Sunday, July 29, 2018

Unplanned Christmas in July Hiatus

Well, Christmas in July had a half-unplanned hiatus.  The planned half was because of family vacation to North Carolina.  The half-unplanned part was an illness (mine) that caused us to return home three days early and then go directly to the ER.  Recovery is going very well, no hospital stay needed, and I hope to get a few more essentials out this week as I'm at home.  But things got a bit interrupted...

A couple good friends of Merry & Bright experienced losses this week, and my heart goes out to them.  Friend Tim lost his beloved ferret Penny after her fight against cancer, and friend Stubby's Mrs. Katz (not her real name) passed away after a long and happy life as part of Stubby's family.  We send Tim and Stubby our thoughts, and hope that they find strength in the memories of their companions.  Take care, my friends.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Elvis

I mentioned Elvis (we don't need to say "Presley" in the Bingle household) before in the Essentials series post about the classics that should be in every collection, but The King deserves a post of his own.  Why?  Well, my Christmas music room, where I create this blog, is also now and was first "The Elvis Room".  Hanging on the walls are three framed sets of album cover stamps from the 50's. 60's, and 70's CD box sets, two framed sets of Elvis postage stamps, two framed albums ("Moody Blue" and "The Sun Years", a framed collectible gold record of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", two cheesy rhinestoned collector plates, a set of Elvis baseball-style cards, three Elvis action figures, and an unopened Elvis decanter of McCormick whiskey.  Oh, then there are the CDs, records, movies, and books.  And a collectible Pepsi can and a Graceland water bottle.  Ah, and the Elvis wall clock with swingin' hips.  You get the picture...

Back in the late '80s when my Christmas music collecting was in its infancy, "Elvis' Christmas Album" was one of the first additions as a CD.  I've always thought that his "Blue Christmas" was a cornerstone of Christmas recordings, and it leads off my very first Christmas comp.  Not many years later I bought the re-packaged collection "If Every Day Was Like Christmas", containing a single CD with all the Christmas songs from his two albums, and packaged in a decorative sleeve featuring a fold-out model of Graceland at Christmas.

Since then I've added vinyl albums to the collection, and also a special release of "The Wonderful World of Christmas", bought during a visit to Graceland, that features all of the originally released songs from the album and also a second disc of alternate takes.  Great little historical package for Elvis fans like me.  (There is an extended re-release of the first album too, but it's contents are far less appealing - nothing really special).

There are multitudes of options for you to add Elvis to your Christmas collection.  Pick one, some, or many.  To pick "all" would be quite a collectors challenge.  I prefer his original recordings, and personally have no interest in the "Duets" album.  Although, I have to say, the release from last year featuring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was actually pretty enjoyable - well done folks!

So, go getcha some Elvis Christmas :-)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: The Chieftains "The Bells of Dublin"

It just isn't Christmas until I've played "The Bells of Dublin", a 1991 album of Irish and traditional  carols and other seasonal selections by The Chieftains, one of the world's most respected bands.

The guests on the album:  Elvis Costello, Kate and Anna McGarrigle (sigh ☺☺  ), Marianne Faithful, Rickie Lee Jones.  And the list goes on - the great Burgess Meredith narrates on a favorite of mine "Don Oiche Ud I mBeithil".

You'll be pleased with the renditions of the classics, including "I Saw Three Ships A Sailing", "The Wexford Carol", and "O Holy Night".  You'll love them performing "The Rebel Jesus" with Jackson Browne.  And you'll be splendidly entertained by the extended 6-track piece "The Wren! The Wren".

This is absolutely one of my favorites - it never gets old, and always sounds fresh and full of energy.  And, the uilleann pipes, me laddy!  Make for a spirited Irish Christmas!

Get "The Bells of Dublin" by the Chieftains, my friends, and you'll enjoy it for years to come.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: "Christmas with Chet Atkins"

Tonight's Essential is "Christmas with Chet Atkins", the 1961 recording by one of county music's most revered musicians.  Mr. Atkins' reputation as a performer, songwriter, producer, and all-around Nashville Dude is solid gold, and his entry in the Christmas music genre is a standout.

"Christmas with Chet Atkins" features fourteen standards, arranged by Mr. Atkins blending his uniquely smooth country guitar sound with solid backing musicians, and featuring the Anita Kerr singers.

This is an album that has that special something that can be hard to describe.  It's lush yet understated.  It has depth in the arrangements, yet sounds beautifully simple.  The engineering is excellent, with Chet's guitar front and center, yet still sharing the sound perfectly with his accompanying musicians.  It's just one of those perfect musical experiences.

Soothing, cheery, and full of the Christmas spirit.  Add "Christmas with Chet Atkins" to your collection (if it's not already there).

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Goodyear, Firestone, W.T. Grant's (and more) Albums

Hi folks.  We will now resume our Christmas in July celebration after a brief hiatus where we made a quick trip to middle Tennessee to visit family.

For today's Essential I have chosen anything in the series of Christmas compilation albums released as seasonal promotions from Goodyear, Firestone, and W.T. Grant's.  And there are others too - I have some J.C. Penney comps, at least one Zenith-branded collection, an A&P or two, maybe a B.F. Goodrich is in there, etc   But Goodyear, Grant's, and Firestone are the three standard bearers for great quality Christmas compilation albums of their era.

I think that every Christmas music collector (with a turntable) should have a few of these great old albums.  You really can't go wrong if you find these in good condition at your local thrift store or used record store. The music selections are excellent, and they will bring the sounds of the golden age of Christmas music to you every season.

The Goodyear and W.T. Grant's albums are compilations featuring many different artists.  You'll find Bing, Nat, Doris, Barbra, Andy, Andre, Elvis - basically all the greats.  The Firestone albums are a little different in that they focused on one to four artists per album, and the recordings were made specifically for the Firestone series.  These have never been re-released in a remastered digital format, and so your only sources are copies of the vinyl albums or downloads from ye olde internet.

The Firestone series has particular draw for me, as Volume 5, featuring Julie Andrews, was one of the original Christmas albums I had as a child, and I (of course) still have it.  I've collected good copies of all seven Firestone albums.  I've picked up a few various albums from the other sets too, but so far have resisted the urge to be a completist and track them all down.

The Goodyear series was produced from 1961 - 1977 with an additional release in 1989 (which may have been on CD?).  Firestone ran from 1962 - 1968 and W.T. Grant's from 1967 - 1974.

While we're on the topic of vinyl comps, let me also mention the Reader's Digest boxed sets of Christmas music.  They are also collections of songs by many different artists, usually bundled together in 4-record sets.  I've found that you can find these in amazingly excellent condition.  Like the other comps, the music selection and quality is superb.

Usually each Christmas season, these albums are the first things I listen to when the season 'officially' starts.  As 'Essential' would imply, I think that every Christmas music collection needs at least a few of these fine records.

I'd be interested to hear from you all about your favorite retailer-branded sets or albums.  Mr. Soffa - I know you have a boxed set or 2 (hundred).  What ones stand out as the best of the bunch?  

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Substance W "A Boiling Vat of Adhesive Xmas"

So, I expect that my readers will be firmly divided into two camps with today's Essential, "A Boiling Vat of Adhesive Xmas" by Substance W.  One camp will already be well aware of this way-outside-the-norm album of Christmas brilliance.  The other camp will be squarely in "What the heck?" land.

I first learned of Substance W, and this album specifically, over at Capt OT's place A Christmas Yuleblog (by the way Cap, we sure do miss the blog, but we sure do love your emerging presence on the radio with your wonderful holiday programming at WBOI).  With the Captain's urging, I bought a digital download and set about experiencing this, let's say, collection of re-interpreted Christmas standards.

So, let's see, what do you get when you jump into Substance W...

  • 28 tracks
  • 9, count 'em, 9 machine-gun bursts of variations on "O Christmas Tree" with subtitles such as "Slap My Bass Mix" and "Monkey Like Banana Mix"
  • Layers upon layers of sounds - traditional instruments, non-traditional instruments, vocals, sound effects, cartoon sounds...
Summing it all up, it's the most creatively explosive, or is it explosively creative I'm not sure, Christmas album you'll ever hear.

"Switched on Bethlehem" is a favorite of mine on this album.  It builds and builds, changes and changes, and just when you think it is nearing a state of resolution, it unleashes an aural tsunami that includes those sonic whip-sticks employed by the Blue Man Group.  Wow.

"Jingle Jingle Jingle" is performed with a gruff vocal, channeling a bit of Tom Waits, and with a bar-band rock beat, a little bit of piano thrown in, some organ/synth, maybe a steel guitar, and an Ornette Coleman-style break.

"We're a Couple of Misfits" may be inspired by the Misfits - I think Jon Solomon may be able to judge appropriately.  Let's just say 'energetic and upbeat'.

"A Visit from St. Nicholas", a recitation backed by selections from various styles of The Nutcracker Suite is semi-traditional, especially if your childhood traditions included hours and hours of The Flintstones and other Hanna-Barbera cartoons.  

The thing about this album is that Substance W really understands these songs.  They haven't just thrown these together as quick-n-dirty novelty recordings.  They get the song structures, they get the lyrics, they get the traditions.  These odd, strange, songs show absolute reverence to the traditional songs.  Way more reverence than the walk-throughs released every year by the recording "stars" of the day.

So, my raving aside, this may not be for everyone.  If you like Christmas music and want a dozen albums to supplement your local annual Christmas radio, this isn't for you.  If you love Christmas music and are starting to explore the edges, listen to some samples and make a decision.  If you want to jump in and be a Christmas Music Collector, then you gotta have this.  Essential.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Aimee Mann "One More Drifter in the Snow"

So, is it fair that I should include Aimee Mann's "One More Drifter in the Snow" as an Essential when I've had it in my collection for less than a year?

Yes, indeed it is.

I'd long had my eye on Ms. Mann's 2006 Christmas release, and had downloaded at least one of the songs previously, but it wasn't until a visit to Homer's Music and Gifts in Omaha, NE where I found a used copy of the CD and snatched it up along with several other holiday albums that it became part of my collection.  On the drive back to Kansas City from Omaha after an enjoyable couple of days with my daughter, I put "One More Drifter..." in the CD player and was instantly mesmerized at the beauty of the record (and a bit dismayed with myself for waiting so long to acquire it).

"One More Drifter in the Snow" features ten songs, most of them standards such as "The Christmas Song", "I'll Be Home for Christmas", "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch", and "Winter Wonderland".  (Modern classic "River" is included on a 2008 UK re-release).  There is one original, "Calling on Mary", co-written by Ms. Mann and Paul Bryan.

The opener, "Whatever Happened to Christmas" by Jimmy Webb is stunning and sets the tone for the album.  Aimee Mann's vocal style, inflection, and phrasing are unique, as any long-time fan knows.  This unmistakable style and approach to vocal performance is perfect for a soothing, flowing, rich holiday album.

A hallmark of a great Christmas album is when the performances of classics don't sound re-hashed or weirdly altered just for the sake of being different.  Aimee Mann's presentations of these songs are totally hers - joy from her heart and soul, expressed in Christmas music.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: The Classic Christmas Artists

So, this entry in Der Bingle's Essentials is, ironically, probably the least essential post of the series.  After this one I'll return to highlighting specific albums and artists that I believe every serious Christmas collector should have.  But today is the low-hanging fruit, the baseline, the all-time greats that define Christmas Music for so many of us.  Everyone, my friends, needs these artists in their Christmas music collections, and I'm sure that most of you already do.  But for those of you who may just be starting to build your collection, here are some of the artists to get  yourself off to a most merry start!

Bing Crosby (the "Merry Christmas" album covered here, but you can never have too much Bing)
Johnny Mathis
Perry Como
Dean Martin
Nat "King" Cole
Doris Day
Patti Page
Andy Williams
Burl Ives
Frank Sinatra
Tony Bennett
Julie Andrews

So there you go - make sure that you have at least one Christmas record from each of these artists, and you're off to a great start.

What?  You need a few hints on what's a good choice?  

The good folks over at Real Gone Music have taken the guesswork out of the equation for several of these artists, including Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Patti Page, and Doris Day.  Their collections of these greats are career spanning Christmas-wise.  Some are multi-disc, others (Doris Day) single.  You can't go wrong with a Real Gone collection.

The Andy Williams red and green albums are a great pair.

For Elvis, you can easily find a single CD with all of his original Christmas songs, or find each of his two albums individually.  (Me personally, I shy away from the weird remixes, "duets", etc)

Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song" album is pretty essential for a collection - I could have featured it individually.

All of these artists have well-curated Christmas collections on single discs.  You can make the choice - single disc of hits, or a more complete multi-disc set.  It's all up to you - enjoy!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Christmas in July!

It's the time of year where many of the Christmas blogs and sites celebrate Christmas in July.  There are some darned fine ones out there, putting a lot of much-appreciated energy into the mid-Summer celebration.  It's a time when we realize how much we miss the Christmas season, and it kick starts our excitement for the upcoming season.

Here are a few of our friends who are hosting Christmas in July festivities:

And our friends at 200 Days of Christmas are in full swing.

I'm sure there are many more.

So while the Christmas in July train is speeding down the tracks at blazing speed, Der Bingle is like the hand car on the adjacent track, pumping the handle up and down to get some momentum going :-)  What I'm going to (try to) do this July is ramp up the Der Bingle's Essentials series and get several entries out this month, starting tomorrow (July 2).  Check back here throughout the month for some more of my thoughts about essential additions for your Christmas music collection.

Stay cool my friends!  Merry Christmas in July!