I want to finish my overview of 2017 Christmas singles before Christmas arrives, so in this post follows part of the 45s that I haven't written about yet, mainly the ones that I haven't seen covered widely on other Christmas music blogs. Tomorrow I hope to write about those 7”'s that you probably have already read about on other great sources for good new Christmas music, like my good friends of Christmas Underground and Christmas-A-Go-Go.
Mac Demarco: Wonderful Christmastime / I Was A Fool To Care
(Mac Demarco Fan Club Release, 2, USA, 45 rpm)
A few days ago I wrote a blog entry about the Christmas singles of Paul McCartney, and about the reissue of all seven Beatles flexi's that were send out to their fanclub members in the 1960s as part of a box set. That the tradition of sending out free records (be it flexi-discs or vinyl) to fanclub members isn't something from times long gone by is proven by >Mac Demarco, who send out a Christmas single to all his fanclub members this year. Funny enough, the A-side has a cover of a song by that same Paul McCartney, 'Wonderful Christmastime'. Canadian singer/songwriter Mac DeMarco released his fifth solo album, 'This Old Dog', earlier this year, that has been very well received, both by the record buying public and by the critics.
Demarco likes to joke around, on stage, online and also on recordings, and this single is again a proof of this. It comes in a picture sleeve with a drawing of a melded McCartney and DeMarco, with beer cans and cigarettes scattered on the ground, and flies in the air, while in the back of the cover, Demarco knocks out a Santa Claus who was just enjoying some milk and cookies. Demarco made a very minimal sounding version of 'Wonderful Christmastime', with just DeMarco's voice (sometimes delayed), a synthline and some children's voices (that could also be Demarco himself, with his voice speeded up) and later in the song, a short guitar solo. Very different from the version Paul McCartney did with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, that has also been released on vinyl this year. The B-side has Demarco covering a song of James Taylor, 'I Was A Fool To Care'.
Listen to the song on Youtube:
Blu & Exile: Christmas Missed Us
(Fat Beats / Dirty Science, SOM7001, US, 45 rpm, picture disc, 300 copies)
Besides the Twiztid Black Friday single, there is another hiphop group that released a Christmas 7”, a very festive looking picture disc, to be more precisely. It's by the American duo Blu & Exile, who takes care of the raps, and Blu, who is responsible for the beats. The duo released its debut album 'Below The Heavens' in 2007, and a second album 'Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them' in 2012. This year, Blu & Exile released their third album, 'In The Beginning: Before The Heavens', and this Christmas 45. The song on the 7” (in vocal and instrumental versions) is called 'Christmas Missed Us'. The press release described it as 'vintage B&E, packed wall-to-wall with Blu's signature flow and the sort of soulful, swung beat we've come to expect from Exile'. The music is definitely soulful, with handclaps and guitar picking. In the lyrics Blu is going all over the place - theorizing why Christmas missed them (did he ask too much?), finding himself all over the world (was it a dream?), childhood memories, and philosophize about the meaning of Christmas. And it even features a cameo of Santa Claus himself at the end of the song. The single is limited to 300 copies, and can only be obtained from FatBeats.com.
Listen to it on Soundcloud:
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats: Baby It's Cold Outside / Santa Baby
(Stax, 272, US, 45rpm, 3500 copies)
A Christmas 45 that is already out for some time, as it was released as part of Record Store Day's Black Friday's celebration is Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats's single, that has two covers of two Christmas songs that can be described as 'a-little-bit-naughty-Christmas-classics'. On side A, the band, joined by Julie Davis, covers 'Baby, It's Cold Outside', and on the B-side 'Santa Baby'. In these days of #metoo and one after the other scandall involving people from the world of media and politics being accused of sexual misconduct, it might be risky to cover a song like 'Baby, It's Cold Outside'. After all, by some the song is seen as a typical example of 'male predator behaviour' – man forces himself upon a woman, who wants to leave, while he tries to drug her to break her resistance. Others point out that there are enough indications that the woman wants to stay, but is mainly concerned about what other people will say. Whatever you think about the song, Nathaniel Rateliff choose to play it safe, and to turn the roles around. It is Julie who is trying to convince Nathaniel to stay. It's not the first time to song is sung in this way, I remember a rather hilarious live version from the early 1960s by Danish-Dutch duo Nina & Frederik, also released as a 45, who changed the roles halfway through the song (with Frederik impersonizing a stiff-upper lip Englishman who 'really can't stay').
