10 Christmas Records (On Vinyl) to put Under the Tree in 2016

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Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song

Let’s face it, most Christmas music is really the same 30 songs repeated by various artists over the years for a little variation. Few artists can claim to have recorded the ‘quintessential’ version of any one tune. However, Nat King Cole is one of those few to have done so with “The Christmas Song” (quite a feat when you consider that there are literally hundreds of covers, ranging from Frank Sinatra to Christina Aguilera and even Twisted Sister.)  His take on the Mel Torme penned “The Christmas Song” is the one that everyone hears in their head and over the air when the holiday season rolls around. Also included are great renditions of “Deck The Halls”, “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing”, and other classics. You can find the standard black vinyl version in all of the usual record stores or, if you are looking to put that special something under the tree, a red and white split coloured wax version is available from Newbury Comics.

Christmas with the Chipmunks

Ok – sure, the lifespan of these particular rodents has far exceeded their “best before” date. However, there is no denying the syrupy pleasure derived from the high pitched glory of “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)”. As much as one can try to hide their embarrassment, these annoyingly cute over-sized rodents put a smile on the faces of those of us who like a bit of laughter included with holiday cheer. Throw this onto Red/Green split coloured vinyl (also at Newbury Comics) and you have a legitimate present to place under the tree.

The Beach Boys – Christmas Album

Funny how changing a few words on a hit song can turn it into an even bigger holiday classic. “Little Deuce Coupe” made it to #4 on the Billboard Charts while the re-written “Little Saint Nick” actually made it to #3 six months later. Side one of the record carries original material that actually stretched the Beach Boys (and more importantly, Brian Wilson) beyond the safety of their surf, cars and girls motif and into some interesting territory. Their harmonies on “Blue Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” are stellar. A limited run of 1000 copies on green translucent vinyl have been printed for this holiday season.

Bob & Doug McKenzie – Twelve Days Of Christmas

Rereleased only a few days ago as part of Black Friday/Record Store Day, the classic hoser Christmas tune can be found at your local record stores on a red 7” vinyl 45. Interjected into a holiday mix, it never fails to crack a wry smile on the faces of your festive guests. My kids (8 & 12) thought this was the greatest Christmas song ever as they experienced it for the first time the other day.

She & Him – Christmas Party

I’m guessing that the overwhelming success of 2011’s A Very She & Him Christmas has gotten Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward to reconvene for a second Christmas album entitled, Christmas Party. True to form, they playfully go through a diverse mix of holiday tunes as if they’re sitting in your own home to play them. Included are covers of Mariah Carey’s “All I want For Christmas Is You”, Vashti Bunyon’s “Coldest Night Of The Year” and Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Rudolph”. This new album can be found at record stores on red vinyl… complete with a Christmas card from the pair.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – It’s A Holiday Soul Party

Due to extraordinary demand, Daptone Records has completed a new printing of 2015’s It’s A Holiday Soul Party. Last year’s original release was limited to 10 thousand copies on red translucent vinyl while this new one is on green translucent vinyl and limited to 5000 copies. The late-great Jones and her Dap-Kings cover a few of the standards and mix it up with some astonishing originals. Particularly poignant is “Ain’t No Chimneys In The Projects” which is rather reminiscent of some similar James Brown social commentary on the season.

Frank Sinatra – White Christmas / The Christmas Waltz 7”

This is the year Sinatra would have turned 100. As part of Capitol Records’ celebration, we get this 7” of “White Christmas” and “The Christmas Waltz.” While the Bing Crosby version is the highest selling single song of all time (estimated sales of 100 Million according to the Guinness Book of World Records), the Sinatra cover peeked at #3 on the Billboard charts in 1948. Sure, the Crosby version is better known, but Sinatra’s voice on the Irving Berlin classic soars into places no one else could go… after all, he’s the Chairman of the board. This year’s 45 is on white vinyl.

Run DMC – Christmas In Hollis

A tribute to their home in Queens, “Christmas In Hollis” was originally released in 1987 as part of the first A Very Special Christmas, with the proceeds going to Special Olympics. “Christmas In Hollis” is definitely one of the coolest damn holiday songs to come down the chimney. Sampling Clarence Carter’s outstanding “Back Door Santa”, Run DMC powers through a rap in the city adventure that is full of Mom, money, Santa and a single dog pulling the sled. Another Black Friday/ Record Store Day release, “Christmas in Hollis” is on a 12” picture disc and limited to 3000 copies.

