Released in December 1967, Their Satanic Majesties Request had the working title of Cosmic Christmas, and the Stones imagined it on display in the shops at Christmastime with a 12” x 12” photo of Mick Jagger’s crucified, nude body on the cover. Or so I read in Billboard:
… the Stones originally wanted to call the LP Cosmic Christmas and have its cover featuring Jagger naked and nailed to a cross, Jesus-style. The band’s label, aka the only parent left in the room at this point, nixed it.
A vestige of the concept survives on the finished album in the form of “Cosmic Christmas,” aka “We Wish You a Cosmic Joke,” several seconds of music tacked on to the end of side one after “Sing This All Together (See What Happens).” The unlisted track, an electronic rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” with psychedelic percussion, is often credited as a Mellotron performance by Bill Wyman, but I believe the few sources that identify the instrument as an oscillator. According to fan lore, you’re supposed to change the speed from 33 to 45 when “Cosmic Christmas” comes on; I’ve embedded a YouTuber’s approximation of the sped-up version below.
A clever bootlegger pressed “Cosmic Christmas” onto a green vinyl single, mono on one side, stereo on the other, and slipped it into a seven-inch replica of Satanic Majesties’ inner sleeve. A comment on Discogs say this legit-looking “promotional” release came out in ‘78 or ‘79. Could the bootlegger have been trying to steal some Xmas cheer from Keith’s “Run Rudolph Run”? What kind of monster would do that?
An amateur comparison of ‘Cosmic Christmas’ at regular and fast speeds:
Each year around this time, I compile a list of what I consider to be the best Christmas gifts for that difficult-to-buy-for rock snob in your life. You know the one. And if you happen to be the rock snob reading this, this is the good stuff. Buy it for yourself.
You will perhaps sense a bit of a 50th anniversary theme going on here, nonetheless, first let me recommend the super deluxe reissue of The Beatles’ White Album. On last year’s Sgt. Pepper’s box set, Giles Martin bestowed upon the world the album that the Beatles would have made had there been 5.1 surround sound in 1967. It stayed true to the original, but nicely expanded it for 21st century audio system capabilities and consumer expectations. In short, it was mind-blowing. This season his gift is this nicely enhanced White Album. Unlike Pepper’s more uniformly hi-fi sound, the White Album is a hodgepodge of various musical and recording/production styles that’s all over the map, which of course is the reason why the collection is so revered five decades later. A different, dirtier, animal, if you will, from its cinemascope predecessor, Martin’s newfangled White Album in 5.1 reveals much and lets each instrument and voice have its own PLACE in the mix. It’s a cleaner White Album to be sure. Obviously there’s more bottom end—McCartney’s bass lines have been nicely accentuated in all Beatles releases issued since 2009—and there are certain elements that stand out in ways they didn’t before, many of them drum fills courtesy of Ringo Starr and the nicely accentuated backing vocals. It also comes with the so-called “Escher Demos” recorded at George Harrison’s house, a sort of “White Album Unplugged,” the original 1968 mono mix in 24bit and outtakes galore. The highlight for me was hearing “Revolution #9” in 5.1 surround. Apocalyptic!
Isn’t it about time that the Kinks got a pricey box set to call their own? Seems like it’s no coincidence that the 50th birthday of The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society is being celebrated with this bursting-at-the-seams box which contains no fewer than FOUR—I mean FIVE—versions of the exact same album. Vinyl in mono, stereo and the Swedish issue (with different cover and two additional songs). CDs with mono and stereo mixes, alt versions, session tracks, audio tracks from BBC TV appearances, live numbers, interviews, etc. You could say that it’s a bit repetitive, overkill even—and you would not be wrong about that—but we’re talking about a Christmas gift here. To be honest, just the Swedish album on vinyl would probably have been enough for me if I was paying the tab, but if I got this as a gift, yeah, I’d be pretty pleased.
And what do you know there’s a 50th anniversary box set of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland? Who’d have thought someone at the record label would want to turn that event into product? Well…I gotta say, this one is a ripper. In terms of the new 2018 5.1 surround mix, this has to be at, or very near, the top of the list of the best examples of a classic rock album getting a multichannel remake that I’ve ever heard. When Electric Ladyland was originally released it was considered one of the finest illustrations of the capability of two-channel audio (stereo) as had ever been created up to that point and THIS SURROUND MIX DOES NOT DISAPPOINT. As I wrote in a longer post about the 5.1 mix, the “velocity” of Jimi’s playing is taken to another level here entirely; a song like “Crosstown Traffic” makes it from point A to point B without its tires ever touching the ground. This one is safe bet for almost any rock snob, even ones who are only lukewarm Hendrix fans. After this gift, they’ll become the most rabid Jimi fans, trust me. Also unlike the two north-of-$100 items listed above, you can pick this one up for less than fifty bucks. With lots of outtakes, a documentary, book and a new stereo mix, but the star attraction here is the inspired surround mix.
