Monday, 22 December 2008
♫ Ho! Ho! Ho! Welcome to the second, final and
distinctly seasonal AAA Christmas special of 2008.
Just the thing for music lovers who are patiently
waiting for their online and mail order presents to
arrive, for the turkey to shrivel enough to fit in the
oven and for the local carol singers who’ve called at
your house five times already this week to get
laryngitis. Have you all been good boys and girls this
year? Well, alarmingly, so have the AAA musicians who have
been uncharacteristically quiet this yuletide – let’s hope
they’re up to something interesting in the new year. In the
meantime, enjoy your presents, especially the ones that
are CD-sized, and we’ll see you in 2009. Keep rocking!
♫ Beach Boys news: Brian Wilson has just announced that a DVD filmed on his latest tour will be available on January 27th next year. The DVD, to be named ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ is based around Brian’s latest solo concept album of the same name (released in the Spring of 2008, but don’t worry if you missed it because it didn’t stay in the shops for very long and so did I). Like Brian’s last two live-in-concert DVDs ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Smile’, Brian will be backed by his band The Wondermints. It has not yet been revealed if there will be any ‘bonus’ features on the disc – more news next year.
♫ Moody Blues news: Seasonal greetings Moodies fans not only from me but from original band keyboardist Mike Pinder, who is celebrating the festive season with the release of a new song ‘Peace Planet Proclomation’ and video celebrating the very Moodies-like theme of a universal peace this Christmas between all nations and races. The video is available to watch at youtube (http://uk.youtube.com/user/MikePindersSONGWARS)
Look out too for the release of an album earlier in the year by Mike Pinder’s son ‘ ’ (with Mike as guest – his first recordings for quite some time).
Top Of The Pops 2 News: Some programmer at the BBC seems to have been hit with the ghosts of Christmas past this yuletide, as the history of this year’s festive Top of the Pops Specials sounds like a multimedia Charles Dickens novel. Not content with cancelling the programme five or so years ago, the BBC announced in November that they were also planning to cancel the annual Christmas TOTP special which they had promised in lieu of continuing the series. The public complained in such numbers that the BBC put it back on the schedule – agreeing instead to cancel their planned series of TOTP2 compilations of older material. The public complained in large numbers again so, like Scrooge transformed, the BBC have decided to show no less than seven TOTP/TOTP editions this Christmas. This marks, by my reckoning, the first ‘new’ (ie new collections of old material) showings of TOTP2 on our screens since early 2006. AAA artists set for screening this yuletide include Paul McCartney on 23rd December, 7.30pm on BBC2 (most likely the ‘Wonderful Xmas Time’ promo seeing as it’s a ‘Christmas’ edition of the show), John Lennon on Christmas Eve at 11.15pm, The Kinks on Christmas Day-into-Boxing Day at 12.55am and The Who on Boxing Day at 12.40pm. Hurrah!
♫ Not many AAA artists have issued Christmas-
themed albums (so watch us struggle filling these
pages this time next year!) But loads of them seem
to have issued at least one festive-related single at
some point or another. So, with the special exception of the
Beach Boys’ Xmas repertoire (discussed above) and the
Moodies’ Xmas album ‘December’ (which disappeared from
the shops quicker than you can say ‘snowflake covered
mellotron’) here is a handy guide to every AAA-related
Christmas song we can think of – and where to find them so you
can make your own Christmas Compilation:
Beatles: The fab four released a special fans-only Christmas
flexi-disc every year between 1963 and 1969, delivered free to
members of their official fan club every year and – amazingly – even Apple haven’t got their hands on the copyrights for them yet, so they’re unlikely to see a proper re-issue any time in the next few years. However, only one issue (the 1967 disc) comes close to sounding like a proper festive ‘song’ (most of the rest sound like a hilarious drunken Christmas party with a few pantomimesque spoofs thrown in – usually by Lennon). That song is ‘Christmas time Is Here Again’, a track credited to all four Beatles which un-surprisingly comes out sounding a bit like all of the festive songs they did solo (Lennon’s ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’, Macca’s ‘Wonderful Xmas Time’ and Harrison’s ‘Ding Dong’, not to mention Ringo’s rarely heard and poorly received Xmas record). Ringo takes the lead on the Beatles’ composition, a song that’s hardly a missing classic but still has just enough goodwill and Christmas cheer to overcome the fact the band actually recorded it in September at
Abbey Road studios. You can find an edited version (the original kept getting interrupted by lots of sketches and fab four banter) on ‘Anthology Two’ (EMI/Apple, 1997).