 

 

David Bazan – Dark Sacred Nights

Formerly going by the moniker of Pedro The Lion, David Bazan has been releasing Christmas singles for a number of years now. Wrapped in a cloak of melancholia and simple arrangements, Bazan plays the kind of Christmas music the goes with quiet conversations and sharing a bottle of wine. However, if you want this, you had better act quickly. Only 2000 copies of this record were printed on blue vinyl (with white snowflakes). His own website is sold out. His record companies’ website is sold out. It seems like the last available copies are from various Amazon sites.

Elvis Presley – Elvis Christmas Album

Sure, Presley was known as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, but his background growing up in the church made him especially well suited to put emotion into the holiday songbook. So much so, this particular Christmas record is the biggest selling holiday “album” of all time, with over 15 million being sold since its 1957 release. Rather than emphasizing the heavier aspects he was well known for, he stretches back to his gospel roots and makes a truly incredible record. You don’t need to be an Elvis fan to enjoy his renditions of “White Christmas”, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Blue Christmas.” Over the last few years this record has been reissued numerous times, with each new edition always selling quickly. The 2016 version is on 180-gram red transparent vinyl and would look great under the tree or spinning on the old turntable.

Sarcastic SOB with Deadly Accurate Aim! or Nick Lowe – Jesus Of Cool

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There was a movement in the late 70’s that played directly to the most cynical of pop fans. It wasn’t punk or new wave, although some fans tried to lump them into that category; it wasn’t power-pop, except the music certainly was reminiscent of the tag. This music was literate and subversive while taking influences from 60’s pop bands like the Beatles, Beach Boys, Motown, Phil Spector and STAX, but lyrically it was far more sarcastic and very willing to bite the so-called “hand that feeds them.”

This is the world where Nick Lowe lived for a while. His single “Cruel To Be Kind” (from Labour Of Lust) could be played on AM radio, but most of his songs were strictly FM bound, or not to be played on radio at all. This was because Labour Of Lust, much like Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model, featured songs that attacked both radio and the music industry in general. Yet you had to love him for it. He was crafting perfectly awesome pop songs (back when pop wasn’t a word used to describe musical masturbation) without patronizing you with stupidity in the process. It was brilliant!

Unfortunately, the movement didn’t last long enough to forever remain in the hipster consciousness and it all but disappeared for a time. However, some great things have happened since the turn of the century. People who were influenced by these great sounds started singing the praises of these albums and independent record companies started picking up what the big guys had dropped. So here we are with several choices to grab not just a great album, but a substantial one.

If you’re crate digging in North America, finding Jesus Of Cool might be a little difficult as it was re-titled Pure Pop For Now People. Apparently, Columbia Records just had to screw with things for the American audience even exchanging one song (“Shake and Pop”) for another (“They Call It Rock”) and changing the running order entirely. Used copies will cost you under $10.

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It wasn’t until 1989 that a CD (as well as a vinyl re-release) version of the record was released by Demon Records in the UK. The CD had a different cover, while the vinyl returned to the original cover. The CD can be purchased under $10 used but the ’89 vinyl has one reseller asking over a $100 for a new copy.

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Spending that kind of money on a new copy really isn’t necessary, as some great things happened for the Jesus of Cool on its 30th anniversary. Complete remasters were done in 2008 on both sides of the Atlantic with a companion disc added to a gatefold cover. Yep Rock actually released two versions of the vinyl set. One was in standard black wax and the other came in red and yellow translucent vinyl. You can still find them at your finer record retailers and they shouldn’t set you back more than $30.

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The companion disc also includes an earlier version of “Cruel To Be Kind” that had not previously been released.

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In all, it’s an outstanding record you should give a try… after all, there is nothing quite like a sarcastic SOB with deadly accurate aim. Believe me his shot at fans of the Bay City Rollers is worth the price of admission all by itself.

