zondag 24 december 2017

Three more 2017 Xmas 7"'s: Joey Ramone, a Rick Parfitt remembrance EP and Amy Cannon

Yesterday, I thought I had covered all 2017 singles, but well, already one day later, I am back with three other Christmas singles – well, only two are really a Christmas single. The third one has one Christmas song and two non-Christmas songs, but as all three songs are listed as A-sides, and it is a charity release, I will write a little bit about it anyway. Also one of the other singles is a charity singles, and both these singles are by or related to musicians who are not among us anymore, here on this earth. The third single is a re-release of a single that was originally releaed in the early 1980s.

Joey Ramone: Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)
(Mutated Music Inc., USA, 45 rpm, red vinyl, 500 copies)

I always check the new single releases on Discogs, and that is how I discovered earlier today that a Joey Ramone charity Christmas single was released just a few days ago. As we all know, Joey Ramone was the lead singer of the Ramones, one of the most influential punk bands ever, who sadly died, aged only 49, in 2001. In 1987, his band released 'Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)', a Christmas song that would become one of the classic rock Christmas songs, and has been covered many times.

After the Ramones broke up in 1996, Joey started a solo career recorded a new version of the song produced by his brother Mickey Leigh, who also played guitar on the recording. This new version was much slower and less agressive than the original version had been, while Joey's voice also sounded much sadder. The song was posthumously released as a CD single for Christmas 2001, soon also a 7” version of the single appeared, but that turned out to be a bootleg. Ramone's version of the song finally got an official vinyl release in 2014, when it was included on a 5-song 10”, called 'Christmas Spirit... In My House', a repress on vinyl of a 2002 CDEP.

And now, the song is for the first time officially released on 7”, on red vinyl, and in an edition of 500 copies. The B-side was recorded in Joey's apartment, the previously unheard cassette demo of the version that became a Ramones classic. According to the words Mickey Leigh wrote on Joey Ramones' website, is this the recording the Ramones listened to the first time they heard the song. Recorded in Joey's apartment on a 4 track cassette recorder.

The single is not cheap, it costs 20 US dollar, but 100% of proceeds will be donated to the Red Cross of America, so I guess, the fact that is it more expensive, also means the Red Cross will get more, so I am not complaining. I guess they will be gone very soon, so if you want a copy, head over to the website of Joey Ramone, and order yourself a copy.

Listen to Joey Ramones version of the song here:

Walkway featuring John Coghlan / Massive Wagons / CJ Wildheart*, Boss Caine, Ben Marsden and Jason Hodgson with Sound Of Status and The Quo Choir: Rock Remembers Rick E.P., including Christmas Eve (Nanana)
(Barrel And Squidger Records, RIP RP 241216, UK, 33 rpm, black and blue vinyl, blue vinyl limited to 200 copies, black to 1000 copies)

On Christmas Eve 2016, so exactly one year ago, Status Quo singer and guitarist Rick Parfitt sadly passed away. He was already some time suffering from health issued and had been forced to stop performing with his band because of this, a few months earlier. To commemorate Rick's passing the 7” EP 'Rock Remembers Rick' has been released by Barrel And Squidger Records, an independent vinyl record label based in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England. The EP has three songs, 'Rain' by Walkway featuring John Coghlan, 'Back Too The Stack' by Massive Wagons and the song that is of interest here, 'Christmas Eve (Na Na Na)' by CJ Wildheart, Boss Caine, Ben Marsden and Jason Hodges with Sound Of Status and The Quo Choir.

In 'Christmas Eve (Na Na Na)', The song remembers how they heard the news, last Christmas Eve, that Rick had passed away, and how they lit a candle for him that evening. Rick Parfitt was first and foremost a guitarist, so the song features a lot of loud guitars and a sparkling solo by CJ Wildheart. That's good, as the guitars give the song an extra boost and prevent it from being overly sad. After all, Rick Parfitt himself was someone who enjoyed and celebrated life, so a sad song would not have been fitting. As a side not, Status Quo did release a Christmas 7” in 2008, the very festive sounding 'It's Christmas Time', that probably would have been a big hit if the band would have recorded it in their heydays, as it was catchy enough. 'Rock Remembers Rick' comes in a black and a blue edition. The EP is released in aid of children's cancer charity The Shona Smile Foundation. It can be ordered from the Barrel And Squidger's website.

Watch the video of 'Christmas Eve (Na Na Na)' on Youtube:

And see Rick Parfitt and his band mates in the video of 'It's Christmas Time'

Amy Cannon: Daddy's Coming Home For Christmas (Self-released, USA, 45 rpm)

A Christmas 7” that I seemed to have overlooked in my daily checks of Discogs is that by Amy Cannon (or Ami Cannon; the front cover lists her as Amy, but elsewhere I see her listed as Ami Cannon; her full name is Anne Marie Cannon). It is titled 'Daddy's Coming Home For Christmas', and it features two versions of the song: a piano version and a country version. The story behind the song sounds a bit like a classical Christmas story.

A long time ago, two girls, Amy and Mary (Owens), were living in an orphanage in Los Angeles. They became best friends. One day, a man came to the orphage and each child was allowed to request one gift for Christmas. Amy asked a guitar, as she wanted to learn to play guitar, to be a singer and songwriter someday. And yes, on Christmas Day, Mary got the present she longed for. The story does not tell if this man happened to have a long white beard and was dressed in red. Fast forward to the 1960s, the time of the Vietnam war. Amy's husband was fighting in Vietnam, and her daughter Danielle missed her father a lot. This inspired Amy, together with her BFF Mary to sit down and write a song for all the children who were missing their father, because of the war: 'Daddy's Coming Home For Christmas'. As Christmas stories should have a happy end, Danielle's daddy indeed returned, and the family was re-united.

Amy recorded the song, accompanied by Seattle pianist and arranger, Forrest Kinney. This version is on the A-side of the record. Amy would record the song again in 1982, this time backed by a country 'n western band. The country version of the song 'is dedicated to our courageous soldiers stationed all over the world, to their loved ones, and to our Gold Star families who have given so much to our country', to quote the artist. Both songs have been released before, probably in 1982, on a label called Cannique Publishing (or is that the name of the publishing company?) and are now re-released on 'a Limited Nostalgia Edition Vinyl 45 RPM of the original 7” record'. It can be bought from CDBaby.

The piano version sounds like a song from a 1970s musical, also because of the way Amy sings the song. Her voice sounds very pure and strong. The country version has a more full sound. In a way, this single is a bit of an artifact of the past, but as also today, in 2017, all over the world wars are happening, and because of it many people will not be with their loved ones... and I'm not only talking about soldiers here,as there are many more people who have been forced to fled from where they were living because of war, leaving loved ones behind - or even losing loved ones. You can listen to short previews of both songs on the website of CDBaby.

zaterdag 23 december 2017

Last bunch of 2017 Christmas 7'''s

So here we are with the last bunch of 2017 7”'s, at least, as far as the 7”'s that I know about, concerns. Most of these have already been covered by Christmas Underground or Christmas-A-Go-Go in the past few weeks, but in case you've missed them, and as I want to be as complete as possible, I will write something about those 7”''s anyway. But I'll start with a 7” EP that hasn't been covered elsewhere yet.

The Missile Toads: Sombertown's Most Wanted EP (Rebel Sound Music, US, ?? rpm, 500 copies)

As far as I am concerned, Christmas ain't Christmas without a new Christmas punk 7”. So far, this year, I've heard Christmas songs on 7” in many different styles, but punk hasn't been one of them. Fortunately, the fine folks of Rebel Sound Music come to the rescue.

Rebel Sound Music is a Rochester, New Hampshire-based label, that was formed when Black Hole Records and SkeleTone Records decided to join forces. Rebel Sound specializes in streetpunk, oi and 77-punk, and has put out records by bands like Abrasive Wheels, Menace, The Enemy, Vice Squad and The Warriors. The label also put out the last two editions of the 'Cashing In On Christmas'-compilations series. The first edition was released in 1996 by Black Hole Records, and featured punk and oi-band like The Wretched Ones, Lower Class Brats and Dead End Cruisers doing both covers and original Christmas song. The compilation also included classics like Thorazine's 'Merry Stupid Fucking Christmas' and The Showcase Showdown's 'Ho Ho Ho Chimihn', both songs that have also been released as 45s. In 2010, the second edition of the compilation series was released, and it became an annual tradition. After one year without a new compilation, Rebel Sound Music took over the series, and released new editions in 2015 and 2016, the edition of 2015 even on double-LP, as a way of making up for the 'lost year' 2014.

