15 December: Merle Haggard: If We Make It Through December

Published December 15, 2020

In music mags, I keep reading reissue reviews where it's pointed out that the music that so-and-so put out 30 or 40 years ago is especially relevant in 2020, what with Covid-19, Trump, whatever. But given the nature of human beings and the history of our planet, I'm not sure that lyrics about the sad state of the world are that much more relevant in 2020 than any other year.

Nevertheless! Today's Advent Calendar entry by Merle Haggard, first released in 1973, touches a nerve, I think. We're basically halfway through December 2020, and so many people are under a lot of pressure - what with restrictions, being laid-off, not being able to spend Christmas with loved ones, and many other worries - so a song about making it through the end of the month perhaps does resonate especially this year. And apart from anything else, it's a great track.

Listen to 'If We Make It Through December' here.

Or listen on Spotify, where I've created a playlist for this year's Advent Calendar.

 

 

 

 

 

14 December: The Granville Williams Orchestra: Santa Claus Is Ska-Ing To Town

Published December 14, 2020

It's Monday and most of us will need something to perk us up as we take on a new working-week. What better way to do that than through enlisting the help of The Granville William Orchestra and their Jamaican 1964 single 'Santa Claus Is Ska-Ing To Town'?

Listen to 'Santa Claus Is Ska-Ing To Town' here.

Or listen on Spotify, where I've created a playlist for this year's Advent Calendar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 December: Bryan Taylor: Let It Snow On Christmas Day

Published December 13, 2020

I hate the snow. Oh, it looks pretty from inside my apartment, but it has no business being in a city environment, where it just causes problems. So far this year, almost no snow in Stockholm, which is exactly how I want it.

In recent years, however, I've come to realise that I'm not really allowed to hate the snow or rejoice at its absence. Apparently, we need a fair amount of it for the sake of groundwater levels. Put in simple terms: not enough snow, not enough groundwater. And that's bad.

So therefore I guess I should chime in with young Bryan Taylor when he pleads for snow on Christmas Day. Not very much information on this poppy 1961 single, nor on Bryan Taylor himself. On Discogs there are a handful of 1970s singles by Taylor, plus a 1983 album that seems to consist of cover versions.

The song was produced by the legendary producer Joe Meek, and written by Irving and Tony Hiller. Of course, the late Tony Hiller was the brains behind Brotherhood Of Man, achieving his greatest success with the Eurovision Song Contest winner 'Save Your Kisses For Me' in 1976.

Listen to 'Let It Snow On Christmas Day' here.

Or listen on Spotify, where I've created a playlist for this year's Advent Calendar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 December: The Kinks: Father Christmas

Published December 12, 2020

Gosh, we're already halfway through the 2020 Advent Calendar. Time flies, and all that.

Today's selection is a marked contrast against the soft tones of yesterday's Hollyridge Strings. As Wikipedia informs us, this 1977 Kinks rocker "tells of a department store Father Christmas who is beaten up by a gang of poor kids who tell him to give them money instead of toys, as toys are impractical; and asks that the toys be given 'to the little rich boys.' At one point, a child asks the narrator to give his/her father a job for Christmas—or, if he must deliver a toy, a machine gun." Oh dear!

The five per cent of my social media friends and followers who like this kind of rock music might enjoy it, though.

Listen to 'Father Christmas' here.

Or listen on Spotify, where I've created a playlist for this year's Advent Calendar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 December: The Hollyridge Strings: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Published December 11, 2020

When is too much echo...well, too much? Come to think of it, when is too much too much? Never, according to The Hollyridge Strings and their leader Stu Phillips. And I love them for it.

'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' was first performed by Judy Garland in the 1944 movie Meet Me In St. Louis, and has gone on to be one of the all-time classic Christmas songs. But this Advent Calendar would disappoint if it went for one of the more traditional interpretations of it, wouldn't it? That's why we travel to Los Angeles in 1965 for a more off-beat version of the song.

Listen to 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' here.

Or listen on Spotify, where I've created a playlist for this year's Advent Calendar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 December: Lonnie Donegan: Born In Bethlehem

Published December 10, 2020

In recent decades, it seems to me, Lonnie Donegan has somehow been reduced to a rockumentary TV clip where he performs 'Rock Island Line', used to illustrate the importance of skiffle as an influence on British 1960s rock bands. But he was much more than that. For instance, 'Rock Island Line' reached the Top Ten in the US in 1956, meaning that he must have been one of the first British acts of the rock era to have a proper hit in America.

I've never actively sought out his music myself, but whenever I hear something he's recorded, I'm struck by the power of his performance. Not least so in his rendition of 'Born In Bethlehem', from his 1962 album of spirituals, Sing Hallelujah. (By the way, the vocal backing here is by the Mike Sammes Singers: five years later they would provide the "Oompah, oompah, stick it up your jumper" and "Everybody's got one, everybody's got one" chants in The Beatles' 'I Am The Walrus'.)

And let's not forget that Lonnie Donegan was a fairly early adopter of the Andersson/Ulvaeus songwriting team, releasing 'I Lost My Heart On The 5.42' in 1975. Okay, so that's not a very good recording, but you can't really fault Lonnie's commitment.

Listen to 'Born In Bethlehem' here.

Or listen on Spotify, where I've created a playlist for this year's Advent Calendar.

 

 

 

 

09 December: Jethro Tull: Ring Out, Solstice Bells

Published December 09, 2020

Is there no limit to the music genres featured in this advent calendar? It would appear not, for today we shine the spotlight on prog rockers Jethro Tull. 'Ring Out, Solstice Bells' was the lead track on their 1976 Christmas EP, a UK Top 30 hit.

With the advent of punk, prog acquired a label as boring and self-indulgent music. I will confess that I've always steered clear of it, and I've never listened to a complete album by the likes of Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer. I love this Jethro Tull track, though, and I've suspected for some time that 1970s prog rock might hold riches for me to discover. Perhaps some day...

Listen to 'Ring Out, Solstice Bells' here.

Or listen on Spotify, where I've created a playlist for this year's Advent Calendar.

08 December: The O'Jays: Christmas Ain't Christmas Without The One You Love

Published December 08, 2020

Time for a bit of Philly soul in the Advent Calendar. For fans of the genre, The O'Jays will need little introduction, as they notched up several major hits during the 1970s, such as the US pop number one 'Love Train'.

However, this Christmas song from 1973, written by the kingpins of Philly soul, Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, seems to have been a massive flop. At least, I can't find it in any chart books, not even Billboard's Christmas chart, despite the song being catchy enough. It was originally released under the impossibly unwieldy title 'Christmas Ain't Christmas New Years Ain't New Years Without The One You Love', so maybe that had something to do with its lack of success.

Listen to 'Christmas Ain't Christmas Without The One You Love' here.

This song is not available on Spotify, but the 2020 Advent Calendar entries that are, are collected in this playlist.

07 December: Betty Johnson: I Want Eddie Fisher For Christmas

Published December 07, 2020

In retrospect, Eddie Fisher seems to have been no-one's idea of an ideal husband. Or at least not if you were Debbie Reynolds, who was dumped by Fisher when he entered into a relationship with Elizabeth Taylor in 1959. Coupled with the singer's addictions to drugs and gambling, he wouldn't have been your number one choice if you were looking for dependability and stability.

But how was Betty Johnson to know this, when she recorded 'I Want Eddie Fisher For Christmas' in 1954? At the time he was absolutely huge, with four Billboard number one pop hits to his credit. Betty Johnson herself had a Top Ten hit with a song called 'I Dreamed' a couple of years later (she reached #22 on Billboard's Christmas chart with her Eddie Fisher tribute). She had begun her career as a member of The Johnson Family Singers, and because of that connection she was recently interviewed for Ken Burns' acclaimed Country Music documentary series.

Listen to 'I Want Eddie Fisher For Christmas' here.

Or listen on Spotify, where I've created a playlist for this year's Advent Calendar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

06 December: George Jones: My Mom And Santa Claus

Published December 06, 2020

There are many good Christmas songs to be found within the country music genre, such as this one by the great George Jones. He originally recorded it for United Artists in 1962 with a "twist" spin; after a label change to Musicor he re-recorded it in a superior version in 1968, and that's the one featured here.

Lyrically, 'My Mom And Santa Claus' has a theme similar to songs such as 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus' or the Buck Owens & Susan Raye duet 'Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy', another country Christmas tune that was featured in an earlier Advent Calendar.

Listen to 'My Mom And Santa Claus' here.

The 1968 version is not available on Spotify, so I've put the 1962 original in the 2020 Advent Calendar playlist there.