dinsdag 24 december 2013

More 2013 Christmas 7" vinyl singles

Thanks to Stubby's House of Christmas, Rotten Xmas, Discogs and Juno Records, I have found some more Christmas single releases, so it's time for a little update of my earlier overview of Christmas 7” singles released in 2013.

Like I noted before, there is no substyle of music in which bands are recording more Christmas singles as punk, and this update is another proof of that. We have three more punk Christmas singles for you – or, if you count all different editions, in fact six.

Most famous of the punk bands doing a Christmas single this year is without any doubt The Misfits. One of the longest lasting punk bands (although not exactly still in its original line-up), and a band that will you expect more at Halloween than at Christmas. Still, the band released three different Christmas songs, on three different formats. Money has to be made, hasn't it? The record is titled 'Horror Xmas', and the first version comes on green vinyl... or, if you are lucky, green splattered vinyl, as some of the people ordering the green vinyl version, will get the even more limited green splattered version. On the A-side of the single, The Misfits cover 'You're A Mean Man, Mister Grinch', a song perfectly fit for them. For the B-side, the band penned an original, 'Land Of Misfit Toys', a straight forward punk rock song. The second version, that comes on blue vinyl (and again, also in a more limited blue splattered edition), has the same A-side, a pretty okay cover of 'Blue Christmas' on the B-side. And of course, doing this on blue vinyl is a nice idea. The third version is a very limited (and already sold out, I think) double single on red vinyl – in fact, just the two previous single pressed on a different colour vinyl. You can decide for yourself how many different versions you want to buy for yourself.
You're A Mean Man, Mister Grinch (Youtube)
Land Of Misfit Toys (Youtube)
Blue Christmas (Youtube)

Figgy And The Scrooges (ehum) is a Columbus, OH, punk band that is like the Angry Snowmans, that is a Christmas project featuring several members of other punk bands, in the case of Figgy And The Scrooges the bands Connections, Times New Viking, Grafton, Nervosas, The Ferals and Nom Tchotchkes... to be honest, never heard of any of these bands. Their single, titled 'Alcoholiday', features three raw sounding punk originals: 'The Scrooges' Carol (Figgy Cares)', the up-tempo 'Santa Is For Simpletons' and the bluesy and noisy 'Halfway Outta The Dark'. Profits of this single, that comes on three different colours (black, green and red), go to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. Listen to the three songs on the Bandcamp of the band:

We can add another Christmas split release to the already quite large collection of 2013 Christmas splits. Girl Trouble! and The Dignitaries have organized their fifth annual Countdown To Christmas show in their hometown of Tacoma, WA, and to celebrate this, they released a split 7” on Unbreakable Records (cool name for a label, by the way, although I am sure the records will not live up to this claim). Girl Trouble! have written a 'Letter To Santa', while The Dignitaries claim 'I Know Why Santa Is Drunk'. As Tacoma is also the city that brought us The Sonics and The Ventures, they have large shoes to fill, as far as Christmas songs go... I haven't heard the Girl Trouble! track yet, but the track of The Dignitaries has a rocking garage punk sound (including a guitar solo!) - unfortunately, I can't really understand the lyrics, so I still don't know why Santa was drunk.

Last year, the Vancouver, BC (Canada) label Kingfisher Bluez started a new tradition: releasing a Christmas charity vinyl single every year, which is of course something we applaud! Each single comes housed in a sleeve portraying a nice house in a snowy street, so you can slowly build your own Christmas village. A really nice idea. Unfortunately, the first edition, a split 7” featuring the lo-fi anti-folk singer/songwriters Tim The Mute performing 'VGN SXE XMASX' (which stands for 'vegan straight edge Christmas', for those of you less into the hardcore punk underground) and Old Phoebe performing 'Christmas For Christmas', did not exactly live up to my high expectations, although it did live up to the label 'lo-fi anti-folk' for sure... but the 2013 edition is much better: it has Rose Melberg (once member of legendary indie bands Tiger Trap, The Softies and Go Sailor) and Gregory Webster (of twee pop band Razorcuts) covering what is one of the best punk Christmas songs ever: 'Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)', originally recorded by (of course) the Ramones. Rose and Gregory turn it into a sweet acoustic pop song. If you still want to order copy, be very quick, as the record is almost sold out! All profits will be donated to 1-800-SUICIDE and Crisis Centre BC, so it's for a very good cause, too.

Another label that made sort of a tradition of releasing of Christmas 7” singles is Daptone Records, a funk/soul label based in Brooklyn, New York. Also this year, they have released one, or to be more precisely, their sublabel Dunham Records has. The single features two songs by a new group, called the Sha La Das. The group consists of Bill Schalda and his two sons, Paul and Billy Jr. The trio is accompanied on this record by one of Daptone Records housebands, the Menahan Street Band. Both songs, 'Sha La Da La La (Christmas Time)' and 'I Wish Christmas Time Was Over', are (co)written by Bill Schalda, and sound as if having been recorded in the early 1960s, the heydays of Soul, with the (quite highpitched) harmonies of the Sha La Das. Definitely a nice addition to the 21st Century Christmas soul discography.

The second soul/funk Christmas single has been released recently, on German's Tramp Records, known for their reissues of long forgotten soul and funk classics, and for their much applauded 'Santa's Funk & Soul Christmas Party'-album, of which the second volume was released this year. The Christmas 7” Tram Records is another long lost treasure, by a band called Bobby Allen & The Exceptions. Side A has a non-Christmas funky track called 'Soul Chicken', originally released as a 7” on the label 'Soul Sound... Is Coming', which was a division of the Crowley, Louisiana based-label MBM. The Christmas song is found on side B, and it called 'Lonely Christmas Tears' – and with a title like that, what else could you expect than a blues song... not much soul or funk in this song, but a lot of blues... it is also featured on the second volume of 'Santa's Funk & Soul Christmas Party'.