This year, there will not be a new 'Cashing In On Christmas'-compilation, but instead Rebel Sound releases a 7” EP of one of the faithful contributors to the compilation series, The Missile Toads (present on volume's 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7), The Missile Toads is a punk band in the same line as Angry Snowmans: a punk band started with the sole purpose of recording punk Christmas songs and playing punk Christmas shows. The Missile Toads are from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I guess some people who have been active in the punk scene of Philadelphia for a very long time, are involved in this project. In 2016, the band released a 4-song digital EP, and it is this EP that is now pressed on vinyl. The EP has four songs, three adaptions of punk songs and one original.

The title track, 'Sombertown's Most Wanted' is based on The Wretched Ones classic 1991 punk song 'America's Most Wanted' and shows that The Missile Toads know their Christmas classics. The lyrics are based on the story of the 1970 Christmas stop motion animated television special 'Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town', that in turn was based on the 1934 Christmas classic 'Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town', first introduced by Eddie Cantor on the radio that year, and recorded by tons of artists. It tells the story about how Kris Kringle became Santa Claus. The second song, 'Selfish Ways', based on 'Violent Ways' by Florida punk band Screaming Sneakers, and sung by a female vocalist, has more serious lyrics, and critizes the selfish attitude of people, especially during the holiday season: 'But you don't see their sorrow / They can barely live today / For them it's the same tomorrow / But for you it will be Christmas holiday'. After all, a real punk band also has something to say!

The story behind the third song, not a Christmas song but a Hanukkah-song, is rather complicated. First, there was a Canadian country and folk singer with the name of Stompin' Tom Connors, who wrote a song called 'The Hockey Song' (aka 'The Good Ol' Hockey Game') about ice hockey, the most popular sport in his home country. Then there was the Canadian punk band Nomeansno, knowning for playing complex structured punk. And then there were The Hanson Brothers, a-sort-of-Ramones tribute band, that happened to involve the members of Nomeansno. The Hanson Brothers opened their 1996 album 'Sudden Death' with a punkified cover of 'The Hockey Song'. And 20 years later, The Missile Toads take the Hanson Brother's version of the song and changed it into 'The Good Ol' Driedel Game'. Dreidel is the game played on the Jewish holiday of Hannukah, in case you are not so familiar with Hannakuh or dreidel. It is as catchy as The Hanson Brothers hockey version.

The last song, 'North Pole Riot Squad', again sung by a female vocalist, is an original, a midtempo oi-style song that questions the policy brutality. Police brutality is not only happening in the United States, as we can witness on television or on the internet, but also on the North Pole, as the song points out. Elves who drank a little bit too much egg nog or ate too much candy canes are falling victim to police brutality: 'A shout rings out in the cold still air / "Oi, what you doing there?" / But they answer way too slow / They're left bleeding in the snow'. Good that The Missile Toads stand up for those poor and innocent elves, who only want to have a good time! All in all a fine EP to punk up your Christmas party.

Listen to it and order a copy of the EP through the Bandcamp page of The Missile Toads

Marching Church: Christmas On Earth / Silent Night

(Sacred Bones Records, SBR194, USA, 45 rpm, 500 copies on red and on green vinyl)

Denmark's Iceage was one of the band's that made a lot of heads turn with their high energy mixture of postpunk and punk in the first five years of the 2010s. Marching Church started as a solo project of Iceage frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, but has evolved into a real band. After first recording for Danish indie label Posh Isolation, the band signed to Sacred Bones Records, who released their second album, 2016's 'Telling It Like It Is'. And also the band's 2017 Christmas single, 'Christmas On Earth'. 'Christmas On Earth' is a dark song, both lyrically and musically. The song tells the story of a father (probably a former convict) who kidnaps his kids, as he does not get to see them and he wants to spend Christmas with them. He know that their mother will be 'worried sick' and that the police is already after him, but still, he feels its his right to see his kids at Christmas time. The song has a returning piano motif that reminds me of the piano motif in The Pogues' 'Summer In Siam'. This motif and also the brass section (trumpet and saxophone) give the song a little bit light. Rønnenfelt puts his complete heart into the song. Let's hope it is not autbiographical. On the B-side, Rønnenfelt does a 'live karaoke' version of 'Silent Night', and that's exactly how it sounds. The record is pressed in an edition of 500 copies, 250 on red vinyl and 250, exclusive to Sacred Bones mailorder, on green vinyl. 100 copies of each colour came with a Christmas ornament. You can still get copies from Sacred Bones.

You can listen to the song on Youtube:

Tamu Y J'aime: Cantan A La Navidad
(El Nuebula Recordings , Spain, 45 rpm, 250 copies)

For the next Christmas single, we move to the southwest part of Europe and end up in Spain. Duo Tamu & J'aime have recorded a two track Christmas single, 'Cantan A La Navidad'. Tamu is Tamu Tamurai from Pamplona, Navarra, who is and has been a member of a range of Spanish garage rock, power pop and indie pop bands. J'aime is Jaime Cristóbal Urbicain, a Spanish musician, composer, producer and music journalist also based in Pamplona (Navarra), who recorded both solo and as a member of several pop, rock and surf bands. As Tamu Y J'Aime, the two go for a poppy sound, at least on the Christmas single. Both songs are clearly influenced by the 1960s (think The Beatles), with the Spanish language, the relaxed way of singing of Tamu and J'aime and the quiet pace adding a Southern European flavour to the songs. Of the two songs, 'Navidades Sin Ti' sounds the most festive, thanks to the harmony vocals and the sleigh bells. The record is packed in a very early 1980s looking cover and can be bought from the label that has put it out, El Nuebula Recordings. A nice record that will find its way to my turntable often, I think.

Listen to the single and order it on Bandcamp:

Mark Mothersbaugh: I Don't Have A Christmas Tree / Jingle Jingle Jingle
(Electronic Sound / Mutmuz Records, 109699, USA, ?? rpm, comes with issue 36 of Electronic Sound Magazine)

The English music magazine Electronic Sound has the usage to include a CD or a 7” with every issue of the magazine. With their December 2017 issue, Electronic Sound includes a Christmas 7” by Mark Mothersbaugh. Mark Mothersbaugh is the oldest of the three Mothersbaugh brothers who played in Devo, and together with Jerry Casale, the main force behind the band. Mothersbaugh has also released a range of solo records since the mid-1980s, with ambient and minimal music, and became a very successful soundtrack composer, responsible for recent soundtracks like The Lego Movie and Pee-Wee's Big Holiday. In 1999, Mothersbaugh released a Christmas album, 'Joyeux Mutato', and two tracks of that album, are now pressed on a 7", that comes in a picture sleeve designed by Mothersbaugh, who also is a painter, and Johnny Brewton. Both tracks on the single are not your usually Christmas songs. 'I Don't Have A Christmas Tree' is built around a mutated version of 'Silent Night', has all kind of weird electronic sounds, samples and rather funky sounding keyboards. And a returning very irritating ringtone (the song was recorded in 1996, when mobile phones still had those high pitched ringtones, that really could get on your nerves). B-side 'Jingle Jingle Jingle' has breakbeats, rave-synths and a corny sounding 'Jingle Jingle Jingle' and 'Jingle Bells'-chorus. Usually, the singles and CD's are also sold separately from the magazine, but as this single seems particular popular, so far, it is only sold as a bundle with the magazine, for GPB 9,99. You can get it in the webshop of Eletronic Sound.

