Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Woody The Woodchuck - Christmas Sing Song

I still have a large stack of Christmas CDs next to my computer monitor that I downloaded from my friend Ernie over at his blog. The album you see before you was buried deep inside this stack but I moved it up because of two reasons.

One reason I will reveal later. The other reason is our house stoop and back patio have become new homes for a family of chipmunks. They have dug themselves in quite nicely and we're either going to start charging rent or call a pest control guy to give us a quote.

Do they make chipmunk traps?

Background on this album: In 1958, Ross Bagdasarian was a struggling actor / songwriter /family man who was down to his last $200 - his entire life savings. He spent $190 on a state of the art tape recorder that played and recorded at half speed.

Bagdasarian sat down and wrote a song that utilized a gibberish sound that he recorded: OO EE, OO AH AH, TING-TANG, WAL-LA WAL-LA BING BANG. "Witch Doctor" was released by Liberty Records and quickly went to #1 on the charts, selling over a million copies. Bagdasarian, using the stage name David Seville, never had to worry about his life savings ever again.

Liberty Records quickly asked for a follow-up record - preferrably something for the 1958 Christmas season. Need I say more? "The Chipmunk Song" was a HUGE smash, forever linking Alvin, Simon, and Theodore with the Christmas season. The Chipmunks quickly became a huge franchise for years, spawning other albums (who can't forget "Chipmunk Punk"?) as well as TV shows and movies.

It was shortly after the success of the Chipmunks in the late 1950s that other Chipmunk imitators began popping up, notably the Nutty Squirrels and the Happy Crickets. Enter one Woody The Woodchuck.

This album (released by Premier Albums - 356 W 40th St., N.Y.C.) quickly cranks out 10 Christmas classics timed to the squeaks of some anonymous singers whose voices were sped up. However, they can't match the soul and depth that the Chipmunks bring to their records.

A prime example would be the second song on the album, "The Chipmunk Song". Some nobody simply reads off the lyrics "Alright you Chipmunks..." so listlessly that he almost makes you forget that these are supposed to be WOODCHUCKS! To add insult upon injury, the mystery voice then adds "Are you ready Simon? Are you ready Theodore?" Are you ready Alvin?" - even though on the back cover of this album, the woodchucks assembled to do the singing are named Woody, Milty, and Chuck!

This is about as sad as Christmas albums can come, good readers. Which is probably why, in a perverse way, that I like the album.

Oh yeah... what was Reason #2 that I alluded to?

While searching through some stacks of vinyl at a local thrift store, I was happy to discover a copy of this album with one slight twist. It was the STEREOPHONIC version! Talk about Christmas in June or July!

I wonder if the singing will sound any better if it's in stereo?

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


Capt

Monday, June 26, 2006

Buddy & Bunny Burden - Christmas Favorites

This album comes from the great download catch of 2005 from the blog of Ernie (Not Bert).

To quote from Ernie:

Tonight's LP is from the well-known duo of Buddy And Bunny Burden. You say you've never heard of them? How can that be? Perhaps you didn't hang out in Gatlinburg in the sixties.

"OK, so these two might not be a household name, but after you listen to their record, you might decide to spread their name a little further afield. I have yet to figure out exactly what Bunny brings to the table.

"Sure, she looks nice there on the cover, but there's not a peep from her on this record. She's not even mentioned on the back cover. And did I mention I think Buddy is wearing the same tuxedo that my dad was married in?

"Of course he didn't have the snazzy haircut. And if you know anything more about these two, please drop me a line. Thanks!


I'm sorry to report that after much searching and Googling, I couldn't find anything about these two either. It's a pity because they left such a cool Christmas album to boot.

If you're a fan of Christmas organ music (and who isn't these days?), then this record is right up your alley. Recorded at the Ski Lodge in Gatlinburg, Tennessee (save your time - I tried Googling "Ski Lodge Gatlinburg" and got nowhere), Buddy tears it up on the organ playing all your favorite Christmas favorites - hence the name of the album.

