woensdag 28 november 2018

The Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club - Edition 2018

It is still more than a week before the singles are officially out, but as all the pre-orders are send, and two of the bands have their release party this Saturday in London, it seems like a good moment to write about this year's singles of the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club - because Snowflakes is not only a blog, but also a label! I will make it easy for myself, and use the press releases here. Because, after all, I wrote these myself.
This year, the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club brought you Christmas singles by London bands Oh! Gunquit and Green Seagull and Bristol-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Rachael Dadd.

Oh! Gunquit: Holiday Jeer From Oh! Gunquit
(Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, Snowflake 18, The Netherlands, 45 rpm, small hole, snow white vinyl)

Recorded on the hottest day of an extremely hot London Summer, Oh! Gunquit deliver two Christmas party anthems on this 45, blending surf guitars, rumble drums and a wailing sax with lyrics about, well, what else than partying at Christmas – a bottle of wine, some good music and nice company is enough to get 'High On Xmas'. On the flipside, the fivesome breathe new life into The Sonics' garage rock classic 'Don't Believe In Christmas' – out goes the organ, in come guitar, sax and trumpet, with singer Tina's cool vocals finishing it off.
Oh! Gunquit came together when vocalist/trumpetist Tina and guitarist/vocalist Simon became neighbours and frequented the same sweaty cellar dance nights around town. The two formed the band with the idea to create a vibrant blend of new-wave vicious psych-surf, garage-punk, exotica & rock ‘n roll. The unusual name of the band was inspired by Maine harbour town Ogunquit (which means 'beautiful place by the sea' in the indigenous Abenaki language), known for its late 19th Century artists colony, and by the idea of all guns quitting. Based in London, Oh! Gunquit, known for their high energy and spectacular live shows, is as cosmopolitan as their city is, with members from Italy, USA, Colombia, Spain and the UK.

You can Listen to the single on Soundcloud.

Green Seagull: First Snow Of Winter / God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
(Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, Snowflake 19, The Netherlands, 45 rpm, small hole, snow white vinyl)

Green Seagull’s Christmas single feels like a journey – a journey back in time, to the late 1960s, and a journey to the inner depths of your mind, as it brings you in a dreamy state, where illusion and reality form a completely new experience. The single, that as all Snowflakes singles comes on snow white vinyl, is as much inspired by winter as by Christmas. Green Seagull's original, 'First Snow Of Winter' is a baroque pop song about that element of winter that directly brings a feeling of comfort and joy, a feeling of Christmas, in your heart: snow. The lyrics take you on another journey, a journey from the early beginnings of winter to the last snow, when spring is announcing itself and the first flowers start popping up. For the B-side, the band recorded a song that is already part of their live set for some time: an uptempo organ-drenched psychedelic version of the Christmas traditional 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen'.
Green Seagull, part of London's burgeoning neo-psych scene, started in 2016, when Paul Nelson (New Electric Ride) and Paul Milne (Hidden Masters, Magnetic Mind), who both share a love for late-60s baroque psychedelia and 12-string jangling guitars, started to write songs together. Soon joined by Sarah Gonputh on keyboards and Elian Dalmasso on drums, the four started rehearsing, taking their name from a mis-heard Rolling Stones lyric. After recording a 4-track demo, the band signed a deal with Mega Dodo Records, and after two well-received singles for the label, Green Seagull released their debut album 'Scarlet Fever' earlier this year. The band is currently working on their second album.

You can Listen to the single on Soundcloud.

Rachael Dadd: Spark Illuminate / The Holly And The Ivy
(Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, Snowflake 19, The Netherlands, 45 rpm, small hole, snow white vinyl)

British folk singer Rachael Dadd takes the holly and ivy as the central theme of her Christmas single. In pre-Christian times, the holly and the ivy were symbols of the male and female sex. When christianity arrived, the holly and ivy were given a new meaning, the holly symbolizing Jesus and the ivy Mary. The holly and ivy, that keep their colours in the winter, became a Christmas decoration, and are the reason why green and red are seen as the colours of Christmas. Rachael covers the 19th Century English carol ‘The Holly And The Ivy’ on the B-side of her single and uses that carol as an inspiration for her original on the A-side, the poetic ‘Spark Illuminate’. With just her beautiful voice and a prepared piano (a piano that has its sounds altered by placing objects on or between the strings), Rachael creates an atmopshere of stillness and intimacy, to warm your heart during those cold days of Christmas.
Rachael Dadd is a contemporary folk singer and multi-instrumentalist based in Bristol, England and on the Japanese island of Mukaishima. She is married to Japanese experimental musician ICHI, with whom she also regularly performs, live and on record. Rachael debuted in 2004 with the album ‘Summer/Autumn Recordings’. The album was followed by a string of releases on labels like Broken Sound, Talitres, and Japanese labels Angel’s Egg and Sweetdreams Press. Over the years, Rachael has played festivals like Glastonbury, End of The Road, Green Man, Wilderness and No Direction Home and toured the UK, Europe and Japan several times, alone or with acts like This Is The Kit, Rozi Plain and Alessi’s Ark. Besides as a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, Dadd, who is a graduate from art school, is also a practicing and exhibiting artist.

You can Listen to the single on Soundcloud.

These three singles, and also most of the singles of the previous edition of the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club can be bought from the Snowflakes Big Cartel page and, from December 1st on, from the Snowflakes Bandcamp page.

dinsdag 27 november 2018

Ladies' Christmas

At Friday, I visited one of my two favorite Amsterdam record stores, Distortion Records, always totally packed with records and (empty and full) boxes, so packed that you barely can find a way through it, and there I picked up three Christmas singles by three ladies. Three ladies who not only released a Christmas single, but also a Christmas album. One released her Christmas album last year, the other two this year.

Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers: All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues
(Pretty Good For A Girl Records, PG45-03, USA, 33 rpm, big hole, translucent red vinyl)
Sax player and singer Mindi Abair teams up with her Boneshakers on her Christmas album ’All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues’. And Santa gave her a lot of blues, in fact, an album full. The title track of the album was also released as a 7”, with another track of the album, ‘The Best Part Of Christmas’, on the B-side. Florida born Abair built a name for herself as a smooth jazz artist, releasing a Christmas song in 2004, ‘I Can’t Wait For Christmas’, and teamed up with Peter White and Rick Braun’ on the 2007 ‘Peter White Christmas’ album – that featured an earlier version of ‘The Best Part Of Christmas’. Abair's career took a complete new turn when she became the resident sax player on American Idol and when she returned with a new group, The Boneshakers, and a new sound. Abair had not only found the blues, but had also found rock. And that can be heard, especially on ‘All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues’: the blues not only is clearly present in the music (with some dirty sounding guitars and organ), but also in the vocal delivery of Abair, that sounds heartfelt and raw. If you are waiting for some saxophone playing, you have to wait a little longer, because ‘All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues’ doesn’t have nor need it. It is good as it is.

Buy the single here
Watch the video on Youtube

Ingrid Michaelson: Songs For The Season B-Sides
(Cabin 24 Recods, CB24302, USA, 45 rpm, small hole, picture disc)

Also Ingrid Michaelson is not new to holiday music. Michaelson was born in New York City in an artistic family, and her father, Carl Michaelson, was a manager at a music publisher and on the side, also a composer - one of his compositions was 'The Praise Of Christmas'. Michaelson came to the attention of the mainstream public when her songs started to be used in Grey's Anatomy and for an Old Navy commercial. Another big success for Michaelson was 'Winter Song', a song she co-wrote with her friend Sara Bareilles. Not only was the song featured on 'The Hotel Café Presents Winter Songs' album and reached the song number 2 in the Irish Singles Charts in 2011, she and Bareilles also performed the song for President Obama and his family at the National Christmas Tree Lightning in December 2010. So it seemed only a matter of time that Michaelson would record a Christmas album. Which was what she did this year. 'Ingrid Michaelson's Songs For The Season' consists of (mostly) cover versions, usual suspects (yes, the song everybody seems to record this year, 'Christmas Time Is Here', is present), but also some less often recorded Christmas classics like 'Looks Like A Cold, Cold Winter' (a duet with Christina Perri) and 'Mele Kalikimaka' (featuring Allie Mos and Bess Rogers). 'Songs For The Season' is a classic Christmas album in every sense, not only in the choice of songs, but also in the execution, that breathes the classic orchestral sound of the 1950s. But don't expect this sound on Michaelson's single, an 'exclusive limited edition picture disc', titled 'Songs For The Season B-Sides'. The single has demo versions, on the B-side of one of the songs of the album, 'Happy, Happy Christmas', and on the A-side a song not on the album, 'December'. Both songs are basically ballads sung by Michaelson accompanied by a piano. Especially on 'December' you doen't miss the orchestration and the top notch production - voice and piano are enough. Michaelson is pictured in wintery wardrobe on the picture disc. Nice to play and nice to look at.
Unfortunately, both songs can’t be found at the internet (yet).

