Christmas Records 2016

It would have been preferable for me to have posted this in December, but January is not too bad a delay. On Black Friday I started getting really excited about Christmas, but as per usual I refused to go to any big box stores to participate in the commercial extravaganza, but instead, in what seems to be becoming a “day after Thanksgiving” tradition for me and my girls, I stopped by one of my favorite secondhand stores, The Consignment Shack, in La Mesa.  (Of course it would be a favorite with a name like that.).

My girls and I had a great time poking around the Christmas items, scoring an adorable cache of handmade tree ornaments.  And of course we perused the large, excellent, and well-priced record collection.  Every time I shop their 3 aisles of wooden bins filled with used vinyl, it brings me back to all of those wonderful college and post-college days I spent trolling the now-defunct Rhino Records shop in West L.A.

So this time I hit the Christmas record jackpot by scoring the following records to add to my holiday music collection:

A fun coincidence: they all share the same title.  I am all for variety, but these were the best of the bunch that day, so that’s that.  Let’s examine each one, shall we?

First up:

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The Original: Gene Autry Sings Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer  & other Christmas Favorites (Grand Prix Records, 1957)

This was quite a special find for me for a few reasons. First, who doesn’t love Gene Autry’s classic rendition of the Rudolph song? Second, we get all of the “other CHRISTMAS favorites” by America’s greatest singing cowboy, which you don’t hear as often on the airwaves (at least these days?).  And third, it features the lovely art of Richard Scarry from the associated Little Golden Book, which we also own. (Actually, maybe this is the primary reason.)

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Next up:

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Original Sound Track and Music from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (A Videocraft TV Musical Spectacular) Featuring The Voice of Burl Ives (Decca Records, 1964)

I adore the Rankin-Bass Rudolph animated classic, as do countless millions.  So it’s delightful to now own the soundtrack album to play and enjoy at any time.  Listening to the original songs on their own (aka through an audio-only source and not while watching the show) gave me a new appreciation of just how good they really are, and how they are all now modern Christmas standards. (You go, Johnny Marks!!)

This is also one of those fun ’60s records in which there wasn’t enough material to release a full album, so the A side contains all the songs from the show, while the B side simply contains instrumental versions of the same; in this case, by the “Decca Concert Orchestra.” My copy of the original American pressing of A Hard Day’s Night by the Beatles  also does this. (I was so confused when I used to listen to it as a young child; I kept wondering, were all of these instrumentals actually in the movie?! It just didn’t seem like a “proper” soundtrack album to this child of the ’80s).

Of course the sleeve of this record tells you the reason for this artistic choice:

“The delightful performances of the songs of the original sound track are complete on Side I of this recording.  The score is so outstanding that rather than extend each selection and interrupt your enjoyment of a complete performance, Decca has recorded the music for Side II instrumentally by the Decca Concert Orchestra.”

Thanks, Decca Records! 🙂

And the last of this year’s haul, but certainly not the least, as I came to appreciate after listening:

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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Other Christmas Favorites (Wonderland Records, 1982)

I just grabbed this because I liked the illustration and it seemed like a fun chance to take for the kids for only $1.00. (Yep, all of these were half-off the sticker price that day – yay Black Friday! Actually, the Consignment Shack always does this).  The kids were getting antsy, so I had to just grab it and go, so I didn’t get a chance to read any of the fine print; and with no artist listed in big print on the cover, I thought it might be one of those recordings done by studio musicians or no-name bands, so it could go either way. Certainly there was no track listing on the back. (Way to go, Wonderland Records!!)

After I got it home I was pleasantly surprised to learn, once I pulled the record from its sleeve, that the tracks contained a couple of great singers (as well as some unknown to me).  I also learned after playing it that the songs are all a lot of fun to listen to and quite well-done. Here’s the track list:

  1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Mike Stewart and the Sandpipers (huh?)
  2. Cracker Jack Xmas (lots of use of “Xmas” – I guess for space considerations?)
  3. Winter Wonderland
  4. Xmas is Comin’
  5. The Night Before Xmas
  6. Santa’s Other Reindeer – Sandpipers – Mitch Miller and his Orchestra
  7. How Lovely is Christmas – Bing Crosby (love!)
  8. When Santa Gets Your Letter
  9. I Dreamt That I Was Santa Claus – Ann Lloyd
  10. Little Boy Who Couldn’t Find Xmas – Roy Rogers (hooray!)
  11. Reindeer Dance
  12. Jingle Bells
  13. 12 Days of Xmas – The Sandpipers
  14. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Jimmy Durante (yes!)

I found this link that had some additional info on this album and its artists, including the Sandpipers, who sound familiar, but I’m really not familiar with them. Apparently they recorded quite a lot of “Golden Records” for kids, spearheaded by the great Mitch Miller. How great to be able to sing children’s songs for a living!