The Kinks: Father Christmas b/w Prince Of The Punk (UK: Arista, Arista 153, 1977)

In the 1970s, rock bands started to write original Christmas songs instead of recording covers of classic Christmas songs. These songs would later turn into Christmas classic themselves. Everybody knows songs like Slade's 'Merry Xmas Everybody', 'Lonely This Christmas' by Mud or 'Wonderful Christmas Time' by Paul McCartney. One of the best of the original Christmas rock songs was released for Christmas 1977, the year punk broke.

The band that recorded the song was not one of the many punk bands that had sprung up all over the UK, despite the fact that the song reflected the attitude and music of punk quite well. It was a band that was big in the sixties, and had been an inspiration, because of their raw guitar sound and their energetic and hectic live shows, for the many bands being started in garages all over the US in the second half of the 1960s, bands that in turn were an inspiration for the 1970s British punk bands. Most 1970s rock Christmas song were musically rock, but their message and lyrics did not really differ that much of the Christmas standards of the past – the songs were merry, expressing the joy and fun that Christmas is supposed to bring, or were full of melancholy, longing to be with loved ones or thinking about friends lost somewhere along the way.

This song was different. It told the story of young kids who don't want Father Christmas to give them toys for Christmas, as they have no use for it – they needed money, or if not money, than at least a machine gun 'so they can scare all kids on the streets'. The lyrics were written by Ray Davies, singer / guitar player of The Kinks, a song writer known for his ability to write striking observations of the social climate of the day. He did that in the sixties, in songs like 'A Well Respected Man', 'Mr. Pleasant', 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion' and 'David Watts' (later brilliantly covered by The Jam, in a way The Kinks of the late 1970s). He had not lost his talent to write a biting social commentary by the mid-1970s, as the song 'Father Christmas' proves.

The band already started working on the song in 1976 while recording their 1977 album 'Sleepwalker' at Konk Studios in Hornsey, London, but did not complete it, and continued working on it when they recorded the follow up of 'Sleepwalker', 1978 album 'Misfits'. The song was finished in October 1977, just in time to have it released as a single late November 1977, not only in the UK, but also in other European countries like Germany and The Netherlands.

The song was uptempo and aggressive, despite the typical Christmas bells and other Christmas sounds. The story told is that of a young kid who believed in Santa Claus, although knowing that in fact his dad was Santa Claus, to keep his stockings being filled with presents. When he is grown up, he becomes a Father Christmas himself, but the kids he meets on the street are of a different kind than he was as a kid. They don't have any respect for Father Christmas, don't care about his presents, toys that they can't use and demand from him, violently (even knocking poor old Rudolph to the floor), the only thing they really need: money. He can keep the toys, to give those 'to the little rich boys'.

And then the song takes a turn, because these boys may behave like little criminals, there is another side to it. They need the money as their father is without a job and can't feed his family. They need bread, to feed the hungry mouth of their little brothers and sisters. These boys are not nice (not at all, they want the machine gun to scare the other kids), but they are not only perpetrator, but also victim – victim of a world in which some people have so much that they can afford to give their children a Steve Austin outfit (aka the bionic man aka the six million dollar man), a cuddly toy, a jigsaw or monopoly money, while others can't even give their children bread.

Then, in a break, we, the listeners, are addressed directly: 'have yourself a merry merry christmas, have yourself a good time, but remember the kids who got nothin', while you're drinkin' down your wine'.
For those who still did not get the message of the song, this will definitely do the job. 1977 was not a nice year, and this was not a nice message, but if you really want to give Christmas some meaning, it's something you should not close your eyes to. You better try to do something about it, when you are lucky enough to buy toys for your kids, instead of not even able to buy them bread.

The B-side was not a Christmas song, but the title “Prince Of The Punks” sets also the scene for this song very firmly in 1977. The UK version of the single came in cartoon style artwork, portraying the story told in the lyrics. Despite the fact that 'Father Christmas' is now considered one of the classic Christmas rock songs, it did not chart in 1977 – not in the UK and not in the USA.

The song has been covered several times, and it is no coincidence that the covers were mostly by punk bands or hard rock bands, like for example by Green Day, Warrant and Bowling For Soup, and, most recently, this year, Bad Religion, who released their cover of 'Father Christmas' on a one sided 7” (on Epitaph Records) and The Old Firm Casuals who covered the song on their split Christmas 7” with Evil Conduct (on Randale Records). Bad Religion kept it simple, and recorded it with the basic band setup of guitar, bass and drums. The Old Firm Casuals added piano and bells, and gave it a little bit more of a Christmas feeling.

The original version of The Kinks stood the test of time very well, and still stands out as one of the best Christmas rock songs ever. Not surpringly so, knowing how many great songs The Kinks have recorded.

Listen to the song here: Youtube

maandag 23 december 2013

Erik Voeks: Christmas Singles b/w The Cruel Tide (Demo) (USA, Parasol Records, Par-028, 1997)

It's funny to know that there is even a Christmas single, titled 'Christmas Singles'. The song was written and performed by a Kansas singer/songwriter, Erik Voeks. He was joined on bass by Steve Scariano and on drums by Patrick Hawley. The 7” single was released in 1997, with the non-Christmas song 'The Cruel Tide' in a demo version on the B-side. 'Christmas Singles' was already recorded 3 years earlier, in 1994, and was released as an old fashioned cassette, in a one-off edition of 100, just before Christmas, on Decemer 19.

Erik is not too fond of Christmas singles, he does not need much time to make this clear. Already in the first two lines of the song, he makes a firm statement.
'They're just a cheap promotional trick
All those Christmas singles'

Erik has some useful suggestion what to do with the Christmas singles:
“Well you can nail them on the wall
Make an ashtray, y'know
Crank 'em up and sing along to make unwanted guests go.”

