Monday, September 29, 2008

Slim Boyd & The Rangehands - Christmas Country Style

Last week I went to a local Goodwill store that is phasing out their vinyl (sad, I know). Amongst the Barry Manilow and Christian evangelist LPs was this very album you are looking at. I picked it up for the princely sum of 75 cents and chuckled all the way to the car with this one.

I knew that sometime this week I was going to review this very album - downloaded from Ernie (Not Bert) again on November 26, 2006 at 8:36 PM. When Ernie posted this album, he also posted the following:

"I asked everybody the other day if they wanted to request anything, and got a few responses. Some of them were good ones that I'm going to work on, some stuff that I already had in the works, at least one item that I had already shared, and a couple of things that I can't share because they are on CD.

"But the very first request came from none other than my father. He wanted to hear an album that we had when I was a little kid. And you can't say no to dear old Dad, no can you.

"I remember this record from when I was little. After putting it on the turntable, I was able to sing along to every single song, even though I had no clue as to what some of them were. (Some of the titles are a little funny. They may have been trying to make you think you were getting a different song, or maybe avoid paying royalties. it is on Premiere, after all.)

"Be sure you leave a little comment thanking him for this one if you download it. It's really pretty good. Sounds like a typical Premiere label patch job though. Could be three or four different lead singers on here, and who knows how many actual bands. But it's nice stuff."

I wish there was more info out there for Premier Albums (356 W 40th St, NY, NY). This budget label has many Christmas albums out there in the vinyl bins - some good, mostly bad. These are the same people who brought you Christmas albums from Jesse Crawford, Al Goodman & His Orchestra, and Woody The Woodchuck.

Not much other info out there on Slim Boyd & The Rangehands either I'm afraid. Either Boyd and the band fell off the face of the earth and were never heard from again or this was a pseudonym for a talented bunch of studio musicians. Lee Hartsfield of Music You Won't (Possibly) Hear Anyplace Else posted several tracks of Boyd from other budget albums (click here and here to see those).


1.) Go Tell It On The Mountain
More barbershop quartet than country & western, it's still a nice rendition.

2.) On December 5 and 20
Ditto on the barbershop. Interesting song, though.

3.) Wagon on Christmas
Add some guitars, bass fiddle, and rework a vintage folk song, and presto! Instant country.

4.) I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day
I'm guessing they never sung this one on the range back home... but iffin they did, this is what it would sound like!

5.) Jeanette Isabella
That's "Bring A Torch, Jeanette, Isabella"... whoever's singing the lead can pass for Perry Como!

6.) Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
Not as good as Gene Autry's original version but it can pass for a generic C & W version of "Rudolph".

7.) The Night Before Christmas
This guy sounds a little like Tennessee Ernie Ford! I really enjoyed this telling of "A Visit From St. Nicholas"!

8.) A Santa Claus Greeting
No, the song's actually called "When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter". Like many other budget labels, Premier changed the title to avoid paying licensing & royalty fees. Santa says "Naughty, naughty!"

9.) Have A Merry, Merry Christmas
This sounds familiar - did someone else record this song? Either way, it's a fantastic waltz tempoed country song - my favorite on the album!

10.) Silent Night
The Perry Como soundalike is back - simple acapella version with mixed choir to start, add some strings in the middle, and it ends the album prettily.

If you were to enter Slim Boyd & The Rangehands Christmas on Google, you'll find many sites online selling this album (don't pay too much for this one!).

Or you can go digging in your local Goodwill or Salvation Army vinyl bins and wind up finding it there (before its too late). This way's so much fun and you'll be rescuing a lonely piece of vinyl to boot.

Or you can visit Ernie and get this album for your listening pleasure - just make sure you leave a comment there for his dad and for Ernie.

Either way, you're not gonna have a bad time with this album. Slim and the boys do a competent job and I'm sure you have fun listening.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Vintage Christmas Ads Pt. 3 - Jim Beam, 1967

In addition to collecting Christmas music, I have collected nearly 1000 vintage Christmas ads over the years. Many of these include celebrities, radio, television, cigarettes, liquor, modern appliances, and the like.

Last Friday and every Friday from here until I run out, I will feature an ad from my collection.

I invite you to add a fun comment, witticism, clever remark, or observation in the comments section provided. Any comments deemed worthy of repeating will be included into this entry where all the world will see it.

It's celebrity endorsement time!

Back in 1967, the entire James Bond phenomenon had reached its peak. The production of "You Only Live Twice" was heading to Japan to film several sequences when Connery decided to announce to the world this would be his last Bond film.

When he landed in Japan, this was international news. World paparazzi began to fly to Tokyo to get final pictures of Connery as Bond. Thirty extra private security guards were hired to combat the excess noise and hindrance but even the guards started to take photos!

The Japanese press were just as brutal. During news conferences the press insisted on referring to Connery as James Bond. The final straw came when Connery attempted to use a public restroom and several memebers of the Japanese press and photographers followed him into the john to get an interview and pictures!

Connery made it out of Japan alive and agreed to fulfill all of his promotional obligations for "You Only Live Twice". He made one final round of press conferences, interviews, and photo shoots for the film so he could be done with 007 once and for all.

The Jim Beam company decided to tie in their bourbon with Bond just in time for Christmas:

(Click on image to enlarge)

Connery's whole demeanor is one of "give me the drink and take the bloody picture". He's dressed in festive Christmas black and I'm guessing that background was airbrushed in behind him. Or maybe Sean sampled some of that drink before the photo shoot began.

One can only imagine what his thoughts on the Japanese were when this picture was taken.

What do you think?

Ernie says: Perhaps they were referring to that little episode in Lost In Translation when Bill Murray is in that whiskey photo shoot.

Creedmoor says: Look how bored he looks in this ad. Getting paid well to pose with a bottle of booze. I'd be Beaming!

Stephen says: I thought of just the scene Ernie mentioned. "For relaxing times, make it Jim Beam times. Now get the hell out of my face before I kick yer bloody arse."

Any other opinions?


A Family Christmas Album - Something For Everybody

Continuing with my list of Christmas albums I've downloaded since 2006, this was left mouse clicked on November 26, 2006 at 5:20 PM from Ernie (Not Bert).

After reposting a fun Christmas album from Buddy & Bunny Burden (in which Bunny appeared on the cover and little else), Ernie read the fantastic blog of Lee Hartsfield called Music You (Possibly) Won't Hear Anyplace Else. It seems Lee posted several Christmas tracks where Bunny actually sung.

So Ernie searched deep into his stacks and stacks of untracked Christmas vinyl and whaddya know? He actually had the entire album that Lee's tracks came from. Ernie's got the fastest turntable in the west and transferred the album you are looking at.

Ummm... :-)

There's nothing out there online (with the exception of Ernie's original post) about this album. I Googled "Halo Records Nashville" but came up empty there.

Ha ha. (<--- nervous laugh) Hey! How about a niceeeee back cover shot? Yeah, that's it! Let's put that back cover shot up here... that'll fill some space!

What a great back cover, huh? Ain't it somethin'? The way the black and the white blend into... umm... black and white... Yep, that's a beaut of a back cover.

What now?

Oh, the music?


1.) Bobby Russell - The Christmas Song
Straight up rendition with touches of countrypolitan. Russell's got good pipes.

2.) The Singleton Singers - 12 Days Of Christmas
A pretty bland version with a solo piano and lots and lots of voices. Something to fill out the album maybe.

3.) Buddy & Bunny Burden - Christmas Card (Organ Instrumental)
The back cover says its an instrumental but there's Bunny (in a breathy voice - g-r-r-r) reciting. Now Buddy's lounge singing... who wrote this back cover?

4.) J.T. Adams & The Jordanaires - It's Christmas Time
J.T. does a fine job with this song but Elvis' backing group really makes the song. Gots to remember this one!

