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':

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