Both songs can be found on Youtube:

Polish Club: Happy Holidays From Polish Club
(Island Records Australia, POLISH009, Australia, 45 rpm)

The Polish club is the Australian duo of singer and guitarist David Novak and drummer John-Henry Palak, based in Sydney. The two, who are comfortable being a duo just like The White Stripes, The Kills, The Raveonettes and Blood Red Shoes were/are, have been playing for some years now, and released their debut album, 'Alright Already', this year on Island Records Australia. The title of their album sums up the band pretty well: no-nonsense and fun rock 'n roll, with a, maybe typical Australian, down-to-earth attitude. The single is a double A-side, with one original song and a cover. The band's original song, garage rocker 'I Hate You But You Gotta Stay (On Christmas Day)' is, according to Novak, 'a tongue-in-cheek comment on how Christmas bring everyone together, regardless of how you might feel about them'. The other A-side is a very rocking cover of Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' (another modern classic that has been covered a zillion times by now), that comes with a video that features fans and family of the band, besides television personalities, crew members and even a member of Parliament, all mimicking a part of the song. You can get the single through the webshop of the band.

Watch the video for 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' here:

Here in Europe, we are not able to listen to the tracks of the single on Spotify, but maybe people in other parts of the world are more fortunate, so I'll include a link to 'I Hate You But You Gotta Stay (On Christmas Day)' anyway.

Susto: A Casual Christmas
(Amazon.com, USA, ?? rpm, picture disc, 300 copies)

Susto is an five piece indie rock band from Charleston, South Carolina, led by Justin Osborne, of indie rock band Sequoyah Prep School. Susto is around for a few years now, released a first album in 2013 and recently, in 2017, a new album, '& I'm Fine Today', on Acid Boys and Missing Piece Records. The band claims that their style is 'some kind of gospel', when asked. I would not call it gospel, but they do have some musical influences that also can be found back in gospel music. And Osborne was raised in a very religious family, and learned to sing and make music in church, another connection between the band and gospel music. Listening to their music, it is clear that the base is classic Americana, but the band mix it with subtile Carribbean rhythms, bluegrass, electronics and soul.

The Carribean influences come to the front in the opening song of the EP, a cover of 'Feliz Navidad'. Tarja did a total remake of the song, and so do Susto, but a completely different remake. Susto's version sounds like a chill out reggae song. It sounds like a song that is best suited to be played in a smokey nightclub on the beach of a Carribean island, not like a song for a Christmas party in the middle of winter. 'Feliz Navidad' comes with the video that sees the band playing in a nightclub, but, given the clientele, not a nghtclub situated on a Carribean island, but on the North Pole. We see a lot of elfs (rather rough looking, many with beards, all smoking, playing cards and gambling), Rudolph who seems to have had a sex change, and at the end, also Frosty turns up. I do wonder what that woman is going to do with the baseball bat at the end of the video, though.

The second song on the EP is an original Christmas song, 'R.I.P. Santa'. This song mourns the passing of Santa - no Carribean rhythms in this ballad, this is pure Americana, sad. The kind of song that is playing over and over again, while you drink yourself to sleep. Third song, 'Serial Monogamist' was already released as a digital single through Amazon in February of this year, and is not a Christmas song. Last song is a second acoustic version of 'Feliz Navidad'. The picture disc looks very seasonal and can be obtained through Acid Boys.

You can watch the video for 'Feliz Navidad' on Youtube

The sad 'R.I.P. Santa' is also on Youtube

vrijdag 22 december 2017

More 2017 Christmas 45s!

I want to finish my overview of 2017 Christmas singles before Christmas arrives, so in this post follows part of the 45s that I haven't written about yet, mainly the ones that I haven't seen covered widely on other Christmas music blogs. Tomorrow I hope to write about those 7”'s that you probably have already read about on other great sources for good new Christmas music, like my good friends of Christmas Underground and Christmas-A-Go-Go.

Mac Demarco: Wonderful Christmastime / I Was A Fool To Care
(Mac Demarco Fan Club Release, 2, USA, 45 rpm)

A few days ago I wrote a blog entry about the Christmas singles of Paul McCartney, and about the reissue of all seven Beatles flexi's that were send out to their fanclub members in the 1960s as part of a box set. That the tradition of sending out free records (be it flexi-discs or vinyl) to fanclub members isn't something from times long gone by is proven by >Mac Demarco, who send out a Christmas single to all his fanclub members this year. Funny enough, the A-side has a cover of a song by that same Paul McCartney, 'Wonderful Christmastime'. Canadian singer/songwriter Mac DeMarco released his fifth solo album, 'This Old Dog', earlier this year, that has been very well received, both by the record buying public and by the critics.

Demarco likes to joke around, on stage, online and also on recordings, and this single is again a proof of this. It comes in a picture sleeve with a drawing of a melded McCartney and DeMarco, with beer cans and cigarettes scattered on the ground, and flies in the air, while in the back of the cover, Demarco knocks out a Santa Claus who was just enjoying some milk and cookies. Demarco made a very minimal sounding version of 'Wonderful Christmastime', with just DeMarco's voice (sometimes delayed), a synthline and some children's voices (that could also be Demarco himself, with his voice speeded up) and later in the song, a short guitar solo. Very different from the version Paul McCartney did with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, that has also been released on vinyl this year. The B-side has Demarco covering a song of James Taylor, 'I Was A Fool To Care'.

Listen to the song on Youtube:

Blu & Exile: Christmas Missed Us
(Fat Beats / Dirty Science, SOM7001, US, 45 rpm, picture disc, 300 copies)

Besides the Twiztid Black Friday single, there is another hiphop group that released a Christmas 7”, a very festive looking picture disc, to be more precisely. It's by the American duo Blu & Exile, who takes care of the raps, and Blu, who is responsible for the beats. The duo released its debut album 'Below The Heavens' in 2007, and a second album 'Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them' in 2012. This year, Blu & Exile released their third album, 'In The Beginning: Before The Heavens', and this Christmas 45. The song on the 7” (in vocal and instrumental versions) is called 'Christmas Missed Us'. The press release described it as 'vintage B&E, packed wall-to-wall with Blu's signature flow and the sort of soulful, swung beat we've come to expect from Exile'. The music is definitely soulful, with handclaps and guitar picking. In the lyrics Blu is going all over the place - theorizing why Christmas missed them (did he ask too much?), finding himself all over the world (was it a dream?), childhood memories, and philosophize about the meaning of Christmas. And it even features a cameo of Santa Claus himself at the end of the song. The single is limited to 300 copies, and can only be obtained from FatBeats.com.

Listen to it on Soundcloud:

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats: Baby It's Cold Outside / Santa Baby
(Stax, 272, US, 45rpm, 3500 copies)

A Christmas 45 that is already out for some time, as it was released as part of Record Store Day's Black Friday's celebration is Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats's single, that has two covers of two Christmas songs that can be described as 'a-little-bit-naughty-Christmas-classics'. On side A, the band, joined by Julie Davis, covers 'Baby, It's Cold Outside', and on the B-side 'Santa Baby'. In these days of #metoo and one after the other scandall involving people from the world of media and politics being accused of sexual misconduct, it might be risky to cover a song like 'Baby, It's Cold Outside'. After all, by some the song is seen as a typical example of 'male predator behaviour' – man forces himself upon a woman, who wants to leave, while he tries to drug her to break her resistance. Others point out that there are enough indications that the woman wants to stay, but is mainly concerned about what other people will say. Whatever you think about the song, Nathaniel Rateliff choose to play it safe, and to turn the roles around. It is Julie who is trying to convince Nathaniel to stay. It's not the first time to song is sung in this way, I remember a rather hilarious live version from the early 1960s by Danish-Dutch duo Nina & Frederik, also released as a 45, who changed the roles halfway through the song (with Frederik impersonizing a stiff-upper lip Englishman who 'really can't stay').

The instrumentation of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweat's version is jazzy and fits the 'sitting-cosey-by-the-fireside'-atmosphere of the song very well. 'Santa Baby' is performed in the same laidback jazzy style, with Nathaniel getting into the Eartha Kitt role, without changing any of the lyrics – so yes, he has been a good girl. Sounds weird, giving Rateliff's raspy voice and physical appearance (beard, tattoo's and, judiging the front cover, a hairy chest). The single is released on the legendary Stax label. You can get a copy from your local record store. 3500 copies pressed, so no reason to be afraid it will sell out soon.

Listen to 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' on Youtube:

Listen to 'Santa Baby' on Youtube:

Shun Ishiwaka: Asa / Christmas Song
(Octave, OTS-122, Japan)

Every year, there are one or two Japanese Christmas 45s. This year is no difference. The first was already released several months ago by Shun Ishiwaka, and has a double A-side, with non-Christmas song 'Asa' on one side and a song called 'Christmas Song' on the other side. Shun Ishiwaka is a Japanese jazz percussionist and drummer, who started performing at a young age, and studied percussion at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA. Ishiwaka, who has won countless awards, released his first full lenght album 'Cleanup' in 2015. In 2016 he released the (digital) EP 'Songbook' and both songs of the 45 are taken from this EP. 'Christmas Song' has Ishiwaka not only handling drums, but also piano and cornet. Ishiwaka is also a member of CRCK/LCKS, a Japanese indiepop band, and is helped out by two other members of CRCK/LCKS on the song: Ryo Konishi supplies (vocoder) vocals Tomoni Oda some chorus vocals. The song starts with percussion, as could be expected from a percussionist, that stays upfront throughout the song, while the piano that is used in parts also as a percussion instrument, adds a melodic touch. The vocoder vocals and the keyboards that turn up later in the song give it a somewhat futuristic feel. 'Christmas Song' mostly seems to be a song about wanting to be with your loved one, and besides 'Merry Christmas' I also hear 'Happy Birthday'. The single is for sale in several Japanese online music stores.

You can listen to the song on Spotify:

Kindan No Tasūketsu: Twilight (Bells Ring Ver.) /Last Chrismas (Wham! Cover)
(Jet Set, JS7S179, Japan, 45 rpm, red vinyl)

The second Japanese Christmas 45 is by the band Kindan No Tasūketsu. Kindan No Tasūketsu is a Japanese electro indie pop band that was formed in 2010 around Hamashita Masashi and Hounoki Kazunari. The duo was discovered through posting homemade videos of their songs, and released their first proper album in 2012. The group has gone through several membership changes through the years and has continued to put out singles and albums. Their Christmas single has two songs – a reworked version of 'Twilight' and a cover of Wham!'s 'Last Christmas'.

'Twilight' has been released before in other versions, and this version basically just adds bells and comes with a video that features a lot of snow. But I don't think the lyrics or the song has anything to do with Christmas, apart from the bells. Unfortunatelty, I can't tell you how their version of 'Last Christmas' sounds, but let me guess – the music is poppy and electronic, and the vocals are sounding very girly.

This 7” is not the band first venture into Christmas music, as they released a digital EP, 'Ring A Bell Kindan Santa's Christmas EP' in 2013, with two Christmas songs ('Ring A Bell' and 'Santa Claus Is Coming Back'), while their 2012 album 'Hajime Ni Ai Ga Atta' featured a song 'Merry Christmas Mr. Walken'. The single is packed in a transperant sleeve with a sticker, and comes with a download code. The labels of the single have typical Japanese manga artwork of a sweet looking girl dressed in a sexy Santa suit. I could have done without the cigarette, though. Released on Jet Set Record, and again, to acquire a copy of this 7”, you should turn to one of the Japanese online music stores.

Watch the snow-filled video of the bells-filled version of 'Twilight':

Jimmy Eat World: Last Christmas / 12.23.95 (Acoustic)
(Exotic Location Recordings, ES-053, US, 45 rpm, black, seagreen or blue vinyl)

Kindan No Tasūketsu's version of 'Last Christmas' is not the only cover of that still very popular song that is released on 7” this year. The song is also featured on Jimmy Eat World's 2017 Christmas single. Jimmy Eat World's version of 'Last Christmas' was originally released on 7” in 2001, by Better Looking Records, on green marble vinyl, but with different artwork and a different B-side (a cover of The Prodigy's 'Firestarter'). The new single features another Christmas-themed song on the B-side, an acoustic version of '12.23.95', while the artwork looks like a Jimmy Eat World Christmas-sweater. Jimmy Eat World is from Mesa, Arizona, formed in 1993 as a punk rock band, but over the years, went more into an alternative rock direction. Their version of 'Last Christmas' is more guitar driven than Wham!'s original, but keeps the pop hooks intact. In that way, it stays pretty close to the original. It's one of the best cover of this much, maybe too much, covered song, so nice to have it available again on 7” vinyl. The single comes in three different versions: black, blue (limited to 1000 copies) and seagreen (also limited to 1000 copies). The single could be obtained through Kings Road Merch, that handles Jimmy Eat's World merchandise, but it seems sold out now. What you still can get is a Last Christmas Beanie and a green t-shirt, featuring the artwork of the single.

Emmylou Harris: Light Of The Stable / Little Drummer Boy
(Nonesuch, 558481-1, US, 45 rpm, included in 5 LP box set Queen Of The Silver Dollar: The Studio Albums 1975-79, limited to 1000 copies)

Another re-issue is that of Emmylou Harris' classic Christmas single 'Light Of The Stable'. This single has been re-released as part of a five album set, 'Queen Of The Silver Dollar', that compiles Emmylou Harris' albums from the years 1975-1979, by many considered as the year's she recorded her best albums. Her Christmas album from 1979, named after her Christmas single of a few years earlier, is missing, but the album set includes her 1975 Christmas single. Well, actually, it does not, as that single did not have 'Little Drummer Boy' on the B-side, but 'Blue Bird Wine', the opening song of her album 'Pieces Of The Sky', and also the opening song of this compilation. Probaby the label that released the set, Nonesuch, considered it not such a good idea to double this song on the set, so they choose to put 'Little Drummer Boy', a song from Emmylou Harris Christmas album, on the B-side. Both songs have been released together on a 45 before, in 1980. The 5 album set was released for Record Store Day this year, in April. I don't know if the single comes with a separate picture sleeve, as I haven't seen the set myself.

'Light Of The Stable' is a classic Christmas song, and as far as I am considered, ranks among the best country Christmas songs ever recorded. The 1975 7” should be in the collection of any collector of Christmas 45s. 'Light Of The Stable' was written by Elizabeth and Steven Rhymer and celebrated the birth of Christ. Although the song was newly written for Emmylou Harris, it could easily have been mistaken as a long lost hymn from the 19th century, with its solemn lyrics ('Hail, hail to the newborn king / Let our voices sing him our praises / Hail, hail to the guiding light / That brought us tonight to our saviour / Ale, alleluia, alle, alleluia') and it's simple but touching melody. Harris sings it beautifully, and was joined in the chorus and the second verse by the harmony vocals of three of the biggest stars in country and country rock of the day: Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young. Producer Brian Ahern's arrangement was subtile, and worked in a natural way towards rousing, but at the same time restrained finale of the song, that was only 2 minutes and 27 seconds long.

You can listen to it on Youtube:

woensdag 20 december 2017

Christmas 45s. The usual suspects: Kingfisher Bluez, Nordpolen Musikklubb, Jump Up and Gotta Groove

There are several labels that release at least one Christmas 45 every year: Kingfisher Bluez, Nordpolen Musikklubb, Jump Up! Records and Gotta Groove Records.have a released a total of five Christmas singles this year.

Peach Pit: Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Single 2017 1/2
(Kingfisher Bluez / Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Village, KFB084, Canada, 45 rpm, single-sided, 500 copies)

Kingfisher Bluez released its first Christmas 7” in 2012. It was a split 7” between Old Phoebe and Tim The Mute, who also happens to be the man behind the Vancouver, Canada based indie label. Kingfisher Bluez is a very active, releasing many LP's and 7”'s each year – all under the motto 'Kingfisher Bluez: where my money goes to die'. After the Tim The Mute/Phoebe split single, Kingfisher Bluez released Christmas singles by Rose Melberg & Gregory Webster (2013), Kim Gray (2014, unfortunately victim of a pressing error), Ballboy (2015) and Laurice (2016). All singles come in a very seasonal looking and colourful picture sleeve, that has a wintery building on the front cover, drawn by Annabelle Burridge. By collecting all these singles, you can build your own Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Village! And what makes this project even cooler is that 100% of the profits are donated to 1-800-SUICIDE and Crisis Centre BC.

This year, Kingfisher Bluez even managed to release two Christmas singles. The first, 'Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Single 2017 1/2', is one-sided and has a bakery ('The Last Crumb') on the front cover. It features a song by the Vancouver band Peach Pit, a quartet that released an album earlier this year on Kingfisher Bluez, an album full of jangling guitar rock. For their Christmas single they cover Sufjan Steven's 'Did I Make You Cry On Christmas Day'. The single has the demo version of the song, which means its sounds a bit lofi – not the first single on the series with a lofi sound, actually. A full studio version of the song has also been released recently, but only digital. So we as vinyl collectors will find the demo version on our turntable. In a way it's a pity that pressing vinyl takes so long these days, otherwise Kingfisher Bluez could have put the studio version on the other side of the 7”, so that everyone can choose for him- or herself if he/she wants to listen to the demo or the studio version. Peach Pit explains that they wanted to do a Christmas song, but as they hate Christmas songs and are fans of Sufjan Stevens, they choose to cover 'Did I Make You Cry On Christmas Day?' (the original adds 'Well, You Deserved It'), as it actually is just a sad song with the song Christmas in it. I ask myself: why do you want to cover a Christmas song when you hate Christmas songs? That doesn't make sense, does it? Anyway, I think the result turned out nice. This band seems to have a large folllowing, because, although the full studio song is only up for five days on Youtube, it has already had over 40.000 views. That mabye why Kingfisher Bluez pressed a total of 500 copies of the single, more than the 300 they usually press.

Listen to the demo version on Bandcamp, where you can also order the record:

Living Body: Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Single 2017 2/2
(Kingfisher Bluez / Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Village, KFB085, Canada, 45 rpm, 300 copies)

'Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Single 2017 2/2' has two songs, both by a band called Living Body, one Christmas song on side A and a remixed version of a song of the band's debut album on the B-side. The Christmas song again is a cover, of one of the most covered modern Christmas songs: Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas Is You'. Living Body is a new band, but with a lot of familiar faces for people into indie rock. The self-proclaimed post-brexitcore band formed in 2016 in Leeds, England, and features core members Jeff T. Smith (originally from Chicago, and formerly of one-man project Juffage), Katie Harkin (who sang in the great Leeds indie band Sky Larkin, and also was active in Harkin, Wild Beasts and Sleater-Kinney) and Tom Evans (Vessels), helped out on recordings and live dates by several other musicians from Leeds. The band put out their debut album 'Body Is Working' late 2016.

Living Body take their time with 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' and stress the song, that is 4 minutes in its original version, to almost 5 minutes. That does not mean that it is much slower than the original version: although it starts slow, with Jeff T. Smith singing the first verse, after Alice Rowan (of Mayshe-Mayshe) takes over the vocals, things get a bit hectic, because of the breakbeats that continue throughout the song. That definitely gives a new and original twist to the song. All music on the song was played and recorded by Jeff T. Smith, with besides Alice Rowan who does most of the lead vocals, Katie Harkin also present to do some backing vocals. As said, the song on the B-side is not a Christmas song. It's the Vessels (so Tom Evans) remix of 'Last Few True', a song that originally appeared on Living Body's debut album and features Katie Harkin on lead vocals. The single has been put out in collaboration with Barely Regal Records, the UK label of Living Body. The Living Body single has a smaller pressing run than the Peach Pit single, and is limited to 300 copies.

Listen to the single on Bandcamp, where you can also order the record:

Sven Erik Libæk: Snowflakes EP
(Nordpolen Musikklubb, Julepakke04, Norway, 33 rpm, 300 copies)

The Norwegian label Nordpolen Musikklubb has been releasing one Christmas single a year since 2014. All singles are limited to 300 copies, handnumbered and come in a stylish cover. All four singles that have been released by the label have historic recordiings, that so far haven't been released on 7” vinyl. The 2014 7” contained recordings from the early 1960s by Norwegian singer Sonja, 2015's 7” has more a recent recording, from 2012 by Hvitmalt Gjerde, a band that is still active, in 2016, they put out the song 'Julesang' by Radka Toneff, a song from the early 1970s. This last 7” in the series seems to be particular popular, as it is already selling for 30 euro on Discogs.

With their 2017 release, the Nordpolen Musikklubb really spoil us, as it is a full EP, with four songs by Australian composer, record producer and musician Sven Erik Libæk. With a name like that, you expect a Norwegian and not an Australian. Sven Erik Libæk, internationally known as Sven Libaek, was indeed born in Norway, but after having been trained as both a pianist and an actor at the Juilliard School in New York and find his first success as both an actor and a pianist in the movie Windjammer, he moved to Australia and worked as the staff producer for the Australian division of CBS Records. In 1968 he started his own music company and mainly worked for film and TV productions. In 1977 he moved to Los Angeles, and worked as an orchestrater for the likes of Lionel Richie and Neil Diamond, while he also composed for the Hanna-Barbera Company (for television specials about Yogi Bear and Scooby-Doo among others). In 1994, Libæk moved back to Australia, and continued his career there, also composing classic concert works and being the resident conductor of Sydney's Sutherland Shire Symphony Orchestra. So this guy is really a big name in the entertainment industry.

Now on to the four tracks on the EP, that all have been composed by Libæk. The first three cuts, title track 'Snowflakes' (a title I particularly like, that goes without saying), 'The Deep Warmth Of You' and 'White Midnight' are performed by the Australian band The Saints. The songs have been recorded around 1963, so it's not the 1970s punk band The Saints were are talking about here, but about a band that was the houseband of the Cogee Bay Hotel in Sidney. Libæk discovered them playing at the hotel, and produced their, probably, only album, 'Sking With The Saints'. He also wrote some songs for the album, including the three that are now re-released on the 'Snowflakes' EP. Two songs, 'Snowflakes' and 'White Midnight' are instrumentals, 'The Deep Warmth Of You' features vocals of the band's vocalist and guitarist Noel Quinlan. Quinlan himself would later also try his hand on composing, and was responsible for the soundtrack of the 1977 movie 'Sky High - The Man From Hong Kong'. 'Snowflakes' and 'White Midnight' both have a wintery feel, and not only because of the titles. 'The Deep Warmth Of You' is a song about how love keeps you warm during the wintertime, when snowflakes are falling down.

Last song 'Writing Closing Titles' is a much newer composition and recording, and features Libæk himself behind the piano. It was composed and recorded by Libæk for the Norwegian movie "Skrivesperre", based on a 2011 novel. The movie was directed by Geir Henning Hopland, who happens to be one of the men behind the Nordpolen Musikklubb. The complete EP reminds me of Vince Guaraldi's soundtrack for 'A Charlie Brown Christmas', it has the same relaxed and jazzy feel. If you like that soundtrack (and who doesn't) you will definitely like this EP too! You can order a copy by contacting the label through their Facebook page. Don't wait too long, because judging from the number of people on Discogs who want a copy, it will probably sell out as quickly as the Radka Toneff single did last year. Unfortunately, the music is not (yet) to found on the internet or on Spotify.

Brooklyn Attractors: Xmas Inna Babylon Vol. II
(Jump Up! Records, JUMP7XMAS6, USA, 45 rpm, 200 copies, red or green vinyl)

Jump Up! Music is a very active ska and reggae label based in Chicago, Illinois in the United States. The label is run by DJ Chuck Wren, who already started it back in 1993. In 2010, the label started its XMAS-series with a somewhat atypical release, 'Waiting For The Christmas Light' by the Spanish female trio The Pepper Pots, who don't play ska, nor reggae, but are clearly influenced by early 1960s girl groups - the Phil Spector sound, so to say, so a perfect choice for a Christmas single. After three years without a Christmas single, Jump Up released the second single in the XMAS-series, by the Brooklyn Attractors, titled 'Christmas Inna Babylon Vol. 1'. From that moment on, releasing a Christmas single became a yearly tradition, and after singles by Roger Rivas & The Brothers Of Reggae (2015), a split single between Leo And The Lineup and Napoleon Solo (2016) and a single by Dr. Ring-Ding (also 2016), we have now arrived at Volume 2 of Christmas Inna Babylon, again featuring two songs by Brooklyn Attractors.

The first volume featured two very well-known Christmas songs in jazzy rocksteady versions: 'Jingle Bells' and 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' (retitled to 'God Rest Dem Irie Gentlemen'). Volume 2 has slightly lesser known songs, although both songs are actually among the very oldest non-religious Christmas songs. The A-side is titled 'Ras Nick' and is an adaption of 'Jolly Old Saint Nicholas', the B-side has a cover of 'Upon The Housetop'. This last song is in fact, most probably the oldest secular Christmas song. The song was written in 1864 by Benjamin Hanby, seven years after 'Jingle Bells', that is generally seen as the oldest secular Christmas song. And although Jingle Bells is considered a Christmas song these days, in fact, it just a seasonal song about winter, and doesn't mention Christmas. While 'Up On The Housetop' does. As for 'Jolly Old Saint Nicholas', it first appeared in print in 1881. The authorship of the song has been a reason for arguments over the years. Some claim it was also writtten by Benjamin Hanby, as the story line about Saint Nicholas is similar to the storyline of 'Up On The Housetop', but it seems highly unlikely that Benjamin Hanby was the composer, as he already died in 1867. More likely is that both songs were inspired by the 1822 poem 'Twas The Night Before Christmas', and were written by different composers.Enough history lessons.

The Brooklyn Attractors is an all-star band, including Eddie Ocampo on drums, Bid Dan Jeselsohn on bass, Andy Bassford (who even played with Bob Marley back in the days) on lead guitar, Matt Kursmark on rhythm guitar, Mike Sarason on piano and Rhodes, Larry McDonald on percussion, Anant Pradhan on alto/tenor saxophones and Bansuri flute, Luke Penella on flute and tenor saxophone, Philip Cooper-trombone and Rich Graiko-trumpet. It is actually more an orchestra than a band, seeing how many musicians are involved. 'Ras Nick' is a very slowed down, jazzy and relaxed version of 'Jolly Old Saint Nick', that gives Bassford the opportunity to show his skills on guitar, and also features flute and saxophone solo's, while the rocksteady beat continues and continues. 'Up On The House Top' is slightly more uptempo, and this time almost everybody in the band gets a solo spot. Although this record mabye doesn't sound as seasonal as their previous Christmas 7”, due to the melodies of the songs being not as well-known as 'Jingle Bells' and 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', so not as easily associated with the season (at least, not by me, but it can be different for people from the States, as I guess both songs are more well-known there as here in Europe), I personally think it's a great 7” – and this is a Christmas 7”''s that you can also play after the Christmas season, without people thinking that you are a weirdo. The cover artwork is painted by Danny Rebel and the single comes in an edition of 200 copies, 100 on green vinyl and 100 on red vinyl. Both songs are on Soundcloud, so judge for yourself what you think of the 7” before deciding to order it through the website of Jump Up Records.

Listen to 'Ras Nick'

Listen to 'Up On The Housetop'

Couples Skate Only / Fascist Insect: Gotta Groove Xmas 7" 2017
(Gotta Groove Records, USA, ?? rpm, 500 copies, random vinyl)

The last of the usual aspects is Gotta Groove Records. Gotta Groove Records is both a label and a pressing plant, based in Cleveland, Ohio. From 2011 on, Gotta Groove Records released a 7” that is send out to all their customers as a Christmas present. It always features music done by employees of Gotta Groove of by bands that employees of Gotta Groove are involved in. The number of songs on a 7” differs from year to year: sometimes it are just two songs, sometimes it are up to eight songs. The style of music also differs – it ranges from indie pop to noise experiments. Some songs are clearly seasonal, some songs are only seasonal because of the title or not even have a seasonal title.

The 2017 single, that has just two songs, is a good representation of the compilations. Both artists featured on the single have appeared on Gotta Groove Christmas-compilations before. Couples Skate Only was featured on Gotta Groove's 2015 compilation, the six song 'A Christmas Gift To You', with the electropop song 'First Christmas', definitely my favorite of that year's edition. This year's song is not about Christmas, but about tomorrow - the Solstice. To be more exactly, about getting ready for a Solstice party. Musically it's electronics and sleigh bells, so although the song is not about Christmas, it does sound like a Christmas song. The vocals are sung in a rather monotonous way, but it works well with the music. 'Absentees & Invites (The Solstice Show)' is a family affair, as not only does it feature Tim and Cari Thornthon (the couple behind Couples Skate Only), but also Laura and Eileen Thorthon, the kids of the Thornthons, who together are the duo Zebra Zebra. Laura was the baby that Cari sang about in 'First Christmas'. Zebra Zebra is probably the youngest band ever, as both members are under 4 years old. Zebra Zebra started early 2016 as the solo project of Laura, when she was just two. Laura is now joined by her younger sister, and Zebra Zebra became the duo it should have been from the start – as for a solo project, Zebra would have been a more fitting name.

Contrary to 'Absentees & Invites (The Solstice Show)', what we find on the B-side, 'Session 3' by Fascist Insect does not sound like a Christmas song at all. In fact, it does not sound like a song at all. Fascist Insect started out as a grindcore/hardcore band and was featured on the 2014 and 2016 editions of the Gotta Groove compilations. I would lie when I'd say their tracks were my favorites of these editions. Fascist Insect left their grindcore days behind them, is now completely electronic and still unlistenable (okay, I have to admit, listening to some of their old stuff, I can listen to it, but well, I also actually do have the first Napalm Death album in my collection and that album more or less started this whole subgenre of hardcore punk). In fact, it's just noise. Something for people with a open mind, I would say. As always, the record comes on random colored vinyl. My copy is still on its way, curious to see how my copy will look. I like the one on the Bandcamp page where you can get the record (pictured above)! Only three copies available, so hurry if you want a copy.

Listen to the two songs here:

zondag 17 december 2017

Christmas In Iceland with Purumenn

Purumenn ‎– Fyrir Jól / Sjáumst Aftur (Reykjavík Record Shop, RRS-001, Iceland, lathe cut)

I am not too fond of lathe cut singles, as usually, they don't sound that well, and as these singles always come in small runs– 20 to max 100 -, when I hear about them, many times they are already sold out. And that can be frustrating, if you like the song. But like a famous rock band used to sing 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'. Exactly this is the case with the Christmas single of a duo called Purumenn, from Iceland. This morning I discovered their Christmas single through Discogs. According to Discogs, it's a vinyl single, but as the edition is only 50 copies, it much be a lathe cut single, as I don't know any pressing plant that wll press runs of only 50 copies.

I've checked out the song, 'Fyrir Jól' (which translates as 'Before Christmas') and I really liked it. It's a catchy, good-humoured electropop number with male and female vocals, and just listening to it brings me in a good mood. That, of course was gone, when I discovered on the Facebook page of the Rekyavik Record shop that put it out (that is called, just like the label, Reykjavík Record Shop – definitely a good name for a Reykjavík Record shop), that the single is already sold out.

There is also a video of the song, that is already two years old, so the song is already around for some time. According to the sleeve of the single, the song was orignally recorded by Björgvin and Svala. Björgvin and Svala is the duo of Icelandic pop singer Björgvin Halldórsson and his daughter, Svala Karitas Björgvinsdóttir. The two recorded the song 'Fyrir Jól' in 1986, when Svala was only nine years old. It was a big hit, number 1 in Iceland. Svala would go on to be a singer herself. Funny thing is that both Svala and her father represented Iceland in the European song festival, she this year, her father in 1995. Through her career, Svala has had several Christmas hits in Iceland. Svala also managed to have a US hit with her 2001 single 'The Real Me', that reached the Billboard Top 40. At that time, she was living in Los Angeles.

The B-side of the single has another cover,Sjáumst Aftur, originally recorded by Páll Óskar. This is also a Christmas song, based on a French 14th Century hymn. Óskar recorded it for a 1995 Christmas album. Purumenn's version sounds very electronic, futuristic, with both vocoder and more traditional singing.

Purumenn seems to be a Christmas related project of one the members of Grísalappalísa. Grísalappalísa is a Reykjavík alernative rock/pop band that was founded in 2012 and that has some former Jakobínarína members. Jakobínarína was quite popular in 2006-2007, also outside Iceland, with a single on Rough Trade (with the great title 'His Lyrics Are Disastrous') and an album and several singles on Regal. As for Purumenn, to me it's not really clear who exactly are involved, or even with how many they are. In the video, Purumenn seems to be a boy-girl duo, but in a picture on Reykjavík Record Shop 's Facebook page three people are pictured, so mabye Purumenn is a trio. In 2016, the band released a cover of 'Stop The Cavalry' (in Icelandic), that sounded very different from the original, and quite experimental. We will probably hear more Christmas songs from this project in the future.

For now, I am just hoping that Reykjavík Record Shop will decide to do a second cut of their first release, so that we non-Icelandic Christmas music lovers can get a copy!

Check the very seasonal and funny 2015 video of the song here:

The audio of the B-side of the single is also on Youtube:

zaterdag 16 december 2017

A Paul McCartney Christmas on 7” vinyl

It's going to be an expensive Christmas for the fans of Paul McCartney – with three Paul McCartney-related releases this Christmas season – with one of the three being a boxset with seven 7”''s. And we're only talking about his 45s releases here. Paul McCartney, who we of course don't have to introduce, was already involved in the fanclub flexis The Beatles put out for Christmas in the years 1963-1969, but he also has released quite some solo Christmas 45s or Christmas-related 45s through the years.

The Beatles: Happy Christmas, Beatle People. The Christmas Records 7" box set (Capitol / Apple, 5791485, Europe, 33 rpm, different colours vinyl)

In 1963, all the members of the Beatles' English fanclub received a free flexi-disc 7” in their mailbox, titled 'The Beatles Christmas Record'. 1963 had been a crazy year for The Beatles. The band had debuted in October 1962 in the British carts with 'Love Me Do', but that song had only been a minor hit. Their next single, 'Please Please Me', that was released early January 1963, started the Beatle mania, that culmilated that year in three number one hits and one number 2 hit. The Beatles received such an amount of fanmail that it became sheerly impossible for the band to answer all the letters. So Beatles' press officer Tony Barrow came up with the idea to send all fanclub members a free flexi, as a way to reach out to the fans to thank them for all their support for the band. It was also Barrow who scripted the what was on the record: a combination of individual messages of the four Beatles' members Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrrison and Ringo Starr, several renditions of the carol 'Good King Wenceslas', while the record closed with the Fab Four singing 'Rudolph The Red-Nosed Ringo'. All of it was recorded on October 17, 1963 at the Abbey Road studio, just after the recording session for The Beatles' fourth single of 1963, 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'. The flexi, white with blue lettering, was housed in a yellow fold around sleeve, with a Christmas wish and the head's and signatures of the four Beatles' on the front, some photos on the back and a 'newsletter' inside.

In 1964, the whole operation was repeated, with again Barrow scripting the performance, although it seemed, listening to the record, that especially John Lennon was less willing to follow the script, as he was misreading parts of it, and joking about the whole process. The record started with the four singing 'Jingle Bells' and ended with a version of non-Christmas song 'Oh Can You Wash Your Father's Shirt?'. It was again all recorded at the Abbey Road Studios, and the flexi came this time in an ordinary sleeve, with a two page insert, that included photo's of the Beatles and a newsletter. It was titled 'Another Beatles Christmas Record' and had a photo of the four Beatles, dressed in suits and smiling friendly into the camera.

The third flexi, recorded November 8, 1965 at Abbey Road was the last that involved Barrow as writer, although this time the Beatles' themselves were also involved in writing the sketch. It featured the four singing parts of Christmas songs ('Auld Lang Syne and Lennon's 'Happy Christmas To Ya List'nas') and non-Christmas songs ('Yesterday' and very small parts of 'Eve Of Destruction' (Barry McGuire) and 'It's The Same Old Song' (Four Tops)). It also had a poem, 'Christmas Comes But Once A Year'. The record was simple called 'The Third Beatles' Christmas Record' and was the first to clock over six minutes. It came again in an ordinary sleeve, with an insert with the newsletter on one side and a photo on the other, plus a smaller insert with a drawing including photos of the heads of the four Beatles, and the Christmas wish 'Happy Christmas Beatle People!'

The fourth Beatles' flexi, 1966's 'The Beatles' Fourth Christmas Record', subtitled 'Pantomime: Everywhere It's Christmas' was the first that was all written by the band itself. It was recorded during sessions for 'Strawberry Fields Forever', on November 26, so quite late, and had a collection of original songs and sketches, including one Christmas-themed, 'Everywhere It's Christmas'. It was the first flexi that was produced by George Martin and the first flexi that came in a coloured sleeve, with a psychedelic looking drawing on the frontcover, and again a newsletter as insert, but this time, there were no photo's of the band to be found.

Had all the previous flexis been recorded in October and November, so near to Christmas, 1967's flexi had already been recorded in May, It seems that with every flexi, the band took the project more serious. The flexi was called 'Christmas Time Is Here Again', which was also the title of a song that the band had written for the flexi. The song was repeated several times throughout the recording. The Beatles all played different characters, and the story was build around auditions for a BBC radio show. At the end of the record, Lennon reads the poem 'When Christmas Time Is Over'. The front cover was a college of old photo's, with in the middle five coloured flowers. It had the same feeling as the cover art of The Beatles' 1967 masterpiece 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'. The song 'Christmas Time Is Here Again' later appeared on the B-side of The Beatles 1995 45 'Free As A Bird', and was also included on the Beatles Anthology that was released that year.

The sixth flexi was the longest, clocking almost 8 minutes. It was the first for which the band members recorded their contributions separately, and also the first to feature another voice besides that of The Beatles': American singer Tiny Tim, known from his rather weird version of 'Tiptoe Through The Tulips', doing a short version of The Beatles' 'Nowhere Man' on ukulele. The recording also featured McCartney's 'Happy Christmas, Happy New Year' and a lot of different snippets, noises and individual messages. George Martin was not involved in the recording, it was produced by a friend of the band, DJ Kenny Everett, who put all the separate contributions together. The sleeve featured again psychedelic looking artwork, in white, red and blue. The record was simply titled 'Christmas 1968'. As the sketch was so long, it was spread over two sides of the flexi. It came again with an insert, this time no newsletter, but an order form for pictures of the band members. Commercialism seemed to have made its entrance in the Christmas world of The Beatles.

The seventh and last flexi ('The Beatles' Seventh Christmas Record') was recorded when The Beatles were slowly disintegrating as a band, so again the members had recorded their parts for the flexi separately. It were mainly Lennon and McCartney who were appearing on the flexi. Lennon together with his wife Yoko Ono, playing the game 'What Will Santa Bring Me?' and Ono interviewing Lennon. McCartney sings 'This Is To Wish You A Merry, Merry Christmas'. The front cover of the sleeve features a rather vague orange-red-ish photo and the back cover featured a drawing of Starr's four year old son Zak. It was untitled, so became known as 'The Beatles' Seventh Christmas Record'

In 1970, all the recordings were for the first time released on vinyl, on a LP, that was also send out to all fanclub members. In 1983, all seven records were re-released by The Official Beatles Fanclub on 7” picture discs, titled 'The Beatles Christmas Collection', in a heavy polyvinyl sleeve bound into a vinyl-covered booklet, with various printed inserts. The package was limited to 1000 copies and only available to fan club members. It took another 34 years before the flexi's finally saw an official commercial re-release in their original 7” format – although not on flexi-disc (that are known to wear out quite quickly), but on coloured vinyl, packed in a stylish red box set. The cover design of the box takes its inspiration from the sleeve from the very first Beatles Christmas flexi and the message 'Happy Christmas Beatle People!'. All seven singles are housed in a separate picture sleeve, based on the artwork of the original sleeves. Included is also a booklet with the fan club Christmas newsletter and notes on the discs' contents. It is not cheap, but you get value for your money, and, as The Beatles are still very popular, this will probably become a collectors items. So if you are into the Beatles, or in beautifully packed Christmas records, get yourself a copy before it's too late!

Listen to the only Christmas song (well, sort-of-a-song), from the 1967 flexi, 'Christmas Is Here Again'.

Paul McCartney, Jimmy Fallon And The Roots / The Decemberists: Holidays Rule Vol. 2 (Capitol, B002752921, USA, 45 rpm, green vinyl, 3500 copies)
Paul McCartney, Jimmy Fallon And The Roots / Norah Jones: Holidays Rule Vol. 2 (Capitol, B002752021, USA, 45 rpm, red vinyl, 3500 copies)

After The Beatles officially broke up in the early 1970s, all members went their separate ways and started solo careers, with Paul McCartney forming the band Wings after a first solo record. Paul McCartney's first Christmas release as a solo artists came quite late. It was already eight years since he started his solo career until he would finally release a Christmas single. Paul McCartney was the third Beatle to enjoy a Christmas hit as a solo artist. When the single was released, on November 16, 1979 in the UK and one week later in the USA, Paul McCartney was still a member of his group Wings, although he was working on his second solo album, 'II', that would be released in 1980, and would mark the beginning of the end of Wings. 'Wonderful Christmastime' was written on a very hot day in July 1979, based upon a synthesizer riff played on a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5. At the time, McCartney was experimenting a lot with synthesizers, undoubtely inspired by the many electropop bands, that were slowly getting popular, especially in the UK. The song was recorded August, 30, 1979, at Lower Gate Farm, in Sussex, the farm McCartney was living at the time. The recording was total solo project, with McCartney playing all instruments (guitar, bass, keyboards, drums and percussion) and also producing the song. The lyrics were simply describing having a good time at Christmas, and were seen as a reaction to the much more serious lyrics that Lennon had written as a solo artist, including on his hit 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over!)': 'The moon is right / The spirits up / We're here tonight / And that's enough / Simply having a wonderful christmastime'. It also had a part featuring a choir singing 'Ding Dong, Ding Dong', that also happens to be the title of the 1974 holiday single of George Harrison. The B-side was a novelty song that McCartney had already recorded in 1975, a reggae-fied version of the classic Christmas song 'Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer', retitled to 'Rudolph The Red Nose Reggae'. It was recorded at a time when, mainly due to the success of Bob Marley, reggae was breaking into the mainstream.

A video for 'Wonderful Christmastime' was filmed in November 1979, and although they did not play on the song, the video did feature the other members of Wings. The video was filmed at the Fountain Inn in Ashurst, West Sussex and was merely showing McCartney and the other Wings-members having a good time at the pub. Which was exactly what was the case: the group went to the pub, did a bit of filming inside and outside, and got back to the pub. Wings included 'Wonderful Christmastime' in the shows they played during their November-December 1979 tour of the UK. In the UK, 'Wonderful Christmastime' was a big hit, it reached the 6th spot in the first week of January 1980. In the US, the single was not as successful. It did not chart in the Billboard Hot 100, and it went only to 83 on the Cash Box Top 100 and to 94 on the Record World singles chart. It only appeared once in the Billboard Christmas chart, and that was in 1984, five years after the initial release of the single. The opinions about the song are divided: many people love the song, but others consider it the worst song Paul McCartney has ever written, and it is regularly listed among the worst Christmas songs ever.

'Wonderful Christmastime' was not McCartney's last Christmas-related single. In December 1983 he released the single 'Pipes Of Peace', which did not mention Christmas or was overly seasonal, but giving its message of love and peace, it was not coincidental that the single was released just before the Christmas season. In a way, with its plea for peace, it could be seen as a tribute to Lennon's 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)'. 'Pipes Of Peace' was the first solo number one hit for McCartney (not counting 'Mull Of Kintyre', that McCartney had recorded with his band Wings, and that was actually the UK Christmas number one of 1977).

One year later, McCartney was involved in the production of the animation movie 'Rupert and the Frog Song', and one of the songs of that movie, 'We All Stand Together', was released as a single. It was credited to Paul McCartney and The Frog Chorus. The Frog Chorus part was performed by the King's Singers choral group and the choir of St Paul's Cathedral. Again, it was not really a Christmas-song, but again, it had a very Christmas-like message, best summed up in the second verse: 'Play the game, fight the fight / But what's the point on a beautiful night? / Arm in arm, hand in hand / We all stand together'. As the music and singing by the chorale group and the choir fitted in very well with actual Christmas songs, so it was played very often during the Christmas season, and has even been included on several Christmas compilations. The song would have been the Christmas number one, were it not for Band Aid's 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' and Wham!'s 'Last Christmas' getting in the way. The competition for the Christmas number one of 1984 was so itense that it even made Shakin' Stevens decide to postpone his already recorded Christmas song 'Merry Christmas Baby' to 1985 – to become the UK Christmas number one that year. But that's another story.

In 2012, Paul McCartney was involved in the 'Holidays Rule' compilation. It was a compilation, released late October 2012 by Hear Music, part of the Concord Music Group and produced by Chris Funk of the American alt.rock band The Decemberists. It was quite a mixed bag of artists that appeared on the record, alt.rock bands like The Shins and The Civil Wars, but also a pop band like .fun and legendary soul singer Irma Thomas. Paul McCartney was definitely the biggest name on the compilation – but well, he is probably the biggest name on any compilation he would appear on. McCartney choose to cover Nat King Cole's classic 'The Christmas Song', accompanied by Diana Krall on the piano. McCartney had acquired the rights of this song, so at least, he did not have to pay copyrights to be able to record it. There was one small problem, and that was the turkey, for whom things did not end too well in the song, as we all know. And Paul McCartney is a long time vegetarian and a supporter of animal rights. So he decided to record the first vegetarian version of 'The Christmas Song', in which Christmas is also a celebration for the animals. Out goes the turkey, in comes the holly. Because, face it, the first to witness Jesus' birth were animals, not humans – the ass, who so faithfully had carried Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem (perfectly captured in the classic Christmas song 'Little Donkey'), and the ox (Who is going to write a Christmas song for him?). Only later, the shepherds arrived. So Jesus was not only born to bring salvation for us humans, but also for the animals! But that part we seem to forget, especially during the Christmas celebrations. And I don't think Mary and Joseph had the ass the ox for their Christmas meal. So all praise to Paul McCartney and his version of 'The Christmas Song'! As an interesting side note, the song was produced by Tommy LiPuma, who, early in his career, was the producer of Claudine Longet's take on the classic sunshine pop Christmas song 'I Don't Want To Spend Christmas Without You' – covered in 2013 by The Garlands for their Snowflakes single. You see, everything is connected in Christmas music! Anyway, Paul McCartney's version of 'The Christmas Song' was also released on a limited (2000 copies) 7”, only to be sold at independent record shops, and pressed on green or on red vinyl. Unfortunatelty, the single sold out in no time, and in the end, was only sold on platforms like Ebay and Discogs, starting at 50 euro/dollar.

Paul McCartney explaining what happened to the turkey and singing 'The Christmas Song':

This year, a second volume fo 'Holidays Rule' is released, this time by Capitol Records, and again, Paul McCartney is featured, this time, and here we come full circle, with his first Christmas song 'Wonderful Christmastime'. He is joined by talk show host and comedian Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, for an almost acapalla version of the song – only instrument that is used are sleigh bells. The song was premiered last year, in The Tonight Show, that is hosted by Fallon, and featured the cast of the animated movie Sing doing backups. The song was re-recorded, this time without the cast of Sing, for the compilation, with Fallon and McCartney sharing the lead vocals and The Roots doing the a cappella backup. It is very short, only 1 minute and 28 minutes. As part of Record Store Day's Black Friday celebration two 'Holidays Rule Vol. 2' 45's were released, that both featured this track on the A-side. B-side of the red single (red cover and red vinyl) is a version of the song Horace Silver's song 'Peace' by Norah Jones, recorded live at The Sheen. B-side of the green single (green cover and green vinyl) is The Decemberists' take on Alex Chilton's Big Star's 1975 song 'Jesus Christ'. Both singles are released in editions of 3500 copies (McCartney has learned from what happened with his previous Christmas 45), so will hopefully stay available for a reasonable price.

You can listen to the 2017 version of 'Wonderful Christmastime' on Spotify

So, that's enough Paul McCartney for today.