Of course, there is another meaning of a Christmas single. The next part of the song is about all those people who have to spend Christmas alone, because they have no lover...

"They're home alone around the world
All those lonely Christmas singles
It's A Wonderful Life re-runs
Never fails to give them tingles"

But Erik is different, as he has a goal in his life, and that is, of course, to record rock songs – he is still doing so in 2013.
I do like the end of the song, because, apart from all the clever word jokes all the irony towards Christmas, also this song has, as all good Christmas singles, a message. Of course.

"I'll bet the daddy of all Christians
Would be turning in his grave
If he saw the way his birthday made the retail world behave."

Couldn't agree more!
Listen to Erik's Christmas Single via the link below and most important, don't forget to buy some cool Christmas singles this Christmas! Even Erik's single is still available to be bought – give it some nice warm home, and spin it on your record player, so it doesn't have to feel alone anymore!


zaterdag 14 december 2013

Muriel Smith: I Wonder As I Wander b/w Sweet Little Jesus Boy (UK, Philips Records, BF 1291, 1963)

Smoke Fairies cover the Christmas carol 'I Wonder As I Wander' on the B-side of their Snowflakes Christmas single. This song has been recorded by many other artists and bands, although only very few of these cover versions appeared on a 7”, and, as far as I have been able to track down, only in one instance, the song was the A side. This was a single by Muriel Smith, released in 1963 in the United Kingdom on the Philips label.

The song has a long history. Although it is generally believed that this song is a traditional, in fact, this is not the case. The version of 'I Wonder As I Wander' as we know it now, was written by John Jacob Niles, a folklorist and singer from Louisville, Kentucky. But he did base the song on an existing folk song. On July 16, 1933, John Jacob Niles visited the mountain town Murphy, located deep in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. There he witnessed a fundraising meeting of a group of evangelicals, who had been ordered out of town by the police. A girl, according to the account of Niles, “unwashed, in unbelievable dirty and ragged clothes, with ash-blond hair that hung down in long skeins, but still very beautiful”, stepped out to the edge of a little platform, attached to the automobile of the evangelists. The girl, Annie Morgan, sang a small fragment of a song, and repeated the fragment seven times (note the symbolism!) in exchange for a quarter per perfomance. Inspired by this performance, Niles decided to write a song based on the lines and melody he had heard the girl sing. He completed the song, that he titled 'I Wonder As I Wander' on October 4, 1933 and first performed it on December 19, 1933 at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. In 1934, the song was published in Songs Of The Hill Folk.

Many performers and listeners mistook the song as a traditional, anonymous in origin. Niles had to undertake several lawsuits to establish its authorship and demand royalties of other performers. Niles wrote the song as a more general Christian hymn. The first verse speaks about how Christ the Savior died for the poor people. Only in the second verse there is a link to Christmas: “When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall – With wise men and famers and shepherds and all – But high from God's heaven, a star's light did fall – And the promise of ages it then did recall.” The third verse celebrates Jesus as the King, and after that, the first verse is repeated again. The fact that the song is more about Jesus as the Savior than about Christmas did not prevent the song to be considered as a Christmas carol by many, and also its inclusion on many Christmas albums.

The only time the song was used as the A-side of a 7” was in 1963, in a version by American singer Muriel Smith. Smith was born in New York. She was the first African-American to study at the Curtis Institute Of Music in Philadelphia and graduated in 1946, in the same class as Leonard Bernstein and Isaac Stern. She made her debut on Broadway in December 1943, in Carmen Jones, playing the title role. Muriel appeared in some other musicals and stage plays, before moving to London in 1949. She played several roles in London musicals, and in 1953 had a #3 hit with 'Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me' single in the UK. Muriel returned to the USA in 1955, to play in the revival production of Carmen Jones. The following year she was back in London, now starring as Carmen at the Royal Opera House, her first role in a more traditional opera. In the fifties, she also could could be heard as a ghost singer in several Hollywood movies, most notably in 1958's South Pacific, where she dubbed 'Bali Ha'i' and 'Happy Talk' for actor Juanita Hall.

Although 'I Wonder As I Wander' was released in the UK as a 7” in 1963, the recording was not new, as it had already been included on the 1960 Christmas album 'The Glory Of Christmas', that was released both in the UK and the USA (on the Philips label). The album was recorded in the UK, and Muriel was accompanied by the British conductor and composer Peter Knight, his orchestra and chorus on the record. Muriel was a soprano, and that is also how she sang 'I Wonder As I Wander', making the song almost like a part from an opera. On the B-side was another song of her album, 'Sweet Little Jesus Boy'.

'I Wonder As I Wander' has been recorded by many artists, especially from the 1950s on. More known performers who recorded the song include Burl Ives (1953), Percy Faith (1954), Jo Stafford (1955), Hugh Downs (1959), Cort Johnson (1963), Joan Baez (1966), Julie Andrews (1975), George Beverly Shea (1980), James Galway (1986), Vanessa Williams (1996), Jewel (1999), Linda Ronstadt (2000), Harry Connick, Jr. (2003), Gladys Knight (2006) and Oleta Adams (2006).

The song has also appeared as the B-side on several 7”s. Burl Ives recorded the song in 1953, and it appeared on a 4 song EP on Decca Records. it was also the B-side to Christian singer Bill McVey's 'Abide With Me'. The same year as the Muriel Smith version was released on 7”, the song also appeared on a Dutch 7” of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, B-side to 'The Holy Babe', although also she recorded the song several years earlier, as it also already appeared the 1961 'The Holy Babe of Bethlehem' 7” EP. In 1965 Cy Grant recorded it for the B-side of the single 'The Lord's Prayer'. Funny enough, two years later Barbara Streisand combined the same two songs on a 7” on Columbia Records. To my knowledge, this was the last time the song has appeared on a 7”. And now, 46 years later, it is available again on a 45, in a beautiful and haunting version.

