 'Julesang' (Christmas Song). She was backed up by a band of veteran jazz musicians, although the song was definitely not standard jazz. It was a mixture of jazz, folk (Toneff's father was from Bulgaria and she put elements of the music of her father's heritage in her music), prog and soul. The B-side of the single features another early Toneff recording, the (not Christmas related) song 'When I Am Alone', that she recorded the same year for NRKs Erling Wicklund's radio program Åpent Hus. The single is an important document of Norwegian jazz history, packed in a beautiful cover. The record is going very fast, so if you want to acquire a copy, contact the Nordpolen Musikklubb trough their Facebook page, and don't wait too long. Radka Toneff's life ended tragically, as she found was in the woods of Bygdøy in 1982 with an overdose of sleeping pills in her blood. She was only 30 years old. Unfortunately, 'Julesang' is not to be found on the internet (yet), so instead, listen to the winter-themed title track of Toneff's debut album on Youtube

Johnny Jean & The Humdingers / Sarah Dee & The Foxhunters: Sleigh Bell Rock / Jingle Bells Boogie
We now move to the east of Norway, and end up in Sweden. The small Gothenburg label Flipsville Records has released a split 7" by two Swedish rock & roll combos, Johnny Jean & The Humdingers and Sarah Dee And The Foxhunters. Johnny Jean & The Humdingers describe themselves on their Facebook page as 'authentic 50's style rockabilly with a touch of Hillbilly bop', and look like they have been transfered by a time machine right from some small town in the US, in, say, 1949, to now. Sarah Dee & The Foxhunters look slightly more modern, but that's mainly due to the tattoos on singer Sara Dee arm's. According to the band's Facebook page they play 'songs from early 1950s to late 1957-58. Hillbilly bop, rockabilly and even country sometimes!". Sara Dee and her band cover 'Jingle Bells Boogie', a song originally recorded in 1954 by Jody Levins And His Boys. Both in the original version and in Sara Dee And The Foxhunter's cover version the song a swinging boogie woogie influenced stomper, perfect for putting on your dancing shoes and getting wild on the dancefloor. Johnny Jean & The Humdingers cover another obscure rock & roll Christmas song, 'Sleigh Bells Rock', originally recorded by Three Aces And A Joker, as B-side of their 1960 single 'Booze Party'. Just like the A-side, it was written by the vocalist and drummer of that band, Hal Schhneider. If you want the original version of this single, that might take you some time and money, as there were only 600 copies pressed. So a better option is to go for Johnny Jean & The Humdingers' version of the song, as that single can still be acquired by contacting Flipsville Records through their Facebook page. The record is dedicated to the memory of fiddle player and record engineer Jonas Olpers, who worked with Sara Dee And The Foxhunters and, as it is put on the Facebook of Flipsville Records, 'left this world' in May 2015. The single comes on green vinyl, with nice Christmas styled labels. You can listen to a short impression of both songs on Youtube.

Graeme Miller and Steve Shill: Silent Night (Finders Keepers, UK)
Usually, there are two countries that take up the large majority of Christmas singles: the UK and the USA. This year, the number of Christmas records released by UK labels has been very small: in fact, of the five Christmas singles of English origin, only one has been released on a UK label. But I have to say: that is a very special release, and one I am very excited about. The UK label Finders Keepers specialize in music that is, let's put it like this, different. In line with their labels name, they find obscure recordings from the past (although they sometimes the label also releases contemporary music) and re-release it on vinyl, always packed in very beautiful artwork. Quite some of the music that they re-release is music originally used for movies or TV. For RSD 2015 they released a 7" with the theme music of the 1980s versions of the Moomins children's series. The 1980s version of the Moomins was stop motion animation, produced in Czechoslovakia. For the broadcast in the UK, the original Polish-German jazz soundtrack of the series was replaced by music by Leeds postpunk avantgarde theatre composers Graeme Miller and Steve Shill. Miller and Shill used thumb pianos, backwards tape effects, wooden pipes and a Wasp synthesizer to create a surrealistic sounding soundtrack, that gave the series a completely different atmosphere. The record came in a special custom-made felt backed 7” sleeve depicting original production stills, in two different versions. Unfortunately, half of the pressing of 900 copies got lost in transport, so there are only 450 copies left. I think it was for my birthday (I must have been 10 or 11 I think) that I got a copy of 'Comet in Moominland', the second Moomins book, like all Moomins books written by Finnish writer Tove Jansson. It soon became my favorite book and I don't know how many times I have re-read it - but it have been many! And I am sure that if I pick it up today, I would again totally enjoy it. And now Finders Keepers is releasing a Christmas Moomins record, that again will be packed in a felt handmade sleeve! It will feature a version of 'Silent Night', created by Miller and Shill, that sounds haunting and beautiful, and mixes the Christmas carol with the typical Miller-Shill Moomins sound. The single is already sold out in the pre-order, so if you want a copy, I fear you have to try Eb-ay, after the record has been released. The record was already quite expensive in the first place, so it definitely won't be cheap when it appears on E-bay. Fortunately, the Moomins version of 'Silent Night' can be listened on Soundcloud - for free: https://soundcloud.com/finderskeepersrecords/graeme-miller-and-steve-shill-silent-night

Jethro Tull - Ring Out, Solstice Bells (Rhino, USA)
Like every year, some Christmas singles are released as part of the Record Store Day Black Friday edition. And like every year, most of these releases are by North American artists. But this year, there is also one Christmas 7" that is by a UK band. On November 1976, Luton prog rock band Jethro Tull released a winter solstice / Christmas themed EP, that included four songs: 'Ring Out, Solstice Bells', 'March, The Mad Scientist', 'Christmas Song' and 'Pan Dance'. To celebrate this release, exactly 40 years later (minus one day) reissue label Rhino released a new version of the EP. A new version, as the two songs that had the least connection to Christmas ('March, The Mad Scientist' and 'Pan Dance') have been replaced by the band's 1989 single 'Another Christmas Song' and a alternative version of the title track, retitled to 'Magic Bells (Ring Out, Solstice Bells)' by Mike Batt, who also produced and arranged this version. Mike Watt is probably best known for writing 'Bright Eyes' for Art Garfunkel and for creating the Wombles, who had a big UK Christmas hit in 1974 with 'Wombling Merry Christmas'. Both this last song and the original version of 'Ring Out, Solstice Bells' have been remixed by producer and former Porcupine Tree-member Steven Wilson. The EP uses the artwork of the original EP and can be found in many record shops around the world (and of course also on Discogs or Ebay). The original version of 'Ring Out, Solstice Bells' can be listened on Youtube.

Rope Store: Never Had Christmas / A Winter's Tale (Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, The Netherlands)
Well, now the shameless self promotion starts, as the next three singles by bands from the UK are all released as part of the Snowflakes Christmas Club, that happens to be the label that I run myself. The first of the three is by Norwich's Rope Store. A-side 'Never Had Christmas' brings bands like Wizzard, Slade and The Wombles to mind, bands that also knew how to write a catchy Christmas song, taking their inspiration from Phil Spector's legendary 1963 Christmas album. 'Never Had Christmas' has everything a Christmas rock song needs: catchy vocals, (glam) rock guitars, Christmas bells, a rhythm that invites you to clap-a-long, an instrumental break with a wall-of-sound production that blows you right out of your Christmas socks, and of course an important message: Christmas is all about the friends you love and the family you really get along with! For the B-side, Rope Store chose a song originally recorded by another star of the 1970s (althought the song was actually from the early 1980s) and written by Mike 'Wombling Merry Christmas' Batt (there is he again!) and Tim 'Evita / Jesus Christ Superstar' Rice: David Essex' hit single 'A Winter's Tale'. Rope Stope manage to turn the original, a ballad that sounds like it was lifted straight from a musical, into a sing-a-long glam rock song, without compromising the dramatic meaning of the song. You can order the single (that, like all Snowflakes singles, comes on snowwhite vinyl and is limited to 320 copies) through Big Cartel and listen to it on Soundcloud.

The Haywains: Who Needs Summer? / Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, The Netherlands)
'Who Needs Summer? / Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' by Midsomer Norton's The Haywains is the second Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club single. The Haywains already formed at the end of the 1980s, at the height of the C86/tweepop movement. The band released quite some 7"'s and a album (plus an album compiling the singles) until the mid-1990s, when they broke up. Reunited in 2013 to celebrate the birth of the band 25 years earlier, The Haywains started recording new songs and releasing 7"'s again. The A-side of their Snowflakes Christmas single, 'Who Needs Summer?', penned by gitarist Paul Towler, is a catchy indie pop song, sung by vocalist Jeremy Hunt in his distinctive vocal style, that celebrates the joys of being together with your newfound love around Christmas time – because, who needs Summer, if you can be warm and cosy with the one you love! The song has all the classic Christmas ingredients: festive keys, sleigh bells and even some children doing background vocals. The Haywains' version of John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie's classic Christmas song 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' starts rather unusual – with some merry whistling. From there, the song contiues in the jangling pop punk style The Haywains became known (and loved) for. You order this single also through Big Cartel and listen to it on Soundcloud.

