Sunday, December 13, 2020

Rockin' the Holidays of Confusion (starts 12/14/20) 

This week we are Rockin' the Holidays of Confusion, with some pretty cool tracks ranging from Steeleye Span to Emerson, Lake And Palmer. See playlist below for details.

Artist:    Steeleye Span
Title:    The King
Source:    LP: Please To See The King
Writer(s):    Trad., arr. Steeleye Span
Label:    Chrysalis (original label: Big Tree)
Year:    1971
    The King, adapted and recorded by Steeleye Span for their second LP, Please To See The King, has its origins in the old Irish "Cutty Wren" ceremony, wherein a wren in a cage is paraded around as if it were a king. Since the ceremony was traditionally held on December 26th, St. Stephen's Day, the song itself was often performed as a Christmas Carol. The tradition has seen a resurgence in recent years, but in England rather than Ireland.

Artist:      Jethro Tull
Title:     Ring Out Solstice Bells
Source:      LP: Songs From the Wood
Writer:    Ian Anderson
Label:    Chrysalis
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:    Greg Lake
Title:    I Believe In Father Christmas
Source:    British import 45 RPM single
Writer(s):    Lake/Sinfield
Label:    Manticore
Year:    1975
    According to Greg Lake, I Believe In Father Christmas was not intended to be a Christmas song, despite its title. Lake said he wrote the song to protest the commercialization of Christmas. Peter Sinfield, who wrote the lyrics to the song, had a different take on the matter, saying that the words are about a loss of innocence and childhood belief. One thing they did agree on was that the song is not anti-religious, despite what some critics have said. In fact, Lake made his own views clear in an interview after the song was released, saying "I find it appalling when people say it's politically incorrect to talk about Christmas, you've got to talk about 'The Holiday Season'. Christmas was a time of family warmth and love. There was a feeling of forgiveness, acceptance. And I do believe in Father Christmas." The song was recorded in 1974 and released in 1975, while Lake was still a member of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. It was his most successful solo recording, going to the #2 spot on the British singles chart (kept out of the #1 spot by Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody).

Artist:      Kinks
Title:     Father Christmas
Source:      CD: Christmas A Go-Go (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Writer:    Ray Davies
Label:     Wicked Cool (original label: Arista)
Year:     1977
     There are not many socially-conscious Christmas songs, especially slightly twisted ones like the Kinks' classic Father Christmas. Originally released in 1977 the track is recognized as one of the greatest rock Christmas songs ever, as well as one of Ray Davies' most unforgettable tunes.

Artist:      Dennis Wilson (Beach Boys)
Title:     Morning Christmas
Source:      CD: Beach Boys Ultimate Christmas
Writer:    Dennis Wilson)
Label:    Capitol
Year:     Recorded 1977, released 1998
     Dennis Wilson was not hanging around with the rest of the Wilson clan in 1977, but did want to make a contribution to their new Christmas album that year, so he sent in this recording of a song he wrote called Morning Christmas. The album ended up not being released, but the track finally did see the light of day on the Beach Boys' Ultimate Christmas collection issued in 1998.

Artist:    Big Crosby/David Bowie
Title:    Peace On Earth/The Little Drummer Boy
Source:    Mono CD: Now That's What I Call Christmas (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Writer(s):    Grossman/Fraser/Kohan/Simeone/Onerati/Davis
Label:    Zomba (original label: RCA)
Year:    1982
    In 1977 David Bowie was deliberately trying to "normalize" his musical reputation following his stint as the "king of glitter-rock". One way of doing this was to appear on Bing Crosby's annual Christmas special on NBC-TV, about as mainstream an event as still existed in 1977. Bowie later admitted that the only reason he appeared on the show is that he knew his mother liked Crosby. The two were slated to exchange scipted stories describing each one's own family Christmas traditions before breaking into a duet of The Little Drummer Boy, a song made famous by the Harry Simeone Chorale in 1958. Bowie reportedly told the show's producers that he hated the song, and asked if he could sing something else instead. The producers responded by coming up with a whole new song, Peace On Earth, that was designed to be sung as a counterpoint to The Little Drummer Boy. On the show, Crosby sang the original tune and Bowie the new one, creating a new Christmas classic in the process. Sadly, Crosby died a month before the show aired. The song was not released on vinyl until 1982, when RCA issued it as a single. The song has gone on to become one of Bowie's most successful singles, as well as Crosby's last recording ever to hit the charts.

Artist:    Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Title:    The Three Kings And I (What Really Happened)
Source:    CD: The Christmas Attic
Writer(s):    O'Neil/Kinkel
Label:    Lava
Year:    1998
    The Christmas Attic was the second part of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas Trilogy. Released in 1998, the music was not performed live until 2014. One of my personal favorite tracks on the album is The Three Kings And I (What Really Happened), which has a kind of beatnik feel to it. Good stuff.

Artist:    Queen
Title:    Jesus
Source:    LP: Queen
Writer(s):    Freddie Mercury
Label:    Elektra
Year:    1973
    Although technically not a Christmas song, Freddie Mercury's song Jesus, from the first Queen album, was one of the songs I knew I had to include on Rockin' the Holidays of Confusion. After all, without Jesus there wouldn't be a Christmas in the first place, right?

Artist:    Who
Title:    Christmas
Source:    LP: Tommy
Writer(s):    Pete Townshend
Label:    Decca
Year:    1969
    Although not usually considered a Christmas song per se, The Who's Christmas, from the rock-opera Tommy, is actually one of the most thought-provoking pieces on the subject ever put to music. The song features the repeated question "How can he be saved from the eternal grave" if he remains unaware of who Jesus is, due to his inability to see or hear anything. It is the same kind of question I used to ask as a child about various aboriginal peoples that lived and died without ever having been exposed to Christian doctrine. Needless to say, I never did get a satisfactory answer from any of the adults I posed the question to.

Artist:      Cheech and Chong
Title:     Santa Claus and His Old Lady
Source:      CD: Billboard Rock and Roll Christmas (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Writer(s):    Marin/Chong
Label:    Rhino (original label: Ode)
Year:     1971
     I heard Cheech And Chong's Santa Claus and His Old Lady 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 (sure they did). Incidentally, the B side of that old 45 was Dave's Not Here from Cheech and Chong's first album.

Artist:    Chesterfield Kings
Title:    Hey Santa Claus
Source:    CD: Christmas A Go-Go
Writer(s):    Babiuk/Prevost/Morabito/Boise
Label:    Wicked Cool
Year:    2004
    Formed in the late 1970s in Rochester, NY, the Chesterfield Kings (named for an old brand of unfiltered cigarettes that my grandfather used to smoke) were instrumental in setting off the garage band revival of the 1980s. Although much of their material is self-released, they have a habit of showing up on various compilations such as Christmas A Go-Go, a 2004 presentation of Little Steven's Underground Garage released on the Wicked Cool label. As near as I can tell, this is the only place Hey Santa Claus appears.

Artist:      George Thorogood and the Destroyers
Title:     Rock And Roll Christmas
Source:      CD: Billboard Rock and Roll Christmas (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Writer:    George Thorogood
Label:    Rhino (original label: EMI America)
Year:     1983
     I'm not sure what prompted roots rocker George Thorogood to write Rock And Roll Christmas and record it with his the band, the Destroyers, but I'm glad he did. The tune was released as a single on the EMI America label in 1983.

Artist:    Keith Richards
Title:    Run Rudolph Run
Source:    Mono CD: Christmas A Go-Go (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Writer(s):    Marks/Brodie
Label:    Wicked Cool (original label: Rolling Stones)
Year:    1978
    Chuck Berry is undisputably one of the most (if not the most) influential rock 'n' roll artists of 1950s. In fact, John Lennon once said of him that if they couldn't call it rock 'n' roll they'd have to call it Chuck Berry. Nonetheless, Berry has always had a bit of shady side to him. For instance, he had the reputation of being so cheap that he refused to hire his own touring band, instead using local bands to back him up at his gigs, whether they could perform his material competently or not. Another cost-saving measure he was known for was re-using old music tracks with new lyrics to create a whole new song. Finally, like many of his contemporaries in the blues world, Berry was not above borrowing someone else's ideas and putting his own name on it. Consider Run Rudolph Run, which was released by Berry as a B side in late 1958. The following year the song Little Queenie was released using the same backing tracks as Run Rudolph Run. The label on the original pressing of Run Rudolph Run credits the song to Chuck Berry Music/Brodie, despite the fact that the song was actually written by Marvin Brodie and Johnny Marks, while Little Queenie is credited entirely to Chuck Berry Music. Newer versions of Run Rudolph Run such as Keith Richards's 1978 single credit Brodie and Marks, while using a variation of the Berry arrangement of the tune.

Artist:      Foghat
Title:     All I Want For Christmas Is You
Source:      CD: Billboard Rock and Roll Christmas (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Writer:    Dave Peverett
Label:    Rhino (original label: Bearsville)
Year:     1981
     Foghat was formed when all the members of Savoy Brown except leader Kim Simmonds 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 All I Want For Christmas Is You. The song was pressed as a promo single in 1981, but I'm not sure if it was ever released to the public.

Artist:    Emerson, Lake And Palmer
Title:    Nutrocker
Source:    LP: Pictures At An Exhibition
Writer(s):    Kim Fowley
Label:    Atlantic (original label: Cotillion)
Year:    1972
    In 1962, Kim Fowley, the Zelig of 60s rock, managed to secure the rights to a rock 'n' roll arrangement of Tchaikovsky's March Of The Toy Soldiers from the Nutcracker ballet. He took this arrangement to a couple different Los Angeles record company labels, both of which recorded the song with their house bands. The second of these was released as Nut Rocker by B.Bumble And The Stingers. The song made it to the #23 spot on the US charts and hit #1 in the UK (which might explain how Fowley found himself producing British bands in London by the middle of the decade). Ten years later, Emerson, Lake And Palmer released their own live version of Nutrocker, which they had been using as an encore, on their Pictures At An Exhibition album.

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