5.) Bill Purcell - Silent Night
Hey, back cover writer! That's Bill PURSELL! Organ and chimes version... yep, like we haven't heard THAT before... check out his Top Ten hit that Ernie also featured at his blog!

6.) Bobby Russell & The Music City Boys Chorus - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
Like song number one, this one's got moments. The kids are a nice touch.

7.) Prissy Reed / Margie Singleton / Ray Walker & The Jordanaires - Jingle Bells
I knew Margie could sing but how about Mrs. Jerry Reed? Sounds like they're having fun (I think I am too...?)

8.) Buddy & Bunny Burden - Christmas Polka
OPA! Nothing like a polka played on the Kimball organ with a great duet from B & B! My favorite track on the album!

9.)The Music City Choir - Deck The Halls
I never knew "Deck The Halls" could be played to a funeral organ beat. Man, this is horrible!

10.) The Don Les' Harmonicats (featuring The Marine Band "Blues Harp") - Hark The Herald Angels Sing
What a way to go out on! Nothing like some mouth organ and blues harp to get you in the Christmas mood! These guys released a FULL Christmas album and son-of-a-gun, whaddya know? Ernie featured that one too!

I just re-read the title again and it clearly states "Something For Everybody". A truer statement was never spoken. There are some hits and some clear misses with this album but I still had a fun time listening.

This won't be the first album I'll pull out at Christmas. Nor the second. Or third. Fourth?

This will be the 853rd album I'll listen to at Christmas, guaranteed!


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Up With People - Merry Christmas To You All

Over the past several weeks, I've looked at albums I received as Christmas presents last December or purchased around the same time. Starting today, I am dusting off an old, OLD list of all the Christmas albums I've downloaded over the past TWO years. This list was started in August, 2007 but was called to a stop a month later due to my hectic schedule at the time.

This album was downloaded on November 26, 2006 at 4:55 PM EST from the blog of (you guessed it) Ernie (Not Bert). Since 2006, I've probably downloaded more than 200 albums from this guy so get used to seeing his name and handiwork around here for the next several.

It seems I was one of the lucky ones who got this downloaded. Or did he send it to me? I forget... In any case, Ernie discovered that this album indeed was released on CD (click here - it didn't work for me) and stopped sharing the album, FYI.

The next time you're at a Super Bowl party and really want to impress people with your acumen of football trivia, or if the game is ultra boring and you want to liven things up, or if you're a useless fount of knowledge like me (and you're used to stupefying looks on people's faces), try this puzzler:

Who is the artist or group who has performed more times than anyone else at Super Bowl halftime? Gloria Estefan? With two performances, it's a good guess. Carol Channing? She was there twice too - the question is why?

The group you're looking at has entertained at halftime a record four times (1976, 1980, 1982, and 1986). It's a dubious record that's unlikely to be broken. Here's a YouTube video of the 1976 performance (skip ahead to 1:30 if you dare):

NFL Films once captured a meeting that NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle had in his office concerning the Super Bowl's halftime show. Rozelle stated plainly: "There are three words I never want to hear again... Up With People."

Started in 1965, Up with People was founded by J. Blanton Belk as a positive voice for young people. Its initial cast had 140 performers that made its debut at a summer convention on the quaint island known as Mackinac in northern Michigan. From 1966 to 1967, the group began to branch out, picking up more performers along the way, and touring globally.

In 1968, the group officially became Up With People and continued to sing anywhere, anytime. Since then, almost 20,000 young men and women from more than 89 countries have been included in the group. One member went on to bigger and better things - her name was Glenn Close!

At Christmas, 1968, the group decided the time was right for a Christmas album. The multitude assembled into a Hollywood recording studio and recorded fourteen songs - ten of which are original songs!

This album is undeniably Sixties - the sound, the pop beat, the smell of dacron and polyester. At times, it goes so overboard that you will need scuba equipment to simply breathe.

There are fun Christmas songs ("Jingle Bell Beat", "A Present For Santa"), traditional carols ("Away In A Manger", "O Little Town Of Bethlehem"), and at times preachy songs ("Pat's Poem", "Up With People") with a hint of Christmas that makes them qualify for this album.

Overall, I liked the album and the soloists (Debbie Kirkpatrick, Linda Blackmore, Pat Ector) did a fine job when the spotlight shone on them. The group singing is very reminiscent of a hip Mitch Miller & The Gang and the 60s sound is a true flashback.

There are alumni associations all over the world and I would love to hear from some of the members who had a hand in this recording.

Up with People has visited 3,600 communities in 38 countries, nearly 3 million hours of community service have been performed by Up with People students, and 450,000 host families around the world have welcomed Up with People students to their homes. It continues to tour and take its uppity message around the world.

THIS JUST IN: The official website shop of Up With People states:

"Up with People does not currently have CDs for sale. We are preparing to release approximately 400 songs from our catalog that will be available for digital download through iTunes, Rhapsody, and other web-based music stores. We will even have a selection of Up with People Ringtones for you to download. Please check back for more details."


Monday, September 22, 2008

Ferrante & Teicher – Snowbound / We Wish You A Merry Christmas

If there's a site online that sells Christmas CDs or records, I have notifications that come in to alert me of new items for sale. Every morning, I'm alerted by eBay, GEMM, and Musicstack to many new items - some good, some bad, and some I've seen too many times (people still think those Goodyear & Firestone Christmas LPs will sell online!).

So it came as a shock when two months ago, I received a notification for this very CD you're looking at from the good folks at I used to go visit Half many years ago - even sold some VHS tapes when VHS was still in vogue over there - and made some quality purchases along the way.

When eBay purchased back in 2000, they planned to integrate it into eBay and eventually close down But eBay chose to keep it running separate primarily for the textbook market and (travesty of all travesties) Half does not accept PayPal - credit card only.

Needless to say, when this showed on Half, I went digging for my credit card. I wasn't gonna pass on this one again (more on that later).

Arthur Ferrante and Louis Teicher met while studying at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. Musical prodigies, they began performing as a piano duo while still in school. After graduating, they both joined the Juilliard faculty.

They became a popular act on the "pops" symphony circuit. At the same time, they began experimenting with modifications to pianos, inserting objects into the stringbed, playing on the stringbed, striking keys or strings with blocks, and generally striving to figure out how to get the strangest possible sounds. Working before the first synthesizer, they succeeded in producing phenomenal, almost electronic sounds.

In fact, throughout this period, the duo was accused of using more than just pianos to produce these sounds, and they had to produce an affidavit to convince Columbia Records before the label released their first single by two independent witnesses that pianos were the only instruments on the recordings!

Their unusual sounds caught the eyes and ears of many early television pioneers such as Steve Allen, Dave Garroway, and Ernie Kovacs and asked F & T to appear on their shows:

Back in 1956, F & T released their first full-length Christmas album entitled "Adventures In Carols". Featuring a cover that has Santa straddling a rocket shot into the stratosphere, they used stuffed wads of paper, sticks, rubber stops, masonite strings, cardboard wedges, and sandpaper into the pianos to conjure up weird effects resembling gongs, castanets, drums, xylophone, and harpsichord.

Strangely enough, it works with Christmas very nicely. "Sleigh Ride", then a new Leroy Anderson composition making the rounds, benefits immensely from the F & T treatment and it was rumored that this was Leroy Anderson's favorite version of his song!

It's a remarkable album. Back when the King of Jingaling began in 2004, this was one of his first featured albums at that site (and it's still available at FLLLL so go get it!).

By the end of the 1950s, most of their albums were entirely comprised of prepared piano pieces. Despite the innovative workmanship on these albums, it wasn't translating into commercial success.

They left Westminster Records for the larger United Artists Records in 1959 and caught a major break. Their parent company, United Artists Pictures was filming a new Billy Wilder / Jack Lemmon movie called "The Apartment" and needed a catchy tune.

Their instrumental version of "The Apartment" was a smash. These recordings put them atop the easy listening charts and suddenly they were playing to packed concert halls across the country. They quickly became one of the best-selling instrumental easy listening groups of the 1960s.

In 1962, F & T released "Snowbound" just in time for Christmas - the first album on this 2-for-1 compilation from 1992. About half of the twelve songs on this album are "true" Christmas songs ("Let It Snow", "Jingle Bells", "Winter Wonderland") while some are standard winter songs ("Snowbound", "Happy Sleigh Ride", "June In January") while others make you scratch your head and ask "why?" ("Moonlight Serenade", "Moonlight in Vermont").

There's no mistaking the Ferrante & Teicher sound when it comes to the pianos, but this album is quite a letdown from the exotic sounds of "Adventures In Carols".

Several of the songs are dominated by a lush strings from a full orchestra and choir. This makes it hard to know what the duo pianos are playing inbetween (or if they sound you think is from the piano is actually from the piano).

The other tracks feature the trademark duo piano sound from F & T but there's no danger or the unexpected here. Listen to "Adventures In Carols" and you'll never know what your going to hear next. Here it's Christmas 101 - follow the lush accompaniment to the end with no room for experimentation of the once former unique F & T sound.

In 1966, F & T visited Christmas a third time with their album "We Wish You A Merry Christmas". This epic album is an opera compared to "Adventures In Carols". Imagine the lushest, biggest, fullest orchestra & piano sound you've ever heard on any Christmas album, then triple it. You might just come close to what this entire album sounds like.

Every production dollar United Artist spent on this album is within earshot. Nothing was held back on this album. The well-arranged medleys cram in even more Christmas songs than before. It's massive, it's spectacular, it's screams Christmas.

And I hate it. Every stinking note.

I have attempted to listen to this album from beginning to end since I picked it up and I just can't do it. Having known where these guys started with "Adventures In Carols" and where they ended up with... this... it's heartbreaking and earsplitting.

I'm guessing the deal F & T made with the devil to become wealthy, internationally successful recording stars was to record drek like this. Between 1960 and 1973, they averaged four albums a year for United Artists, often playing to packed concert houses, appearing up to 100 times a year at their peak.

They adopted near-identical hairstyles and mustaches, wore matching big "birth control" glasses, and loud tuxes, giving even Liberace a run for their money:

By the late 1970s, the duo were still recording and touring when they decided to leave United Artists to form their own label. Named Avant-Garde, they now recorded twin piano arrangements only, leaving the orchestra far behind. They continued to release newly interpreted versions of songs like "Wind Beneath My Wings" and all of Andrew Lloyd Webber's signature tunes while continuing to perform concerts across the world.

Every rainbow has an end and it came at the end of the 1980s when they retired and went to Florida. Ferrante and Teicher lived within a few miles of each other and were content living off the royalties for several years.

When the lounge craze hit back in the late 90s, they were in demand again. F & T hired a new manager, dusted off the glasses and blazers, and began to record again while reissuing older catalog material.

That's where 2000's "Christmas Is So Special" falls. A repackage of this CD, it eliminates the two "Moon" songs from "Snowbound", adds a version of "Ave Maria", and presto! Used copies can be found of this CD at in the $35 - $50 range.

A single new CD was released entitled "Denizens Of The Deep" hit the stores in 2001 but by then, the lounge craze was over and F & T went back to Florida. Last year, Lou Teicher died of heart failure at the age of 83.

When I managed several CD store in the early 1990s, I had one copy of this album in one of my stores and it sat there for a majority of the time I worked there. Before I left that job, I nearly cleaned out every one of their Christmas CDs. Can you guess which CD I left behind?

At long last, welcome home, F & T.


BONUS VIDEO: F & T play "Brazilian Sleigh Bells" on "The Dean Martin Show":

Friday, September 19, 2008

Vintage Christmas Ads Pt. 2 - Pall-Mall Cigarettes, 1956

In addition to collecting Christmas music, I have collected nearly 1000 vintage Christmas ads over the years. Many of these include celebrities, radio, television, cigarettes, liquor, modern appliances, and the like.

Last Friday and every Friday from here until I run out, I will feature an ad from my collection.

I invite you to add a fun comment, witticism, clever remark, or observation in the comments section provided. Any comments deemed worthy of repeating will be included into this entry where all the world will see it.

It's hard to believe now but cigarette advertising in America once dominated the industry. Radio and television cigarette commercials were the norm. Every magazine had ads promoting cooler, milder, smoother, and longer lasting smokes.

Doctors were endorsing cigarettes as harmless while celebrities were identified with certain brands of cigarettes. For example, Jack Benny was Mr. Lucky Strike, his long time radio show sponsor. He once went on Fred Allen's radio show and, in a skit, had his pants removed onstage only to reveal custom boxers that read "Luckies" as a pattern!

By the time this ad was published in 1956, that had all changed. A scientific study was released showing cigarette tar caused skin cancer in mice so filter cigarettes were introduced to ease people's minds.

The Federal Trade Commission then released a series of guidelines that prohibited all references to "throat, larynx, lungs, nose or other parts of the body," or to "digestion, energy, nerves or doctors" in all cigarette advertising.

Cigarette sales were plummeting so Pall-Mall decided to remind people of the good old days:

(Click on image to enlarge)

Remember how much fun you had when you lit up? Think of all the joy you had when you inhaled that warm, rich, cigarette smoke without a filter! Give your guy or gal a carton of cigarettes for Christmas - see, that fun couple below are doing it, why not you? Smoke two, three, even FOUR packs a day and have FUN doing it!

What do you think?

Stephen says: Ah yes, nothing says Christmas like a pack of Pall Malls under the tree. Just don't light up too close to it.

Anonymous says: Give the fun of emphysema for Christmas!

Tim says: Christmas: outstanding...AND it is mild!

Creedmoor says: I remember my parents exchanging cartons of smokes with friends and co-workers for the holidays. It was standard procedure. Nothing celebrates the birth of Jesus better than a trache ho-ho-hole.

Any other opinions?


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bob Rivers - Twisted Christmas Sampler

Whenever I search for Christmas albums at my local thrift store (where the manager knows me by name), I always peruse the used compact discs. As iPods and MP3 players have increased in popularity, more and more CDs are finding their way into Goodwill stores, cluttering up the space formerly reserved for LPs.

The manager of the store nearly pulled my arm off when I walked into the store to show me this CD. He had held it behind the counter out of sight just for little ol' me (thank you Darryl!). I own the five Bob Rivers Twisted Christmas CDs already so I sort of already owned this CD. But how many times do you come across an honest to goodness promo sampler in a thrift store?

For those who may not know, radio DJ Bob Rivers is the Weird Al Yankovic of Christmas music. He began his broadcasting career in Connecticut where he was heard on WAVZ, WNHC, WCDQ, WELI, WFIF, WCCC, WWCO, and last but certainly least, WLIS.

With no more stations left to conquer in Connecticut, Bob moved on to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. A program director stint at WECM in Claremont, New Hampshire cured Bob of any further desire to be in management. "I worked at 20 stations in about six years," says Bob. "I wanted to make every mistake possible in this business."

After a brief stint as keyboardist/songwriter for a 70's bar band, Bob returned to radio at legendary rock station WAAF-FM. He teamed up with Peter "Zip" Zipfel as part of their successful Bob and Zip morning show and began producing parody and novelty songs, both for the station and for the American Comedy Network, a radio syndication service that provided comedy material to local U.S. and Canadian radio stations.

