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151: More Obscure Christmas

Oh, I do enjoy breaking format once in awhile to do special episodes like this one.

For this year’s Christmas episode, I return to the songs that you don’t seem to hear on the radio when the stations are playing All Christmas All The Time. You’d think that with the huge catalog of recordings to choose from (even if the list of songs is relatively limited), radio stations could go on for literally days without ever repeating a recording. But no, we’re going to get Mariah Carey and Trans Siberian Orchestra over and over and over again.

There was one station that managed to have a pretty deep catalog one year. It was out in Colorado and I think I went four hours before I heard a repeat. So that was pretty good. I don’t think they’re still doing that, though, more’s the pity.

I took a little more time to script this show than I did last year, so for those of you who are interested, there is a transcript this time. Last year, I was working off of notes, and it clearly shows. Hey, you live and you learn. Or you don’t live long. (h/t to Lazarus Long)

Here’s the playlist for this year’s episode:

  • Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer (1979 version)—Elmo and Patsy
  • Christmas Kisses—Ray Anthony and the Bookends
  • Christmas on the Block—Alan Mann Band
  • Crabs for Christmas—David DeBoy
  • Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)—The Darkness
  • How to Make Gravy—Paul Kelly
  • Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town—Joseph Spence

And finally, let me note that Jenna Getty has come through again with a Christmassy version of the theme music, funded by the Patrons of the show. I haven’t mentioned this enough: Patrons of the show got a special hour-long episode a couple of weeks ago as an extra “Thank You” for their support. Plus they get the Newsletter with my lame blatherings every single week, whether a show drops or not. And if you become a Patron of the show, you’ll have access to all of that. If that sounds interesting to you, please click the link below.

Have a great and safe holiday!

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Click here for a transcript of this episode.

144: Everlasting Love

The interesting thing about this song is that it was written for a specific singer. That said, it’s been a pretty big hit for many different artists over the years.

“Everlasting Love” was written in 1967 specifically to match Robert Knight’s voice, but it’s proven to be quite the malleable tune. It’s been rendered in R&B, in disco, in rock, in techno and god knows what else.

So the story behind the song isn’t incredibly interesting. Interesting, but not incredibly so. But the journey it’s taken to embed itself in the hearts of different generations is a fun one. Ride along with me, why don’t you?.

This is not the episode that I teased earlier. That one’s still coming; there’s an interview attached to it and we’ve had some scheduling issues.

As promised, here’s the video of the song by Sandra from 1987. It’s got a very 80s feel to it. I think that comes from the editing and the “backstage” feel it’s supposed to be conveying. I dare you to tell me I’m lying about the Natalie Wood thing:

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139: And When I Die

Laura Nigro was a sixteen-year-old musical prodigy who was trying on several last names, as creative types sometimes do. She happened to be “Nyro” when she finally started to catch on in the music industry, so Laura Nyro she became.

Nyro was never a huge star in her own right. But she left behind a musical legacy in a bunch of songs that became big hits for other artists. That’s a roster that would include Three Dog Night, the Fifth Dimension, Barbra Streisand and Blood, Sweat and Tears.

Nyro wrote “And When I Die.” Peter, Paul & Mary made it kinda-sorta famous. But it was Blood, Sweat and Tears that really brought it to the fore. David Clayton Thomas’ voice, combined with Dick Halligan’s arrangements made for a relatively light-hearted romp through the graveyard. And while BST’s version is musically different from Nyro’s, they never lost sight of that gospel feel that it had, even as they gave it the cowboy instrumental section.

In doing the research for this show, I went down a little bit of a rabbit hole of listening to Laura Nyro’s music. I may have to do a whole bunch of shows dedicated to her sometime soon. Nyro is definitely an under-appreciated talent.

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135: Lesser Known Christmas Pop

Merry Christmas!

I actually had a different show in mind but I got to listening to some old radio airchecks (not my own) and I was inspired to do something different from the usual show.

The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s a half-hour long. That’s because I’m playing songs in their entirety and not really talking very much. (If any episode is going to net me a C&D letter, this’ll be the one.)

In this year’s Christmas episode, I’m playing eight songs that don’t get airplay anymore for some reason. A few of them are kinda goofy, a couple are kind of derivative, and I daresay a few of them are seminal to their genre. And while I share a little history with you here and there, the intent this time is to just sit back and wonder why the All Christmas All The Time station in your area is sticking with the same twenty songs, and not playing any of these guys.

All of these songs can be found without too much hassle on Amazon Music or YouTube. If you want to revisit them, here’s the playlist:

  • Merry Christmas, Mary—Tommy Dee and Carol Kay
  • Merry, Merry Christmas, Baby—Dodie Stevens
  • Santa’s Song—The Oak Ridge Boys
  • Yulesville—Edd “Kookie” Byrnes
  • Santa Claus Meets the Purple People Eater—Sheb Wooley
  • Please Come Home For Christmas—Charles Brown
  • White Christmas—The Ravens
  • Silent Night—The Ravens (flip side of White Christmas)

And just for the giggles, here’s one more song that didn’t make it into the show itself. It’s Bobby Helms’ other shot at a Christmas tune, from 1965. He wasn’t the original artist (I think he was the fourth) to release this song. I think the most popular version came from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in 1968, though Bobby Vinton’s version is kind of well-known, too. At any rate, here’s Bobby Helms:

Sorry, no transcript of this episode, since it’s mostly music.

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130: The Twist

First off, I have to note that I do have fun doing the artwork for these episodes.

Where were we? Oh yeah. Somewhere in the late 50s, early 60s. And Hank Ballard has a new song that’s picking up traction in Baltimore thanks to the Buddy Deane Show, when suddenly it gets yoinked out from under him by a newcomer from Philadelphia.

That newcomer is named Chubby Checker, and the song is (surprise!) “The Twist,” which rockets to the top of the charts just a few weeks after Dick Clark features Checker on his Saturday night show. Suddenly the floodgates open up and the nation is awash in Twist records for two years. I’m talking about a couple of dozen songs at least, and those are just the ones that made the charts.

No wonder The Beatles just walked in and took over. I kid! They’d have done that anyway.

This didn’t make it into the show for some reason (though it’s in the transcript), but Ballard wasn’t even mad about Chubby Checker (and Dick Clark) hijacking his record. You see, Ballard’s label didn’t have a lot of confidence in it—hence its placement on a B side—and as one of the writers, Ballard made a pile of money on it anyway. Plus, his version peaked at Number 28 the same week Checker’s version reached Number 1 the first time around. And Dick Clark made it up to Ballard by promoting his other single, “Finger Poppin’ Time,” which was at Number 7 that same week. So, all’s well that ends well.

And, as promised, here’s the Chubby Checker/Fat Boys video for ye. Man, I thought rap in the 80s was just the most fun.

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127: Foreign Influence

I don’t know why it fascinated me so much recently to poke around with songs that had foreign lyrics in them. But, here we are. This week’s show (and I promise I’m done with the premise for awhile) looks at four songs between 1969 and 1984 which have non-English phrases in them. Some of them have been hilariously misunderstood for a long time. One of them is pretty obvious but I decided to throw it in anyway. And one may come as a surprise to you, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.

As promised, here’s an episode of the European game show Jeux Sans Frontières from 1975. This episode comes from Engelburg, Switzerland:

And here’s another, airing from Vilamoura, Portugal in 1980:

And just for laughs, here’s this week’s episode:

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122–Hanky Panky

Tommy James and the Shondells started out as Tom and the Tornadoes in 1959, when Tom was 12 years old. A few years later they changed their name in honor of guitarist Troy Shondell, and they cut their second record in a local radio station after under-age Tom saw a band playing the song “Hanky Panky” in a club and noted the huge reaction it got from the crowd.

The record did well in the Midwest for a bit, and that was about it because it didn’t have national distribution. Suddenly a Pennsylvania station picked it up, and that was the start of Tommy James becoming an employee of an organized crime family.

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118–Wild Thing

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I considered putting this song in one of my Songs You Didn’t Know Were Covers collections, but there’s more backstory to “Wild Thing” than most of those songs get, so I committed it to its own episode. And now you’re spoiled in that respect: yes, The Troggs’ version of “Wild Thing” wasn’t the first version of the song to be recorded.

It was, however, more faithful to the rather sparsely-recorded demo recorded by Chip Taylor, and it became the template upon which the many, MANY future covers of the song are based. And this week we’re going to look at a bunch of them, in brief. Most of them are very good. Some of them…not so much, but your mileage may vary in that respect.

Click here for a transcript of this show.

115–Cold Turkey

So I’m sitting here in my home office-slash-podcast studio, researching and writing this week’s episode, and setting up the audio clips, and my dog is sitting at my feet pretty much the entire time. And as soon as I cracked the microphone open, he decided he needed to leave the room. Did he need to go outside? No. He just wanted to be in the next room. How’s that for a criticism?

Ah, well. At least I have you. Right? RIGHT??

John Lennon’s first non-Beatles single for which he gets sole writing credit was misunderstood and probably alienated Beatles fans, but you can’t deny the power of Eric Clapton’s guitar riffs and the claustrophobia of the mix provided by Klaus Voormann’s bass and Ringo Starr’s drumming. And it should be noted that the moaning and screaming at the end actually pre-dates Arthur Janov’s book The Primal Scream, so once again Lennon was a little bit ahead of his time. (Albert Goldman’s book about Lennon suggests that he and Mick Jagger got advance copies of the book, and that John Lennon actually underwent primal scream therapy for awhile. However, Goldman’s book appears to have only a casual relationship with the truth.

It’s allergy season and I’m sounding great, my friend. Have a listen.

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114–Leader of the Pack

I worked about as not-very-hard on this picture as I worked very-hard on the Taylor Swift picture. Go figure.

In 1964 the Shangri-Las got on a sudden hot streak with their sultry recording of “Remember (Walking in the Sand)”, written by George “Shadow” Morton.

Morton had bluffed his way into the Brill Building by telling Lieber and Stoller that he was a songwriter (he wasn’t), and when he was asked what kind of songs he wrote, he said “hit songs” (also a lie). But Lieber and Stoller took his word for it and asked him to write a song. A week later, Morton came back not only with a song, but with a quartet of teenage girls from Long Island City called The Shangri-Las. Lieber and Stoller liked both the song and the girls, and signed them to a contract (well, their parents signed the contract; they were still minors at the time). I saw somewhere that there might have been some controversy about the Shangri-Las already being signed to another label, but I couldn’t substantiate that claim.

And that’s just one of several nebulous stories that surround the Shangri-Las and their first couple of hits. We look at a few of the ones that are connected to their second, much larger hit. Have fun with it.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.