 

 

I wonder… does the future still freak them out? Or Motion City Soundtrack – I Am The Movie

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Box after box opened, pulling out the literary contents and placing them on carts to be shelved by other peons. Day after day, month after month, year after… ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! It’s good to work, but the isolation of a receiving dock can sometimes get a little, um… mind numbing.  So the 2003 version of me brought in a boombox with auxiliary for my first gen ipod to keep me company and I kept in search of energetic music to distract myself.  The second cycle of Brit-Pop with the Kaiser Chiefs leading the way helped a bit, but I needed more.

At lunch I started reading magazine reviews and a name kept popping up – Motion City Soundtrack. Like most Epitaph albums I Am The Movie started out with a flood of guitar but as things progressed it became something else, something really cool. A friend had a Napster shit download copy on a burned CD. Light synth backing up a dual guitar attack put together with lyrics that had tongue planted firmly in cheek emanated through crappy speakers and I smiled. Songs were sarcastic, confessional, and ridiculous. Like life they played through all the various range of emotions, but most all, it was fun.

So after my shift finished, I journeyed the suburban strip mall sidewalk to the big box record store and they of course looked at me like I was an alien.

“What soundtrack?”

“Not a soundtrack, a band! Motion City Soundtrack!”

“Why would they call themselves a soundtrack?”

“Not sure, but if I ever get to LA, I’ll ask?”

Eventually I ordered the thing online, because, well, the dead eyes of mindless big box suburban record store floor staff that see boy bands as high art really piss me off.

Fuck yeah – I’m a music snob. If you got a problem with that we can thumb wrestle.

It’s been more than a decade, and like most music I love have an attachment to, I want it on vinyl. With only two options open to me, the decision is pretty easy. Sealed copies of the now out of print original 2003 pressing run for about $35 and up on reseller markets.

Or

Hot Topic just recently released a limited orange translucent version of I Am The Movie. While I had thought it sold out back in March, it showed back up and is now spinning on the turntable. My 11 year old is even trying to “bust a move.”

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See what I did there… oh never mind. Buy the record and you’ll get the joke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can’t Beat This; The English Beat Recording and You can get in on the action!

Trolling the internet as my seven year old sings along to “Mirror in the Bathroom” and I start to wonder about the sweet ska sounds of The (“English” In North America, “British” in Australia) Beat emanating from my speakers. So a quick google later and BANG!

The Beat is using Pledge Music to raise funds for a new record with plenty of exclusive items being given in exchange for your participation. Some of the items included are t-shirt ($25), autographed CD ($34), vinyl ($40) a phone call with vocalist songwriter Dave Wakeling ($103), and a bundle that includes the CD, vinyl, t-shirt, stickers, poster and a recent tour pass laminate. Not only will you be helping the band get a new record into your hands but also 10% of all proceeds will be given to Doctors Without Borders.

If you’re interested you had better act quick, items are selling fast (seriously, the autographed vinyl is already gone) and many items are down to their last few.

Check it out at http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/theenglishbeat

How The Hell Did I Miss This! Or The Decline Of Western Civilization Collection

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Not an ordinary documentary(not that such a thing exists), The Decline Of Western Civilization was a focal point for controversy and youth rebelling against… well, the same thing they’ve always been rebelling against – authority. But Penelope Spheeris certainly attracted the attention of ‘the establishment’ with her vivid looks at counter culture throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Hell, in 1981 infamous LAPD police chief Daryl Gates wrote an open letter demanding theatres not show the film in his city. Of course that only solidified the first films notoriety and in essence helped it to become a cult classic.

Released on July 1st 1981, the first in the series was a look at the LA punk scene and featured Black Flag, Circle Jerks, X, Germs, Catholic Discipline and Fear. The movie poster accidently bordered on the macabre in featuring the Germs singer Darby Crash on stage with his eyes closed mere weeks after his death from a heroin overdose. The poster had been designed and printed before his death, but it certainly added to the hype surrounding the film.

The Decline of Western Civilization Part 2: The Metal Years was released in 1988 and took a close look at the excesses and contradictions found in the LA glam metal scene. While Spheeris admitted to faking a scene with Ozzy Osbourne that depicted him shaking and spilling a glass of orange juice because of alcohol withdrawal; the rest of the film came off as a horror expose about the futility and stupidity of her subject matter. While the first films youths were fighting for something, the second saw the hair metal kids fighting for fame and fortune… aka nothing in particular. Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine is on record declaring that The Metal Years was in part responsible for the fall of glam metal and the rise of thrash and grunge; hypothesizing that fans were disgusted by scenes of debauchery. In essence the film suggests that fans just couldn’t relate on any level to the real existence of these rock stars and their hangers on.

