zaterdag 8 december 2018

A load of new Christmas 45s

Dad Brains / Ramons: Merryxmas
(Pirate Press Records, PPR217, USA, 45 rpm, small hole, green vinyl with white and red splatters, 1200 copies)

Some bands are just made to be put together on a record one day. For example, around 2005 there was a Swedish hardcore punk band called Dick Cheney (anybody still remember who he was?) and a Brazil hardcore punk band B.U.S.H. (I’m sure everyone still knows who he was). It was of course a brillant idea of the German label Thrashbastard to release a split 7” of these two bands. Just like it is an equally brillant idea of American label Pirate Press Records to bring the bands Dad Brains and Ramoms together for a split 7”. And, to make the story even better, a Christmas split 7”.

I guess it is obvious that Dad Brains stole their name of legendary DC hardcore punk pioneers Bad Brains and the Ramoms of the most popular US punk band ever, Ramones. Although the Dad Brains is a fairly new band, the term Dad Brains is already used much longer than that the band is around – the guitarist of Sloan, a band we still know for their Christmas split with Fucked Up of a couple of years ago and of course, their own Christmas single, ‘Kids Come Back Again At Christmas’, that was released in 2016, had a blog with that name. The band Dad Brains uses exactly the same logo as the blog, basically the Bad Brains logo with ‘Bad’ replaced by ‘Dad’. All members of Dad Brains (Patrick Pedraza on vocals, Matt Kash on guitar, Craig Kasamis on bass and John Crerar on drums) have been active for quite some time in the Oxnard/Ventura California hardcore scene (playing in bands like The Missing 23rd, The Fucking Wrath and even in a new version of legendary Oxnard 1980s hardcore band Stalag 13) and are dads – which explains the name. Dad Brains debuted this year on Pirate Press Records with a self-titled EP, with artwork stolen from Bad Brains’ legendary 1982 cassette. Songs like ‘Baby Jail’ and ‘Quiet Time’ had lyrics that punk dads can relate to: like getting not enough sleep and not being able to play loud music because the baby is asleep. Musically, it is totally 1980s hardcore worship.

The Ramoms is also a new band, they had their first show in Philadelphia in July of this year, playing only Ramones covers – and that is exactly what the band is about. All members are moms and listen to the names Jodi Ramon, Cori Ramon, Sharon Ramom and Ginger Ramom. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The Christmas split 7” is their debut on vinyl.

The 7” has four songs, two by Dad Brains and two by the Ramoms. The Dad Brains side starts with the song ‘It’s Christmastime’ – turning Suicidal Tendencies classic ‘Institutionalized’ into a Christmas-themed song. And, for anyone familiar with ‘Institutionalized’, you will not be surprised it is not exactly a merry Christmas that Dad Brains is singing about in the song. The band’s second song ‘Grinch’ sounds like a total Youth Of Today-ripoff (Youth Of Today was an influential band in the New York hardcore scene in the late 1980s: advocates of the drugfree straight edge way of life and of vegetarism; in fact, it was the band giving me the final push to become a vegetarian in 1989 – one of the best decisions I ever made). The song sounds like coming straight out of 1988 (the magic year of youth crew hardcore). It is about Grinch, who, with all his negativity, is not welcome in the scene, and we even find Rudolph behind the merch table. As Youth Of Today is one of my favorite bands ever, and coming from a straight edge hardcore background, I of course totally dig this song.

As we turn the record around, we find the Ramoms who retitled the Ramones’ ‘Chinese Rock’ to ‘Lego Blocks’. Not really a Christmas song, but, well, many kids will get Lego for Christmas and the lyrics are funny, so they get away with it. Their second songs of course is, as it is a cover of the Ramones Christmas classic ‘Merry Christmas, I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight’. Ramoms stay close to the original, but add some rawness and a little bit extra speed to it. I like it. The single comes on festive kelly green vinyl with red and white splatters and was released yesterday, December 7. You can order it from the Pirate Press webshop and probably find it in record shops around the world.

Order the single online here: Pirate Press Webshop
Listen to 'It's Christmas Time' by Dad Brains on Youtube:

Listen to 'Grinch' by Dad Brains on Youtube:

Listen to 'Lego Blocks' by Ramoms on Youtube:

Listen to 'Merry Christmas I Don't Want To Fight Tonight' by Ramoms on Youtube:

Green River / U-Men: Away In A Manger / Blue Christmas
(Sub Pop, SP-1269, USA, 45 rpm, big hole, translucent red vinyl, 2000 copies)

Released for Record Store Day Black Friday, Seattle label Sub Pop delved into their archives and came up with two Christmas ditties from the formative years of the Seattle grunge scene. Both songs were kept off the Sub Pop career retrospectives of Green River (forthcoming) and U-Men (released in 2017) and with good reason. Or as Sub Pop puts it themselves: "two ugly orphans, brought together to live as one grinning, writhing glump of career-capping, Christmas gak!". It is especially the legendary status of Green River and U-Men that makes this single sell like crazy. Without Green River, there probably wouldn’t have been a Mudhoney or Pearl Jam, two bands that helped shaping grunge rock and alternative rock in the USA in the 1990s. Both ‘Away In A Manger’ and ‘Blue Christmas’ sound more like spontaneous ideas jokingly put in practice immediately after having a few too many beers, than serious interpretations of this Christmas classics. To make things even worse: the hole of my copy of the record was not in the middle of the record, and that made the music sound even more offkey. But the artwork of this single looks fantastic and only the artwork is already worth the price – the single even has a special printed inner sleeve with Christmas ornaments cracking up – which probably happened when the single was played.

