Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The Brian Setzer Orchestra: Boogie Woogie Christmas

Well so far I've covered the good, the bad and the Cheesy! But the final part (for this year anyway!) of this rummage through my Christmas albums is a genuine, sure-fire winner.

The king of rockabilly swing Brian Setzer has released two of the finest Christmas albums to ever grace my collection. I've picked 2002's Boogie Woogie Christmas to review here (but that doesn't mean 2005's Dig That Crazy Christmas is any less of an album). It's got everything you could ever want from a Christmas album, all wrapped up in a plastic jewel case. There's rockabilly, there's blues, there's a big band, there's croonin' and there's Setzer's incredible guitar playing. And even though it's a Christmas album, there's not a hint of cheesiness about it.

The diversity of the tracks included on here is incredible... from classic Christmas numbers to Hymns, from brand new Setzer songs to swingin' takes on winter themed classical music, it's all here.

There is more than a nod to the classic Elvis Presley Christmas album here too, as Brian just about out-Kings the King with his renditions of Blue Christmas and Santa Claus is Back in Town. He even manages a duet with Ann-Margaret, one time girlfriend of the burger King, and co-star of Viva Las Vegas.

Setzer breathes a breath of fresh air into his versions of Jingle Bells, Winter Wonderland and Sleigh Ride, all brought bang up to date with his brand of rockin' guitar led swing.... they can't fail to get you in the Christmas mood! His reworked 'highlights' medley of The Nutcracker Suite is also a revelation! Half Glen Miller half Stray Cats! It's really shouldn't work, but it really does! The new Setzer tracks slot into this album a treat, each one is an instant classic and sit perfectly next to the standards. The album finishes with a genuinely moving version of O Holy Night followed by The Amens. Both of which could sit proudly on any of Presley's gospel albums.

If you're tempted, this year Brian has released a 'best of' his Christmas albums 'Christmas Rock', which also includes a couple of previously unreleased gems. But if you're feeling flush, for a few measly quid extra you can get the deluxe version which comes with a full length Christmas concert DVD - an STILL get change from a tenner! You can buy in on Amazon HERE.

To finish, here's a couple of samplers from Boogie Woogie Christmas. Just try an stop those toes a-tappin!



Well that's the last of my Christmas album reviews.... not even had time to touch on yuletide offerings from the likes of Twisted Sister, the Wurlitzer Organ or even my favourite Bluegrass version! Always next year though eh?! Normal service will now be resumed!



Saturday, 20 December 2008

Christmas Perversions No. 3: Richard Cheese - Silent Nightclub

So little time, so many dodgy Christmas albums to share with you!!

I did a post some time back on the genius of Richard Cheese... So it's only right that I include him in my perverted Christmas album collection. The thing I love most about his Christmas album is, well, it's not all that Christmassy! A first glance at the track listing usually brings a "WTF?" type response, but after a closer inspection of the chosen songs you 'get it'. I mean, some of the classic Christmas toons you'll find on Silent Nightclub include Live a Virgin, Ice Ice Baby, I Melt With You, Holiday in Cambodia,
Personal Jesus, Naughty Girl.... You get the idea!

But there is a vague smattering of yuletide songs on here too, including 'Silent Night', 'Christmastime is Here' (from the classic 1966 Charlie Brown\Peanuts cartoon!), the self penned 'Christmas in Las Vegas' and the oddest version of 'Jingle Bells' you're ever likely to hear! Richard Cheese has released 7 albums of his lounge-i-fied cover versions, and always states on the album who the original was by. However I was a tad confused when he gave an original artist for 'Jingle Bells', I mean, nobody has cornered the market on this track have they? Surely there is no need to mention any one artist? But once I played it, the whole thing made sense! It's genius! and it's below for you to listen to right now... no, don't thank me, just think of it as an early Christmas present!


If this has got you going, and you want more Sinatra-fied cover version madness (and who in their right mind wouldn't?!) check out my previous Dick Cheese post HERE, where as well as his festive version of Holiday in Cambodia (!), you can also here his take on Radiohead and Slipknot!


Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The X (Mas) Factor!

I've already resigned myself to the fact that the X-Factor has now cornered the market for Christmas number ones (believe it or not, this year will be the 4th year in a row), but it's getting even more serious now.... If today's mid-week chart is anything to go by, it looks like the whole of the Christmas top 5 could be (in one way or another) X-Factor related:

1. HALLELUJAH - ALEXANDRA BURKE (This one goes without saying)

2. RUN - LEONA LEWIS (2006 X-Factor winner)

3. HALLELUJAH - JEFF BUCKLEY (yeah, I KNOW what you're thinking, but would it have been shifting these sort of units if it wasn't for the exposure the song has had via X-Factor?)

4. IF I WERE A BOY - BEYONCE (the song Beyonce performed on the X-Factor final at the weekend)

5. LISTEN - BEYONCE (re-entry for this song that Beyonce and Alexandra Burke performed as a duet on the X-Factor final at the weekend)

and there's more!!!

14. HERO - X-FACTOR FINALISTS (obviously!)

35. HALLELUJAH - LEONARD COHEN (see 3 above!)

Apparently if Jeff Buckley's version sells another 10,000 or so by the weekend, he could snatch the Christmas number two slot. I don't think there has ever been a time when numbers 1 and 2 in the chart were the same song.

So how did we get to a point where the X-Factor is such a big influence on the charts? Y'know what, I think the answer is actually pretty easy... Like it or not, The X-Factor is now the only mainstream, prime-time music show on TV. Sure there are some great music shows tucked away in the schedules for us more discerning customers... none more so that our very own Rockmother and her tip-top From The Basement. But there is a (worryingly) large army of people out there for whom music does not play all that big a part in their lives, and they are happy to listen to whatever is put under their nose. They like what they see on TV and hear on the radio, and by and large - that's what they buy. So, if the X-Factor is the only music show these people see, it's not surprising how it is influencing so many sales\downloads. Perhaps the loss of shows like Top of the Pops is finally starting to show. I mean it was never great, but it did always show a cross section of music and styles, from The Smiths to the Spice Girls, The Sisters of Mercy to Cleopatra (commin at 'cha!), they were all on there. Towards the end of it's life it even gave 'new releases' an airing too. Much better than having a show limited to what Simon Cowell wants you to watch\listen to\buy. But what do I know??!

Incredibly, over 170 people have covered Hallelujah in the last 20 odd years. So who's version is the best? (where's Harry Hill when you need him??!) Personally, I couldn't give a flying fuck! but here's the 3 versions 'of the moment'.





Monday, 15 December 2008

Christmas Perversions No. 2: Slade - Crackers

Continuing the delve into the stranger side of my iffy Christmas record collection..... Slade's 'Crackers' album was originally released over 20 years ago in 1985, and it's one of the few 'LPs' that I still regularly dig out and give an airing to (only at Christmas tho... i'm not THAT much of a Christmas pervert!). If you can get by the naff cover, this album is actually a right 'ol rocker! But then, Slade always did rock didn't they? Hugely underrated by the music snobs... (yet Oasis were trying to be Slade during much of the 90's and everybody loved that!!).

Not really a Christmas album in the traditional sense, this is more 'party' fodder, mixing cover versions, Christmas songs and Slade originals. But by and large it does the job well, and is worth the money just for the rousing covers of 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town' 'Let's Have a Party' and 'Lets Dance' (the Chris Montez track, not the Bowie one). Slade always did have the knack of injecting some atmosphere and fun into their recordings (I mean Merry X-Mas Everybody still does the trick 35 years on doesn't it?!), and on the whole they succeeded in fueling this album with plenty of that party spirit, full of crunchin' guitars and Noddy Holder's shouty vocals!

Whilst wandering round Tesco's a couple of weeks ago I was gobsmacked to see a CD copy sitting in the racks, and with a much better 70's style cover to boot. A snip too at just three of four quid, and I snapped it up.... but buyer beware, it isn't quite a straight copy of the original release. There are no less that FIVE tracks missing (We'll Bring the House Down, All Join Hands, Do You Believe in Miracles, My Oh My and Run Runaway). I'm guessing here, but as this album was a mish-mash of specially recorded tracks plus recent (at that time) Slade singles, my bet is the licencing for the singles was owned by someone else, and it was probably easier just to remove them rather than get involved in multi-licencing. Still for the pocket money price, you can't go wrong with this one. The low point is an ill-advised cover of 'Do They Know It's Christmas (Feed the World)'. I guess you can forgive them for trying, and it was probably quite an 'up to the minute' track at the time. But it sticks out like a sore thumb now, and although it is the most recent song on the album, bizarrely, it is the one song that makes the album look dated.

Here are a couple of tasters from 'Crackers', one Christmas-y the other not so:




Friday, 12 December 2008

Bettie Page - 1923 - 2008

I heard that she had suffered a heart attack last week, and had been in a coma ever since, so I was kinda expecting the worst. Yet the news that she died this morning still came as a bit of a shock. Weird really, as for 30 odd years everyone thought she was dead anyway! I'd only just got used to the idea of her actually being around again, and now she's gone. For good this time.

The legendary 1950's model has been a cult figure for over 50 years, loved by millions, yet completely unknown by millions, all at the same time. Someone at work today asked me about her, and the best I could do in one sentence was say she was like an underground Marilyn Monroe (since then I've heard that Page will be burried at Westwood Cemetary in California next week, the same place where Monroe is burried).

I discovered Bettie in the mid-80's and have been infactuated with her ever since. You know how you get into stuff, really buzz about it for a bit then lose interest? well it's never been like that with Bettie, and I've remained completely fascinated with her throughout... hell, I even have her tattooed on me! (yes, really!). When she resurfaced in the 1990's she signed up with CMG Worldwide agency, and to earn herself some money, she agreed to autograph photographs for them to sell. Apparently it took her about 10 minutes to sign each autograph, she ended up not doing that many, and the asking price was extortionate.... it's still the best thing i ever bought....

