14 December: Roy Orbison: Pretty Paper

Published December 14, 2014

After yesterday's upbeat and highly original take on Jingle Bells, today I thought we'd take a look at the sad side of the holiday season. Written by Willie Nelson, Pretty Paper was a 1963 hit single for the mighty Roy Orbison. I don't think I heard it until sometime in the late Eighties, when I bought a double-album Orbison compilation, but it's been a favourite of mine ever since. Orbison and his team at RCA Studio B in Nashville sure knew how to make an attractive package out of self-pity.

Listen to Pretty Paper here.

13 December: Dick Leibert: Jingle Bells

Published December 13, 2014

We've already had a version of Jingle Bells in the Advent Calendar this year, and although I'm loath to repeat myself, this Wurlitzer version by one Dick Leibert is simply too good to be missed.

On the cover of A Merry Wurlitzer Christmas, the 1959 album from which this track was taken, Leibert is described as "the leading theater organist of the country", the country being the United States Of America of course. On the evidence of this album, I don't see any reason to doubt that statement, although I wonder how much need there actually was for a theater organist in the late Fifties.

No matter, I'm glad this album was recorded (at the Byrd Theater in Richmond, Virginia, as it happens), since Leibert really goes to town on his interpretations, not least on Jingle Bells.

Listen to Jingle Bells here.

12 December: The Emotions: Black Christmas

Published December 12, 2014

The Emotions are obviously best-known for their U.S. number one The Best Of My Love and their collaboration with Earth, Wind & Fire on Boogie Wonderland, but they had been around for a long time before those late-Seventies high-marks came along.

Black Christmas was a 1970 single that went absolutely nowhere on any charts, apparently, which seems unfair somehow. The singing is absolutely impeccable, the tune is hummable enough and, of course, the theme of the lyrics are poignant - in my case especially since just the other day I watched a Civil Rights Movement-themed episode entitled A Long March to Freedom, in the brilliant 10-part series The Sixties (produced by Tom Hanks' Playtone company; check it out if you can). It's a subject that always makes me really upset, and I can never really get my head around the fact that as late as the 1960s a leading politician could have "Segregation Forever!" as a slogan.

Anyway: This is a great track, regardless of its historical setting.

Listen to Black Christmas here.


11 December: Family Four: Hej mitt vinterland

Published December 11, 2014

Time for the token Swedish-language track in the Advent Calendar. I don't believe Family Four are very well-known outside Scandinavia. They competed in the Eurovision Song Contest two years in a row - 1971 and 1972 - but that's about it. In Sweden, however, they had many hits in the Sixties and Seventies.

I was really happy when I learned about their Christmas album, Family Four's jul ("Family Four's Christmas") because except for traditional songs, most Christmas music recorded in Sweden is...well, let's just say it's not to my liking and leave it at that. But Family Four a) recorded their album in the early Seventies and b) were never known to over-emote anything, so what you get is just their beautiful harmony singing and a tasteful, well-arranged instrumental backing. That's all I want, no more no less.

'Hej mitt vinterland' ("Hello, My Winter Land"), was written by the late Britt Lindeborg (again, her international fame is probably limited to her contribution as lyricist to the 1984 Eurovision winner, 'Diggi-Loo, Diggi-Ley'). The song was first recorded by child star Lena Conradson in 1960 and quickly became something of a Christmas favourite in Sweden. I haven't heard every version recorded, of course, but I doubt any of them could be better than Family Four's interpretation.

Listen to Hej mitt vinterland here. (This is a Spotify link; the song is also available on Youtube, but you will need to raise the volume considerably in order to hear it.)


10 December: The Golddiggers: Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

Published December 10, 2014

You can almost imagine how satisfied with him- or herself whoever did the vocal arrangements for this version of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town must have been. "Look how clever I am!", the recording seems to be shouting. It has to be said, though, that the arrangement is somehow overdoing it - the "clever" interjection of "good morning" at 00:44 is a case in point, but, really, the entire vocal performance is slightly deranged.

However, this particular advent calendar has never shied away from "overdoing it" or "deranged", and with a  sleeve like that it would have been a crime not to feature a track from this particular album. 

By the way, The Golddiggers were brought to national fame when they began featuring regularly on The Dean Martin Show on TV in 1968; their Christmas album was released the following year.

Listen to Santa Claus Is Coming To Town here.

09 December: Dickie Valentine: Christmas Alphabet

Published December 09, 2014

Time for something smooth from the late Dickie Valentine, who died in 1971.

This was number one for three weeks in the UK in 1955, and, apparently, it was the first time a Christmas song topped the charts. I don't know to what extent it's still remembered today, but I heard it on some Christmas compilation or other and was instantly attracted to its carefree tone (I guess I need a bit more carefree in my life). Hopefully, you'll like it too.

Listen to Christmas Alphabet here.

08 December: The Ventures: Sleigh Ride

Published December 08, 2014

The fabulous guitar group The Ventures tackle Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride in today's Advent Calendar entry. The track is one of many rocked-up reworkings of Christmas songs on their 1965 LP The Ventures' Christmas Album, perfect for a mid-Sixties California Christmas beach party.

Another track you might enjoy is their take on Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. I bet they "felt fine" when they recorded the intro.

Listen to Sleigh Ride here.

07 December: Paul Revere & The Raiders: Macy's Window

Published December 07, 2014

We've featured a track from Paul Revere & The Raiders' Christmas album in the Advent Calendar before (it's here), but in honour of Paul Revere, who died just a couple of months ago, I thought it appropriate to include the brief but compelling Macy's Window in this year's calendar.

Listen to Macy's Window here.

06 December: Floral Pops 70: White Christmas

Published December 06, 2014

Is having the number 70 in your recording artiste moniker a sure-fire sign of quality? I'm beginning to think so. In previous years' advent calendars we've had The London Sound 70 Orchestra And Chorus (the entry for 2012 is here, and 2013 is here), and now we have Floral Pops 70 and their highly personal interpretation of White Christmas.

What the two acts have in common is that they seeem to have been active in the early Seventies (hence the "70", I suspect, to point out how ultra-modern they actually were), that they are both anonymous session-musicians-and-vocalists ensembles, and that their music is both groovy and insane - or, if you will, insanely groovy.

Listen to White Christmas here.

05 December: Joan Regan: Must Be Santa

Published December 05, 2014

I first became aware of Must Be Santa when I heard Bob Dylan's version a few years ago. If I recall correctly, he said in interviews at the time - or if it was the liner notes to his Christmas album - that he had first heard it in Mitch Miller and the Gang's 1960 version, which perhaps is the most famous one.

However, Dylan's version is not very attractive, and Miller's recording is nice but a little generic, so I'd like to pitch a version by British singer Joan Regan, also released in 1960. The joie-de-vivre in Regan's performance and the general atmosphere of the recording is truly infectious.

Click here to listen to Must Be Santa.