I am a huge, massive, very very big Bobbie Gentry fan. What a great talent she is, occupying a self-created niche somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Las Vegas showbiz. Everything you could possibly want—and more—is present and accounted for on The Girl From Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters, an 8 CD set in a slick package. The book-length essay about Gentry’s pioneering career—not only was she one of the first major female artists to write and produce her own albums, she was an extremely shrewd businesswoman, and one of the first to collect a really huge paycheck from doing a Vegas residency—is first rate, giving proper context for Gentry’s work for those too young to remember her. I’ve heard that this box set completely sold out of the first run and it rightly deserved to. A very high quality product. Any major artist would be lucky to get this treatment, even ones that didn’t totally disappear off the face of the Earth nearly 40 years ago.
Keychains and Snowstorms: The Soft Cell Story box set boasts ten discs (nine CDs and one four-hour long DVD) which is quite a feat for a band that only ever put out three albums proper during its short existence. Much of the material here comes from their 12” releases and EPs, of which there were many. Soft Cell always put a lot of effort into their remixes and b-sides and the quality here is uniformly very high. The mastering is muscular and charges the atmosphere of your listening room like a nightclub’s booming sound system (I could easily see my woofers moving). This is one of those extremely completist sets (like the Gentry box above) where it’s easy to lost in something new. Not that Soft Cell is exactly new, of course, they broke up for the first time in 1984, but it’ll be new to anyone who doesn’t know them beyond “Tainted Love.” With an extremely good book length essay on the career of these unlikely deviant chart toppers.
I’ve been getting into a lot of 60/70s English folk music during past year—aided ably by Rob Young’s book Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music, an exhaustive 650 page volume that would make a great Xmas gift itself for your rock snob—and I consider the Dust in the Nettles 3 CD anthology (Grape Fruit/Cherry Red) to be an indispensable collection for someone who is always looking for “something new to listen to” as dozens of leads are to be found there. Subtitled “a journey through the British underground folk scene,” it starts off strong with Pentangle’s “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme,” which is immediately followed by the seductive “Willow’s Song” from The Wicker Man soundtrack. (Listen to those two songs in a row and see if you don’t agree.) Also included are stunning numbers by Joan Armatrading, Bill Fay, the Incredible String Band and Vashti Bunyan, but the song here that I became obsessed with is “Amanda” by Steve Peregrin Took’s Shagrat, the tale of a smiling cropier, gambling on love and much amphetamine. I simply cannot recommend Dust in the Nettles highly enough, it’s amazing from start to finish and it’s a gift that will keep on giving with the discovery of new artists on it. (If you don’t have anyone to buy this for, just buy it for yourself.)
In late 2017 several early Brian Eno classics came out pressed across two twelve inch 180 gram vinyl platters that play at 45rpm. Using the half speed mastering process at Abbey Road, albums like Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy) and Here Come the Warm Jets had a new coat of audiophile gloss put on them that I found mighty attractive and now they’re releasing four of his ambient albums, Discrete Music, Ambient 1: Music for Airports, the enigmatic Music for Films and the mighty On Land, which is my favorite. The sound of these is, predictably, the best you’re ever gonna hear, much more tactile than any CD could ever be, but I couldn’t help but to notice that the meditative “put it on in the background” functionality of Eno’s ambient works is disrupted, if not made entirely moot, by the fact that you have to get up and flip the platter every ten minutes! (The first piece on Discrete Music is cut in half.) Still they’re pretty cool and I will admit to listening to On Land loud enough to threaten a tectonic shift underneath my house. Background music? Only if you want it to be. These also comes in standard single LP 33rpm versions which are apparently made from the exact same master.
Dylan Jones’ superb oral history David Bowie: A Life came out last year, but I was a bit Bowie’d out at the time and although I bought it, I never actually picked it up and read it until recently. Having read practically every major book about David Bowie (starting with The David Bowie Story by George Tremlett, which I had memorized when I was a lad) this is without question my favorite of them all. I enjoyed it immensely and wish it had been ten times as long as its 500+ pages. It’s a terrifically entertaining book full of candid and charming anecdotes about the man. The matter of his work ethic (even when he was out of his mind on heaps of cocaine) comes up often, as does his graciousness and true kindness. David Bowie as a human, in other words, not a rock god. The wonderfully hilarious Roger Moore story is my absolute favorite, but there are several more.
The “rock” memoir is, I will admit it, one of my favorite literary genres, and Playing the Bass with Three Hands by Will Carruthers—who’s been in Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Spectrum, and others—is one of my favorites in recent memory. Extremely well-written, this look back at a life lived to the chemical extreme, often in hand-to-mouth poverty and working (literally) shitty jobs to avoid penury whilst a member of several world famous rock bands, has got to be the most brutally honest rock memoir since… The End by James Young? Carruthers has a gift for charmingly observed first person narration that makes this book such a pleasure despite all the drugs, destitution and offal. In the future this book will be read as history to understand what it was like to live in the 80s and 90s.
