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.

14 December: The London Sound 70 Orchestra And Chorus: Deck The Hall

Published December 14, 2012

Sometimes I think the late Sixties and early Seventies must be the best era in popular music. On average, I mean. I can't think of a genre that wasn't good or excellent at the time: pop was good, rock was good, bubblegum was good, soul music was good...and so on.

And easy listening was good too. A case in point would be this version of the traditional Christmas carol 'Deck The Hall', as performed by The London 70 Orchestra and Chorus. Released in November 1970, it attempts to straddle the gulf between then-modern pop and the "familiar hits played in easy listening versions by a full orchestra and an anonymous choir" style. It starts out quite traditional, then around 0:25 goes into semi-funk mode, then around 01:00 enters a kind of 'Good Vibrations' style interlude phase, and finally just goes overboard with it all in a most fabulous way. It's all quite mad and quite fantastic at the same time.

Click here to listen to 'Deck The Hall'.

13 December: Jackie DeShannon: Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?

Published December 13, 2012

Children's voices on pop records - always a tricky subject. Here's an example where I personally wish there was some way I could remove them.

Originally from the James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service, 'Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?' was a John Barry/Hal David composition recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1969. It's a lovely recording in every respect - the song itself, the arrangement, the production, DeShannons lead vocals - except for the children's choir that warbles itself through the choruses. Bad choice. I can't help wondering if this is why this recording failed to become a hit at the time, and doesn't seem to have become a Christmas classic after the fact either. You be the judge.

Listen to the song here.

12 December: Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm: Snow Flake

Published December 12, 2012

It's amazing to think that there was a time when children's music was allowed to be this...well, druggy. Flintstones characters Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm released their very own Christmas album in 1965, from which the very cool 'Snow Flake' has been taken. The rest of the album offers quite a traditional selection of holiday season chestnuts, but, presumably as a nod to the contemporary pop music their young audience would have been into, the album closes with this electric guitar-driven, trippy tune.

Listen to it here.

11 December: Paul Revere & The Raiders: Rain, Sleet, Snow

Published December 11, 2012

Be like Paul Revere & The Raiders and spare a thought for the postman who braves all kinds of weather to bring us our Christmas cards. This very grooovy track was originally released in 1967.

Listen to it here.

10 December: The Trapp Family Singers: Nu är det jul igen

Published December 10, 2012

We haven't had much Swedish christmas music in the Advent Calendar so far, but that is about to change right now as the von Trapp family tackles 'Nu är det jul igen' ("Now It's Christmas Again"). No, not the ersatz posse led by Julie Andrews in the movie version of The Sound Of Music, but the REAL von Trapps. And despite being Austrian, they're singing in Swedish. Doing quite well with the pronunciation as well, I might add, although some of the lyrics are unfamiliar to me. Maybe the song was still sung like that in the early Fifties, when this recording was made.

Listen to it here.

09 December: The Free Design: Close Your Mouth (It's Christmas)

Published December 09, 2012

The wonderful American group The Free Design consisted of siblings from the Dedrick family. The leader and main song writer - and, indeed, the writer of this Christmas song - was Chris Dedrick, who sadly died in 2010. Although the band never experienced much commercial success, the recordings from their heyday in the period 1967-1972 are not to be missed if you like classic soft-pop with great harmony singing.

'Close Your Mouth (It's Christmas)' was the A-side of a Christmas single released in 1968 and it's quite lovely. Listen to it here.

08 December: Siouxsie & The Banshees: Il est né le divin enfant

Published December 08, 2012

After being very much stuck in the Fifties and Sixties for the first seven songs in the Advent Calendar, let's venture into Modern Times, i.e. the Eighties. Siouxsie & The Banshees' version of the traditional French Christmas carol 'Il est né le divin enfant' was originally released as a double A-side together with 'Melt!' in November 1982. However, the single wasn't very successful so I don't think 'Il est né le divin enfant' made much of an impact at the time, and it wasn't until the band released a B-sides collection in 2004 that the track appeared on CD.

I've always liked it, though, so here it is.

 

06 December: The Beatles: Christmas Time (Is Here Again) + 07 December: Unknown Child Of Asian Origin: Silent Night

Published December 07, 2012

So, yesterday was a very busy day at CMP headquarters and before I knew it I had to dash off to attend Pet Sounds' Music Quiz here in Stockholm (we finished third), which meant that I never had the time to post an advent calendar song for December 6. I ought to be ashamed of myself!

To compensate, here are the songs for yesterday and today - both on the same day! Yesterday's contribution is my own edit (or early fade, really) of The Beatles' Christmas Time (Is Here Again). Recorded in 1967 for the annual Christmas record sent out to their British fan club members, it was only released in its unedited version as an extra track on the Free As A Bird CD single in 1995. Paul, John and George all take turns singing the same lines solo in the recording, but since Paul is the only one singing with any conviction whatsoever, I decided to fade the song after his contribution. The three-part harmonies are as great as always, however.

Today's song is a version of Silent Night by an unknown child who seems to have recorded a number of Christmas songs in her native tongue. All I can make out is that it's an Asian language. If there's anyone out there who knows what language it is, I'd really like to know. The person who posted this at a Christmas blog believes it may be Japanese. I, for some reason, have the theory that it's Korean. So does anyone out there know?

Anyway, it's one of those recordings that has to be heard to believed. The girl sings with what can only be described as strong discipline. And my favourite bit is when she recites a bit of the English lyrics. Not to be missed!

Listen to The Beatles here.

Listen to Silent Night here.

05 December: Chris & Peter Allen: Ten Below

Published December 05, 2012

Today Stockholm has been wrapped up in what the media like to refer to as "snow chaos". It's been snowing constantly all day, and in combination with low temperatures and strong winds, well, it tends to affect the infrastructure. No buses are running, the subway has major problems, and only the odd commuter train is taking people to where they need to go. Most flights from Arlanda airport have been cancelled. And so on.

Being a freelancer who works from home, fortunately I've been able to just stay indoors and sit it all out, as it were. But what song could be more suitable for today's Advent Calendar tune than the lovely sunshine pop track 'Ten Below' by Chris & Peter Allen (yes, that Peter Allen). Enjoy it here.

04 December: Lenny Dee: Sleigh Ride

Published December 04, 2012

I owe a great debt to various Christmas music blogs that specialise in ripping and uploading long-out-of-print vinyl of the fairly obscure variety. I found this particular track - organist and Easy Listening legend Lenny Dee's take on perennial favourite 'Sleigh Ride' - on one such blog. It comes from his 1961 album Happy Holi-Dee (geddit?). What could I possibly add except that this has to be heard to be believed.

Listen to it here.

03 December: Bobby Sherman: Goin' Home (Sing A Song Of Christmas Cheer)

Published December 03, 2012

My favourite Bobby Sherman song is 'Julie Do Ya Love Me', but this groovy Christmas offering comes a close second. Not entirely sure about the 'Silent Night' interlude, admittedly, but the main parts of the song are just great.

Listen to it here.

02 December: Buck Owens & Susan Raye: Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy

Published December 02, 2012

This catchy recording falls under the "I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus" category. Except it treats the subject with more zest and a liveliness unique to the country music genre.

Click here to listen to Buck and Susan.

01 December: Capitol Studio Orchestra: Cha-Cha All The Way

Published December 01, 2012

Welcome to my Advent Calendar for 2012, wherein I will post a new Christmas song every day up to and including December 24.

You don't really need me to direct you to 'White Christmas' by Bing Crosby or Band Aid's 'Do They Know It's Christmas', so this Advent Calendar will focus on the less familiar, the quite obscure and the totally bizarre.

First out is 'Cha-Cha All The Way' by the Capitol Studio Orchestra, taken from the 1996 CD Christmas Cocktails (the recording is from 1958, but wasn't released until it appeared on this CD). Now, just seeing the title of the song and the name of the band will tell you that this must be a fantastic recording. And it is.

Listen to it here.

ADVENT CALENDAR 2012