Sorry, We're Closed

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Time

My favorite rock and roll Christmas song of all time, by Chris Stamey. "Christmas Time," from 1985, features the dB's, a great pop band from Winston-Salem North Carolina that Stamey had helped found before leaving in 1983.

This song was originally issued on the 1985 mini-album Christmas Time. The remainder of the tracks feature Mary Mac, Kathy Harrington, and Ted Lyons, who comprised Stamey's regular band at the time. The remainder of the LP veers from ambient meditations to girl-group fizz and inspired lunacy. It's definitely worth picking up; a CD reissue added several bonus cuts.

Time does stand still at Christmas, and hooky pop/rock with punchy, jangly guitars and vocal harmonies is one of my favorite ways to enjoy it.

Several more favorites:
John Lennon & Yoko Ono, "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"
The Beach Boys, "Christmas Day"
Tish Hinojosa, "Arbolito"
The Monkees, "Riu Chiu"
XTC, "Thanks for Christmas"
Vince Guaraldi, "Skating"
Big Star, "Jesus Christ"
The Crystals, "White Christmas"
The Beach Boys, "Little Saint Nick"
Jose Feliciano, "Feliz Navidad"
Jill Sobule, "Merry Christmas from the Family"
The Jackson Five, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"
Roy Orbison, "Pretty Paper"
Chris Stamey Group, "You're What I Want (for Christmas)"

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jumping off the Obama Express

It's only been six weeks, but I think I'm going to leave this train at the next station.

Inviting Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration isn't Change I Can Believe In (C).

I assume that Obama is trying to appear magnanimous and statesmanlike by inviting this extremely visible, famous conservative preacher to bless him and his presidency. All of that might be reasonable if Warren wasn't a self-serving jerk.

Does our new president really think he can make change in this country, real change, with this kind of act? How is cozying up to the right going to fix all the harm that the right has done to this coutnry in the last eight years?

Does Obama really believe that the toxic far right will hate those of us the reality-based community, any less?

If he does, he's wrong.

Obama has made a calculation that I find reprehensible--that it's okay to stick a middle finger out at the people who believed in him, financed him, and elected him in order to suck up to one of the spokesmen for the fanatical part of the right wing that hates gay people and doesn't believe in evolution.

Does Obama really think that inviting Rick Warren to pray over him at the inaugural is going to erase the hateful things that Warren has said and done in the past? Why does he feel that it's important to reach out the olive branch to people who do not and will not ever play fair?

I've heard all sorts of people saying that this is "politically smart" for Obama to do. If it's politically smart for Obama to sell out gay people and believers in science--two constituencies who were among his strongest supporters--to cozy up to the religious right, then maybe Obama is as shallow and devious as some people have said.

The hell with it.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What I'm Up To

For the last few days I've been working on an interesting project for the National Hockey League's website, Each year, the league holds an outdoor game (!) on January 1, and this year it's in Chicago. And it'll be held at Wrigley Field.

I'll be writing for the next week or so about the process of turning Wrigley Field into an ice can catch my newest articles here and here...and, if you like hockey--and, really, who doesn't--be sure to check every day for updates through next Tuesday.

Cheers! G'day.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Saturday's Children: "Deck Five"

Here's a sweet little slice of Chicago-produced holiday music from 42 years ago.

Saturday's Children, a five-piece band on the local Dunwich label (which also sported excellent local garage groups The Shadows of Knight, The Del-Vettes, and The Rovin' Kind, among others), released three singles in 1966-67.

Their first single, the superior "You Don't Know Better," released in fall 1966, garnered a lot of airplay on big top 40 stations WLS and WCFL, and even charted on suburban station WNWC. Popular at teen clubs like the Cellar and at city nightclubs as well, the Children had a dynamic singer/songwriter team in Geoff Boyan (who often used the last name 'Bryan' professionally) and Ron Holder. Their playing was flawless, their accents a perfect mix of Midwestern Mersey, and Rick Goettler's Farfisa organ added just enough grit under the nails to keep everything from getting too sweet.