The Manhattan Love Suicides: Look Who's Coming To Town (Please Let It Snow) b​/​w Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer (Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, The Netherlands)
The third and last of the UK bands that recorded two songs for the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club is the Leeds based band The Manhattan Love Suicides. The band was originally formed in 2006, and played music influenced in equal parts by the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth and The Primitives. After a bunch of singles and a full length, the band broke up in 2009, to reform in 2013 and release a new album in 2015. On their Christmas single, The Manhattan Love Suicides show two different sides from themselves. A-side and original 'Look Who's Coming To Town (Please Let It Snow)' sounds like the script of a 1960s horror movie, but of the kind that you only find in that dusty cult video store somewhere in a dark alley of a mediumsized city. The song is an angry sounding snarling creature which picks up where the recent single 'Bikini Party / Birthday Kill' left off, and brings both The Primitives and Sonic Youth to mind. Listen to the song, and find out who is coming to town and why it is so important that it will snow. For the B-side, the band turn Elmo and Patsy's classic 1979 Christmas novelty 'Grandma Got Runover By A Reindeer' in an echo-drenched murder ballad, with instead of the loud uptempo guitars of the A-side of the single, subtile melodic guitar playing, which gives the song more of a pop sensibility, but pop with a distinct raw edge. I also saw it being compared to Darklands-era Jesus & Mary Chain, and that makes sense to me. Again, order it through Big Cartel and listen to the two songs on Soundcloud.

Hannah Epperson: Raise The White Flag b​/​w Dreaming Of A White Christmas (Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, The Netherlands)
For the fourth and final Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club release this year, we leave Europe and move to Canada. Hannah Epperson was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, but moved to Vancouver, BC, Canada as a teenager, where she started her career as a violinist and singer/songwriter. Besides the violin and her voice, Hannah's main instrument is a loop pedal, which she uses to built up an almost orchestral sound during her live performances. Hannah started playing violin at five, mastered classical repertoire, which culmilated in joining the Utah Youth Symphony for the Cultural Olympiad in 2002. After moving to Vancouver she further broadened her perspective on music by collaborating with all kind of musicians and performers. In 2011, Hannah debuted with a self-released 5-song digital EP, 'Home Batch', recorded and written at home, representing a wide array of influences, ranging from classical and folk to southern European music and Latin. In 2015, Hannah released her first 7”, 'Burn', that featured the tracks 'Shadowless' and 'Brother'. Now living in New York, Hannah recently released her debut album '/Upsweep', that features ten songs, five songs in pop versions (Amelia) and five different songs in neo-classic versions (Iris). A-side of her Christmas single, 'Raise The White Flag' is an atmospheric song in which silence is as much used as an instrument as Hannah's voice and violin. Hannah calls it 'a post-apocalyptic, deeply somber christmas song'. The poetic lyrics reflect on Christmases past – 'when we'd sled as kids' – and present – 'but now the snow is gone'. A song for the darkest of the dark days of Christmas. A few years ago, Hannah recorded a live version of the Irving Berlin classic 'White Christmas', during a session for the 'Fresh Independence' webzine. She reprises the song, retitled to 'Dreaming Of A White Christmas', on the B-side of the single. Hannah creates a neo-classical piece of music, over which she sings 'White Christmas' in a very fragile and delicate way. A single to be played in the middle of the night, when silence and darkness surround you. Order the snow white limited 7" through Big Cartel and listen to both songs on Soundcloud.

Sloan: Kids Come Back Again at Christmas / December 25 (Kill The 8, Canada)
Sloan is a band that started in 1991 in Halifax, Novia Scotia, but now resides in Toronto. Sloan is not new to recording Christmas songs. In 2011, they recorded a split single with Canadian loudmouths Fucked Up, with Sloan doing a version of 'Twelve Days Of Xmas'. The next year the band followed it up with a version of Slade's 'Merry Xmas Everybody', as a digital only single. For their 2016 Christmas vinyl single, the band penned two originals, 'Kids Come Back Again At Christmas' and 'December 25'. The single was recorded in the middle of the Summer, when it was 39 degrees Celsius outside. So the perfect atmosphere to record some Christmas songs. 'Kids Come Back Again At Christmas' starts as a ballad, but after the intro speeds up a bit, it turns into a vivacious rock song. B-side 'December 25' sounds more merry, at least, as far as the music goes, has handclaps, woah-backups and invites you to sing-a-long. The single comes with four Christmas cards that feature seasonal messages in the form of lyrics from the band's catalog. You can listen to the single on Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/album/2TJf9Q2V6vUUo0UIV0hki0, but as it is unfortnately sold out, you can't order it anymore through Kill The 8.

Bob & Doug McKenzie: Twelve Days Of Christmas (Mercury, USA)
The third Canadian Christmas release of this season is part of the Record Store Black Friday release schedule. It is a re-release of a 1981 single of the fictional Canadian duo Bob & Doug McKenzie called 'Twelve Days Of Christmas'. The two brothers, played by actors Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, hosted the sketch 'Great White North', that was introduced in the Canadian version of SCTV, and played upon Canadian stereotypes. Bob and Doug, two 'dim-witted beer-swilling brothers wearing heavy winter clothing and tuquies', would comment humorously on several aspects of Canadian life and Canada. The sketch became the most popular part of the show, and led the 'brothers' to record an album, that went Platinum, and in 1983 they even starred in the movie 'Strange Brew'. 'Twelve Days Of Christmas' was included on the album, but also was released as a 7". The 7" starts with a discussion about what exactly the twelve days of Christmas are, after which the two start the song. They get tired of the song halfway (I can imagine that, that also happens to my usually when I listen to this song), so the do not reach the twelfth day of Christmas. Orignally, the record was released without a picture sleeve, but for this re-release, the design of one of the other singles of the brothers, 'Take Off', was used. That song, that features Rush-singer Geddy Lee, was one of the biggest successes of the duo and is featured on the B-side. The record is now pressed on red vinyl. Find it in your favorite record shop. The song can be viewed on Youtube in a video that features some footage of the cartoon series that was based on Great White North.

Frank Sinatra: White Christmas / The Christmas Waltz (Capitol, USA)
Another re-release for Record Store Black Friday is the 1954 Frank Sinatra Christmas single 'White Christmas' with 'The Christmas Waltz' on the flipside. 1954 was an important year in the career of Frank Sinatra. That year, he moved to Capitol Records and he recorded his first two albums with arranger and conductor Nelson Riddle: 'Songs For Young Lovers' and 'Swing Easy!'. Both albums were received with much critical acclaim and brought Sinatra back in the center of the spotlights. The two songs for the Christmas single were also recorded with Riddle, on August 23, 1954. The B-side 'The Christmas Waltz' was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne on request of Sinatra himself. Especially Kahn was not so enthousiastic about the idea of writing a Christmas song in the middle of the Summer, also because he felt he would never been able to top 'White Christmas'. But Sinatra insisted, the two set to work, and came up with 'The Christmas Waltz'. The song did not become as succesful as 'White Christmas', but nevertheless did become a standard. Sinatra would record it again for this 1957 Christmas album 'A Jolly Christmas With Frank Sinatra' and a third time in 1968 for the album 'The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas'. As for 'White Christmas', Sinatra had already recorded that song ten years earlies, as B-side of his single 'If You Are But A Dream'. It had been re-released in 1945 as an A-side. Both these records had reached the top 10 of of the Billboard pop charts. The 1954 single did less well, as far as chart success went, as it did not chart at all. The original 1954 single release came in a company sleeve, but for this Record Store Day re-release, Capitol Records used the design of the Italian pressing of the single, that did come in a picture sleeve. The single is pressed on white vinyl. I can't seem to find the 1954 version of 'White Christmas' on Youtube, but 'The Christmas Waltz' can be listened there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9Y60-DZlLs.

The Regrettes: Marshmallow World (Warner Bros., USA)
Just as the Sinatra single, also the Black Friday Record Store Day release of the Los Angeles punk band The Regrettes is pressed in an edition of a few thousand copies on white vinyl. The 7" comes in a 'marshmallow-scented' jacket. What sets The Regrettes apart from many other bands is that the members are very very young. Despite that, and despite the fact they play loud music, they have been signed to major Warner Bros., that also released this 7". I haven't been able to listen to it yet, but as I love the song 'Marshmallow World', and what I hear about this band has been promising, my expectations are high. The B-side has a live version of the non-Christmas song 'Hey Now'.

Mike Adams At His Honest Weight / Mick Foley: Old Toy Trains (Flannelgraph Records, USA)
Mike Adams At His Honest Weight covers Roger Miller's classic 'Old Toy Trains' for a 7" that comes in one of the most beautiful sleeves of this year. The single is pressed on vinyl that is half red and half green, with white (snow) spots, and has pro wrestling legend, comedian, author, and Christmas lover Mick Foley talking about his love for the song on the B-side. Mike Foley we of course also know from his 'Crazy Christmas' 7" that came out in 2014. Mike Adams At His Honest Weight (curious but cool name, by the way) does the song justice with a fragile and heartfelt version of it. The single was put out by Bloomington, Indiana label Flannelgraph Records. Listen to the song and Mick Foley talking here, where you can also order the record.

The Toms: Fake Christmas (Frodis Records, USA)
Although usually Christmas records are released in October, November or December, this year, there was also a Christmas record that was released in April. Probably delayed from Christmas 2015 (maybe due to the long production times for vinyl), 'Fake Christmas' by powerpop band The Toms, which is in fact a project of New Jersey producer Thomas J. Marolda. The song 'Fake Christmas' was not new, but already appeared as a bonus track on Marolda's album of Beatlesque holiday tunes under the St. Nick's Christmas By The Lonely Hearts Band moniker, that was released in 2004. In 'Fake Christmas', The Toms describe how everything is fake around the Christmas tree, 'except for the love you give to me'. The single can still be ordered through Frodis Records and is also available for your listening pleasure on The Toms Bandcamp.

Morgan Shaughnessy: Pretty Colored Lights (self-released, USA)
Also the A-side of the Christmas single of Atlanta, Georgia singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Morgan Shaughnessy has a song that has been available before. 'Pretty Colored Lights' was included as a bonus on the digital version of Morgan's 2014 debut EP 'Makeout Scars & Breakout Stars'. Confronted by, as she calls it on her website, 'physical challenges', she recorded her debut while laying in bed. 'Pretty Colored Lights' features some powerful guitar work. The record comes in a beautiful sleeve, on red or green vinyl. On her website, Morgan writes she is 'a vegan and avid supporter of equality', and that she 'has a love, respect, and passion for all living things'. That is something I can only applaud, and fits in very well with the Christmas spirit! The single can be ordered from Morgan Shaughnessy's website and listened on Spotity: https://play.spotify.com/track/5mSxWj7zYkKP1GDIIGXCP1

Felice Brothers: Country Ham / Murder By Mistletoe (Yep Roc, USA)
Maybe it's not the most subtile transition, from a vegan animal and human loving singer to a band that recorded a Christmas single called 'Country Ham' and backed it up with a song that is titled 'Murder By Mistletoe'... Responsible for this not so peaceful titled 7" is the upstate New York folk/rock band The Felice Brothers. Started as a trio of real brothers playing the New York City subways, the trio developed in a real band, losing brother Simone along the way, and seeing brothers Ian and Felice joined by three other members, of which one, Josh Rawon, has the nickname 'Christmas Clapton'. I don't have the slightest idea where he got the name from, but with a name like that, it's of course no surprise that the band was going to record some Christmas songs eventually. 'Murder By Mistletoe' was already featured on their 2008 self-titled album, their first album for Team Love Records. 'Country Ham' appeared on the band's 2015 digital Christmas EP 'Feliz Navidad' and although from the title you wouldn't guess it is a Christmas song, it definitely is. It's a folky song, and talks about sleigh bells that ring and Bing Crosby that sings - Winter Wonderland. How more Christmas can you get? Well, it also talks about a snowman that is afraid of acid rain and a drummer boy that marches around the tree... Musically, it reminds me of the 1990s lo-fi scene, with some folk and country influences and a definite slacker attitude. You can listen to it on Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/track/7BzWno3RXA8xlW9W3R22Rp

Yellow Snow: Santa Claus D.W.I. (Greasy Records, USA)
Talking about lofi - definitely lofi is the Christmas single of a band called Yellow Snow. Their single 'Santa Claus D.W.I.' was released by Chicago label Greasy Records, and sounds like a sleeping room recording. Which it probably is. The duo male-female vocals (by Jeff, who also does organ, bass and guitar, and Laura, who also takes care of 'encouragement') are all over the song. I don't know if this song is a cover of a song with the same name that was released in 1989 on a 7" by Portland punk band Alcoholics Unanimous, but it wouldn't surprise me. Still, despite it's shaky recording and performance, the song has its charm. You can get the 7" from the webshop of Greasy Records, in two different editions: one with a picture sleeve, depicting a boozing Santa Claus, and one in a Greasy Records company sleeve. And listen to it on the Bandcamp page of the label.

Insane Clown Posse: A Carnival Christmas EP (Psychopathic, USA)
If you need a subtile Christmas record, it is clear that the Insane Clown Posse is not the band to call. I don't know if the duo is to blame for the trend of horror clowns, who have been scaring people in many countries this year, but if your music is labeled horrorcore and you dress up like scary looking clowns, some kind of connection should not be surprising. Anyway, the Insane Clown Posse released a Christmas EP in 1994, 'A Carnival Christmas E.P.', but only on CD and cassette. In 1997, two songs of the EP were re-released, again on CD and cassette. This year, the EP will for the first time be released on vinyl, as a 7". First it looked that the EP ws going to be part of RSD Black Friday, but it wasn't. In the end, it was released early December. As the original EP is almost 20 minutes long, I guess the 7" is a re-released of the 1997 verson of the EP, with only two of the four songs, With songs titled 'Santas A Fat Bitch', 'Red Christmas' and 'Santa Killas', you should know what to expect. If not, listen to the original EP here on Youtube.

John 'Elvis' Schroder: Christmas With John 'Elvis' Schroder (Voodoo Doughnut Recordings, USA)
Another record that will not be everybody's cup of tea is by John 'Elvis' Schroder from Portland, Oregon. The nickname 'Elvis' is no coincidence, as Schroder built a career as an Elvis impersonator - well, career, the title of his upcoming debut album '57 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong' says it all, I guess. The two tracks of this release were taken from a small run Christmas album that 'Elvis' recorded in the early 1990s. On the A-side, that I haven't heard yet, John 'Elvis' Schroder is supposed to croon himself through a version of 'I Saw Mommy Santa Claus'. The B-side is a quite psychedelic and weird sounding song called 'Gonna Be Your Santa'. Recording a psychedelic sounding song may be a bit unexpected for an Elvis impersonaltor, but well, that's what you get when you are joined by Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Peter Holmström of The Dandy Warholes. The single is released by local label Voodoo Doughnut Recordings. You can listen to the B-side 'Gonna Be Your Santa' on Soundcloud and order the record from the label.

John Oates & The Time Jumpers: Santa Be Good / Childen Go Where I Send Thee (Elektra Nashville, USA)
There haven't been many 'bigger' artists releasing new Christmas singles this year, but one that can be considered quite 'big' is John Oates, who we of course all know from the succesful 80s duo Hall & Oates. But 30 years have passed since the 1980s, so John Oates does not make catchy pop rock songs anymore (at least not as a solo artist), but now plays a style of music that is maybe more in line with his life phase - Sinatra inspired jazzy sophisticated easy listening. Definitely not lo-fi, like some of the previous singles we discussed. ‎For A-side 'Santa Be Good To Me' Oates is joined by swing band The Time Jumpers, while he is trying to talk Santa Claus in bringing him a new lover, with whom he can spend Christmas, as all his efforts so far to find one have been fruitless. A nice relaxed sounding song. On the B-side, John Oates covers 'Childen Go Where I Send Thee'. The single comes in a plastic sleeve, on transculent green vinyl, and can be bought from the webshop of John Oates' website. You can even get an autographed copy of the single, although that doubles the price. And check the lyric video of the song on Youtube.

Josh Groban: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas / The Christmas Song' (Reprise, USA)
I guess Josh Groban can also be considered a 'big' artist, although I had never heard of him. But I guess that might have to with the kind of music he is playing and the fact that I am from Europe and I think he is mainly popular in the US. And with four solo albums that have been certified multi-platinum and having been the number-one best selling artist in the United States in 2007, I guess you can call him 'big'. Anyway, for his Christmas single, also on green vinyl (the most popular vinyl color this season it seems) and a Barnes and Noble exclusive, Groban has recorded two much covered Christmas classics: 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' and 'The Christmas Song'. To me, Groban sounds like a performer in a musical, given his somewhat theatrical way of singing. It fits these two songs well. Get the 7" from Barnes and Noble if Groban is your cup of tea, and if you, like I was, are unfamiliar with him, listen to 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' on Youtube.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings: White Christmas / God Rest Ye Merry Gents (Daptone, USA)
A singer who would, in a better world, have made it really big as a singer and performer, was Sharon Jones. She tragically died in November of this year, after losing her long battle with cancer. Sharon Jones left us many great songs, that she recorded with The Dap-Kings, including one of the best original Christmas songs of the 21st Century, 'Ain't No Chimneys In The Projects'. Last year, Sharon and the Dap-Kings released their holiday album 'It's A Holiday Soul Party', that of course included 'Ain't No Chimneys In The Project' and also 'Just Another Christmas Song', the 2014 Christmas single of the band and last year's single '8 Days Of Hannukah'. The album is now re-released on green vinyl as (another) Barnes and Noble exclusive, with as an extra a (old school black) 7" featuring two of the albums songs: the swinging version of 'White Christmas' and an funky instrumental version of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' retitled to 'God Rest Ye Merry Gents'. The album including the 7" can be bought from Barnes and Noble. You can watch'the video of the high energy version of 'White Christmas' on Youtube.

