Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Stuck With The Hermit At Yuletide (starts 12/22/11)

Just about every weekly radio show does a Christmas special this time of year, and for several years now Stuck In the Psychedelic Era has been no exception. There is a problem, though, and that is the unavoidable fact that for the most part the artists I generally feature on the show never got around to recording any Christmas songs. There are exceptions, of course, and this week you'll hear some of those by Jethro Tull, the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, and others. But, unless I wanted to spend over half the show on Beach Boys Christmas songs (and there are nearly enough of those for an entire show), I knew I would have to take an entirely different approach to selecting the songs. After a couple of years of experimenting around with various approaches I finally decided to just pick out the coolest holiday tracks I could find, regardless of genre or year they were recorded, and have been doing it that way ever since. As a result, on this year's show we'll be hearing tunes that span from 1948 through 1983. One unintended consequence of doing it this way is that nearly every track used on the show tonight is from a CD.
So prepare to be Stuck with the Hermit at Yuletide without any scratchy records this year.

Artist: Mannheim Steamroller
Song Title: Hark! The Herald Trumpets Sing
Source: CD: A Fresh Aire Christmas
Release Year: 1988
I was looking for something that was both pompous and cool at the same time to start the show. Mannheim Steamroller seemed to fit the bill. Besides, Chip Davis wrote it to be an introduction, so I figured why not?

Artist: George Thorogood and the Destroyers
Song Title: Rock and Roll Christmas
Source: CD: Billboard Rock and Roll Christmas
Release Year: 1983
George Thorogood has always said that his group was at heart a bar band. As a bar band is just a step away from being a garage band, this seemed like as good a place as any to get into the actual meat of the show.

Artist: Beatles
Song Title: Christmas Time (Is Here Again)
Source: CD single: Free As a Bird
Release Year: 1967/1997
Every year the Beatles would record a special Christmas message to go out to members of their fan club, and mail it out on what was then known as a floppy disc. This was not the same as a computer floppy disc, however. In fact, the medium the Beatles used eventually came to be known as a flexi-disc, just to keep things from getting any more confusing. Regardless of what you called it, the things tended to wear out after just a few plays and I doubt there are many playable copies of these discs left in the universe. Luckily for us, George Martin had the foresight to hang on to everything the Beatles ever recorded, including this tune, which was chopped up and used for the 1967 Christmas Greeting. When the Beatles Anthology was released in 1997, the piece was included on the Free As a Bird CD single, and we got to hear the song in its uninterrupted entirety for the first time.

Artist: John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Song Title: Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
Source: CD: New Gold on CD
Release Year: 1972
Largely overlooked when first released, this song has since acquired classic status.

Artist: Dennis Wilson
Song Title: Morning Christmas
Source: CD: Beach Boys Ultimate Christmas
Release Year: 1977
Dennis Wilson was not hanging around with the rest of the clan in 1977, but did want to make a contribution to their new Christmas album that year, so he sent in this recording. The album ended up not being released, but the track finally did see the light of day on the Ultimate Christmas collection issued four or five years ago.

Artist: Simon and Garfunkel
Song Title: Silent Night/7 O'Clock News
Source: CD: Complete Works (originally released on LP: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme)
Release Year: 1966
This track is unique for several reasons. The most obvious is that it uses two unrelated recordings to make an ironically chilling point. The first is a rendition of Franz Gruber's Silent Night, with vocals in the center channel and piano only coming from one speaker. As the song progresses a newscast in the other channel slowly gets louder. Eventually the song ends and there is only the news. What's also unusual is that this well-known Christmas carol is not featured on a Christmas album at all; instead it appears as the final track on a side of a regular album.

Artist: Simon and Garfunkel
Song Title: A Hazy Shade of Winter
Source: CD: Complete Works (originally released as 45 RPM single and included on LP: Bookends)
Release Year: 1966
I wish I could take credit for putting this and the previous track together. The truth is I don't know who came up with the idea; my best guess is someone from Westwood One radio, as I first heard it done on one of their syndicated programs. Still, it's not a bad idea, and I happened to have a copy of the Westwood One version of the tracks, so there it is.

