vrijdag 24 november 2017

The first 2017 Christmas singles: Backstreet Girls, Tarja, Residents and The Legendary Stardust Cowboy

Now that 2016 is out of the way, it is time to turn to the 2017 Christmas 7”'s!

Backstreet Girls: Christmas Boogie / A Merry Jingle (Universal Music Group, 602557441185, Norway, 45 rpm, limited to 500 copies)

Every year, several Christmas 7”'s are released as part of Record Store Day's Black Friday celebration. This year is no exception. More about that later. But what is rather unusual: this year's regular Record Store Day also brought a Christmas release. For the uniniated, Record Store Day usually takes place on the third Saturday of April. A bit early for a Christmas single. But not for the Norwegians, so it seems, as in Norway a genuine Christmas 45 was released for Record Store Day. Or, to be more exact, was re-released for Record Story Day. Originally, the single had been released in 1987, by a band called the Backstreet Girls.

This was typical a single where everything was different from what it seemed to be. The band was called the Backstreet Girls, but there was no girl to be found in the line-up. The single was called 'Christmas Boogie' / A Merry Jingle', but 'Christmas Boogie' was actually the song on the B-side of the single – or better, the AA-side, as the single was a double A-sider. A-side 'A Merry Jingle', a medley of 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' and 'Jingle Bells', that had first been recorded in 1979 by The Greedies, a band featuring Thin Lizzy singer Phil Lynott and members of The Sex Pistols. And AA-side 'Christmas Boogie' was more a dirty sounding rocker than a boogie song. A song that provokes images of men on motorbikes with leather jackets, sunglasses and serious beards, driving on dusty American highways. In Norway, that is.

Backstreet Girls was formed in 1984 in Oslo, Norway, by brothers Pål Kristensen (bass) and Tom Kristensen (vocals). Joined by guitarist Petter Baarli of the band Riff / Raff and, a little while later by his brother and Riff / Raff bandmate Bjørn Terje Baarli, the band started out playing local shows. Backstreet Girls, who probably took their name from the Rolling Stones song with that title, played boogie rock, inspired by bands like AC/DC and Status Quo, but injecting their sound with the energy of the Ramones. After trying out two different second guitarists in 1984 and 1985, they returned to a four member line-up. Backstreet Girls changed singers as fast as most other rock bands change drummers – the Christmas single was recorded with Bjørn Müller, who was already their fourth vocalist. 'Christmas Boogie / A Merry Jingle' was their debut for major Polygram, after they had released their first two albums on independent labels. Backstreet Girls would go on to become one of the most popular Norwegian rock bands, reason why 30 years after it's initial release Universal Music decided to re-release 'Christmas Boogie / A Merry Jingle' for RSD 2017, with the original artwork intact. The band is still active, with guitarist Petter Baarli as only remaining original member, although singer Bjørn Müller, who left the band in 1991, has joined the band again since 1995. The single has aged well, and still sounds powerful and fresh.

Tarja: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel / Ô Viens, Ô Viens, Emmanuel (Ear Music, 0212455EMU, Germany, 45 rpm, limited to 1000 copies)

Tarja: O Tannenbaum / O Christmas Tree (Ear Music, 0212454EMU, Germany, 45 rpm, limited to 1000 copies)

When I start thinking about bands or acts to ask for the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, I always make a shortlist. It's funny to see that two acts that were on my shortlist but who I eventually did not approach, actually release Christmas singles this season! And one of them, Finnish vocalist Tarja Turunen, even releases three singles! I did not contact her, as I felt she was 'too big' for a small indie label and also because she is signed by a quite big German label. Tarja, as she is simply known, came into the spotlight as singer of the very succesful Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish. She started her solo career in 2006, after she left Nightwish at the end of 2005. She had already recorded a solo single in 2004, a Christmas single, titled 'Yhden Enkelin Unelma' ('One Angel's Dream'), with two songs, 'Kun Joulu On' ('When It's Christmas') and 'En Etsi Valtaa, Loistoa' ('I Don't Search For Power And Glory'), that sounded like classical Christmas hymns. It was a big hit in Finland, went Gold, and charted again when re-released in 2005. At the end of 2006, Tarja released her first solo album, 'Henkäys Ikuisuudesta', a Christmas album that was more pop orientated than her 2004 Christmas single, alhough it also had some more classical sounding songs. The album mostly had covers of well known Christmas song, some with Finnish lyrics, some with English lyrics (like Abba's 'Happy New Year', that was chosen as single of the album, and was partly sung in English and partly in Spanish). It also included two originals. It was a kickstart of her solo career, as the album went to number 2 in the Finnish album charts and sold more than 50.000 copies. Tarja's next album, 'My Winter Storm' continued the winter theme. The album had a variation of styles, and was another chart success, a number 1 in Finland, but also in countries like Russia, the Czech Republic and Austria it sold very well. Tarja's next album was the first that was not Christmas- or winter-related, but she returned to Christmas music in 2009, when she contributed three songs to the charity Christmas album 'Maailman Kauneimmat Joululaulut' ('The World's Most Beautiful Christmas Songs'). These three songs were also released on a CD-single, in Argentina, where Tarja was living at the time. After several year's without any Christmas related releases, Tarja released her first full-on classical album in 2015, a record that had twelve different variations of 'Ave Maria'. And now, in 2017, Tarja released her second Christmas album – a total different album than her first from 2006.