Lindsey Stirling: 7” Holiday Picture Disc
(Concord Records, CRE00824, USA, 45 rpm, small hole, picture disc)

Nice to play and nice to look at, that also goes for Lindsey Stirling’s Christmas single, another picture disc, and just as that of Michaelson, released as part of Record Store Day’s Black Friday Celebration. Stirling released her Christmas album, ‘Warmer In The Winter’, last year, and now the first two songs of the album are featured on the single, instrumental album-opener ‘Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy’ and the B-side and second song, ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch’, featuring vocals by Sabrina Carpenter. The video of the song premiered on November 18, and has now already reached more than 3 million views. Which says something about Stirling’s popularity. Stirling is probably best known as the dancing violinist. She loves playing violin, she loves dancing, and although the combination of playing violin and dancing at the same time seems almost impossible, it is exactly what Stirling has mastered – which can be witnessed in the video. And on the many other videos Stirling has put on her Youtube video channel, which really helped her star to rise, after she first came to the national eye as a quarter finalist in America’s Got Talent. Stirling is not afraid to take her violin through all kind of different styles of music. Her version of ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch’, only the third time the song was featured on a 7” (the first being a 1995 release of Thurl Ravenscroft 1967 original and the second the 2013 cover of gothic punk veterans The Misfits), is a very poppy effort, upbeat, with a lot of brass, seductive sounding vocals by Carpenter and of course, Stirling’s energetic violin playing. This song could definitely become a genuine Christmas hit, it’s catchy enough and Stirling and Carpenter have enough fans to make it happen. B-side ‘Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy’ sounds like the soundtrack of a fairytale, which is no surprise, as in fact, that is what Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker actually was. The video, that already premiered last year, is very fitting, and Stirling really looks like a princess.

Watch ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch’ here:
And ‘Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy’ here:

zondag 25 november 2018

Khruangbin's 'Christmas Time Is Here'

Khruangbin: Christmas Time Is Here
(Night Time Stories / LateNightTales / Dead Oceans, ALN75001 / DOC184, USA/UK, 2018, 45 RPM, large hole, translucent green vinyl)

One of the rising stars of 2018, Texan trio Khruangbin is touring all over the world at the moment, playing in mainly sold out venues. Quite an accomplishment for a mostly instrumental band with a Thai name, that finds its musical influences all over the world. Was their 2015 debut mainly influenced by Thai funk, their breakthrough album, 2018’s ‘Con Todo El Mundo’, has a much wider array of influences – as the title of the record already implies, from all over the world. The influences Khruangbin uses are so wide that it is almost impossible to classify their music. As for their name, khruangbin means aeroplane in Thai and was chosen as the bandname because it was the favorite Thai word of bass player Laura Lee, who was just trying to learn Thai when the band had to decide on a name.

The foundation for the band was already laid more than ten years ago, when guitarist Mark Speer and drummer/keyboardplayer Donald “DJ” Johnson (drums, keys) met, when Speer was the guitarist and Johnson the organist of Rudy Rasmus’s St. John’s Methodist Church gospel band in Houston, Texas. A few years later, Speer met Lee, and the two found out they both loved Afghan music and Middle Eastern architecture. Speer teached Lee how to play bass and in 2010, the two joined Yppah and Bonobo on tour. After the tour, Speer and Lee continued to make music together, using a barn as their practice place. They asked Johnson to complete the line-up as drummer. When their track ‘Calf Born In Winter’ was included on Bonobo’s ‘Late Night Tales’-compilation, it brought Khruangbin into the limelight, and helped to raise interest for their debut album ‘The Universe Smiles Upon You’. The next few years, the band toured a lot and further broadened their sound. All the touring and the positive press helped to make ‘Con Todo El Mundo’ their breakthrough album.

And now there is a Christmas single. ‘Christmas Time Is Here’, a cover of the famous song of the Vince Guaraldi ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ soundtrack, the only song from the soundtrack to featured vocals. ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ turned out to be the favorite Christmas song of all three band members, so the band decided to record it. That took them only fifteen minutes – but I am pretty sure than mixing the song took much longer.
The single features two versions of the song. The A-side has the original version the band recorded and is described by the label (or better: labels, as the single is released on three different labels) as ‘ambling sweetness and a beat-driven groove’. The B-side has the socalled ‘Version Mary’ and is remixed by Vuelo, who also did a dub version of the band’s 2016 single People Everywhere (Still Alive). Vuelo gave the song a more spaced out, psychedelic sound. It sounds like a dub version of the A-side, with even more echo used and drums that are more upfront than in the original version. In both versions, the vocals are more an extra instrument than that they stand out from the music – in line with how Guaraldi’s original version used vocals in the song. The trio make the song their own, but at the same time, stay true to the original.