Artist: Jethro Tull
Song Title: Ring Out Solstice Bells
Source: LP: Songs From the Wood
Release Year: 1976
Until the late 1940s the predominate form of recorded music was the 78 RPM (revolutions per minute) record, which was either 10 or 12 inches in diameter and made of a brittle material called shellac. The 10 inch version was the standard for popular music, with a running time of about 3 to 4 minutes. RCA Victor developed a direct replacement for the 78 that was 7 inches in diameter and ran at 45 RPM. Meanwhile, RCA's top rival, Columbia Records, developed a slower long-playing record that used something called microgroove technology that allowed up to half an hour's worth of recorded material per side. Somewhere along the way somebody decided to try the microgroove approach to the 45 and the Extended Play (EP) record was born. In the US, EPs were somewhat popular in the 1950s, but pretty much died out by the time of the Beatles, except for specialized formats such as children's records and low-budget cover labels that would hire anonymous studio musicians to re-create popular hits. In the UK, on the other hand, the format remained viable up through the mid-70s. Jethro Tull took advantage of the EP format to release a Christmas record in December of 1976. Ring Out Solstice Bells was the featured song on the EP, and would not be released in the US until the following spring, when it was included on the album Songs From the Wood.

Artist: Ed "Cookie" Byrnes
Song Title: Yulesville
Source: CD: Cool Yule
Release Year: 1959
The ABC TV network was a perennial also-ran that was just starting to find a winning formula in the late 50s with shows targeted toward a younger audience. The most popular of these was 77 Sunset Strip, starring Ed "Cookie" Byrnes. He and co-star Connie Stevens, staying in character, cut a hit novelty record called "Cookie, Cookie," which played on Cookie's propensity for combing his hair. Byrnes, again in character, followed it up with this hip retelling of the classic poem Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Artist: Bobby "Boris" Pickett
Song Title: Monster's Holiday
Source: CD: New Gold on CD
Release Year: 1962
Bobby Picket scored big with his Halloween hit Monster Mash in 1962, and quickly followed it up with this sequel set around the Christmas holidays. Legendary producer Gary Paxton was responsible for both recordings making it onto vinyl and on the air.

Artist: Johnny Preston
Song Title: (I Want a) Rock and Roll Guitar
Source: CD: Cool Yule
Release Year: 1960
Johnny Preston recorded his signature song in 1960, the classic Running Bear, penned by J.P. Richardson, the Big Bopper. The pair teamed up again for this Christmas song later the same year. Interesting enough, by the middle of the decade, a guitar was exactly what many kids were indeed asking for. I should know; I got my first guitar (and amp) as a Christmas present after badgering my parents mercilessly for months. I think between the two they might have run about $100, which made it the most expensive Christmas I ever had.

Artist: Foghat
Song Title: All I Want For Christmas Is You
Source: CD: Billboard Rock and Roll Christmas
Release Year: 1981
Foghat was formed when all the members of Savoy Brown except leader Kim Edmunds decided to form their own band in the early 70s. After a moderately successful run, founding member "Lonesome" Dave Peverett was all set to call it quits in 1981, but not until after he wrote and recorded this holiday tune.

Artist: Kinks
Song Title: Father Christmas
Source: CD: Billboard Rock and Roll Christmas
Release Year: 1977
There are not many socially-conscious Christmas songs, especially slightly twisted ones like this Kinks classic from 1977. I guess by then getting a guitar was kind of passe anyway.

Artist: Charles Brown
Song Title: Please Come Home For Christmas
Source: CD: Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits (1955-Present)
Release Year: 1961
By now just about everyone is familiar with the Eagles version of this tune. Not everyone, however, knows the song was written by blues great Charles Brown. Even fewer have actually heard Brown's 1961 original, which is a shame, as it blows the Eagles version clean out of the water.

Artist: James Brown
Song Title: Santa Claus, Santa Claus
Source: CD: Cool Yule
Release Year: 1968
Few people would ever accuse James Brown of being a blues artist, but this recording from 1968 shows what it would have sounded like if he was.

Artist: Clarence Carter
Song Title: Back Door Santa
Source: CD: New Gold on CD
Release Year: 1969
Clarence Carter is an icon of the beach music (for you non-Carolinians, beach music has nothing to do with surf music) crowd. For everyone else, he is a moderately successful soul artist known mostly for his mid-70s hit Slip Away. Regardless of where you might know him from, this song will surprise you with its get down and get funky energy.

Artist: Jimmy McCracklin
Song Title: Christmas Time
Source: CD: New Gold on CD
Release Year: 1961 (?)
Jimmy McCracklin recorded one of the catchiest, yet underplayed, tunes of the 50s when he did The Walk. This song from a few years later actually sounds like beach music. Go figure.

