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.

zaterdag 5 december 2015

Allo Darlin': Only Dust Behind b/w Dear John and Kings And Queens (UK, Where It's At Is Where You Are, wiaiwya049, 2012)

2012 was a very good year for Christmas singles, if you ask me. Several very strong Christmas singles have been released that year, and I am pretty sure I will feature some of those later in this blog. But my favorite Christmas single of 2012 was definitely the single by UK indie pop band Allo Darlin'. Allo Darlin' is fronted by Elizabeth Morris, who lives, like the rest of the band, in London, but she is orginally from Australia. She is not exactly the first Australian musician who leaves Australia for England, as the UK has much more opportunities for aspiring musicians than the big country down under.

Allo Darlin' started as Elizabeth's solo recording project and her very first recording was a Christmas EP (self released on CD-R), recorded in her bedroom, with Elizabeth's voice and a ukelile as the main instruments. Later, Allo Darlin' became a real band, when Elizabeth was joined by fellow Australian Bill Botting on bass and jumps, Paul Rains on guitar (and sometimes lapsteel) and Michael Collins on drums, both of who are originally from Kent. After some great 7”'s with clever lyrics ('Henry Rollins Don't Dance' from their first 7'is a personal favorite), including a re-recording of the song 'Spend New Year's Eve With Me' from the debut Christmas EP on the B-side of the single 'The Polaroid Song', Allo Darlin' released its first self-titled album in 2010 on Fortuna Pop, followed after two years and much touring by their second album, 'Europe'. Both albums I can really recommended.

I first heard about the band's Christmas single at the show they did in Paradiso, Amsterdam, in November 2012. One of the last songs they played was announced as being from their soon-to-be-released Christmas single. That song, titled 'Kings And Queens', did not sound like a Christmas song. At home, I checked the internet, and I found out this single was part of the Where It's At Is Where You Are 7 singles club – 7 singles released on the 7th day of 7 months in 2012. The Allo Darlin' was the seventh and last single in the row, and was scheduled to be released on the 7th of December 2012. The 7” was supposed to have three songs, besides 'Kings And Queens', the last song on side B, also 'Only Dust Behind' on side A and 'Dear John' as the second song on side B. 'Dear John', the only song that could be listened on the Bandcamp of the label, was a sweet song, but it also had no Christmas references. Still, being a big fan of Allo Darlin', I ordered the single – and I was happy to, because all 777 copies, pressed on red vinyl, were gone very soon.

I received the single in time for Christmas, and found out the only song I did not know yet, 'Only Dust Behind', was indeed a Christmas song – and what a song it was! It did not have a Christmas sounding title, nor any bells, but it did have great lyrics, and a sound effect in the instrumental parts of the song, that I could not really define (in my fantasy, I could imagine it was the sound of stars travelling through the sky, or the sound of the view of fireworks). Together it really gave the song a Christmas feel. In the lyrics, Elizabeth paints a typical London Christmas picture, with rain instead of snow, a man on the Underground with a Santa head, singing songs of The Pogues and a yuppie girl with champagne, on 'an afternoon that feels like morning'. But it all is okay, as 'last night, we were shooting stars, we were leaving only dust behind'.... the musical accompaniment is sparse and simple, and it sung by Elizabeth in a soft and somewhat flat voice, which works very well with the music and the lyrics, and give the song a melancholic feeling – and Christmas is the time of the year one is allowed to feel melancholic. But not for too long, of course, as Christmas is a celebration of light! Anyway, instead of telling you what the lyrics are about, it's better to let the lyrics speak for themselves...

When the afternoon feels like morning
And my ears ring like a song
And my hair smells of smoke
And I can taste
the drink on the back of my tongue

Put down your phone
Turn off the TV
And come on over to me
And if I was ready
to get lost tonight
in the street filled with rain
reflecting the Christmas lights
And if I was ready
to get lost tonight
in the street filled with rain
reflecting the Christmas lights

Dear sister,
Don't let me down
And meet me on the Underground
There is a man over there
With a Santa hat on
Singing all the Pogues songs he knows
There is a girl over there
Who looks like a laywer
Throwing champaign up in her hair

And if I was ready
to get lost tonight
in the street filled with rain
reflecting the Christmas lights
And if I was ready
to get lost tonight
in the street filled with rain
reflecting the Christmas lights

Last night we were shooting stars
We were leaving only dust behind

All three songs on the 7” were recorded by Giles Barrett in the Summer of 2012 in Soup Studios. The other two songs are also great so this is a Christmas single, that will be on my turntable many times, both at Christmas time and and other times through the year!

Fortunately, for everyone that was too late to get the single, the songs can still be listened on the Bandcamp page of the band:
Allo Darlin 7777777 Single Bandcamp

Or listen to 'Only Dust Behind' on Youtube: