Thursday, August 31, 2006

Original Music Box Favorites V2

Earlier this year, I found this album in an antique store in the antique town of Pierceton, Indiana. At first glance, I nearly passed over it because of its non-Christmas title. However, the songs were and I added this to my pile of albums that I was preparing for the upcoming holiday season.

Then in July, our friend Bongolong at Bongolong Land offered this album as part of his "Christmas In July" celebration.

Earlier this month, Bongolong decided to create a new Christmas ONLY blog entitled Bongobells and is currently offering this album to download.

In his first three weeks, Bongo has offered 31 different albums with such diverse titles as:

"Ren & Stimpy's Crock O'Christmas"
"Mae West - Wild Christmas"
"Christmas In The Stars: The Star Wars Christmas Album"
"Guitars Inc. - Guitars At Christmas"
"Jackie Gleason - Merry Christmas"

This music box album is one of the TWELVE albums I've downloaded from his site (each one of these albums will be reviewed, I promise!).



How does one review music boxes? Do I compare alloys from the machine and the discs? Are music boxes made in Switzerland better than the ones you can get at the San Francisco Music Box Co.?

Music boxes and Christmas have long been a tradition thanks in large part to Rita Ford. Ms. Ford's passion for collecting, restoring, and repairing music boxes led her to open her famous store in New York City back in 1947.

In 1961, a clever guy from Columbia Records approached Ford and asked about recording several music boxes for Christmas. A Music Box Christmas was a HUGE smash (you've heard at least one track off this album in your lifetime) and it was followed up in 1962 with "Music Box Wonderland Christmas with Rita Ford's Music Boxes".

Suddenly, the imitation music box LPs began popping up all over the budget labels. One album in particular released by Pickwick Records (the very same label that released the album before you) even claimed the music boxes were from Rita Ford! She quickly disavowed any connection with that album and has done many other times since.

As for this album, it was released by Pickwick in 1980...

And it's chock full of music boxes playing Christmas tunes.

(nervous grin)

That's about it. Bongo, thanks for beating me to the punch with this one!

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


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The CBC Singalong Jubilee Singers - It's Christmas Day

O Canada, Jeff's home and native land...

Jeff who? No, that's Jeffco! If you click on this link to a previous yuleblog entry, you can read the fascinating but true story of how I met Jeff Fox, my very good friend from Nepean, Ottawa and the recepient of ALL my Christmas music in the case of my untimely death.

Is that why Jeff sent those snakes on a plane? Curious.

Last week, I received an e-mail from Jeff shortly after I posted my last review of Ernie (not Bert)'s stack of CDs. The e-mail simply read:

"I hear you're done reviewing your Ernie CDs. Download at will."

One click of the mouse led me to a new page on Jeff's amazing, ever changing web site. There I discovered NINE digitalized Christmas albums available to download! Another new stack? WOW! This album you see before you is one of the seven albums I didn't already own (the others will be reviewed here, I promise!).

History lesson: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has been in existence since 1936 on the radio. Later in 1952, they moved over into television, giving us "Hockey Night In Canada" and "The Red Green Show" (we won't hold you responsible Jeff for the latter). If you want to read more about CBC, Wikipedia's entry covers just about everything!

Lately, the CBC hasn't performed too well thanks to private TV companies and cable & satellite companies slicing up the viewership pie. Another reason floated around is their focus on Canadian content. When "Hiking In The Manitoba Woods" is up against "Baywatch", guess which show is going to win?

Throughout the 1960s, the CBC carried a show called "Jubilee", a variety show starring Don Messer - the Canadian Lawrence Welk and produced by a talented musician & producer named Bill Langstroth. The focus was strictly music and was wildly popular across Canada.

Starting in 1962, Langstroth gave Messer the summer off and "Singalong Jubilee" was its replacement show. Similar to Mitch Miller's "Sing-Along" show, Langstroth brought together dozens of talented singers and showcased their talents in folk, country, spiritual, and pop music.

Two singers in particular soared to greater heights: the lovely Catherine McKinnon became a household name across Canada with her "voice of an angel". The other singer appeared on "Singalong Jubilee" from 1966 to 1970, introduced many of her songs on the program, went on to marry Bill Langstroth and enjoy a remarkable career: the one and only Anne Murray!

This album is quite the hootnanny! From the first notes that Bill Langstroth plucks out on his trademark banjo (Anne Murray married a banjo player?), you'll know that is album will be definitely different.

It gives the folk treatment to several tracks (the title track "It's Christmas Day" and "The Holy Baby (Children Go Where I Send Thee)" in fine Canadian fashion. Langstroth's version of "Go Tell It On The Mountain" sounds eerily like Burl Ives! Other tracks are given a standard choral treatment ("Good King Wenceslas" and "The Huron Carol").

When this album was recorded (year unknown), Catherine McKinnon was still the house singer of note and she's featured on several tracks. Does she have a "voice of an angel"? Pretty close. Her solo of "The Cherry Tree Carol" is haunting, but I preferred her other song - "Virgin Mary Had One Son" with Michael Stansbury .

If there's one standout track, it has to be by Jim Bennet, the other co-host of the show. His version of "O Tannenbaum" is quite remarkable because Bennet's voice is deep, scary, and unforgettable.

Quite a fun album! Very folky and Christmasy. Definitely Canadian! Thanks Jeff for offering this album!

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


Monday, August 28, 2006

Santalicious - 2005 - Martin Klasch

Here's a Christmas compilation that I found while on a quick blog tour I took at the end of July!

I has just enough time at the computer to putz around but not enough time to sit and do a full album review. So I let the mouse do the clicking and I came across several sharity blogs that yielded good fruit.

I found the complete "Dirty Harry" movie soundtrack and an obscure 1960s comedy takeoff on the Kennedy "First Family" comedy albums. "At Home With That Other Family" is set in Russia and we meet up with the Khruschchev's!

This tour led me to Martin Klasch's blog. A mix of music, videos, artwork, and photos with a distinct European flavor. I was hooked. I began to deep search the blog when I came across this entry.

Culled from different sources such as Red Ryder BB Gun, Planet Xtabay (now Xtabay's World), Jul Igen,, and Ernie (not Bert) (who's he?), Klasch offered this CD during Christmas 2005 and I was kicking myself for not finding it until July, 2006! I left a link request in his blog entry comments section and he promptly left a link for me in a comments section of one of my entries!

The link in question is still active so why not download it yourself?


1.) The Soulful Strings - Sleigh Ride
One of the most "soulful" sleigh rides you'll ever take! A great way to start the album!

2.) Carla Thomas - Gee Whiz, It's Christmas
A nice follow-up to the Soulful Strings... been a while since I've heard this one!

3.) Dick Shawn - Snow Miser
"The Year Without A Santa Claus" is a bit of a bore. When this song comes on, it comes to life!

4.) Senor Tonto - Hooray For Santy Claus
Shades of Petty Booka! This is one of the oddest covers of this song ever!

5.) Sy Mann - Tijuana Christmas
Taken from the classic "Switched On Santa" LP. (Click on the link to get the album! Thanks Jeff!)

6.) Herman Apple - J'ai Vu Maman Embrasser Le Pere Noël (I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa)
A jaw-dropping, fantastic tune! I wonder where he found this one?

7.) The Three Suns - Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
Anything from the Three Suns is damn okay in my book! Great stuff!

8.) Yngve Stoor - Sjömansjul på Hawaii

9.) Marvin Gaye - Purple Snowflakes
WOW! A rare track finally found! The Motown sound, Marvin's melodious voice, this one's a winner!

10.) Smokey Robinson & The Miracles - Christmas Time
Motown and Christmas went well together and this song is a prime example. Another one I haven't heard in some time!

11.) The O'Jays - Christmas Ain't Christmas Without The One You Love
This song should be played more often at Christmas. A great triple play of soul!

12.) Margret Jonsson - Snögubben Froste (Frosty The Snowman)
When this song is sung in Swedish, it takes on even more charm and warmth. Very lovely!

13.) Ramsey Lewis - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Smoooooooooth! Ramsey only recorded a handful of Christmas tunes and this is his very best!