The single is pressed on translucent green vinyl, comes packed in a festive looking sleeve, with a cartoon of the three members playing in a snowy landscape. There are two different versions of the single – one for the US market and one for the European market. That’s cool, as that saves postage. The only difference between both editions is a different barcode on the back of the sleeve, while the European version has a slightly smaller (but it is barely noticable) sleeve.

As far as I know, this is only the third time the song ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ was released on a 7”. The first time was when the original was released on a promotional single in 1965. The second time was when the song was recorded by R.E.M. for the 1993 edition of the band’s yearly fanclub Christmas single. This Khruangbin single is much cheaper than those two singles. A copy of the 1965 original was sold recently on Ebay for almost 130 US dollars, while copies of R.E.M.’s 1993 holiday single start at USD 35 on Discogs. And, very coindicental, there is another band covering ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ this year, and they are also releasing the song on a 7” – Lucius. That 7” will be released a few weeks later than Khruangbin’s version, on December 7. More about that single later.

Khruangbin’s single can be found in all the cool indie record shops in the US, the UK and the European mainland – I saw plenty of copies in the two Amsterdam records shops I visted on RSD Black Friday, so despite the fact that the US version is sold out at the Bandcamp site of the band, I think it won’t be difficult to track down a copy. And it’s worth it – despite the fact that the 7” is rather pricey.

You can listen to the A-side of the single on Youtube:

zondag 11 november 2018

A Psycho Christmas with The Psycho Reptiles

This week saw one new 2018 Christmas single finding its way to my mailbox - all the way from South Africa!

The Psycho Reptiles: Psycho Christmas / Monster From The Bog
(One F Records, ONEF 1029, South Africa, 2018, 45 RPM, small hole, transparent or black lathe cut, limited to 70 copies)

In 1988, the South African psychobilly band The Psycho Reptiles released something quite unique, at least, for a South African band: a Christmas single. They were one of the first, if not the first, South African rock band that released a Christmas single – and still are one of the only. 1988 had been a good year for the band, that consisted of brothers Mike and Graham Seale (respectively guitar/vocals and bass), drummer Paul Toomer, keyboard player Adrian Hamilton and sax player Sarah Pontin. The Psycho Reptiles were signed to David Gresham Records, one of the bigger South African labels (a label that also released records by well-known international artists for the South African market), their singles 'Monster From The Bog' and ‘King Of The West’ had been a hits and they released their debut album, 'Have Beens Will Travel'. The Psycho Reptiles looked like coming straight from the 1950s with their leather jackets and greased quiffs. But musically they were less stuck in the fifties than their look might suggest, as the band also mixed psychobilly with punk, ska and rhythm & blues influences in their songs.

The band’s Christmas song was originally simply titled 'The Christmas Song', and the 45 had a vocal version on side A and an instrumental version on side B. Despite the title, the song was not a cover of Nat King Cole's hit, but a medley of several well known Christmas songs, played with such a speed that it seemed that band had to catch a plane. After church bells and an intro that sounded like an overture, the band raced through 'Jingle Bells', 'Twelve Days Of Christmas', 'Good King Wenceslas', 'Ding-Dong Ding-Dong', 'All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)', 'Frosty The Snowman', 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas', 'Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer', 'It's The Season To Be Jolly', 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' and 'White Christmas', slightly changing the lyrics when they seemed fit. Five pairs of socks and a Psycho Reptiles album became part of the twelve gifts of Christmas, the two front teeth were needed to eat the turkey and Rudolph couldn't take it anymore, so Santa hired his cousin whose name was Theodore… The single came with a funny video that found the four other members of band (saxophone player Sarah Pontin was not in the video, so was probably not part of the band anymore when the single was recorded and the video was filmed) molesting Santa Claus and others on the sunny streets of their hometown Johannesburg.

‘The Christmas Song’ was definitely not your average psychobilly song, not only because of the subject matter – after all, psychobilly bands usually like to sing about monsters, creeps and other scary stuff – but also because of the music. The very English and somewhat snotty sounding vocals (lead singer Mike Seale had been born in the UK) gave it a punk feeling, but the song also had bombastic sythesizers and a double bass drum that sounded more at home in a metal song. And of course, as in any good (punk) medley, 'The Christmas Song' had lots of singalongs. The single did well, and became the third hit for the band. Unfortunately, not much later, The Psycho Reptiles disbanded, as some members went to live in the UK. With a new line-up, featuring Mike Seale and original drummer Paul Toomer, the band did record a EP in the UK, 1994’s ‘Pearls Before Swine’.

