Well, here we are again - and is it me or did that fly by?
Regulars will know that I like to get at least one version of this song on every calendar and this is one of the very best. Featuring the voice of the wonderful Clyde McPhatter, this 1954 version was resurrected a few years back when it became part of a worldwide email phenomenon where it was delivered to millions of in-boxes accompanied with a cartoon. That's available if you want it, and also a live version with the original line-up minus the sadly deceased McPhatter but it's the sound rather than the visual you need to hear so I'll settle for this:
I've swapped round the Sunday Carol with the intended Christmas Eve song as I think this fits the mood better, although I'm aware that this is going to be nothing more than a curiosity piece for some.
The premise for this is quite simple; Paul and Art sing 'Silent Night' while, in the background, a news report fades in, getting louder until it almost eclipses the song. But it's the news report itself that makes this so fascinating as, dating this track to 1966, we hear of Anti-Vietnam war demonstrations, the trial of Richard Speck (a US serial killer, for those who don't know) and the warning that the National Guard may need to be called out to cope with planned Civil rights marches led by Martin Luther King. The warning from the then Vice-President and later president Richard Nixon that there may have to be an escalation in the war effort is something that seems to echo down the years.
I remember how alien the news bulletin sounded when I first heard this, many Christmases ago. The short snappy staccato delivery was an anathema to a kid living in the UK but now, with the advent of bulletin news on TV and radio, it no longer sounds like something from another world. But still the subject matter fascinates and I'm not sure I've ever yet once followed the 'Silent Night' part of the song.
Plenty of versions on YouTube but many dodgy videos too so I went for this version:
A guilty pleasure for the Blagger since I was introduced to Harry Connick by the young and buxom Lady B, back in the days when we were a vicious rumour.
I've been tempted to put this on the calendar for years but was afraid of the scorn and abuse this sugar-coated schmaltz would invoke amongst the general population; but then I caught a Fearne Cotton show on Radio 1 earlier this month that made me think that people might be changing their listening habits.
At 11.30am this particular morning I heard, in order, Drum & Bass protagonist’s Chase & Status, Hipping and a hopping twosome Kanye and JayZed, Indie darlings Friendly Fires followed by, in the Live Lounge, Michael Bublé with a swing band singing three Christmas standards. Now the love – as they say nowadays – was pouring in for Bublé and his renditions of what is (and I have nothing against what he does at all) ground well-trodden by Sinatra, Deano, Nat and many others back in the black ‘n’ white years.
So if the Canadian is now deemed to be as much a part of the mainstream as everyone else – and why not? – perhaps we can view H.C. Jnr with a little less of a jaundiced eye. Harry Connick straddled the years between Sinatra and Bublé in a time when he was viewed as a bit of curio is some quarters as he attempted to re-introduce a strand of music barely anyone had visited anew since the 40’s and 50’s.
Now, in truth, the ‘When my Heart Finds Christmas’ album is probably not a place to try and see if your tastes can cope with a bit of post-modernist Rat Pack crooning, at times it’s cloying and dirge like (Ave Maria anyone? No thanks!), but there are three or four good swing tracks and the gem of a title song that soars like the backdrop to a Hollywood holiday classic movie. Connick has cleverly invoked the whole choir and orchestra thing - careful with that horn and ahhhhh overload Eugene! - so that it sounds like a film soundtrack and if the hairs don’t rise on your neck at the ludicrous soaring orchestration before the last verse then you should probably just go back to your Low Christmas album and never attempt it again.
For me though, I have to pretend that a Heston Mince Pie has gone down the wrong way as I wipe away a tear…
There are a few versions on Youtube, a video and a live version but I love the album track just for the choir and orchestra and you can check that out here:
There have been an extraordinary number of new tracks and albums of Christmas music this year and Emmy and Tim's 'This is Christmas' appears to be the one that most critics seem to favour with august journal NME giving it a hefty 7 out of 10 while awarding only 1 to Smith & Burrows, for example. Me? I think they're fucking idiots...
Emmy is a folk, indie singer / songwriter while Wheeler is the lead guitarist and singer with Ash and a massive Arsenal fan - 'nuff said - and this is one of a growing number of collaborations they've put together and, to be fair, they have tried to move away from the more obvious Yule cliches with a bit of humour and a marked absence of jangly bells and choirs.
I'm running out of days here and my thinking is that some of the stuff I've found I can use other years but I doubt I'll be dusting this off next Yuletide. 'I wish I was surfing' is the best of the album for me though, imbued as it is with a bit of Fountains of Wayne and a dash of Ramones. To be fair, I can imagine there will be those who will enjoy '(Don't call me) Mrs Christmas', 'Sleigh Me' or 'Zombie Christmas'. Many of the tracks can be found on Youtube so don't let me stop you from giving them a festive ear over the coming week.
As for me, well I like a bit of gloom with my pudding...
Day 21 and yesterday I found a link to a dozen Christmas albums I'd not heard before - Aarrggghh! - so before I go completely insane let's take a mellow look back to 1960 and this peerless version of a song that's never yet made it onto the Calendar despite the plethora of versions out there.
Charles Brown was a legendary R'n'B performer whose influence on latter musicians is almost incalculable, and this is just gorgeous; as satisfying and warm as a Pret A Manger Christmas Dinner Sandwich and a Mint Choclate drink from Starbuck's.
Every year the Calendar has to have at least one novelty record on it, good, bad, or screamingly deplorable, but this year’s – while almost transcendental in its awfulness – leaves me with a bit of a dilemma as I’m transported back five years to when I first started this festive jamboree and I had to explain what the songs sounded like as there was barely any YouTube to access.
A healthy search on the WWW hasn’t uncovered this anywhere so I’m going to link you to another version of the song – equally horrendous – and then try to convey what I’m listening to here in the soundproof rooms of Blagg Acres. And that may take a bit of explaining…
You see, Freddie ‘Parrot Face’ Davies was (is?) a British comedian – and I use the word loosely – who became a big hit on the comedy circuit and TV in the 60’s and ‘70’s. His sole raison d’etre was to pull a bowler hat low over his ears so they stuck out at right angles, pull a silly face and speak so that every few words was a raspberry. Hilarious, huh?
He told jokes about budgies and parrot’s – you getting this? – and so earned the nickname ‘Parrott Face’ which, of course, caused Freddie to pronounce the C and E in ‘face’ to produce a raspberry sound. While not strictly in the spirit of the Calendar, you can see a picture and hear Freddie ‘singing’ here: Freddie Davies
Now, it’s easy for us to mock…?! …but Freddie made a healthy career out of this and had hit records all over the world, going so far as to earn a Gold disc in Brazil; the Brazilians, obviously, finding this hilarious in some obscure Latin-American way. If you’ve ever heard the beginning of The Tremeloes ’67 Top Ten hit ‘’Even the Bad Times are Good’ you’ll hear reference to ‘Parrot Face’ so you can see there was some cultural joke going on here. Seriously, back then this man was Ricky Gervais. I’m told Freddie was in a Harry Potter film but I have to say I missed him unless there was a budgie scene that passed me by somewhere.
Also – and this is a thread for the kids ain’t it? – did Russ Conway sue for the use of part of ‘China Tea’? Or did ‘Christmas Cracker’ come first? Jeez, I really need to go out and meet some people soon…
LATE UPDATE: Sadly the posted YouTube was taken down. I've found an alternative link but the site annoyingly opens up a spam page that takes you to a trading software advert. However, simply leaving the page doesn't seem to cause any harm although if you think it's worth it just to hear Freddie Davies is a decision I'll leave up to you.
You may remember this aptly-named band hit the big time in 1991 with the over-wrought acoustic ballad 'More than Words'. If you enjoyed that - and it was a world-wide hit peaking at #2 in the UK - then there's even more to get your ears around here.
We've got the lot; sleigh-bells, strings, doom-laden organ, tinkling piano, girlie heavenly choir, earnest lyrics - you just know the band were wearing Santa hats and I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't have a nodding Donkey and some hay in a corner of the studio too.There's barely a Christmas song trick they've missed out on.
The rest of the year you'd ignore this type of thing like a televised Arsenal match - but it's Christmas! You'll love it and play it again and again...
For some of us the world turned day-glo in 1977 and nothing has looked the same since.
Sadly, Poly Styrene passed away in April and it looked as if a voice from another era had been lost, but worse, if you catch any of her 'Generation Indigo' album - released earlier this year - it would seem that the former Ms Elliott-Said still had plenty to say and the guts, wit and soul to say it loudly too. Critically acclaimed, this album looked like a welcome return for one of punk's true mavericks and it's just a real shame that cancer brought it all to an end. This is a brilliant song and an equally good video.
Hey, that Jay-Zed fella's pretty smooth ain't he? All the money he must have made from them records and he gives the lovely Beyonce a 'back rub and a foot massage' on the fourth day. I give that to my Mrs every day so I reckon she's one lucky woman!
Better though, on the fifth day he gives her a poem and on the last day, quality T-I-M-E ...ok the last one is a bit of a stretch if West Ham are at home...but still. I suppose he does the honourable thing with the keys to the CLK Mercedes on Day 2 but I think it's the least she should expect really.
Anyway, it's the last working day before Christmas and it's PARTY TIME so roll up the rug, get yer Uncle on the old Joanna and rock along to this great festive tune. Michelle, Kelly and Beyonce in Santa suits and listen out to the harmonies at the end. If you don't like this then you should check your pulse. Great stuff, girls!
Another new one and, in a Christmas period that is generally reckoned to have had more than it's share of crackers, most critics are rating the album from which this track is taken; 'A Very She & Him Christmas' very highly.
SHE is Zooey Deschanel, actress singer and ukulele player (she sung in the film Elf) while HIM is Indie Guitarist and Producer M. Ward. On the album there's a vaguely amusing version of 'Baby, it's cold outside' in which the male and female roles are reversed and covers of 'Little Saint Nick'. 'The Christmas Song', 'Blue Christmas' and many others.
But the whole thing leaves me as cold as the airfield I was standing in on Tuesday (don't ask - I can't say!) and the main reason is - unlike most people who have commented on the YouTube site where you can find all of the album - I can't abide Zooey's vocals.
That little girl lost tone, the sparse production and sense that I've stumbled into an in-joke just does nothing for me I'm afraid and I won't be giving this any house-room this Solstice. You may want to check it all out though as I seem to be in the minority.
A surreal evening: dressed fully in a Santa costume - complete with false beard - for a Quiz Night I run here in Blaggland, I found myself back at home at midnight and needing to do the weekly chore of putting out the rubbish for collection the following day.
'Pointless getting changed' Methinks, carrying black sacks full of old carpet that we had pulled up last week. Toting said bags from back garden to front requires a walk along the road where I was seen by some people in a passing car who really must have thought they'd overdone it with the Remy Martin.
I rather fancy that in a thousand years time there may well be a additional story to the traditional Christmas tale, whereby a skinny bloke in a red suit brings sacks of carpet to kids who are bad. He is accompanied on his travels by a fat black and white cat, who hates the rain and makes strange noises, getting under the feet of Skinny Santa who swears liberally as he carries his wares to be spirited off to the Great Tip of Col-Chestere.
Today's' song says it all quite simply and charmingly. A great Gamble / Huff composition 'Christmas just ain't Christmas without the one you love' - and don't forget it!
Well, five years on and I guess it's time for another first. Blog supporter -- one 'Takashi Miike' -suggested this yesterday and, though it's not the first tune to find it's way onto the Calendar from a punter's suggestion, there's never been such an immediate response before. This is magnificent though and needs to be heard now.
A combination of Editor's front-man Tim Smith and ex-Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows shouldn't, you'd think, be able to produce such a stunning addition to the Christmas songbook, but done it they have, with Q Magazine calling this 'a Christmas anthem for modern times'
Good news is there is a festive-themed album, 'Funny Looking Angels' and I tracked it down after hearing this song for the first time barely eight hours ago and there's not a duff note on it. I've bought the whole thing as a result of the trail this one track took me on at Youtube and, after listening to Little Mix warble their way on X Factor tonight, I urge everyone to go and buy S&M's single and make it Number One this Christmas.
I'm made up - this has made Christmas 2011 for me and there's a festive brandy being raised in Blagg Acres this evening to Takashi Miike wherever he may be.
Do they still have teachers who double-up on lessons?
We had a French teacher who also taught Religious Instruction (Mr Pilkington: ‘I don’t want you to take this literally, boys’ – he was an oddly elongated man who, rumour told, had been stretched by the Japanese during WWII, a rumour I’m ashamed to say I believed). Also, Mr Lemon who taught Music and P.E. meaning that he would often pound the piano keys while wearing a purple track-suit.
As is the wont of P.E. teachers he had a nasty streak in him that meant if you didn't vault a horse or climb a rope properly, you were made to hang from the wall bars in a scene reminiscent of the end of Monty Python’s ‘The Life of Brian’ (but without the jolly song).
As you dangled there like some cockney version of Jesus, you would try and rest your aching arms by putting your feet on a bar. At that, Mr Lemon would whirl round and flick your legs with a towel or once, as I bitterly recall, produce a steel ruler from his pocket. He’d probably be arrested today.
Anyway, it was Mr Lemon who had us singing this Carol from about September until the performance in front of all the parents at the School Carol concert in the week before Christmas so the cherubic, angelic-faced Blagg is still able to warble this to great effect.
Of course, admitting you quite like a Sting track is almost the same as admitting to enjoying bestiality porn but this was originally a ‘B side’ to Sting’s ‘Russians’ so probably comes from the ‘Blue Turtle’ sessions; the last time I think it was OK to say you liked the former Mr Sumner. Which reminds us that Sting was himself a former teacher – I wonder if he ever doubled up on lessons? If he still carries a steel ruler in his pocket it would reveal much about why he always seems so smug and annoying.
This gorgeous song from the pen of Robbie Robertson, finds Dylan's erstwhile companions in a comfortably religious mood. Beautifully restrained organ and - as you'd expect - top musicianship in a song that comes from their 1977 'Islands' album. I only heard this for the first time last year but I guess I was too busy pogoing and gobbing when it came out...
Well, at least you can't accuse the Calendar of not being fluid and relevant. The Pogues immaculate original was the Christmas Day song on the very first list five years ago and will stand forever as a moment of genuine genius.
But I caught this Live Lounge performance on Chris Moyle's show on Radio One this morning and, driving as I was along a frosty but winter sun lit back road in the wilds of East Anglia, I found the whole experience quite ethereal and moving.
Maverick Sabre is a Hackney born rapper who moved to Ireland when he was young, resulting in his rather startling Irish brogue and odd cultural mix. Confidently predicted as the next big thing, this performance will do his growing reputation no harm.
You can see the Live Lounge performance herebut I'd suggest you listen to it rather than watch for the full effect.
I'm fully aware that if it wasn't for the man from Tupelo then rock music wouldn't be what it is today but, coming from a generation after Elvis, I've sometimes found it hard to deal with the post-Army, Vegas years and found his Christmas output veers towards the cloying.
This though is a reminder of what made Presley the icon and legend he was to become; a slow bluesy number with echoes of the Gospel music that so defined his unique approach to pop music. Great vocal - natch! - nice organ and guitar work and a groovy melancholy feel, I'm not sure what year this was recorded but it's great stuff.
'If I had any sense at all / I'd just be on my way / I'd catch that train tomorrow / I'd be home on Christmas day'
Loads of versions on YouTube but I've been listening to this one:
I'm pretty chuffed that I'm five years into this nonsense and prior to today, I've only once dipped into Phil Spector's seminal 'A Christmas Gift for You' album and that was for Year One's inclusion of Darlene Love's essential 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)'.
But we must revisit it now - let's be honest any home without this album is all the poorer for it - and surely no song shows the utter genius of Spector's production than this; normally a trite children's song with no redeeming features (unless you are under 6) but in the hands of the Master, a sonic tour-de-force. Great vocals, driving beat and that wall of sound - Magical!
Merry Christmas Phil, wherever you are.....Eh? HE'S WHERE?...HE DID WHAT?....OMG!
Not exactly by popular demand - the song should have been on the Calendar long before now - but this inclusion should at least please a few Advent fans who've rightly clamoured for this quasi-Punk classic for years.
Recorded in 1977 when Ray and the boys had been kind of usurped by the likes of The Jam, this went relatively unnoticed and failed to chart. Oh folly! as Stanley Unwin would have it.
In retrospect, it followed the zeitgeist precisely and, when you look at events this summer, you'd have to say the lyrics were way ahead of the game.
Sadly, video was in its infancy in 'dem days and no YouTube page is able to offer a great example but you can just listen to the music, which is as crisp and tight as you'd expect.
"But the last time I played Santa Claus / I stood outside a department store / A gang of kids came over and mugged me / And knocked my reindeer to the floor"
U.S. Indie rockers on a festive workout available on the www in its original form and also as an acoustic. This version though has a rather odd Doctor Who (Tennant version) video to go with it. Not sure why...
It's a tradition on the Calendar that Sunday's are reserved for Christmas Carols - and this one is a bit special.
I introduced you too a Beatles tribute band that recorded a Christmas album a few years back. They were a Scandinavian ensemble that sounded like the Fabs doing a Christmas song with 'Beatley' bits in it - but this not only notches the whole thing up even more, it takes it up to a whole new level!
The Fab Four are a Californian based Beatles tribute band who only release - get this! - Christmas records. But it gets better.
The great thing about their songs is not just that they sound like the original Fabs but the whole thing replicates the original - be it 'Eight Days a Week' as 'Let it Snow, Let it Snow', 'You've Got to Hide Your Love Away' as 'Away in a Manager', 'Tomorrow Never Knows' as 'Jingle Bells' etc. - so the two morph together and you can almost hear two songs at once. It's just superb stuff.
I could fill a whole Calendar with this but I've plumped for 'Hark, the Herald Angels Sing' because of the wonderful video that accompanies it.
Well, who knew, eh? While trying to find out something about The Silvertones, I discovered that this festive slab of Ska / Reggae has made it into the Dictionary of English Language as the first ever recorded example of the word 'bling' in a song.
From the Lee 'Scratch' Perry school, The Silvertones had great success in their native Jamaica in the late '60's / early '70's but never broke the English market. I-and-I can't find out when this was recorded but it has that King Tubby sound all over it and is worth a listen, Jah.
I don't want to get too bogged down with 'seasonal' music at the expense of more obvious Christmas toons but I simply couldn't let 2011 pass without reference to the new festive Kate Bush offering.
Now, I'll have to admit here that I like theideaof Kate rather than the actuality of listening to some of her music. Her English whimsy, eccentric charm, ethereal meanderings and maverick approach should be applauded in a musical world looking for a quick hit and the next big thing but sometimes - and never more so than on this collection - the whole thing is just so bloody hard to listen to.
'50 Words for Snow' only features seven tracks and two of those ramble on for over 10 minutes plus. It's all admirable stuff, of course, but the piano riffs, odd phrasing and melodies are all as dense as the snow in my back yard last year, making this a bit of a strain as far as I'm concerned.
There's a duet with an almost unrecognisable Elton John that has to be heard to be believed, a love song to a snowman - a creature that Kate appears to take to her bed and shag - and a vaguely sexual paean to a Yeti with lyrics that both dazzle and confuse. 'While crossing the Lhapka-La, something jumped down from the rocks'. Anyone?
But wait - there's more! The title track itself features no lesser light than Stephen Fry himself - perhaps hoping for a bit of Tubular Bells / Vivian Stanshall action. The 'joke' here, of course, is that Fry is in 'General Ignorance' mode from his BBC series 'QI' as, contrary to what urban myth suggests, Inuits really don't have 50 words for snow. That being the case though, our Kate sets about inventing some to perpetuate the myth.
'Drifing' / 'Whiteout' - ok so far - but 'Blackbird braille', 'zebranivem' and 'albadune'? As Kate counts down, Fry intones increasingly bizarre suggestions - 40 meringuerpeaks, 41 crème-bouffant 42 peDtaH 'ej chIS qo' - with the chorus (such as it is) imploring 'Come on man, you've got 44 to go' and 'Come on Joe, just 22 to go' etc.
The whole thing had me so exhausted by the end I had to go and have a lie down. That's fair enough if you're dancing to music but this is one helluva workout for the brain when you're sitting down anyway.
The whole album is available to hear on Spotify and there are samples on 'Fish People' (sic) - Kate's official site. You should seek it out but be warned you may not come back.
Day 1 - 'Purple Snowflakes' - Marvin Gaye
The dawning of Advent and the preparations for the Christmas period traditionally cause consternation to many who think it’s all ‘too early’. For those who labour under the misapprehension, the Blagger likes to start the Calendar off with something ‘seasonal’ rather than out and out Christmas and what better way to open the first window than with this gorgeous offering from Marvin Gaye.
It’s from 1964 and the Tamla sound hadn't quite wormed its way into pop consciousness yet, but there’s that unmistakable tambourine and loose drum sound with the call-and-response vocal and tinkling piano – not too mention Gaye’s gorgeous vocal - turning this atmospheric song into something of a lost classic.
I once knew someone who worked in a City bank who wore a black shirt and tie to work on the day Marvin Gaye died and was promptly sent home for being unsuitably attired. History now suggests that the global financial crisis may have its roots from this very moment. Let that be a lesson to you.