George Harrison: Well, actually George released a new year song but as it’s the only AAA-related one we could find we’ve added it to our Christmas list instead. ‘Ding Dong, Ding Dong’ has a mixed reputation among fans, thanks to its rather odd mix of repetition and invention. Based around the sentiments ‘ring out the old, ring in the new’, George actually ‘stole’ most of the lyrics from lines that had been dotted around George’s
home and had originally been written by its delightfully dotty architect. Find it on: Dark Horse (EMI/ Apple, 1974). Friar Park
Kinks: The 1977 novelty single ‘Father Christmas’ is very odd as seasonal songs go and yet somehow very Kinks-like too. Like many of the band’s late 70s/ early 80s material it matches a very dry wit with an honest compassion at (yet another) worldwide recession. The song is narrated by a little boy who doesn’t want any toys this year and wished his father would be given his old job after his redundancy – but rather than a tearjerker in the Johnny Cash mould this is a savage song, with a group of bullies attacking Santa and telling him to save his toys ‘for the little rich boys’. This song - which never appeared on an album ‘proper’ - is still blooming hilarious when seen in Kinks concerts of the day, however, thanks to the sight of Ray Davies dressed up in a Santa suit and his brother Dave trying not to keel over with laughter at the sight of him. Find it as a bonus track on the Kinks CD ‘Misfits’ (Konk/Velvel, 1978/re-issued 1998).
John Lennon: ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ is probably the best known song on this list, charting on three separate occasions. Typically for the Ono-Lennons, however, this song started its life as something of an obscurity, released too late in the day for the 1972 Christmas market and at the time was one of the lowest placed singles of Lennon’s solo career to date (it was beaten by everything but ‘Woman Is the Nigger Of the World’). A 1973 re-release really caught the mood of the nation in the middle of the Watergate scandal and the end of the
Vietnam and wars, however and it became firmly lodged in the public’s Christmas sub-conscious. This lovely song also became a worthy last choice in the rush of Lennon ‘tribute’ re-releases that came out after Lennon’s death in December 1980, finally reaching #1 the third time around. Lennon always said that he wanted this song to become an ‘alternative’ to record buyers bored of hearing ‘White Christmas’ over and over – more than any other song in the rock and pop market, it’s Bing Crosby’s closest challenger. Find it on any self-respecting Lennon compilation (the 1970s ‘Shaved Fish’, 1980s ‘Lennon Collection’ and 1990s ‘Lennon Legend’ are the best places top start). Korea
Paul McCartney and Wings: Macca, too, got his timing all wrong with this single-only release – the last release by Wings, just before their un-announced split in 1980, there was no band left to promote it bar one slightly dodgy promo video that gets shown every year. Out of fashion for only the second in his long career, this song also got eclipsed by the re-issue of Lennon’s Christmas song he following year. The cheesy synthesisers and (by Macca standards) simplistic tune and woolly lyrics probably didn’t help either, although like many of Wings’ songs the production is fantastic. Against all odds, however, this song has been experiencing a comeback recently, nearly 30 years since its release – proof that Christmas really is a time for forgiving after all. Find it on the ‘McCartney Collection’ CD re-issue of ‘Back To The Egg’, along with the song’s undistinguished instrumental B-side ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reggae’. (EMI, 1979 re-issued 1990).
Monkees: Tucked away at the tail-end of the Monkees’ second TV series is a Christmas special is a moral-booming, morale-boosting tale about the band looking after a child who doesn’t believe in Christmas. Never one to short-change their fans (whatever the press of the 1960s believed), the band added a late Christmas present in the shape of a jaw-droppingly beautiful a capella rendition of the traditional Spanish carol ‘Riu Chiu’. Annoyingly the band never issued the song at the time – indeed, this TV version of the carol is only available on the DVD soundtrack – but there is an equally thrilling alternate take available on the band’s out-takes collection ‘Missing Links Two’ (Rhino, 1990).
Simon and Garfunkel: Equally forgotten and neglected are two originally unheard carols sung a capella by two of the finest harmony singers on the planet. ‘Star Carol’ and ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ are among the more understated of S and G’s work but no less beautiful for that – the unusual ‘rounds’ harmony arrangement of the latter is especially thrilling. These two uplifting carols also make for a nicer contrast to the only official ‘carol’ in the S and G canon, ‘Silent Night’, recorded as a peaceful contrast to a fictional news broadcast full of horror, terror and fear at the unsettling events of the late 1960s. Alas, classic as this track is, the original unadorned version of this carol still lies unreleased. You can find the former two tracks on the box set ‘Old Friends’ (Capitol 1993) and the latter on ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’ (Capitol 1967, re-issued most recently in 2006).
And that’s it for this year! We at the AAA wish you a merry Christmas and a musical new year and look forward to seeing you all again next year. And what a year 2009 promises to be – a Beatles CD re-issue bonanza, a CSN concert and possibly a Kinks re-union are all on the cards. See you then!