In 2002, Sovereign Entertainment and String Music released a CD with South African artists doing Christmas songs, '5fm Presents The Santa Sessions'. The Psycho Reptiles classic was also included, retitled to 'Psycho Christmas'. These days, the original single is impossible to track down (no copies are listed for sale on Discogs and even Popsike hasn’t registered the single being ever sold), while the song is still popular. This made South African label One F Music decide it was about time to re-release the song on a 45. The label put ‘Monster From The Bog’ on the other side of the 45, making it another single suited for both Halloween and Christmas. As the vinyl single market in South Africa is probably even smaller than it is here in Europe, the single was released as a limited lathe cut single – 40 transparent and 30 black copies. Both songs were remastered by Paul Riekert and the records were packed in a colourful sleeve, with a cartoon of the five members of the band (with Sarah back in place) running away from the monster from the bog, who is dressed up as Santa Claus. The sound quality of lathe cuts records is in general not as good as traditional vinyl, but the sound quality of this single is quite okay. There are still a few copies available, these are sold through Ebay for $ 18 (excluding postage). Don’t wait too long, as these will sell out pretty quickly!

You can listen to the song on Youtube:

And, if you want to see the original video – it is to be found as part of a video compilation with ‘King Of The West’ on Youtube:

Since last week, a few more 45s have been added to the 2018 Christmas singles list. I'm most exited about the annual Nordpolen Musikklubb Christmas single - a vinyl release of Poly Styrene's great 2010 Christmas song Black Christmas! Another usual suspect, Jump Up! Records will release a second volume of Christmas songs by Roger Rivas. And Asthmatic Kitty Records will release a 2007 Christmas song by Sufjan Stevens, with a new version of the song on the B-side. The three 45s won't be out before the end of November, it seems. The Sufjan Stevens single is already sold out at the website of the label (although it seems you can buy it in your local record shop when it's out on December 7, when you're lucky, that is.

zaterdag 3 november 2018

The 2018 Christmas Season has started...

Now that we've entered November, it is about time to focus our attention on Christmas music again. Because, after all, Christmas is less than 60 days away. And with so many great Christmas music around, you need enough time to play it all!

The first 2018 Christmas 45 have already been released, so time for the first post about what the 2018 Christmas season will bring us, as far as Christmas 45s go. But before we look upon this new season, we will first return to last year's season for one Christmas 45 that we've missed... and that was, fortunately, pointed out to us by the 'Christmas Ketchup'-post, published at the end of July (yes, there are really people who are not from the southern hemisphere, writing about Christmas music in the middle of Summer) by the Christmas music blog all Christmas music blogs bow their head in respect to, Stubby's House Of Christmas.

The Independents / The Alements: The Independents & The Alements Bring You Christmas Classics!
(Snubbed Records, SR002, USA, 2017, 45 RPM, small hole, green vinyl)

Some shops and blogs list this 7" EP as being released in September 2018, but in reality, it was already out at the end of 2017, although a bit late to be on time for that year's Christmas season. That's always the thing with Christmas records - a bit of delay in production, and you are stuck with loads of records you can't sell anymore, because Christmas is (almost) over. Lucky for all labels that put out Christmas records, Christmas returns every year, so every year, there is another opportunity to get your records sold. As is clear from the front cover of this record, that shows a bunch carol singers with coloured mohawks, leather jackets and other punk-related outfits, what we find on this 4-song EP are two punk bands.

The Independents are the best known of the two. This Florence, South Carolina horror-punk band was founded in 1992 and has already released six albums (including one live album) for labels like Rockduster and Suki Records. Although this band identifies itself as a horrorpunk band, so should feel more at home at Halloween than at Christmas, this split-EP is not their first foray into Christmas music, as in 2013 they self-released a 4-song CDEP, titled 'Ho Ho Ho... Christmas Demos'. Two of the songs of that demo, 'Ho Ho Ho (What A Party!)' and 'Hooray For Santa Claus' are reprised on their split with The Alements, who are not as long in the game as The Independents, having released their debut album 'Tactical Basselope' in 2013. The Alements are from Annapolis, Maryland and are inspired by traditional 1980 and 1990s DC and LA punk, citings classics like Bad Religion, NOFX, Ramones, Minor Threat, Circle Jerks, Propagandhi and British hardrockers Motörhead as their influences. The EP was released by Snubbed Records, also based in Annapolis, so I wouldn't be surprised if one or more members of The Alements are involved in this label. The EP comes on transculent green vinyl, to give it even more of a Christmas feel. My copy came with stickers of the label and The Alements, so all in all it is a nice package.