Get a copy of the single at your local record store and listen to the two songs on Youtube. Don’t say we did not warn you!
Listen to 'Away In A Manger' by Green River on Youtube:

Listen to 'Blue Christmas' by U-Men on Youtube:

Mike Viola: Here We Go, It’s Christmas Time / Silent
(Good Morning Monkey Records, GMM-7-002, USA, 45 rpm, small hole, black vinyl)

Being raised in Stoughton, Massachusetts, Mike Viola came first into the limelight as main man behind New York-based band The Candy Butchers in the 1990s, although he started his career one decade earlier as a solo artist. These days, Viola is mainly known as a producer, engineer and songwriter for big names like Ryan Adams and Fall Out Boy and also as a succesful composer of songs for movies (like That Thing You Do and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story). Mike is also the vice president of A&R of legendary label Verve Records. Still, he finds time to record and release his own music on his label Good Morning Monkey Records. Mike already released a Christmas single with the Candy Snatcher in the late 1990s, 'Let's Get Christmas', and now in 2018, he releases his first Christmas 45. A-side 'Here We Go, It's Christmas Time' is a nostalgic and optimistic Christmas piano ballad, with Mike playing all instruments, about how Christmas can be the moment to start changing yourself and make the world a better place. B-side 'Silent' is also a beautiful song, although not really Christmas-related. The single can be bought from the Grand Pony-website, and for only 6 US dollar you have yourself a nice looking and sounding Christmas 45.

You can listen to the song on Spotify:

Nelson Carrera & The Scoundrells: She’ll Never Come Back / Christmas In June
(Records Freight, RFSG001, France, 45 rpm, big hole, black vinyl)

If this could really classify as a Christmas 45 is open to debate – it came out in the Summer of this year and the A-side has no relation to Christmas at alll. But the B-side is called ‘Christmas In June’ and for me, that’s enough to write a few words about it here. Nelson Carrera & The Scoundrells is a rockabilly band from France, and have the classic rockabilly line-up: acoustic/rhythm guitar (both Nelson Carrera), electric guitar (Raphaël Decaix), upright bass (Mario Jorge Pires) and drums (Pascal Allanche). ’She’ll Never Come Back’ and ’Christmas In June’ were written by vocalist and band leader Nelson Carrera.

Nelson was born in Angola, when it was still a Portugese colony and is from Portugese origin, a country where he also has lived a large part of his life, although he also lived in France for some time. Nelson already became involved in the rockabilly scene in the late 1970s, and played in some bands until the early 1980s. Also a solo artist Nelson debuted in 1983 (the time of the rockabilly revival led by The Stray Cats) with the 4-song EP Nelson Carrera Sings, that included three ompositions written by Nelson himself. Over the years, he recorded with different bands, like The The Hot Rocks, His Hooligans and now the France-based The Scroundells.

On the B-side of the band’s most recent single, ‘Christmas In June’, Nelson sings how being with his baby makes him feel like having Christmas in June, while the band lays down a fast-paced rockabilly beat. The single was released by Records Freight and can easily be ordered through your local record store – at least in Europe.

Unfortunately, only part of the song can be found online, on Youtube, but it’s enough to give you an idea how the song sounds.

Scone Cash Players: Scone Cold Christmas
(Flamingo Time, FTR-103, USA, 45 rpm, big hole, black and several other colours vinyl)

The Scone Cash Players are an organ funk band from Miami Florida, that debuted in 2008 with the album Mind Blower on OrganTone Records, seemed to have gone on an hiatus for some time, but returned in 2017 with a new 45, 'Year Of The Rooster' / 'Dos Phoenix' and with their second album, 'Blast Furnace!' released this year on Mango Hill Records and Flamingo Time, which is basically a sublabel of Mango Hill Records ran by the main man behind the band, Adam Scone. It is also Flamingo Time that released the band's Christmas 45, which see them team up with two very soulful sounding vocalists: Lee Taylor and John Dokes.

John Dokes previously released an album with the George Gee Swing Orchestra, for Lee Taylor tis seems to be her first recorded output. John’s song 'They Say It's Christmas Time' is subtitled 'Christmas Time In Brooklyn', so it makes sense this track was recorded in New York. The track with female vocalist Lee Taylor was recorded in Memphis, Tennessee, 'Home Of Heartbreak', according to the press release, so I guess Lee is from Memphis. Both songs are described by the label as 'Christmas anthems for the sad and lonely'. So not the kind of songs to jolly yoursef up with. On Lee's side, things have gone so bad that even Santa has become involved in a divorce - the song is called 'My First Divorced Christmas', subtitled 'Santa Got A Divorce', and judging from the lyrics, both Lee and Santa have to spend Christmas alone. The song has great vocal work by Lee, who starts really quiet, but towards the end of the songs, let all the emotions come out.

The warm vocals of John sound less desperate on the B-side, and his song also does not have the drama of the A-side; he descibes how hard Santa works to get the presents delivered all over New York, while an organ and brass lay down a soulful Christmas sound, with sleigh bells added to reinforce the Christmas spirit. Both songs are moody and soulful, more soul than funk. The single comes in four variations: on black, green, red and silver marbled vinyl. The colored vinyl versions (limited to 100 copies) can be ordered through the Bandcamp site of the band, but they will probably all be gone when you read this. The record can also be ordered through your local record store or online throught Daptone Records

Listen to ‘My First Divorced Christmas (Santa Got A Divorce)’ featuring vocals by Lee Taylor on Soundcloud

Listen to ‘They Say It’s Christmas Time (Christmas Time In Brooklyn)’ featuring vocals by John Dokes on Soundcloud

The Silver Bells: Christmas Emergency! / This Is Gonna Be Our Year
(Santa Claus Never Died For Anyone, USA, 45 rpm, small hole, black vinyl, 100 copies)

With a name like The Silver Bells it should not come as a surprise that this Charleston, South Carolina-based band is a Christmas-themed band. In December 2014 the foursome (Nicholas Doyle, Daniel Infinger, Rock*A*Teens drummer Ballard Lesemann and Douglas Thompson) released a 8-song 12" EP, 'It's Christmas, Everybody!' with all original songs. And now, four years later, there is Christmas 45, the front cover showing three members trimming the fourth member with some nice Christmas decorations. The two songs were mastered at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, and I do hear some Beatles-influences in the songs, so that will not be a coincidence.