The album, that was officially released November 17 on her German label Ear Music (part of the Edel Music Group), is called 'From Spirits And Ghosts', and is subtitled 'Score For A Dark Christmas'. In a way, it is a return to her Nightwish years, as it mixes classical music with gothic influences. What is missing from the mix is the metal part. The loud guitars are replaced by big orchestral arrangements, done by Jim Dooley. Dooley is also responsible for the music of the Pushing Daisies television series, and has done orchestral arrangements for several previous albums of Tarja. Dooley knows perfectly how to come up with the right arrangements for Tarja's voice.

Some of the songs on 'From Spirits And Ghosts' are traditional Christmas carols/hymns, like 'We Three Kings' and 'Pie Jesu', but the album has also more secular Christmas songs like 'Have Yourself A Merry Christmas', album closer 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' and even 'Feliz Navidad'. The album also includes one original song, 'Together'. 'From Spirits And Ghosts' comes in a gothic-styled cover, with Tarja all dressed in black, looking quite scary, with a dark background with some burning candles – black candles, of course. According to Tarja, the album is meant to explore “the other side of Christmas. The Christmas of the lonely people and the missing ones. The Christmas for those that do not find joy in the blinking lights and the jingle bells”. Long, long ago, an album was accompanied by a single, to promote the album, and that was it. But not in 2017. This album can be ordered in several different package deals, including a t-shirt, posters, a signed Christmas card and even a graphic novel and a photo book. That's all nice, but unimporant compared to the decision of Ear Music to also release three 7” singles! At least, for a Christmas 45 addict like me. Each single has one song of the album, in two different version – the version on the album and an alternative version. Tarja looks quite different on the singles than on the album: dressed in white, with white hair, a bit like a ice queen. Which is a song by another legendary gothic metal band, by the way, Within Temptation, but now we are going off-topic here...

The first single of the three singles was already released on October 6, and had two versions of 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel'. The album opener and first single is perfectly representative of the album. It is definitely dark, but also has a outworldly beauty, a result of the combination of Tarja's flawless vocal delivery and mostly subtle orchestral arrangements. It's perfect fitted for a dark and cold Christmas night and one of the strongest versions I know of this song – one of the Christmas hymns that never was one of my favorites, but Tarja's version changed that. By the way, it is funny to know that this album was not recorded in the middle of a cold Finnish winter, but in the middle of the Caribbean Summer. To quote Tarja: “Producing a dark Christmas album in the middle of the summer is a very interesting process, especially if you are doing it by the turquoise Caribbean Sea. Significantly different from the snowy Christmas that I am used to in my home country Finland. Another proof that the darkness comes from deep within.” On the B-side of the single, Tarja proofs she knows her languages, and does a French version of the song: 'Ô Viens, Ô Viens, Emmanuel'. The video sees Tarja, ice queen-style, singing the song in a wintery landscape.