One of the first parodies he produced was "Breakin' Up Is Hard On You", about the lawsuit and resulting court ordered split up of AT&T's Bell System. The song was sung to the tune of Neil Sedaka's #1, 1962 hit "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" and peaked at #69 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop music chart.

In 1987, Rivers released his first Christmas CD - "Twisted Christmas". With such parodies as "Wreck The Malls", "A Visit From St. Nicholson", "We Wish You Weren't Living With Us", his radio hit "The Twelve Pains Of Christmas" which still gets radio airplay at Christmas, and other non-threatening Christmas tunes, it quickly sold 1.6 million copies, garnering a certified RIAA Gold Record for Atlantic Records.

Bob soon left Boston for Baltimore's WIYY-FM as their morning personality and came up with one of the most successful radio promotions of all time in April of 1988. The Baltimore Orioles had begun the season horribly, losing their first 10 games in a row. Rivers vowed to remain on the air until the Orioles won the next game.

Unfortunately, the Orioles kept losing. And losing. And losing. Rivers continued his broadcast for an amazing eleven days as disheartened Oriole fans kept him awake by calling in, expressing their frustration.

The Orioles were 0-21 when they travelled to Chicago to face the White Sox on April 29, 1988. Not surprising to this Cub fan, the Orioles handily beat the South Siders 9-0. The streak was over and, at long last, Rivers left the radio station studio.

He became a local celebrity among Orioles fans for his pledge and won the National Association of Broadcaster's "Promotion of the Year" award. But his tenure was short lived in Baltimore thanks in large part to a growing drug problem.

Rivers went to Seattle in 1989, successfully underwent drug rehab, and settled in at KISW where he began gathering his "Twisted Christmas" team to formulate their next album. That came in 1993 with "I Am Santa Claus".

This was a harder, edgier album than "Twisted Christmas" (which might be the reason it's my fave of the five). Some of the tunes include "I Came Upon A Roadkill Deer", "Teddy The Red-Nosed Senator", "Jingle Hells Bells", "Walkin' 'Round In Women's Underwear", and the tasteful instrumental of "O Christmas Tree" complete with sawing & chainsaw effects - all brilliantly executed and all winners.

Four Christmas seasons came and went. Rivers continued to record parody songs and released two volumes of "Twisted Tunes" in 1997. Then, without warning, that very same year... Rivers & Co. celebrated the 10th anniversary of "Twisted Christmas" with the release of Christmas album number three - "More Twisted Christmas".

The CD leads off with "It's The Most Fattening Time Of The Year" with John Davidson on lead vocals and featuring THE Richard Simmons interjecting (quite possibly the best recording either John or Richard ever did!).

Add some dead on versions of the B-52s ("Toy Sack"), Led Zeppelin ("Sled Zeppelin"), Bing Crosby ("There's A Santa Who Looks A Lot Like Elvis"), Jimi Hendrix ("Holidaze" to the tune of "Purple Haze"), and two Beatle tunes ("Jesus's Birthday" and "All You Need Is Elves"), and Bob Rivers is batting 3 for 3 with Christmas albums!

Three years later, Bob decided it was time for his fourth Christmas album - "Chipmunks Are Roasting On An Open Fire":

Among the clever parodies ("Carol Of The Bartenders", "Pokemon", and "Who Put The Stump") are some slightly disturbing elements that I really didn't enjoy. "Homeless For The Holidays" is not funny at all, we get to hear a Christmas tree angel impaled on "The Angel", and what's with the Amos & Andy voice for Nat King Cole on the title track?

For me, this album was okay. Not great, not bad, it remains lower on the list though. But having gone 3 for 4 in the overall batting average, I was willing to give Rivers another chance.

Most of the tracks from the sampler pictured above came from albums two, three, and four - no tracks from the first "Twisted Christmas" were on the sampler. Thankfully, a majority of the songs on the sampler are classics and I can listen to this one anytime.

In 2001, the cast and show moved to KZOK-FM where they've stayed until today. Bob embraced the Internet big time and posted nearly every Twisted Tune (including Christmas) to hear via streaming audio at his website. The following year, Bob and company released their fifth full Christmas CD and, to be honest, I was a little worried over the title - "White Trash Christmas":

Whatever fears or doubts I had, they quickly melted away when I heard the parody of Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" ("Aquaclaus") on track one. After throwing Eminem for a loop on "What If Eminem Did Jingle Bells?", we get to the holiday hit of 2002 - "Osama Got Run Over By A Reindeer" I'm not sure if he improved on this song but I must admit I did laugh when it was all over the radio at Christmas that year.

There are some hits ("Me And Mrs. Claus", "Shoppin' Around For A Christmas Tree", "The Little Hooters Girl"). There are some misses ("White Trash Christmas", and "Have Yourself An Ozzy Little Christmas" despite the return of John Davidson).

And then there's "Be Claus I Got High", and "I'll Be Stoned For Christmas". I guess Bob's reached the stage where he can laugh at his former addiction but I fail to see the humor in mixing drugs and Christmas.

Overall, I'll give this one a passing grade because the laughs do outweigh the bad. Final box score: 4 for 5 for a fantastic .800 batting average.

It's been six years since we've seen a new Twisted Christmas CD. Surely there's plenty of material out there for Bob and Co. to another full holiday album.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rhoda Scott - Les Orgues de Noël

Since the beginning of LPs at the end of the 1940s, there has probably been more Christmas organ albums released than any other single musical instrument.

There are amazing Christmas organ albums (see Jimmy McGriff, Ethel Smith, or Earl Grant). There are decent Christmas organ albums (see Ken Griffin, Larry Ferrari, or Eddie Layton). There are terrible Christmas organ albums (see Hanna-Barbera or Alexander Goodrich).

From November 2005 to now, I've collected nearly 25 Christmas organ albums, easily making it the largest subgenre in my collection. So why am I adding this new organ CD to my collection? Brother, I wasn't about to miss this one from Rhoda Scott!

I first heard about Scott when I reviewed Ton Rückert's 2003 & 2004 Christmas Comps back in March, 2007. Ton had used the song "Winter Wonderland" in his 2004 Christmas comp. My comment at the time was:

GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS! Rhoda Scott's 'Winter Wonderland' is a swirling, rousing trip on the Hammond B-3 organ! Adding her Christmas CD to my wish list for sure!"

Rhoda Scott was born outside of Atlantic City, New Jersey on July 3, 1938. The daughter of a minister, she learned to play organ in her father's church beginning at the age of seven. While learning the organ, Rhoda found it more comfortable to play the pedals barefoot - a tradition she continues to this day!

Scott was schooled in the "proper" way of playing to achieve a "full" organ sound using all its facility. To this day, Rhoda plays her bass line exclusively with the foot pedals; not relying on the left hand finger-bass and "popping" action of only a few pedals. This technique frees up her left hand to chord through the changes while her right hand plays melody and solos.

She later studied classical piano, but she concentrated on the organ, eventually earning a Masters' degree in music theory from the Manhattan School of Music. By this time she had been asked by a choir member to fill in with a small band as a jazz pianist.

Enjoying the music, she agreed to stay on with the band on condition that she be allowed to play organ instead of piano. Choosing as her instrument the Hammond Organ, she soon became a preeminent jazz musician and is considered by many to be the top female jazz organist.

Her recording career began in the early 1960s with a bevy of singles and albums on the Prestige jazz label. Going up against well established organ masters like Jimmy Smith, Bill Doggett, and others (see above), her records were looked over and didn't sell. By the mid-1960s, Rhoda was on the outside looking in.

So in 1967, Rhoda said goodbye to the United States and settled in France where her genius behind the organ was instantly recognized. Her records sold off the shelves and her live performances were experiences:

She toured throughout Europe and Asia, making more albums along the way, and earning nicknames such as "The Barefoot Lady" and "The Barefoot Contessa."

