It seems like every year the stores and many radio stations start playing wall to wall Christmas music earlier every year. The merchants want you to get into the Christmas spirit and buy gifts. The radio stations that play nothing but Christmas music have great ratings so there’s very strong evidence that people want to hear the holiday music.
The major problem with playing Christmas music all the time is that there’s a lack of traditional songs so you keep hearing the same songs being done by different artists. If you are tired of hearing those same Christmas songs over and over, then perhaps you’d like to make your own list (checking it twice) and create your own soundtrack for the holidays.
In my article about the Cheech & Chong Christmas effort called “Santa Claus and his Old Lady” I listed some songs. Listed below is a more complete list of my favorites that are non-traditional. They are not listed in any particular order.
“Happy Xmas (War is over)” John & Yoko
Anyone who was alive in the 50’s was very much aware of Ricky Nelson. His family had a TV show called “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet” that was extremely popular though most of the 50’s and well into the 60’s. In fact it lasted from 1952 until 1966 making it one of the most long lasting sitcoms in TV history. The show was as close to reality TV as you could get back then. There never seemed to be much of a plot to the show. The family just talked and talked and every once in a while they actually left the house to do something. One could only wonder what the father did for a living since they lived in a beautiful suburban home despite Ozzie being on the family couch for most the show.
Every Halloween avid horror film fans trot out the horror classics. For many people that is the only exposure they have ever had to a device known as the Theremin. That eerie music that you hear as part of the soundtrack for many old spooky or science fiction motion pictures like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Spellbound” used this odd instrument.
A Russian physicist named Lev Termen invented this most unusual sounding instrument in 1919 and brought it with him to the US with big dreams of making it a huge success. That never really happened and Lev ended being forced back to Russia with nothing to show for his efforts.
Another in a series of 45 RPM stories.
Jim Messina fell in love with music at a very early age. Despite the fact that his parents were divorced when he was still an infant, Messina learned from both of them. That was accomplished even though he was bouncing back and forth living with them for parts of the year. His mom, who lived in Texas, loved early Rock ‘n’ Roll and his father, who was a guitarist, lived in California and was into country swing music like that of Bob Willis & The Texas Playboys.
When Jim picked up the guitar at the tender age of 5, he started to be influenced by the guitar work he heard in the songs by Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson. By the time he was 17 he was so accomplished that he was asked by a local DJ to play with and produce a band. He didn’t even know what a producer did, but was confident in his knowledge of music so he took up the challenge. While those early efforts were not a commercial success, the engineer on the sessions was so impressed he offered Jim a job in the studio as an assistant.
Only ardent fans of The Rolling Stones know very much about one of the original members of the band. However, Ian Stewart was very instrumental in getting the group off the ground. Keith Richard said “Ian Stewart was the glue that held the whole thing together”.
Those who take the time will note that Ian’s name appears on many of The Rolling Stones records. He wasn’t a studio musician, he was a member of the early Rolling Stones. As it turned out he did a lot more than play keyboards for the band.
When Brian Jones, the original leader of The Rolling Stones, put an ad in the paper looking for a piano player who knew American Blues, Boogie Woogie and R & B, it was Stewart who showed up and blew the whole band away with his playing.
As of this writing, we officially enter into the Summer of 2017. Even before the summer started there were all kinds of talk and writing about this year being the 50th anniversary of the so called “Summer of Love”. That summer was a major turning point in my life. While I had been on the air prior to that summer, it was a milestone because of my having the opportunity to launch a new form of radio programming.
The idea for a radio format that included all kinds of music with both singles and album cuts being played was born long before that summer. For that matter, so were the seeds for “The Summer of Love”.
They both grew out of a blending of a social and musical revolution that had been brewing from as early as the 50’s. Jazz was the music of the “Beat” generation. The music itself was more universal but center point of thought for that generation was San Francisco. It was no accident that the liberal city by the bay was the epicenter of “The summer of Love” and “Flower Power”.
The social, Political and musical changes that started to simmer in 1965 continued to escalate in 1966. The war in Viet Nam was one of the driving forces. On March 26 over 200,000 protested gathered around the world in anti US demonstrations. They blamed the US government and President Johnson for heating things up. Even in England, normally a solid alley, demonstrators storm the US Embassy.
By the end of the year over 500,000 American troops were in Viet Nam. It wasn’t just the protesters at that point that began to question why we were taking sides in a civil war. The heavyweight champion of the world in boxing, Muhammad Ali, surprised everyone by declaring he would not accept the draft notice because he was against the war. Many others followed and draft dodging became accepted by many. On May 16th, the same day that BLONDE ON BLONDE by Bob Dylan was released, Martin Luther King came out against the war giving a passionate speech at a huge rally. Anti- war songs increased in popularity-especially with the college age youth.
As documented in parts one and two of “The Summer of Love” feature, much of what propelled the social and political movement was the anti-war movement that was spearheaded by the youth of America. By 1967 the majority of the general population agreed that this was not a war that the U.S. should be involved in and sided with the resistance movement to the war.
Perhaps buoyed by the rise in that sentiment, many young Americans were moving on to other issues in an effort to change not only the politics of this country, but the social mores as well. Those in this new movement were given a name. They were called “Hippies”. Like their counterparts, the “Beatniks” of the 50’s, the “Hippies” found a mecca in San Francisco. It has been estimated that well over 100,000 young people (many of them runaways), came seeking free love, free food and free drugs. The Haight-Asbury district of the city soon became overwhelmed. The “Flower Power” movement was in full bloom.
This guy was walking towards me wearing a T shirt sporting the name of the long defunct Tower Records. Ordinarily I don’t approach strangers with questions about their attire, but since a large portion of my huge CD and record collection (many, many thousands) was purchased at Tower Records I had to ask: “Where did you get that t-shirt?”
The answer was half expected. I had only ever seen these shirts on employees of Tower Records. Indeed, he had worked for Tower Records from 1977 until 1984 in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. During that time he served in several capacities including ordering, stocking merchandizing and selling records. Additionally his management responsibilities extended to management and activities coordination for store employees. If that weren’t enough, he did trouble shooting, bookkeeping, as well as research and public relations. Such were long days at Tower records.
It started with a phone call from Steve Popovich. Steve wanted to know if it was alright for him to bring a sample of his new project to my office so he could get my opinion. Whenever Steve asked for an appointment for you to hear a new record, you were hard pressed to say no.
He was one of the top record promotors in the country. In an almost Hollywood movie style career, he started out in the Columbia Records warehouse checking inventory in 1962. Within ten years Clive Davis made him the youngest vice president of promotions at Columbia Records. As such, he helped to launch the careers of countless stars. A small sample of those he promoted were: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Earth, Wind & Fire, Santana, Janis Joplin, Chicago, Simon & Garfunkel, and Boz Scaggs. Later he moved over to a sub label of Columbia, Epic Records, and helped launch the careers of: Boston, Cheap Trick and Jaco Pastorious.
There were many forms of music that made an impact on the Classic Rockers. The rivers of rock flowed with bits of country that had its origin in the traditional music of the British Isles. European Classical music had a smaller tributary, but was still a big influence. The main source feeding the river came from the musical cousins, Jazz and Blues. Of the two, Blues was by far the biggest source.
Just ask any classic rocker what had the biggest impact on their music and you will get Blues as an answer more often than not. Listen to groups like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Cream, The Allman Brothers, Ten Years After and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, etc. and you can hear the Blues just jump out at you. There are several other bands — The Beatles, The Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, The Who or Chicago — where it may not be so easily to sort out the Blues in their music... but it is there.
If nothing else, John Mayall will be remembered for being one of the best talent scouts in Rock history. John Mayall’s life would make for an interesting story for another day.
For now, here’s the short list of some of the great players that played with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers: Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Jon Mark, Johnny Almond (these two had as successful a career as Mark Almond), Harvey Mandell, Larry Taylor (both still part of Canned Heat), Mick Taylor, Aynsley Dunbar (who went on to form his own band before joining Frank Zappa and then Journey) and Andy Fraser (Free).
Another in a series of 45 RPM stories.
There was a major cloud hanging over The Rolling Stones as they prepared to record SOME GIRLS their first studio album in two years in 1978. In February of the previous year Keith Richards was arrested on some serious drug charges in Canada. There was more than a good chance he would have to do some jail time.
Richards reacted by writing a song that was originally entitled “Rotten Roll”. Part of the inspiration for the song was the death of Gram Parsons. In his autobiography Keith wrote a great deal about Gram and his influence on The rolling Stones during their so-called “Country Rock” period. The two influenced each other. Gram did a great cover of the song “Wild Horses”. In 1973 Parsons died of a drug overdose. It is thought that Keith had his death in mind when he wrote the first verse of the song. “Another goodbye another good friend” is a line that stands out.