Listen to the song here:Video

vrijdag 13 december 2013

Frank Sinatra: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas b/w I'll Be Home For Christmas (UK: Capitol, CL 15329, 1963)

Although Frank Sinatra was surely not the first to record 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas', his version is probably the most famous version of the song. It has been released on several different 7”'s and EP's – the version I have chosen is the 1963 version released in the UK, and has 'I'll Be Home For Christmas' on the B-side.

'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' was already almost 20 years old, when Frank Sinatra recorded it – not for the first time – for this single. The songs was first performed by Judy Garland, in 1944, in the MGM movie musical 'Meet Me In St. Louis'. Esther, the character played by Judy, sings the song to her little sister Tootie (played by a very young Margaret O'Brien) in a scene situated on Christmas Eve, to cheer her up, as the whole family is sad, because of having to leave their St. Louis, Missouri home for New York, where their father had found a new job.

The song was written by Hugh Martin (lyrics) and Ralph Blane (music), although Hugh Martin later claimed he had also written all music of the 'Meet Me In St. Louis'-songs and that his naivity and lack of businessmenship made him share the credits with Ralph Blane. The music of the song has stayed the same through the years, but Martin has rewritten part of the lyrics several times. Judy Garland, who was supposed to sing the song in the movie, was the first who thought the original lyrics to be too depressing. With lines like "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last/ Next year we may all be living in the past” and “Faithful friends who were dear to us/Will be near to us no more'' it was indeed not exactly an optimistic song. In a way, it reflected the time it was written, a time when the US was deeply involved in World War II. Martin first refused to write the song, but after first director Vincente Minnelli (who claimed that his movie was about hope and dreams, so the song also had to have some hope in it) and later Judy's co-star Tom Drake, who was a friend of Hugh Martin, talked to him about, he gave in, and changed several parts of the song. For example, the lines "It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past" became "Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight". Martin, who himself was a religious person, also changed the last part of the original line "through the years, we all will be together if the Lord allows" into "if the fates allow", to remove religious references and make the song a secular song.

The changes turned the song from a song of sadness into a song of hope, hope for a brighter future. But it was still not a light song, because the final line of the song still reflected the sad situation of the moment: ''until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow.'' Judy Garland recorded 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' for a 78 rpm single on Decca Records, and it became especially with popular the US troups abroad, although it was certainly not the big hit from the movie. That was 'The Trolley Song', that got an Oscar nomination for best song of 1944.

But this was not the end of the story for the song. When Frank Sinatra wanted to record the song for his 1957 album 'A Jolly Christmas' (he had recorded it before in 1947), he asked Martin to 'jolly up' the final line. Martin changed the line to "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough" and made several other changes. This changed the character of the song again, it was no longer a song expressing hope for a better future, but a celebration of present happiness. It is this version that hundreds of artists have recorded through the year, and also the version The Silhouettes have recorded for the flipside of their Christmas single.

To illustrate the differences of the three versions (and how very small changes can totally change the meaning and mood of a line):

The original version had “Faithful friends who were dear to us / Will be near to us no more”.
The Judy Garland version changed it to “Faithful friends who were dear to us / Will be near to us once more”
The Frank Sinatra version changed it again, now to “Faithful friends who are dear to us / Gather near to us once more”.

Martin, who always continued writing songs, wrote a complete new set of lyrics to the song in 2001, when he was well into his 80s. The new lyrics not only brought the original line "through the years, we all will be together if the Lord allows" back, but also turned the song in a completely religious song. It was retitled to 'Have Yourself a Blessed Little Christmas' and has been recorded by several gospel artists since then.

The version that Frank Sinatra recorded for the single release in 1963 also had the new 1957 lyrics. There are still artists who prefer the Judy Garland version to the more cheery 1957-version, as it acknowledges that Christmas is not all about being cheerful and jolly, but that it is also a time you miss beloved ones, and a time that gives hope in difficult times. It is exactly this feeling that the Judy Garland-version expresses very well.

Besides on the 1963 UK single, that same year, the song also appeared on two more Frank Sinatra 7” records. Also in the UK, 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' appeared on a EP with the same title, that also featured tracks by Sammy Davis Jr, Keely Smith and Dean Martin on Reprise Records. The song also appeared on a split 7” between Frank Sinatra and Les Baxter's Balladeers, who did a Christmas Medley on the B-side, also on Reprise Records.

Other Frank Sinatra 7”'s, that include the song, is a Columbia Records EP (EP 10321), that included three more Christmas classics: 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town', 'White Christmas' and 'Jingle Bells' on Columbia Records (EP 10321). And in 1976, Reprise Records released a Frank Sinatra EP in the UK, titled 'Christmas Mem'ries, with 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas as first track on side B. Other tracks included 'Christmas Mem'ries', 'A Baby Just Like You' and 'Whatever Happened To Christmas'.

The song has been recorded by many other artists, also on 7”. The song got more and more popular with time, making it one of the most covered non-traditional Christmas songs now.

EP's that included the song were recorded by The Michael Sammes Singers (1958), The Singing Nolans (1972), John Denver And The Muppets (1979) and David Grant & Jaki Graham (1985).

On 7” the song appeared as A-side on singles by Margaret Whiting (1949), Ramsey Lewis (1958), The Hollyridge Strings (1965), Andy Williams (1966), Barbra Streisand (1967), David Grant & Jaki Graham (1985), Crystal Gayle (1986) and Fear (2011, as RSD Black Friday release).