Le'Trell: Silva Bells (Star Creature, USA)
Another soulful Christmas song is a cover of 'Silver Bells' by funk/soul/disco outfit Le'Trell, released on Chicago label Star Creature (or, to use the full name: Star Creature Universal Vibration). The label specializes in dancefloor heavy funky disco-influenced boogie music. To make 'Silver Bells', not exactly the most funky Christmas song ever written, sound more funky Le'Trell retitled it to 'Silva Bells'. The song sounds more like 1980s electronic disco/boogie than 70s disco/funk, although the vocals do give it a 70s vibe. The record is pressed on red vinyl. Le'Trell is a rather mysterious outfit, most probably from the USA, who only released two singles so far. You can buy the record through the Bandcamp of Star Creature and also listen to the A-side there.

There also have been some records that came out a couple of years ago, and that have been repressed: Jive Turkeys' 'Get Down Santa / Funky Jesus' on Colemine Records, originally released in 2010 and now available on red vinyl and also the split of Poison Idea and Angry Snowman from 2013, that seems to be available again.

Leaners: Christmas EP (KiliKiliVilla, Japan)
We finish in Japan, where the five piece band Leaners (two girls/three boys) have released a two track EP, simply called 'Christmas EP'. The Leaners play a mixture of punk, surf and rock, and have for example recorded a Japanese language version of The Undertones' classic 'Teenage Kicks' for their last album - I haven't heard it yet, but I expect that it will sound great! For their Christmas EP they recorded a cover of 'I Saw Mommy Santa Claus', and turn it into a cool rocking song, with some nice surf / rock & roll guitarwork and a vocal delivery that brings the Phil Spector Christmas record to mind. On the B-side of the 7" there is an instrumental medley of several Christmas songs called 'Hot Club Of Christ'. One of the nicest Christmas 7" of this year. If you are not from Japan, it is not easy to find the 7", but you can listen to the songs on the Bandcamp of the band.

That's all for the moment. Let's see if some more Christmas 7"'s will appear at the sky soon!

vrijdag 25 december 2015

Johnny Cash: Little Drummer Boy b/w I'll Remember You (USA, Columbia, 4-41481, 1959)

Johnny Cash, probably the biggest and most influential country star of the 20th Century (or at least the second most important, for those who consider Hank Williams the most important), recorded four Christmas albums in his life, but his first Christmas record was a 7” single. On the A-side, it featured his version of the song 'The Little Drummer Boy'. The B-side was a non Christmas Cash original, 'I'll Remember You'. The single was recorded by Cash a year after he had left Sun Records for Columbia Records, and it was released for Christmas 1959. It did quite well, as it rose up to 64 in the Billboard Pop Charts. One year later, it also charted in the Billboard Country Charts, reaching 24 as highest position. Cash included the song also on his first Christmas album. 'The Christmas Spirit', that was released in 1963.

The song itself already had a long, and somewhat obscure history, although the first recorded version only dated back 4 years earlier than the Johnny Cash version. The song was written by St. Joseph, Missouri, classical music composer and teacher Katherine Kennicott Davis (1892-1980) in 1941 and was originally titled 'Carol Of The Drum'. The song was based on a traditional Czech carol and Davis published it as a song for amateur and girls' choirs. The manuscript was set as a chorale, the tune in the soprano with alto harmony, while tenor and bass parts produce a drum rhythm, and an added keyboard accompaniment 'for rehearsal only'. Although many people have tried to trace the original Czech carol the tune is based on, so far no one has succeeded. Still, it was Katherine Davis herself who claimed that the tune was based on a Czech carol, so there is no reason to doubt this is indeed the case. Katherina Davis was not exactly new to the songwriting business, as she was the composr of more than 600 hymns and songs for choirs.

Fourteen years after the song was written, it was finally recorded, by the Austrian Trapp Family (the family that was partly inspiration for The Sound Of Music), under its original title 'Carol Of The Drum', shortly before they retired. Two years later, the Jack Halloran Singers were the second to record the song, with a slightly altered arrangement, for their Dot Records album 'Christmas Is A-Comin'. It was Dot Records' Henry Onorati who introduced the song to his friend Harry Simeone. In 1958, Harry Simoneone was contracted by 20th Century Fox to record a Christmas album, and he decided to include the song. Simeone made a few small changes to the arrangement, retitled it 'The Little Drummer Boy', and recorded it with the Harry Simone Chorale for the album 'Sing We Now Of Christmas'. As both Simeone and Onorati probably felt they had gold in their hands, they claimed joint composition credits with Davis.

They were right, as both the album and the song were a big hit. The song was released as a single at the end of November 1958, and rose to 13 in the Billboard Pop Charts. In fact, the single scored in the charts for 5 years in a row, from 1958 to 1962. In 1963, the album was rereleased under the title 'The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Festival', which shows how popular the song had become. Another proof of the popularity of the song is that the Jack Halloran Singers re-released their 1957 Christmas album in 1959 with a new title: 'The Little Drummer Boy'.

Johnny Cash was one of the first of many other artists to record the song, one year after the Harry Simeone Singers had turned it into a hit. On the label of the 7”, that was put out by Columbia Records, the song was only credited to  'Simeone', again underlining how much the song had become identified with Harry Simeone, and how fast original songwriter Katherine Davis had been forgotten.

The song has six short couplets. The lyrics are very simple and straightforward, and tell the story of a poor boy who does not have a gift for Jesus, but plays his drum for him. In the first two couplets, the poor boy is addressed by what appear to be the three wise men, on their way to Jesus, to bring him gift, to join them ('Come they told me'). In the third couplet, the boy himself stands before Jesus, and tells him he is poor, like Jesus is ('Baby Jesus, I am a poor boy too') and has no gift to bring. The he asks if he may play his drum for him, instead. He gets the approval from mother Mary ('The Mother Mary nodded') and the boy plays his drum ('I played my best for Him'). And Jesus likes it: 'Then He smiles at me – me and my drum', as the song concludes. In most early (and also many later) versions, there are barely any instruments used in the recording – it's mostly voices, who sing both the lyrics and do the rhythm – the rhythm, that resembles the drum of the poor drummer boy.

Johnny Cash' version does differ from the version of the Harry Simeone Chorale in the instrumentation. It does have the 'tingling bell' that is sounded several times in the song, although not as many times as in the Harry Simeone version. Together with the tingling bells, a simple guitar stroke can be heard through most of the song. And instead of voices doing the drum rhythms, the Johnny Cash version has a real drum sound, a Indian tom-tom, which gives it a bit of a tribal feel. It is funny to know that a few years later, Johnny Cash became very interessed into native Indian culture, also starting to use this influence in his music. To echo the female 'pa dum da dum'-chorus, some light piano keys are included. The light chorus and piano keys contradict with the bass-baritone voice of Johnny Cash. Instead of singing the lines, it is almost as if he is declamating the words, which makes him sound like a preacher from the deep south, who warns his parish members for all bad things the future is going to hold for them. It gives the song a much darker sound than the light Harry Simeone Chorale-version.

In that way, the Johnny Cash version fits in well with the personality of its interpreter: on one side 'the man in black', the angry outlaw who did not want to fit in, with his drinking habits, drug taking, his temper and restlessness and with the weight of his sins resting heavy on his shoulders; on the other side the devote christian with a strong love for God and an evenly strong longing for a quiet family live with his wife and kids. The tension between these two sides of Cash can be felt in the song. Just as the little drummer boy, he felt he was not worth to come before the Lord, but at the same time, he felt the Lord would always welcome him, as Mary and Jesus welcomed the poor boys' drumming. The later Christmas albums of Johnny Cash and the annual Christmas TV special he did for CBS throughout the 1970s would only show the God-loving, family man-part of his personality (his second Christmas album was even called 'Christmas with the Johnny Cash Family'), and because of that, miss the sharp edge and danger hat makes Johnny Cash best work stand out. In his version of 'The Little Drummer Boy', both sides are present, which is what makes it such a strong version of this song. As also Christmas has two sides – it is not only a joyful celebration, but it also give hope to those who are doing not so well, and are longing for better times.

Listen to the song on Youtube:

maandag 21 december 2015

The Shades: Santa Claus Is Coming To Town b/w Prancer's Got Some Red Spots (US, Numero Group, ES-053, 2015)

The Numero Group is a Chicago-based reissue label, that was founded by Tom Lunt, Rob Sevier and Ken Shipley in 2003. In 2015 they decided that after 12 years, it was finally time for a Christmas release. The label has a very mixed back catalog as far as music styles go. It includes heavyweights like Codeine and Unwound but also a lot of soul and funk releases. But neither heavy rock nor funk you'll find on this Christmas single – not at all, I would say.