And lastly there is the beautifully published Stories for Ways and Means published by Waxploitation’s Jeff Antebi and featuring “grown up” children’s story collaborations from the likes of Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Joe Coleman, Laura Marling, Alison Mosshart, Gary Numan, Gibby Haynes, Kathleen Hanna, Anthony Lister, Frank Black, Devendra Banhart, Will Oldham and many others. The world of contemporary art meets some of the most compelling storytellers in music and the results are between the cover of this gorgeous, slick book with a mission of supporting nonprofit children’s organizations and NGOs around the world. Buy it here.
Watch ‘Circus,’ an animated short of Joe Coleman’s art set to a short story by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan and narrated by Ken Nordine, as seen in the book ‘Stories for Ways and Means.’
The story goes that Lux Interior of the Cramps was an inveterate maker of cassette mixes for his friends. (CD mixes, much less online playlists, were not a thing in Lux’s heyday.)
Kristian Hoffman was one of those who was lucky enough to receive mix tapes from Lux, one of which was an inspired collection of Christmas songs with the title “Jeezus Fuck, It’s Christmas!!!” On Friday, Hoffman posted a picture of the cassette cover listing the songs on the mix on his Facebook page, with this note:
Lux Interior used to make holiday cassettes for me, and so many of his friends. As odd as it seems, he was all about sharing. Listening to this one right now.
Here’s the cassette cover:
It didn’t take long for news like that to travel fast. Within hours a blogger with the memorable moniker of Kogar the Swinging Ape took this precious information and helpfully put together two zip files containing mp3s of the songs for those of us who didn’t happen to be on Lux’s distribution list of chums. You can get those files by going to his page at WFMU Ichiban.
As Cramps fan Sharon Penny put it, “Lux came back for Christmas to stick his tongue in our earholes and it’s THE BEST THING EVER.” Enjoy and Merry Christmas!
Christmas ornaments produced in Germany during the rise and rule of Adolf Hitler.
In the 1930s as Hitler and his Nazis were coming to power in Germany, they began a war on Christmas, a quest to dismantle age-old Christmas traditions and replace them with Nordic/pagan practices and folklore. The Nazis wanted everyone to follow their lead when it came to their image of the holiday—which at some point included displaying swastikas on Christmas trees. In Germany, Christmas is called “Weihnachten” which the Nazis also took it upon themselves to rename Rauhnacht, which translates in English to “the rough night.”
The Nazis’ changes to Christmas included anti-Semitic activities such as actively avoiding doing business at Jewish-owned establishments during the holiday so that their celebrations would be “free of Jews.” Christmas carols were modified to reflect socialist Nazi beliefs and ideology including replacing references to the “Savior” with a nod to Hitler himself, “Savior Führer.” While many of the Reich’s changes to Christmas took hold, there was one aspect of the holiday that they could not do away with—the image the jolly old fat man, Santa Claus—even in Hitler’s Germany, Santa remained a fixture of the newly Nazified celebration.
Other changes inflicted by the Nazis during the period before their eventual fall in the mid-1940s was the use of Christmas decorations. If you were not already aware, the tradition of decorating a tree at Christmas time got its start in Germany in the 16th century. The most problematic issue for the Nazis was the gleaming star on the top of the tree—a six-pointed star signified Judaism and the Jewish community. A five-pointed star was associated with communism which was less than appealing to the Nazis as well. Instead, Germans were encouraged to replace tree-topping stars with, you guessed it, a swastika or the symbol for the SS (the “Schutzstaffel” or “Protection Squadron” formed under Hitler). Ornaments were transformed to contain Nazi images, slogans like “Sieg Heil!,” and glass-blown baubles in the image of their beloved leader Adolf Hitler. The metamorphosis took approximately six years to complete, though it would all come to an end in 1944 which marked the very last Nazified Christmas. Hitler would meet his maker four months later on April 30th, 1945.
The images that follow are haunting historical documents of how the Nazis tried to change Christmas (and the world) and failed.
More chilling Nazi Christmas images after the jump…
Every year about this time I write up my annual “Christmas Shopping Guide for Hard-to-Buy-for Rock Snobs” list of cool things for your musichead loved ones. Last year I was all about 5.1 surround, Blu-ray audio, “studio masters” and so forth. High tech, high quality, high resolution digital audio. I’d jettisoned a huge record collection in the mid 1990s that was crowding me out of my apartment and I never looked back. Then one snowy day this past February, a beautiful brand new high end turntable was sitting on my porch, a gift from my genius audio designer pal Alexander Rosson (the man who designed the famous Audeze LCD-3 headphones that you see in every good recording studio). And I mean, what does one do when one gets such an amazing toy as a gift? Obviously one needs some new records to throw at it. I immediately logged on to Discogs and decided to reconstitute much of the collection I’d sold off, repurchasing a lot of the very same stuff I used to own—at twice the price—over the course of… a matter of days. (I’m good like that.)
So yeah, Digital Dan reverted back to Analog Andy pretty fast. Anything that I have ever said in the past about the superiority of 24-bit digital audio to vinyl I hereby repudiate. I was stupid. I take it all back. Please forgive me.