I've been meaning to do a Bettie Page post since I started this blog, and I will do a proper one at some point. But for now, RIP Bettie Page.


Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Carry On Christmas!

OK, I admit it... I'm a Christmas album pervert!! You hear these rock 'n roll stories where bands are living in such debauchery, that 'normal' sex just don't do it any more... So they have to 'up the ante', and of course, this becomes the norm and boring too. So the bar is continually raised until they are officially 24 carat pervs! Well that's me... but on Christmas albums (honest!).

I did a post last year about my weakness for Christmas albums... Y'know there was a time when a straight 'crooner' album of all the traditional classics would hit the spot for me every time. But there's only so many similar versions of 'Chestnuts Roastin On an Open Fire' you can buy before you start to lust after forbidden fruit, and for the last two or three years, that's what I've been pretty much exclusively buying... mad Christmas albums!

This 'Swingin Christmas' album is a good example. The cover has been designed to make you think it's a 50's album, but although there are no dates included in the sleeve notes, these tracks are much more likely to be from the 70's (maybe even early 80's), so are much cheesier on the ear than you might have expected!

Most of the tracks on this album sound like the closing credits to a 1970's Carry On film! (yes, really!), rather than 50's Sinatra cool swing (as they are trying to make you think), BUT as a Christmas album pervert, that suits me down to the ground! (I've got way too many 50's swingin type Christmas albums anyway).

I also love the cheekiness (some would call it pure fuckin laziness!) of including what I was fully expecting to be a new, undiscovered Christmas tune... Mr Santa. I've got a pretty good knowledge of Christmas songs (even the pretty obscure ones), but this one had me intrigued, I'd never heard of it or seen it listed on any other album before. So imagine my disappointment when on playing it I discovered it was actually that well know Christmas favourite 'Mr Sandman'!! If there had been some vocals it might have been something, but seeing this is a strictly instrumental album, I can't help but feel its inclusion was a bit of a rip off!! I mean, what next??? 'I Wanna Whole Lotta Christmas'? 'Ride a White Christmas'??!

Here's a taster from this album, which I can't listen to without picturing a cartoon caricature of Sid James cackling maniacally whilst givin the 'ol thumbs up!


More Christmas perversions comin soon... maybe!


Thursday, 4 December 2008

(Cr) Appy Christmas??

What's the deal with these Bavarian\German\French markets that seem to pop up in the High Streets in November and December? The one that appeared in Southend High Street last month (Bavarian\German) is, as was largely predicted, pants! When you hear a Bavarian market is headed your way, your mind conjures up wonderful images of snowy alps, lederhosen, Beer Kellers, Oompah bands, maybe even a bit of yuletide bear baiting... but transfer the lot to a chavy seaside town, and somehow the whole thing goes a bit naff!
I don't think I've spotted a single thing for sale that you can't buy in one of the normal shops in the High Street. I mean, one 'ol fella has lumped a few ton of 'pick n mix' over (that classic Bavarian delicacy!)... yeah, thanks for that mate, we've only ever dreamed of jelly strawberries and gobstoppers in Southend! I swear it's the same 'pick n mix' that you get in the cinema! And of course, this poor chump has paid to have it all carted over, and is no doubt having to pay for digs every night for a month to boot... and if he's sold more than a quids worth I'll be shocked!

And has anyone ever bought one of those hideous orange 'rock lights'? I use the word 'light' in the loosest term, as those things are so dim that I'd imagine the room gets darker when you switch it on! Again, you see the same rock lights in exactly the same position day after day, week after week... Who on earth persuades these poor people that Southend is the Mecca for 'pick n mix' and rock lights??

However, I was delighted to see that an open air yuletide bar had been set up at the top of the High Street, selling German beers and various mulled wines... Now that DID appeal! The only thing is, they've set the whole thing up right next to the permanent High Street sign warning you can be fined £500 for drinking alcohol there! That's gotta affect business!

The other thing of course is that because the overheads are so huge, most of the prices throughout the market are extortionate! £6 for a small gingerbread heart anyone? Toffee apple for £3? a manky bag of roasted peanuts for a fiver? Just what people are looking for in a credit crunch Christmas!

Other delights on sale right now in Southend High Street include
  • A "big meat stick" made from "Turky"

  • How about a "big knuckle" for six pound? or if you're feeling flush, why not add "cabbage and noodles" for an extra quid?? Yum!

  • Biltong Droewors (I tried some, and yes they taste ever bit as nice as they look! See pic below)

Hey! an open air Bavarian bar! That looks tempting....

Hey! A £500 fine for drinking at the open air Bavarian bar? Not so tempting!

But Piley likes to live dangerously, and risks a pint anyway....

Biltong Droewors anyone?

Surely you can't resist a big knuckle? Someone should have told them that knuckle sandwiches are already common (and free!) in Southend High Street, especially after closing time...

Meat on a stick? Come on mum, give the kids a treat!

Traditional Bavarian white and pink chocolate mice...

Froehliche Weihnachten!