The Shades, as that is the band that is responsible for the Christmas single, was a teen girl group from Etna Green, a little town in Indiana, situated between South Bend and Ft. Wayne. The group consisted of Cinda Stouder (guitar, vocals), Janice Gard (bass, vocals), and Suzannah Blodgett (drums, vocals), and released a first 7” in 1964, on the local Metropolis label, 'Denny' b/w 'I Won't Cry'. When the 7” was released, the girls were still very young, around 15-16 years old. What was rather special about this 7”, was that the girls had written the two songs themselves. Most teen girl bands around that time were mainly faces and voices, while the songs were written and the music was played by men. But that was not the kind of teen girl band The Shades were, they wrote and played their own songs. 'Denny' was an uptempo rock & roll influenced song, while 'I Won't Cry' was a more moody song, a song that stood the test of time very well, I think.

In 1966, the girls travelled all the way to Chicago, to record four songs in the RCA Studios, two Christmas songs, the classic 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' and an original they had written themselves, 'Prancer's Got Some Red Spots', plus two non-Christmas songs, 'Send Him Back Home To Me' and 'Tell Me Not To Hurt'. The four songs were released on two 7''''s on the Elkhart, Indiana label Fujimo Records. One of these 7”'s contained both Christmas songs, of which the original 'Prancer's Got Some Red Spot' was considered the A-side. The song was played quite a lot on local radio stations in Indiana.

These three 7”s were all The Shades recorded. Despite their local focus and the band being very young, The Shades managed to travel to Europe, and play a show in front of an audience of 5000 people in, of all places... my hometown of Amsterdam. The show in Amsterdam was the result of them winning a contest. I've tried to see if I could find more info about this show, but unfortunately, without success. This must have been some experience for the girls!

I don't know when the band exactly came to an end, but it will probably have been not too long after them releasing the two 7”'s. After the band broke up, Cindy, Janie and Suzie went on to other things, Cindy was a postmaster for many years, Suzie a nurse practitioner and Janie first worked fifteen years for a manufacturing company, but then decided to go back to school, which led her earning a master degree in psychology. Unfortunately, Janie's career as a psychologist never came off the ground, due to she losing her sight. Janie died in 2008, less than two weeks before her 60th birthday.

The Numero Group reissue has turned the sides, with now 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' on the A-side and the novelty song 'Prancer's Got The Red Spots' on the B-side. It comes in a nice picture sleeve, showing the girls sitting in a big Christmas package. The A-side starts with a 'Hey, it's him again', followed by a 'Oh-oh', and then goes into a jangly guitar sound, until the girl voices fall in. It's the jangly guitar sound, that sometimes even sounds a bit offkey (at least on my copy of the 7”), that sets this version apart of many of the other cover versions of this song. At the end of the songs, the girls make some remarks, and one of them is also listing what she wants... and I am not totally sure, but it seems she also wants a... Beatle? Well, it was 1966 after all, and I can imagine the girls were inspired by the British beat invasion. The B-side was a song in the style of many of the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s novelty songs about all kind of Christmas related animals and creatures.. The song tells us about a serious problem Rudolph notices: Prancer has some red spots, which means he can't prance tonight, as the red spots were caused by the measles, concludes a docter... Prancer is of course very disappointed, but after Santa Claus assures him he can lead next year and after he realizes he doesn't want to pass the measles to all the girls and boys, poor Pancer accepts his faith, and stays home... the song sounds rather basic, but that is also its charm. All in all, a very nice single that has been rescued from obscurity by the fine folks at the Numero Groups, something The Shades definitely deserved! Those girls kicked ass!

You can listen to the 'Prancers Got Some Red Spots' on Youtube:

And here you can listen to The Shades version of 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town':

zondag 20 december 2015

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings: 8 Days (Of Hanukkah)/ What Does Hanukkah Mean To You? (US, Daptone Records, DAP-1093, 2015)

Without doubt, one of the best Christmas albums of the year is 'It's A Holiday Soul Party' by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. After two Christmas singles, the terrific 'Ain't No Chimneys In The Projects' from 2009 (with BinkyGriptite's 'Holiday Breakdown '09' on the flipside) and last years 'Just Another Christmas Song (This Time I'll Sing Along)', with 'Big Bulps', featuring Saun & Starr, on the B-side, this album is the first Christmas full length for Sharon Jones and 'her' Dap-Kings. All the aforementioned hits are featured on this album, and also their 2015 single, '8 Days (Of Hanukkah'). Although it is featured on a Christmas album, technically speaking, it is not really a Christmas song, as it is about a Jewish celebration, that also happens to take place in December.

I was not familiar with Hanukkah, to be honest, and only learned about this celebration through what I read on Christmas music blogs (which proofs reading about Christmas music makes you a smarter person – so you'd better continue reading this blog). Although we do have a large Jewish community in Holland, this fest is not as general known as it seems to be in the US – at least not under the name 'Hannukah' , although I also doubt if I ask 'the man on the street' about the light fest, that he will know what I am talking about. Of course, I educated myself a little bit about Hanukkah, and now I know that Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the larger Seleucid army and a miracle that happened during this time, where the menorah (lamp stand) of the Temple in Jerusalem remained lit for eight days, although the supply of olive oil was just enough for one days. This is the reason why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days. During the celebration, each day a candle is lit, which makes the candle holder with nine candles (the one in the middle is lit first, and all the other candles are lit using the fire of the central candle) the most wellknown symbol of the Hanukkah celebration.

The title of Sharon Jones song '8 Days (Of Hanukkah)' is referring to this aspect of the celebration. The song starts with a shouted and funky '1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8' and continues with the more soulful sing-a-long 'Days of Love, Days of Hanukkah, Everyone of them glows with love', and after repeating the 8 day count again, continues in this soulful way, to tell us what happens on each of the eight days. The second day, when the dreidel (a four-sided spinning top) is spinned, seems to be Sharon's favorite, because in the second half of the song, it's the dreidel that gets all the attention. The B-side is called 'What Does Hanukkah Mean To You?', and there we get the opportunity to tell Sharon what Hanukkah means to us... it's basically the same song, with only the chorus present, and the opportunity for us to sing what each of the 8 days means to us – that is also what Sharon ask of us, after having thanked us for turning the record... a cool way of making this more than just an semi-instrumental version of the song!

The song was – of course – released on the great Daptone Records, and came on blue vinyl (but, alas!, it is totally sold out) and on traditional black vinyl (still available!). There is a lyric video of the song to be found on Youtube, I think it's really nicely done, and helped me to understand the song and the Hanukkah celebration even better. All in all, another cool Christmas single from Sharon, and I hope over the next years, many more will follow!

Watch the video on Youtube:

And get the 7” from all the better indie record shops or directly from the label, here:

Panssarijuna / U.F. Ojala: Joulussplitti (7”, Gafoni / Joteskii Groteskii, JOG-29 / GLÖG-0,5, 2015)

Discogs is a great source to keep track of new (Christmas) releases, and this is one of the 7”'s I 'discovered' doing my daily Discogs check. I don't speak Finnish, but I do know that in Scandinavian languages the word Christmas resembles the English word 'Yule' (that is probably based on the Scandinavian word for Christmas), and when I noticed a split release between two bands that was called 'Joulussplitti', it was not difficult to translate this to 'Christmasplit', so I knew there was a record to check out.

I had never heard of the two Finnish bands on the record, Panssarijuna (which translates as 'Armoured Train') and U.F. Ojala (which turned out to be the name of the main member of the band). Panssarijuna is from Helsinki, the Finnish capital, and U.F. Ojala from Tampere, the third largest city of Finland, and, Wikipedia tells me, the largest Scandinavian city that is not a costal city. Cool, I learned at least one new thing today! Finland typically seems like a country where the probability to have a white Christmas is among the highest in the world, and as they have long and dark winters, I can imagine they can use a lot of cheery Christmas songs, to lighten up the dark days of Christmas.

Well, cheery Christmas songs is not what you are going to find on this split 7”. The 7” comes in a sleeve that has a picture of what seems a somewhat shabby kitchen, with a man that sits before a fireplace. Not that you see much of this man, as a big elf (or gnome) is drawn over the photo (in the style with suggests it was done by a -say- 10 year old kid), and is in front of the man. On the back we see a bearded and very Scandinavian looking guy standing besides a Christmas tree, a picture that looks as if it was taken in the 1970s. The names of both bands have been handstamped in gold on the cover, which give the cover an even more class-y appearance. Both songs have been recorded this year (nice to see, as many of this year's Christmas 7”'s have songs recorded in previous years).

U.F. Ojala is a band of four members, but seems to be the project of the band's songwriter Teemu Ojala, also a member of punk/hardcore band Haistelijat and garage rock/punk band The Achtungs. Both these bands have been around since the early 2010s. U.F. Ojala seems to be around for a shorter time – they have released one 7” so far, also in 2015, and I think they have been playing since 2014. Their song is called 'Aattokeikka'. Google Translate can't make any sense of that, so I don't have a clue what the word means (if it means anything). The song starts out with a chorus singing 'Ho ho ho' for some time, accompanied by bluesy guitar work, a chorus that returns several times in the song, and helps giving it a Christmas-feeling, despite the lack of bells or any other Christmas sounding sounds, and the fact that we non-Finish speaking humans can't understand that what they are singing about is Christmas-related. The singer sounds as if he had a very long night, with a lot of drinking going on (and I don't main the drinking of apple juice here), with a lot of things that went wrong, and is now telling us how bad it was... but I might be completely wrong here.