Overall this was really enjoyable and fun to listen to, and will now be a holiday staple.  This record was truly a hidden bright and tiny gem; it’s such fun to be able to uncover something like this whilst treasure hunting at secondhand stores.

 

 

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The Kinks

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If I’m writing about all the mid-60s music and bands that I love, I should probably start with the Zombies; after all, it was their song Brief Candles that inspired the title of my blog.  However, I have a greater love for The Kinks, and, having just experienced listening to a fun Apple Music playlist called Character Songs, I suppose the Kinks are as good a place as any to start.

The first rock band I became enamored with was actually The Beatles, thanks to a huge stack of original classic rock records from the 60s and 70s that my 7 older brothers and sisters left behind at our parents’ house.  I probably discovered it at about age 7 or 8, and this vinyl treasure trove contained, among other things, almost all of the Beatles’ LP catalog.  It’s surprising to me now to reflect that it contained no Kinks records.  Maybe my siblings decided to take their Kinks albums with them when they moved out of the house.  So anyway, the point is, while I became a Beatles fan very early in my life, I didn’t discover the Kinks until much later – in my 20s and 30s.

Getting back to this Character Songs playlist, I was delighted to have it show up in my “For You” feed because it does a nice job of encapsulating a major aspect of the Kinks, and one that helped hook me as a fan, which is that they write really excellent story songs.  This playlist focuses on stories of individual characters such as Lola, David Watts, and the Dedicated Follower of Fashion.  You really get a sense of the place and time with the latter two, and the subject of Lola is probably one for the ages. 🙂

Although I’m still not familiar with their whole discography (so much more to discover!), I think so far my favorite albums by the Kinks are as follows:

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Face to Face

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Something Else

and

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The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society

Of course now you can see it makes perfect sense that I would dig the Character Songs playlist since it is comprised of songs from mostly these albums!

So in closing I’ll leave you with this: f you like your music to transport you the way a good short story does, check these guys out.

 

The Jack Benny Program

The Jack Benny Program cast: Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Dennis Day, Phil Harris, Mary Livingstone, Jack Benny, Don Wilson & Mel Blanc

I am a huge fan of the Radio Classics channel on Sirius XM.  I listen to it almost every day on my work commute, and it led me to discover The Jack Benny Program, which has become one of my all-time favorites.

I first started listening to classic radio shows on KNX 1070 AM when I was a kid, thanks to my best friend A.  I’d spend the night at her house and we’d listen to the radio together in the dark before we went to sleep.  Good times!  KNX used to air a variety of different shows every Saturday and Sunday night, but unfortunately they stopped that some time ago.  Thank goodness Radio Classics on Sirius XM has taken up the slack!

But back to Jack Benny.  I’d heard of him, but never heard one of his shows until I started listening to Radio Classics.  It’s hilarious!  I’ve not only discovered some really awesome performers, but I’ve been able to fill in some blanks in my knowledge of early 20th-century entertainment references and connections (especially those featured in Warner Bros. / Bugs Bunny cartoons, but more on that below).

Here are some of my favorite people and things on The Jack Benny Program:

  • Jack Benny:  My favorite character, along with Rochester.  I love all of Jack’s fussy ways and little mannerisms and in-jokes.  You are probably most familiar with these quirks: his insistence that he is only 39 every time his birthday rolls around, and his legendary tight-fistedness with money.  Even though these gags are a constant, the writers always seem to wring out some new funny aspect of them.
  • Rochester (Eddie Anderson):  Jack’s valet on the show is also a master of comic timing and asides.  Rochester would frequently upstage Jack, and was quite often the voice of reason, although Jack was usually too stubborn to listen!
  • Phil Harris: The show’s band leader for most of its run is my second favorite after Jack and Rochester.  I later recognized his fantastic voice as some beloved characters in these classic Disney films: The Jungle Book (Baloo), Robin Hood (Little John), and The Aristocats (Thomas O’Malley).
  • Mel Blanc: Everyone knows the voice of Bugs Bunny and classic Warner Bros. cartoons!  But it was a very happy surprise to find out that MB was a regular on JB.  You can definitely hear some of the mannerisms of those animated characters in the roles he plays here.  And might I add, if you listen closely you can recognize the genesis of some of the in-jokes from the cartoons.  I’ll have to get some specific examples to add here but trust me, they’re there.

In 1950 the show debuted on television on CBS.  I’ve actually watched a few of these on TV and they’re still good, but I have to admit that some of the really old TV shows seem too slow-paced (even to a nostalgia buff like me). The radio program seemed a little snappier…but I guess I’ll have to give the new-fangled medium of TV a try on this one.