Three standout tracks on this album - "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" really rocks and swings as does "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer". "Christmas Polka" runs around 1:30 and is quite a ride - more polkaish than Christmasish but it's a lot of fun!

As Ernie stated, Buddy is credited on the organ on this album and poor Bunny is simply pictured on the front. Maybe Bunny was a talented performer - plays drums, guitar, even accordian behind Buddy.

Either way, we here at the yuleblog want to salute Buddy & Bunny Burden. Thanks for a fun Christmas album, wherever you are!

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


Capt

The Mistletoe Disco Band - Christmas Disco



Here's an album I won on eBay many, many, many moons ago but only recently transferred it from vinyl to digital. I have a guilty pleasure about Christmas disco in general (I own about 5 different Christmas disco CDs) so when I saw that the title of the album was "Christmas Disco", I knew I had to bid and win.

Disco got its start in new clubs called discotheques in the larger cities of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles in the early 1970s. By 1973, many disco hits could be heard on AM radio stations across the country. I distinctly remember taking a family vacation as a five year old to St. Louis in 1974 and the number one hit in America, according to Casey Kasem and the "countdown", was "Rock The Boat" by the Hues Corporation. I believe this may have been the very first #1 disco hit in America (if I'm wrong, correct me please).

By 1975, disco was taking over everything. Van McCoy's "The Hustle" was a number one smash, a girl named Donna Summer had the first of several disco hits and was dubbed "Queen of Disco", and everyone was trying to record disco hits. Even Ethel Merman (yes, Ethel Merman) recorded a full disco album. What's more scary is that Amazon.com has it for sale as a CD! Click on the links - if you dare!

Around Christmas 1976, a bright young guy by the name of Vince Montana, who was the head of the Salsoul Orchestra, decided the time was right for a Christmas disco album:





To my knowledge, this was the very first Christmas disco anything. Again if I'm wrong, please correct me. The Salsoul Orchestra would later team up with Charo (yes, the "guchi-guchi" girl herself) and release a full disco album and a special Christmas disco single "Donde Esta Santa Claus" in 1978 - the year of disco's peak in popularity.

By 1979, people were pretty much disgusted with disco - Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" might have been the final straw. It was for Steve Dahl, a Chicago DJ who was fired from his radio station after they switched to an all-disco format. 


He quickly recorded a parody of Stewart called "Do Ya Think I'm Disco?" and held Disco Demolition Night at a White Sox doubleheader in July of that year - causing a riot on the field and untold damage to the stadium. Many people point to this event as the beginning of the end of disco..





By the time Christmas rolled around at the end of 1979, disco indeed was starting to die off. But it did produce two albums from a group called Mirror Image both released by Pickwick Records in New Jersey:



If disco was dying, this was a Christmas disco shotgun, both barrels blazin'! Not surprisingly, these two albums were combined into a 2 record set in the UK and released at Christmas 1980 entitled "Non Stop Christmas Party". This was eventually turned into a long playing CD (which I do own and I won't bore you with another Christmas disco picture).

By all accounts, disco died in 1980. For six years, it ruled not only the radio airwaves, it took hold on television ("Dance Fever" with Deney Terrio) movies ("Saturday Night Fever", "Thank God It's Friday"), and fashion (disco shirts & pants, white polyester).

This album by the Mistletoe Disco Band was released to little or no fanfare at the end of 1980. It's your standard fare of strings, synthesizers, cop whistles, and that driving disco beat. I wish I could pick out a favorite track on this album - each song brings a unique quality that must be heard to be appreciated.


Looks like Amazon and iTunes have this album available for download - therefore I've taken down my download link.  If you really want this album, click on the links to purchase far better versions of the music that I ripped and shared!


Some free advice: You don't have to wear an open front, form-fitting silk shirt with bell bottom polyester slacks, replete with platform shoes and gold chains around your neck to listen to this album... But it doesn't hurt either.

I'll be sharing other goodies in the upcoming weeks. A "Christmas In July" indeed! Until then...

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


Capt

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A little quiet around the yuleblog...

Folks, it's been a busy time for me lately... My birthday was last Sunday and I'm mulling my options on what Christmas CDs to purchase (any ideas?). I'm also doing some side work for the theater group I'm involved with here in Fort Wayne. And I still have a stack of Christmas CDs I need to review here at the yuleblog and catalog into my collection.

On top of all of this, I have been preparing for FaLaLaLaLa.com's annual Christmas in July celebration by transferring deserving Christmas vinyl to digital files so I may share with you good brethren of the Christmas music faith... some real winners & losers in my LP stack... can't wait to share!

More will be posted here soon... promise!


Capt

Monday, June 19, 2006

Merry Christmas From (Coral Records)

The album you see before you is the second sampler that Ernie offered at his blog Ernie (Not Bert) during the 2005 Christmas download season.

Coral Records was a subsidary of the mighty Decca Records. Back in their heyday, Coral released many jazz and swing band singles, then R&B singles, and made the transition to rock-n-roll by signing a young kid out of Lubbock, TX by the name of Buddy Holly.

According to the liner notes of this extended play 45:

"Here is a genuine novelty - a novelty which will be a standard for many years to come. Here are eight new Christmas songs sung by new (or comparatively new) artists who, like the songs, are definitely here to stay. All of the songs have a unifying theme - the perennial spirit of Yuletide - and all of them are new this year. They are true "firsts" in every sense: new titles, new words, new music, and interpretations which, while new, will never grow old."

Using this info, I've estimated that this sampler was released at Christmas time, 1952.

Here's a track-by-track review:

1.) The Ames Brothers - Sing A Song Of Santa Claus
A fun, rollicking song sung perfectly by the Ames boys... This song doesn't sound old to me...

2.) The Ames Brothers - Winter's Here Again
Another jingley, jangley song that's sometimes reminiscent of the Mills Brothers... Great stuff!

3.) Don Cornell - Let's Have An Old Fashioned Christmas
This guy's belting it out even in the soft tender moments... a little scary!

4.) Don Cornell - I've Got The Christmas Spirit
He sure does! This one's bold, brassy, and loud... Cornell's singing is perfectly matched here!

5.) Eileen Barton - The Little Match Girl
The classic tearjerker based on Hans Christian Anderson's famous tale... yawnnnnn.

6.) Eileen Barton - The Night Before Christmas Song
A very nice version of this song... whatever happened to Eileen Barton?

7.) Johnny Desmond - (You Can Just Feel) Christmas In The Air
Ooohh sooo smoooooth! Everything is perfect in this song: the vocals, the strings, the arrangement!

8.) Johnny Desmond - Christmas Is A Time (That Will Never Change)
I deem this the perfect slow dancing Christmas song - use in your house when the snow is falling and all the lights are off with the exception of the Christmas tree lights and a warm fire.


If I had purchased this sampler back in 1952, I would have sought out anything by the Ames Brothers and Johnny Desmond. Upon listening to it in 2006, I will be seeking out Barton, Cornell, and especially Desmond. Anyone out there know if any of these artists ever released full length Christmas LPs or CDs?

The Ames Brothers released Christmas music that's easily available and Ed Ames released several solo Christmas records when he wasn't throwing tomahawks on the Johnny Carson show. Give the Ames a listen... fun stuff!

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


Capt

Monday, June 12, 2006

A Christmas Sampler (Westminster Records)

Many years ago, I worked for the Musicland Group. Under this umbrella were music stores such as Musicland and Sam Goody. Media Play was a combo music/video/book store, and Suncoast Motion Picture Company, where I worked as a store manager, was videos, DVDs, and other movie related items.

One of the only perks as a store manager were the wonderful items the record and video companies used to distribute at annual meetings as their way of appreciation for all the work we did selling their product.

I picked up several Christmas samplers from various record companies (Rhino, Columbia, Capitol) during my time there and have sought out other promo compilations from other companies via eBay and other sources.

Samplers usually contain some of the finest material anywhere or contain repackaged drudge that you really could have done without. Whenever I see the word "Sampler" on anything, I'm very wary.

So when I saw this sampler album (one of two samplers) being offered by Ernie at his blog, I was thrown for a loop. I knew samplers existed back in the day, of course, but how many times have you seen one in this day and age? And I had never heard of Westminster Records... was it a fly by night outfit or an overlooked, forgotten label of the day?

Back in 1949, James Grayson was a New York City businessman and music lover who travelled to the Westminster Record shop, a well respected classical music shop owned by Mischa Naida. Along with music conductor Henry Swoboda, they were frustrated over the lack of quality classical records being put out by the Big Four record companies - Decca, RCA Victor, Columbia, and Capitol.

With plenty of money from Grayson, a place to sell and distribute albums thanks to Naida, and musical expert Swoboda selecting the music to release, they took the name off the window and created Westminster Records.

Their first release came in April 1950 and soon the label got a great reputation as a "major minor" label. Most of their early releases came from Switzerland and soon they were discovering new talents in classical music. Some of these early discoveries were Maurice Abravanel, Jan Peerce, a young pianist named Daniel Barenboim (who would lead major symphonies later in his career), and a younger opera singer named Beverly Sills whose first recording was on Westminster.

Early on, Westminster released two Christmas albums - "A Merry Wurlitzer Christmas" by Dick Leibert, the long time organ player at Radio City Music Hall and "Adventures In Carols" recorded by a young duo named Ferrante & Teicher.

I'm not sure when this sampler album (any guesses Ernie?) was released but it does have tracks from both the Leibert and Ferrante & Teicher albums. Other artist tracks include the Cathedral Bellringers, the Collegium Musicum, the Randolph Singers, the Brooklyn Museum Children's Choir ("Joy To Da Woild..."), and even Basil Rathbone reciting Isaiah 40: 1 - 5 from the album "The Christmas Story in Carols".



(Click on image to enlarge)


The Ferrante & Teicher album has been available at many places on the Internet. There are some long lost Christmas albums on the back of this sampler... I would love to find or hear some of them.

End of history lesson: Westminster Records could no longer compete with the likes of Elvis and Ricky by the early 1960s. ABC Records came to their rescue and bought them and Westminster continued on until 1965 when it took its baton and went home. ABC later became ABC/Dunhill Records, ABC/Dunhill was bought by MCA in 1979 , MCA and classical label Deutsche Grammophon were bought by Seagram's (yes, the liquor company) in 1998, Seagram's owned Universal Studios (founded by MCA), Seagram's merged MCA & DG into the new Universal Music Group. Everyone get that?

Earlier this year, Universal announced that nearly 10,000 albums from all of these back catalogs (including Westminster) would be re-released via digital downloading. Here's hoping they release a ton of good Christmas stuff as well...

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


Capt

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Kimball Christmas

When Ernie offered this very album at his blog many months ago, my heart nearly skipped a beat... in 3/4 time!

To quote from Ernie's original post:

"Once upon a time, everyone had a piano in their home. Later, people had organs in their homes. Nowadays, we have CD players and TVs and iPods and Sega.

"But back to the organs for a sec. This LP was designed to help sell those organs. I don't know if this was given away to customers, or sold in the organ stores, or what, but the ultimate goal was to get you to buy an organ from Kimball so that you could play like the artists on this record."


One of my uncles went out and did exactly that one year. He was lured into a local mall outlet where the salesmen, resplendent in their polyester slacks, sat behind desks and occasionally behind a keyboard to show you the ease of playing the organ. After selling you an organ, they ask "can you play?" If not, they would sell you "how to play the organ" accessories, a maintenance plan in case anything went wrong with the organ, etc..

My uncle plunked down a good chunk of change, bought the organ home, fiddled with it for about three days, and gave up on the whole mess. The only time it was used was around Christmas when actual family members with talent came and played on the organ. It stayed in his home near Chicago for more years than I can remember.

Speaking of Chicago, that's where Kimball got it's start (nice segue into the history lesson, no?). In 1857, W.W. Kimball was tired of selling real estate and insurance in Iowa and moved to Chicago to open a piano store. He realized that people were moving west and would soon be setting up homes and families. What better way to establish a home than with a new piano?

For the next one hundred years (100!), Kimball sold and manufactured pianos, then organs, by the thousands and shipped them out from Chicago to all over the world. At its peak, it was making 250 pianos and 150 organs a day!

In 1959, the Kimball company was sold to a cabinet company out of Jasper, Indiana called the Jasper Corporation. It moved its operations from Chicago to the Jasper / West Baden Springs / French Lick area in southern Indiana where the materials for building /assembling pianos and organs were close by.

They continued to prosper - Kimball Electronics was formed in 1961 and purchasing the Austrian piano manufacturer Bosendorfer in 1966. Jasper renamed themselves Kimball International in 1974 and bought the U.S. piano manufacturer Krakauer in 1980.

This album was released in 1982 and features several big shots at Kimball ("Organ Product Coordinator at Kimball International", "Administrative Sales Manager for Recording and Broadcast", "Kimball Director of Musical Evaluation") playing tunes on two of their new organs - The Enterprise model and the Xanadu model - flashes of bad late 1970s movies!

The standout track on this album is Track #1 - Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers. If there was ever a Christmas tune designed for a home organ, this is it. It has never sounded better. Other great tunes included "Mary's Little Boy Chile", "Blue Christmas" done in a country twangy feel (on a Kimball organ?), and a very synthesized "O Holy Night".

Kimball stayed with the piano and organs throughout the 1980s while other piano and organ manufacturers like Hammond and Wurlitzer got into the synthesizer business to compete with Casio, Yamaha, and others. It proved to be a poor decision.

Kimball Electronics quickly put out a synthesizer (the EK-61) but also began dabbling in circuit boards and car electronic parts. The cabinetry that once wrapped around a set of keys began making custom office furniture, quickly branching over into executive office furniture and modular office furniture.

There was no room left to make pianos and organs. In 1996, Kimball announced they would cease production on both and the last keyboards rolled off the assembly lines in 1997. Kimball International continues to produce all of the above and has even gotten into contract manufacturing as well. If you want a peek, click on Kimball.com.

I always loved playing with the Kimball whenever I visited my uncle's house. There were white and red pedals above the keyboard that had names like "treble", "swell to choir", and "harmonium" that I pushed incessantly like I was a NASA engineer at Mission Control. I wonder if my uncle would be willing to part with it... My kids would love it!

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


Capt

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Avon Goes On Record (Campaign 21 - 1968)

Before I begin this review... and the next... and the one after that... in fact, the next 30+ albums (count 'em folks, 30+!) that I will review here on my blog came from my friend Ernie's blog entitled Ernie (Not Bert).

By day, Ernie takes and posts some of the best photos you'll see anywhere on the web. You owe it to yourself to go to his blog and give your mouse clicker a workout - there are some stunners over there folks!

By night, Ernie is a Christmas vinyl junkie addict, transferring old scratchy forgotten Christmas LPs that he finds in Goodwill stores, garage sales, and the like to preserve memories of Christmas vinyl past (apologies to the King Of Jingaling for pinching his motto!).

Last year in the eyes of Santa Claus and every Christmas music enthusiast, Ernie was a good, GOOD boy. I went back and counted at his blog - this man alone posted FIFTY-EIGHT items for download between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.
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Let that sink in folks...
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Almost 60 items in almost 30 days... When did you sleep Ernie?

This album you see here is an unusual one to say the least but not so unusual if you knew the story behind Avon. It seems the first Avon lady was a man. A sixteen year old kid named David McConnell went door-to-door back in 1886 selling books offering a free gift with purchase - perfume! 


The women forgot the books and wanted more perfume so McConnell formed the California Perfume Company, offering women in rural areas of America perfumes and cremes door to door.

The success of the Avon story relies on the hundreds of thousands of "Avon Calling!" ladies who wanted to earn extra money selling Avon products door-to-door. Many of these ladies helped potential new Avon ladies with the setup and selling techniques, passing it down from one generation to the next.

When this record was distributed to Avon sellers in September 1968, Avon couldn't see the massive shift in lifestyles thanks in large part to the sexual revolution of the era. And exactly how do you reach out to people in ghettos and hippie communes?

Upon listening to side one, "the largest and most exciting selection of Christmas products" were hitting the market in September since Avon sellers sold 25% of their Christmas products the previous September.

After sharing some marketing and campaign tips - "Get that Christmas spirit! How? Wear a Christmas corsage... or holly earrings!". Avon explains some of the new products for Christmas 1968 - "Snoopy has joined the bath toys this year!" and colognes and perfumes galore! Side two is three tracks of Christmas instrumental music - music to read your literature by!

This was a fun little gem of an album! Thanks Ernie!

Avon started to lose business deluxe throughout the 1970s and 1980s. It pulled itself out of its tailspin in the 1990s by redesigning its focus and advertising. It also upgraded its product line (do they still have Snoopy bath toys?) and trained its sales force to make presentations in workplace settings, where 50% of Avon's sales now take place.

They also went global, working their way into South America, Eastern Europe, and China. Maybe the Avon revolution will help soften Communism... who knows?

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


Capt

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Midnight Christmas Mess (Midnight Records)

Before 1987 and the release of "A Very Special Christmas", Christmas music was pretty much in four categories:

1.) Traditional - Bing, Frank, Conniff, Mitch Miller, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

2.) Rock n Roll - Elvis, Bobby Helms, Brenda Lee, Phil Spector's Christmas Album and the Beach Boys.

3.) Novelty - Alvin & The Chipmunks, Elmo & Patsy, Cheech & Chong, and the Singing Dogs doing "Jingle Bells".

4.) Country - Chet Atkins, Jim Reeves, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton.

Throughout the 1980s, small independent labels released incredibly fantastic compilations that foreshadowed the explosion of Christmas music after the release for the aforementioned "Very Special Christmas" album. Two record labels that started out as mail-order record shops out of New York City led the way in this movement:

Ze Records released "A Christmas Album" in 1981 that featured songs from up and comers like Was (Not Was), Nona Hendryx, and the first recording of "Christmas Wrapping" by the Waitresses. AND WOW O WOW! I just discovered that this album was RE-RELEASED on CD last year in March! Check it out over at Amazon.com!

Midnight Records, founded by J.D. Martignon, was THE place in NYC to find rare, obscure, forgotten, and just plain unknown music. Riding the crest of the mutant disco/no wave movement of the early 1980s, Martignon brought together several different bands and started his label in 1984.

At the end of that same year, this album you see before you was released. Featuring a treasure trove of artists (Plan 9, Suburban Nightmares, and even the legendary Screamin' Jay Hawkins!), it's a fantastic album. Elements of the New Wave, garage, surf, punk, and rockabilly can all be heard here. Martignon even makes an appearance on this album, backed up by The Droogs, in a nod to a predecessor. He records word for word the famous "Silent Night" sign-off by Phil Spector on Spector's "Christmas Album".

This album proved so popular that Midnight Records released two other Christmas albums. "Oh! No! Not Another…Midnight Christmas Mess Again!!" was released in 1986 and "Midnight Christmas Xmess" in 1987.

I obtained all three of these albums over at FaLaLaLaLa.com during the download season of 2005 and two little good elfs named Voldar and Sanity Clause posted the albums (thanks guys!). If you happen to have the back cover of the first album and all of the artwork of the third album, please pass it my way since I can't seem to find it!

J.D. Martignon continued his Midnight Records label until 1993 when he closed the label and focused on the Midnight Records store. The mail order business kept them afloat for many years until the rent became a problem and they faced eviction. 


Enter the federal government. Seems Uncle Sam decided that he was selling bootleg material of concerts (and what independent record store doesn't?) and tried to shut him down by indictment based on a 1994 law.

Happy ending: Martignon was free after the 1994 bootleg law was considered unconstitutional but the storefront was forced to close thanks to the legal fees and high rent in NYC. However, Midnight Records still maintains a mail order business aided by a strong Internet website.

Check them out at MidnightRecords.com and do some snooping as you would at a record store!

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


Capt