Tuesday, November 27, 2007

X-Mas 2007

Some people like to get their holiday shopping done early. I decided to get my holiday blogging done early. So this year I'm posting a bunch of holiday songs all at once--call it a compilation if you like, or think of it as me stopping by to D.J. your Christmas party without having to deal with me drinking up all your eggnog, insulting your guests and throwing up on your sectional. Individual tracks are available for download by right clicking on the links, or you can just download a zip file of the whole thing.

1. Burt Bacharach - "The Bell That Couldn't Jingle"
Like much Christmas music, this song is stupid and sentimental. It's also pretty catchy.

2. Redd Kross - "Super Sunny Christmas"
Redd Kross are one of my favorite bands. It borders on criminal that so many of their albums are out-of-print.

3. Peter Wood Singers And Orchestra - "A Ride On Santa's Sleigh"
I found this on a Christmas music blog called Fa La La La La.com. The whole album is still available there, and is well worth checking out in its entirety.

4. Sy Mann - "Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer"
For some a little bit of Switched on Santa goes a long way, others will want to hear the whole thing. Fortunately for those in the later group, the whole album is also available at Fa La La La La.com.

5. Belle & Sebastian - "Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto"
This cover of the classic James Brown Christmas song was performed at a Peel Session on the BBC in 2002. Who knew Belle & Sebastian could give up the funk?

6. The Three Suns - "Sleigh Ride"
The Three Suns were Mamie Eisenhower's favorite band. This is the sound of Christmas in the White House circa 1959.

7. The Davis Sisters - "Christmas Boogie"

8. The Screaming Santas - "I Love X-Mas"
I posted this last year, but it's worth hearing again.

9. Squirrel Nut Zippers - "Winter Weather"
The brief swing revival of the mid 90s was pretty annoying, but the Squirrel Nut Zippers were a good band. Certainly there is no arguing with Katharine Whalen's voice, as this track amply demonstrates.

10. Commander Cody - "Daddy's Drinking Up Our Christmas"
This is another one I posted last year. I get hits in April from people looking for this song. I can understand why.

11. Esquivel - "Here Comes Santa Claus"
I posted a couple other songs from this sadly out-of-print CD last year. There are currently some reasonably priced used copies on Amazon. Grab one now!

12. Game Theory - "Linus And Lucy"
This cover of the Vince Guaraldi classic was issued as a bonus track on the CD reissue of The Big Shot Chronicles.

13. Claudine Longet - "Snow"

14. Shonen Knife - "Space Christmas"

15. June Christy - "The Merriest"
June Christy is one of my favorite jazz singers. Her holiday album, This Time Of Year, is almost entirely unique in that it contains no standards, but instead a group of songs written specifically for the album. The album--with arrangements by the great Pete Rugolo--is well worth checking out, as is nearly everything Christy ever did.

16. Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 - "The Christmas Song"

17. Marty Robbins - "One Of You (In Every Size)"

18. Luna - "Eggnog"
This song appeared on a CD EP called Indian Summer, which doesn't seem to show up in any of Luna's discographies, but I know exists because I own it.

19. Milton DeLugg & The Little Eskimos - "Hooray for Santy Claus!"
The classic film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is in the public domain and can be downloaded for free. Now you can watch it 365 days a year.

20. NRBQ - "Christmas Wish"
This is just a great song anytime of the year. [It's also been reissued on a Deluxe Edition of Christmas Wish, so I took it down. Downloads of individual tracks from the album are also available at Amazon.]

21. George Jones - "My Mom And Santa Claus"
If you've been reading this blog for a while you know I am a big fan of George Jones. If you haven't, you do now.
**Bonus track (not in the zip file)** George Jones - "I Want A New Baby For Christmas"

22. Treacherous Three - "Xmas Rap [X-Rated Version]"
This makes we want to breakdance, old-school Christmas style.

I'll be back with new posts in 2008. Possibly sooner. Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Scooby-Doo

My son Will has been obsessed with Scooby-Doo lately. Obsessed is putting it mildly actually. He was first exposed to Scooby-Doo during a trip to Cape Cod this summer while the Cartoon Network was running a Scooby-Doo marathon. It's been all about Scooby since then, and old friends like Curious George and Thomas the Tank Engine have been mostly forgotten.

