Now that we've entered November, it is about time to focus our attention on Christmas music again. Because, after all, Christmas is less than 60 days away. And with so many great Christmas music around, you need enough time to play it all!
The first 2018 Christmas 45 have already been released, so time for the first post about what the 2018 Christmas season will bring us, as far as Christmas 45s go. But before we look upon this new season, we will first return to last year's season for one Christmas 45 that we've missed... and that was, fortunately, pointed out to us by the 'Christmas Ketchup'-post, published at the end of July (yes, there are really people who are not from the southern hemisphere, writing about Christmas music in the middle of Summer) by the Christmas music blog all Christmas music blogs bow their head in respect to, Stubby's House Of Christmas.
The Independents / The Alements: The Independents & The Alements Bring You Christmas Classics!
(Snubbed Records, SR002, USA, 2017, 45 RPM, small hole, green vinyl)
Some shops and blogs list this 7" EP as being released in September 2018, but in reality, it was already out at the end of 2017, although a bit late to be on time for that year's Christmas season. That's always the thing with Christmas records - a bit of delay in production, and you are stuck with loads of records you can't sell anymore, because Christmas is (almost) over. Lucky for all labels that put out Christmas records, Christmas returns every year, so every year, there is another opportunity to get your records sold. As is clear from the front cover of this record, that shows a bunch carol singers with coloured mohawks, leather jackets and other punk-related outfits, what we find on this 4-song EP are two punk bands.
The Independents are the best known of the two. This Florence, South Carolina horror-punk band was founded in 1992 and has already released six albums (including one live album) for labels like Rockduster and Suki Records. Although this band identifies itself as a horrorpunk band, so should feel more at home at Halloween than at Christmas, this split-EP is not their first foray into Christmas music, as in 2013 they self-released a 4-song CDEP, titled 'Ho Ho Ho... Christmas Demos'. Two of the songs of that demo, 'Ho Ho Ho (What A Party!)' and 'Hooray For Santa Claus' are reprised on their split with The Alements, who are not as long in the game as The Independents, having released their debut album 'Tactical Basselope' in 2013. The Alements are from Annapolis, Maryland and are inspired by traditional 1980 and 1990s DC and LA punk, citings classics like Bad Religion, NOFX, Ramones, Minor Threat, Circle Jerks, Propagandhi and British hardrockers Motörhead as their influences. The EP was released by Snubbed Records, also based in Annapolis, so I wouldn't be surprised if one or more members of The Alements are involved in this label. The EP comes on transculent green vinyl, to give it even more of a Christmas feel. My copy came with stickers of the label and The Alements, so all in all it is a nice package.
On to the music. The Independents's 'Ho! Ho! Ho! (What A Party)' doesn't sound as festive as the title suggests: the singer feels sad, despite the fact that Santa soon will be there and the Christmas party begins, as he is missing his baby. So actually, it is quite a serious song, not what I would expect of a horrorpunk band. 'Hooray For Santa Claus', the second offering of The Independents on the EP, is a fast-paced punk cover of the title song of the Christmas movie that every has heard about, 'Santa Claus Conquers The Martians', but that nobody managed to sit through. The snotty background vocals add some extra punk spirit to the song. Then we turn the record around for the two songs of The Alements, also an original and a cover. The Alements open with the cover, their version of the traditional carol 'Good King Wenceslas', written in 1853 by John Mason Neale, as credited on the back cover of the EP. The song is in a way the soundtrack of the front cover, as it starts with a door bell ringing, a woman opening the door and the band singing the first verse of the carol - acapella! But after that first verse, pounding drums and screeching guitars join the carollers, and the 19th Century carol turns into a 21st century melodic punkrock song, before ending with some guitar feedback. The band's original 'Christmas Balls' is even faster, and is more hardcore punk than punkrock, even including a solo (that must be the Motörhead-influence). There is no lyrics sheet, so I can't really understand what they are singing about, only the chorus is clear 'Such Happy Christmas' - but that is probably meant ironically. All in all a cool EP, to spice up your Christmas party with some festive punk songs.
