24 December: Johnny Cash: Silent Night

Published December 24, 2017

We close this year's Advent Calendar with the craggy-voiced legend that is Johnny Cash and his rendition of Silent Night, from his 1963 album The Christmas Spirit. Thanks for listening - it's been fun, and I hope to be back with another Advent Calendar in 2018.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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23 December: Dick Leibert: White Christmas

Published December 23, 2017

As we near the end of this year's Advent Calendar I can report that we're very far from a White Christmas here in Stockholm, where it's raining at the moment. This eerie version of that old chestnut comes from Dick Leibert's 1959 album A Merry Wurlitzer Christmas.

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22 December: Charles Brown: Please Come Home For Christmas

Published December 22, 2017

These days, this song is more familiar in the cover version released by the Eagles in 1978 and perhaps also the Jon Bon Jovi version from 1992. None of those are a patch on Charles Brown's soulful original interpretation, released on a 1960 single.

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21 December: Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass: The Bell That Couldn't Jingle

Published December 21, 2017

In 1968, Herb Alpert enjoyed a US number one with Burt Bacharach & Hal David's This Guy's In Love With You, so it was only natural that he should look for further Bacharach songs to record. His Christmas Album, released later the same year, featured this version of The Bell That Couldn't Jingle (lyrics by Larry Kusik), which I believe was originally recorded by Burt himself back in 1963. Herb's version is quite cute.

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20 December: Elvis Presley: If Every Day Was Like Christmas

Published December 20, 2017

The mid-1960s is often held up as the nadir of Elvis Presley's recording career, with lame films and lame soundtrack songs obscuring everything else. But he did record other material as well during this period, and when you listen to the recordings chronologically, it becomes evident that he perks up when he gets to perform songs that actually mean something to him. He sounds as if he believes what he's singing, which was always the key to his appeal. If Every Day Was Like Christmas, released in 1966, is a fine example of gold among the dross.

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19 December: The New Christy Minstrels: Sleigh Ride

Published December 19, 2017

1966 was a good year for pop music. We had The Beatles' Revolver, The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds - and The New Christy Minstrels' Christmas With The Christies. Their version of Sleigh Ride swings like crazy, making it impossible not to tap your foot or at least nod your head to the rhythm.

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18 December: Squeeze: Christmas Day

Published December 18, 2017

Although Squeeze had had a very big year in the UK in 1979, with two number 2 hits, this Christmas single failed to chart. Perhaps it was just a little too quirky, even for Squeeze. No matter - I like it.

(As a bonus, here's a review of the single from UK music journal Sounds, November 1979.)

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17 December: Dora Bryan: All I Want For Christmas Is A Beatle

Published December 17, 2017

This 1963 single by the British actress Dora Bryan sometimes shows up on lists of all-time worst Christmas records, which a part of me can understand. But another part of me is charmed by the record as an artefact of its times: items like this often do a better job than millions of words in showing how quickly The Beatles became a national treasure - or at least a concept that everyone related to in some way - in the UK. They had barely been famous for a year, and already there were Christmas songs written about them.

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16 December: Dick Schory's New Percussion Ensemble: Holiday In A Hurry

Published December 16, 2017

Only a little over a week before Christmas, and while the Bah! Humbug! crowd won't care, I bet many of you feel that you still have tons of stuff to do: getting all your presents ready, making sure you have the food, and all the rest of it. Today's Advent Calendar entry, taken from Dick Schory's 1958 album Music For Bang, Baaroom, And Harp, makes being in a hurry in the holiday season sound positively glamorous.

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15 December: The Glad Singers: Joy

Published December 15, 2017

Fact: There are no bad songs on The Glad Singers' Swing Bells album. You're spoilt for choice as you try to decide which track to unleash on the world this year (we've had them in earlier Advent Calendars as well, in 2014 and 2016). I finally decided on Joy, in which The Glad Singers go all in as only they can.

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14 December: Sufjan Stevens: Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!

Published December 14, 2017

Time for something a little more modern again. I don't listen to a lot of music made in the present century, but what little I've heard of Sufjan Stevens I've liked. This track, from his 2006 album Songs For Christmas, is shambolic in a way I find quite appealing.

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13 December: Esquivel: Here Comes Santa Claus

Published December 13, 2017

From yesterday's silliness to today's just-slightly-over-the-top. Mexican band leader Esquivel's take on Here Comes Santa Claus, is basically a straightforward interpretation of the tune, but, this being Esquivel, he can't refrain from all sorts of interjections from harpsichords, marimbas and who knows what. The effect, of course, is one of pure delight.

The track was first released on the 1959 album The Merriest Of Christmas Pops, which featured a mix of tracks by Esquivel and by Ray Martin and his orchestra.

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You might also want to check out his even more over-the-top version of White Christmas.