Today's featured song, "Deck Five," was part of their two-sided Christmas 1966 single. I prefer this side to the flip, "Christmas Sounds," because it's not just a catchy midtempo pop number but also a neat little parody/homage to a certain famous jazz tune--and a clever inversion on a holiday favorite as well!

After a third 45 in 1967 (a stab at a Randy Newman song, "Leave That Baby Alone,"), the Children eventually drifted apart. Sundazed has an eight-song double-45 RPM package which I highly recommend. Unfortunately, despite placing a song with Chicago cohorts the Cryan Shames on their 1968 album Synthesis, Boyan and Holder fell from sight and have never received the credit they deserve.

Boyan, who had been in Dalek: The Blackstones (with future Shadow of Knight Jerry McGeorge and, according to some rumors, drummer Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick) and later played guitar with H.P. Lovecraft, still lives around here, but according to a friend of mine is not doing so well. Here's a glass of cheer to you, Mr. Boyan, with hopes that 2009 brings better things.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The King of Psychedelic Bubblegum

Tommy James: It's Good to be King

Few American singers were as popular in the late 1960s as Tommy James. Some of his big hits are remembered well today ("I Think We're Alone Now," "Crimson and Clover," "Hanky Panky," "Crystal Blue Persuasion," "Draggin' the Line," "Mony Mony") while others, just as good and just as popular at the time, have mysteriously fallen from favor, such as "Mirage," "Ball of Fire," and "Sweet Cherry Wine."

Every few months from 1966 through 1970, Tommy and his backing group, the Shondells, would release another single that became a huge hit, and even some of the less successful singles, like "Out of the Blue," "I Like the Way," and "It's Only Love," are catchy pop creations of the highest order, evergreen blends of harmonies, exotic percussion, ringing guitars, keyboards, and insistent rhythms. With only one or two exceptions, each hummable TJ hit sounded completely unlike the last.

His ability to blend experimentation with pop smarts leads me to consider him a sort of psychedelic bubblegum artist--the best one, in fact.

Since Tommy James and the Shondells were constantly on tour in the mid-to-late sixties, many of the band's records were done in New York with session musicians such as legendary guitarist Vinnie Bell. But by 1968, Tommy and the group--Mike Vale, Pete Lucia, Ronnie Rosman, and Eddie Gray--were elbowing producer/songwriters Bo Gentry and Ritchie Cordell out of the way and writing a lot of their own songs.

The track featured here, "Gingerbread Man," was recorded for the 1968 Mony Mony album, and in fact was one of the first tracks the band did behind Gentry and Cordell's backs.

Roulette Records loved "Gingerbread" and placed it on the flip side of the "Do Something to Me" single, giving the band the confidence it needed to move ahead and record two excellent 1969 albums, Crimson and Clover and Cellophane Symphony.

"Gingerbread Man" is one of my all-time favorite tracks from the band. A catchy song is set off by about 300,000 guitar overdubs, a great late-60s organ part playing sixth notes, all sorts of exotic percussion during the "bridge," and that insistent beat. When the tambourine comes in for the third verse, it's pop heaven, and I still can't tell where Tommy's voice ends during the fadeout and the fuzz guitar begins!

This is the mono mix, which I find much punchier than the stereo. This version was burned from a German issue of the 45 that Mark Caro so courteously brought back from a trip across the sea last year. Hope you all enjoy this dose of pop perfection.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Amy Amy Amy

I'll admit I was skeptical when Amy Winehouse emerged as a ferociously popular singer. Her too-skinny drugged-out persona pissed me off, and I didn't get the point of "Rehab" the first couple of times I heard it.

Thanks to my pal Phillip, I began to listen a little more closely to her second album, Back to Black, and soon realized that this was a singer and songwriter of no little depth and intensity. The girl-group charm of the sorrowful title song, the heartbreaking adultery narrative "Just Friends," and the skank of "You Know I'm No Good" are absolutely riveting.

Here's a bonus track from a special CD edition of the album. It's her acoustic demo of "Love is a Losing Game." While the LP cut is terrif, it's this spare version that pierces my heart.

I'm still not comfortable with the idea of my dollars helping fuel her self-destructive habits, but art and artists have ever been thus so. My fingers are crossed that she can keep herself together and find happiness...or at least keep sharing her gift.