As B-side it appeared on singles by Cliff Richard (a promo with A-side 'Mistletoe And Wine'), Sascha Burland And The Skipjack Choir (1963), Andy Williams (1965) and Carnie And Wendy Wilson (1993).

This list is probably far from complete.

On the B-side of the 1963 UK single, there is another Frank Sinatra Christmas classic, 'I'll Be Home For Christmas', a beautiful ballad-kind-of-song, with 'whoowhoo'-female back up vocals, also present on the A-side, that give it both songs a comforting, relaxing and a real Christmas-y feel.

Funny thing is that I was planning to post this today, and when I was visting Concerto Records yesterday (to bring them a new bunch of Snowflakes Christmas singles), guess what I found there: exactly this single, that I did not have in my collection yet – I like these coincidences!

Listen to the Frank Sinatra version from 1963 here: Video

donderdag 12 december 2013

Claudine Longet: I Don't Intend To Spend Christmas Without You b/w Snow (USA: A&M Records, A&M 895, 1967)

The Garlands have recorded a new version of the song 'I Don't Intend To Spend Christmas Without You'. It was written by New York songwriter, lyricist, pianist and singer Margo Guryan for French actrice, singer and dancer Claudine Longet, who recorded it in 1967. Earlier that year, Claudine Longet had recorded another song of Margo Guryan, 'Think Of Rain', in fact the first song Margo Guryan wrote after switching from writing jazz songs to pop songs. In the first ten years of her career as a songwriter, Margo Guryan had mainly written jazz and jazz-inspired songs, that had been recorded by artists like Harry Belafonte, Chris Connor and Nancy Harrow. She also wrote lyrics for compositions of jazz greats like John Lewis, Ornette Coleman and Arif Mardin. After a friend played 'God Only Knows' of the Beach Boys album 'Pet Sounds' for her, a complete new world opened for Margo, and she decided to switch from writing jazz songs to writing pop songs. Margo Guryan is mainly known as a songwriter, although she did record a solo album in 1968, 'Take A Picture', but not wanting to tour to promote the album, the album was not a succes, and remained her sole solo release, until several demo recordings she did of songs she wrote for other artists, were released on the CD compilation '25 Demos' in 2001. That compilation also features her own version of 'I Don't Intend To Spend Christmas Without You'.

It was Tommy Li Puma, head of A&M Records, who had asked Margo to write a Christmas song for Claudine Longet. He explicitely requested to make it a song without all the common Christmas stuff, like snow, misletoe, presents. It was the only time Margo wrote a song with a performer in mind. She wrote the song, recorded a demo version, that was send over to California, where Claudine recorded it. In line with the reques of Tommy Li Puma, the song was about Christmas, but had nothing to do with the usual cheerful Christmas celebration, although in the end, the message of the song was a positive one. Two people separated, but in the end, it turned out they only wanted to show the other how it feels to be alone, and to not be together. In the end, the lesson is learned and the singer returns to her love, as, she tells him, “I don't intend to spend Christmas without you'”.

The singer who Margot wrote the song for, Claudine Longet, was born in Paris in January 1942, and had just seen her major breakthrough the year before Margot wrote the song. In 1967, Claudine Longet had released several singles and two albums, and her label A&M Records was very active in promoting her as their major female star. At the time, Claudine Longet was married to Andy Williams, well known for the many Christmas songs he recorded, among those one of my personal favorites, 'It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year'. Both Claudine and Andy felt a strong connection with Christmas. It was no coincidence that had married on Christmas Day, 1961 and that they named their first two children Noëlle and Christian. So it was no suprise that Claudine sooner or later would record a Christmas song. Claudine was originally from France, but already went to the USA as a teenager, and became the lead dancer of the Folies Bergère revue at the Tropicana Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. She met Andy Williams in 1960, when he stopped when he saw her standing by the side of the road with car trouble. The first few years of her marriage, Claudine was mainly playing in tv series and she also appeared several times on the Andy Williams show. Occasionally she also appeared as a singer on tv. Her big breakthrough came when she sang a English-French bilingual rendition of the bossa nova song 'Meditation', in a style that soon would become her trademark: singing with a soft sensuel voice, filled with longing and melancholy but also with a cheerful optimism. Herb Alpert offered her a recording contract with A&M Records. Between 1966 and 1970 Claudine would record five albums and many singles for the label, one of these singles being 'I Don't Intend To Spend Christmas Without You'. The single went to #30 in Billboards 1967 Christmas list, but did not chart in the Hot 100, nor in the Adult Contemporary list, like some of Claudine's other singles.

The B-side of the single, titled 'Snow', also deserves a few words. Despite the title, it is not really a Christmas song. It's a beautiful ballad, starting with only piano, and later joined by a flute and violas, about missing a loved one gone, with all memories buried under snow. It's sung in a lovely way by Claudine, and in this song, her charming French accent, really adds something to the song. It's a kind of song to warm yourself, while sitting by a fire inside, while snow is all around you outside...

Claudine went on to star with Peter Sellers in the great Blake Edwards movie 'The Party' in 1968, divorced from Andy Williams in 1975, and was convicted a year later for fatally shooting her then boyfriend, Olympic skier Vladimir Sabich. She later married her attorney in the proces, and has not performed since the trail, despite the fact that interest in her music has resurged following several CD releases.

In the late 1990s, when sunshine pop became popular again, the song got back in the spotlights, which lead to several cover versions.

Saint Etienne, known for having released several Christmas singles over the years, covered the song in 1998 for a Christmas fanclub release (unfortunately, only on a CD single). Tomorrow's World also covered the song on the compilation 'The World In Winter', a CD compilation from the UK that was released in 1999 by the Él label. Indie electronic duo Lover And Poets covered the song, in 2010, on their bandcamp site. Maylee Todd was the most recent one to cover the song – it appeared on Soundcloud in December 2012.

Japanese band Pizzicato Five, who by the way inspired me to christian this project 'Snowflakes Christmas Singles' with their song'Snowflakes', sampled Claudine Longet's version on their song '20th Century Girl' on their 2000 album 'The Fifth Release From Matador'.

The Garlands version of the song is the first time since 1967 the song has appeared on (7”) vinyl again!

Listen to Claudine Longet - I Don't Intend to Spend Christmas Without You here: Claudine Longet version

The B-side Snow: B-side Snow

And the demo version Margo Guryan recorded herself: Margo Guryan's demo version

woensdag 11 december 2013

2013 Christmas 7" vinyl releases

What did bring 2013 as far as Christmas singles (on 7" vinyl!) goes, besides the 4 singles of the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club.

First, quite some split 7"'s.

One of the first that came out is maybe not really a Christmas single, as only one of the three songs on the single, is about Christmas. As part of the Xtra Mile Singles Sessions, Mongol Horde (the new hardcore orientated band of singer/songwriter and former punkrock band Million Dead singer Frank Turner) is featured on side A with their song 'How The Communists Ruined Christmas'. An interesting title, but unfortunately, due to the singing (or better) screaming style, I can't understand most of the lyrics. On the flipside we find Jamie Lenman with two non-Christmas songs. The Möngöl Hörde track, that was already up on Youtube last year (although I am not 100% sure it's the same version) and is probably the loudest Christmas song of the year.

Another split that is also only half a Christmas single is put out by one of the leading UK indie labels, Too Pure Records. The Christmas song is recorded by Best Friends, also from the UK, and is called 'When Christmas Comes'. It's a joyful and somewhat messy Christmas ditty. The other side, that has Seize The Chair with 'I Just Want To Sleep' is not a bad at all either. Judging from the title, it could have been a song by someone who is totally fed up with Christmas, so only wants to do one thing, and that is sleep. But it isn't.

The third Christmas-Not Christmas split has been released as part of the Black Friday Record Store Day releases and has two songs taken from a recent Alabama tribute album 'High Cotton: A Tribute To Alabama'. The Blind Boys of Alabama sing about 'Christmas In Dixie', and that is exactly how it sounds - that is, not Dixie as in Dixieland jazz, but Dixie as deep down south in the States: country, with a gospel twist. On the B-side Jason Isbell & John Paul White sing about an 'Old Flame'. The Blind Boys Of Alabama song is probably the most traditional sounding Christmas song I heard on 7” vinyl this year.

Then we have some split-7"'s that feature two bands AND two Christmas songs.

The UK label Ample Play (that has some Cornershop connection) is making a tradition of putting out Christmas singles (and that's a tradition I definitely like!) and this year, they have two French indie bands who both wrote a Christmas original. The first one, Sudden Death of Stars, don't sing about the three wise men getting disorientated, as the Christmas star suddenly disappeared from the heavens, but about the fact that is never snows in Brittany, where the band is from. And if you can't have snow, 'What Is Winter Good For?' they are asking themselves and us. Well, not much, if you ask me: only for listening to nice Christmas songs, maybe... On the other side, Beat Mark take it one step further with their 'Christmas Blossoms' - they just move Christmas to the spring and if you do that, you will have blossoms at Christmas! That's something else than snowflakes! The bands plays nice dual female-male lofi indie pop.

As always, punk rock is well represented, as far as Christmas singles go. The funny thing is that, despite all punks claim they hate Christmas, also in the songs they are singing, there is no other music style that has so many bands recording Christmas songs every year.

Randale Records has put out a great Christmas tree shaped record two years ago, with Last Seen Laughing and The Gov'ners, and released another split this year, but now in the normal 7” format. It is called 'Yuletide Cheers & Oi', so you know where these bands are coming from. Germany's Evil Conduct Official make their own punked-up version of 'Silver Bells', with slightly changed lyrics, and I like it. The Old Firm Casuals , who feature a former Rancid member, sing about 'Father X-Mas'. I haven't heard that song yet, so I can't tell you if it is a cover of The Kinks song. Wouldn't surprise me if it is.

If it is, that will be the second punk band covering The Kinks this year, as Bad Religion also recorded 'Father Christmas'. Their version did not appear on their Christmas album, but on a one-sided limited 7”, that shows Santa Claus smoking a cigarette on the front cover. Bad Religion's version of The Kinks classic is not bad at all, but, let's face it, no band will ever come close to the brilliant original of The Kinks, who gave it a punk attitude without being a punk band – although they did record and release it in exactly that time in history when punk broke. But more about that in a few days.

We have one other split-7” left, and that is by hardcore punk veterans Poison Idea, who are found side by side with the Angry Snowmans, a punkband that is all about Christmas. Poison Idea cover 'Santa Claus Is Back In Town', a song they already recorded several years ago. And Angry Snowman sing about 'Sugar Plums'. TKO Records has put it out, and it comes in three versions: the traditional Christmas colours red and green, and in candy cane coloured vinyl – that is,white with some nice red spots. If you are a collector: get them all, I would say!

Last year, Fat Wreck's flagship No FX put out a Christmas 7”, now it is Masked Intruder turn. On pictures, the band look like a male version of Pussy Riot, but unfortunately, they don't seem to share their politics. Their 7” is one of the very few punk releases this year that is all positive about Christmas and especially about Santa Claus, as they admire him being able to break into so many houses on one single night. Uhm. In spite of this, their 'Under The Mistletoe' (not a cover of the song of The Silhouettes, by the way) is your usual 'I miss you as you not with me this Christmas,baby-song. Its seems that she chose to get sunburned on a Waikiki beach instead. Who could blame her? Musically, the song is totally poppunk and it has bells – of course! On the flipside the Masked Intruders do their own punked-up version of 'Silent Night', and complain about the cops, who don't let them steal from the 'rich kids', despite the fact its Christmas.