Rhoda recorded a Christmas album in France entitled "Noël De Rhoda" back in 1977 (GEMM has a copy available for $91! Musicstack doesn't have it yet - adding it to my searches!). It appears that all of the songs from that album ended up on this compilation along with two Christmas medleys recorded in 1993 to round it out.

In total, you get seventeen songs - all priceless gems with not one bad note in the bunch. I'm still wild about "Winter Wonderland" - that is a trip and a half!

This comp was released in France first in 1994. However, some bright lad at Universal Music France pestered the powers that be in America to release this for Christmas in 2003. The result?

With the same seventeen songs, the same title (just translated), and the amazing sounds from Scott, this is the version you'll probably find in the Christmas bins - provided some clever lad at Target, Best Buy, or even Wal-Mart would have the courage and vision to put it there to begin with.

Both the import version and the American version are both online at where I got my two copies. You can't go wrong with either version - masterful stuff.

Rhoda is very much alive, continuing to perform barefoot behind beloved B-3 organ by Hammond (see below). Check out her website and do a search on YouTube to listen to more mindblowing playing on the organ!


Monday, September 15, 2008

Marah - A Christmas Kind Of Town

A quick road trip over the past two years:

In March 2007, I reviewed Dave Chesler's homemade Christmas comp entitled "The Christmas Cheese: Chesler's 2006 Holiday Compilation". While doing a track review, I first came across this group called Marah and their song "Christmas With The Snow":

GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! Marah creates a wonderful, contemporary song that's very reminiscent of the Phil Spector "wall of sound" Christmas songs! If their 2005 Christmas album sounds like this, consider it added to the wish list!

The next track on Dave's comp was Marah again. This was their skit entitled "Boozing It Up With Friends":

Reading the Christmas Reviews review of Marah's CD, they state that several of the tracks are under a minute in length and two feature funny skits / segues like this one... Added to my wish list!

During Christmas 2007, I got a $20 gift card to and purchased the entire Christmas CD from Marah. That was before my son Alex (with some help from his mom) wound up buying me the Yep Roc Christmas sampler "Oh Santa! New & Used Holiday Classics".

Earlier this year, I reviewed that CD here and made this comment about Marah's song "New York Is A Christmas Kind Of Town":

The quasi-title track from their excellent 2005 Christmas release (which I picked up last year - watch for a full review soon).

And that's what brings us to today.

Here's several facts you should know about the group (the anti-bio from their website):

1.) Marah turned ten years old in July 2005.

2.) Marah's debut was recorded on a broken seven-track in an auto garage in South Philly and released in 1998.

3.) Marah's fifth album, If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry, contains brothers Dave and Serge Bielanko's most personal songs to date -songs inspired by their lovers, their buddies, their drinking, their idiosyncrasies, and their everlasting quest to obtain a fiver or tenner.

4.) Marah has had 14 various members through the years. Some were cool, some not so cool!

5.) Marah's 2005 line-up is Dave Bielanko (vocals, guitar), Serge Bielanko (guitar, vocals), Kirk "The Barber" Henderson (bass, keys), and two new members, formerly of Philly punk band Squad 5-0, Dave "Fire & Ice" Peterson (drums) and Adam Garbinski (guitar).

6.) Over the course of their career, Marah have been described as "a humble bar band," "poetic," "working class prophets," "broke," "too self-conscious," "unselfconscious," "epic," mythic," romantic," "the once promising Philadelphia rock band," "increasingly difficult to compartmentalize," "the could still be's" "the best band you've never heard of," and "one of the best live acts on the contemporary music scene."

7.) Marah has self-produced four of their five records, and performed in 14 different countries (and Arkansas!).

Marah made a Christmas album for a number of reasons (taken from their artist info page on Yep Roc):

1.) Because it is the most wonderful time of the year. Irving Berlin was a Siberian Jew and he wrote "White Christmas", arguably the best Yuletide ditty of them all.

2.) To make a Yuletide record we had to record it in the middle of the blistering NYC summer heat. That gave us the excuse to decorate our apartment studio with string lights and plastic snowmen and celebrate Christmas in July too!

3.) Really good holiday songs allow decent "liberal" folks to celebrate certain "conservative" values like family, friends, eating dinner together, roasting chestnuts and home fires burning without employing tactics like tightening borders, tax cuts for the elite, veiled racism, and Old Testament brainwashing!

4.) A great Noel number is your best shot at being played on the radio! To hear your own Christmas recording in the car on the drive to Grandma's snowy farm would be the absolute bomb!

5.) Christmas music makes most people really happy. That's the whole point of music in the first place. So, get A Christmas Kind of Town and get in the spirit!


1.) Intro - Curtain Rises
"Is that on?" A quick :14 second track introduces the Christmas Time Players (see #2 below).

2.) Christmas Time Is Here (featuring The Christmas Players)
A straight-up, near perfect cover of the Vince Guaraldi Trio's Charlie Brown Christmas song.

3.) New York Is A Christmas Kind Of Town
A wonderful original song devoted to NYC at Christmas time... bet this one gets radio airplay at Christmas in the Big Apple!

4.) Baby, It's Cold Outside (featuring Felicia Navidad)
Another competent cover. Ms. Navidad (aka Christine Smith) has a wonderful time on this one!

5.) Boozing It Up With Friends (Skit)
"Say, did you know that wassailing is an old, English term for a night on the town, boozing it up with friends?" HEH!

6.) Holly Jolly Christmas
I wasn't a big fan of this Burl Ives standard. However, this version is so good it's going on my annual Christmas CD this year! And checking my archived list, it's the first time "Holly Jolly Christmas" has EVER been featured there! WTG, Marah!

7.) Here We Come A Wassailing (#1)
One chorus of the caroling classic. Total time: 23 seconds.

8.) Christmas Time's A Comin'
Marah takes a Buck Owens Christmas song and give a countrification that's pretty good for a band from NYC!

9.) Let It Snow (Plastic Santa & The Eggnog Fog)
Methinks the summer heat was getting to them or they had a blast goofing on this song... chuckling here!

10.) Quithmith Pudding (Skit)
The dangers of mixing yuletide pudding and some "gentle booze". Naked snow angels, anyone?

11.) Counting The Days ('Til Christmas)
A fast-tempoed, drum-driven (near polka-ish) beat that celebrates the anticipation heading up to December 25th. Another fantastic original Christmas song!

12.) Here We Come A Wassailing (#2)
Another chorus of the caroling classic (with a little fortification). Total time: 24 seconds.

13.) Silver Bells
A soulful rendition with Beach Boy-like harmonies as backup. Extremely haunting and effective.

14.) Christmas With The Snow
Trying to outdo Phil Spector's wall of sound, this song hits you like a snowdrift with its many levels, great lyrics, and jingle beat. Stands up after many, many, MANY re-listens!

15.) Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Simple cover, excellent harmonies, great arrangement. Enough said.

16.) Handsome Santa (featuring Zuzu Petal)
One girl (with bare accompaniment) trying to get Santa in his sack. "Kick off your boots, and let's have some hoots!" And Mrs. Claus doesn't have to know!

17.) Auld Lang Syne
Another country-fried version - this one's pretty good. Just when you think it's getting too long, add the Christmas Time Players in a rousing chorus!

18.) Here We Come A Wassailing (#3)
Final chorus of the caroling classic. Total time: 25 seconds.

19.) Outro - Curtain Call
"Thanks for coming. And remember, every traffic cop is a peppermint drop!"

20.) Counting The Days: A Christmas Polka
Remove vocals, add some accordian, and ah-one, and ah-two... Stay tuned for a phone call to Santa in his sleigh over the Atlantic Ocean and a reprise of "Auld Lang Syne"!

This was a lot of fun revisiting this CD again. I've listened to it now about 25 times since I first purchased it last December and it still hasn't gotten old. The production is just so spot on and the groups collective voices are crisp and refreshing from beginning to end.