14.) Walter Brennan - A Good Year For Santa Claus
I never really listened to the music behind Walter's ramblin' before. I have to relisten to the album again!

15.) Glen Campbell - Little Toy Trains
Could this song have been the basis for "The Polar Express"? Listen to it closely...

16.) Burt Bacharach - The Bell That Couldn't Jingle
The timeless sound of Bacharach takes this otherwise dull song and brings it to life!

17.) The Hollyridge Strings - Santa's Got A Brand New Bag
Not exactly James Brown but it doesn't get much lush than this, folks!

18.) The San Sebastian Strings - Everyday Was Christmas
EXCELLENT TUNE! The great Anita Kerr and Rod McKuen sing a great vocal over some lush strings! What album did this one come from?

19.) Julie London - I'd Like You For Christmas
I just melted... Julie London has that effect on me and this one is haunting!

20.) The Hal Bradley Orchestra (with Patty Marie Jay)- Space Age Santa Claus
This is the epitome of space age Christmas! Check out the great 45 cover sleeve! Looks like Martin on his cover!

21.) Peggy King - I'm Gonna Put Some Glue On The Christmas Tree
Have you ever heard such a sadistic tune sung so sweetly? Krazy Glue is not to be trifled with!

22.) Claudine Longet - I Don't Intend To Spend Christmas Without You
Breathy, funky, and swinging! This is a tune definitely ahead of its time! Shooting incident notwithstanding, whatever happened to Claudine?

23.) Jimmy Smith - White Christmas
OUTSTANDING! I reviewed this album earlier this year and it's a classic!

24.) James Brown - Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto
Not his best Christmas tune... But Soul Brother #1's weakest work is better than half of the artists on the charts today!

25.) Dinah Washington - Make Me A Present Of You
GREAT JUMPING ICEBERGS! Another Dinah gem! This is too much! This may get some consideration for my own Christmas comp this year!

26.) Brian Wilson - What I Really Want For Christmas
This song was just too depressing for me... Like watching an older Muhammad Ali trying to box past his prime.

27.) James Last - Christmas Medley
An excellent medley of Christmas tunes... For more James Last, check out this blog!

28.) The Partridge Family - Winter Wonderland
Believe it or not, it fits right in with this mix! Shirley Jones and David Cassidy swing!

29.) Gunnar Svensson & Arne Domnerus - Karl-Bertil Jonssons Julafton
A smooth jazz tune that ends this incredible mix of Christmas tunes... Lovely!

It's an awesome Christmas CD. I hope this review has done it justice. Thank you Martin for sharing the CD with me (and all of us) yet again! It makes me look forward to this year's Christmas compilation from you even more.

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


The Gunter Kallmann Choir - Christmas Sing-In

Back in June, our good friend The King Of Jingaling offered this album as part of his "Christmas And A Half" celebration (and is still available to download over at FLLLL).

Not much background is available about Gunter Kallmann online. According to, Kapp Records was looking for a Horst Jankowski sound-alike and searched for a German choral/instrumental group that didn't have a distribution deal in America.

Enter Kallmann. His group didn't enjoy the international success of Jankowski but they did release nine albums between 1965 and 1970 (almost two a year!).

The release date of this album has been guesstimated around 1971 and it definitely has a 70s feel. Each one of the twelve tracks on the album is a medley, fusing two or three songs into one.

This album, in a nutshell, is an experience!

The chorus sings their heart out, complete with German accents and tones. In the middle of one medley, the chorus sings the soft, reverent tones of "Silent Night", then burst into "Ding Dong Merrily On High" with all the force of an oompah band!

The orchestra swings, one moment lush and full of strings, then getting down and funky with the bassline coming across loud and clear. Throughout most of the album, the arrangements tend to favor the orchestra member on glockenspiel, chimes, or bells. It's cute at times, annoying most of the time. By the end of the album, you want to shove those bells down someone throat.

The standout track is song number one - "We Wish You A Merry Christmas / Jingle Bells / Where Did My Snowman Go?". "We Wish You" begins in a rather Teutonic way, then switches into smooth 70s mode. It then switches into a bells blazin' version of "Jingle" only to be followed by a funky cover of "Where Did My Snowman". It's a mini opera and sets the tone for the rest of the album handsomely.

Other favorite tracks on this album include "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer / Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", "Once In Royal David's City / The Holly And The Ivy" is an epic, "Happy Holiday / I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus", and "Mistletoe And Holly / Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow".

This type of album is the type that I strive to find while searching the vinyl bins of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Most of the time, I fall real short. It's a testament to the King Of Jingaling who keeps coming up with these amazing albums. Thanks for sharing this one!

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


Friday, August 25, 2006

The Best Of "Christmas In July 2006" From Ernie (not Bert)

Last month, Ernie had a "Christmas In July" to remember. For one month at his astounding blog, he had daily downloads of winter or Christmas related songs. 31 days, 112 songs. He was averaging 3.6 songs for each day of the month.

I promised I would create a two or three CD set of all the MP3s he offered and review them here. However, Ernie beat me to the punch by offering a "Best Of" compilation disc at his blog on August 4th. It's still available to download so do yourself a favor: if you haven't downloaded it yet, download it here, and continue reading.

I felt so compelled to do something fantastic other than a ringing review. So I broke out the ArcSoft PhotoStudio and did some custom artwork which you may download to use for this CD.

And in case you're wondering, that IS our man Ernie on skis - earlier this year, he tried his hand on the slopes which cushioned his falls very handily (forgive the pun). When I put together the artwork, I figured the picture looked close enough for a "Christmas In July" celebration.

The music on this CD is superb, much like the entire month at his blog. Every track is a gem, unearthed and refined by Ernie's turntable, polished and presented the way a fine jeweler shows a potential bride to be her wedding ring. I suspect many of these fine songs will find their way onto countless Christmas compilations across the country later this year.

Here is a track by track review:

1.) Clebanoff & His Orchestra - Bobsled
Did I put in an Ultra-Lounge "Christmas Cocktails" CD? This one is a ride! Hence the name, right?

2.) Ted Heath & His Music / Edmundo Ros & His Orchestra - Baby It's Cold Outside
It might be cold outside but the cha-cha rhythms on this swinger will warm anyone up!

3.) Lionel Hampton - Gin For Christmas
I love anything by Hamp... doesn't have a Christmasy feel, but it's a definite toe-tapper. Great riffs abound!

4.) Marty Gold & His Orchestra - High On A Windy Hill
The wind sound f/x through much of this song takes away from the lush strings and arrangements.

5.) Eastman-Rochester Pops, Frederick Fennell Conducting - Brazilian Sleigh Bells
Another version of this song I own (Harry James & His Orchestra) lasts about 1:00... This one is UNBELIEVABLE!

6.) Dinah Washington - I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm
The big, brassy voice of Dinah makes this version of this song my favorite of all time. Smooth!

7.) Henry Mancini - Latin Snowfall
Smooth to follow smooth... dim the lights, sit on the ottoman, and watch gravity pull the snowflakes down!

8.) Yuji Takizawa & His Blue Bones Orchestra - White X-mas
A very Guy Lombardo sound alike orchestra from Japan... What a present! Sweet sounds!

9.) Will Glahé & His Orchestra - The Skater's Waltz
I've never heard an oompah band perform this waltz before... oddly enough, it works!

10.) Esquivel & His Orchestra - Sun Valley Ski Run
An Esquivel recording is like a great painting by Picasso - you'll always hear (or see) something new! One of his best.

11.) Billy Vaughn & His Orchestra - The Chipmunk Song
WOW! Sounds like Mitch Miller, Ray Conniff, and JoAnn Castle all wrapped into one. Can we ditch the original for this version?

12.) Percy Faith & His Orchestra - Little Bells And Big Bells (Glocke Und Glockchen)
Not a Christmas song and not very bellsy... Was hoping for more from Mr. "Theme From A Summer Place"...

13.) Lawrence Welk & His Champagne Music - The Merry Christmas Polka
This song took me back to my grandmother's apartment on the north side of Chicago at Christmas... Thanks Ern!