One of the more well known bands to do a Christmas single this year is !!! (pronounce chk chk chk). The title of their Christmas song is 'And Anway It's Christmas', and it was put out in a limited run of 100 copies on Warp Records. It just came out and I see it available everywhere, but I guess you have to be quick if you want to get a copy of that 7”. It's worth it, as it's a melancholic, yet very poppy electronic song, with some nice jazzy piano parts, that seems perfectly fit for a late night spin on your turntable, while outside the snow is falling down. On the flip, they do a dub version of the song. At least, that is what I guessed from the titled, as I haven't heard it yet.

Last year, Jeff Hershey and the Heartbeats recorded a song called 'Santa Claus Is A Monster' for a CD compilation. The song now appears on the A-side of a single on German label Soundflat Records, coupled with two covers of The Sonics on the B-side: “Santa Claus” and “Don't Believe In Christmas”. I like the soulful original, that paints an awful picture of Saint Nick, who turns out to be a slave driver for his Elves, and behaves like a criminal. So I guess Masked Intruder where right in their admiration for him. One of the better Christmas singles I heard this year.

Another Christmas single that I like a lot is by The Hollyberries, a Christmas surf pop band from the USA, and actually a one-man project by former L.A. Punk band Shock-founder and -guitarist Kip Brown, with several guest vocalists and musicians. It has four songs, as far as I know all originals, that have been recorded from 2009 to 2012 and so far, have only been available digital, of which three have a Christmas theme: the title track '(I Wanna Go) Surfin' With Santa!', (C'mon-a) Surfin' Christmas Holiday' and 'Santa's Supersonic Flying Rocket Sled'. The fourth song is more of a typical Summer-y surf song: 'Boards & Bikinis Rule (Down At Malibu). The songs are a cross of poppy surf and the early 60s girl group sound, so perfectly fit for Christmas, and the record comes on 'surf foam' blue & white-vinyl. It has been put out on California (what else) label Freakbeat Records, and seems to be as good as sold out. Get a copy of it while you can!

So far, I have stumbled upon one not-English sung Christmas song, by a Portugese artist named Miguel Ângelo (I wonder if that is his real name). His Christmas single 'O Tua Natal' (which translates as 'Christmas Viewing') is a friendly poppy sounding feel good rock & roll-song. It's backed up by an instrumental version on the B-side. I like the way he put the Christmas tree in the cover art of his single.

The last new Christmas single I want to list features another track that has been part of a compilation last year. Both single and compilation were put out by US label Flannelgraph Records. The single is by Loren Connors, is titled 'Christmas Day', and it's a short (1.39 minutes) experimental instrumental piece, that doesn't really brings any Christmas assocations to me, when I listen to it (although, it definitely sound melancholic, and Christmas can be a time for melancholy). The B-side has the same piece, but in the original VHS transfer version. But it's a charity release, and together with the title, this does make it a real Christmas release in my book anyway! So if you want to try something completily different for Christmas this year, check it out.

Every year, there are also one or two re-issues. So far, I've spotted one, that came out as part of Record Store Day's Black Friday release wave: two tracks of the classic Vince Guaraldi Trio (Fans of Vince Guaraldi) soundtrack of the Snoopy Christmas movie. I love the movie, I love the music and I love this single, which comes in a very nice picture sleeve, with all the Peanuts gang around the Christmas tree on the front cover. The song features the movie hit 'Linus And Lucy' and another instrumental jazzy original 'Oh, Good Grief' on the B-side. Definitely one of my favorite Christmas singles this years.

So, including the Smoke Fairies, The Garlands, The Miserable Rich and The Silhouettes Christmas singles singles, that makes eighteen 2013 Christmas singles so far, which is not bad at all, and hopefully I'll find some more.

If you know of any other 2013 Christmas (vinyl) singles, please let me know!

dinsdag 10 december 2013

Jona Lewie: Stop The Cavalry b/w Laughing Tonight (UK, Stiff Records, BUY 104, 1980)

The song that The Miserable Rich has chosen for the B-side of their single was one of the biggest Christmas hits of the early 1980s. Featured as side A on a 7” of Southampton singer/songwriter Jona Lewie, and issued on the Stiff Label, the single reached number 3 in the UK Singles Chart in December 1980. Hadn't it been for John Lennon being shot on December 8, the single had probably been a genuine Christmas number one, as it were two John Lennon reissues that keept the song from the number 1 spot. The single was issued in many other countries and reached the Top 10 in a total of 11 countries, among these The Netherlands and Germany and the Top 3 in Australia. It didn't chart in the USA, though.

Jona Lewie, whose real name was John Lewis, was not exactly a newcomer to music when he scored his biggest hit with 'Stop The Cavalry'. In the late 1960s, he was active as a blues and boogie singer and piano player, and he contributed compositions and recordings to various compilations. Jona joined the blues band Brett Marvin and the Thunderbolts in 1969 and a vocalist and pianist, and stayed with them until 1973, in the proces scoring a few hits, of which one, 'Seaside Shuffle', a Lewie composition, released by the band under the name of Terry Dactyl and The Dinosaurs, reached number 2 in the UK Chart.

Jona Lewie recorded some solo singles between 1974 and 1976 for Sonet, played in the shortlived band The Jive Bombers and some succes in Europe with solo singles 'Cherry Ring' and 'Come Away''. In 1977, Lewie signed to Stiff Records. His first hit for Stiff was humorous synthpop number, 'You'll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties', co-written by fellow Brett Marvin member Keef Trouble. 'Stop The Cavalry' was his next hit for Stiff. The single had the non-Christmas song 'Laughing Tonight' on the B-side.