It definitely sounds like the group had a blast recording this CD - their infectious humor and spirit pervades every note. It's worth a trip to this Christmas Kind of Town to hear the funny skits, the excellent covers, and those great original Christmas songs.


Congrats Carlos Zambrano!

What a year... the 2008 Chicago Cubs have given us many a thrill this season and have provided one amazing feat right after the other. I thought I'd never see the day when a Cub team was 30 games above .500 in September, let alone vying for their SECOND consecutive division championship!

Last night, Carlos Zambrano (R in the picture above) was coming off a twelve day layoff thanks to rotator cuff tendinitis. Originally scheduled to pitch in Houston against the Astros, Hurricane Ike forced the two teams to play their games in Milwaukee - 90 miles away from Chicago.

25,000 Cub fans from Chicago and the surrounding areas made the trek north to Wrigley Field North. Zambrano threw a no-hitter against the Houston Astros, blanking them 5-0. Congrats Carlos on a masterful performance on the mound and giving Cub Nation another amazing memory in a year already full of them.

My heart goes out to the Astros. Their homes and playing field were ravaged by Mother Nature and they were supposed to be the home team in a neutral site. They're fighting for a playoff spot as well and were one of the hottest teams coming into this series.

However, all's fair in love, war, and baseball.

This is further evidence that this year God is a Cub fan.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Vintage Christmas Ads Pt. 1 - Arrow Shirts, 1947

In lieu of an honest-to-goodness, full-blown Christmas CD review, I am proud to present a new feature that starts today and will repeat every Friday that I hope you'll enjoy.

In addition to collecting Christmas music, I have collected nearly 1000 vintage Christmas ads over the years. Many of these include celebrities, radio, television, cigarettes, liquor, modern appliances, and the like.

As with my ear for the strange and peculiar with Christmas music, I have an eye for the strange and peculiar with Christmas ads. This inaugural ad post definitely falls into this category.

I invite you to add a fun comment, witticism, clever remark, or observation in the comments section provided. Any comments deemed worthy of repeating will be included into this entry where all the world will see it.

The Arrow Shirt company had some of the most colorful advertisements at Christmas time. From Santa trying on long underwear to dad sporting a new shirt at Christmas, most ads were understated and tasteful.

Which makes this ad from 1947 a little bit bewildering and disturbing:

(Click on image to enlarge)

Okay, so Arrow Shirts are popular and more shirts are becoming available daily... is that really a reason to off Santa Claus with a muzzleloader? I don't really think suicide is a very good way to sell your product, especially at Christmas!

What do you think?

Stubbyfears says: I think that is WAY disturbing and you have to wonder what the heck the ad company, and Arrow Shirts themselves, were thinking when they dreamed this up.

Stephen says: Holy crap, I can't believe this actually got printed. Imagine what the kiddies who saw this must have thought.

Ernie says: I think it's a simple case of Santa confusing his blunderbus with his ear trumpet. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Jonathan says: After months of intense counseling and group therapy Santa Claus recovers daily from his depression. Now, during the off Yuletide Season, Santa travels the World hosting seminars about the virtues of righteous living and quality made men's clothing.

Tim says: Shortly after this was printed, Santa joined an intense group thereapy session and was give a perscription for Zoloft.

Creedmoor says: R. Budd Claus.

Any other opinions?


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Richard Cheese - Silent Nightclub

This will be a short yuleblog entry today (for me anyway) - things are piling up on me here at my house and I want to stay ahead of the game.

Thankfully, our next artist has never been short on self-promotion or humility - quite endearing in my opinion. I present to you the one and only Richard Cheese (, thank you!).

RICHARD CHEESE BIO (snagged from his website -, thank you!).

America's loudest lounge singer Richard Cheese and his Lounge Against The Machine swing band present the perfect mix of music, martini, and madcap. With his swanky jazz trio, his tiger-striped tuxedo, and his enormous microphone, Cheese sings lounge-style covers of rock/rap hits, turning everyone's favorite songs into traditional pop vocal standards. Just imagine Sinatra singing a Radiohead song, and you've got Dick.

The finger-snapping, liquor-lapping, night-capping crooner first stepped into the spotlight in 2000 with his LOUNGE AGAINST THE MACHINE CD. This critically acclaimed album featured "swankified" versions of alternative rock songs, such as Radiohead's CREEP and Limp Bizkit's NOOKIE, arranged for a big band sound.

Thanks to radio stations including KROQ/Los Angeles, Z100/New York City, and the nationally-syndicated Dr. Demento Show, Cheese soon found an audience that shared his love of lounge music, including rock star Brian Setzer, who hired Richard Cheese & Lounge Against The Machine to play at his private Christmas party!

Soon, Dick landed a gig as the co-host and bandleader on MTV's "Say What Karaoke" series. He was also interviewed in 2001 on CNN, profiled in The Los Angeles Times, and featured as a category on VH1's "Rock 'N' Roll Jeopardy."

Dick also headlined frequent concerts at The House Of Blues in Los Angeles and Anaheim, The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, and radio station festivals like 91X X-Fest in San Diego, The WHFS HFSmas Nutcracker in Washington DC's Patriot Center, and the Y100 Feztival at Philadelphia's Tweeter Center. Richard Cheese was also hired to entertain at Blink182 drummer Travis Barker's first wedding!

In 2002, Cheese was back in blacktie with his TUXICITY CD, an album of uncensored alternative, rap, and pop covers, including loungey remakes of Sir Mix-A-Lot's BABY GOT BACK, Van Halen's HOT FOR TEACHER, and System of a Down's CHOP SUEY.

Dick's popularity grew with sell-out concerts around the U.S.A., plus a slot as the opening act for the Brian Setzer Orchestra Christmas Concert at the world famous Universal Amphitheater.

Richard Cheese & Lounge Against The Machine also made appearances on The Opie & Anthony Show and The Howard Stern Show, Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends" Morning Show, and RC & LATM appeared a dozen times as the Vegas house band on NBC's "Last Call With Carson Daly." The standing-room-only concerts continued in 2003, as Dick criss-crossed the country playing venues from the Mercury Lounge in New York City to Sunset Station Casino in Las Vegas.

Cheese returned in 2004 with his I'D LIKE A VIRGIN CD, an intuxicating collection of "loungified" covers, including a snazzy remake of Snoop Dogg's GIN AND JUICE, and an inspired version of Michael Jackson's BEAT IT accompanied by a children's choir.

That same year, Dick performed PERSONAL JESUS and BABY GOT BACK on ABC-TV's Jimmy Kimmel Live, and his cheesey version of Disturbed's song DOWN WITH THE SICKNESS was featured in the 2004 Universal Motion picture "Dawn Of The Dead" thanks to director and cheese fan Zack Snyder.

Richard Cheese played concerts all over the world in 2004, including a private performance at the Playboy Mansion, and sellout gigs in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Portland, Seattle, Honolulu, Portugal, and London.

In 2005, Dick released his fourth album, APERITIF FOR DESTRUCTION, an all-new CD of kooky covers for lounge lovers. This 18-track record included Vegas versions of songs originally by Guns 'N' Roses, U2, Black Eyed Peas, The Beastie Boys, Metallica, Slipknot, and many more. From 2 Live Crew's ME SO HORNY to Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT, Cheese served up another "fromage homage" to the hottest hits in music.

Richard Cheese
& Lounge Against The Machine performed a giant sellout concert at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, and the band was hired to entertain at big-time showbiz events like the TVLand Awards, the Daytime Emmy Awards, and a Hollywood benefit for Hurricane Katrina.