14.) Jerry Murad's Electronic Harmonicats - March Of The Toys
What starts as a parade ends as a great jam of harmonica that demands repeat hearings.

15.) Richard Hayman & His Harmonica Orchestra - Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers
Harmonica follows harmonica... This is a proud parade throughout and loads of fun... Great tune!

16.) Ian Fraser & His Orchestra - Sleigh Ride
For those of you who prefer slow sleigh rides, this one's for you! A very nice change of pace for this tune!

17.) Eddie Layton - Winter Wonderland
A wonderful mix of organ and xylophone that bring new life to an old favorite! Sweet stuff!

18.) The Smothers Brothers - Swiss Christmas
Beautifully set up by straight brother Dick and brought home in Tommy fashion by Tommy.

19.) David Rose - Christmas Tree
This tree must be located by Santa's workshop because that's how it sounds like... A cool tune!

20.) Eydie Gormé - Winter Night
What a voice! This is a fantastic song that WASN'T included on Steve & Eydie's Christmas album... shocking, no?

21.) Bernie Green With The Stereo Mad-Men - The Skater And His Dog
This is definitely not a Christmas song but I'm glad it's hear... the spirit of Spike Jones lives on!

22.) Enoch Light & The Brass Menagerie - My Favorite Things
You mean this ISN'T Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass? That's what Enoch went for and nailed perfectly! F-U-N!

23.) The Four Freshmen - Santa Claus Is Flat Gonna Come To Town
I always thought the Freshmen were too cheeky... and this song proves it! Send these guys to detention.

24.) David Carroll & His Orchestra - The Ski Song (Slalom)
I tried to like this one... but it's just too far busy, even for a skiing song.

25.) The Monterey Brass With Vocals By Mary Louise & The Michaels Brothers - We Need A Little Christmas
More like "We Need A Little LESS Christmas"...

26.) The Three Suns - Busy Holiday
Simple, bouncy, snappy. The Three Suns can do no wrong in my book. Hotcha!

27.) Six Fat Dutchmen - Sleigh Bell
It's fun to start but then all sounds the same... unfortunate because this could have gone somewhere!

28.) Billy May - Snowfall Cha-Cha
Wait... this one is ON a "Christmas Cocktails" CD... Do I have the right CD in?

29.) Dick Schory's New Percussion Ensemble - Holiday In A Hurry
I really liked, nay LOVED this song! Doesn't that mad rush at Christmas time sound like this? Anyone?

30.) Armengol & His Orchestra - Ave Maria
When I arrive at the Pearly Gates, can I request this song? It's just perfect!

31.) The Crew-Cuts - Auld Lang Syne
About as clean as they come... This is a perfect way to end the CD!

Somewhere in all my entries here, I commented that I had enough CDs to review "right through the summer". Most of those reviews were about albums from Ernie (who else?) and I've had fun relistening to some, listening for the first time on others, and shaking my head at more than a few.

For all the hard work transferring the albums, for offering them at your blog, and for all the work you're going to do this year, thank you Ernie. I'm very honored to have you as a friend.

Next week, a short stack of Christmas CDs that did NOT come from Ernie... but downloaded elsewhere and even a few actual purchases! Haven't done that in a while!

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


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Robert Way - New England Sleigh Ride: Music For The Christmas Season

Here it is... the FINAL album review from ALL the albums that I downloaded last year from Ernie (not Bert)'s blog!

This one comes to us from the good folks at your local Mobil gas station. It's hard to believe now but there was a time when gas station attendants is crisp clean uniforms would pump your gas, clean your windshields, and check your oil and fluids under the hood.

Then came the premiums. You could have gotten S&H green stamps, free road maps, cute plush mascot toys for the kiddies (the Exxon tiger was a fave), even cutlery and glassware as a premium when you filled up your tank (for around $10) back in the late 1960s or 1970s.

For those of you ages 20 or under, hard to believe, eh?

Again I googled Robert Way and the title of this album and got Ernie's blog and little else. So once again, I've posted the back cover so you can read for yourself about who Robert Way is:

It only looks deadly dull but this album is a breath of fresh air! Way is a one man band: he arranged and conducted both the orchestra and chorus in addition to composing six original Christmas songs on this album!

From beginning to end, this album has everything working in harmony - from old favorites like "We Three Kings" to new songs like "Everything Says Christmas Is Here"! It's not just great Christmas music, it's great music, period.

I have searched Google for "Robert Way", "New England Sleigh Ride", "Fleetwood Recording", even the cover artist Janet Tyrell... beyond the posts to Ernie's blog, there is no record of this record anywhere. I might just dash off an e-mail to the Mobil Oil Company to see if they can shed some light on this (not holding my breath).

If anyone has any information on Mr. Way or when this album was released or if there were additional albums released by Mobil, please let us know.


I'm looking next to my computer monitor where the stack of Ernie's CDs once stood. It's been quite a summer reviewing them all. However there is ONE more album from Ernie's blog that I will review tomorrow...

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


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Snap-On Male Chorus - Carols Of Christmas

This album wins the trophy for "Most Ambiguously Named Artist Of Any Album Downloaded At Ernie (not Bert)'s Blog in 2005" and gives us an idea of what company bands were like.

The concept of the company band was to bring together employees together to foster a spirit of brotherhood and harmony through music. This same spirit would be passed to other co-workers proud of their own company band.

Many Fortune 500 companies used to have their own company bands or choruses back in the day. AT&T, General Motors, the United States Postal Service, Prudential Life, etc., etc.. When Snap-On Tools was formed back in 1920, they too latched onto the concept.

I've posted the back cover of this album partially because you can read about some of the history of this chorus and partially because you're not going to read about it anywhere else.

As for the music, it's quite good! There are some nice vocals and arrangements on this singing album of mechanics!

The first four tracks are done acappella and just when you fear it's all going to be without actual music, track five comes along.

A Christmas medley that begins with a tinny piano that conjures up images of 30 odd choral members in a union hall with recording equipment strewn everywhere. This medley runs for almost 11 minutes and contains various Christmas carols such as "Hark The Herald Angels Sing", "Joy To The World", "Angels We Have Heard On High", "O Come All Ye Faithful", parts of Handel's "Halleujah" chorus, you name it!

This leads us to the standout track on the album - "Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring". What can I say? I'm a Johann Sebastian Bach fan! It's not often you hear the vocals of this heavenly piece done. If the mechanics on this album work as well as they sing, then I want these guys to rebuild my transmission on the minivan!

The next five songs are all acapella and done beautifully, especially "Carol Of The Drum aka Little Drummer Boy" and "Silent Night". It all concludes with a fun version of "Jingle Bells" where the tinny piano comes to life and the guys in the chorus sing their hearts out because the beer keg next to the recording engineer is getting warm.

I really Enjoyed this album with a capital E!

I'd keep an eye on Ernie's blog this upcoming Christmas. He just may repost this album for your listening pleasure!

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


Monday, August 21, 2006

The Town Pipers - Christmas Greetings From

Our last yuleblog entry brought to you The Pied Pipers. This entry brings to you The Town Pipers!

And like the Pied Pipers, I found this album at a blog that's rather obscure and I probably have never mentioned it before until now... a blog by the name of Ernie (not Bert)... curious.

What's more curious is that hardly anything (outside of references to Ernie's blog) is of note when "The Town Pipers" are googled.

On the back cover of this album is written the following:

Christmas greetings to all of you from the Town Pipers! This personable new group from Scranton, PA have a new, exciting sound which comes over with much impact and enthusiasm on this, their first recording.

Apparently their last recording as well... I have found no records other than this one by the Pipers anywhere (GEMM, Musicstack, eBay, Craig Moerer Records By Mail).

As for a new exciting sound that comes over with much impact and enthusiasm, it's there... in very limited quantity. You can feel the roughness of a first recording come across on this album. Their voices (sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes missing are occasionally outmatched by the orchestra.

Their vocal arrangements on several songs leave you shaking your head, notably "The Christmas Song", "Jingle Bells", and "Winter Wonderland". I'm not sure if they were going for a jazz feel or they were going off-key to achieve an effect but if you screw up a version of "Jingle Bells", you're asking for trouble.

However, when they sing a song straight, it sounds blended and in harmony - what a concept! "Joy To The World" is quite good, a nice job on "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear", and "Santa's On His Way" is probably the best track on the album.

It would have been interesting to see what the Pipers would have done if they stuck together. If they went on the road to polish up their harmonies, gain some experience, and worked with a better producer or orchestra... or for that matter, a bigger record label. How would have this record sounded after they had two or three albums under their belt?

I'm pretty sure this sold thousands of copies in Scranton, PA at Christmas, 1959 when it was released. Outside of Pennsylvania, it went quickly to the bargain bin and then the vinyl bins at Goodwill and the Salvation Army.

I will pull this one out occasionally at Christmas, play it, and toast the unfulfilled talent and legacy of The Town Pipers. About two minutes later, I'll pull it out of my boombox, place it back on my rack, and not touch it for a long time.

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


The Pied Pipers - Favorite Christmas Carols

This album gets my vote for the "All-Time Cutest Christmas Album Cover Posted Today At This Yuleblog"! This is yet another album that I downloaded at Ernie's blog last year (he's quite prolific that Ernie!).

Don't remember the Pied Pipers? Who are the Pied Pipers?

Back in 1938, 20th Century-Fox was creating the movie musical "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and needed a vocal group. Using former members of three other vocal groups (seven men and one woman - she being an unknown Jo Stafford!), they formed an octet called The Pied Pipers.

The famed big bandleader Tommy Dorsey heard the group, liked them, and signed them to a contract to sing on radio program. Dorsey was well-known for finding new talent (Buddy Rich, Connie Haynes, Jack Leonard, and a skinny Italian singer named Frank Sinatra) and having a hair-trigger temper.

The original line-up of eight Pied Pipers were fired from the radio program by its sponsor only after a six week period in the summer of 1939. By the end of the year, the line-up was down to four and on the verge of disbanding. Dorsey came to the rescue again and hired them to tour and record with his orchestra.

From 1940 to 1942, the Dorsey band was the most popular band in America - radio shows, records, appearances in major motion picture musicals, you name it. However, Dorsey's temper soon began taking a toll on the band. In 1942, Buddy Rich and Frank Sinatra left to pursue solo careers, a musician's strike crippled Dorsey's abilities to record and sustain his #1 position, and the new wartime travel restrictions caused problems for his tours.

Dorsey and the Pied Pipers were in a train station in Portland, Oregon in December, 1942 when one of the Pipers errantly sent Dorsey through the terminal. When they were reunited, Dorsey's temper exploded and fired the Piper who gave him wrong directions. The remaining Pipers resigned on the spot and left Dorsey standing on the platform - well done!

They went back to Hollywood and ran into Paul Weston and Axel Stordahl, former arrangers for Dorsey who were working for Capitol Records. The Pipers signed a recording contract with Capitol in 1943 and began a string of hits on the charts. However, it also quickly became clear that Stafford was pushing for her own solo career and eventually left the Pipers in 1944 when a young, unknown singer named June Hutton replaced her and led the Pipers until her departure in 1950.

Curious tidbit: Hutton and Stordahl married in 1951 and Stafford and Weston married in 1952!

By the 1950s, the Pied Pipers' popularity had passed. Changes within the group happened frequently and by the time this Christmas album was recorded in 1958 on the Tops label, the line-up looked like this:

L to R: Lee Gotch, Sue Allen, Alan Davies, and Clark Yocum

In addition to these four, an organist named George Mather plays on the album. Mather had several organ albums in his own right, including another Christmas album in 1958 called Christmas At Our House. The Pipers are in fine voice, singing in reverent tight harmonies. Special mention goes to Sue Allen, whose voice is exceptionally warm and crisp.

The standout track is "Joy To The World" thanks in large part to the one and only Thurl Ravenscroft singing lead. Thurl was the longtime voice of Tony The Tiger for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes and gained Christmas immortality when he sang "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" for the famous Dr. Suess animated television special.

Overall, a very nice album. You won't go wrong playing this one at Christmas dinner. In later years, this album was reissued on the Mayfair label at some point and it came with a different cover!

The Pied Pipers continued through the rock era, performing with The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra and other big band outfits. The personnel has changed quite a bit over the years but the group carries on. In 2001, they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame and you can catch up with the Pipers at their web site, which features a broken home page and several other pages that you can access by clicking here.

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


The Les Djinns Singers - 60 French Girls with the Christmas Bell Ringers - Joyeux Noël

Wow... it seems I pushed the CDs that contain long, LONG titles from the titles I downloaded at Ernie (not Bert)'s blog last December deep down the stack!

Looking at the average titles remaining in my stack of CDs from Ernie's blog, this very well could be the LONGEST title not only from Ernie but the longest in general for this very blog!

I googled "The Les Djinns Singers" and the first reference that came up was this one. Well done, Ernie! The second link or links were to an ABC-Paramount discography and shows that the Les Djinns Singers released several albums on that label between 1960-1964.

The remainder of the links were for various albums for sale, Musicstack, eBay, and WFMU's artist list.

I googled "Paul Bonneau", the arranger and director of this album and a number of web sites appeared, most in French. Bonneau was a composer and conductor of orchestras for many years with the French goverment radio station Radiodiffusion Française (RDF). This led to a posting with their television station, Radiodiffusion Télévision Française (RTF).

Back in 1959, the Malpasset Dam in France broke, killing 500 people. A group of 15 female choral singers from RTF were invited to an official reception for the families of victims to sing. Under the directorship of Bonneau (and subsequently the French government), this group of singers were rechristened "The Djinns" and began a quick recording career. They were expanded to "60 French Girls", were immensely popular throughout France, Belgium, and Canada, and ABC-Paramount began releasing their albums in the US.

This album was released at Christmas, 1961 and features the "60 French Girls" singing standard Christmas songs entirely in French. Also featured are the Christmas Bell Ringers on several of the tracks clanging out standard Christmas songs on bells, chimes, etc.

Overall, this is a pretty standard album. A few tracks catch your attention: "Noël Trois Anges Son Venus Ce Noir (Christmas, Three Angels We've Seen This Night)", and "Noël Blanc (White Christmas)" to name but two.

The standout track is "Pour Noël (For Christmas)". The song begins with a soft string arrangement, the melody is quite catchy and hooks you by mid-song. Suddenly, the track changes gears and we hear a driving piano and drum beat (think of the piano/drums from Dean Martin's "Everybody Loves Somebody") and it carries you home! WOW! This one just might make it onto my Christmas comp this year!

By the end of 1963, the Les Djinns Singers were at the height of their popularity and fame. Only one thing stood in their way: the French Government. In 1964, RDF and RTF were consolidated into one office - Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française (ORTF) and the cost cutting began.

The Djinns were considered "too expensive" to manage and by July 1964, the once popular group was officially disbanded. Paul Bonneau continued his career with the ORTF for many more years, composing hundreds of hours of music.

A Christmas album released by the French government, sort to speak. Who would have thunk it?

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


Friday, August 18, 2006

The Happy Crickets - Christmas With

Here's yet another entry into the "Christmas with small woodland creatures and/or insects that have sped up voices" category.

Back in June, I reviewed one of these entries, offered a STEREO version of the same album in July, and this hopefully will be the last entry for quite some time.

This one came from Ernie (not Bert)'s blog late last year and he stated at the time:

"I have this terrible fear that you folks are going to download whatever I throw up here. So here is a test. Do not download this album! It is bad! The arrangements are terrible.

"The singing is monotone clap-trap, and it's often pitched so high that dogs run howlng from the room! If you thought the Chipmunks were bad, these crickets make the Chipmunks look like Elvis being backed by the Beatles. But I'm afraid there is no stopping you

Well, I downloaded it. It even came with a different cover in a different color, style, and design. Twelve songs in total. How bad can it be?



So bad in fact that I'm just trying to type just enough words in this paragraph so that it reaches below the cover scan next to this column because it would look more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

Should have I downloaded this album? No. Did I? Yes. Will I use this album to clear out a room in under two minutes? You bet your life I will!

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


The Voices Of Walter Schumann - The Voices Of Christmas

In yesterday's yuleblog entry, we had a rather long album title I downloaded from Ernie (not Bert's) blog as a headline. Today, we have another album from Ernie (not Bert's) blog and another long album title as a headline!

Some of you might be asking "Who is Walter Schumann and why did he have so many voices?" Here's just the facts:

Schumann was born in New York, New York on October 8, 1913. In the early 1930s, he was attending the law school of USC when he abruptly quit to play in a college dance band.

Eventually, the band went its separate ways and Schumann continued on into the music business, working with Eddie Cantor on his radio show, and recording with Andre Kostelanetz.

World War II started, Walter enlisted, and became the musical director of the Armed Forces Radio Service. He worked with most of the major acts of the war on all the radio shows AFRS produced during this time. After the war, he returned to Los Angeles and worked in the movie and television industry as a composer and arranger, mostly for several Abbott & Costello films.

In 1949, Schumann was asked to compose a new theme for a police detective show about to make its debut on the NBC Radio network. He began his theme with a four note motif - quite possibly the second most famous four note motif after Beethoven's Fifth Symphony: "Dumm-da-dumm-dummmmm".

"Dragnet" was a HUGE smash and Schumann's theme quickly became instantly recognizable. Ray Anthony quickly recorded a cover of the theme and it went gold. In a classic episode of "The Honeymooners", Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton realize the money they found on a bus is counterfeit and the real owners would come calling. A knock at the door. Ralph and Ed freeze. Ralph's eyes bulge in fear. Ed Norton hums the "Dragnet" theme. Huge laughs!

MAD Magazine parodied "Dragnet" twice in their early days (issues number three and eleven, respectively), both times savagely using Schumann's blaring theme to blow them off the comic frame.

Stan Freberg wanted to parody "Dragnet" as well and asked Jack Webb for his blessing. Webb gave the okay and even suggested that Stan use Walter Schumann and his Orchestra for the parodies.

The only problem was while they recorded "St. George And The Dragonet", Schumann and company kept breaking out into laughter, ruining take after take. Two other parodies were recorded: "Little Blue Riding Hood" used Schumann's theme both as a doorbell and doorknock, and the immortal Christmas classic:

Inbetween all of this, Schumann banded together 20 talented vocalists and The Voices Of Walter Schumann were born. They recorded several easy listening albums a la Jackie Gleason for both Capitol and RCA.

Schumann was busy in 1955. He composed & conducted the score to the classic Robert Mitchum film "The Night Of The Hunter", he won an Emmy for his "Dragnet" theme, recorded an amazing space age spoken word album entitled "Exploring the Unknown", and the Voices recorded 19 tracks for this Christmas album.

Most of the album is pretty much straightforward, simple and elegant. Several standout tracks include a fun version of "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" (was that Thurl Ravenscroft as Santa?), "Fum Fum Fum" is an amazing track, "Christmas Gift" is a rollickin' good time thanks to Jester Hairston, and "Christmas Chopsticks" perfectly ends the album.

Overall, not the first album I'd grab from the shelf but I'm glad its there!

Walter Schumann continued on recording with the Voices and appearing on the first season of "The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show". Poor health led him to travel to the Mayo Clinic in the summer of 1958 where he underwent one of the first open heart surgeries in the United States.

Complications quickly arose and Schumann died on August 21, 1958 - weeks before the second season of "Tennessee Ernie" began. The Voices were stunned but pressed on. They were renamed "The Top Twenty" and carried on with Ford for another five years.

I bet every time a Tums commercial comes on the air, Walter spins in his grave.

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


Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Rainbow Sound of Bianco, His Harp And Orchestra - Joy To The World

Not only was this album downloaded at Ernie (not Bert)'s blog late last year but it holds the distinction for having the longest title of ANY Christmas album reviewed here!

Woe to the poor guy who had to give the stage announcement whenever Bianco played a concert!

Late last month, Ernie stated in a post at his blog that Bianco was one of his top three harpists of all time. The other two are Robert Maxwell and a Marxist named Harpo. Maxwell or Harpo were the only harpists I thought I knew existed, the rest were anonymous pluckers of the golden strings.

So let's spend some time finding Bianco (not Nemo).

Born Eugene Capobianco in 1927, he began studying the harp as a boy under the tutelage of his father Fillippo, himself a successful harpist from the old country in Italy, and Marcel Grandjany, an early star of the classical harp.

Gene studyed at Juilliard and after graduation played the classical harp circuit for several years. However, his love for jazz drove him to experiment with the harp as a jazz instrument (radical idea!). Bianco began playing nightclubs and jazz spots throughout New York and was spotted by someone from NBC Television. This led to an offer of a job playing in the studio band of a comedian by the name of Ernie Kovacs.

(For those of you not familiar with Ernie Kovacs, I demand that you click on the link above and learn about one of my personal heroes. This was the man who inspired "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" and "Saturday Night Live". David Letterman and Conan O'Brien owe their careers to Kovacs.)

One of the signature pieces of Ernie Kovacs was "The Nairobi Trio", a three ape band that mimed to a recording of "Solfeggio" by Robert Maxwell. Several times on Ernie's TV show, the studio band performed this song LIVE and Ernie preferred Bianco's playing of the harp better! This is probably because Bianco was complemented with some great talent, including a guitar player by the name of Mundell Lowe.

Bianco invited Lowe to create a jazz combo. Together with the help of percussionist Joe Venuto, they recorded two albums on the obscure Major Records label which were critical successes. RCA Records noticed and signed Bianco & Co. to a three record contract on the Camden label. The first album was "Stringin' The Standards", the second album was "Harp, Skip, And Jum...P", both featuring the combination of electric guitar and harp in tight harmonized solos of Bianco & Lowe which are now a standard feature of many pop orchestrations.

RCA quickly cashed out the contract Bianco signed because they had a grand idea for him. Using their new partnership with the Reader's Digest Record Club, RCA signed Bianco to a six record contract, pushing him to record the lush, easy listening music that only Reader's Digest listeners could stomach. RCA rechristened him "The Rainbow Sound of Bianco, His Harp And Orchestra" and the album you see above was album number one.

This is what heaven sounds like at Christmas time... harp playing, choir of angels singing, the archangel Gabriel and his trumpet leading the orchestra in full blown lush. Too lush actually.

I wish I could say I love this album but I can't. When Bianco lets loose as in "Jingle Bells" or his medley of "Sleigh Ride / We Wish You A Merry Christmas", it's quite fun and sounds fantastic. The rest of the album should be listened to only after a prescription from a doctor. Too much sugar can cause diabetes and should be strictly monitored.

Bianco, to his credit, gave RCA six full albums of lush stuff like this and chose NOT to resign with them. He preferred the jazz sound of the harp (now that would be an interesting Christmas album) and freelanced on dozens of many jazz recordings. He then moved into the recording booth as a musical coordinator and contractor, finding studio musicians for the likes of Stevie Nicks, Mary J. Blige, and even the late Ray Charles! His pace has slow as of late, but he's still involved in the music biz!

So now the big three of harps are Bianco, Harpo, and Maxwell - sounds like a law firm.

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


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Raymond Lefevre & His Orchestra - Merry Christmas

This cover should be included in the "Top 25 Greatest Christmas Album Covers Of All Time" which sounds like another VH-1 special.

I knew the album was in my stack of CDs that I downloaded (almost nine months ago) from the blog of Ernie (not Bert) but it didn't present itself until today. Christmas in August!

When I sit to do a yuleblog review, I generally put about 1 hour of Googling into it, searching web sites for answers about the artist's background, discography, career, etc.. Sometimes I come up with amazing facts, innuendo, and subplots that you would have never expected from a little old Christmas album.

When I researched Raymond Lefevre, hundreds of links came up for discographies that lead nowhere, song lyric web sites (which is hilarious considering Ray's bread and butter came from recording instrumentals), links for eBay, Yahoo, CD Universe, and the pièce de résistance - Raymond Lefevre ringtones.

Only two links yielded good fruit. The first was from who reports that Lefevre battled Paul Mauriat for the title of "King of Instrumentals" back in the 1960s and for most of his recording career, Raymond focused on the French speaking audiences in France and Canada.

The other Lefevre link comes from GEMM and a testament to what SpaceAgePop had to say. Click on the link and you see hundreds of LPs and singles, most of which have French titles and were released in Europe. However, if you search real hard enough, you'll find a Christmas album over there on sale (and on the Buddah label???)

This album was recorded and released in the 1960s at some point (the Goldmine Christmas Record Price Guide shows a promo 45 of "Silver Bells" as its lone entry on Lefevre). If you're a fan of easy listening, lush orchestral instrumentals, or looking for a change of pace, then this album is right up your alley.

The standout tracks include "Jingle Bells", "Angels We Have Heard On High" is a religious experience, and "O Holy Night" starts to build to a HUGE climax then diminishes - quite refreshing!

This is the spot where I'd normally update you on what Lefevre is doing now (is he still alive?), what other albums or career paths he chose (he recorded on Buddah? If someone picks up that album, please let us know!), and the like. But since I don't have that info, I'm not sure how to end this review. Don't look for the BIG finish or a closing number... Any suggestions?

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


Lynn Anderson - The Christmas Album

"What happens if you play a country song backwards?"

"You get your wife back, you get your job back, you get your truck back, you get your dog back..."

This was one of only two country Christmas albums that Ernie offered at his blog late last year (the other was a Buck Owens - Susan Raye Christmas album - and I didn't get that downloaded - how the hell did I miss that one?).

Country music has certainly seen its highs and lows in popularity. The first big wave could arguably have come in the mid-1950s to 1964 with stars like Hank Williams Sr., Patsy Cline, and Jim Reeves; all who died rather early and at the height of their popularity.

The British Invasion pushed country off the scene for a while only to make its first comeback in the late 1960s - a crossover comeback to boot. "Hee-Haw" went on the air, Johnny Cash's career rebounded and he ended up with a TV show, the Bakersfield sound of Merle Haggard was getting crossover play, the country rock sounds of the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd were beginning to develop, and new young stars like Dolly Parton, Charley Pride, and Mac Davis were becoming the new torchbearers.

It was in this transitional phase that Lynn Anderson began to make a name for herself. Born and raised in California, Anderson had one foot in the door thanks to her songwriter mom Liz Anderson who had penned several Merle Haggard hits.

Lynn began her solo career in 1966 and got noticed by a certain TV bandleader who loved to count... and ah one, and ah two... Welk signed Lynn as her "country" singer and she stayed on the show for a year (1967-1968) before leaving to sign with Columbia Records.

At Columbia, Lynn's sound became less twangy, more polished, more pop, more crossover (the current trend). It payed off in 1970 when she released "(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden", reaching #1 on the US country charts and #3 on the Billboard Top 40. The song also won her a Grammy award for "Best Female Country Vocal Performance." The following year, Lynn had several follow up hits, was named Top Female Artist at the Country Music Awards, and released her Christmas album at holiday time.

The very first song is "Ding-A-Ling The Christmas Bell" which tells the Rudolph-like story of a bell who fell from a tree and began to ring off-key. Santa then gets caught in a snowstorm, hears Ding-A-Ling ring his off-key chime, and Santa is rescued, making the bell a hero. Only a country song could make this story compelling folks!

Lynn has several original Christmas tunes on this album, all quite good actually. "The Spirit Of Christmas" is a tender ballad, "Soon It Will Be Christmas Day" is a wonderful tune, "Mr. Mistletoe" sounds like country and could crossover to pop, "A Whistle And A Whisker Away" may be my favorite on this album, and "Don't Wish Me A Merry Christmas" is the penultimate Christmas country heartbreak song.

Scratch Dolly, Loretta, and the Judds off my Christmas playlist this year. I want this album!

For the rest of the 1970s, Anderson scored country hit after hit but the widespread popularity of country music as a whole declined through the entire decade of the 1980s (the lone big crossover hit during this time was "Elvira" by the Oak Ridge Boys). Lynn's recording career continued on but never reached the heights as it did back when this album was released. She continues to perform concerts across the country.

As for country music, Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, the Judds, and George Strait brought its popularity back in the early 1990s to stay - and a nice break from the boy bands, gangsta hip-hop, and the Britney wannabes of the world.

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


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sy Mann - Everybody's Christmas Favorites

In a yuleblog entry yesterday, I mentioned that Christmas organ music was now the largest subgenre in my collection.

As I thumbed through the remaining stack of albums that I downloaded at Ernie (not Bert)'s blog last year (a mere 12 remaining from a tower of 35+ CDs), yet another CD stared at me containing Christmas organ music.

But organ music in the hands of Sy Mann, then it becomes something that deserves special attention. If the name Sy Mann sounds familiar, that's because he was one of the main forces behind "Switched On Santa" - one of the top five Christmas albums of all time.

Mann's musical education began quite young - at the age of six to be exact. His sister would hit wrong notes on her cello as she practiced and Sy would correct her by playing the right notes on the family piano!

Sy was studying music at New York University when World War II began. He quickly enlisted and spent most of his four year stint in the Army either composing, arranging, or playing in various Army and USO bands.

After WWII ended, Sy began a remarkable thirty year run in the music industry: playing in Benny Goodman's band, radio station WNEW's in-house pianist & arranger, a move to television as Arthur Godfrey's pianist, and a varied recording career not only as a pianist but also on vibraphone, trumpet, harpsichord, organ, clavietta, the Ondioline, and the Moog.

This album was recorded on the Palace label (date unknown - best guesses anyone?) and features not only Sy at the Wurlitzer but chimes as an accent. It's not his best work or the album he'll be long remembered for, but he plays so well that you get hooked from the first note on. The standout track is Sy's rendition of "Jingle Bells" - it makes you feel like you're riding in the one horse open sleigh!

I should mention the back cover. I guess Palace couldn't print the lyrics to "White Christmas" because it meant even more royalties to Irving Berlin for the pleasure. AIso, they simply added the lyrics on the back and never put the songs in the correct order on the album! In order:

1.) White Christmas
2.) Adeste Fideles
3.) Silent Night
4.) Joy To The World
5.) It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
6.) Away In A Manger
7.) God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
8.) Jingle Bells
9.) O Little Town Of Bethlehem
10.) Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
11.) The First Noel
12.) Deck The Halls
13.) We Three Kings
14.) Good King Wenceslas

According to, Mann recorded another Christmas album with the Artie Malvin Carolers on the Palace label. No date is given on this album as well. However, I do know that the title of the album is "Let's All Sing Christmas Carols". I found this album at a Goodwill store and plan on sharing it this upcoming Christmas after I restore the hideous back cover via PhotoShop.

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


Monday, August 14, 2006

George Wright - Merry Christmas

As I type these words, my mind is playing tricks with me. You may not know it but this addition to my Christmas music collection is a very significant one and I'm not sure how to react to it.

The largest subgenre in my collection was Hawaiian Christmas music. Thirteen albums. Solo artists like Don Ho and Willie K. Groups like The Waikikis, The Blue Hawaiians, and Na Leo Pilimehana.

Lush cover art like The Mahaka Sons "Christmas Day In Hawaii Nei" or crazy cover art like the 49th State Record Co's "Santa's Gone Hawaiian".

If you didn't catch it, I said this WAS the largest subgenre.

Christmas organ music skyrocketed to the top this year. From November 2005 to present, I have added TWELVE different organ albums to my collection. Looking at my albums-to-be-shared-at-Christmas pile, there's another three Christmas organ albums awaiting addition to my collection. This is not counting the half dozen or so Christmas organ albums I'll probably download this upcoming holiday season.

I'm surrounded by Hammond B-3s, Wurlitzers, Kimballs, and Lowrey organs and they're all playing Christmas music. Why not? Most moviegoers of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s can remember house organists playing before, sometimes during, and after movies at their theaters.

George Wright was one of those organists. He began his career in the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1930s, working movies houses in both Oakland and San Fran. As a result, he landed the prime job of organist of the ornate Fox Theater and a radio show of his own at the beginning of WWII.

He later moved to New York City in 1944, where he played the organ at the legendary Paramount Theater for legendary jazz and pop stars such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frankie Laine. It was also at this time that Wright began his recording career on the King Records label, releasing many 78 RPM records.

However, California beckoned George to come home in 1950. He settled into Los Angeles and never moved again - even had a mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ installed in his new home. He found a new job on the soap opera "General Hospital" (Ellen to Roger: "I'm pregnant!" =CUE DRAMATIC SOAP OPERA MUSIC= - that was him!) and in 1956, he signed with HiFi Records. In his first year with HiFi, he recorded five albums - one of which is this very album.

This recording is 50 years old but sounds as fresh as the day it was recorded. It's a remarkable album, especially if you close your eyes and play it at full volume. You'll hear plenty of Wurlitzer and Wright's playing will even make you think you're hearing a Moog machine!

The standout tracks include "Toyland", "Deck The Halls", "Christmas Fantasy" (a 7:17 medley feast of organ music) and you'll never hear a better non-orchestra version of "Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy" anywhere.

Wright continued to record albums on various record labels - one label named Banda was started by a close friend of George's for the express purpose of recording George Wright albums! George also gained a cult-sized following who followed him (even booked him) to concerts across the country, even swapping different pieces of an organ for Wright's Wurlitzer back home.

In 1990, George recorded a brand new Christmas CD entitled "Merry Christmas". This album features 17 different songs (most Christmas) with Wright playing the Hollywood Philharmonic Wurlitzer. Click on the link if you want to order the CD... I'm adding it to my Santa list.

George Wright completed his last album entitled "Salon" in March, 1998 and died 60 days later. He is generally considered the greatest theater organist of all time.

After researching and reading this yuleblog entry, I don't feel too bad anymore about the largest subgenre in my collection. Quite proud, actually.

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


John Davidson - My Christmas Favorites

Just when you think you've seen it all, a record like this one comes along, and you're stunned, speechless, thrown for a loop.

I've pushed this particular album several times down the stack of albums I downloaded over at Ernie's blog late last year. I sat down to review another album from said stack and John was staring at me in the face. I was trapped. I HAD to review it now.

You probably remember John Davidson from his successful run as the host of "The Hollywood Squares" back in the 1980s. If you have a longer memory than that, you may remember him as a co-host of "That's Incredible" along side of Fran Tarkenton and the delectable Cathy Lee Crosby!

If you have a longer memory than THAT (or are a fount of useless trivia and information like me), you'll remember John Davidson as the star of several Disney movies in late 1960s-early 1970s, having his own television talk show, and filling in for Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show" over 80 times.

To me, however, whenever I think of John Davidson I think of that haircut... oh yes... never a bad hair day on this man. It's size and shape has changed over the years but whenever set, it stays in place like a helmet.

If you think I'm exaggerating, head over to the official John Davidson web site and look at the photo gallery. Short, long, dark brown, or powder grey, it never loses its shape and always perfectly coiffed. (WARNING: If you go to the photo gallery, you will hear John's rendition of "Cat's In The Cradle"... You've been warned!)

Where was I? Oh yes, the Christmas album. This album was released some time during the Nixon administration (1969-1974 - anyone know the real year because the Goldmine Christmas Price Guide doesn't list this one) and contains eleven Christmas tunes - each one an experience.

Side one contains six songs - five standard Christmas carols and one Christmas song. Each carol is given the full treatment - lush strings, a fancy electric harpsichord throughout, and John singing his heart out to the BIG finish!

The lone Christmas song is "Mary's Little Boy Child" and Davidson does his best Tom Jones impersonation (spoken interlude before the BIG finish) that won't make you forget Harry Belafonte any time soon!

Side two is the "funky" side - five Christmas songs from the 20th century and it's here where John sounds rather well. The first song is "The Christmas Song" and might be the best song on the whole album.

Song number two is "Winter Wonderland" and it's given the full treatment - bouncy horns, lush strings, the unmistakable 1970s bassline and drums. You can hear John let his hair... down? Up? I don't think it's possible! "White Christmas" is a little overdone and "Silver Bells" actually sounds a lot like Tony Orlando & Dawn in their prime thanks to the duo of female backup singers.

This leads us to the final song on the album - what a way to go out! "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is so 1970s that you can feel the polyester leisure suits John wears on the cover come through the speakers.

This is the song you would see John perform on the variety shows of the day: "The Flip Wilson Show" or "The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour". It's such a testament to the times. This is the song you'll use on your Christmas compilation.

Davidson continues to perform across the country, active doing musicals with regional theaters and appearing in Branson, Missouri frequently ending each show with that BIG finish!

I knew I had to end this yuleblog entry with a BIG finish. While searching the Internet for a release date on this album, I came across an interesting tidbit. It seems back in 1974, John Davidson guest starred on "The Streets Of San Francisco" and played a professional female impersonator whose alter ego takes over and begins to murder.

How's that for a BIG finish?

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


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Gisele MacKenzie - Joyeux Noël

Before the days of MTV, "Solid Gold", Casey Kasem's TV or radio version of "American Top 40 Countdown", or even Dick Clark's "American Bandstand", there was a program called "Your Hit Parade" that lasted an amazing 24 years on both radio and TV.

From 1935 to 1950, listeners would tune in every Saturday night on the NBC Radio network and listen to the popular shows of the day. It made the successful switch over to television in 1950 where young new talent blossomed every week to perform songs.

Gisele MacKenzie had just arrived in the United States from Canada just as "Your Hit Parade" hit the TV airwaves. She studied voice and violin at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto and even had her own CBC radio show before trekking below the 49th parallel.

It was her violin that got her noticed by another violin player - Jack Benny. 

They both toured together between 1952-1953 and on the basis of Benny's recommendation, NBC hired her onto the "Hit Parade" in 1953. She quickly became the most popular singer on the show which led to various appearances on other radio & TV shows and a recording career.

RCA Records signed her and Gisele released a boatload of singles thanks to her popularity on the "Hit Parade" - her biggest being "Hard To Get" in 1955. She also recorded albums in both English and French to release in the US and Canada on their Vik label.

1957 was a pivotal year for MacKenzie. The popularity of rock and roll caused the ratings on "Your Hit Parade" to tumble - a smooth big band singer named Snooky Lawson was forced to sing Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" several weeks in a row (oh to see THAT video!). NBC moved Gisele off the "Hit Parade" onto her own variety show ("The Gisele MacKenzie Show") which started production in the fall of 1957.

She also recorded several Christmas tracks for the first time. A 45 single of "Too Fat For The Chimney" / "Jingle Bells" was released by Vik in the US for the 1957 Christmas season (a full Christmas album - "Christmas With Gisele" - wouldn't be released until 1959 in the US) while our neighbors to the north got a four song EP - the very one pictured above.

The first song is recorded entirely en Français and is a three song medley of "Dans Cette Étable" / "Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes" (Angels We Have Heard On High) / "La Marche Des Rois". A fun version of "Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers" (both in English en Français) is song number two.

Side two brings us a beautiful rendition of "White Christmas" (in two languages again), and finally the standout track of the EP - "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer". Gisele begins the song in English, sings one full chorus, and then is asked by the choir boys "How do the children of Paris sing this reindeer melody?". This leads to an impromptu French lesson as MacKenzie teaches us the French words for "Rudolph", "reindeer", "nose", and "red"! A very fun song mon shere!

This EP makes me want the whole album now... I'm guessing it might be out there later this year!

Gisele continued to record albums, appear on television and summer stock through the late 1950s and early 1960s. Her love of acting slowly took over and she became a full-time actress in musical theater, movies, voice-overs, and television up until the late 1990s when she retired from show business. We lost Gisele in 2003.

Ernie (not Bert) offered this EP at his blog on Christmas Eve last year. Thanks for the share and for introducing me to Madame MacKenzie!

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


P.S. - Jim Stewart (who Gisele referred to as "her #1 fan") has posted some additional info in the comments section that pinpoints certain dates, times, and events that I bungled. We regret the errors and thank Jim for the clarifications!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Yank Lawson & Bob Haggart - Hark The Herald Angels Swing

This album has a long past with me... it wouldn't unzip correctly - several tracks would not open or read. It took me nearly seven or eight tries to get the whole album downloaded. I had to rework several MP3s using my Sound Forge Sonic Foundry audio editor and voila! I had a full album.

Good thing too because this may very well be my favorite album that I downloaded at Ernie (not Bert's) blog for the entire 2005 Christmas season.

The album is credited to "The World's Greatest Jazzband of Yank Lawson & Bob Haggart". It's nice to know such a humble band wouldn't complain when their whole name couldn't be fit onto the marquee outside a jazz spot. They were content with being known as TWGJB - a precursor of NKTOB? More on that name later.

Their credentials speak for themselves. Both Lawson and Haggart got their start with the Bob Crosby (Bing's younger brother) Dixieland band back in the 1930s, utilizing many of Haggart's arrangements until its breakup in 1942. Crosby later said of Haggart that "he could have been another George Gershwin if he'd channelled all his talents into composing."

Between 1942 and 1951, Haggart stayed in New York and played backup bass fiddle (as well as musical arrangements) for well established stars such as Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Duke Ellington. During this same period, Lawson free-lanced throughout the music industry to the point where it became impossible to keep track of his recordings.

In 1951, both reunited and created the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band. For the next eleven years, they recorded albums (with other ex-Crosby bandmates in tow) and toured every hall and concert venue possible. They had a solid following within the jazz community when they both called it quits in 1962. Lawson toured for a brief time with his own band while Haggart settled into semi-retirement, occasionally playing at Crosby reunion concerts.

Enter an eccentric millionaire named Barker Hickox. In 1968, after one of the aforementioned reunion concerts, he asked Lawson & Haggart to restart their band, offering oodles of money to front the band, and rechristening their name to "The World's Greatest Jazz Band". After some blushing over this new band name, the second decade of Lawson & Haggart began.

Several years later (1972 to be precise), they recorded this fantastic, brassy, doozy of an album. From the opening riff of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", TWGJB takes you for one helluva ride - even throwing in some Satchmo-inspired vocals on "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer", "Jingle Bells", and "I'll Be Home For Christmas. Although listening to these vocal tracks again, they sound like the famous "Schoolhouse Rock" vocalist (think "Conjunction Junction")!

There's so much going on a typical track: the bass line, the trombone rhythm, the blaring trumpets. This is how I like my Christmas music!

Lawson & Haggart took the bandstand for the final time together in 1978, going their separate ways but never leaving the TWGJB entirely. Both took turns taking different versions of the band on the road separately for the next 20 odd years - Lawson's final tour went to Europe in the early 1990s and Haggart's last stand brought him to Japan in 1996. Both died shortly after their final tours of duty.

I definitely want to find some more of their albums now. Someone mentioned at Ernie's blog in the comments section that the TWGJB recorded some 60s hits & Beatle songs in Dixieland style - the commenter specifically mentioned "The Windmills Of Your Mind"! Let the search begin!

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


Monday, August 07, 2006

A Muzak Christmas

Yes, you read that right! This promotional album from 1980 comes from the still amazing blog of Ernie (not Bert).

Yes, Muzak was created to allieviate fears of elevator riders in the 1920s and 1930s - elevator music lovers take note - by piping in phonograph music. By the mid-1950s, Muzak was all on tape and continued to do so until the early 1980s (around the time this album was released) when they began using satellite feeds.

Incredibly, Muzak still exists in this day and age (now using real recordings by established artists). Ted Nugent once offered to buy Muzak for $10 million dollars just to erase their tape library when it was still utilizing orchestras to re-record new hits like "Do You Think I'm Sexy?".

If there are any lingering doubts about how bad Muzak really was, is, or will always be (whichever you prefer), read the liner notes from the back of this album, try to keep a straight face, and decide for yourself:

"In a fast changing world, the joyous observances of Christmas-tide endure. These are wonderfully reflected in the warm, moving renditions featured in this new Muzak album. Functional and familiar... Muzak recordings for Christmas include the familiar carols in new dress, recorded by the world's finest conductors and musicians... and the popular secular favorites. 

"You'll hear them as if for the first time in versions which bring pleasant thoughts of holidays to mind. All are designed to enhance the Christmas mood and spirit as well as fulfill a functional purpose within the Muzak programming concept. 

"This collection, specially recorded by Muzak, and not available on any commercial releases, includes medleys of the traditional Christmas themes and fresh new treatments of everybody's favorite Christmas tunes... all new for 1980. We hope this special album of Christmas music by Muzak will enhance your holiday happiness, just as Music by Muzak throughout the year fosters pleasant, productive environments."

As for the music, each song definitely has a beginning, middle, and end - all with nothing inbetween. This is the album that they play at sleep study centers nationwide to get insomniacs some well deserved rest. And like the liner notes above, the music has been blanded down so much to its lowest common denominator that all that remains is the unmistakable sound of Muzak.

You'd be well advised to leave this one out of the Christmas boombox rotation - we cannot be responsible for any actions taken against you if you choose to play this at the Christmas party or during a busy Christmas workday at the office.

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection... before I nod off!


2 x 3: Two from The Three Suns

Most online Christmas collectors have known about The Three Suns for several years - the classic 1959 LP "A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas" has been floating around in cyberspace for some time and everyone is still looking for a back cover scan!

Include me in that category... not the back cover scan part (well, actually, yes, but that's not important right now) but before 2004, I never knew The Three Suns existed. Thankfully, several people have chosen to preserve their works and share them with the world.

These two albums were saved by Ernie (not Bert) at his blog last year (Christmas Party link) (Sounds Of Christmas link). Though both albums aren't as dynamic or space-age trippy like "A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas", you can still hear the distinct Three Suns style come way across.

Christmas Party was recorded in 1952 as a 10" LP. Even though it contains eight tracks, everyone is a standout in my book. Starting with a rollicking "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" and "Here Comes Santa Claus", the Suns live up to their album title.

Then an unexpected switch of gears: the next four songs ("Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", "O Holy Night", "O Little Town Of Bethlehem", and "The First Noel") are more reserved, reverent, and traditional with the Three Suns touch. Very nice.

For the final two tracks, they grab your by the collar and whirl you into a frenzy with "The Merry Christmas Polka" and "Frosty The Snowman". The total time for the entire album clocks in at just under 20 minutes - my prescription would be listen to this twice and call me in the morning.

We skip ahead to 1955: Eisenhower was President (his wife Mamie reportedly was a HUGE fan of The Three Suns - can you blame her?), suburbia, cocktails before dinner, a Hi-Fi in the living room. It was a much simple time with much simpler tastes when "The Sounds Of Christmas" - a full 12" album with TWENTY tracks - was released for the yuletide of '55.

This is a very mixed bag because it adds full strings and orchestration to the mix. In some songs, there is little to no sound of the Suns to be found while in others, it comes across and grabs you by the collar once again.

The standout tracks include "Rudolph" again (orchestra complementing well), "Winter Wonderland", "White Christmas" (a little overblown but hey...), "Jingle Bells" and "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" both rock, and an interesting Suns' treatment of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" that actually makes this very solemn carol enjoyable to listen to - WOW!

What's amazing about these two albums (and the subsequent "A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas") is how the Three Suns sound kept evolving. Elements from the first Christmas album made it through to the third album, their style kept getting bigger and better, and how it reflected the age they lived in. Quite a remarkable group.

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


UPDATE - August 15, 2006 - There has been some discussion within the comments of this yuleblog entry about alternate covers of "The Sounds Of Christmas". This cover (also pictured above) was the original.

Another cover (or covers) surfaced with Rockefeller Center as the Christmas backdrop. The second cover was found via PDMan and posted at Ernie (not Bert)'s blog.

A third cover was discovered at a thrift store last week by myself (but it was posted late last year by our man Ernie once again at his blog) and the title was different. "The Sounds Of Christmas" was now "The Sound Of Christmas". Here is a pix of my cover.

If there are any other covers, please let us know!