Monday, December 17, 2007

Trolling the Underground : Christmas Under the Bridge

As you can guess, Christmas music is pretty much a find-it-where-you-can proposition where the underground is concerned. While there are a few artists that do special Christmas performances, few of those are likely to be recorded by stealthy means, and those that are broadcast are usually not by artists that people who record by stealthy means would listen to. I've never seen a Perry Como bootleg, for instance, and if I've seen any Anne Murray shows, I didn't take notice.

However, I do know of a few classic Christmas tunes, and searches on my fave boot sites for "Christmas" and "Santa" yielded results from the sublime to the ridiculous. As a result, the very first Trolling the Underground Christmas Collection is going to be a bumpy sleigh ride. There are some very happy songs, and at least one that is really rather sad. There are some funny songs here as well, including one that is funny mostly because it is just so, so bad (and I think you'll be surprised as to which one that is). A few are definitely good for putting that WTF?? look on the faces of friends, neighbors, and unwanted in-laws when mixed into your Christmas tunes! Serious or goofy, happy or poignant, hard or soft, there is something for everyone in this mix.

Two things before we get started. One, I wish I knew more about editing sound files - that way I could have clipped off some extraneous between-song chatter. Some of it may amuse you, though. If you know how to clip it and want to, go ahead. The rest of you can do what I do...... deal with it. Second, if you plan to put these on a disc, as they most certainly deserve, remember that they all come from different sources, and normalize the disc so that they all come out at the same level. Otherwise you're likely to be adjusting the volume a lot.

I put them in what I consider a nice order with a good balance of moods, although some of you may not want to use ALL of them (give them all a listen, though, they're worth it.) Use any or all in your collections as you wish.

Happy, optimistic cheeriness is always a good way to start a Christmas disc, so I'll begin with one of three Beatle-related cuts. This is, in fact, from the very last McCartney & Wings concert, recorded by Paul for a future release that never happened (with the exception of one released cut, Coming Up). Despite what I'm sure was a bittersweet occasion, the song still kicks us off with all requisite McCheesiness. From Glascow on December 17, 1979, this is Wonderful Christmastime.

Next comes a quiet, sweet acoustic tune, one of the first I thought of when I conceived this project, as it is one of the oldest Christmas tunes done by a rocker that I know. This is Greg Lake at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham, England on November 6th, 2005. The song is called I Believe in Father Christmas.

Taking a turn toward the serious, I have the first of two duets from Bruce Cockburn's annual Christmas shows, which always seem to have plenty of guest stars. This was from a radio show on December 12, 1993, and features Bruce with Jackson Browne. Not a huge fan of either, I was attracted by the title of the song - Rebel Jesus. Obviously, this is not a deck-the-halls kind of tune, but rather a far more thoughtful song that Browne takes a few pains to keep from being misconstrued. What do you think of it?

Fourth, we go to the WTF? file for a twist on an old favorite. How could I see, and not include, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus by Twisted Sister??? 'Twould be a sin. And it seems that, in this version, Ol' Santa was getting more than just a little kiss! Mommy sounds like she'd be worth a trip down the chimney any old night. This comes from Trädgårn', Gothenburg, Sweden, on November 13, 2007.

I was looking to include in this collection a cut from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra show that our very own Nat saw recently with her son. In particular, I wanted to find the song that her son liked the most. Well, as the song says, two out of three ain't bad. While I was not able to find a recording of the show that they saw, I did find several others, including this one from Hershey, Pa. on November 4, 2007, just a few days before the target show. The song is the one I sought, Wizards in Winter, a bombastic instrumental piece that might actually be a little cheesier than the McCartney song, but has a few cool solo passages and definitely swings the pendulum back from the bizarre.

Getting quiet again, we move to a secluded piano somewhere played by an obviously worn-out John Lennon in November 1970. He had finished a grueling writing and recording project for the Plastic Ono Band album, and was kicking back with Yoko and trying to hash out ideas for what would eventually become the Imagine album. The recordings from this show the very rawest, earliest kernels of the ideas he would soon begin working with. There are two versions of a song called Happy Christmas, with neither being fully developed but one more so than the other. This is that version. While I'm sure it will never be a holiday fave, it is a nice snapshot of John Lennon the Songwriter fiddling and farting about with part of an idea.