On to the music. The Independents's 'Ho! Ho! Ho! (What A Party)' doesn't sound as festive as the title suggests: the singer feels sad, despite the fact that Santa soon will be there and the Christmas party begins, as he is missing his baby. So actually, it is quite a serious song, not what I would expect of a horrorpunk band. 'Hooray For Santa Claus', the second offering of The Independents on the EP, is a fast-paced punk cover of the title song of the Christmas movie that every has heard about, 'Santa Claus Conquers The Martians', but that nobody managed to sit through. The snotty background vocals add some extra punk spirit to the song. Then we turn the record around for the two songs of The Alements, also an original and a cover. The Alements open with the cover, their version of the traditional carol 'Good King Wenceslas', written in 1853 by John Mason Neale, as credited on the back cover of the EP. The song is in a way the soundtrack of the front cover, as it starts with a door bell ringing, a woman opening the door and the band singing the first verse of the carol - acapella! But after that first verse, pounding drums and screeching guitars join the carollers, and the 19th Century carol turns into a 21st century melodic punkrock song, before ending with some guitar feedback. The band's original 'Christmas Balls' is even faster, and is more hardcore punk than punkrock, even including a solo (that must be the Motörhead-influence). There is no lyrics sheet, so I can't really understand what they are singing about, only the chorus is clear 'Such Happy Christmas' - but that is probably meant ironically. All in all a cool EP, to spice up your Christmas party with some festive punk songs.

Listen to the 2013 Demo version of The Independents' original on Youtube.

So, now on to 2018. In fact, the first Christmas-related 45s of 2018 were already released months and months before Christmas. Like the official re-release of the 1979 Christmas single of Vernon Garrett.

Vernon Garrett: Merry Christmas Baby b/w Christmas Groove
(Glow Hill Records / Tramp Records, TR-249, Germany, reissue, 45RPM, big hole, black vinyl)

German label Tramp Records releases current bands, mainly bands inspired by the traditional funk sounds of the 1960s and 1970s, but also re-issues, as they put it themselves, 'quality (not necessarily rare) funk, soul, folk, afro beat, and jazz'. Vernon Garnett may not be a rare artist, but his 1979 Christmas single on Glow Hill Records definitely is - on Discogs, it sells for 100 euro and over. It's good that these kind of records are being re-issued, so that people can own a copy of this 45 for a reasonable price - and put it in their jukebox or play it on their turntable if they need a funky song for their Christmas party.

Vernon Garnett was born in 1933, in Omaha, Nebraska and started to sing as a teenager as part of several local gospel groups. He joined the Swan Silvertones for a short while, until he was drafted into the army and was in the navy during the Korean war. After safely returning from the war, Vernon joined the vocal group The Mixers, before he started his solo career, while also performing with his wife Jewel. The duo proved succesful and recorded several singles for Kent Records in the 1960s. The duo ended tragically with the death of Jewel and Vernon decided to continue as a solo artist. He recorded for dozens of different labels and after years of recording and perfoming, he finally had his first hit in the R&B charts in 1977, 'I'm At The Crossroads', released on ICU. The song would become his theme song. That was two years after Vernon had recorded his debut album, 'Going To My Baby's Place'. The late 1970s, when soul, funk and disco were popular, was the most succesful period for Vernon, and it was also when he recorded his cover of Charles Brown classic 'Merry Christmas Baby'.

Vernon recorded the song in a style that brought another Brown to mind, James. The 45 was released as a promo on Glow Hill, which was basically Vernon's own label. Vernon's version of 'Merry Christmas Baby', recorded with Sir Stan And The Counts was definitely one of the most funkiest versions of the song ever recorded, with funky guitars, some boogie woogie piano playing in the background and subtile use of brass; Vernon's strong vocal delivery finishes it off; and it ends funny, with a bunch of kids screaming 'Merry Christmas Everbody!'; the B-side, 'Christmas Groove', is a funky instrumental that does not necessary sound very Christmas-like, but it definitely is a good song. Great single! Sir Stan, who accompanies Vernon on this record with his band, is Stanley Griggs, a Oklahoma-born and Kansas-raised musician, who built a career in Los Angeles, and has appeared through the years with many of the greats in soul, blues and rock, like Ike & Tina Turner, John Lee Hooker, Etta James and Little Richard. Now in his 70s, he is still performing with The Counts Rhythm and Blues Band. According to Tramp Records, the reissue, that was released in April of this year, is limited to 150 hand-numbered copies, so don't wait too long with picking up a copy, as this re-issue might also be going in a few years for big money. On Discogs still a few copies are listed for sale. Although far into his 80s, Vernon still sometimes performs, mostly at religious get-togethers. Given that he started singing in gospel groups, he is back where he started from.