‘Christmas Emergency!’ and the five minute long ‘This Is Gonna Be Our Year‘ are midtempo melodic indie rock songs, that mix the troubles relationships bring with the festive season. Despite the Beatles influences, to songs have a very American indie rock sound to this European’s ears, which adds to the authenticity of the songs. The band gets extra thumbs up for the name of their music publishing company: Santa Claus Never Died For Anyone.

Order the single, limited to 100 copies, at the Bandcamp of the The Silver Bells. That is also where you can listen to both songs.

Sumisión City Blues / Señor No: El Pequeño Bastardo / El Portal Del Txisfius
(FOLC Records, FOLC 103, Spain, 45 rpm, small hole, black vinyl)

Last year, the Spanish FOLC Records surprised us with the 'Merry Flamin' Chickmas' 45 by MFC Chicken, and this year, we have another Christmas 45 of the label. This time two Spanish bands team up, Sumisión City Blues and Señor No, all members being photoshopped into a nativy scene, including a big Santa Claus, on the front cover. Both bands play garage rock. Sumisión City Blues' song 'El Pequeño Bastardo' does not sound like a Christmas song at all, but it is, although probably not really festive, judging from the chorus, which translates as 'the little bastard in the night of peace'. True to the name of the band, it indeed sounds quite bluesy.

Señor No's song 'El Portal Del Txisflús' at least includes sleigh bells, but that seems to be the only thing that connects the song to Christmas. The song is mostly instrumental, with the band shouting something I can’t really understand. But it is a catchy song, I can’t deny that. But well, judge for yourself if it is Christmas-y enough for your taste.

You can get the vinyl at the Bandcamp of Folc Records.
Which is also the place to go if you want to check these two songs out.

vrijdag 7 december 2018

A Black Christmas with the Nordpolen Musikklubb and Poly Styrene

Poly Styrene: Black Christmas
(Nordpolen Musikklubb, Norway, Julepakke05, 2018, 45 rpm, small hole, limited to 300 copies)
Every Christmas season since 2014, the Norwegian Nordpolen Musikklub releases a Christmas 7”. Packed in a stylish festive sleeve, each record pressed on old school black vinyl with labels inspired by the traditional labels of releases from the 1960s and 1970s (including a printed push out piece for jukebox use), the series are a valuable addition to every Christmas music collection. The people behind the Nordpolen Musikklub, Jan Thomas Hasselberg and Geir Henning Hopland, who both lived in the Nordpolen area of Oslo when they strted the label (hence the name) have a wide taste in music, and that shows in the records they have put out over the years: vintage pop, jazz, indie pop and this year, even reggae. All the previous releases were by Norwegian artists, or artists with at least a connection to Norway, this year’s release is the first for which this is not the case. The fifth Nordpolen Musikklubb release is by an English artist, to be precisely by Poly Styrene, best known as singer of punk band X Ray Spex, and together with The Slits and Adverts bassist Gaye Advert one of the few female ‘stars’ of the first wave of British punk.

Poly was born as Marianne Joan Elliott-Said to an Scottish-Irish mother and a Somali aristocrat father, and was raised by her mother. At 15 she ran away from home, hitchhiking from musical festival to music festival. After she saw the Sex Pistols in July 1976, Poly and her 15 year old school friend and saxophonist Lora Logic (Susan Whitby) decided to start their own punk band: X-Ray Spex. Poly (she took her artist name Poly Styrene from the Yellow Pages, searching for ‘a name of the time, something plastic’) had her own original look (including wearing dental braces and dayglo clothing) and take on punk, with many lyrics taking a stance against consumerism. The band debuted with the single ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours’, a genuine punk classic, and the album ‘Germ Free Adolescents’, that is seen as one of the most original and influential records of the punk era. The band, and especially Poly has been an inspiration for many female (punk) artists over the years. X-Ray Spex broke up shortly after Poly had left the band in mid 1979, after suffering a nervous breakdown. She recorded one jazz influenced solo album, before becoming involved in the Hare Krishna movement, and disappearing from the music scene – but only for a while. As a solo artist, she strayed far from her punk roots, and recorded music influenced by jazz and later also new age. X Ray Spex did several reunion shows through the years, some with and some without Poly. In 2008, Poly contributed vocals to Goldblade’s Christmas single. ‘City Of Christmas Ghosts’, released on Damaged Good Records. In 2010 Poly recorded her third solo album with producer (and Killing Joke member) Youth, ‘Generation Indigo’, that was scheduled for release in March 2011. To promote the album, she released the digital only single ‘Black Christmas’.

Poly wrote the song together with her daughter Celeste Bell, and both women shared the vocals. Musically, ’Black Christmas’ was dominated by a reggae dub groove. The title was, of course, a take on the biggest Christmas hit of all time. The lyrics were said to have been inspired by the story of a serial killer who, dressed up as Santa Claus, shot people in the streets of Los Angeles. But you wouldn’t guess so if you read the lyrics, that seemed to be written from the perspective of a depressed, lonely and cynical person living in an industry town. A person who was not ‘dreaming of a white Christmas’, like Bing Crosby, but who was ‘dreaming of a black black Christmas / Black smoke glows against a midnight sky’: ‘All alone drowning in my sorrows / Christmas time always brings my sadness home / A child is born on Christmas Day / But they crucified him anyway’. And, as if it was still necessary to point out: ‘Oh no, I’m not merry, no’. The only place in the lyrics that seems to point to the serial killer is where Poly and Celeste sing ‘I never knew a very Merry Christmas / Santa Claus was a real bad guy’. Indeed, this Santa Claus was. Pessimistic lyrics that, according to Poly, reflected the dark things happening in the world at the moment of release of the song, and the social unrest that she was expecting, giving the state of the world, Christmas or not. Profetic words, looking on how the world has developed since the single came out.