Once again, how could I resist downloading a Christmas song by Kiss? Even if it was the no-makeup-only-two-original-members Kiss that played at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Ft. Wayne, In. on December 26, 1987. Unlike the Twisted Sister tune, however, I think you'll find this version of White Christmas to be different than you're expecting, considering the source.

I had to go hunting for this next one as well, since I knew it but didn't already have it in my collection. I didn't think I'd be able to get it, either, since the torrent was old and so poorly seeded, but a few extra seeders came out of nowhere to help me get all three discs worth in no time (unlike the Kiss and Twisted Sister tunes, I wanted to get ALL of this)! While it isn't a traditional Christmas song, it has been around long enough to be a traditional rock and roll Christmas song, and it is a short little rocker indeed. From the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park (somewhere in England, presumably, as this is a BBC recording) on December 24, 1977, here's the Kinks with Father Christmas.

Plunging headlong back into the absurd, next is the Beatles, fresh from what must have been one hell of a night of partying, attempting to record their annual Christmas Message for the Beatles Fan Club on November 11, 1965. From what I've read, they would record four or more ten-minute sessions in order for the editors to get one floppy single's worth of Beatle banter to use for the fan club. You can tell that the boys are full of good intentions, with the glaring exception of John, but are stretching for ideas. Some of this was actually used, but I don't know what. I'm betting that it wasn't the bit about babies being sliced, frozen, and packaged. I don't know if they were on drugs when they recorded this, but I certainly hope to God that they were. You'll get some chuckles from it, and its inclusion in any party listening will CERTAINLY derail a conversation or two.

The next song comes next because of the beautiful segue that it starts with. Even though that segue was actually referring to a different song, it works just fine coming from that Beatles clip. It also serves as a fine counterpoint tune in any collection of religion-based Christmas songs. From the Greek Theater in Los Angeles on June (yes, June!) 1, 2001, here is Spinal Tap describing Christmas with the Devil.

The penultimate song goes back to being serious, and to making one think not about sugar plums, but about the serious and sad things that offset the shinier aspects of the season. Then again, what would you expect from Lou Reed, sleigh bells? Not hardly. This is Lou's duet with Bruce Cockburn from Christmas with Cockburn on December 20, 1992. It's called Christmas in February.

Rounding out these dozen selections is a traditional tune, but not a traditional Christmas tune. Nonetheless, it is a song that fits right in, and lifts the spirit (which will need a little lifting after Lou gets done with it). It's from the only gospel band I have in my collection, and the only one I've seen live. I speak of the legendary vocal group the Blind Boys of Alabama. When I saw them open for Peter Gabriel several years back, I was dumbfounded when, amidst their wonderfully harmonized gospel songs, the music for House of the Rising Sun began to play. What a strange selection for this group, I thought. I was even more dumbfounded when instead of House, they began to sing Amazing Grace! Never before had I seen the obvious - that the two sets of lyrics had exactly the same meter, and were musically interchangeable! Astounding, it was. I've been looking for a recording of that arrangement ever since, and still haven't found it. This arrangement, however, from the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, Or. on July 5, 2007, will show you what I mean. Rather than the organ riff of the version I saw them perform, this is a bluesy guitar-backed rendition that ends this collection on a high note both musically and spiritually.

I hope that a lot of you will download and enjoy this collection, and I hope you'll let me know what you think of the songs and the order I put them in. And please, let us know what your mother-in-law thinks of the Twisted Sister tune!

Merry Christmas to all of you.


Natsthename said...

Merry Christmas to you, too! And thanks for the TSO son is going to go apeshit over it!

I can't wait to hear all of these!

Lucyp said...

I got this Christmas music post, will have to hunt out your other one.
The Greg Lake song was on my 'Xmas Greats' album i had since the 80s and only appreciated it years later.