Since we don't have cable I tend to splurge a bit on DVDs for the kids. I bought Will Scooby-Doo Where Are You! The Complete 1st and 2nd Seasons, which features all of the original Scooby-Doo episodes. That was a big hit, and Will soon needed a new Scooby fix. I was a little skeptical as to whether he would like The New Scooby-Doo Movies, with its early 70s era guest stars as much. To my surprise these have become some of his favorite episodes. I have to chuckle when I hear Will call out "Hurry Daddy! Don Knotts is on!" or "Look Dad! It's Mama Cass!"

Though I loved Scooby-Doo myself as a child, I had remembered it as being kind of a crummy show with poor quality animation and cookie-cutter story-lines (every episode ending with "...and I would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for you meddling kids.") In truth, it's not nearly as bad as I had remembered. The animation is cut-rate, but not without its charm, and the stories are actually more varied than I had thought. While an adult could easily pick out a number of continuity errors in any given episode, they aren't really that important.

Though often derided for lacking educational value, I've come to the conclusion that Scooby-Doo is actually a healthy show for kids. If nothing else, it teaches them not to jump to conclusions, but rather to look for evidence that can help you assemble a deeper explanation for the things you see (and the things you think you see). It can also help foster a healthy sense of skepticism. Frankly, a lot of adults could use an occasional reminder that most people peddling super-natural explanations turn out to be two-bit charlatans looking to make a quick buck.

It was also a pleasant surprise to me that there is occasionally some pretty good music in these episodes. For the show's second season Hanna-Barbera hired songwriter Danny Janssen (who had previously written the theme for The Partridge Family, as well as some songs for Bobby Sherman) to write some songs for Scooby-Doo, and a new animated series called Josie and the Pussycats.

Josie and the Pussycats deserves its own entry someday, but season two of Scooby-Doo Where Are You! featured some very groovy Janssen-penned bubblegum nuggets performed by Austin Roberts during chase sequences. Like most of the chase songs, "Daydreamin'" has absolutely nothing to do with whatever demon, phantom, zombie or ghost is chasing Scooby and the gang, but it's irresistibly catchy.

The insanely catchy "Pretty Mary Sunlite" was originally featured as a chase song performed by Austin Roberts, but also reappeared in an episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies featuring guest star Jerry Reed. Reed--the original guitar man--performs the song a number of times during the episode, including this nice acoustic rendition. Unfortunately, this episode is not available on DVD, but there is a clip of it (including a different performance of the song by Reed) up on YouTube.




Monday, November 19, 2007

Tater Totz - Sgt. Shonen's Exploding Plastic Eastman Band Request Mono Stereo

Sgt. Shonen's Exploding Plastic Eastman Band Request Mono Stereo by Redd Kross' side project Tater Totz (featuring members of Shonen Knife, Sonic Youth, White Flag and The Three O'Clock) might be the most self-indulgent inside-joke, indie-rock super-group album ever released were it not for the existence of The Velvet Monkey's faux-exploitation film soundtrack Rake.

It's tough to tell if this album is a Yoko Ono/Beatles tribute or parody. I doubt the MacDonald brothers and their friends know for sure, and I'm certain they wouldn't give a coherent answer if asked about it. Perhaps the Tater Totz are neither tribute nor parody, but rather belong to some unique post-modern genre occupied only by themselves and Ciccone Youth that only persons with PhDs in Comparative Literature are properly qualified to describe.

The title of the album alone suggests more pop-culture references than one would think possible: Sgt. Shonen's [Beatles, Shonen Knife] Exploding Plastic [Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol, Pop Art] Eastman [Linda McCartney] Band Request [The Rolling Stone's Their Satanic Majesty's Request] Mono Stereo [60s pop culture and commercial packaging of music generally]. Then there's the album cover which mimics Help!, but replaces the Beatles with four Yokos. What does it all mean? Does it mean anything? Or does it completely mock the idea that pop music should mean anything at all?