Although the song was not intended as a Christmas song, but as a anti-war protest song, Stiff decided to release it as a Christmas single in November 1980 (as Buy 104). The line 'Wish I was at home for Christmas' and the brass band arrangements gave it a Christmas feeling, and the fact that the song did so well in the charts in December 1980 proved the label right. The song starts out with a reference to Winston Churchill, and in the first few lines seems to be about a soldier in a winter during the second world war. But the references in the rest of the song make it more a universal song, not located at a specific moment in time. Most clear in 'I had to fight, almost every night – Down throughout these centuries', while the title of the song, repeated several times at the end of most couplet, is as reference to pre-20st century wars. Jona Lewie himself later described the song's soldier as being "a bit like the eternal soldier at the Arc de Triomphe".

The line 'Mary Bradley waits at home – In the nuclear fall out zone' does make the song a very much early 1980s song. The fear of a nuclear war was everpresent in the early 1980s, while it is commonly believed that Mary Bradley refers to the London male transvestite prostitute and traversite Martin Bradley, who used to hang out in pubs and clubs in the South London of the 1970s and 1980s. Who Luzar and Jim are, who have tea when another bomb falls on another town, is less clear, nor why Mary Bradley had to wait two years. Maybe Jona Lewie will once reveal these secrets.

As for the music, it is believed that the song's melody is loosely based on a theme from Swedish Rhapsody No. 1 (also known as Midsommarvaka), written by Hugo Alfvén in 1903, while other parts of the song bear a resemblance to Mozart's Rondo in D Major, K382.

The song had been such a big hit, that Stiff decided to release another version of the song a year later. This version was sung by the Gwalia Singer, a Welsh male voice choir, who were accompanied by the Cory Band. Unfortunately for the label, that version of the song did not chart. Over the years, 'Stop The Cavalry' has become a real Christmas standard, which is funny when you know that it was never intended as a Christmas song in the first place.

You can listen to Jona Lewie's version of 'Stop The Cavalry' here:
Jona Lewie version

You can listen to the version by The Miserable Rich here:
The Miserable Rich version

maandag 9 december 2013

Ella Fitzgerald: The Secret Of Christmas b/w The Christmas Song (UK, His Masters Voice, 45 POP 686, 1959)

Snowflakes Christmas Singles celebrates the Christmas single in two ways. By the Singles Club, aimed at releasing new and hopefully soon to be classic Christmas singles. And by documenting the Christmas singles from the past, especially those that deserve to be heard, also in 2013.

The first Christmas single that I like to write about, features my favorite Christmas song, the beautiful 'The Secret Of Christmas', sung by Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella Fitzgerald doesn't really need any introduction, as she was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, jazz singer of the 20th Century. As every famous jazz singer Ella has recorded a range of Christmas songs. Probably most famous is her 1960 Verve Christmas album “Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas”, including such standards as 'Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!', 'Sleigh Ride' and 'Winter Wonderland'.

The year before the album was released, Ella had recorded two other Christmas songs for Verve. On 3 september 1959, Ella entered United Records, in Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA and cut three tracks, arranged by Russ Garcia, and accompanied by his Orchestra. Besides swing standard 'Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar' (later B-side to Ella's single 'Like Young'), Ella recorded two Christmas songs: 'The Christmas Song', written by Mel Tormé and Robert Wells and a more recent song, 'The Secret Of Christmas'.

'The Secret Of Christmas' was written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen for Bing Crosby and was first performed by him in the 1959 20th Century Fox movie 'Say One For Me'. Bing Crosby recorded the song with an arrangement by Frank DeVol for a single that year released by Columbia Records. It interesting that Frank DeVol would also arrange Ella's Verve Christmas album the following year, but did not arrange Ella's version of 'The Secret Of Christmas'. Bing Crosby did record a second version of the song, in 1964, for the album 'The 12 Songs Of Christmas'.

In the United States, 'The Secret Of Christmas' was released as the B-side to 'The Christmas Song', as Verve V 10186. Also in other countries, like The Netherlands, 'The Christmas Song' was the A-side of the single (Verve VV 20.079X45). The British valued the beauty of 'The Secret Of Christmas', as Ella's UK label, His Master Voice, released the two songs on 7” (as 45 POP 686) and choose to make 'The Secret Of Christmas' the A-side of the single.

'The Secret Of Christmas' is a very simple song, without any couplets or refrain. The song is 2.45 minutes long, but listening to it, it is as if is even shorter. It starts out very quietly with Ella's voice and very minimal musical accompanement, and sums up all that Christmas isn't – “not the glow you feel, when snow appears”, “not the Christmas cards you've send for years”, “not the joyful sound when sleighbells ring or the merry songs children sing”. Slowy some bells and violins are turning up in the sound. When the song reaches its conclusion, the secret of Christmas is revealed: “it is not the things you do at Christmas time, but the Christmas things you do, all year through”. And is there really a better way to describe the spirit of Christmas?

For the completists, the recordings featured, besides Ella Fitzgerald on vocals, Russ Garcia (arr, cnd) and his orchestra, consisting of Pete Candoli, Philip Candreva, Buddy Childers, Stu Williamson (tp), Murray McEachern, George Roberts, Lloyd Ulyate (tb), Jay Corre, Chuck Gentry, Bill Holman, Ted Nash (ww), Mary Jane Barton (hp), David Frisina, Dan Lube, William Miller, Eudice Shapiro, Felix Slatkin (vl), Claude JR. Williamson (p), Herb Ellis (g), Red Mitchell (b), Tommy Shepard (eb) and Jack Sperling (d).

Unfortunately, the single did not chart, neither in the USA with 'The Christmas Song' as the A-side, nor in the UK, with 'The Secret Of Christmas' as the A-side.

You can listen to Ella Fitzgerald singing 'The Secret Of Christmas' here: Video