Artist: Chuck Berry
Song Title: Run Rudolph Run
Source: CD: Chuck Berry Chess Box
Release Year: 1958
Chuck Berry established a reputation in the 60s for reworking his old songs from the 50s, giving them new lyrics and sometimes new guitar rifts. Probably the best-known example of this was No Particular Place To Go, which is a reworked version of School Day. His first reworking of a previously-recorded song was 1958's Run Rudoph Run, which was virtually identical to Little Queenie, released earlier the same year. To me it sounds like he actually used the Little Queenie instrumental tracks rather than to re-record the song. This kind of cost-cutting measure would be consistent with his later practice of using pick-up bands rather than incurring the travel expenses of having his own band on the road.

Artist: Jack Scott
Song Title: There's Trouble Brewin'
Source: CD: Cool Yule
Release Year: 1963
Canadian born Jack Scott was one of the great rockabilly performers of the late 50s, scoring several top 10 hits, including My True Love and Burning Bridges. This 1963 recording shows him at the peak of his vocal powers.

Artist: Cheech and Chong
Song Title: Santa Claus and His Old Lady
Source: CD: Billboard Rock and Roll Christmas
Release Year: 1971
I heard this on the radio the year it was released and managed to find a copy of the 45 only to have it disappear on me a few years later. Luckily, the folks at Rhino somehow knew of my dilemma and included it on their Rock and Roll Christmas CD. Well, I can dream, can't I? Incidentally, the B side of that old 45 was Dave's Not Here from Cheech and Chong's first album.

Artist: Ray Stevens
Song Title: Santa Claus Is Watching You
Source: CD: New Gold on CD (originally released on 45 RPM vinyl)
Release Year: 1962
I've mentioned something called the Grab Bag before. Basically, it was a sealed paper bag (sometimes with a clear plastic front) containing four 45 RPM records, generally "cut-outs" that were no longer in print. The one my family bought for Christmas of 1964 had a Sing Along With Mitch Christmas EP in the front. This song was on one of the other three records, although I seem to remember it being slightly different that the version heard here. One thing that both versions had in common was the presence of Clyde the Camel from Stevens's first hit Ahab the Arab.

Artist: Spike Jones and His City Slickers
Song Title: All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)
Source: CD: Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits 1935-1954
Release Year: 1948
Spike Jones and His City Slickers were a highly talented bunch who made music out of sound effects, toy instruments, and whatever else it occurred to them to use. Their forte was the novelty record, and no one did it better. All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth) was written by Middleton, NY schoolteacher Donald Yetter Gardner, who was inspired to write the song when he asked his second grade class what they wanted for Christmas and was struck by how many of them were lisping due to missing front teeth.

Artist: Chipmunks
Song Title: The Chipmunk Song
Source: CD: Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits 1955-Present
Release Year: 1958
In 1958 pop-jazz composer/bandleader Ross Bagdasarian decided to play around with a variable-speed tape recorder and came up with the novelty hit Witch Doctor. He followed it up by using multiple tape machines to create a trio of sped up voices that he called the Chipmunks, and released this smash hit in time for the Christmas season. The success of this record led to a Saturday morning cartoon series and a series of albums for the Liberty label. His son, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. has revived the concept in recent years, although not with the same level of success.

Artist: Beach Boys
Song Title: Little Saint Nick (stereo single version)
Source: CD: Beach Boys Ultimate Christmas
Release Year: 1963
When the Beach Boys first recorded Little Saint Nick they were the hottest surf music band in the country. A year later Beatlemania had set in, and a new version of Little Saint Nick was recorded for the Beach Boys Christmas Album. The new version put a greater emphasis on the vocals, and much of the original instrumentation was deleted from the arrangement. That is the version that usually gets heard on commercial radio every year. In the mid-70s, Carl Wilson, who by then had stepped into the leader's role formerly held by older brother Brian, pulled out the original 1963 tapes and created a new stereo mix of the song heard here. The instruments have greater prominence in this version and include the distinctive sound of sleighbells that were completely exorcised from the 1964 version.

Artist: Ventures
Song Title: Sleigh Ride
Source: CD: The Ventures Christmas Album
Release Year: 1965
The Ventures are by far the most successful instrumental rock group in history, with over 100 albums released over several decades. One of the most successful of these was their 1965 Christmas album, which featured this surfinated version of Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride, a piece usually associated with the Boston Pops Orchestra.

Artist: Sonics
Song Title: Santa Claus
Source: CD: Cool Yule (originally released on LP:
Release Year: 1966
The Pacific Northwest was home to several bands that can only be described as proto-punk (think Louie Louie). One of the top bands on the scene up there was the Sonics, who recorded raw hard-driving songs with titles like Psycho, the Witch and Strychnine. Santa Claus is very much in the same vein, making it the punkiest Christmas song of the sixties, if not all time.