The amusing mash-up of Ono's "Who Has Seen The Wind" and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" suggests the Tater Totz are a band of merry pranksters having fun with the legacy of one of the most hated (and misunderstood) musicians of the 20th Century. But the other Yoko covers are fairly faithful and show the group to be well-versed in, and respectful of, Ono's avant-garde ideas. To make things even more confusing, they toss in a cover of The 1910 Fruitgum Company's bubblegum classic "1,2,3 Red Light." Perhaps this is some statement on unlikely symmetry between the avant-garde and the crassest elements of the pop music industry (consider for instance how Lou Reed got his start as a staff writer for Pickwick, or how the Talking Heads covered this song in their early live shows). Or maybe they just like the song, and there is nothing more to it than that.

Inarguably, the best music on the album is the two Os Mutantes songs featured as bonus tracks on the CD. These are not Os Mutantes covers, mind you, they are (uncredited) Os Mutantes performances that have been poorly transcribed from vinyl. I have no idea what to make of that, but I'm pretty sure it represents the first time any Os Mutantes music was released in the U.S., so Mono Stereo could be considered a landmark album for that reason alone.

In the end, the Tater Totz seem like a sincere attempt at a tribute from a group of artists to whom sincerity is an utterly foreign concept. I imagine Redd Kross' career interests would have been better served by focusing on their own releases, rather than on impenetrable releases like this and their hardcore tribute/parody band Anarchy 6. But then I'm not sure Redd Kross were capable of that kind of focus, and they wouldn't be quite who they are if they were. And the truth is Sgt. Shonen's Exploding Plastic Eastman Band Request Mono Stereo is sporadically entertaining even if it is ridiculously self-indulgent.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Project III USB Turntable

It's about time someone made a product like this. Though there have long been similar products on the market from manufacturers like Ion, Numark and TEAC, the Pro-Ject Debut III USB Turntable (with pre-mounted Ortofon cartridge, a built in phono preamp, analog to digital converter and USB output) is the first all-in-one LP-to-computer transfer product that approaches audiophile quality.

Without going into too much detail on this, trust me when I tell you that it is not possible to construct a decent sounding turntable out of highly resonant, lightweight materials like plastic. Unlike competing products on the market, the Debut USB is constructed of high-quality materials like MDF and stainless steel. While the Pro-Ject table costs between 2 to 4 times as much as some of the cheap plastic wonders on the market, I'm willing to bet it sounds 20 to 40 times better.

Pro-Ject has long been known for manufacturing some of the best entry-level audiophile turntables on the market. The Pro-Ject Debut (upon which this model is based) is one of the easiest to recommend turntables in its price range, and a great choice for someone looking to dip their toes into the world of high-quality vinyl playback. The addition of a good quality built in phono preamp, plus A-to-D converter and USB output, makes the Debut III USB Turntable a compelling choice for anyone looking for a relatively inexpensive and hassle free way to transfer their LP collection to digital files.

If you are considering purchase of another (cheaper) USB turntable, stop and buy this instead. Certainly there are far more expensive routes you could take if you crave the ultimate in fidelity, but the Pro-Ject Debut III USB is the cheapest all-in-one product on the market that will deliver good sound quality. If I hadn't already set myself up with a more expensive solution, this would be on top of my Christmas wish list.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Post I Meant To Do...

I intended to write a post on a couple of tracks left off the Yep Roc reissue of Robyn Hitchcock's Black Snake Dîamond Röle, but I see another music blogger beat me to it.

Actually, I should thank 2fs at The Architectural Dance Society blog for posting the original version of "The Man Who Invented Himself" and its b-side "Dancing On God's Thumb" because I post on Robyn Hitchcock far too often anyway. As for "Mellow Together," some tracks deserve to be lost--proceed with caution.