The second single of the album was released three weeks later, on October 27. A cover of 'O Tannenbaum'? One of those Christmas songs I never could take seriously, and that I never heard a version of that really made me think: wow, what a great song this is! Okay, the version They Might Be Giants recorded for their 1993 Christmas single was funny, but it did not make me change my opinion about this Christmas song. But that all has changed now. When you cover a song, you can just try to sound as the original. But that is rather useless, because it does not add anything to the song, and you will never be able to top the original in the first place. You can also try to cover a song in your own style – like if you are a punk band, play a song that is not a punk song as a punk song. That is already has a little bit more useful, but it's still not really original. And probably another punk band has already done it before. You can also try to re-interpret the song, play with a different arrangement, do a few subtile changes in the lyrics, and in that way, you still stay true the original, but you also make the song your own. Most of the best cover songs are done in that way. But you can also take it one step further, and re-invent the song. Actually make the song better. And that is exactly what Tarja and arranger Jim Dooley have done with 'O Tannenbaum'. It is definitely the best version I have ever heard of this song, and takes it to a complete new level. Altbought I can imagine it is not for everyone, also because of the almost Wagner-like orchestral break in the middle of the song. On her website, Tarja explains she wanted to do the version in German 'because it brings me beautiful memories from the time I was living and studying in Germany. I heard the song frequently back then.' She describes it as 'an intense and dark war battle that will blow you away'. And, yes, it did. For those of you who rather prefer an English language version of the song, just turn over the 7”, and there you find it. But really, this song needs the German language to make it all complete. After all, that was also the language it was originally written in. Knowing the history of the song, describing it as a dark war battle is even not that far from the truth. The song is based on a 16-th Century Silesian folk song, written by Melchior Frank, 'Ach Tannenbaum'. In 1819, inspired by this folk song, Joachim August Zarnack wrote a tragic love song, that contrasted the 'faithful' fir tree, that always stays green and firm, also in the hard times of winter, with a faithless lover. Five years later, Leipzig organist, teacher and composer Ernst Anschütz rewrote it, and added two new couplets. As in the 19th century the custom of the Christmas tree developed, the song became seen as a Christmas carol, and in the 20th Century, the 'true' of the leaves changed to 'green'. But Tarja's version brings it right back to its dark origins.

In the video, the black and white Tarja's sing the song together.

The third single will be released in December – so we need a little bit of patience, also because it is not made public yet which of the 10 other songs of the album will be featured on this single. But that only makes it more exciting.

You can still order the complete package of the three singles through Tarja's official webshop

The Residents: Santa Dog 17 / Fire (Psychofon, PR016, Germany, 45 rpm)

So, the three Tarja Christmas singles were already a very nice surprise, and soon after I found out about Tarja and her singles, there came another nice surprise: the legendary American avantgarde collective The Residents was going to release a new version of their classic 'Santa Dog' for Christmas 2017. For those who think – 'The Residents? Never heard of', a small history lesson. We go way back in time, to 1972.

On December 20, 1972 packages were send out to about 300 adresses all over the United States. All these packages contained the same item, a 7” record. Or better, two 7” records, in one gatefold sleeve. Many packages arrived at the doorsteps of people from the art and music scenes. Frank Zappa was send a package. And even president Richard Nixon was send a package (He returned it unopened). The sender of these package was Residents, Uninc. After opening the package, the receiver found a silk-screened gatefold sleeve that resembled a (rather large) Christmas card of an insurance company. The title on the card, 'Santa Dog', was an anagram of 'Satan God'. On the outside of the card was a dog, dressed up as Santa, with bones all around him, plus a few Christmas decorations. The inside included the message 'Season's Greetings, Residents, Uninc', surrounded by 50s style drawings of accidents causing damage, with below each picture a description of the cause of the damage: fire, explosion, lightning and aircraft damage. The four descriptions returned on the labels of the two 7”'s, each label carrying one of the descriptions, that turned out to be the title of the songs, with below the title, a name of what probably was the band perfoming the song. Respectively Ivory And The Brain Eaters, Delta Nudes, The College Walkers and Arf And Omega. All bands nobody had ever heard of before, with rather weird names. But the weirdest part was yet to come, and that was the music. What to think of the first song, 'Fire', very repetitive with a very unusual sounding voice, that was not really singing, but also not really talking. With lyrics that went 'Santa Dog's a Jesus Fetus / Has no presents / Has no presence / In the future...', and 'A fleeting and a sleeting scene of snowness severed sleeves', which was repeated six times, and was followed by 'Bing, Bing, Bing, Bong, Bong, Bong, Snowness severed sleeves'. It also featured some xylophonic echoes of 'Jingle Bells', so there could be no understanding that this was really meant as a Christmas song. And the rest of the songs (if you could call them that) were even more strange: the melody of Jingle Bells, barking dogs, a cacafony of strange noises and voices, old movie samples, African sounding percussion, it was all there. According to its creators, the single was about 'a weiner dog in a Santa suit'. Absolutely the most avantgarde Christmas single ever made, at least, when it was orignally released in 1972.

