14 December: Booker T. & The MG's: Winter Wonderland

Published December 14, 2019

The Advent Calendar continues down the instrumental path. Today's song is Booker T. & The MG's' ultra-cool version of 'Winter Wonderland': you can never get too much Hammond organ on your Christmas songs! This recording was a single, but also included on the band's 1966 album In The Christmas Spirit, which reached number 13 on Billboard's Christmas Albums chart.

The band itself, of course, were more or less the Stax Records houseband, playing on numerous legendary soul recordings, in addition to scoring a number of hits in their own right (Booker T. himself was barely 18 when they had their first hit with 'Green Onions' in 1962).

Listen here.


13 December: Jerry Murad's Harmonicats: Nutcracker Suite

Published December 13, 2019

We like to investigate the somewhat unusual in this Advent Calendar, and what could be more unexpected than Tchaikovsky's 'Nutcracker Suite' performed on harmonica? Jerry Murad's Harmonicats were originally a quartet, formed in 1947; an immediate success, they were number one for eight weeks in the US with their recording of 'Peg O' My Heart'. They also had a Top 20 album in 1961.

This is four years later, in 1965, and I'm not sure how commercially successful their Harmonica Rhapsody album of interpretations of classical music pieces was. Nevertheless, we can still marvel at its existence today.

Listen here.


12 December: Jørgen Ingmann: Mary's Boy Child/White Christmas

Published December 12, 2019

Today, Danish guitarist Jørgen Ingmann is probably mostly known for scoring an international hit with his 1960 version of 'Apache' (The Shadows had the hit in the UK), and for winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1963 with 'Dansevise', together with his then wife Grethe Ingmann.

But in 1971 he also recorded a Christmas album that I find irresistibly bizarre in its combination of Ingmann's guitars, formulaic easy listening arrangements and echo-laden backing choirs. I've selected his medley of 'Mary's Boy Child' and 'White Christmas' for your listening pleasure.

Listen here.

11 December: Tom Odell: Spending All My Christmas With You (Next Year)

Published December 11, 2019

Let's rock it up a bit and - yikes! - even go a bit modern with Tom Odell. 'Spending All My Christmas With You (Next Year)' was recorded live at a BBC Radio One session in 2016, which is why the YouTube link below is the original live performance.

I don't know so much about Tom Odell, except he's British, is highly regarded by music journalists and has enjoyed high-charting albums in the UK and elsewhere. I really like this song, though, especially when the backing vocalists come in at circa 01:15.

Listen here.










10 December: Nancy Wilson: That's What I Want For Christmas

Published December 10, 2019

We haven't had much romance so far in this year's Advent Calendar, but let's change that with the aid of Nancy Wilson. 'That's What I Want For Christmas' was originally released as a single in 1963, but doesn't seem to have become much of a hit at the time. A shame, for the song is great.

It has gained a little more prominence in recent decades, thanks to its inclusion on Capitol's Christmas Cocktails compilations. Which, of course, is where I heard it.

Listen here.

09 December: Elaine & Derek: It's Christmas

Published December 09, 2019

Children singing on popular music records: some will feel that it's very nice and sweet indeed, others will run screaming in the other direction. I may often find myself in the latter camp, but I make exceptions for acts such as Elaine & Derek and 'It's Christmas'. There is something so genuinely earnest and somehow vulnerable in their singing here, that it just tugs at my heart strings.

Hailing from Northern Ireland, the male half of this sibling act is Derek Thompson, who later gained fame as a character in a long-running BBC hospital drama series, entitled Casualty. I've never seen it, but I'm sure British Advent Calendar followers will be familiar.

Listen here. Or here.












08 December: The J's With Jamie: Cool Yule

Published December 08, 2019

From yesterday's well-known Advent Calendar recording, we move on to something decidedly more obscure.

According to Wikipedia, The J's With Jamie were "an American musical group specializing in commercial jingles in the 1950s and 1960s". The story behind their Christmas EP Season's Greetings, from which 'Cool Yule' has been extracted, is quite interesting, as it was pressed by the group themselves and sent out in lieu of ordinary Christmas cards. This, apparently, led to a proper recording contract with Columbia Records.

'Cool Yule' was written by our friend Steve Allen (see 01 December Advent Calendar post) and introduced by Louis Armstrong in 1953. The version by The J's With Jamie does sound very much like a commercial of the times; perhaps they just couldn't help themselves from trying to "sell" something when they sang together.

Listen here.

07 December: Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters: Jingle Bells

Published December 07, 2019

I purposely try to avoid the most familiar Christmas recordings in this blog, so, for example, no 'Last Christmas' by Wham! or 'White Christmas' by Bing Crosby. But, by golly, with today's song I simply had to make an exception for Mr Crosby. This pairing with the Andrews Sisters on 'Jingle Bells' is just too good to be missed, and besides I'm not entirely certain to what extent it's heard today.

It was recorded and released in 1943, and was later included on Bing's classic Christmas album, of which there are many variations. The one pictured here, from 1955, is the one I'm familiar with.

As an aside, I was disappointed with the CD version of the album, which seems to be based on a "fake stereo" edition, with lots of superfluous echo added to every track (at least the version I've had access to). Fortunately, I was able to find 'Jingle Bells' on an Andrews Sisters compilation, as it originally sounded.

Which is exactly as it should be, as the Sisters (and, of course, Vic Schoen and his Orchestra) are the stars of this fab recording: the swing-o-meter just goes into the red. Go, Andrews Sisters!

Listen here.



06 December: Honey and the Bees: Jing Jing A Ling

Published December 06, 2019

I don't know much about this soul-inflected recording, nor about the performers, Honey and the Bees. The writers and producers all seem to be based in Philadelphia, so maybe the group was too. Some of the members went on to join The Ritchie Family ('The Best Disco In Town').

This 'Jing Jing A Ling' single was released in 1969, apparently to little fanfare, but nothing is too obscure to be dug up by this Advent Calendar. Especially when it's this great.

Listen here.

05 December: Los Straitjackets: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Published December 05, 2019

After yesterday's foray into "Swedish Traditional", let's venture into something a bit more modern - sort of. The American instrumental band Los Straitjackets released a Christmas album in 2002, from which I've plucked this early 1960s surf-style version of the traditional song 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen'. And they've thrown in the solo from Del Shannon's 'Runaway' for good measure as well.

Listen here.