In 2006, RC released two new albums. His greatest hits CD, THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE MOON: THE BEST OF RICHARD CHEESE, featured 10 all-new recordings plus 8 of Dick's cheesiest favorites. The album boasted newly re-recorded 2006 versions of Cheese classics RAPE ME, CLOSER, CREEP, NOOKIE, COME OUT AND PLAY, and FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT. Backed by a big band and a bigger sound, this was the biggest Dick yet!

In the winter of 2006, Cheese was back with his sixth CD, SILENT NIGHTCLUB, a collection of happenin' holiday hits just in time for Christmas. The all-new album included 14 spirited covers of songs like HOLIDAY IN CAMBODIA, DO THEY KNOW IT'S CHRISTMAS, PERSONAL JESUS, I MELT WITH YOU, LIKE A VIRGIN, IMAGINE and ICE ICE BABY.

Plus, Richard Cheese recorded an all-new original song called CHRISTMAS IN LAS VEGAS, which was featured on the NBC-TV series "Las Vegas." Dick's versions of SILENT NIGHT and Beyonce's NAUGHTY GIRL were featured in the NBC soap "Passions," and his CDs debuted for digital sale on iTunes.

In the summer of 2007, Richard Cheese & Lounge Against The Machine hit the road for their farewell "Drinkchronicity" tour. The band performed sellout shows for thousands of fans at the House Of Blues in Chicago and New Orleans, the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, The Derby in Los Angeles, The Red Devil Lounge in San Francisco, and The Social in Orlando, plus venues in Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, and San Diego.

Richard Cheese also began headlining monthly at The Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, where he will continue to perform through 2008, including a sellout show on New Year's Eve.

Richard Cheese
& Lounge Against The Machine released their 7th CD in September 2007, DICK AT NITE. This album features lounge-style versions of classic TV theme songs, including THE BRADY BUNCH, THREE'S COMPANY, THE JEFFERSONS, and GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, plus more recent theme song hits like SOUTH PARK and SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS. The album was also released on iTunes with exclusive bonus tracks, and several of Dick's tracks will be featured in promotional spots for TVLand, Comedy Central, and Nick At Nite.

The hardest working Dick in show business continues to perform sellout shows all over the world, from Las Vegas to London, from New York to New Orleans, from Honolulu to Hollywood. Thanks to seven CDs, a dozen tours, hundreds of concerts, 55,000 MySpace fans, and a million martinis, Richard Cheese has earned a prominent place in that prestigious pantheon of lounge legends: Frank ... Sammy ... Dean .......... and Dick.


1.) Holiday In Cambodia (originally by The Dead Kennedys)
A Dead Kennedys lounge cover... Only Richard Cheese could get away chanting "Pol Pot"!

2.) Like A Virgin (originally by Madonna)
Included here because of the role the Virgin Mary played at Christmas? Maybe the only listenable version of this song I like.

3.) Christmas In Las Vegas
"Rudolph sold the sled, now he's betting on red..." Loungey, Christmasey original from RC. What a trip, indeed!

4.) Jingle Bells (originally by The Singing Dogs)
I still laff hysterically whenever I hear this one... My favorite Richard Cheese song, period. This also can be heard on Kevin & Bean's "Christmastime in the 909" where you get to hear RC drop the F-bomb!

5.) Ice Ice Baby (originally by Vanilla Ice - is that possible?)
Winter song - maybe Christmas? Still infinitely better than Robert Van Winkle's version!

6.) Do They Know It's Christmas? (originally by Band Aid)
What if Sinatra instead of Geldof gathered all the singers of his generation to sing this song? Might have sounded like this... Man, that's high!

7.) Personal Jesus (originally by Depeche Mode)
I once dated a girl in HS who forced me to listen to Depeche Mode ad nauseum - when we split, I couldn't listen to another note... until now!

8.) Imagine (originally by John Lennon)
I'm sure Lennon would have been laughing as hard as I am... swing, Richard, swing!

9.) Last Christmas (originally by Wham - bonus track)
Richard gets through the intro, stops the band, and declares what most everyone thinks about this song... next!

10.) Naughty Girl (originally by Beyonce)
WOW! A tiki room version of a song I haven't heard and never will... To hear RC sing "I'm gonna be your naughty girl..." heh! Digging this very much!

11.) Christmas Time Is Here (originally by The Vince Guaraldi Trio)
Starts off loungey... but RC & LATM "heat it up" to hilarious and swankified levels! GENIUS!

12.) The Trees (originally by Rush)
Included because of Christmas trees? In any case, it's a hip, cover of a Rush song... get in the groove!

13.) I Melt With You (originally by Modern English)
The perfect song to defrost after an afternoon of tobogganing, caroling, or shovelling show! Let me sit by the fire with a hot toddy!

14.) Silent Night
The penultimate lounge version. Enough said.

Fourteen songs, fourteen winners. This CD could very well be left in my boombox until Christmas and even then into the new year. Just when you think you've laughed your last laugh upon hearing one of Dick's song for the umpteenth time, you'll find yourself laughing yet again.

This CD is a masterpiece. If I ever head back to Vegas, I will worship at the altar of Richard Cheese & Lounge Against The Machine.


For those of you who might have missed that web site address, it's, thank you.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Ruth Lyons - The Christmas Music Of

We're recovering here from a weekend in Cincinnati. For the past several years, my wife & kids, my brothers and their families, and my father & stepmother gather to watch baseball games between the hometown Reds and my beloved Chicago Cubs.

We didn't get a chance to drive or walk down Ruth Lyons Lane downtown but maybe next road trip.

Ruth Lyons was (and still is) an institution in Cincinnati. She had a four decade career in broadcasting, first in radio, then television and "accidentally" invented the daytime TV talk show. An estimated 7 million viewers in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia tuned in (including some who credited her as an influence - Phil Donahue, Jane Pauley, and David Letterman).

Back in 1939, a visit to Children's Hospital left her depressed over the thought of young children being hospitalized over Christmas. The Ruth Lyons Children's Christmas Fund has raised more than $21 million over the past six decades. Insuring that no sick child fails to receive a visit from Santa remains its primary purpose, the money also is used for TVs, books and crafts for playrooms at 20 hospitals.

Several years later, Ruth was preparing for the 1943 Christmas Fund campaign when she composed a Christmas tune while driving through downtown Cincinnati. "Let's Light The Christmas Tree" was recorded on the Radio Artist label with a standard dance tempo (not ideal for its melody). Ruth didn't mind - she played the organ on the record and it was released to help the Christmas fund.

Flash forward a decade: Harry Carlson was the head of Fraternity Records who remembered Lyons' Christmas tune. He called Ruth to ask if she would be willing to re-release the single with another original Christmas song of her choosing.

Lyons wrote "Have A Merry, Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas", gathered her faithful pianist/bandleader Cliff Lash, and vocalist Ruby Wright, and boarded the train to Chicago to record the single. When they arrived, they found that the arrangement was written in the wrong key for Wright. Lyons was tiffed but when the arranger suggested another singer come in who could sing it in the key it was written in, Ruth put her foot down and demanded they transposed the entire score for Ruby.

The single was released in at Christmas, 1957 (Fraternity F-787) and thanks to her massive regional audience, it was a huge hit, reaching #41 on the Billboard Top 100 by year's end. Pleased by this success, Ruth began sifting through the backlog of Christmas tunes she had written over the years and planned her first full Christmas album.

She first began her own label, Candee Records (named for Ruth's daughter Candy). She then utilized the hometown King Records studio where she could oversee production and distribution for the album. Ruth brought back Lash as conductor & arranger, hired some strings from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and assembled many of her stars from "The 50-50 Club" to help sing - Bob Braun, Marian Spelman, Bonnie Lou, and Ruby Wright (who re-recorded "Let's Light The Christmas Tree").

"Ten Tunes Of Christmas" (Candee Records 50-50 (RL-1)) was a phenomenon. Whereas an LP selling 50,000 copies nationally was considered a hit, this regional LP - available in the four city area where Lyons' television was broadcast - sold 250,000 copies!

In 1959, Ruth and the gang recorded an album of standards entitled "Our Best To You". However, the lure of Christmas kept calling as five major labels came a-calling to Ruth asking for another Christmas single. Liberty Records offered the most money but Columbia Records had the larger promotional budget, tipping the scale in their favor.

Ruth recorded a new Christmas single in the summer of 1960. "All Because It's Christmas" b/w "Everywhere The Bells Are Ringing" (Columbia 41810) was released at Christmas the same year and sold moderately well across the country.

Three years later, Ruth and Co. went into the recording studio for their third and final album - a second full Christmas album. Despite the sub par recording quality (stereo balances not in balance and overloading the tape with signal to minimize background hiss), the sessions yielded amazing songs such as "Christmas Marching Song" and a new swing version of "Everywhere The Bells Are Ringing".

"It's Christmas Time Again" (Candee Records 50/60 (610-RL-5060)) was released in both in mono and stereo in November, 1963 and looked to duplicate the success of the first Christmas album. Something else happened that month that put a damper on the entire nation for Christmas of that year. Ask Vaughn Meader.

In 1966, the daughter for which the record label was named, was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. Despite this, she soon died of breast cancer and Ruth was devastated - this led to several minor strokes of her own and being off the air for several months. Lyons didn't have the heart to continue and soon retired from "The 50-50 Club" in 1967.

A year later cross town, another development soon occurred. Syd Nathan, founder of King Records, succumbed to heart disease and his label was sold to Starday Records. The Cincinnati operation was shutdown and all masters of the King catalog were shipped to Texas.

However, since all of the music Lyons produced was on her own Candee label, the masters weren't involved in the sale. The masters went unclaimed for a short time and subsequently disposed of - if anyone has them, let us know!

The producers of this compilation (WVXU-FM / X-Star Radio Network) had a serious dilemma when they wanted to reissue both albums on CD. With no masters to work from and modern technology on their side to help, they scoured the thrift stores to find as many workable copies of both Christmas albums to sample from.

Over 130 samples from the first album (most on low quality vinyl) were transferred and evaluated to come up with the ten tracks needed. On several tracks, waveforms were redrawn by hand in order to eliminate scratches, ticks, and pops - "Let's Light The Christmas Tree" took nearly six 18-hour days to remove all vinyl sound before digital sound restoration could proceed!

Thanks to the off-balances on the second album, stereo LPs were sought out. When this didn't work, mono LPs were sampled to achieve proper balance on the tracks. The sound quality was tamed but it still exists and doesn't distract.


1.) Ruth Lyons & The Bello-Larks - Hey Nonny Nonny
With or without the 35 second montage tribute to Ruth tacked on at the beginning, this song is the right one to lead the album off. Ruth always said she wasn't a singer but that's the charm on this one!

2.) Marian Spelman - Soon 'Twill Be Christmas Eve
Simple waltz tempo, lush strings, great lyrical play by Lyons, great singing by Spelman.

3.) Bonnie Lou & Peter Grant - Christmas is Getting Mighty Close
Bonnie does a great job... but Peter Grant was the newsreader on Lyons' TV show - his spoken words are a bag full of chuckles!

4.) Ruby Wright - Christmas is a Birthday Time
Wright's voice reminds me of another fantastic singer from Cincinnati - Rosemary Clooney. Outstanding track with a lush organ solo from Ruth.

5.) Ruby Wright & The Dick Noel Singers - Have a Merry, Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas
This song is still infectious to listen to! John Waters used this song in his 1974 film "Female Trouble" (fast forward to 7:51 - NSFW)

6.) Ruth Lyons & Cast of "The 50/50 Club" - The Happy Time
Sort of has a western rodeo roundup feel to this song. A rip-snortin' good tune, y'all!

7.) Marian Spelman - There's No Time Like Christmas Time
And I thought her first song was lush - this is bordering on operetta! Lyons can sure write a song, Spelman can sing it!

8.) Bonnie Lou - It's Christmas Time Again
Are you sure this isn't Rosemary Clooney? Bonnie's a dead ringer! Great, great, stuff!

9.) Bob Braun - Sing a Song of Christmas
Braun sings a song of Christmas quite well. He was Ruth's fill-in host on TV and eventual successor after her retirement. His show ran from 1967 - 1984 and heavily promoted the Ruth Lyons Christmas Fund.

10.) Ruth Lyons & Cast of "The 50/50 Club" - Christmas Marching Song
I have memories of this song being played during my first Christmas in kindergarten. That explains a lot - wait until I tell my therapist!

11.) Ruby Wright - This is Christmas
Another fine song. Lush, lush, lush... this is definitely Christmas!

12.) Bob Braun - Always at Christmas Time
"In the air, there's a zippy nip. Makes you feel like you want to flip..." Had to listen to that two or three times! Smooth stuff!

13.) Marian Spelman - Once Upon a Christmas Time
Spelman's vibrato is fully on display here with another lush song from Ruth. The sound imperfections distract a wee bit on this one.

14.) Bonnie Lou & Peter Grant - All Because It's Christmas
Peter's back! Add some Bonnie and a steady hand on the organ by Ruth, and presto! This re-working of her 1960 Columbia single is great fun!

15.) Marian Spelman - Christmas Lullaby
We've reached the operetta - this is a lavish lullaby that doesn't sound Christmas at all. I lost interest around the 2 minute mark and there's 2 more minutes to go... next!

16.) Bonnie Lou - Everywhere the Bells Are Ringing
Heyyyy! Got a Sinatra beat, I detect some jazzy bass, and vibraphone? Oh, yeah... swing, baby!

17.) Bob Braun - It's That Very, Very Special Time of Year
Wordy, but this song on the second or third listen has warmed up to me. Bob's in good voice!

18.) Ruby Wright - Let's Light The Christmas Tree
The song that started it all. Why this didn't take its place amongst the Christmas standard honor roll is beyond me.

Overall, this album has so much great Christmas music that I can't pick just one favorite - it's that good.

Tracks 1-4, 6-9, and 18 are from "Ten Tunes Of Christmas", Tracks 10-17 are from "It's Christmas Time Again", and Track 5 is the original 1957 Fraternity single.

Earlier today, I pulled my stereo of "It's Christmas Time Again" to compare the tunes on the albums to this CD. Glad I did - I found three of the 1963 versions to be totally different and not on the CD:

1.) "Let's Light the Christmas Tree" has a spoken intro (presumably by either Bob Braun or Peter Grant) and is a much simpler version of the song. Quite nice.

2.) "Hey Nonny Nonny" has different inflections in Ruth's singing voice - amazing but true! - and the arrangement is totally different from the original song presented on the CD.

3.) "Have a Merry, Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas" has Ruth and the gang singing the song as opposed to kiddie singers!

I'm adding this album to my stack of things to be transferred - I'll probably post these three songs closer to Christmas!

Kudos to the music restoration team of X-Star for taking the time to preserve this - this was a labor of love for sure! Sadly, this CD was issued in 1995 and copies are indeed scarce - I got the last used copy from early last year and haven't seen a copy there or on eBay since.

Ruth Lyons' love of Christmas gave us these albums and a kids fund that encapsulates Christmas completely. Her legacy in the Cincinnati tri-state area has forever been cemented. Mark Magistrelli (one of the album producers) was working on a Lyons documentary several years ago (was it ever shown?) and is probably the largest collector of Ruth Lyons' memorabilia out there.

Next month, a new book by Michael Banks entitled "Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Created Talk TV" will be released. Count me in as one of the people who will buy and read this book. I'm hoping this renewed interest will get this CD reissued - it deserves to be heard.