To attone for my sins, I’ve compiled a (mostly) vinyl rock snob shopping guide this year. The object is not only to highlight what I think are the best releases of 2017 but also to provide a public service for my people: There is a certain type of “person” (okay, guy) who already has everything he ever wanted at the age of 12, and no matter how cool that sweater, new socks and wallet might be, he ultimately only cares about the stuff that they sell in record stores. Christmas is often so unsatisfying for this sort of chap, but if you follow my handy suggestions, even the most difficult-to-buy-for rock snob giftee on your shopping list will have a very merry Christmas this year and you’ll look like a genius.
Or even like you actually really care about them…
The classic 70s Brian Eno half-speed 2XLP 45rpm releases are THE BOMB. Since they only recently came out, it’s a safe bet that finding a couple of these under the tree will go down a treat. Here Come the Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy both blew my doors off and I know these albums like the back of my hand. Remastered from the best analog sources available, at Abbey Road Studios, the heavy, dead quiet pressings spread a single album’s worth of songs over two long players, allowing for an increased audio level to be cut into the lacquers for a superior signal-to-noise ratio. These albums have never sounded better. Usually I’m all about getting an original pressing of 60s and 70s classics, but I’m starting to be convinced that new pressings have much to offer, maybe more. Not always, but certain labels are really doing it right. If it’s sound quality vs. the “trophy” value of a certain original pressing that motivates you, “new” vinyl releases of vintage titles are looking better all the time.
And speaking of labels that really do it right, have you heard about the recently-launched ultra high quality audiophile vinyl concern known as Intervention Records? IR’s mission is to offer the very best-sounding pressings of classic albums by the likes of Big Audio Dynamite, Judee Sill, Erasure and Joe Jackson. Intervention’s release of The Gilded Palace of Sin by The Flying Burrito Bros. is probably the single best-sounding record that I have in my collection and is definitely the first thing I grab whenever I want to geek out and impress someone with my epic middle-aged man’s stereo system. No one who loves music and owns a turntable is going to be disappointed when they slap that particular slab on the record player, this I can promise you.
IR’s deluxe 2XLP 45rpm Judee Sill releases are the best those albums (Judee Sill and Heart Food) are ever going to sound and their Joe Jackson releases, same thing. The ball gets knocked squarely out of the park. There’s still a pretty dedicated Joe Jackson fanbase out there (I saw him in concert recently myself) and despite the fact that mint copies of most of his albums can easily be acquired for $5 in any decent used record store, remarkably these IR reissues still rate quite a significant improvement over records that already sounded good to begin with. If you told me that there was a pressing of Night and Day that was, say, 15% better than the original record (and a lot better than the CD) then that is something I need to hear, stat. Same for I’m the Man and Look Sharp. Intervention Records goes the extra mile and beyond. Support what they do.
The next three albums I’m going to group together because each features the participation of my pal multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter producer/studio owner Jonathan Wilson. He’s currently playing guitar on the second leg of Roger Waters’ world tour (he also sings many of the David Gilmour numbers in the set) and he’s all over Waters’ incredible new album (his first collection of original material for 25 years) Is This the Life We Really Want? Produced by Nigel Godrich and mostly recorded at Wilson’s Fivestarstudios, man did I play the shit out of this album in 2017 and consider it to be a strong addition to Waters’ legendary discography, the best since Pink Floyd’s Animals. (Allow me to direct you to a more fleshed out review here).
And then there is Father John Misty’s latest and greatest, Pure Comedy. I describe this sprawling, stunning album as 2017’s answer to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and what I mean by that is that it’s clearly a “prestige” release by a major “serious” artist, plus both have lots of piano. Obviously Sub Pop agreed as the elaborate packaging they sprung for announces this platter’s artistic importance loud and clear, just as it did with Elton John’s classic. Did I say classic? Yeah, I did and this new FJM album is as classic as it gets. Pure Comedy might a bit on the nihilistic side, sure, but when has a soundtrack for the endtimes ever sounded so lush and gorgeous? Here FJM comes off like an omniscient Harry Nilsson filled with bemused weltschmerz alternately mocking and pitying mankind or a particularly sardonic Loudon Wainwright III observing the folly human beings with a jaundiced eye and with the sort of grandiose orchestral tendencies associated with his son. And there is Double Roses, the second album by supermodel Karen Elson and produced by Wilson. Taking its title from Sam Shepard, Double Roses is a confessional divorce/breakup album in the mode of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks or Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Her voice reminds me a lot of Tammy Wynette’s. I realize these comparisons are high praise, but they are also legitimately deserved. Elson was previously married to Jack White and here is the story of their divorce and the aftermath told in a way that anyone who has ever had a broken heart or been disappointed in love could relate to. If you know anything at all about the artist going in, you know exactly who she’s singing about, but even if you didn’t, it wouldn’t make any difference. Double Roses captured my attention from the first listen and seldom left my turntable for several weeks. If your reaction to the notion of an album by a top fashion model is skeptical, just get over it.
One of the best “various artist” compilations of 2017—and sure to please the most jaded and sophisticated musical tastes—is Follow the Sun, Anthology’s anthology of 1970s AM radio folk rock from Australia. This is one of those comps that’s so goddamn good that you just keep playing the first side over and over and over again before you ever play side two even once. I’m NUTS about this record and cannot recommend it highly enough (buy it for yourself, you won’t regret it). Another phenomenal comp that came out this year is the Numero Group’s Wayfaring Strangers:Acid Nightmares, a collection of obscure late 60s/early 70s sub-Sabbath barre chord rockers about drug addiction, freaking out, puking, etc. Surprisingly it sounds really good, not a low-fi thing at all. And a lot of it is really ridiculously catchy. And like I say, how can you go wrong with underground hard rock songs about bad LSD, popping pills, hypodermic needles, night sweats and so forth? YOU CANNOT.
My final musical recommendations are CD box sets… Keep reading after the jump…
For the benefit of future generations, the 1988 cookbook Rock ‘N’ Roll Cuisine collected the recipes for Rod Stewart’s “SANDWHICH [sic] FOR HANGOVER,S [sic],” George Michael’s risotto, Ian Astbury’s “dangerously spicy” chickpeas, Debbie Harry’s nutty shrimp, Ozzy’s chicken curry, and so on.
Ronnie James Dio’s contribution, set in blackletter type, was something like the bill of fare for a feudal baron’s Christmas feast: roast suckling pig with bread sauce, served with cups from the wassail bowl. Not just any wassail bowl, either, but “The Wassail, prepared by Charles Dickens for the entertainment, on Christmas Eve, at the Charity of Richard Watts, Rochester, Kent, England, 1854.” People needed this kind of hot, sugary booze back then. I bet a few good slugs out of this here wassail bowl could make a person forget all about the symptoms of smallpox, typhus and the measles, not to mention the cares of the 10-hour factory shift.
1 quart ale
1/4 ounce ground nutmeg
1/4 ounce grated ginger
1/4 ounce grated cinnamon
1/2 bottle sherry
2 slices toasted bread (1/2 inch thick)
1 lemon, juice & peel
sugar to taste
2 well-baked apples
Put ale in sauce pan and cook gently till it foams, then stir in the spices, add the sherry, lemon peel and juice with sugar. When sugar is dissolved, set pan aside on stove for twenty minutes to infuse. Then warm up, pour into punch bowl, let the toast and apples float in this and serve in cups.
Each year around this time, I put together a “last minute” list of cool things meant to aid the friends and loved ones of rock snobs and especially hard-to-buy-for people-who-have-everything during the holiday season. I would imagine that I’m probably in the top 1% of the top 1% of the infuriatingly difficult to gift—trust me, I already own it and I probably got it for free from a record label—so I feel uniquely qualified to be of assistance here.
The mammoth, slick, classy, near definitive career-spanning 10-CD Marc Almond package, Trials of Eyeliner: The Anthology 1979-2016, is easily the very best box set of the year. Hell, it’s one of the best box sets ever released, period, if you ask me. From Soft Cell’s greatest hits to each and every one of Almond’s single releases, some hidden gems, collaborations and demos, this is the ultimate Marc Almond collection. Why would this make a good gift and for whom? For a gay uncle or brother who loves music, it’s a solid choice, but it’s a great pick for anyone who loves music, really. Marc Almond is a genius, one of our greatest living vocalists and this is a box set to lose yourself in, a true musical journey and an exceeding rare pleasure to discover for the very first time. For someone whose musical tastes would intersect favorably in a Venn diagram triangulated by Nick Cave, Scott Walker and Maria Callas. It’s also not that expensive for a 10-CD set, often selling on Amazon for around $60. It would be a bargain at ten times the price. Here’s a longer review.
Action Time Vision, a new 111-track “story of independent punk 1976-79” from Cherry Red Records is the sole obscure punk box set that anyone will care about in the future. Let’s face it, once you get much beyond the Sex Pistols, the Damned and the Clash—and precious few others—there wasn’t really a whole lot of truly great punk rock music that was produced during the punk rock era. What came after punk was a deluge of amazement and creativity, whereas the vast majority of “classic” punk bands, well the essential “A list” stuff could be rounded up into one good box set. Action Time Vision is the onion layer beyond that one good box set, boasting material not from all the usual suspects. Some of this stuff is truly thrilling and will send your rock snob giftee (or you yourself, if that’s who you’re buying for) spanning out to look for more from below-the-radar groups like the Hollywood Brats, Poison Girls, Swell Maps, Rezillos and others.
Just one half-notch below Adia Victoria’s debut comes Häxan, the new longplayer from Dungen. I was nuts—absolutely crazy—about last year’s Dungen alum, Allas Sak, and I pretty enthusiastic about this one too. Dungen can do no wrong in my eyes, each and every one of their albums is a thing of finely crafted beauty, something I hope they themselves are fiercely proud of, because they should be. Dungen make beautiful music for a world that needs more beautiful things. Häxan is their soundtrack to the Russian silent animated feature film from 1926 The Adventures of Prince Achmed. It’s pure magic from the first note to the last. Note that this would be something especially good to get on vinyl.