‘Black Christmas’ was originally only released as a free download on Poly Styrene’s website, and burned on a promotional CDr by Poly’s label Future Noise, featuring a radio edit, a remix done by Khan. The song also came with a video full of environmental destruction, riots, violence, greed and references the Santa killer, with Poly and Celeste (who really look like eachother) out on the streets singing the song. In a way. ‘Black Christmas’ and also the album ‘Generation Indigo’, that blended reggae with electronics, were in a way also a return to her roots for Polly, because before starting X-Ray Spex, Poly released a solo reggae single as Mari Elliot, ‘Silly Billy’ for GTO. What should have been the start of the comeback of Poly turned out to be her farewell. Poly was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, that spread to her spine and lungs, and only a few months after the release of the Christmas single and only 1,5 month after the UK release of the album, Poly died. In a way it was symbolic that Poly did one of her last singles together with her daughter – as if she was passing on her musical heritage to her daughter – and it is in good hands, as Celeste, who lives in Spain, is indeed as musical talented as her mother, and fronts the Madrid band Celeste Dos Santos and the Tabloid Queens.. Just as the other Nordpolen Musikklub singles, ‘Black Christmas’ is released in a limited edition of 300 copies, with a track of Poly’s final album, ‘White Gold’ on the B-side. It is a well deserved tribute to an inspiring artist.

You can order the single by sending a message to Nordpolen Musikklubb through their Facebook page.

And you can watch the video on Youtube.

zaterdag 1 december 2018

Premiere: the Whyte Horses Christmas single

Whyte Horses: Next Year Will Be Mine
(CRC Music, CRC072S, UK, 45 rpm, small hole)

I am very happy to be able to present to you one of the best Christmas singles of the year, at least, in my humble opinion. Not only that, but here is also one of the first places where you can hear both tracks of the single. The single is by Whyte Horses, a band that, up until a few days ago, I was unfamiliar with. I don’t understand how I was able to miss their 2014 7” single ‘The Snowfall’, a beautiful, nostalgic sounding psychedelic song, that is right up my alley. Mastermind behind Manchester-based Whyte Horses is Dom Thomas.

Dom is one of the founds of Finders Keepers Records, alongside Andy Votel (formerly of Twisted Nerve Records and also known as a musician) and Doug Shipton (formerly of Cherry Red Records). Finders Keepers was responsible for one of my favorite Christmas 45s of 2016, the version of ‘Silent Night’ Graeme Miller and Steve Shill did for the 1980s children's series The Moomins, that was beautifully packed in a sleeve that felt as if it was made of felt (ha, that sounds funny!). All those involved in Finders Keepers are fanatical record collectors, especially of those records absolutely no one ever has heard of, from the most obscure places in the world. Many of those records they have rescued from dampy cellars in forgotten villages somewhere in the middle of nowhere are re-released on Finders Keepers, so that other people can also enjoy these obscure treasures.

Whyte Horses first started out as an image in Dom’s mind. An image of a girl band playing in a Mexican church (probably in one of those small villages I was just talking about). That was in 2011. But an image is only an image, so Dom decided to bring this image to life. First teaming up with Jez Williams of Doves, and later with Julie Margat (who records as Lispector and is originally from France), Dom started to work on songs, with this image still in his mind. When Dom and Julie had written enough songs, they gathered some befriended musicians (Ali Moretti on bass and Owen Matthews on drums), and off they went to Frisinone in Italy, to record those songs in a surrounding that was maybe not a church in Mexico, but had an atmosphere that was much closer to Mexico than their own grey and rainy Northern English surroundings. ‘The Snowfalls’ (also featuring Jez Williams on guitar) and its B-side ‘Morning Clouds’ were the first two songs they released of that recording session, on a 7”, and it was followed in 2015 by the full length, ‘Pop Or Not’. Whyte Horses released the album themselves, on a limited edition LP, with only 300 copies pressed, of which 100 came with a special Mix CD-R, that featured a mix made by Dom, featuring all kind of influences that the band had used in their songs. And these influences were wide, as could also be heard on the record. And yes, it did have some pop songs, cleary influenced by 1960s psychedelic pop, but much more than only pop songs – so the title of the album was very well chosen. An album so special it deserved a wider release, and in stepped UK label CRC Music, that re-released the album in 2016, on both vinyl and CD.

Dom doesn’t consider Whyte Horses a band, more a project, and, typically of projects, the people involved change from time to time. For example, in 2016, Dom recorded a new version of the album, now with St Bart's Choir, a choir of children aged 6-11, redoing all the vocals. And Whyte Horses did several shows, in places like the Barbican Centre and the Royal Festival Hall, both in London, with many other musicians guesting, like La Roux, The Go! Team, Badly Drawn Boy and Melanie Pain. Whyte Horses released their second album, again on CRC Music, ‘Empty Words’.

And now, label and band have a Christmas present for us – a Christmas single, that is released digitally today, December 1st, and will see a 7” vinyl release in three weeks, on December 21, 2018. The A-side of the song is ‘Next Year Will Be Mine’, and is written by Dom. It starts out like a song that could have come straight from Phil Spector’s Christmas album. It is the kind of song that really shines with positivity and hope. After the almost three minutes that the song takes, the Grinch in you has dissolved in the air, never to be seen again. Well, at least, not for the next couple of hours. It has the sleigh bells. It has the sweet female vocals. It has stockings, children singing and the same old (Christmas) songs on the radio. And it has the uplifting lyrics. ‘Come on forget about last year! Let in the sun and the blue skies they will appear’. But what I especially like, is that the lyrics also acknowledge that not everything is perfect, that things go wrong, and you sometimes feel bad. But the main message is that you can do something about it – you, and no one else! It is a song that empowers, and makes you singalong: ‘I’m drawning a line. the next me is here! Next year will be mine!’. Or, to quote Dom: “I like songs about the passing of time, patterns of life and the human condition. We all need a bit of hope going into the new year and 'Next Year Will Be Mine' tries to paint that picture. The beauty is it can be sung at the end of next year if things don't work out."