Artist: Jethro Tull
Song Title: Christmas Song
Source: CD: This Was (bonus track originally released on 45 RPM vinyl)
Release Year: 1968
I wanted to play one set made up entirely of songs from the psychedelic era performed by artists that I feature on the show on a fairly regular basis. One of these artists is the band Jethro Tull, led by flautist/acoustic guitarist/vocalist Ian Anderson. This track, originally recorded in 1968, did not appear in the US until 1973's Living In the Past album.

Artist: Canned Heat
Song Title: Christmas Blues
Source: CD: Billboard Rock and Roll Christmas
Release Year: 1968
Although Steve Miller originally hailed from Chicago, it was Canned Head that emerged as the San Francisco Bay area's electric blues band of choice. With Robert "Big Bear" Hite fronting the band on blues harp and vocals, they recorded this Christmas treat in time for the 1968 Yule season.

Artist: Chuck Berry
Song Title: Merry Christmas, Baby
Source: CD: Chuck Berry Chess Box
Release Year: 1958
Chuck Berry did not record too many cover tunes, as he was a prolific songwriter himself. However, for the B side to Run Rudolph Run, he cut this tasty version of Charles Brown's "other" Christmas song.

Artist: Solomon Burke
Song Title: Presents For Christmas
Source: CD: Cool Yule
Release Year: 1966
Solomon Burke was a staple artist for the Atlantic label at a time when Atlantic itself was being overshadowed by the Stax/Volt labels that it distributed. Nonetheless, Burke had several R&B hits throughout the sixties and was highly respected by his fellow artists. Presents For Christmas captures Burke at his peak in 1966.

Artist: Eartha Kitt
Song Title: Santa Baby
Source: CD: Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits 1935-1954
Release Year: 1953
Eartha Kitt has one of the most unique voices in the history of jazz, and put it to good use on the original 1953 version of a tune that has in recent years become associated with Madonna. Nearly 60 years later, Kitt is still performing with nearly as much energy as she had in the 50s.

Artist: Rufus Thomas
Song Title: I'll Be Your Santa Baby
Source: CD: New Gold on CD (originally released on 45 RPM vinyl)
Release Year: unknown
Rufus Thomas had a long and storied career, first with his "dog" hits in the early 60s (Walking the Dog being the most famous) and then later as a member of the Stax/Volt stable of artists. This song, recorded for Stax, was released sometimes in the late 60s around the same time that his daughter Carla was making a name for herself with hits like B-A-B-Y and (with Otis Redding) Tramp.

Artist: Cadillacs
Song Title: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Source: CD: New Gold on CD (originally released on 45 RPM vinyl)
Release Year: 1956
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has been recorded by a lot of different artists over the years, but this version by the Cadillacs stands out for its pure sense of fun. Doo-wop was at its peak of popularity in 1956 and the Cadillacs were among the best of the doo-wop groups.

Artist: Drifters
Song Title: White Christmas
Source: CD: Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits (1955-Present)
Release Year: 1955
The Drifters were a kind of early R&B doowop supergroup made up of ex-members of other R&B groups such as Billy Ward's Dominoes. The most distinctive voice of the original Drifters was high tenor Clyde McPhatter, for whom Ray Stevens's famous camel was named. Over the years the lineup changed many times and led to several former members forming competing groups, all using the Drifters name. Over time, members of these offshoots would in turn form their own Drifters, despite having virtually no connection to the original group. This is why it sometimes seems that half the doowop singers in the world claim to be former members of the Drifters.

Artist: Marquees
Song Title: Christmas In the Congo
Source: CD: Cool Yule
Release Year: 1958
You have to hear this one to believe it. 'Nuff said.

Artist: King Curtis
Song Title: The Christmas Song
Source: 45 RPM vinyl
Release Year: 1966
King Curtis was one of the most in-demand saxophone players of the first wave of rock and roll. His best known work was on the song Yakety Yak by the Coasters in 1958. In the sixties he became the music director for the Atlantic Records group, appearing on a variety of recordings by artists such as Solomon Burke and occassionally released material on the Atco label under his own name. Tragically, his life was cut short when he was the victim of a stabbing when he attempted to stop junkies from shooting up on his front steps in New York.

So there it is: the Hermit's own take on Yuletime. I hope you enjoy the show. Next week we take a look back at the songs and artists that got the most airtime on Stuck in the Psychedelic Era this past year.

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