The instrumentation of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweat's version is jazzy and fits the 'sitting-cosey-by-the-fireside'-atmosphere of the song very well. 'Santa Baby' is performed in the same laidback jazzy style, with Nathaniel getting into the Eartha Kitt role, without changing any of the lyrics – so yes, he has been a good girl. Sounds weird, giving Rateliff's raspy voice and physical appearance (beard, tattoo's and, judiging the front cover, a hairy chest). The single is released on the legendary Stax label. You can get a copy from your local record store. 3500 copies pressed, so no reason to be afraid it will sell out soon.
Listen to 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' on Youtube:
Listen to 'Santa Baby' on Youtube:
Shun Ishiwaka: Asa / Christmas Song
(Octave, OTS-122, Japan)
Every year, there are one or two Japanese Christmas 45s. This year is no difference. The first was already released several months ago by Shun Ishiwaka, and has a double A-side, with non-Christmas song 'Asa' on one side and a song called 'Christmas Song' on the other side. Shun Ishiwaka is a Japanese jazz percussionist and drummer, who started performing at a young age, and studied percussion at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA. Ishiwaka, who has won countless awards, released his first full lenght album 'Cleanup' in 2015. In 2016 he released the (digital) EP 'Songbook' and both songs of the 45 are taken from this EP. 'Christmas Song' has Ishiwaka not only handling drums, but also piano and cornet. Ishiwaka is also a member of CRCK/LCKS, a Japanese indiepop band, and is helped out by two other members of CRCK/LCKS on the song: Ryo Konishi supplies (vocoder) vocals Tomoni Oda some chorus vocals. The song starts with percussion, as could be expected from a percussionist, that stays upfront throughout the song, while the piano that is used in parts also as a percussion instrument, adds a melodic touch. The vocoder vocals and the keyboards that turn up later in the song give it a somewhat futuristic feel. 'Christmas Song' mostly seems to be a song about wanting to be with your loved one, and besides 'Merry Christmas' I also hear 'Happy Birthday'. The single is for sale in several Japanese online music stores.
You can listen to the song on Spotify:
Kindan No Tasūketsu: Twilight (Bells Ring Ver.) /Last Chrismas (Wham! Cover)
(Jet Set, JS7S179, Japan, 45 rpm, red vinyl)
The second Japanese Christmas 45 is by the band Kindan No Tasūketsu. Kindan No Tasūketsu is a Japanese electro indie pop band that was formed in 2010 around Hamashita Masashi and Hounoki Kazunari. The duo was discovered through posting homemade videos of their songs, and released their first proper album in 2012. The group has gone through several membership changes through the years and has continued to put out singles and albums. Their Christmas single has two songs – a reworked version of 'Twilight' and a cover of Wham!'s 'Last Christmas'.
'Twilight' has been released before in other versions, and this version basically just adds bells and comes with a video that features a lot of snow. But I don't think the lyrics or the song has anything to do with Christmas, apart from the bells. Unfortunatelty, I can't tell you how their version of 'Last Christmas' sounds, but let me guess – the music is poppy and electronic, and the vocals are sounding very girly.
This 7” is not the band first venture into Christmas music, as they released a digital EP, 'Ring A Bell Kindan Santa's Christmas EP' in 2013, with two Christmas songs ('Ring A Bell' and 'Santa Claus Is Coming Back'), while their 2012 album 'Hajime Ni Ai Ga Atta' featured a song 'Merry Christmas Mr. Walken'. The single is packed in a transperant sleeve with a sticker, and comes with a download code. The labels of the single have typical Japanese manga artwork of a sweet looking girl dressed in a sexy Santa suit. I could have done without the cigarette, though. Released on Jet Set Record, and again, to acquire a copy of this 7”, you should turn to one of the Japanese online music stores.