Listen to 'Merry Christmas Baby' by Vernon Garnett on Youtube:

Earthworm / Human Adult Band: Happy Horrordays
(D.I.H.D., 007, USA, 2018, 45 RPM, small hole, black vinyl)

Released at the end of September, this split 7" was actually the first new Christmas single of 2018. Or better, the first Halloween and Christmas single of 2018, as, as is indicated by the title of the single, 'Happy Horrordays', this vinyl outing brings the two holidays together on one disc. Both bands are from New Jersey and play a mixture of punk, hardcore, noise, postpunk and postrock. Earthworm takes care of the Halloween side of the record, while the Human Adult Band is responsible for the Christmas song. The single comes packed in a photo copied sleeve, and is released on D.I.H.D. records, ran by T Penn, bassist in and linking pin between both bands. My copy had a orange sleeve, not a yellow one as pictured. The single came with stickers and a button, all very D.I.Y.. When I received the package and opened it up, it brought me back to the mid-1990, when I used to spell the reviews of punk bible Maximum Rock 'n' Roll, and ordered many 45s by sending out a letter with a 5 dollar bill (yes, there was a time you could get a record postage paid from the US for 5 dollar shipped to Europe - nowadays, only the shipping is already three times as expensive), and a few weeks later I received a cool punk or hardcore 7" in my mailbox. Nice to re-experience that excitement by unpacking the package that brought this record to Amsterdam.

This record will not be for everyone, I guess, and I wouldn't label the music as accessible. Especially the Earthworm-side is more hardcore punk than anything else - the second song, short with a singer who screams his lungs out, borders on powerviolence; according to the label's Bandcamp, not even the singer knew what he was shouting, but it was frightening enough to classify as a Halloween song. And the title 'Beastly People' is very much on spot. The other song of Earthworm, 'A Very Important Discovery', was inspired by 'mad scientists scenes in classic Universal Pictures horror and sci-fi films'. It's a cool hardcore song, I like it.

Human Adult Band takes a different approach. Their song is not as fast, and made me think of Sonic Youth, due to the feedback drenched and experimental guitar playing, and even the Butthole Surfers. The line-up lists a lap steel guitarist, another sign that this band is indeed different. The rather originally titled '(All I Want For Xmas Is A) Rusty Roll Of Quarters' (after all, that's something else than you, my two front teeth or even a dukla prague away kit) was recorded for and also debuted on Jon Solomon's 25 Hour Christmas Special 2016 on WPRB, a Princeton, NJ radio station. This special is on air for 25 hours (hence the name) from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day and has DJ Jon Solomon playing off kilter and obscure Christmas indie, punk and other music left of center. This year will be Jon's 30th year of doing so - much respect to him for ding this for such a long time! T Penn returned the year after the Human Adult Band was featured with the song of this 7" as part of After The Fall, who reworked The Fall's brilliant 1980 single 'Totally Wired' into a Christmas song titled 'Totally Tired (Of Xmas)'.

Back to that rusty roll of quarters, that is needed for - among other things - washing the dirty trousers of the singer: after all, you want to look clean and neat on the Christmas party. Not that this Christmas party will be much fun, giving the mention of hell and crying children in the song, which sounds more like the soundtrack of a creepy movie than music that will have everybody start dancing around the Christmas tree. Instead, it will probably inspire them to set the Christmas tree to flames, and while the house is burning down, go outside and watch the Apocalypse happening, brought about by global warming and fake politicians who think that when you simply say a problem does not exist, it does not exist. Oops, sorry for bringing politics into this blog. Couldn't resist. Anyway, not a song for the mixtape you will send as a Christmas present to your uncles and aunts, but definitely one to include on the one you'll send to your little niece and nephew, who just have started to discover underground music - to point them in the right direction.

You can listen to the complete EP on Bandcamp.

