Friday, March 16, 2007

We're about to get COMPED! - Week 7 (Part 1)

We just finished our last week of looking at various online Christmas comps. The week before, we finished looking at Christmas comp submissions from various people around the world.

Wait... there's two weeks left in March. He said this was a two-month look at Christmas comps, right? How is he going to fill in that block of time? What's next?

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls... I would like to introduce you to someone who you're going to get real familiar with over the next two weeks. Please welcome Mr. Martin Johns of Greenville, South Carolina.

I first was introduced to Martin as a newcomer to the world of His screen name was "Stubbysfears" and brought a boatload of information to this past Christmas season. You may have noticed his name pops up quite regularly here in the comments section of the yuleblog.

In late November, Martin read my yuleblog asking for Christmas comps and he went into action. On December 7th, I received an e-mail from him that read:

"Just wanted to let you know that my Christmas CDs have been mailed out to you. Hope you find something you like."

On Thursday, December 14th, 2006, I went to my P.O. Box to clear it out before my family and I left for a getaway weekend. There were several packages and Christmas cards inside my actual box, including one postal key for the bank of larger boxes that are reserved for overflow or oversized packages.

I turned the key and opened the box. I began hearing music from the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" as a shoebox size package stood upright before me like a monolith:

Package in hand, I went back to my car in the post office parking lot and got inside. I opened this mammoth carton last. I ripped the bottom off and like a Las Vegas slot machine, the foam peanut jackpot began. I'm still finding peanuts in my car three months later.

I began pulling out stacks and stacks and stack of CDs - by jingo, it was a slot machine! I was glancing at the titles only: "Progressive Christmas Vol. 5", "No Rain, No Rainbow: A Contemporary Hawaiian Christmas", "Hepcat Holiday", "An American Postal Worker's Christmas".

Each CD came with ornate, immaculate artwork - high quality stuff you'd see at a knockoff sweatshop in Hong Kong. What had I gotten into?

I kept digging - "Santa's On The Download (a 2-CD set)", "So Much Vinyl, So Little Time 'Til Christmas", "Solid Gold Christmas V2", "Breaking Up Christmas"... is that it? I had reached bottom!

When it was all over, I did a quick count. Add in the new comp Stubby shared over at that featured various sharity finds from around the Internet, this gave me - from one Martin Johns of Greenville, South Carolina, TWENTY-ONE Christmas comps in all:


I began to read the enclosed four page letter:

"Hey Cap'n! I came upon your site via Christmas Reviews, upon their review of the Oregon Lottery fruitcake tunes. I think it was your earnest enthusiasm for Christmas music that hooked me. And then you solicited holiday comps... Did you realize what you were doing? Probably. I'd have done the same had I such a forum.

"So here is your Christmas package from 'stubbyfears' - the first of many, perhaps - along with some earlier volumes that 'I just happened to have on the truck.' I don't care if you review any of them (you'd probably have to pick a longer month), I just hope you like them.

"I've been doing this for 20 years now. You'll find a bit of that backstory on the liner notes for 'The Holiday Festival of Music'. Prior to that, I worked in radio for ten years (counting college radio) and, generally, was able to do my thing over the air. No, my collection was not 'freed' from radio station libraries. I built it the hard way, by going through every record in every store I could find, Then, of course, the Internet (and eBay) simplified things tremendously.

"Yeah, I still love used record stores. But I moved to North Carolina last year and, here, they don't even have a decent NEW CD store (its Wal-Mart or nothing here baby). (CAPT'S NOTE: How do I feel about Wal-Mart? Click the link!) When I trek to Boston, you'll find me at Cheapo Records where the Christmas section stays out all year long.

"You'll probably find my collections a bit different than what you're used to. (That's part of the fun, isn't it, hearing how different folks musically express Christmas.) It's possible you won't like what I do at all. My mixes tend to be contemporary and genre based.

"I approach my mixes (on a mostly unconscious level) in the same way I approached my radio shows. Be fresh and interesting, control the mood and tempo - bring it up, down, close strong. Attract new listeners while retaining the ones you have. The combination of my experiences has shaped the way I put my mixes together.

"My focus tends to be on contemporary and new material; as a bubblegum child, I have a decent ear for hooks and melody. I tend to steer away from the 'classics', except in small doses; and my exposure to music forms in college radio (where I did a number of specialty shows) makes me want to spread my vision to every genre and then mash them up all together.

"I try to create mixes that work as "shows." CDs you'd listen to even if it weren't Christmas music. CDs you'd listen to IN SPITE of it being Christmas music (most of my contemporaries hate the stuff). I could listen to Andy Cirzan's comp or FaLaLaLaLa's ADVENTure In Carols 100 times over, but the folks who I send my comps to would listen to them once, say "interesting," and put them aside.

"I try to get my stuff in the mail by December 1, in the hopes they'll enjoy them many times over. More than a few of these Christmas-music-haters report that they wait every year for that little box to appear in their mail. They get the same excitement we, as kids, used to wait for that day when we could finally get our hands on all those wrapped surprises.

"I get that total Santa Claus feeling when I get to hand deliver a CD and see their eyes light up so I guess I'm doing something right). Anyway, that's what I think I'm trying to do or it could just be one big self-deluded acid flashback. So you may be disappointed to find my mixes are as contemporary as they are. But I get the feeling that you're a bit like me. It's all good. Or it could be that acid thing again.

"Basically, my radio programming philosophy would be: Decide who you want to be and then be that. That philosophy actually gives you MORE flexibility, not less.

"Yes, I've always been this prolific about it. I've never done fewer than four and the total is usually closer to ten mixes in a year. Generally, the annual line-up includes a Country Mix, a Jazz Mix (I told a friend once that "I can't do Jazz every year" and she said, "Why Not?" Had to admit I didn't have a good answer for her), a "Progressive" Mix (a format at one of the college stations I worked for), a "Traditional" Mix, and at least one or two genre and/or theme mixes. Vinyl mixes and Chanukah mixes tend to come about every other year, Not everybody gets every disc, but most get an armful. I try not to repeat cuts, but it happens.

"I'm not that pleased with my work this year, to be honest. The continued worsening of my father's health, along with a healthy dose of unemployment, did affect my focus considerably. If this year's batch doesn't do it for you, I wholeheartedly recommend the older discs. I think 'Progressive Christmas V4' was very good (could have used a blues). 'Mo' Vinyl Xmas' was likely my best work ever.

"'An American Postal Workers' Christmas is a frenetic favorite for many of my subscribers. For your Hawaiian itch, there's 'No Rain, No Rainbow: A Contemporary Hawaiian Christmas". And, for something a bit more retro, there's 'Memories Of Christmas'. Next year, as Volume 4 is released, I'll get you caught up on the 'Stubby's Chanukah' series!

"Merry Christmas! - Martin Johns

"P.S. 'Christmas In Tikrit' is NOT a Christmas CD. I just got really pissed when Congress passed the Torture Bill and I had to protest, pre-election, in the best way I knew how. I've sent a copy for... well, I don't know why... curiosity?

"P.P.S. I hope I don't come off sounding full of myself. I'm really about the most humble person you could ever meet. But I do have a point of view about what I do, even if I don't articulate it very well. Sorry for the rambling. I'm very verbose and at least a tad nuts."

(CAPT'S NOTE: Not nuts, just passionate. I have met my match in my absolute obsession in Christmas music.)

For the next 45 minutes, I opened each comp to read the liner notes and playlists. My initial thought was I would already own about 75% of the songs, 25% would be completely new. However, as my eyes poured over gem after gem, lost song found after lost song found (and there were LOTS of those - talk about Christmas!), new version after new version, I discovered those numbers reversed themselves to around 30% owned, 70% new!

The next two weeks are going to be very, VERY interesting.

My plan is to review two comps per weekday - one in the morning, one in the late afternoon / evening (the odd 21st comp will be scheduled for next Saturday).

I will do my best to keep up the track reviews in each review but these might fall aside depending on how much time I can allot during this two week stretch. Or die trying!

This yuleblog entry has pretty much answered any and all questions in my standard set and beyond - you'll see a link back to this entry in each review for the next two weeks.

I have asked Martin for a special insight for each comp that will accompany each CD that's reviewed so look for that instead of the questions I've been asking.

Next week's schedule will be posted in part 2 upcoming shortly. Let the fun begin!


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