Watch the snow-filled video of the bells-filled version of 'Twilight':
Jimmy Eat World: Last Christmas / 12.23.95 (Acoustic)
(Exotic Location Recordings, ES-053, US, 45 rpm, black, seagreen or blue vinyl)
Kindan No Tasūketsu's version of 'Last Christmas' is not the only cover of that still very popular song that is released on 7” this year. The song is also featured on Jimmy Eat World's 2017 Christmas single. Jimmy Eat World's version of 'Last Christmas' was originally released on 7” in 2001, by Better Looking Records, on green marble vinyl, but with different artwork and a different B-side (a cover of The Prodigy's 'Firestarter'). The new single features another Christmas-themed song on the B-side, an acoustic version of '12.23.95', while the artwork looks like a Jimmy Eat World Christmas-sweater. Jimmy Eat World is from Mesa, Arizona, formed in 1993 as a punk rock band, but over the years, went more into an alternative rock direction. Their version of 'Last Christmas' is more guitar driven than Wham!'s original, but keeps the pop hooks intact. In that way, it stays pretty close to the original. It's one of the best cover of this much, maybe too much, covered song, so nice to have it available again on 7” vinyl. The single comes in three different versions: black, blue (limited to 1000 copies) and seagreen (also limited to 1000 copies). The single could be obtained through Kings Road Merch, that handles Jimmy Eat's World merchandise, but it seems sold out now. What you still can get is a Last Christmas Beanie and a green t-shirt, featuring the artwork of the single.
Emmylou Harris: Light Of The Stable / Little Drummer Boy
(Nonesuch, 558481-1, US, 45 rpm, included in 5 LP box set Queen Of The Silver Dollar: The Studio Albums 1975-79, limited to 1000 copies)
Another re-issue is that of Emmylou Harris' classic Christmas single 'Light Of The Stable'. This single has been re-released as part of a five album set, 'Queen Of The Silver Dollar', that compiles Emmylou Harris' albums from the years 1975-1979, by many considered as the year's she recorded her best albums. Her Christmas album from 1979, named after her Christmas single of a few years earlier, is missing, but the album set includes her 1975 Christmas single. Well, actually, it does not, as that single did not have 'Little Drummer Boy' on the B-side, but 'Blue Bird Wine', the opening song of her album 'Pieces Of The Sky', and also the opening song of this compilation. Probaby the label that released the set, Nonesuch, considered it not such a good idea to double this song on the set, so they choose to put 'Little Drummer Boy', a song from Emmylou Harris Christmas album, on the B-side. Both songs have been released together on a 45 before, in 1980. The 5 album set was released for Record Store Day this year, in April. I don't know if the single comes with a separate picture sleeve, as I haven't seen the set myself.
'Light Of The Stable' is a classic Christmas song, and as far as I am considered, ranks among the best country Christmas songs ever recorded. The 1975 7” should be in the collection of any collector of Christmas 45s. 'Light Of The Stable' was written by Elizabeth and Steven Rhymer and celebrated the birth of Christ. Although the song was newly written for Emmylou Harris, it could easily have been mistaken as a long lost hymn from the 19th century, with its solemn lyrics ('Hail, hail to the newborn king / Let our voices sing him our praises / Hail, hail to the guiding light / That brought us tonight to our saviour / Ale, alleluia, alle, alleluia') and it's simple but touching melody. Harris sings it beautifully, and was joined in the chorus and the second verse by the harmony vocals of three of the biggest stars in country and country rock of the day: Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young. Producer Brian Ahern's arrangement was subtile, and worked in a natural way towards rousing, but at the same time restrained finale of the song, that was only 2 minutes and 27 seconds long.
You can listen to it on Youtube: