Saturday, December 26, 2015

Here's Your Boxing Day Horror Show for 2015: Magic Christmas Tree

Several years back, we started a perfectly awful post-holiday tradition that we thought was in keeping with the emotional angst so many of us suffer from on the day after Christmas. In many parts of the world, the 26th of December is celebrated as Boxing Day. Stores and other businesses remain closed, and people tend to stay home with their families to enjoy the good feelings kindled during the preceding two days. There's lots of laughter and fellowship and plenty of leftovers to share, and everyone benefits from an extra day away from the cares of everyday life. In our country, unfortunately, the the 26th of December typically means a trip to the mall to return the gifts we didn't like, and maybe pick up an extra helping of fried dough or something.

So, in order to coax people to at least consider staying close to home and hearth, we've taken to posting a choice holiday movie from the dreadful bin on Boxing Day – you know, a movie so bad it's good. Well, this year's selection certainly qualifies. Filmed in 1964 "on an extremely low budget," this year's feature is Magic Christmas Tree, which has been called "one of the worst and most depressing holiday films of all time."  Get ready for this year's Boxing Day Horror Show:

UPDATE (8/4/16):  Apologies, but the full film is no longer available on YouTube. Neither is the trailer. But the good folks at RiffTrax have posted a clip on YouTube, which I've embedded below to at least give you small taste of what you missed. If you're up for a slightly larger serving, a longer clip is apparently available on Hulu backed by their typically snarky commentary, which you can hopefully see HERE. 

Haven't had enough horror for one day?

Watch Last Year's Horror Show, "Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny"

Watch Our First Boxing Day Horror Show, "Santa Claus"

Deck Those Halls, Part 8 (Tracks 22-30)

Merry Christmas to one and all, and my sincere apologies for falling so far behind this year with my summaries of the tracks on this year's holiday mix, Deck Those Halls! It's been a busier December than I'm used to, and there hasn't been much free time to tend to this sort of business, so let me take a few minutes here to at least hjit diown a few words about some of the other tracks I included on thisd year;s collection.

Track 30
Holiday News Brief, by the American Comedy Network
Dr. Demento
This track was a favorite on the old Dr. Demento Show, which started in the early 1970s on KPPC-FM and later enjoyed considerable popularity in syndication throughout and even outside the United States. Hosted by Barry Hansen, the Demento show featured a wide variety of novelty and comedy bits. I first heard it as a college freshman, where it was popular with a small group of guys in my dorm who played Dungeons and Dragons and dressed up in Star Trek outfits. I gave them pretty wide berth and steered clear of Dr. Demento as well, but I rediscovered the show a few years ago in its current internet version, and I'll be the first to say that I wished I'd started listening earlier. A lot of it's pretty cornball, but there's lots of fun stuff, too. This little clip falls dead center in the cornball bucket, but, what the heck. That's what makes it fun.

Track 29
Claude De Santos, by Mudlow
I love surfing the internet to find new music and other goodies, and I’m pretty good at turning up interesting stuff, as I hope my collections bear out. Unfortunately, I’m not so good at documenting where I’ve been and how to get back there. So I don’t have any idea where I ran across this track, or where you can find a copy of your own. I love this one myself. I love its film noir feel, and its dirty, almost sinister swagger. However, at least several friends have cited this as their least favorite cut on this year’s mix, which is really saying something when you consider it’s a collection that includes selections from Laffy and Little Marcy Tigner. 

I can tell you (and I believe this is reasonably accurate) that Mudlow is “a three piece rock band from Brighton, England, inspired by country, f@#*ed-up blues, garage, striptease, klezmer …  stuff like Bo Diddley, Tom Waits, Morphine and The Cramps.“ I know that because I did manage to save that quote along with the song. But I’ve no idea who “Claude De Santos” is, what he’s got to do with Christmas, or whether he or anyone else really “gave Rudy a red nose with a trash can lid.” Anyone with further information is invited to contact me ... or your local police department.

Track 28
Holiday Greetings from Bjork
I actually like Bjork's music -- both her work as a solo artist, and with The Sugarcubes. But I confess that whenever her name comes up, the first thing I think of is this clip from Saturday Night Live, where she's portrayed, believe it or not, by Winona Rider:

Watch the entire clip of "Rock and Roll Jeopardy" featuring Bjork from SNL

Track 27
How NOT to Make Gravy, by Benny Davis, featuring Mark Sutton (2014)
Please refer to the description for Track 25, below.

Track 26
Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny Radio Spot, featuring Jay Ripley as Santa Claus (1972)
This track is a radio ad for a the God-awful monstrosity  we featured as last year's Boxing Day Horror Show, the 1972 film, "Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny." I shudder just thinking about it.

Hear the Radio Promo Spot

Watch the Entire Video (WARNING:  Are You Really Sure You Want to Do This?)

Watch an Excerpt from the RiffRax Version of the Video

Track 25
How to Make Gravy, by Paul Kelly (1996)
I have to admit I had some doubts about including both this track and the 2014 take-off by Benny Davis (Track 27) on the same mix. The Paul Kelly original is a beautifully crafted and touching song written as a letter from a newly imprisoned man to his brother just a few days before Christmas. In it, the author imagines all the fun he'll be missing at the family's traditional holiday gathering, and in so doing, conveys the value of each small piece and the enormity of the loss he will suffer. It's a terrific record and therefore not surprising that it's become a treasured part of the holiday oeuvre in Australia, which is where the artist Paul Kelly resides. I mean, just listen to it:

The Benny Davis send-up, by contrast, is irreverent and unseemly. And yet, from the moment I first heard last year's "How NOT to Make Gravy," I knew I had to use it. It's just too perfect! What do you think?  Appropriate, or not?

Thanks to Stubby's House of Christmas.

Track 24
After Christmas Sale Radio Spot from Crazy Eddie's Appliance Store
The Crazy Eddie's story has an awful, tragic ending, but for a time there in the early- to mid-1980s, you couldn't turn on a TV in the Tri-State area (Connecticut, New York and New Jersey) without hearing one of their advertisements. This is just one of many.

Track 23
We Celebrate Kwanzaa, by the Cast of Sesame Street
I've been looking for quite awhile to find a short clip that actually describes Kwanzaa in terms that are understandable and accessible. This clip from Sesame Street does a terrific job, I think.

Watch the Actual Sesame Street Clip

Read More HERE

Track 22
Poor Mr. Santa Claus, by Andre Williams 

Commentary Coming Soon

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town!

The final Saturday Night Live of 2015 welcomed Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as the featured musical guest last night, which for many of us proved to be an early and much appreciated holiday gift. Bruce and the Band played two tracks from his recently released box set The Ties that Bind: The River Collection -- "Meet Me in the City" and "The Ties that Bind," both of which sounded great. But then there was this show-stopper to close out the night, featuring a very special guest:

I received a holiday gift of my own last Friday in the form of tickets to see Bruce and the E Street Band at the L.A. Sports Arena in March. Sadly, that wonderful old venue is scheduled to close its doors soon afterward. And might I suggest a few lumps of coal for the bastards at TicketMaster, whose near monopoly status allows them to run one of the most despicable businesses in the country. The process for buying tickets to popular acts was easier, fairer and less costly 25 years ago than it is today, which is exactly what a lack of competition guarantees.

But enough of that for now. After all, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Andy Cirzan's 2015 Christmas Comp Is Here

Andy Cirzan
As longtime readers of this blog can attest, one of the things I look forward to every holiday season is the annual appearance of Andy Cirzan on Sound Opinions, the weekly radio talk show about rock and roll produced by WBEZ Chicago and hosted by by Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot. You see, Andy is one of the patron saints of the genuine holiday music aficionados. He's been making and circulating holiday music mixes for 27 years now  a full dozen years more than me. And it's always a treat to hear what he's selected for his annual "Christmas comp" ("comp" in the vernacular of the holiday music collector, is short for is short for compilation). It's also fun to hear him talk about his choices on Sound Opinions, which we can all do this week thanks to the magic of the internet. Andy's latest Christmas comp is titled Holiday Hangout at Hillbilly Holler, which features an assortment of little-known holiday tunes from the world of country and bluegrass. Be sure to check it out.

Incidentally, Andy is one of the many collectors and performers featured in Jingle Bell Rocks, the amazingly wonderful 2014 film by holiday music collector Mitchell Kezin. It's been described as an
exclusive backstage pass into a fascinating underground world of alternative Christmas music. Starring an eclectic cast of characters  The Flaming Lips, Run DMC, John Waters  plus two dozen amazing & original songs, JINGLE BELL ROCKS! is a cinematic sleight ride into the strange and sublime universe of alternative Christmas music.
For me, it's a touching and spirited look at the beauty and fun to be had from the world of offbeat holiday music. It will certainly resonate with other holiday music enthusiasts, and it might serve as a kind of explanation to friends and family of the obsessive collectors – or at the very least a welcome piece of evidence that there are others out there with this same addiction. Here's a trailer for the film, which is now available on iTunes or through amazon.com: 

Hear the Sound Opinions s Year's Holiday Spectacular for 2015, with Andy Cirzan

Download Andy Cirzan's 2015 Christmas Comp, Holiday Hangout at Hillbilly Holler (available through 1/1/16 only)

Purchase Mitchell Kezin's 2014 Film, "Jingle Bell Rocks"

Friday, December 18, 2015

Deck Those Halls, Part 7 (Tracks 19-21)

Well, we're now at the half-way mark. There are 42 tracks on my latest holiday mix, Deck Those Halls, and, by the end of this post, we will have looked (albeit quickly) at 21 of them. But we have to offer something about each of these songs to get there, so let's have at it:

Track 21
Jingle Bells, by Laffy (2004)
April Winchell
Ten years ago, I included a little piece of something by an individual named "Laffy" on one of my first mixes, Don't Wake the Kids. It was actually Laffy's unique take on the holiday classic, "Carol of the Bells," which consisted of someone (I assume it was Laffy) basically laughing in rhythm to the song. I'd found it not long before among the hundreds of MP3s posted at the time on April Winchell's excellent website.  I'd never heard anything quite like it before -- I mean, have you?

April was a weekend personality on KFI-AM 640 at the time, and I absolutely loved her show, which was funny, fast-moving and irreverent. The collection of MP3s she offered in the holiday section of her website contributed quite a few tracks to my holiday CDs for a couple of years. Well, I assumed that "Carol of the Bells" was a unique item and that Laffy was a one-hit wonder, though even that may be stretching things beyond what they are. But this past summer I learned there's a whole album of these things. The thrill of that discovery faded quickly, as did my ability to even listen to this schlock for more than 15 seconds. However, I felt a strange sense of obligation to add a second track to my Laffy canon. Here it is, and I'd like to dedicate it to April Winchell. By all means. enjoy!

Listen to April Winchell's First KFI-AM 640 Radio Show in August 2000

Listen to April Winchell's KFI-AM 640 Radio Show from May 18, 2001

Listen to April Winchell's KFI-AM 640 Radio Show from November 23, 2002

Track 20
Deck the Halls, by Tom's Computer (2001)

I can't tell you much about this one, except that it was sent to me a number of years ago as part of a collection called "Come Deck the Halls with Strangeness," which was put together by Frank "Bongolong" Lord, a longtime collector of offbeat music and pop cultural ephemera. You can read more about him in a nice profile on Blogio Oddio. It's a fascinating collection of tunes and clips, most of which are "nontraditional interpretations" of "Deck the Halls." My 2015 mix, like several of my previous annual mixes, skirts around a sort of loose and unstructured theme. Winter Wonderland offered several versions of that tune, while Let's Trim the Christmas Tree celebrated the holiday stocking. Just kidding. Many of its songs were about Christmas trees. My first several versions of this year's mix included at least three or four additional versions of "Deck the Halls," but that seemed excessive. The final CD has four versions of the song, though it seems like more.  The Bongolong album has 34 versions, more or less! I haven't found anything to report on Tom's Computer, the artist apparently responsible for creating this song, but it's an offbeat track that seems to fit in well. Here are a few versions that got left behind:

Listen to "Wreck the Malls," by Bob Rivers (1987)

Listen to "Deck the Halls with Parts of Charlie," by the Crypt Keeper (1994)

Listen to "Wreck the Halls," by The Three Stooges (1960) 

Track 19
Church Chat (Holiday Edition)
In the Fall of 1986, Dana Carvey and four other new cast members joined Saturday Night Live as part of a near wholesale makeover of the groundbreaking show. SNL had been on the air for eleven seasons by this time and the preceding season had been an all-out disaster. Most of the cast from the preceding season were released at the end of the 1985-86 season, and the show itself was on the verge of being cancelled. Between them, however, Carvey and the other newcomers (including Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Kevin Nealon and Victoria Jackson) helped turn the show around, and Carvey's signature Church Lady character played a significant role in the revitalization.

The clip I included in this year's mix is a very short bit that opened one of the Church Lady's pre-holiday episodes. It remains rather difficult to find many of the best SNL bits, even when you're willing to pay for them. I'm not sure why, but there's no question that Lorne Michaels or whoever runs the show over there is missing out on some real opportunities.

Anyway, this sketch first aired on December 5, 1987, 28 years ago. I actually remember watching and loving it back then for two reasons:  Jan Hooks' brilliant impression of Jessica Hahn, the woman accused of a sexual liaison in a cheap motel with the Rev. Jim Bakker; and Danny DeVito's appearance with the Church Chat Band doing "Here Comes Santa Claus." The only clip I could find online has been shortened and isn't top quality, but it's good to see all the same: