When I first asked for Christmas comps (it seems like a decade ago) last October, I was very interested to hear what others put on their annual Christmas CDs.
I knew that I would discover rare Christmas tracks that I had been searching for, Christmas music that I had never heard before, and artists whose Christmas work I needed to explore further.
Little did I know that I would learn much, much more. Take for instance this 2004 comp from Martin Johns.
When I saw this for the first time, I thought to myself it would be full of Beach Boys Christmas songs, surf guitar instrumentals by the Ventures, Los Straitjackets, and forgotten Christmas 45s with that flavor attached.
When I got a look at the playlist (see below), I saw four tracks out of a possible 22 that I had heard before. I hadn't a clue on the rest.
Something didn't mesh. I opened the booklet and read the liner notes, discovering that this was a comp full of Christmas songs from a whole new musical genre that I never knew existed. To better explain it, here is the section of the review where Martin tells all.
The predominant myth states that, more than half a century ago, a Southern record distributor inadvertently put R&B records in jukeboxes at the then "whites only" beach spots frequented by the teen set in summertime. The teens were enthralled by these forbidden rhythms and demanded that the flow of R&B continue. In all likelihood, that's not what actually happened.
However it came to be, the South Atlantic Coast does have an undying love affair with what they call Beach Music. Think horns, harmonies, soul, and a "lazy jitterbug" beat (for dancing in the sand). Me, I love any culture or region that exists outside the homogeneous, consultant-driven, "these are the records you must play" world.
Here in the Carolinas, an obscure B-side from the Fifties can suddenly shoot to #1 on Beach charts and one-hit wonders like Clifford Curry are rewarded with a lifetime of headlining gigs. Groups like the Drifters, The Tams, and the Chairmen of the Board are still recording here.
Though the core is R&B, Beach Music is whatever the fans decide it is. Country, Blues, Disco... they're all represented. The local bands are idolized. (Their sound may sometimes be closer in sound to Huey Lewis than to Huey "Piano" Smith, but it's all part of the scene).
The first "original" Beach Music Christmas single is believed to have been Second Nature’s "Best Time Of The Year" from 1979 (see Al Aitchison's 2005 CD). But close followers of the genre would know that the band responsible for an obscure 1961 Ace single, "Winter Wonderland" by The Swingin' Embers, is the same band today known as just The Embers, probably the #1 Beach Music band.
The Embers are also responsible for the first full single-artist album of Beach Christmas music that I know of, 1986's "Christmas Memories". The first full Beach Christmas compilation was "All-Star Christmas" (1993?). The Embers track here comes from the latter, the initial release for which was around 600 copies and was distributed through local sporting goods stores (at least that's where I got my copy).
Still, there wasn't much original Christmas Beach Music widely available until KHP Music started their "Southern Soul Christmas" series in 2003. And a true and complete Beach Music Christmas would have to include a lot of the older R&B, Blues and Doo Wop classics.
1.) Very danceable Christmas song from Rickey Godfrey and Amanda Keesee. From "Southern Soul Christmas V2".
2.) Excellent beach music Christmas song by one of its finest practitioners - General Johnson & The Chairmen Of The Board.
3.) WOW! The Motown feel is all over this great Christmas song by The Band of Oz! Very surprising!
4.) Smooth, smooth, smooth! Dorothy Moore's voice is so rich and the melody is catchy, I'm guessing her "Please Come Home For Christmas" is entirely like this!
5.) Hmmm... yeah, I can see the O'Jays being Beach Music. This song should be played more often on Christmas radio!
6.) Another danceable Christmas song! On "Southern Soul Christmas V1" from Batson & Chase (click and scroll on that last link to search more on Beach Music).
7.) Recorded in 1948 and still fresh as the day it was recorded. Mabel Scott's version of this song has appeared the most times on my annual Christmas comps - six times in 22 years.
8.) WOW! Scooter Lee - the queen of country line dance music - recorded a FULL Christmas album chock full of Christmas line dancing songs. Powerful stuff!
9.) The perfect definition of a shag Christmas. Located near my family in Chicago, Northeast Indiana's Stormy Weather recorded this for "Street Carols... December Voices" - even put a winter picture of Michigan Avenue on the cover. Buying this CD the first chance I get!
10.) I can envision kids dancing to this Stevie Wonder around bonfires on the beaches of Carolina... why not?
11.) The Embers do a fine cover of James Brown's "Merry Christmas, I Love You". Can't find from what Christmas comp this one came from though.
12.) Solomon Burke's "Presents For Christmas" not only qualifies as Beach Music, but it should be played often on Christmas radio playlists around the world.
13.) Clifford Curry has been recording music like this since 1956 and is still going strong! From the "Southern Soul Christmas V1" CD.
14.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! This is a dynamic cover of William Bell's Christmas classic! Lola & The Redhots are Minneapolis' finest cover band and their "Red Christmas Album" should be a winner based on this song!
15.) WHOAAAAAA! This fine song by Jimmy Lewis is from "Christmas With Miss Butch Records" - I HAD THIS CD IN MY HANDS YESTERDAY AND PASSED ON IT! Heading back to [store name deleted] to pick it up!
16.) A Christmas song for slow shaggin! Very nicely done by the Men Of Soul. From the "Southern Soul Christmas V1" CD.
17.) Very nice cover by Cream of Soul. Ripete issued a comp entitled "All Star Christmas" from which this came - Amazon didn't have a tracklist or cover but Wax Museum did - scroll down!!
18.) Loungy track with a hint of a Beach Music beat. Can't find anything on Jim Gamble or this song anywhere.
19.) Slow Christmas song from The Coastline Band (why do they have a pix of Nick Nolte on the homepage?). From the "Southern Soul Christmas V2" CD.
20.) Danceable Christmas song that asks a meaningful question... very good song by Maria Howell. Another track from the "Southern Soul Christmas V2" comp.
21.) Very different mature sound from The Poor Souls - more lounge than Beach. A fun track nevertheless! Get this 1982 single here!
22.) Terri Gore is also known as "The Original Carolina Girl". This song certainly confirms that statement - pure Beach Music sound, shag rhythm, and very listenable in any season. The last track that Martin used from "Southern Soul Christmas V1" ended this comp nicely.
After listening to all this glorious Beach Music for nearly two hours, I am thoroughly exhausted but incredibly happy. I guess Beach Music has that effect. It's nice to know the Beach sound is alive and well in places like Minneapolis, Hammond, Indiana, and all along the Carolina coast.
One minor drawback - I began missing the sleigh bells, the whimsy, the Christmas sound as it were around the 1/2 way point of this comp. The Christmas in Beach Music has the potential of getting lost in the shag sounds and the uptempo rhythms and it was proven here.
Not that I minded. It's nice to get lost into something now and then. This is why Martin created this totally different Christmas comp (along with all the others he sent). This succeeded - I was lost on the shores of Carolina for a time and now that this is a part of my collection, I can take this trip any time
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