The song is sung by Lucy Styles and Natalie McCool. Lucy is a vocalist from Liverpool, who started experimenting with music at 15 after she was given a computer, sound module and a keyboard by Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark´s Andy McClusky. She has already lend her vocal abilities to bands like the Arctic Monkeys and, of course, OMD, she also works as a song (co) writer and is now focusing more and more on creating her own songs. Natalie is from Cheshire, is also a songwriter (she won a national songwriters competition in 2015 and even received a one-to-one songwriting session with Paul McCartney, when she was at University) plus a multi-instrumentalist, who released her debut album in 2013, and followed it up in 2016 with The Great Unknown. The voice of the two ladies fit so well together that you will barely notice that it is not the same singer who is singing the song and doing the harmonies.

If you turn the record around (or continue to the second song of the single, if you are listening to the digital version), you’ll find another song to treasure. This time a cover song: in line with the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club format (original on A, cover on B). To quote the press release: ‘Coldest Night of the Year is a cover of Vashti Bunyan’s circa.1960’s classic which pays homage to the original but with lashings of Whyte Horses’ magic. The soaring chorus melts away the heartache and turns the song into one which captures the wonderful bittersweet feeling of the longing for loved ones at this time of year.’ It is a beautiful version of a beautiful song. That was indeed recorded by Vashti Bunyan in the 1960s, to be precisely, in 1966. She recorded it as a duet with the British duo Twice As Much. Twice As Much had hits like ‘Sittin’ On A Fence’ and ‘True Story’. The song was intended for a single, which, unfortunately, never saw the light of day. A shame, because it is a classic. But this is not the complete story of this song. ‘Coldest Night Of The Year’ was composed by American songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Barry and Cynthia, who married in 1961 and are still together, were responsible for many many hits from the early 1960s on. 'On Broadway' (The Drifters)? 'Walking In The Rain' (The Ronettes)? 'Saturday Night At The Movies' (The Drifters)? 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' (The Righteous Brothers)? 'We Gotta Get Out Of This Place' (The Animals)? ‘I Just Can't Help Believing’ (Bobby Vee, and later also Elvis Presley)? Yes, all compositions of the two.

‘Coldest Night Of The Year’ was originally recorded by the brother-sister duo of April Stevens and Nino Tempo, and was released as the B-side of their early 1965 single ‘These Arms Of Mine’. Almost two years later, in October 1966, the song was released as A-side in the UK for the 1966 Christmas Season. If that release is the reason why the version of Vashya and Twice As Much did not get its single release, I don’t know, but the version of Vashya and Twice As Much does sound much more like a Christmas song, with subtile bells in the background, than the rather straightforward sounding version of April and Nino. The theme of the song is comparable to that of ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ – it’s cold outside, and although he should go home as it is late, it is so cold that it does not feel right to her to send him home, to sum it up in one sentence. Main difference is that in ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ the man really tries to seduce the woman, so he can stay, while in ‘Coldest Night Of The Year’, he says he has the flue, so he can’t really go into the cold; and it is more clear that this is totally okay with the woman, who sings its better to cuddle up instead of sending him out into the cold storm. The version of Whyte Horses is indeed much closer to the Vashti/Twice As Much version than to that of version of April and Nino – with the main differences that this time, two women are singing the song, as, again, Lucy and Natalie share the vocals – and again, you probably wouldn’t notice, if you did not know.

The single can be ordered from the website of the label CRC Music (here), or, if you prefer a digital version, or can’t wait until December 21, through all the known digital channels.

Of course, after such a long read, you are eager to hear the songs. Well, there you go!
Next Year Will Be Mine:
Coldest Night Of The Year:

woensdag 28 november 2018

The Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club - Edition 2018

It is still more than a week before the singles are officially out, but as all the pre-orders are send, and two of the bands have their release party this Saturday in London, it seems like a good moment to write about this year's singles of the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club - because Snowflakes is not only a blog, but also a label! I will make it easy for myself, and use the press releases here. Because, after all, I wrote these myself.
This year, the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club brought you Christmas singles by London bands Oh! Gunquit and Green Seagull and Bristol-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Rachael Dadd.

Oh! Gunquit: Holiday Jeer From Oh! Gunquit
(Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, Snowflake 18, The Netherlands, 45 rpm, small hole, snow white vinyl)

Recorded on the hottest day of an extremely hot London Summer, Oh! Gunquit deliver two Christmas party anthems on this 45, blending surf guitars, rumble drums and a wailing sax with lyrics about, well, what else than partying at Christmas – a bottle of wine, some good music and nice company is enough to get 'High On Xmas'. On the flipside, the fivesome breathe new life into The Sonics' garage rock classic 'Don't Believe In Christmas' – out goes the organ, in come guitar, sax and trumpet, with singer Tina's cool vocals finishing it off.
Oh! Gunquit came together when vocalist/trumpetist Tina and guitarist/vocalist Simon became neighbours and frequented the same sweaty cellar dance nights around town. The two formed the band with the idea to create a vibrant blend of new-wave vicious psych-surf, garage-punk, exotica & rock ‘n roll. The unusual name of the band was inspired by Maine harbour town Ogunquit (which means 'beautiful place by the sea' in the indigenous Abenaki language), known for its late 19th Century artists colony, and by the idea of all guns quitting. Based in London, Oh! Gunquit, known for their high energy and spectacular live shows, is as cosmopolitan as their city is, with members from Italy, USA, Colombia, Spain and the UK.

You can Listen to the single on Soundcloud.

Green Seagull: First Snow Of Winter / God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
(Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, Snowflake 19, The Netherlands, 45 rpm, small hole, snow white vinyl)

Green Seagull’s Christmas single feels like a journey – a journey back in time, to the late 1960s, and a journey to the inner depths of your mind, as it brings you in a dreamy state, where illusion and reality form a completely new experience. The single, that as all Snowflakes singles comes on snow white vinyl, is as much inspired by winter as by Christmas. Green Seagull's original, 'First Snow Of Winter' is a baroque pop song about that element of winter that directly brings a feeling of comfort and joy, a feeling of Christmas, in your heart: snow. The lyrics take you on another journey, a journey from the early beginnings of winter to the last snow, when spring is announcing itself and the first flowers start popping up. For the B-side, the band recorded a song that is already part of their live set for some time: an uptempo organ-drenched psychedelic version of the Christmas traditional 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen'.
Green Seagull, part of London's burgeoning neo-psych scene, started in 2016, when Paul Nelson (New Electric Ride) and Paul Milne (Hidden Masters, Magnetic Mind), who both share a love for late-60s baroque psychedelia and 12-string jangling guitars, started to write songs together. Soon joined by Sarah Gonputh on keyboards and Elian Dalmasso on drums, the four started rehearsing, taking their name from a mis-heard Rolling Stones lyric. After recording a 4-track demo, the band signed a deal with Mega Dodo Records, and after two well-received singles for the label, Green Seagull released their debut album 'Scarlet Fever' earlier this year. The band is currently working on their second album.

You can Listen to the single on Soundcloud.

Rachael Dadd: Spark Illuminate / The Holly And The Ivy
(Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, Snowflake 19, The Netherlands, 45 rpm, small hole, snow white vinyl)

British folk singer Rachael Dadd takes the holly and ivy as the central theme of her Christmas single. In pre-Christian times, the holly and the ivy were symbols of the male and female sex. When christianity arrived, the holly and ivy were given a new meaning, the holly symbolizing Jesus and the ivy Mary. The holly and ivy, that keep their colours in the winter, became a Christmas decoration, and are the reason why green and red are seen as the colours of Christmas. Rachael covers the 19th Century English carol ‘The Holly And The Ivy’ on the B-side of her single and uses that carol as an inspiration for her original on the A-side, the poetic ‘Spark Illuminate’. With just her beautiful voice and a prepared piano (a piano that has its sounds altered by placing objects on or between the strings), Rachael creates an atmopshere of stillness and intimacy, to warm your heart during those cold days of Christmas.
Rachael Dadd is a contemporary folk singer and multi-instrumentalist based in Bristol, England and on the Japanese island of Mukaishima. She is married to Japanese experimental musician ICHI, with whom she also regularly performs, live and on record. Rachael debuted in 2004 with the album ‘Summer/Autumn Recordings’. The album was followed by a string of releases on labels like Broken Sound, Talitres, and Japanese labels Angel’s Egg and Sweetdreams Press. Over the years, Rachael has played festivals like Glastonbury, End of The Road, Green Man, Wilderness and No Direction Home and toured the UK, Europe and Japan several times, alone or with acts like This Is The Kit, Rozi Plain and Alessi’s Ark. Besides as a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, Dadd, who is a graduate from art school, is also a practicing and exhibiting artist.

You can Listen to the single on Soundcloud.

These three singles, and also most of the singles of the previous edition of the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club can be bought from the Snowflakes Big Cartel page and, from December 1st on, from the Snowflakes Bandcamp page.

dinsdag 27 november 2018

Ladies' Christmas

At Friday, I visited one of my two favorite Amsterdam record stores, Distortion Records, always totally packed with records and (empty and full) boxes, so packed that you barely can find a way through it, and there I picked up three Christmas singles by three ladies. Three ladies who not only released a Christmas single, but also a Christmas album. One released her Christmas album last year, the other two this year.

Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers: All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues
(Pretty Good For A Girl Records, PG45-03, USA, 33 rpm, big hole, translucent red vinyl)
Sax player and singer Mindi Abair teams up with her Boneshakers on her Christmas album ’All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues’. And Santa gave her a lot of blues, in fact, an album full. The title track of the album was also released as a 7”, with another track of the album, ‘The Best Part Of Christmas’, on the B-side. Florida born Abair built a name for herself as a smooth jazz artist, releasing a Christmas song in 2004, ‘I Can’t Wait For Christmas’, and teamed up with Peter White and Rick Braun’ on the 2007 ‘Peter White Christmas’ album – that featured an earlier version of ‘The Best Part Of Christmas’. Abair's career took a complete new turn when she became the resident sax player on American Idol and when she returned with a new group, The Boneshakers, and a new sound. Abair had not only found the blues, but had also found rock. And that can be heard, especially on ‘All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues’: the blues not only is clearly present in the music (with some dirty sounding guitars and organ), but also in the vocal delivery of Abair, that sounds heartfelt and raw. If you are waiting for some saxophone playing, you have to wait a little longer, because ‘All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues’ doesn’t have nor need it. It is good as it is.

Buy the single here
Watch the video on Youtube

Ingrid Michaelson: Songs For The Season B-Sides
(Cabin 24 Recods, CB24302, USA, 45 rpm, small hole, picture disc)

Also Ingrid Michaelson is not new to holiday music. Michaelson was born in New York City in an artistic family, and her father, Carl Michaelson, was a manager at a music publisher and on the side, also a composer - one of his compositions was 'The Praise Of Christmas'. Michaelson came to the attention of the mainstream public when her songs started to be used in Grey's Anatomy and for an Old Navy commercial. Another big success for Michaelson was 'Winter Song', a song she co-wrote with her friend Sara Bareilles. Not only was the song featured on 'The Hotel Café Presents Winter Songs' album and reached the song number 2 in the Irish Singles Charts in 2011, she and Bareilles also performed the song for President Obama and his family at the National Christmas Tree Lightning in December 2010. So it seemed only a matter of time that Michaelson would record a Christmas album. Which was what she did this year. 'Ingrid Michaelson's Songs For The Season' consists of (mostly) cover versions, usual suspects (yes, the song everybody seems to record this year, 'Christmas Time Is Here', is present), but also some less often recorded Christmas classics like 'Looks Like A Cold, Cold Winter' (a duet with Christina Perri) and 'Mele Kalikimaka' (featuring Allie Mos and Bess Rogers). 'Songs For The Season' is a classic Christmas album in every sense, not only in the choice of songs, but also in the execution, that breathes the classic orchestral sound of the 1950s. But don't expect this sound on Michaelson's single, an 'exclusive limited edition picture disc', titled 'Songs For The Season B-Sides'. The single has demo versions, on the B-side of one of the songs of the album, 'Happy, Happy Christmas', and on the A-side a song not on the album, 'December'. Both songs are basically ballads sung by Michaelson accompanied by a piano. Especially on 'December' you doen't miss the orchestration and the top notch production - voice and piano are enough. Michaelson is pictured in wintery wardrobe on the picture disc. Nice to play and nice to look at.
Unfortunately, both songs can’t be found at the internet (yet).

Lindsey Stirling: 7” Holiday Picture Disc
(Concord Records, CRE00824, USA, 45 rpm, small hole, picture disc)

Nice to play and nice to look at, that also goes for Lindsey Stirling’s Christmas single, another picture disc, and just as that of Michaelson, released as part of Record Store Day’s Black Friday Celebration. Stirling released her Christmas album, ‘Warmer In The Winter’, last year, and now the first two songs of the album are featured on the single, instrumental album-opener ‘Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy’ and the B-side and second song, ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch’, featuring vocals by Sabrina Carpenter. The video of the song premiered on November 18, and has now already reached more than 3 million views. Which says something about Stirling’s popularity. Stirling is probably best known as the dancing violinist. She loves playing violin, she loves dancing, and although the combination of playing violin and dancing at the same time seems almost impossible, it is exactly what Stirling has mastered – which can be witnessed in the video. And on the many other videos Stirling has put on her Youtube video channel, which really helped her star to rise, after she first came to the national eye as a quarter finalist in America’s Got Talent. Stirling is not afraid to take her violin through all kind of different styles of music. Her version of ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch’, only the third time the song was featured on a 7” (the first being a 1995 release of Thurl Ravenscroft 1967 original and the second the 2013 cover of gothic punk veterans The Misfits), is a very poppy effort, upbeat, with a lot of brass, seductive sounding vocals by Carpenter and of course, Stirling’s energetic violin playing. This song could definitely become a genuine Christmas hit, it’s catchy enough and Stirling and Carpenter have enough fans to make it happen. B-side ‘Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy’ sounds like the soundtrack of a fairytale, which is no surprise, as in fact, that is what Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker actually was. The video, that already premiered last year, is very fitting, and Stirling really looks like a princess.

Watch ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch’ here:
And ‘Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy’ here:

zondag 25 november 2018

Khruangbin's 'Christmas Time Is Here'

Khruangbin: Christmas Time Is Here
(Night Time Stories / LateNightTales / Dead Oceans, ALN75001 / DOC184, USA/UK, 2018, 45 RPM, large hole, translucent green vinyl)

One of the rising stars of 2018, Texan trio Khruangbin is touring all over the world at the moment, playing in mainly sold out venues. Quite an accomplishment for a mostly instrumental band with a Thai name, that finds its musical influences all over the world. Was their 2015 debut mainly influenced by Thai funk, their breakthrough album, 2018’s ‘Con Todo El Mundo’, has a much wider array of influences – as the title of the record already implies, from all over the world. The influences Khruangbin uses are so wide that it is almost impossible to classify their music. As for their name, khruangbin means aeroplane in Thai and was chosen as the bandname because it was the favorite Thai word of bass player Laura Lee, who was just trying to learn Thai when the band had to decide on a name.

The foundation for the band was already laid more than ten years ago, when guitarist Mark Speer and drummer/keyboardplayer Donald “DJ” Johnson (drums, keys) met, when Speer was the guitarist and Johnson the organist of Rudy Rasmus’s St. John’s Methodist Church gospel band in Houston, Texas. A few years later, Speer met Lee, and the two found out they both loved Afghan music and Middle Eastern architecture. Speer teached Lee how to play bass and in 2010, the two joined Yppah and Bonobo on tour. After the tour, Speer and Lee continued to make music together, using a barn as their practice place. They asked Johnson to complete the line-up as drummer. When their track ‘Calf Born In Winter’ was included on Bonobo’s ‘Late Night Tales’-compilation, it brought Khruangbin into the limelight, and helped to raise interest for their debut album ‘The Universe Smiles Upon You’. The next few years, the band toured a lot and further broadened their sound. All the touring and the positive press helped to make ‘Con Todo El Mundo’ their breakthrough album.

And now there is a Christmas single. ‘Christmas Time Is Here’, a cover of the famous song of the Vince Guaraldi ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ soundtrack, the only song from the soundtrack to featured vocals. ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ turned out to be the favorite Christmas song of all three band members, so the band decided to record it. That took them only fifteen minutes – but I am pretty sure than mixing the song took much longer.
The single features two versions of the song. The A-side has the original version the band recorded and is described by the label (or better: labels, as the single is released on three different labels) as ‘ambling sweetness and a beat-driven groove’. The B-side has the socalled ‘Version Mary’ and is remixed by Vuelo, who also did a dub version of the band’s 2016 single People Everywhere (Still Alive). Vuelo gave the song a more spaced out, psychedelic sound. It sounds like a dub version of the A-side, with even more echo used and drums that are more upfront than in the original version. In both versions, the vocals are more an extra instrument than that they stand out from the music – in line with how Guaraldi’s original version used vocals in the song. The trio make the song their own, but at the same time, stay true to the original.

The single is pressed on translucent green vinyl, comes packed in a festive looking sleeve, with a cartoon of the three members playing in a snowy landscape. There are two different versions of the single – one for the US market and one for the European market. That’s cool, as that saves postage. The only difference between both editions is a different barcode on the back of the sleeve, while the European version has a slightly smaller (but it is barely noticable) sleeve.

As far as I know, this is only the third time the song ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ was released on a 7”. The first time was when the original was released on a promotional single in 1965. The second time was when the song was recorded by R.E.M. for the 1993 edition of the band’s yearly fanclub Christmas single. This Khruangbin single is much cheaper than those two singles. A copy of the 1965 original was sold recently on Ebay for almost 130 US dollars, while copies of R.E.M.’s 1993 holiday single start at USD 35 on Discogs. And, very coindicental, there is another band covering ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ this year, and they are also releasing the song on a 7” – Lucius. That 7” will be released a few weeks later than Khruangbin’s version, on December 7. More about that single later.

Khruangbin’s single can be found in all the cool indie record shops in the US, the UK and the European mainland – I saw plenty of copies in the two Amsterdam records shops I visted on RSD Black Friday, so despite the fact that the US version is sold out at the Bandcamp site of the band, I think it won’t be difficult to track down a copy. And it’s worth it – despite the fact that the 7” is rather pricey.

You can listen to the A-side of the single on Youtube:

zondag 11 november 2018

A Psycho Christmas with The Psycho Reptiles

This week saw one new 2018 Christmas single finding its way to my mailbox - all the way from South Africa!

The Psycho Reptiles: Psycho Christmas / Monster From The Bog
(One F Records, ONEF 1029, South Africa, 2018, 45 RPM, small hole, transparent or black lathe cut, limited to 70 copies)

In 1988, the South African psychobilly band The Psycho Reptiles released something quite unique, at least, for a South African band: a Christmas single. They were one of the first, if not the first, South African rock band that released a Christmas single – and still are one of the only. 1988 had been a good year for the band, that consisted of brothers Mike and Graham Seale (respectively guitar/vocals and bass), drummer Paul Toomer, keyboard player Adrian Hamilton and sax player Sarah Pontin. The Psycho Reptiles were signed to David Gresham Records, one of the bigger South African labels (a label that also released records by well-known international artists for the South African market), their singles 'Monster From The Bog' and ‘King Of The West’ had been a hits and they released their debut album, 'Have Beens Will Travel'. The Psycho Reptiles looked like coming straight from the 1950s with their leather jackets and greased quiffs. But musically they were less stuck in the fifties than their look might suggest, as the band also mixed psychobilly with punk, ska and rhythm & blues influences in their songs.

The band’s Christmas song was originally simply titled 'The Christmas Song', and the 45 had a vocal version on side A and an instrumental version on side B. Despite the title, the song was not a cover of Nat King Cole's hit, but a medley of several well known Christmas songs, played with such a speed that it seemed that band had to catch a plane. After church bells and an intro that sounded like an overture, the band raced through 'Jingle Bells', 'Twelve Days Of Christmas', 'Good King Wenceslas', 'Ding-Dong Ding-Dong', 'All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)', 'Frosty The Snowman', 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas', 'Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer', 'It's The Season To Be Jolly', 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' and 'White Christmas', slightly changing the lyrics when they seemed fit. Five pairs of socks and a Psycho Reptiles album became part of the twelve gifts of Christmas, the two front teeth were needed to eat the turkey and Rudolph couldn't take it anymore, so Santa hired his cousin whose name was Theodore… The single came with a funny video that found the four other members of band (saxophone player Sarah Pontin was not in the video, so was probably not part of the band anymore when the single was recorded and the video was filmed) molesting Santa Claus and others on the sunny streets of their hometown Johannesburg.

‘The Christmas Song’ was definitely not your average psychobilly song, not only because of the subject matter – after all, psychobilly bands usually like to sing about monsters, creeps and other scary stuff – but also because of the music. The very English and somewhat snotty sounding vocals (lead singer Mike Seale had been born in the UK) gave it a punk feeling, but the song also had bombastic sythesizers and a double bass drum that sounded more at home in a metal song. And of course, as in any good (punk) medley, 'The Christmas Song' had lots of singalongs. The single did well, and became the third hit for the band. Unfortunately, not much later, The Psycho Reptiles disbanded, as some members went to live in the UK. With a new line-up, featuring Mike Seale and original drummer Paul Toomer, the band did record a EP in the UK, 1994’s ‘Pearls Before Swine’.

In 2002, Sovereign Entertainment and String Music released a CD with South African artists doing Christmas songs, '5fm Presents The Santa Sessions'. The Psycho Reptiles classic was also included, retitled to 'Psycho Christmas'. These days, the original single is impossible to track down (no copies are listed for sale on Discogs and even Popsike hasn’t registered the single being ever sold), while the song is still popular. This made South African label One F Music decide it was about time to re-release the song on a 45. The label put ‘Monster From The Bog’ on the other side of the 45, making it another single suited for both Halloween and Christmas. As the vinyl single market in South Africa is probably even smaller than it is here in Europe, the single was released as a limited lathe cut single – 40 transparent and 30 black copies. Both songs were remastered by Paul Riekert and the records were packed in a colourful sleeve, with a cartoon of the five members of the band (with Sarah back in place) running away from the monster from the bog, who is dressed up as Santa Claus. The sound quality of lathe cuts records is in general not as good as traditional vinyl, but the sound quality of this single is quite okay. There are still a few copies available, these are sold through Ebay for $ 18 (excluding postage). Don’t wait too long, as these will sell out pretty quickly!

You can listen to the song on Youtube:

And, if you want to see the original video – it is to be found as part of a video compilation with ‘King Of The West’ on Youtube:

Since last week, a few more 45s have been added to the 2018 Christmas singles list. I'm most exited about the annual Nordpolen Musikklubb Christmas single - a vinyl release of Poly Styrene's great 2010 Christmas song Black Christmas! Another usual suspect, Jump Up! Records will release a second volume of Christmas songs by Roger Rivas. And Asthmatic Kitty Records will release a 2007 Christmas song by Sufjan Stevens, with a new version of the song on the B-side. The three 45s won't be out before the end of November, it seems. The Sufjan Stevens single is already sold out at the website of the label (although it seems you can buy it in your local record shop when it's out on December 7, when you're lucky, that is.