On the flipside, Panssarijuna have a song called 'Paska Lahja', and this means 'Shit Gift'. The band, who are around longer than U.F. Ojala – their first EP is from 2011 – describe their sound as 'trauma blues'. They list blues, country, punk, folk and rillumarei (a Finnish music style, around in the 1940s/50s, and using an accordina as the main instrument) as their main influences, and the trauma is mainly coming from the subject matter of the lyrics. What exactly this shit present is that singer Johnny Wittu has gotten from Christmas remains covered in the Finish language for me, although it seems to have something to do with Barbie - I read somewhere it is about a 'socialist Barbie', a Barbie that could be re-packaged for every Christmas. The song itself is uptempo, with melodic and fast guitarwork, and a singer that sounds somewhat like the U.F. Ojala singer, but on a moment much earlier in the day. The band made a video for the song, that shows what are probably the members of the band either partying hard or suffering from the consequences of their partying – and yeah, Barbie is there too. The end of the clip is rather psychedelic and a bit scary...

All in all, a single I truly enjoyed. It comes on red vinyl and with a Christmas card. You can order it rhrough Discogs – both labels that put it out (Gafoni and Joteskii Groteskii) sell it there: http://www.discogs.com/sell/release/7806129

Listen to the U.F. Ojala song on Youtube:

And watch the Panssarijuna video here:

zaterdag 19 december 2015

The Pretenders: 2000 Miles b/w Fast Or Slow (The Law's The Law) (Real Records, ARE 20 / ARE 20F, 1983)

The song '2000 Miles', that was so beautifully covered by Nancy Wallace last year, was originally a hit in the United Kingdom for The Pretenders. It peaked at number 15 in December 1983 and has since then slowly become one of the most popular original Christmas songs of the 1980s. From the lyrics, it is clear that '2000 Miles' is not a song for those for who Christmas is in the first place a joyful celebration with family and friends. It is for those people who have experienced the other side of Christmas, a song for people who are estranged from the ones they love knowing that, despite all the hope they had, they won't be together with them this Christmas. The song is very much related to the drama that happened to the band in 1982 and 1983.

The Pretenders were formed in 1978 in Hereford, England, by Chrissie Hynde, who was originally from the United States, Ohio to be precisely, but had moved to London in 1973 to work for the New Musical Express. She was also working in the shop of Malcolm McLaren en Vivian Westwood, and was involved with both early incarnations of The Clash and The Damned. After first having played in some punk bands and having recorded some of her own songs as demos with a temporary backing band, Chrissie Hyndre found a steady line-up with James Honeyman-Scott on guitar, Pete Farndon on bass, and after trying out another drummer first, Paul Chambers on drums. With this line-up, The Pretenders recorded their self-titled first album, which was a big commercial and artistical success. After a second LP, simply called 'The Pretenders II', a drama for the band started to unfold, which put the band on a hold for some time. First, Chrissie fired Pete Farndon and two days later, guitar player James Honeyman-Scott died of a drug overdose. One year later, in 1983, Pete Farndon died in a drug related accident. Chrissie Hyndre wrote '2000 Miles' for James Honeyman-Scott and knowing this, sentences like 'He's Gone', 'I miss you' and 'I'll think of you, where ever you go' get a even more dramatic meaning. Chissie sings it beautifully, accompanied by the melodic guitar tones of Pretenders' new guitarist Robbie McIntosh.

'2000 Miles' was produced by Chris Thomas, and also appeared on The Pretenders' album 'Learning To Crawl', that was released the following year, in 1984. The single was released in the UK on 7” in two different editions: one with an ordinary cover, and one with a gatefold cover. In the US, '2000 Miles' was not released as a single in itself, but as the B-side to the single 'Middle Of The Road'. The single came with a video, in which Chrissie Hynde was dressed as a member of the Salvation Army, and she sang the song in the middle of a snowy landscape. The UK pressing of the 7” came in two editions: one with an ordinary sleeve (ARE 20) and one with a gatefold sleeve (ARE 20F).

In 1995, a new recording of '2000 Miles', recorded live with The Duke Quartet at Jacob Street Studios, London was released as a CD single, with as second track, another Christmas song, “Happy Christmas”. That was a bit of a misleading title, as 'Happy Christmas', also recorded with The Duke Quartet, was a sad sounding, somewhat bluesy song.

Besides Nancy Wallace, there have been others who covered the song, which include Coldplay, KT Tunstall, Natalie Imbruglia and, on 7”, the Holly Cole Trio in 1989, Syd Straw, who combined it with another early 1980s Pretenders hit, 'I Go To Sleep', in 1992 and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, in 2010. And very recently, The Unthanks released the 7” as the A-side of a 7” that was part of their 10th Anniversary 'Memory Box'.

Watch the video of the original version here:

zondag 6 december 2015

Overview of all 2015 Christmas singles

The first bunch of Christmas singles has arrived, and most others that I know of have been ordered, so it's time to start writing a blog entry about the 2015 Christmas singles. As many of you music lovers will know, especially those of you who are into vinyl, the rise in the demand for vinyl records has put a lot of pressure on the relatively few still existing record pressing plants. This means that the waiting times for vinyl have risen considerable, some of the bigger pressing plants taking half a year to press a record. These long production times are a big problem for many labels, especially for the smaller ones, and for bands, who can't be certain anymore that the records they need for touring will be ready in time for the tour. But it's also a problem for time-dependent release like Christmas releases. A production time of half a year means that masters should be ready to be send out to the pressing plant around April, if you want your records in shops in time for Christmas (which is the end of November at the latest). When you also know that in the last few years, although sales for vinyl in general have risen extremely, the sales of 7” singles have gone down considerably, you know that the number of Christmas singles may not be as large as it used to be a few years ago. So far, I counted 19 2015 Christmas singles, while there were 30 in 2014 and 43 in 2013. Although I still hope some more singles will be added this year, it does show that the future of the Christmas single on 7” vinyl is uncertain. But let's not be too negative... this year brought us almost 20 new Christmas singles so far, so that's still quite some records to enjoy!

4 Past Midnight: It's Christmas Time Again (Orchestrated Dystopia Records, Scotland)

4 Past Midnight is a longrunning punk band from Glasgow, Scotland. They exist since 1989, which means they are going strong already for more than 25 years. That's what I call real dedication, and what else should you expect from a punk band! The band seems to have a tradition of Christmas songs... in 2013, they released a 2-song CD, 'Nobody Should Be Lonely On Christmas Day', with all proceeds going to Childline, a telephone service that gives children advise about a wide range of subjects. So the heart of these lads is in the right place! Anyway, in January 2015, so a little bit too late for Christmas, they released a 2-song digital single through Bandcamp, and this single is now but out on a white 7” by Orchestrated Dystopia Records, a small DIY label from the Midlands. It comes in great looking cartoon artwork, by Landon L. Armstrong. The A-side of the single is called 'It's Christmas Time Again'. It starts really quiet, with a nice piano/keyboard melody, and after 25 seconds, the guitars join in, later we hear some clocks, and it turns into a great Christmas punk song. The lyrics describe all the joys of Christmas and there is a great sing-a-long chorus. This is how a Christmas punk song should sound! The B-side is called '4PM Christmas Medley' and it takes parts of the lyrics of 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' and Shakin' Stevens' 'Merry Christmas Everyone' over a midtempo punk/oi backing, while towards the last part of the song, the band members get their presents, like Gibson guitars, a Rickenbacker and a new drum kit from drummer Peter 'but it doesn't make him sound any better, oh dear'... hehe... and in the end, they are getting drunk and pissed... as they are Scottish punks...

All in all, a great single, that comes with a printed CD-R including both songs, and even a lyric sheet, so you get really something worth for your money.

Order the record here:

Listen to the complete single here:

And check out the video for 'It's Christmas Time Again' here:

Mariah Carey: All I Want For Christmas Is You 2000 (SME Records / Bootleg, Germany?)