And if you want to After The Fall's great Fall Christmas cover:

MARIAH CAREY: All I Want For Christmas Is You
(Sony Music Labels, SIKP 4, Japan, 2018, 33 RPM, small hole, red vinyl)

Oh, no, please, not again!, I hear you all call out. One can't put on mainstream radio around Christmas time, or walk into a store, and there she is again: Mariah Carey with her 'All I Want For Christmas Is You'. And now also here, in this blog, she turns up. Even for the second time! 24 years old now, generally considered as the last Christmas classic, and, whether you like it or not, a catchy song that has everything a good Christmas pop song should have. Sometimes the general public can be very wrong, but this time, they were right. This song is indeed a classic - because, of course, it stole so many ideas of the classics that came before it. I know there are music experts who can go on and on for hours analyzing this song, and why it works. They make it almost sounds as if it is was a large masterplan, in the works for many years, and carefully put in practice, working out every detail so that it all came together perfectly, and everybody had to fall for it. I do believe the songwriters stole some ideas of classic Christmas songs, just like every hit has been inspired by what came before it, but it was mainly just some talented people get together at the right moment which brought about this classic, I believe.

Well, a long introduction for why Mariah Carey is again subject of this blog. That is because Sony Japan thought it a good idea to release a EP with three versions of Mariah's classic Christmas hit, and finish it off with her version of what many consider to be actually the best Christmas song ever, Darlene Love's 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)'. The new EP opens with the original version of the hit, and follows it up with the version remixed by Jermain Dupri and featuring Lil Bow Wow Wow. This version was originally released in 2000 in Japan, and was for the first time released on 7" on a lathe cut bootleg in 2015: read more about this in one of my blog posts from 2015 here. The third version is called Mariah's New Dance Mix. It isn't that new anymore, as it was originally released in 2009, but only as a digital single. This is the first time this mix appears on a physical release (not counting CDr's made for promotional purposes). Mariah's cover of 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)' also appeared on her classic 1994 Christmas album.

Sony Japan did a nice job: the single comes in a luxury looking sleeve based upon the sleeve of that same 1994 Christmas album, has an insert with lyrics in English and Japanese and is on red vinyl. Japan is an expensive country, so records are also expensive in Japan. My copy was around 20 euro postage paid from Japan, which is quite okay these days, especially when you see what you get for the money. After the Record Store Day picture disc 10" of three years ago, here is another nice record to add to your Mariah Carey Christmas collection. You can find several (overpriced) copies on Discogs and more reasonable priced copies on all the Japanese record webstores you find on internet, of which some also ship to outside Japan. I bought my copy at CD Japan, a fast and reliable webshop. And no, I am not sponsered by them. Given that Carey's Christmas classic will celebrate its 25th birthday next year and that record labels are never letting opportunities to cash in go wasted, I am curious what kind of special editions next year will bring. Maybe finally a re-release of the original 45, that only saw a European release, and is still selling for 50 euros and over. That would maybe be a nice idea. In the meantime, I still asking myself: should I go to Mariah's Christmas in Amsterdam this December, or skip it, and spend the money saved on more Christmas 45s?

For those of you who still not have enough of Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas Is You', here is the vintage video starring a very young Mariah again:

Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club - edition 2018 featuring Oh! Gunquit, Green Seagull and Rachael Dadd

Well, while we are talking about spending money on Christmas 45s - time for some shameless promotion of the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club. This year, three 45s will be released, all by artists from the UK (in a way, a bit symbolic, as this will be the last year the UK is part from the European Union - at least, that's how it looks at the moment, but who knows what the future will bring). Oh! Gunquit and Green Seagull from London and Rachael Dadd from Bristol (although she also lives part of the year in Japan). The 3 records can be ordered as part of a package deal here - with discount the three singles are 28 euro postage paid all over the world. The singles can also be ordered separately, and also most of the previous edition of the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club are still available on Snowflakes Big Cartel Page. The perfect Christmas gift for your vinyl loving loved ones; or, of course, yourself!

2018 will bring many more Christmas singles, by the likes of CJ Ramone, Clownis Presley, Ingrid Michaelson (RSD Black Friday), Khruangbin, Lindsey Stirling (RSD Black Friday), Lucius, Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers, Nelson Carrera & The Scoundrels, Old 97’s, The Decibels, The Psycho Reptiles and William Shatner (with Henry Rollins and Iggy Pop) and splits between Green River and U-Man (RSD Black Friday), Rodney Crowell and JD McPherson, and Unwritten Law and Sum 41 (RSD Black Friday). Thanks to Stubby's House Of Christmas and Christmas Underground for bringing most of these to my attention! More about these once they're in. And of course, I hope for and expect many more Christmas 45s to follow!