Listen to the 2013 Demo version of The Independents' original on Youtube.
So, now on to 2018. In fact, the first Christmas-related 45s of 2018 were already released months and months before Christmas. Like the official re-release of the 1979 Christmas single of Vernon Garrett.
Vernon Garrett: Merry Christmas Baby b/w Christmas Groove
(Glow Hill Records / Tramp Records, TR-249, Germany, reissue, 45RPM, big hole, black vinyl)
German label Tramp Records releases current bands, mainly bands inspired by the traditional funk sounds of the 1960s and 1970s, but also re-issues, as they put it themselves, 'quality (not necessarily rare) funk, soul, folk, afro beat, and jazz'. Vernon Garnett may not be a rare artist, but his 1979 Christmas single on Glow Hill Records definitely is - on Discogs, it sells for 100 euro and over. It's good that these kind of records are being re-issued, so that people can own a copy of this 45 for a reasonable price - and put it in their jukebox or play it on their turntable if they need a funky song for their Christmas party.
Vernon Garnett was born in 1933, in Omaha, Nebraska and started to sing as a teenager as part of several local gospel groups. He joined the Swan Silvertones for a short while, until he was drafted into the army and was in the navy during the Korean war. After safely returning from the war, Vernon joined the vocal group The Mixers, before he started his solo career, while also performing with his wife Jewel. The duo proved succesful and recorded several singles for Kent Records in the 1960s. The duo ended tragically with the death of Jewel and Vernon decided to continue as a solo artist. He recorded for dozens of different labels and after years of recording and perfoming, he finally had his first hit in the R&B charts in 1977, 'I'm At The Crossroads', released on ICU. The song would become his theme song. That was two years after Vernon had recorded his debut album, 'Going To My Baby's Place'. The late 1970s, when soul, funk and disco were popular, was the most succesful period for Vernon, and it was also when he recorded his cover of Charles Brown classic 'Merry Christmas Baby'.
Vernon recorded the song in a style that brought another Brown to mind, James. The 45 was released as a promo on Glow Hill, which was basically Vernon's own label. Vernon's version of 'Merry Christmas Baby', recorded with Sir Stan And The Counts was definitely one of the most funkiest versions of the song ever recorded, with funky guitars, some boogie woogie piano playing in the background and subtile use of brass; Vernon's strong vocal delivery finishes it off; and it ends funny, with a bunch of kids screaming 'Merry Christmas Everbody!'; the B-side, 'Christmas Groove', is a funky instrumental that does not necessary sound very Christmas-like, but it definitely is a good song. Great single! Sir Stan, who accompanies Vernon on this record with his band, is Stanley Griggs, a Oklahoma-born and Kansas-raised musician, who built a career in Los Angeles, and has appeared through the years with many of the greats in soul, blues and rock, like Ike & Tina Turner, John Lee Hooker, Etta James and Little Richard. Now in his 70s, he is still performing with The Counts Rhythm and Blues Band. According to Tramp Records, the reissue, that was released in April of this year, is limited to 150 hand-numbered copies, so don't wait too long with picking up a copy, as this re-issue might also be going in a few years for big money. On Discogs still a few copies are listed for sale. Although far into his 80s, Vernon still sometimes performs, mostly at religious get-togethers. Given that he started singing in gospel groups, he is back where he started from.
Listen to 'Merry Christmas Baby' by Vernon Garnett on Youtube:
Earthworm / Human Adult Band: Happy Horrordays
(D.I.H.D., 007, USA, 2018, 45 RPM, small hole, black vinyl)
Released at the end of September, this split 7" was actually the first new Christmas single of 2018. Or better, the first Halloween and Christmas single of 2018, as, as is indicated by the title of the single, 'Happy Horrordays', this vinyl outing brings the two holidays together on one disc. Both bands are from New Jersey and play a mixture of punk, hardcore, noise, postpunk and postrock. Earthworm takes care of the Halloween side of the record, while the Human Adult Band is responsible for the Christmas song. The single comes packed in a photo copied sleeve, and is released on D.I.H.D. records, ran by T Penn, bassist in and linking pin between both bands. My copy had a orange sleeve, not a yellow one as pictured. The single came with stickers and a button, all very D.I.Y.. When I received the package and opened it up, it brought me back to the mid-1990, when I used to spell the reviews of punk bible Maximum Rock 'n' Roll, and ordered many 45s by sending out a letter with a 5 dollar bill (yes, there was a time you could get a record postage paid from the US for 5 dollar shipped to Europe - nowadays, only the shipping is already three times as expensive), and a few weeks later I received a cool punk or hardcore 7" in my mailbox. Nice to re-experience that excitement by unpacking the package that brought this record to Amsterdam.
This record will not be for everyone, I guess, and I wouldn't label the music as accessible. Especially the Earthworm-side is more hardcore punk than anything else - the second song, short with a singer who screams his lungs out, borders on powerviolence; according to the label's Bandcamp, not even the singer knew what he was shouting, but it was frightening enough to classify as a Halloween song. And the title 'Beastly People' is very much on spot. The other song of Earthworm, 'A Very Important Discovery', was inspired by 'mad scientists scenes in classic Universal Pictures horror and sci-fi films'. It's a cool hardcore song, I like it.
Human Adult Band takes a different approach. Their song is not as fast, and made me think of Sonic Youth, due to the feedback drenched and experimental guitar playing, and even the Butthole Surfers. The line-up lists a lap steel guitarist, another sign that this band is indeed different. The rather originally titled '(All I Want For Xmas Is A) Rusty Roll Of Quarters' (after all, that's something else than you, my two front teeth or even a dukla prague away kit) was recorded for and also debuted on Jon Solomon's 25 Hour Christmas Special 2016 on WPRB, a Princeton, NJ radio station. This special is on air for 25 hours (hence the name) from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day and has DJ Jon Solomon playing off kilter and obscure Christmas indie, punk and other music left of center. This year will be Jon's 30th year of doing so - much respect to him for ding this for such a long time! T Penn returned the year after the Human Adult Band was featured with the song of this 7" as part of After The Fall, who reworked The Fall's brilliant 1980 single 'Totally Wired' into a Christmas song titled 'Totally Tired (Of Xmas)'.
Back to that rusty roll of quarters, that is needed for - among other things - washing the dirty trousers of the singer: after all, you want to look clean and neat on the Christmas party. Not that this Christmas party will be much fun, giving the mention of hell and crying children in the song, which sounds more like the soundtrack of a creepy movie than music that will have everybody start dancing around the Christmas tree. Instead, it will probably inspire them to set the Christmas tree to flames, and while the house is burning down, go outside and watch the Apocalypse happening, brought about by global warming and fake politicians who think that when you simply say a problem does not exist, it does not exist. Oops, sorry for bringing politics into this blog. Couldn't resist. Anyway, not a song for the mixtape you will send as a Christmas present to your uncles and aunts, but definitely one to include on the one you'll send to your little niece and nephew, who just have started to discover underground music - to point them in the right direction.
You can listen to the complete EP on Bandcamp.
And if you want to After The Fall's great Fall Christmas cover:
MARIAH CAREY: All I Want For Christmas Is You
(Sony Music Labels, SIKP 4, Japan, 2018, 33 RPM, small hole, red vinyl)
Oh, no, please, not again!, I hear you all call out. One can't put on mainstream radio around Christmas time, or walk into a store, and there she is again: Mariah Carey with her 'All I Want For Christmas Is You'. And now also here, in this blog, she turns up. Even for the second time! 24 years old now, generally considered as the last Christmas classic, and, whether you like it or not, a catchy song that has everything a good Christmas pop song should have. Sometimes the general public can be very wrong, but this time, they were right. This song is indeed a classic - because, of course, it stole so many ideas of the classics that came before it. I know there are music experts who can go on and on for hours analyzing this song, and why it works. They make it almost sounds as if it is was a large masterplan, in the works for many years, and carefully put in practice, working out every detail so that it all came together perfectly, and everybody had to fall for it. I do believe the songwriters stole some ideas of classic Christmas songs, just like every hit has been inspired by what came before it, but it was mainly just some talented people get together at the right moment which brought about this classic, I believe.