Of course, one could question if I should include 'unofficial' records here, especially if it are lathe cut ones, so are also probably only around in a very small run. Still, I choose to do so, as I like how the record was done, and besides, it's the first time these two mixes of Mariah Carey's all time Christmas classic 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' are available on the 7” format. Everybody probably knows that the original version of this song was the biggest Christmas hit of 1994, and is now considered as one of the most popular Christmas songs, maybe even the most popular Christmas songs of the 20th Century. Personally, I don't think this song beats the classics that were recorded in the 1940s,1950s and 1960s, what probably are the glory days of Christmas music, songs like 'White Christmas' (as recorded by Bing Crosby), 'The Christmas Song' (as recorded by Nat King Cole) or 'It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year' (as recorded by Andy Williams) were written. But no one can deny it's nevertheless a great catchy Christmas song that definitely is for the late 20th century what the classics just mentioned were for the mid 20st century.
Anway, in 2000 a remix of the song was released on CD, in Japan. The remix, the so-called So So Def Remix, was done by Jermaine Dupri (the remix was named after his record label), and it featured rapper Lil Bow Wow, who had been working before with Jermaine Dupri. The remixed version starts with Lil Bow Wow refusing to go to bed, while Jermaine tells him to go to sleep as Santa Claus is coming, but it doesn't impress Lil Bow Wow, as he doesn't believe in Santa Claus. After the introduction, a stripped down version of Mariah's song starts, with an electro sounding beat, and apart from that, mainly Mariah's soulful vocals, and Jermaine commenting on the song (mostly saying things like 'com'n' and 'yeah'). The single came with a cartoon video, that is definitley worth watching, with a sexy Mariah assisting Santa Claus, to proof to Lil Bow Wow that Santa Claus really exists...
The B-side of this single has the new version of 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' that Mariah recorded for their second Christmas LP, 2010s 'Merry Christmas II You' – the so-called 'extra festive' version. The SoSo Def Remix sounded like a version for a hiphop party, the 'extra festive' version sounds very well suited for a Walt Disney movie, with more orchestration and an even stronger Phil Spector influence than the original.
It's unclear for me how many copies of this lathe version were pressed, or where it is from. As most sellers offering it on Ebay were from Germany, I expect it was made in Germany. There were two versions, with two different covers, based on the two different covers of the 2000 Japanese maxi-CD's. The record (that is totally transperant, and has labels that match the cover artwork) comes with an inlay, that has the artwork of the 2010 digital single version.

Check the video of the SoSo Def Remix here:

And a lyric video of the 20 extra festive version here:

Eazy-E: Merry Mutha****** Xmas (Priority Records, US)

Another re-release, but this time an official one, is Eazy-E's 'Merry Mutha****** Xmas'. The track originally appeared on Eazy-E's 1992 12” EP “5150 Home 4 Tha Sick”, as the last of five tracks, and was as controversial as Eazy-E himself was. Raised in Compton, California, dropping out of school at 10, selling drugs as a teenager and becoming part of the notorious N.W.A. (Niggers With An Attitude), Eazy-E is sometimes labelled as the godfather of gangsta rap. Not really a title to be proud of, if you ask me, but I am sure there will definitely be people that disagree with me here. But well, I was raised in a small village in The Netherlands, and not in a dangerous neighborhood in one of the biggest cities in the US, so what do I know about gangsters anyway...
The song starts out with a kid asking Eazy-E to read a story, and he wants to start a story about himself (not many hiphoppers have a lack of ego), but then a woman comes in between, and is going to tell the kids a story about Santa Claus instead – although this Santa Claus is from muthfukkin Compton... and what then follows is a medley that mixes some wellknown Christmas melodies and quite cool sounding hiphop parts and with an orgy of four letter words, drugs praise, promiscuity and a lot of humor. We hear Jingle Bells, Deck The Halls, All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth, Twelve Days Of Christmas, O Tannebaum and We Wish You A Merry Christmas... not a song for daytime radio, I guess... still, musically, I think it's quite a good song… and it ends with 'and they all went to prison, and lived fucked-up lives ever after.'...

Listen to it here, but but sure your kids are not near when you do! :)

Hvitmalt Gjerde: Dine Lepper Smaker Jul (Nordpolen Musikklubb, Norway)

Last year, NordpolenMusikklubb put out their first Christmas single, a great song by 1960s Norwegian female singer Sonja. Nordpolen Musikklubb was started to release one Christmas 7” every year, and I was very glad to see there is indeed a new 7” out! This time, they choose for a more contemporary artist, the band Hvitmalt Gjerde, which translates to 'White Painted Fence'. Rather original name for a band, I think.
The band is from Minde, which is part the Årstad borough in the city of Bergen, the second biggest city of Norway, known because of its university and it's very active music scene. Hvitmalt Gjerde started out as a 4 piece, but lost a member over the years, as they are now only a 3 piece. According to their own description, they play surf rock inspired by 60s pop, psychedelica and garage rock. As you probably would have guessed from the name of the band and the title of the single, the band sings their own native language. On photos, the band members look quite young, which they probably are, as the band was started in 2007 in high school. But they are definitely no school band anymore!
Their Christmas single is called 'Dine Lepper Smaker Jul', which translates to 'Your Lips Taste Like Christmas'. It won't come as a surprise that it's a love song: 'Snow is falling outside the window... but all I want is you'. Just for the record - the lyrics are not as cheezy as this one line may indicate. Not that I speak Norwegian, but Google Translate is a great help. And even if the lyrics were cheezy, no one outside of Norway would notice it, anyway. It's a great song, and I definitely hear a big surf influence in the guitar work. It has a nice melody, that sticks in your head.
I really liked the artwork of last year's Nordpolen Musikklubb single, and I think this year, the artwork is again great. All in all, a highyl recommended single (that comes on white vinyl). But I guess, if you want a copy, you have to hurry, as I understand it is going fast. I got my copy by just contacting the label throught their Facebook page, so if you are interested, I suggest you do the same...

In the meantime, check out the song on Youtube – they (or whoever made the video) have used parts of the Peanuts Christmas movie, so it's not only fun to listen to, but also fun to watch:

André Hazes: Eenzame Kerst / Met Kerst Ben Ik Alleen (Music On Vinyl, The Netherlands)

Well, for understanding the lyrics of this 7”, I don't have to use Google Translate, as they are in Dutch – and I happen to live in The Netherlands! It's another Black Friday release, and another re-release... it's one of the complaints people usually have about Record Store Day releases (besides them being overpriced): more and more it are repackaged re-releases of old songs, instead of new limited music of current artists. But still, we buy, so I guess the record labels will scontinu putting out re-releases. This little transculent green vinyl record compiles the two biggest Christmas hits of Dutch singer André Hazes: 'Eenzame Kerst' (Lonely Christmas) and 'Met Kerst Ben Ik Alleen' (I Am Alone At Christmas). No, it are no jolly Christmas songs that we have here. I don't know if there has ever been an election of the best Dutch language Christmas song, but if there was, I guess André Hazes' 'Eenzame Kerst' would be the number 1. And although I am not really that much into this Dutch folkloristic music style, that people name 'smartlappen' (difficult to translate in English, but if you know that 'smart' is the Dutch word for 'grief' or 'sorrow', you get an idea...), I cannot deny the quality of this particular song. André Hazes wrote the song himself, recorded a demo, and send it to Willly Alberti, then one of the most famous singers from Amsterdam, to ask if he was interested to record the song. Willy Alberti liked the version Andre recorded so much, that he suggested that André would sing the song himself. So he did, and the song was released in 1976, as a split 7' with a non-Christmas song sung by Willy Alberti. 'Eenzame Kerst' became a hit (number 5 in the Dutch Top 40), and was the start of a career that made André Hazes the most popular Dutch singer of the 20th Century. Six years later André, who was a big star by then, released another Christmas single, 'Met Kerst Ben Ik Alleen', for which he used the melody of Abba's 'The Day Before You Came'. That was another Christmas hit for him but, personally I think it can't really stand in the shadow of 'Eenzame Kerst'. That song tells the story of a man in prison, who is there because he stole to be able to give his children bread, and he feels very sad as there is another man celebrating Christmas with his wife and kids. All his fellow prison mates got presents from their children, but he got nothing... so, yes, a real 'smartlap'... he is even using the word 'smart' in the lyrics, and he sings it with so much grief... you might say he is overdoing it, but I say: he was just living it. That was probably what made him so popular – people believed what he sang. Do you want to know how popular André Hazes was in Holland? His funeral ceremony (he died because of heart failure in 2004) was attended by 48.000 people, and the live TV broadcast was watched by 6 million people (including 1 million from Belgium) – that is one third of the complete Dutch population....

Listen to 'Eenzame Kerst' here:

And watch the (not so good quality) video of 'Met Kerst Ben Ik Alleen' here:

IKON: Gruss Vom Krampus / Little Drummer Boy (Snowflakes Christms Singles Club, The Netherlands)

Melbourne postpunk band IKON was started at the end of the 1980s as Death In The Dark by school friends Chris McCarter and Dino Molinaro, influenced by bands like Joy Division and New Order. The band changed its name to IKON in 1991. Since then, IKON released seven albums, the last 'Everyone Everything Everywhere Ends' in 2014. The band, that still features the two original members alongside David Burns and Clifford Ennis, has done several tours through the years, and has become one of the mainstays of the worldwide darkwave/gothic/postpunk scene. IKON's sound has developed through the years, incorporating acoustic and electronic elements in their dark, postpunk-inspired rock sound. Despite Christmas in Australia usually being sunny and hot, IKON is going to make Christmas 2015 a very dark, cold and even scary one. The A-side tells the story of Krampus, the Christmas devil, the helper of Saint Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) according to the folklore of the Alp countries, who punishes children that have misbehaved. The B-side turns the Christmas classic 'Little Drummer Boy' in a scary sounding darkwave song. On special request of the band, the single comes in two versions: 200 copies on snow white vinyl and 200 copies on blood red vinyl.