The three CD Momus collection, Pubic Intellectual: An Anthology 1986-2016 is another sure-thing, cast miss, all-killer, no-filler that will delight just about any rock snob. The smarter they are, the better they’ll appreciate what the eyepatch wearing Scotsman has on offer culled from the past 30 years of his output. Momus is not a household name, although he should be. If I didn’t already own this and someone gave it to me, I would not only be super happy, I would think that it reflected well on the giver’s musical tastes. (More on Momus here)
Rhino recently released an “elevated edition” of Jethro Tull’s mighty Stand Up album remixed for 5.1 surround by Steven Wilson. If you have someone on your shopping list who is an aficionado of 5.1 music (or happen to be one yourself) this is another must-hear effort from Wilson’s audio lab. I was already a big fan of Stand Up, but in surround, it’s simply sublime. Even better the edition—which comes packaged like a hardback book—includes a 5.1 mix of their classic “Living in the Past” single and DVD footage of the group playing live in Sweden in 1969
In terms of books, there’s only one that I’m going to recommend this year and that is The Essential Paul Laffoley: Works from the Boston Visionary Cell edited by Douglas Walla. This is the best art book of 2016, and to my mind there can no other competition. How could anything else possibly outweigh it? Nothing can. A stunning compendium of beautiful art and ideas by the late visionary artist. There’s no one with a brain who wouldn’t be thrilled to get this for Christmas.
Movie posters make awesome gifts and they show that you’ve really thought about the person you’re giving it to (provided of course, that you did really think about them and didn’t just buy a ratty Home Alone 2 poster on your way home from work from a homeless guy.) My favorite poster store on the entire Internet, the Los Angeles-based Westgate Gallery is currently running a big 40% off sale (that’s almost half off) which continues into the new year so you can spend your “Christmas money” on exquisite poster art curated by someone with a particularly good eye. If you know a movie, or a particular actor or actress that your intended giftee is into, something from Westgate Gallery during their 40% off sale would make a fantastic gift. Hundreds upon hundreds of amazing images there, you can surf around for hours. Featuring a large selection of Italian Giallo, “golden age of XXX” and cult film favorites.
Which brings me to DVDs. This year if I had to pick the sort of offbeat film that I would be happy to get on DVD, I’d chose Candy, the star-studded adaptation of the Terry Southern-Mason Hoffenberg farce—yes it’s a terrible movie but the cast includes Ringo Starr, James Coburn, John Astin, Richard Burton, Walter Matthau and Marlon Brando as the horny guru Grindl. And then there’s Otto Preminger’s Skidoo, a Hollywood attempt at a counterculture comedy where Jackie Gleason plays a retired mod hitman who accidentally takes LSD and Groucho Marx is “God.” It costars Carol Channing and most of the unemployed villains from TV’s Batman. Nilsson did the soundtrack and—get this—sings the credits. But I had you at Jackie Gleason dropping acid, didn’t I?
Although famed animator Ralph Bakshi tends to be best known for racier material like his classics Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic, in 1988 he wrote and directed a half-hour holiday TV special called Christmas in Tattertown. It used to run every year on Nickelodeon in the 1990s (indeed, this YouTube video was taken from a Nickelodeon broadcast).
The plot is none too easy to discern, but it has something to do with a little girl who is transported, Alice in Wonderland-style, to a strange, run-down jazzy urban landscape known as Tattertown, which is redolent of the 1930s. Once there, she interacts with dilapidated toys and explains to the discarded playthings what Christmas is (they have never heard of it).
Some of the elements here are familiar from other places—the general mise-en-scene is reminiscent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, while the talking toys can’t help but remind us of Toy Story. Meanwhile, Inside Out, the recent Pixar hit, featured a memorable character named Bing Bong who wouldn’t be out of place here.
This charming set of Christmas ornaments does a wonderful job of letting everyone in your circle know that you love St. Nick—and that the “Nick” in question is Nick Cave. Matthew Lineham designed them, and he’s done a wonderful job of working in “obscure Christmas memories and puns,” as he put it.
Many of his “obscure” references involve network Christmas programming from many decades ago. Siouxsie Sioux is transformed into Cindy Lou Who, the little girl from Whoville in Dr. Seuss’ classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Morrissey plays the part of “Snow Mozzer” and “Heat Mozzer,” the memorable characters from the 1974 stop-motion animated Christmas TV special from Rankin/Bass, The Year Without a Santa Claus. Former Oingo Boingo frontman and soundtrack maestro Danny Elfman appears as “Elfman on the Shelfman,” a reference to the 2004 children’s book The Elf on the Shelf. Robert Smith is perched atop Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and DEVO‘s familiar energy dome is cleverly done up as a Christmas tree.
Lineham calls the set “A Very New Wave Christmas” but he has sensibly gone where the name-puns and name recognition will take him rather than obey strict genre definitions. Bowie and Cave might not be your idea of “new wave” icons but they were active in the early 1980s, at least.