However, the final film in the trilogy, The Decline of Western Civilization: Part 3, is by far the scariest and most difficult of the films. Originally, the documentary was only released on the festival circuit and hadn’t any official release since its limited 1998 run. The movie follows homeless hardcore street punks known as ‘gutter punks’ who have ‘extreme’ anti-establishment beliefs.  Despite this, the end result is a commentary on homelessness, alcoholism, abusive parents, and broken homes. After shooting the third instalment Spheeris would become a foster parent. Part 3 went on to win awards at both the Sundance and Chicago film festivals.

Whatever it was that kept a general release from taking place has just been settled and the trilogy is out now on DVD and Blu Ray. Thankfully my birthday is in a couple weeks so I think I’ll add it to my wish list.

The Decline of Western Civilization Collection was released on June 30th.

Punk Before Anyone Coined The Phrase or The Sonics – Here Are The Sonics!!!

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No one quite did early garage rock like The Sonics. They were a musical mess of fuzzy guitar, earth pounding drums, screaming vocals and lyrics that were dirty and just plain asinine at times. This was the early sixties and while The Beatles were singing “Love Me Do” The Sonics were belting out “she’s gonna make you itch / ‘cause she’s the witch” (from the song “The Witch”) and as the Stones sang about “Mother’s Little Helper” these guys were blasting out a tune named “Strychnine.” It was a sound that reverberated from the 60’s and had enough impact to influence everyone one from The Stooges to Nirvana. The fact is that they were punk long before anyone even coined the phrase.

That The Sonics are not a household name is more at testament to poor timing than quality of expression. They were loud and crass before it became popular, and when they tried to move in a more commercial direction, that sound changed again and the band wasn’t thrilled about their new path anyway. Their debut, Here Are The Sonics!!!, was released in 1965 and by ’68 they called it a day. However, punk in the 70’s and grunge in the 90’s brought renewed interest in the band. Nirvana and later the White Stripes and Hives hailed them as influences while cover versions of their songs were played by the Flaming Lips, The Fall, L7, The Cramps, LCD Soundsystem and more.

If you are considering giving these guys a try the best place to start is with Here Are The Sonics!!! which provides the best overall example of their sound. On vinyl, you have a few choices, but your best bet is actually the 1998 mono edition released on regular vinyl. Mono being how it was originally recorded, it sounds far better. The great thing is that it is still widely available, NEW, for around the twenty dollar mark. A re-united Sonics has been touring and recently released a new album, This Is The Sonics.

The Greatest Air-Guitar Record Ever! or Green Day – Dookie

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Love it or loath it the 90’s punk revival didn’t go mainstream because of Nirvana, Sonic Youth or any of the other champions of noise from 89 to 93. The exact day it started was February 1st 1994 with the release of Dookie, and it was a monster. It sold 10 million copies in the year following its release and has sold another 10 million since. It was fast, it was fun, it was angry, and it was everywhere! It was the kind of record you knew would be HUGE on a single listen, and believe me, that isn’t an easy thing to say as a critic. Arguably, Dookie may even be the greatest air-guitar record ever!

So from a vinyl perspective, it is an obvious and essential part of the collection, but what is available and where the hell do you start?

Well believe it or not, your options are quite limited. You can find a used copy from 1994, of which a dump load of unofficial copies were also released, or you can buy new and there have only been three “official” re-releases since 2008. The first two are re-issues printed in the US and Europe on black 180 gram vinyl and are still widely available.

The last one is slightly more interesting than the others. It is a limited edition green translucent vinyl that had only 1000 copies printed and were sold exclusively at Hot Topic stores in the US. While the limited Dookie sold out long ago, most Hot Topic vinyl is sold under $30.00.  Resellers are asking over $50.00 for the green vinyl now. Of course, if you have a giant whack of cash, you could buy an original 1994 green translucent vinyl or autographed copy for several hundred dollars on the resale market… but … um… that’s a bit out of my price range.

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If you are looking to get a copy, your best bet is still the 2008 180 gram version which sounds great and can be purchased at very reasonable prices at all the usual places.