The video of 'Gruss Vom Krampus' was recorded in Amsterdam:

Expect a video for 'Gruss Vom IKON' in about one week (filming starts this week!).

Juniore: De Saison / Pour Noel, Cette Année (Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, The Netherlands)

Snowflake 9, the third single of the 2015 edition of the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club (or the third snowflake of 2015, as the label of the A-side says), features two songs by Juniore, from Paris, France. Juniore is the brainchild of Anna Jean, a singer who lent her voice to songs of Parisian electro acts like Jackson, Jérôme ''Tacteel" Echenoz and Bot'Ox. Juniore, in which Anna Jean is joined by four other female musicians, is something competely different: surf, psychedelica, french female sixties pop and space age music are all blended together by producer Samy Osta (Rover, La Femme, Louis Chedid), while Anna Jean sings stories about being sleep deprived, restless or falling out of love. Anna's mysterious voice is reminiscent of 60s muses, think Nico meets Françoise Hardy. Juniore released three singles so far, and their Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club single is the fourth. For this single, they have composed a reverb drenched dreamy original about the Christmas season ('De Saison'). On the B-side, the band gave one of the biggest Christmas hits ever, Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' a total makeover– it now sounds like a psychedelic pop song from the sixties, sung Françoise Hardy in the small wee hours of the night. The single comes on snow white vinyl and is limited to 350 copies.

Watch the video of the B-side on Youtube:

Tele Novella: Christmas Spirit / Purple Snowflakes (Snowflakes Christms Singles Club, The Netherlands)

Snowflake 10 features two songs by Tele Novella, from Austin, Texas. Self-described as "psych-pop, indie-pop, macabre-pop, pop-pop. The pop kind", Tele Novella is Natalie Ribbons, Jason Chronis, Matt Simon and Sarah La Puerta and was formed in 2012, some time after Natalie's previous band Agent Ribbons and Jason and Matt previous band Voxtrot broke up. Influenced by bands like Os Mutantes, Aislers Set, Velvet Underground, The Bachs and Belle and Sebastian, Tele Novella self-released their debut 7" 'Don't Be A Stranger' late 2013 - the record was met with raving reviews and sold out very quickly. Early 2014 saw their second 7", 'Trouble In Paradise', released on American Laundromat Records . That year, the band also contributed to the Wes Anderson tribute compilation on the same label, and they released a 5-song cassette EP on Lollipop Records. Early 2016, Tele Novella will release their debut album. The A-side of their Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club single, 'Christmas Spirit', is a song that is a much a Halloween as a Christmas song – it's catchy, it's a bit silly, it's a perfect song to singalong too and it's over before you know it. On the B-side, Tele Novella cover Marvin Gaye's 'Purple Snowflakes', and make it sound as an authentic 1960s recording. The single comes on snow white vinyl and is limited to 350 copies.

Someone in Australia is at the moment working hard to make a video for 'Christmas Spirit', so watch for news about this soon!

Terminal Gods: Boundless / Driving Home For Christmas (Snowflakes Christms Singles Club, The Netherlands)

Snowflake 7 (yes, this is the first snowflake of 2015!) features two songs by Terminal Gods, a gothic rock band from London. Formed in 2011, the band has released three singles and a EP on their own label Heavy Leather Sex Productions, and will release their debut album in Spring 2016. The sound of Terminal Gods is heavy influenced by the early 1980s gothic rock scene, notibly The Sisters Of Mercy (due to the baritone vocals of Cowlin, the atmospheric guitar work of Maisey and the cold sounds of the drum machine), although the most recent single 'Road Of The Law' demonstrate that the band is more and more developing a sound of their own. 'Boundless', the A-side of their Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, shows a total new side of the band, and sounds almost like a ballad, but one with a punch. And figure out for yourself what the lyrics are about... or who... The B-side is a cover of one of the most popular Christmas pop songs from the 1980s, Chris Rea's 'Driving Home For Christmas'. Terminal Gods turn it into an almost industrial sounding postpunk song. The single comes on snow white vinyl and is limited to 350 copies.

Watch the video of Boundless here:

And there are more singles – I will write more about these when I have received them, but below I'll give you an overview, and tell you were you can get the singles...

ballboy: Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Single 2015

For the fourth year, Canadian label Kingfisher Bluez is releasing a Christmas single. This year, Scottisb one-man band Ballboy has the honor to add his song 'Merry Christmas To The Drunks, Merry Christmas To The Lovers' to the Kingfisher Bluez Christmas singles collection. Just like the previous years, this record is a benefit for 1-800-SUICIDE and Crisis Centre BC, and it comes in a beautiful cover. You can order it here: https://kingfisherbluez.bandcamp.com/album/kingfisher-bluez-christmas-single-2015

Justin & The Cosmics ft The Georgettes / Pony Boy: Father Christmas / (Please Don't Leave) On Christmas Eve

Thanks to Martin of the great Stubby's Christmas blog I found out about this Christmas split single, by two US bands. The songs have been around for some time, but they are definitely good enough to be featured on vinyl! And no, the first song is not a Kinks-cover. Get you copy here: http://www.cosmicthugrecords.com/shop-1/father-christmas-justin-the-cosmics-featuring-the-georgettes-please-dont-leave-on-christmas-eve-pony-boy-split-7-vinyl-single

Menace Beach / Cowtown: Holidays Are Heavy / Wonderful Christmas Time

Part of the Too Pure singles club. Menace Beach do an original, Cowtown cover Paul McCartney's Christmas hit from 1979. I guess this record will be available through all the wellknown UK indie shops.

Phoenix with special guest Bill Murray: All Alone On Christmas Day

Came out December 4, and I already saw it offered on Discogs for $ 27... also in the UK shops where I saw it offered, it was quite expensive – but all proceeds go to UNICEF, so that's at least a good thing. This single was released on the occasion of the Netflix Bill Murray Christmas show that will be broadcasted later this month. The 7” will be available through your local independent record shop.

Roger Rivas: Christmas Time

Last year, Roger Rivas, organ player of The Aggrolites, recorded two Christmas covers ska/rocksteady style: 'Deck The Halls' and 'Jingle Bells'. Now Chicago ska/reggae label Jump Up Records put them out on vinyl.
You can order the single here: http://www.jumpuprecords.com/rogerxmas/

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings: 8 Days (Of Hanukkah)/ What Does Hanukkah Mean To You?

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings don't need an introduction, of course. They released a great album this year, and this is the single of the album. It's a song about the Jewish light fest, so technically it's not really a Christmas song, but let just put all holidays of December together. You can get this 7” from all the better indie record shops and directly from the label, here: http://shop.daptonerecords.com/collections/frontpage/products/8-days-of-hanukkah-what-does-hanukkah-mean-to-you

The Courteeners: Winter Wonderland

Britian indie rockers The Courteeners released a charity Christmas single (for Shelter), 'Winter Wonderland' (not a cover of the Christmas classic, but an original). Unfortunately, the 7” will be available in January, when Christmss 2015 is over, but you can pre-order it anyway here (and also buy the digital version if you want to have the song before Christmas): http://thecourteeners.tmstor.es/cart/product.php?id=26723

The Shades: Santa Claus Is Coming To Town / Prancer's Got Some

This single is a re-release of a sixties girl group that I never heard of, on the Numere Group label. I heard 30 second clips of the songs, and I really liked them. The single is available through all the better indie shops. I hope to have it soon, so I can give you more information about it.

Tweedees: Winter's Day

Tweedees are a J-Pop from... Japan, of course. Another song that is not to be found on internet, only a 45 second clip, and a promotional clip on Youtube that does not really seem to feature the song. The 45 seconds I heard reminded me a lot of Pizzicato Five, and I really love that band (I named the label after one of their songs), so I am really looking forward to the moment the Tweedees single with hit my mailbox... it's not easy to get the single if you are not from Japan, I managed to find a (rather expensive) copy on Ebay, but you can always give it a try and see if you can order it from one of the Japanese mailorders selling it.

U.F. Ojala / Panssarijuna: Joulusplitti

Two bands from Finland... I think the right translation of the title of the single should be Christmasplit... the record is on it way to me, so I hope to write about this single soon. If you search the songs on Youtube, you will find some funny videos. Both labels that put it out are selling it on Discogs, choose for yourself which one you choose: http://www.discogs.com/sell/release/7806129

Yoko Ono & The Flaming Lips Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

The last one is the vinyl version of the collaboration of Yoko One with notorious Christmas music lovers The Flaming Lips, a cover of one of the classic rock Christmas songs of the last century. Should be available in all the good indie stores.

That's all!
This blog entry will be update when I got a 7” in and have found a time to write a longer piece about it.