You can buy the rubber die cut bendable ornaments for $10 a pop (“Mozzer” pair $15), or $50 for the entire set, a significant discount. However, due to the unexpectedly high demand, Lineham wants purchasers to be aware that any ornaments ordered today will be shipped “sometime between Dec 21st & 31st,” so don’t bank on them being available for this year’s tree—however, there’s always 2017, 2018, 2019, and beyond to think of. These seem unlikely to go out of style anytime soon.
Who says the Germans have no sense of humor? Here we have the Kinks weighing in with an energetic rendition of “Father Christmas”; it appeared on the German TV show Plattenküche (Record Kitchen) on December 15, 1977, and it’s punctuated by the kind of jokes that used to appear on Laugh-In, Hee-Haw, you name it.
I don’t really understand what the fellow next to Mick Avory (as Santa Claus) says at the very start. For that matter I don’t really understand what Avory is saying either. The other guy ends by saying (I think), “And now our hair’s gonna grow.”
The first time the boss says, “Turn on the snow!” so the employee says, “Snow. OK.” The second time the boss is obviously calling for his employee, apparently named “Nagel” (German for “nail”), for more snow. To his credit, the boss afterwards thanks Nagel for a job well done.
A bit later, the guy says to the gal, “Have you seen the weather report? I hope it won’t be fog,” to which the gal says, “It doesn’t look good, Norbert. The barometer is falling!” (Bonk.)
The next bit isn’t easy to follow, it’s VERY loose. The boss says that the two guys resemble Starsky and Hutch, and the two guys laugh sarcastically. As the blond guy peers into his mug of smoky grog, he references “a new invention from Holland,” and the boss says, “Here’s how I imagine it. Here is the turntable and here [matchbox] is the female singer. ... It has to look like that!” I’m going to guess that some of this was a callback to other stuff in the episode.
You ever notice what a weird, almost bleak song “Father Christmas” is? Santa gets beaten up by some punks! The Steve Austin reference is a nice 1970s touch, though:
When I was small I believed in Santa Claus
Though I knew it was my dad
And I would hang up my stocking at Christmas
Open my presents and I’d be glad
But the last time I played Father Christmas
I stood outside a department store
A gang of kids came over and mugged me
And knocked my reindeer to the floor
“Father Christmas, give us some money.
Don’t mess around with those silly toys.
We’ll beat you up if you don’t hand it over.
We want your bread so don’t make us annoyed.
Give all the toys to the little rich boys.
Don’t give my brother a Steve Austin outfit.
Don’t give my sister a cuddly toy.
We don’t want a jigsaw or Monopoly money.
We only want the Real McCoy.
Father Christmas, give us some money.
We’ll beat you up if you make us annoyed.
Father Christmas, give us some money.
Don’t mess around with those silly toys.
But give my daddy a job ‘cause he needs one.
He’s got lots of mouths to feed.
But if you’ve got one I’ll have a machine gun.
So I can scare all the kids on the street.
Father Christmas, give us some money.
We got no time for your silly toys.
We’ll beat you up if you don’t hand it over.
Give all the toys to the little rich boys.
Have yourself a Merry, Merry Christmas.
Have yourself a good time.
But remember the kids who got nothin’.
While you’re drinkin’ down your wine.
Father Christmas, give us some money.
We got no time for your silly toys.
Father Christmas, please hand it over.
We’ll beat you up so don’t make us annoyed.
Father Christmas, give us some money.
We got no time for your silly toys.
We’ll beat you up if you don’t hand it over.
We want your bread so don’t make us annoyed.
Give all the toys to the little rich boys.”
In the Plattenküche clip, Avory is the only one of the Kinks with a Santa Claus costume, but in this other video, the entire gang is dressed up like Santa.
The “Rock Islanders” prison band of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, 1940s
As full of joy and merriment as the holidays can be, unless you are completely out of touch with reality, Christmas isn’t always a happy time of year for a lot of folks. I mean, all you have to do is look around you to figure that one out. Of course, it probably doesn’t get much worse than spending the holidays in the clink.
Christmas morning in the “drunk tank” in Downtown Los Angeles, 1952
Some of the images that follow date all the way back to the early 1900s and while a few of them are rather grim, there are many that actually show inmates in a seemingly jovial mood despite their jail-bound circumstances. Such as the one of an inmate at the Orange County Jail playing Santa with a mop on his head and a newspaper hat. Count your blessings, Dangerous Minds readers: It could always be worse.
Prisoners at the District Jail in Washington, D.C., 1909
Inmates celebrating Christmas at the Raymond Street Jail, Brooklyn New York, 1932
It’s a challenge to picture Iggy Pop chilling out next to an open fire savoring a snifter of eggnog, but versatile Iggy, that’s more or less who showed up to sing on his cover of “White Christmas,” the Irving Berlin Christmas classic mostly associated with Bing Crosby.
In fact, Bing’s version is reputed to be the biggest-selling single of all time, or at least it once was. Is it fair to say that one can hear Bing’s influence in Iggy’s gravelly and super-slow rendition?
Information on these recordings is hard to come by, but there’s also a fuzzed-out iteration, lovingly dubbed the “Guitar Stooge Version,” that appeared on a 2013 comp from Cleopatra Records called Psych-Out Christmas that also features holiday tracks by the Fuzztones, Quintron & Miss Pussycat, and Dead Meadow. It also appeared on a Cleopatra box set of Iggy singles called Gimme Some Skin that looks pretty tasty.
When TIME magazine writer Sam Allis visited Dr. Hunter S. Thompson at home in Colorado in January of 1990, during his visit the good doctor decided that he wanted to set his discarded Christmas tree ablaze. He told Deborah Fuller, his loyal secretary of two decades: “Let’s give the journalist a memorable experience to write about. He needs to learn how to burn the creosote out of a chimney. We can’t run the risk of a chimney fire during the year.”
Of course not!
Here’s Allis’ account of what happened:
“I gave up on the interview and started worrying about my life when Hunter Thompson squirted two cans of fire starter on the Christmas tree he was going to burn in his living-room fireplace, a few feet away from an unopened wooden crate of 9-mm bullets. That the tree was far too large to fit into the fireplace mattered not a whit to Hunter, who was sporting a dime-store wig at the time and resembled Tony Perkins in Psycho. Minutes earlier, he had smashed a Polaroid camera on the floor.”
Hunter had decided to videotape the Christmas tree burning, and we later heard on the replay the terrified voices of Deborah Fuller, his longtime secretary-baby sitter, and me off-camera pleading with him, “NO, HUNTER, NO! PLEASE, HUNTER, DON’T DO IT!” The original manuscript of Hell’s Angels was on the table, and there were the bullets. Nothing doing. Thompson was a man possessed by now, full of the Chivas Regal he had been slurping straight from the bottle and the gin he had been mixing with pink lemonade for hours.
Wayne Ewing, the director of Breakfast with Hunter wrote a delightful secondhand account of what had happened that evening on his Hunter Thompson Films blog:
Of course, there’s a fine line between burning the creosote out of a chimney and starting a creosote fire that burns at 2100 Degrees Fahrenheit and sounds like a jet airplane taking off just before it explodes through the sides of your chimney and burns down a log cabin style house like Owl Farm.
In preparation, Deborah gathered all the fire extinguishers in the living room, while Hunter set up a video camera since I wasn’t there to shoot it. (I was back East, finishing a TV special for NBC News with Tom Brokaw called The New Hollywood. Believe me, Hunter was a hell of a lot more interesting to hang out with than Tom Brokaw, but as they say in show business: “Theater is life. Film is art. TV is rent.”)
Visitors to Owl Farm usually came in search of an experience with Hunter that would make a good story whether they were journalists or fans, and Hunter always delivered. But, the story wasn’t necessarily what they expected. In this case, Hunter got more than he bargained for as well; you can see how desperately he pokes at the burning Christmas tree, trying to contain the raging fire. The heavy wooden mantle still has the burn marks to this day.
Before he put the tree in the fireplace, there was a small fire burning already. The mass of the tree almost snuffed out the first fire when he jammed it in, so Hunter threatened to splash lighter fluid on it. In the original video, you can barely hear Deborah and Allen [he means Sam Allis] screaming, “NO, HUNTER DON’T DO IT” above the Cowboy Junkies playing “Misguided Angel” at maximum volume over the array of living room speakers.
Hunter gets a bit of lighter fluid onto the tree, and then throws a match after it, creating the conflagration you see in the film and then in the aftermath below. The flames were coming out of the top of the chimney in a four foot cone of fire, like the exhaust of a jet engine. Hunter, Deborah and Allen retreated to the front porch where Hunter taped the inferno with pride. No one remembered to carry out the manuscript of the latest book in progress which was lying on the living room table.
With her coy smile hiding as many secrets as the Mona Lisa and her iconic bangs which are still emulated by wanna-be pin-up queens the world over, Bettie Page was and is America’s Sweetheart.
Here’s a Christmas treat, just like Grandpa used to peep out in the shed on a cold Winter’s day: a gallery of lowbrow art photographs from the mid-20th Century depicting Bettie, celebrating the most wonderful time of the year.
Perhaps one of the dumbest culture-related things I’ve spotted so far this week—it’s ONLY Tuesday, tho—is the “Hipster Santa” as seen in a Portland, Oregon shopping mall. “Hipster Santa” sports stupid hipster hair, skinny black jeans, Ray-Ban eyewear, a Big Lebowski-style sweater, corresponds with a typewriter and rides a bike instead of a sleigh. The only thing that’s missing is his collection of holiday classics in vinyl. Where the fuck is Santa’s vinyl?!
Can we make this official by retiring “hipster” and “man bun” anything? It’s just not funny anymore. It hasn’t been funny in years. It’s about as “hilarious” as the official office “ugly Christmas sweater” party. Let’s mark this as the final nail in the coffin and kill the meme. Douse it in kerosene and throw the match. I demand it.