The ones responsible for all this was this avantgarde collective / band called The Residents. 'Santa Dog' was the vinyl debut of band, that took their name from a rejection letter they received of Warner Bros. executive Hal Halverstadt, after they had send him a reel-to-reel tape with some of their music. As the band had not included a name with the return address, Halverstadt had simply put 'for the attention of the residents' on the enveloppe. At least, according to the official biography of the Residents. As with everything the band claims, the question is if it really happened that way, or if it is just a made up part that fit in well with the whole concept of the band. Another important element of the concept of the band was that the members kept their identity hidden. It was even not known how many members the Residents had. On photos, the members appeared dressed in top hat and tails, with helmets on their head, helmets that look like a big eye ball. It is believed that the members of the Residents originally hail from Shreveport, Louisa, and in 1966 moved to California, where they started to experiment with different art forms: tape loops, photography. In 1969 they were joined by British guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Phil Lithman (aka Snakefinger) and the German avant-gardist N. Senada, who had a big influence on the band, that started to focus more on making music and sound collages, that they recorded on tapes. In 1971 the Residents did their first live shows and in 1972, they moved to San Francisco and formed their label, Ralph Records. It was around this time the band also put out the Santa Dog single.

Although 'Santa Dog' was far from catchy or commecial, the first piece of the disk, 'Fire', has been covered quite some times. All by the Residents themselves. In 1978, six years after the initial release of the double 7”, the Residents released 'Santa Dog '78', with an updated version of the song 'Fire' on the A-side, and the original version of the song on the B-side. As the style of The Residents had changed substantially over the years, the band felt it would be a good idea to re-record 'Fire' as 'Santa Dog '78', in a version that would be more representative of their current style, and so they did. The record was packed in a card box sleeve, with four weird looking Santa Claus figures on the front cover (representing the four members of the Residents), a message on the back cover, pressed in an edition of 2700 copies and send out the their mailorder customers as a Christmas present. According to the text on the back, the Residents had decided to record the song again as 'a tribute to the innocence of their former days'. Although it would almost seems impossible, the 78 version of 'Fire' sounded even more weird than the 1972 version had, with nasal-sounding vocals, high-pitched backup vocals that were almost harder in the mix than the lead vocals, and all kind of strange sound effects. The '72 version of 'Lightning' on the B-side was mastered at 40 rpm, so when you played the B-side on 45 rmp, it played a little bit faster than the original version had.

The Residents would record several more versions of the song, in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1999 (all these were compiled on a 1999 CD with all available versions of 'Santa Dog' until then), 2000 and 2006, but none of these versions have been released as a 7”. But now, after vinyl made such a glorius come back in the last five years, the band felt it was time to record another version of 'Santa Dog' and to release it in the best way possible. On a 7” vinyl single. The make the circle complete, the single has the original version of the song, 'Fire' from the 1972 double 7”, on the back.

We live in dark times, and that is not only reflected by Tarja's record, but also by the Resident's 2017 version of 'Santa Dog'. The song starts out with spooky sounds, a howling dog, and a slow, industrial sounding rhythm. It reminds me in a way of a song by another avantgarde band, 'Die Liebe' by Laibach. The members of the Residents must be well into their sixties, or maybe even in their early 70s – so it is no surprise that the voice sounds like the voice an old man. Something that is probably done intentionally, as the Residents don't hide that they are not in their 20s anymore. Halfway through the song, after 'Santa' is repeated a few times, the atmosphere changes completely – the speed goes up, the industrial rhythms are replaced by (mechanical sounding) handclaps and it starts to swing. As far as a Residents song can swing, of course. Until a rather explosion is heard, and there is another change of atmosphere: the music now sounds melancholic and a voice tells the continuation of the story of Santa Dog. As always with this band, it is different from anything else you have heard.

You thought that Tarja was overdoing it with all the different package deals? Wait until you see the different options The Residents and their label Psychofon Records present to buy this new version of Santa Dog. A regular black edition, a limited edition in green vinyl (limited to 100 hand-stamped copies and 10 euro more expensive than the already expensive 16,99 euro of the regular edition), a limited edition in red vinyl (again hand-stamped and limited to 100), a collector's edition (that comes in a 10" box, and is limited to 200 copies) and a die hard edition, that is limited to 45 handnumbered copies - what it exactly is, is still a secret, and if you want to know, you must be willing to spend 99,99 euro on the 7". Expensive? Well, not if you compare it to the 2000 euro someone is asking for the 1972 original on Discogs...

Unfortunately, the 2017 version is not yet to be found on the internet, so we leave you with the B-side, 'Fire', the original Santa Dog.

The Legendary Stardust Cowboy: Twas The Night Before Christmas (Flexi Disc, Vollmond Flexis, VF-001, USA, 45 rpm, limited to 500 copies)

A flexi disc is of course not a vinyl disc. Still, I decided to write a few words about The Legendary Stardust Cowboy's flexi, as it is just too nice to not bring to your attention. The Legendary Stardust Cowboy (real name: Norman Carl Odam), who already used that name in 1961, when nobody knew him, is now truely a legend. He came into the public spotlight by the song 'Paralyzed', or well, song... anyway, since then, he build himself a career, and is even seen as one of the originators of the psychobilly style. The red flexi-disc, that is packed in a beautiful looking 7” sized Christmas card has The Legendary Stardust Cowboy's reading of the famous Christmas story 'Twas The Night Before Christmas', that was recorded for KMSU Radio on December 7, 2011. The song has some sounds played in the background by Kat Baumann, but is mostly the Cowboy's voice telling the story. The card comes with a nice Christmas message by Odam. It's limited to 500 copies, quite cheap and can be obtained from Vollmond Flexis. You can even order five copies with a discount, so you can send it as a Christmas card to your friends!

That are all Christmas singles, apart from the three Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club singles (Bis, The Limiñanas with Pascal Comelade and Seafang) that currently have been released.

But there is much more on its way.

Today, it's Black Friday, and as part of Record Store Day Black Friday a total of 4 Christmas 7"'s will be released. Two split singles of Paul McCartney, that both have his 1979 Christmas hit 'Wonderful Christmastime' on the A-side. The first, that comes on green vinyl, as The Decemberists doing 'Jesus Christ' on the B-side. The second has Norah Jones on the B-side, witb a live recording of 'Peace'. Both are released by Capitol Records.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats will also release a Christmas-themed 7", that has two cover songs: Baby, It's Cold Outside on side A, and 'Santa Baby' on side B. The single is released by legendary soul label Stax.
Fourth and last 7" is by Detroit horrcore duo Twiztid, who 'Ain't Been Right' on the A-side, and team up with Blaze Ya Dead Homie for a 'Sad Christmas Song' on the B-side. Released by Majik Ninja. Run over to your local record store to score these four fine singles!

Talking about Paul McCartney and special releases: what to think of a box set, that for the first time brings together all seven Christmas flexis The Beatles released from 1963 to 1969. But this time pressed on coloured vinyl, with all singles packed in a nice looking picture sleeve, and coming with a 16-page booklet! This perfect Christmas present for every music lover will be released on December 15 on Capitol. Also for sale in yor

Of the regular suspects, that release Christmas singles every year, the Norwegian Nordpolen Musikklubb will release a 4-track mostly instrumental EP this year, titled 'Snowflakes' (I like that title!) by piano player Sven Erik Libæk. Comes in a beautiful cover and is already out. Jump Up Music will release the second volume of Christmas Inna Babylon Vol 2< by The Brooklyn Attractors. Don't know when this will be released, but I expect soon. Don't know yet what Kingfisher Bluez will release, but I am pretty sure there will be at least one new Kingfisher Bluez Christmas single this year!

What else do we have? Well, what about northern London indie trio Girl Ray, another band I considered asking for this year's Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club. But it turned out to be necessarily, as the three girls themselves decided to release a Christmas single, and kept well to the Snowflakes format, with an original on the A-side, '(I Wish I Were Giving You A Gift) This Christmas', and a cover, 'I'll Be Home For Christmas', on the B-side. Put out by one of the coolest UK indie labels, Moshi Moshi Records. Out December 8, but it can already be pre-ordered.
Another English indie band that brings out single that has some connection with Christmas is Martha. It's called 'The Winter Fuel Allowance Ineligibility Blues', but to be honest, apart from the title and the front cover, that has a Santa Claus picture if you look well, there is not really a connection to Christmas. It's the last single on indie label Fortuna Pop!, unfortunately. It's sold out with the band, but still to be found in several online shops.

Something completely else is the Christmas single by UK progrock band Big Big Train, that has 'Merry Christmas' on side A and 'Snowfalls' on side B. The single, put out on vinyl by Plane Groovy, comes in a beautiful gatefold sleeves, and is officially out on December 8. You can pre-order it through Burning Shed.

There is also a Japanese double-A single by Shun Ishiwaka, with one of the two songs, 'Christmas Song', being a, uh, Chrismas song. Although you wouldn't really guess from listening to this jazzy song. Put out by Octave and only to be found in Japan. The single was already released on September 27.

Last, we have a re-release of Emmylou Harris' 1975 Christmas single 'Light Of The Stable', but with a different B-side, her 1980 single 'Little Drummer Boy'. It is supposed to be released on Reprise Records in The Netherlands, but I haven't been able to track it down yet, so I don't know if it is already out.

That's was all as far as 2017 Christmas 7"'s goes for the moment. As soon as I have received some of the above mentioned Christmas 45s have arrived here, I'll come back to write a nice (hopefully) review.

zondag 19 november 2017

The last bunch of 2016 Christmas singles

Before turning to the new Christmas (vinyl) singles that 2017 will bring us - and there are some very exciting singles already out or on their way - I should first finish the overview of 2016 Christmas singles properly. Since the last post about singles released in 2016 several other singles have come to my attention - and been added to my collection.

I had set out to collect all the 2016 Christmas singles, and it took me to May 2017, but I think I have succeeded, give and take a few lathe cut singles (that don't count as it is no vinyl) and one single by a band that doesn't deserve a mention because of their shady politics. The photo above gives a nice overview, and shows that many artists really did their best to make the artwork of most of the singles look festive.

Hoshino Michiru: Suteki-Ni-X'Mas Night / Hoshi-Ni Merry Christmas (High Contrast Recordings / Vivid Sound Corporation, HCCD9581, Japan, 45 rpm)
The Japanese love the classic Christmas sound of Phil Spector. The Leaners' 2016 Christmas single was clearly inspired by Spector's wall of sound, and so is another 2016 Christmas single from the land of the rising sun. The Leaners chose to record two covers, but Hoshino Michiru has recorded two original Christmas songs. She sings both songs in Japanese, so I don't have a clue what they are about, but they do sound very festive, especially the song on the A-side, 'Suteki-Ni-X'Mas Night'. B-side 'Hoshi-Ni Merry Christmas', which, according to Google Translate, translates to 'Merry Christmas To The Stars' feels a little bit like a Summer holiday song, instead of a Christmas holiday song, with its reggae rhythm. But I do hear Hoshino sing 'Christmas' somewhere in the song, so it really is a Christmas song. Hoshino is no newcomer to music, she already released her first solo single in 2007, when she was 18 years old. Before starting her solo career, Hoshino was a member of Akihabara48 (AKB48), a Japanese idol group, that has their own theater in Tokyo. Hoshino was part of team A until her graduation in 2007. AKB48 seems to have dozens of teams, that all put out records. All teams seem to have their own team colour, and that of team A is pink. I don't know much about the Japanese pop music culture, apart from the fact that there seem to be hundreds of (mostly female) singers who all look very cute and make very sweet sounding (sweet as in candy) pop music. Hoshino is no expection. Over the years, she recorded several albums and released more than 10 singles. The front cover of her Christmas single has a drawing of a group of children singing in front of a house, with the family watching them on the doorstep, and also has a publicity photo of Hoshino lying on a black blanket, looking more seductive than festive. As with most Japanese 7"'s, a CD is included, so you can choose if you want to play the CD or the 7". The CD also has instrumental versions of both songs.

You can listen to short parts of both songs on Soundcloud:

Miss Chain & The Broken Heels / Shantih Shantih: Flow / Christmas Day (Wild Honey, WH-031, Italy, 45 rpm)
Italian label Wild Honey Records focuses itself on the poppy side of garage rock and on power pop, and has released albums by the likes of Deniz Tek, The Peawees, The Midwest Beat and The Rubinoos - yes, that powerpop band that was responsible for the original of 'I Think We're Alone Now'! Besides albums, the label also releases 45s, most of those being stuck in a company sleeve, that resembles a honeycomb, with fitting labels. For Christmas 2016, Wild Honey Records released a special Christmas 45, that was included as a gift in orders around Christmas time. A very nice gesture! This 45 came in the same Wild Honey company sleeve, but the labels had a special Christmas design. The single was a split between Italian band Miss Chain & The Broken Heels and the Atlanta, Georgia-based Shantih Shantih, with Italian born Anna Barattin on vocals. Of the two songs, only the Shantih Shantih song 'Christmas Day' is really a Christmas song, but also Miss Chain & The Broken Heels 'Flow' is well worth hearing. Both songs are clearly influenced by the psychedelic side of the 1960s, with organs, somewhat dreamy female vocals and jangling guitars. I don't know if the single is still available, but it is well worth tracking down!

Listen to both songs on Bandcamp<:

Robb Johnson and the Corbynistas: JC4PM For Me / What Would You Like For Christmas? (Irregular, IRR2016V, UK, 45 rpm)
Even those of you who do not live in the UK know that the UK has been going through some turbulent times in the past years, with the Brexit and a change of Prime Minister. Just as the USA (and several European countries), Great Britain seems to have made a swing to the right, and just as in the USA, there was an eldery guy presenting an alternatve. In the US it was Democrat politician Bernie Sanders, who turned out to be a serious contender for the Democratic nomination for the 2016 presidential elections. And in the UK it was Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Both Sanders and Corbyn have been very popular among young people, despite their old age and the fact their politics mostly seem inspired by previous century Social Democracy. Robb Johnson, as much a political activist as a singer/songwriter, decided it would be a good idea to team up with some other supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, to record a Christmas song, and try to make it the UK Christmas number one, in the process raising money for the Trussell Trust, an organization fighting hunger and poverty in the UK. At the same time, the record could be used to raise the morale of Labour Party supporters, and to support the leadership of Corbyn, as he had received a lot of criticism for not taking a clear enough stand against Brexit. The song, 'JC4PM For Me' was also released on a 7" single, limited to 300 copies. The single was released under the name Robb Johnson and The Corbynistas. The Corbynistas featured English actress Maxime Peake, legendary punk poet Attila The Stockbroker, jazz singer Fae Simon and the dog Basil, among others. The bunch shot a Christmas video. Despite the support of the Stand Up For Labour-campaign, it turned out there was no Christmas number one for the Corbynistas. If Johnson and his friends really wanted to be a serious contender for the Christmas number one, they should have recorded a more modern sounding song, as this sing-a-long Christmas song, with lyrics that were mainly about Corbyn's political ideals, and only used Christmas as a reference here-and-there, sounded a bit as if it had been buried for a long time under many layers of dust. It missed the energy and fighting spirit that is needed to fight the establishment... be it the X-Factor winners who the song had to complete with for the Christmas number one, or the Toriess, that Corbyn was not able to kick out of Downing Street 10 in the (unexpected) 2017 General Election. We also know Johnson can write better Christmas songs than this one, as is proven by his great 2014 Christmas single 'Make Believe / When My Grandfather Played Football'. Anyway, if you are in for some political motivated Christmas nostalgia, the video of 'JC4PM' will give you just what you need.

Watch the video on Youtube:

The K.B.'s / Karate Boogaloo: These Are The J.B.'s/The Joy Of Giving (The Drummer Some) (Northside, NR014S, Australia, 45 rpm)
As far as spirit and energy go, that is something the two songs on Australia's instrumental funk group's Karate Boogaloo single are definitely not lacking. The single was released to commemorate the tenth anniversary of te passing of the Godfather of Soul James Brown's, on Christmas Day 2006. The first 150 copies of the single came with a special festive looking sleeve, using artwork of Brown's 1968 Christmas album 'A Soulful Christmas'. On side A, Karate Boogaloo's, renamed for the occassion to The K.B.'s, cover The J.B.'s 'These Are The J.B.'s'. The song was recorded live in Collingwood with a studio audience, in that way perfectly capturing the spirit of James Brown funky soul. On side B, Karate Boogaloo, using their own name, recorded a James Brown inspired original, 'The Joy Of Giving (The Drummer Some)'. Both tracks are instrumentals. In fact, it is only the limited edition cover that makes the connection to Christmas, as both tracks are not really sounding like Christmas songs.

Get funky with Karate Boogaloo on Bandcamp:

The Wych Elm: The Wych Elm Presents A Wych Elm Christmas Carol EP. Tracks: The Blackest Friday - Santa's Watching You - Dragon's First Christmas - Coal / Claus (Unreleased, USA, 33 rpm)
It sounded like such a great idea. Des Moines, Iowa indierock/punk/noise/psychedelic/lofi/whatever-other-alternative-rock-music-style-you-can-think-of band The Wych Elm would release their 5-song 2016 Christmas 7" EP on candy cane-coloured vinyl, to make the record look even more festive. But when the vinyl arrived from the pressing plant, and the band put the record on the turntable to give it a listen, it turned out to have been a very bad idea. The combination of putting a lot of music on the record, and the coloured vinyl caused the records to sound quite bad. So bad that the band decided to scrap the idea of the Christmas EP. A pity, as the songs itself deserved better. Of course, being the completist I am, I started to bother the band to send me a copy of the EP. They were so nice to include a copy with their 'Crashberry Waltzes' 7" EP, that I ordered from them. The EP did not sound as bad as I had expected, but I totally understand why the band decided not to release it. The five songs show the many sides of The Wych Elm. 'Santa's Watching You' sounds like a hardcore punk song. 'The Blackest Friday' and 'Dragon's First Christmas' are psychedelic and punky lofi songs and my favorite 'Coal', the only song featuring female vocals, is a psychedelic and nostalgic sounding (murder) ballad. Fifth song 'Claus' takes up the complete B-side of the record, and sounds like a surrealistic noisy LSD-inspired trip. Not only does this record not really exist, the songs can also not been found online, so this is the big secret Christmas 7'of 2016!

We close this overview of 2016 singles with three lathe cut singles. I am not really a fan of lathe cut singles, as most of the time, the sound quality is so bad that it makes the aforementioned Wych Elm EP sound as stereophonic hifi. And as they are hand cut, they also can be expensive. And they are around in very limited numbers, so before you have learned about the record, it is already sold out. That can be very frustrating. There were two 2016 lathe cuts records that I liked so much that I still bought a copy, and one that I only learned about when it was sold out - otherwise I would definitely have bought a copy.

Sacha Mullin: Night Of Silence EP. Tracks: St. Lucia-Night Of Silence / Kissing The Christmas Killer - Gloria (Alumni Clash, XXAC-01EP, USA, 45 rpm, lathe cut)
In December 2015, Chicago Illinois singer/songwriter/pianist Sacha Mullin recorded a Christmas EP, featuring covers of Christmas or Christmas-related songs. Sacha was inspired to do the EP after spending a very inspiring St. Lucia Day with two relatives. He consciously choose to stay away from the all-too-well-known Christmas standards, and instead, selected some beautiful, but mostly obscure songs. The EP opens with Sacha's version of the carol of St. Lucia, which is combined with 'Night Of Silence', a counter melody of 'Silent Night' - featuring subtile piano playing. Next is 'Kissing The Christmas Killer', that was originally performed by Japanese singer Maaya Sakamoto for NHK's radio drama adaption of Sidney Sheldon's novel 'The Other Side Of Midnight'. Last song is the Pablo Sosa's 'Gloria', that is sung by Sacha without any musical accompaniment. In 2016, 25 transparant square lathes were cut of the EP - it is still avavaible.

You can listen to the complete EP on Sacha Mullin's Bandcamp:

Yawn Mower: Ruins Christmas EP. Tracks: Frosty The Snowman - Joy To The World - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town / Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer / Silent Night (Inthecloud, ITC-X03, US, Lathe cut, 33 rpm)
The duo Yawn Mower, based in Asbury Park in New Jersey, choose for a completely different approach on their 'Ruins Christmas' EP. The two went over to Hanger 1 - don't know if that really is a studio - and recorded five loud versions of some of the most well-known Christmas standards. It's just vocals, a very distorted sounding guitar, drums, and a few sound effects, but it works. The five songs were released on a black lathe cut 7" by Intheclouds. And for a lathe cut record, it sounds quite okay. Their steamroller approach of 'Silent Night' is something that should be heard! The record, of which 30-ish copies were cut, unfortunately seems to be sold out.

If you like your Christmas raw and punky, check out the EP on Bandcamp.

Evil Blizzard: (I Hope You Get) Nothing For Christmas / We Three Kings (Louder Than War, UK, Lathe Cut)
In 2014, Evil Blizzard released a CD single, 'Nothing For Christmas', that featured two carols ('O Come All Ye Faitful' and 'We Three Kings') and the title track, that was not a cover of the-naughty-kid song, made famous by Barry Gordon and Stan Freberg, but an original, the full title being '(I Hope You Get) Nothing For Christmas'. Evil Blizzard is from Preston, England, and are, well, a bit weird. To quote the band's website: "Preston's Evil Blizzard are truly an enigma. Four bass players, a singing drummer. An array of rubber masks that will give both children and adults sleepless nights for days on end - they are the most in~genious and charismatic live experience on the music scene today!". The band looks a bit like Slipknot, but they seem to take themselves a little less serious - after all, they are English. Anyway, their 2014 Christmas single was re-released in 2016 - that is, 38 lathe cut copies were made. According to Discogs, the single came on clear vinyl in a PVC sleeve with a printed title page insert. Half were given away as promos, the rest were made available to fan club members, with a couple being auctioned for charity. So after all, they are not that evil! I missed out this one, and only hope they will one day release it as a proper vinyl single. Definitely not something for everybody, but I like it.

Watch the video of the song on Youtube:

That's all! In total, 42 vinyl 7"'s have been released in 2016, even more than in 2015! And now it's waiting what 2017 will bring us, as far as 7" Christmas vinyl goes! I hope to post my first 2017 vinyl entry - apart from that about the Snowflakes singles - soon!

vrijdag 17 november 2017

November 17 - official release date of the 2017 Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club

Today the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club edition 2017 has been officially released! You can now buy the three singles in your local record shop (that is, if you live in the UK), but hurry, as two of the three singles are as good as sold out! I still have copies of the Seafang single here at Snowflakes HQ's, but single copies of the Bis and The Limiñanas with Pascal Comelade are all gone. And there are only three complete 2017 sets left! (at the moment I am writing this)

The official release date also means you can now finally listen to all three singles on the internet (and get them from all the well-known digital suppliers) for those of you who don't dig vinyl.


The Limiñanas with Pascal Comelade


Grab a set of 2017 at Snowflakes' Big Cartel while you can!