24 December: The Swingle Singers: Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht

Published December 24, 2012

And so we reach December 24 and the final post of the 2012 Advent Calendar. I've chosen to finish off with an appropriately somber recording: the wonderful Swingle Singers and their version of 'Silent Night'. The track appears on their 1968 album Christmastime (aka Noëls Sans Passeport), and although it features very little of their trademark ba-da-ba-da vocal stylings, it's still vintage Swingle.

Thank you to everyone who has followed the Advent Calendar blog this year. It might just possibly return in 2013...

Merry Christmas!

Click here to listen to 'Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht'.


23 December: Cary Grant: Christmas Lullaby

Published December 23, 2012

Cary Grant: legendary movie star, expert comedy actor - and maker of bizarre Christmas single. I'm sure this ode to his one-year-old daughter Jennifer (today an actress in her own right, just like her mother, Dyan Cannon) was well-intended, but to me it sounds a little creepy. But hey, a year or so had passed since Cary Grant decided to retire as an actor and a guy has got to do something with his time, right?

Released in 1967, one wonders if the record company really expected the 'Christmas Lullaby' single to become a hit. If so, they were deluded.

Listen to 'Christmas Lullaby' here.


22 December: Claudine Longet: I Don't Intend To Spend Christmas Without You

Published December 22, 2012

Like many others of my generation, I first encountered Claudine Longet in the Peter Sellers vehicle The Party. The film opened in 1968 so obviously I was too young to catch it the first time, but in the Eighties the cinemas would still run older movies in the summers, before the home video market killed that phenomenon completely. In case the name Claudine Longet means nothing to you she's the girl in a yellow dress who sings the song 'Nothing To Lose' (I wish this version of the song would be released on CD at some point; the version that was released on record at the time is a different recording). Could anything be more Sixties than this, I ask you?

In 1967, Claudine recorded a Christmas single entitled 'I Don't Intend To Spend Christmas Without You', applying the same soft, whispery vocals that she did to everything she sang. If only Christmas always felt like this song makes me feel... I haven't got anything more to add except to say that it's a great recording and that you can listen to it by clicking here.

21 December: The Flirtations: Christmas Time Is Here Again

Published December 21, 2012

Earlier in the Advent Calendar we've had a song entitled 'Christmas Time Is Here'. We've even had a song called 'Christmas Time Is Here Again'. And now it's time for a tune entitled 'Christmas Time Is Here Again' - again. Performed, not by The Beatles this time, but by American girl trio The Flirtations. Generally, there are plenty of great Christmas recordings to be found by soul artists from the Sixties and Seventies, and this is one of my favourites.

Incredibly, this 1968 recording was only the B-side of The Flirtations' single 'Nothing But A Heartache', which wasn't much of a hit at the time (it has since become a Northern Soul classic). The song writing team of Bickerton/Waddington, who wrote both sides of the single, would have more commercial success a few years later with The Rubettes (of 'Sugar Baby Love' fame).

Anyway, 'Christmas Time Is Here Again' is, to my ears, super-catchy and if there had been any justice it would have been a major hit in its own right at the time. So there!

Click here to listen to 'Christmas Time Is Here Again'.

20 December: Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass: Jingle Bells

Published December 20, 2012

In the Sixties, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass were one of the most popular recording artists in the United States. They had six number one albums on Billboard's Top Pop Albums chart, and according to Joel Whitburn's book of said chart, they were number 17 in the list of most successful album acts in that decade. Pretty good going for an act that has since, perhaps, been reduced to a foot-note in modern popular music history.

One of their LP chart-toppers was the 1968 Christmas Album, which mainly consisted of familiar Holiday season songs, re-arranged by Alpert and his gang in their inimitable fashion. My track of choice here is 'Jingle Bells', which starts out innocently enough with a nice choral part before the fun starts at around 01:00. (By the way, check out the band's insane fiesta version of the normally mysterious and mittel-European-flavoured 'Third Man Theme' for an even more outré example of their "take no prisoners" approach).

Listen to 'Jingle Bells' here.

19 December: Harry Nilsson: Remember (Christmas)

Published December 19, 2012

Harry Nilsson is one of my all-time favourite singers and this is one of his most beautiful songs. It's a song for all seasons, not only Christmas, but I'll take every opportunity I can to expose the world to this magnificent recording. You can probably learn a lot about me as a person and my view of life by listening to this.

'Remember (Christmas)' was released as a mildly successful single in 1972, and was also included on Son Of Schmilsson, Nilsson's last truly great album before self-indulgence and alcoholism took over. But that's another story.

Listen to 'Remember (Christmas)' here.

18 December: Vince Guaraldi: Christmas Time Is Here

Published December 18, 2012

Written and recorded by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi for the 1965 television special A Charlie Brown Christmas, 'Christmas Time Is Here' is a beautiful, melancholy ballad that I personally wasn't aware of until a few years ago. But when I heard it, I instantly fell in love with it. According to Wikipedia, the vocals on the recording were performed by members of the choir of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in San Rafael California. The way they sing lines such as "christmas time is here / happiness and cheer", while sounding like they feel anything but happy and cheerful, just tugs at my heart strings. I guess it's exactly right for a film about the Peanuts characters.

Listen to 'Christmas Time Is Here' here.

17 December: Yoko Ono: Listen The Snow Is Falling

Published December 17, 2012

John Lennon & Yoko Ono's 1971 Christmas single 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)' is familiar to most radio listeners and Christmas shoppers. Some would even say over-familiar, thanks to its ubiquity over the past four decades. But its B-side, 'Listen The Snow Is Falling', is not nearly as well-known, yet in its own way just as good.

Yoko Ono's singing voice may not be for everyone, teetering, as it does, on off-key territory, but I really like her performance here. The lyrics are simple yet poetic, the arrangement truly atmospheric, and the frailty of Yoko's vocals is somehow exactly right in this context. I hadn't heard the song in a long time when it re-surfaced as a bonus track on a CD-reissue of John and Yoko's Sometime In New York City album a few years ago, which reminded me of how great it is. So give Yoko a chance.

Listen to 'Listen The Snow Is Falling' here.


16 December: The Brady Bunch: The Little Drummer Boy

Published December 16, 2012

Christmas With The Brady Bunch was the first album released by the cast of the late Sixties/early Seventies television series. If truth be told, most of the album is unlistenable, "the pitiful warbling of 'Greg's' 'O Holy Night'" (in Brady Bunch expert Lisa Sutton's words) being a case in point.

However, the album offers the odd gem. One of my favourite tracks is the version of 'The Little Drummer Boy', which has an almost eerie quality to it. Part of me sees six enthusiastic kids grouped around a microphone, but the slow tempo, the sort of detached singing, and the generally doom-laden arrangement conjures up an image of quite a different kind: the Brady kids walking slowly towards me, zombie-like, arms out-stretched, as if they were ghosts of Christmas past. Unintentional, certainly, but nevertheless spooky!

Listen to 'The Little Drummer Boy' here.

15 December: The Hep Stars: Christmas On My Mind

Published December 15, 2012

This, for my money, is one of The Hep Stars' best recordings, not least thanks to Benny Andersson's amazing Hammond organ work. Curiously, although virtually everything the band had released for the past couple of years had become major hits, 'Christmas On My Mind' failed to show up on any of the major charts when it was released as a single towards the end of 1967.

The song was written by Berry Bjärenäs, a member of a band called Vat 66. A talented song writer, obviously, so it's a shame that this song didn't enjoy the success it deserved. But it's still here for all of us to enjoy, and it makes me wish that Benny would use the Hammond organ more often on his recordings.

Listen to 'Christmas On My Mind' here.