Well, a long introduction for why Mariah Carey is again subject of this blog. That is because Sony Japan thought it a good idea to release a EP with three versions of Mariah's classic Christmas hit, and finish it off with her version of what many consider to be actually the best Christmas song ever, Darlene Love's 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)'. The new EP opens with the original version of the hit, and follows it up with the version remixed by Jermain Dupri and featuring Lil Bow Wow Wow. This version was originally released in 2000 in Japan, and was for the first time released on 7" on a lathe cut bootleg in 2015: read more about this in one of my blog posts from 2015 here. The third version is called Mariah's New Dance Mix. It isn't that new anymore, as it was originally released in 2009, but only as a digital single. This is the first time this mix appears on a physical release (not counting CDr's made for promotional purposes). Mariah's cover of 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)' also appeared on her classic 1994 Christmas album.
Sony Japan did a nice job: the single comes in a luxury looking sleeve based upon the sleeve of that same 1994 Christmas album, has an insert with lyrics in English and Japanese and is on red vinyl. Japan is an expensive country, so records are also expensive in Japan. My copy was around 20 euro postage paid from Japan, which is quite okay these days, especially when you see what you get for the money. After the Record Store Day picture disc 10" of three years ago, here is another nice record to add to your Mariah Carey Christmas collection. You can find several (overpriced) copies on Discogs and more reasonable priced copies on all the Japanese record webstores you find on internet, of which some also ship to outside Japan. I bought my copy at CD Japan, a fast and reliable webshop. And no, I am not sponsered by them. Given that Carey's Christmas classic will celebrate its 25th birthday next year and that record labels are never letting opportunities to cash in go wasted, I am curious what kind of special editions next year will bring. Maybe finally a re-release of the original 45, that only saw a European release, and is still selling for 50 euros and over. That would maybe be a nice idea. In the meantime, I still asking myself: should I go to Mariah's Christmas in Amsterdam this December, or skip it, and spend the money saved on more Christmas 45s?
For those of you who still not have enough of Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas Is You', here is the vintage video starring a very young Mariah again:
Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club - edition 2018 featuring Oh! Gunquit, Green Seagull and Rachael Dadd
Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club. This year, three 45s will be released, all by artists from the UK (in a way, a bit symbolic, as this will be the last year the UK is part from the European Union - at least, that's how it looks at the moment, but who knows what the future will bring). Oh! Gunquit and Green Seagull from London and Rachael Dadd from Bristol (although she also lives part of the year in Japan). The 3 records can be ordered as part of a package deal here - with discount the three singles are 28 euro postage paid all over the world. The singles can also be ordered separately, and also most of the previous edition of the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club are still available on Snowflakes Big Cartel Page. The perfect Christmas gift for your vinyl loving loved ones; or, of course, yourself!
2018 will bring many more Christmas singles, by the likes of CJ Ramone, Clownis Presley, Ingrid Michaelson (RSD Black Friday), Khruangbin, Lindsey Stirling (RSD Black Friday), Lucius, Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers, Nelson Carrera & The Scoundrels, Old 97’s, The Decibels, The Psycho Reptiles and William Shatner (with Henry Rollins and Iggy Pop) and splits between Green River and U-Man (RSD Black Friday), Rodney Crowell and JD McPherson, and Unwritten Law and Sum 41 (RSD Black Friday). Thanks to Stubby's House Of Christmas and Christmas Underground for bringing most of these to my attention! More about these once they're in. And of course, I hope for and expect many more Christmas 45s to follow!