12 December: Leslie Crowther: The Great Christmas Pudding Song

Published December 12, 2017

This recording by Leslie Crowther - an "English comedian, actor, TV presenter, and game show host," according to Wikipedia - features one or two bits that perhaps won't be regarded as entirely PC today. But as a whole this recording, from Crowther's 1968 album Songs For Swinging Children, is quite charming in all its silliness.

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11 December: Low: Just Like Christmas

Published December 11, 2017

Time for some more modern sounds in the Advent Calendar. I don't know so much about the American band Low, but, always on the hunt for good Christmas tracks, I read that this was supposed to be good. And it was: jolly and melancholy at the same time, which is a hard thing to pull off. Plus, it mentions my home town of Stockholm in the first line.

Just Like Christmas is a track from Low's 1999 mini-album Christmas.

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10 December: Richard Hayman And His Harmonica Orchestra: Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers

Published December 10, 2017

I don't think there are too many harmonica-based Christmas albums produced these days, but they did them back in 1961, when Richard Hayman and his Harmonica Orchestra released their Harmonica Holiday album. It's unclear exactly what those models on the front and back of the album cover have to do with the music contained on it, but they do look good. 

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09 December: Michael Jackson: Little Christmas Tree

Published December 09, 2017

Say what you will about Michael Jackson, but he sang everything like he meant it, especially in his younger days. Just listen to the energy and the lust for life that informs this recording.

Little Christmas Tree was originally featured on the 1973 various artists album A Motown Christmas, but was also released as a single in Europe the following year.

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08 December: Hollyridge Strings: Winter Wonderland

Published December 08, 2017

We always like a bit of Hollyridge Strings on this blog, as they put a lie to the easy in the easy listening tag. Imagine being a housewife in 1965, listening to this while you're doing your Christmas chores. Wouldn't you feel... well, a little uneasy? I, of course, love it for that very reason.

This version of Winter Wonderland, like our previous Hollyridge Strings tune, can be found on the 1965 album Christmas Favorites.

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07 December: The Roches: Deck The Hall

Published December 07, 2017

I don't think this 1990 Christmas album by the Roches, We Three Kings, is terribly well-known, but there are plenty of great tracks on it, mixing traditional interpretations with more rocked-up versions. One of them is this compelling acoustic guitar-driven take on Deck The Hall.

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06 December: Jim Reeves: Merry Christmas Polka

Published December 06, 2017

As someone who's listened to a lot of Christmas music over the past decade or so, I've lost count on how many times I've heard various versions of the most familiar chestnuts: White Christmas, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Christmas Song, and so on. These songs have lived on over the decades.

Certain tunes, however, enjoyed a considerably shorter life-span. Take, for instance, Merry Christmas Polka. First recorded, it seems, by The Andrews Sisters in 1949, at first it inspired a number of additional versions, among them Jim Reeves' 1963 recording, featured on his Twelve Songs Of Christmas album. But it soon disappeared from the shortlist of Christmas song candidates. The tune is cheerful and hummable enough, but I guess that the polka just was regarded as too old-hat and quaint once the 1960s got going for real, and so this song seemed irrevocably trapped in a world that didn't exist anymore.

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05 December: Twice As Much and Vashti: Coldest Night Of The Year

Published December 05, 2017

I have to give credit to the wonderful Come To The Sunshine podcast for alerting me to this lovely track. I don't know so much about Twice As Much, but "Vashti" is Vashti Bunyan, who, in the present century, has enjoyed a revival of interest in her long-forgotten music.

Coldest Night Of The Year, featured on the 1968 Twice As Much album That's All, was written by one of the finest songwriting teams in the history of pop: Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. How could it not be brilliant?

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04 December: Shana Lynette: Mr Russian Please Don't Shoot Down Santa's Sleigh

Published December 04, 2017

In you want bizarre, there's plenty of gold to be found in the decades-worth of Christmas music recorded by the misguided. This Cold War gem seems to have been committed to tape in 1983, and probably didn't do very much to thaw out relations - for musical reasons, if nothing else.

Could this possibly be the same Shana Lynette...?

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03 December: Ray Conniff Singers: Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Published December 04, 2017

I do have a penchant for this type of just slightly re-arranged versions of Christmas chestnuts. It's almost tipping over to the "aren't we clever?" side, but because they do sound like they're really enjoying recording it, it works. This is from the 1959 Christmas With Conniff album.

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02 December: Brook Benton: Soul Santa

Published December 04, 2017

What would a soul singer like Brook Benton bring us but a Soul Santa? This 1971 single by the Rainy Night In Georgia singer is beyond cool.

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01 December: Joe Loco Quintet: Jingle Bells

Published December 04, 2017

Welcome to this year's Advent Calendar, even though this first entry is backdated, because the first few days of December were quite busy for me.

I've often started these Advent Calendars with a Latin-tinged take on a popular Christmas tune, and why change a winning concept? I don't know so much about Joe Loco, but according to Wikipedia he was an American band leader of Puerto Rican descent. This take on Jingle Bells was taken from a Christmas EP released in 1955. Don't you just love the bongo and conga work here? I know I do.

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