Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr ring in the New Year.
The Black on White Affair - Auld Lang Syne (Topaz Records [unreleased], 1970)
Best wishes in 2011 for the Gunslinger gazers, please enjoy this radical take on Robbie Burns' familiar ode to old times past by Seattle soul rockers The Black on White Affair. It starts off as a slightly off-brand Booker T and the MGs rendition, but builds to a frenzied climax that might sound more at home in an early Funkadelic outing. It's a perfect way to blast yourself into the next decade.
Jefferson Market Courthouse, circa 1905
This image comes courtesy of the fine folks at Shorpy Historic Photo Archive, who also provide a high res version of each photo. In this case, you can see a plug for this Gunslinger's favourite nerve tonic.
In honour of McCabe and Mrs. Miller being added to the National Film Registry this week, along with 24 other titles including It's a Gift, Make Way for Tomorrow, Grey Gardens and...Airplane.
Archy & Mehitabel: A Back Alley Opera (Columbia ML-4963; 1954)
This 1954 Columbia LP is a studio reworking of a stage production presented three years before by writer Joe Darion and composer George Kleinsinger at New York's Town Hall. The original performers were tenor Jonathan Anderson and soprano Mignon Dunn as New York Evening Sun columnist Don Marquis' blank-verse-typing cockroach Archy and his devil-may-care feline friend Mehitabel, but for the LP they amped up the star power with Preston Sturges stock company favourite Eddie Bracken, who did more stage than screen work in the '50s, and Carol Channing, who'd recently made her mark on Broadway in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Darion and Kleinsinger would later rework Archy & Mehitabel: A Back Alley Opera into the musical Shinbone Alley with the help of comedy writer Mel Brooks, and although Bracken returned to the role of Archy and Eartha Kitt ably took over for Channing (adding the song Toujours Gai to her permanent repertoire) the 1957 show was a flop, running for only 49 performances, but made enough impact to become a regional theatre staple and, in 1971, an animated feature with Bracken and, once again, Channing.
Unfortunately, the cartoon's artwork doesn't contain much of the charm of the original Archy & Mehitabel drawings by Krazy Kat creator George Herriman, which illustrate the cover of this Columbia LP on the front and back and, unusually for this period, a unique cardboard inner sleeve which also includes liner notes by E.B. White.
#49 from a series of 50 from Player's Navy Cut Cigarettes
"Dorothy Wilson was born in Minneapolis on November 14th, 1909. On leaving the Vocational High School where she was educated, she became a typist in a paper mill. Three years later, when she was nineteen, she went to Hollywood and got a job as shorthand typist in the R.K.O. studios. Among her tasks was the typing of the script of a film called Are These Our Children? Six weeks later she was playing the leading role in it. Since then she has appeared in Scarlet River, Before Dawn, Winged Devils, Eight Girls in a Boat, One in a Million and His Greatest Gamble."
Note: whoever wrote the copy for this card has Wesley Ruggles' Are These Our Children? mixed up with Wilson's actual screen debut, Gregory La Cava's Age of Consent. She's not even in Are These Our Children?, although both '30s teen-angst films star Arline Judge, which is probably the cause of the mix-up.
Kate Bush - December Will Be Magic Again (EMI 5121; 1980)
There's nothing particularly rare or odd about this Kate Bush single from 30 years ago, it's certainly been on its fair share of Christmas compilation CDs. But it's always been a favourite of mine due to the combination of mystery and excitement that pours forth from Bush's multi-octave voice, extolling the wonders of Bing Crosby and Oscar Wilde. She eventually transforms herself into a snowflake, and her vocals blanket our ears in drifts of sound. For a one-off Christmas tune, it remains a marvel of performance and production.
As an added bonus, here's a rare clip of Bush performing December Will Be Magic Again on a 1979 TV special, with a live vocal over a different mix of the song. Enjoy!
Morecambe & Wise - The 12 Days of Christmas b/w Bingle Jells (Pye 17436; 1965)
This being Christmas Eve and all, here's both sides of a 1965 single recorded for Pye Records by British comedy duo Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise featuring their beloved brand of tomfoolery on a mixed-up version of The 12 Days of Christmas and the spoonerific Bingle Jells.
And if you feel like more of Eric & Ernie, go back and fetch their previous Christmas recording The Happiest Christmas of All, which was the third of 2008's 12 Discs of Christmas.
Homer & Jethro - Santa Claus, the Original Hippie
(from Cool Crazy Christmas, RCA Victor LSP-4001; 1968)
Whiz-bang Nashville musicians Henry Haynes and Kenneth Burns were better known to the public as country and western parody act Homer & Jethro, which had a two-decade run on RCA Victor under the aegis of producer and guitar-playing pal Chet Atkins (who appears on the cover of Cool Crazy Christmas under cover of a snowy white beard).
The duo is best known for its 1959 Grammy-winning parody of Johnny Horton's The Battle of New Orleans, The Battle of Kookamunga, and while its act was getting a bit long in the tooth by the time they released this seasonal collection in 1968--Haynes died of a heart attack three years later--we can at least revel in the dated corn of Santa Claus, the Original Hippie. Of course a stronger case could be made for the title going to the birthday boy himself, but I don't know how well that would have sat with Homer & Jethro's audience four decades ago.
Sam Ulano - Santa and the Doodle-Li-Boop (MGM K11898; 1955)
Over the past year I've gone from never having heard of this Christmas oddity by drummer Sam "Mr. Rhythm" Ulano to finding out that it's not even the original version. That was recorded a year earlier in 1954 by none other than Art Carney. Unfortunately, I don't have the Carney recording, that YouTube clip will have to suffice, but Ulano's version still has its own charm with the New York drummer adding his own extra oomph on the percussion side.
Ulano's still going at age 90, offering up his instructional books, CDs and videos online. In his heyday he was an in-demand player on the New York scene, often working in TV on shows hosted by Steve Allen, Gary Moore, Ernie Kovacs and Joe Franklin. According to his resume he's also recorded with Moondog and, for one night in 1981, was a member of Public Image Ltd.
The song was written by Alan Abel, perhaps better known as a humourist, master prankster and the man behind the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (with co-conspirator Buck Henry), which managed to dupe several news agencies into believing it was an actual organization, starting with The Today Show in 1959.
Recently the 80-year-old Abel left this reminiscence about his immortal composition over at Todd Klein's blog:
"I understand 500,000 copies of the 78 rpm were sold in the early 50’s. Station WNEW in New York City played it around the clock, daily a month before Christmas in 1954. Their contest was for listeners to describe a “Doodle-li-boop” and send any amount of money for the Childrens Aid Society. There were hundreds of submissions and thousands of dollars for the charity. New Yorkers were charmed and many annoyed by the constant air plays. In fact I was in a dentist’s chair with mouth filled with cotton and he began to sing the song! He had no idea it was mine and I couldn’t talk. The radio contest ended when a panel of notables, hosted by Marilyn Monroe, selected a sketch of a “Doodle-li-boop” that resembled a milk bottle with a face and feet. Macy’s and Gimbel’s were deluged by customers seeking what they thought was a new toy. But none existed. And so it goes."
Today's Adventure: Director Garson Kanin engages members of his cast (Cary Grant, Irene Dunne and Granville Bates) in a game of jacks in between takes of My Favorite Wife (1940).
for the series: Adventures in American Filmmaking
Miro's Band: Christmas Eve b/w Christmas Morn (Berliner Gram-O-Phone 216042; 1918)
Here's a rarely heard novelty, recorded in Montreal in 1918 by Spanish-born composer and conductor Henri (Enrique) Miro, who worked as musical director for the Berliner Gram-O-Phone and recorded dance tunes with his studio ensemble while devoting his spare time to writing more serious operettas for the stage.
Written by Walter B. Rogers, this two-parter subtitled "Kiddies' Patrol" presents the events of one household's Christmas night and morning with a mix of music, voiceover and sound effects.
Translated from the above advertisement:
"Christmas Eve is truly an authentic record of Christmas; placing the children 'behind the scenes' to some extent. They will hear the bells on the sleigh of the patron saint of children. Many times after Christmas you will be called on to play 'the record of Father Christmas.'"
Mae Questel - I Want You for Christmas (Decca 1544; 1937)
If I was more organized, I'd have realized that I Want You for Christmas by Mae Questel, sung in her Betty Boop prime in 1937, was already on the Merry Swacmas 2009 compilation I posted on Christmas Day last year, but having already uploaded the tune and a photo of Betty in Toyland, taken from the Fleischer brothers' 1933 cartoon Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, I figured there was no harm in sharing the song as an individual track.
This fetching tune was written by Sam H. Stept with lyrics by Ned Washington and Charles Tobias, and was also recorded by Russ Morgan and Dick Robertson. (More recently it was recorded by Toronto jazz siren Alex Pangman for her CD Christmas Gift.) Stept and Tobias also co-wrote Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree, while Stept's first big hit, oddly enough, came in the form of the tune That's My Weakness Now, made famous by Helen Kane. As you probably know, it was Kane's bubbly vocal delivery that was the inspiration for Betty Boop's voice and was later the basis of a lawsuit against the Fleischers, which Kane ultimately lost.
Meanwhile, Ned Washington is a name familiar to aficianados of popular song; his lyricist credits include When You Wish Upon a Star, High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'), The Nearness of You and Singin' in the Bathtub (which became the basis for the first Warner Brothers theatrical cartoon, Sinkin' in the Bathtub).
In case you're wondering what the A-side was, it's In Our Little Wooden Shoes, taken from 20th Century Fox's production of Heidi, starring Shirley Temple.
The Reels - The Bombs Dropped on Xmas (Mercury 6235 014; 1980)
As a response to this year's fourth disc of Christmas, Christmas Was Better in the '80s by the Futureheads, here's an obscure holiday gem by Australian pop band the Reels.
A page from the 1927 Paramount release book
(H.G. Wells) had long since dismissed the likelihood of his most famous novel ever being made into a movie. He knew the enormous scope of his book would make the cost of a film prohibitively expensive. So, when Paramount Pictures sought to purchase his novel in 1925 for Cecil B. DeMille, Wells gladly sold the studio executives at Paramount the rights in perpetuity.
In 1926, the studio announced the start of production on a big-screen adaptation of The War of the Worlds by DeMille as his follow-up to the enormously successful 1923 version of The Ten Commandments. The silent film was to be shot partially in color using the same 2-strip Technicolor process that had been used on previous films with the remainder of the picture in black & white. Shortly after Paramount Pictures' official announcement, The New York Times leaked a story that Arzen Doscerepy, a famous German technical expert who had been producing movies in Berlin, had been hired to complete the film's special effects. The Times reported that he had “spent two years perfecting devices and mechanisms which will make Wells’s Martians walk and spray death around the world.”
Doscerepy’s work was very similar to the stop-motion animation that Willis O’Brien had employed to make dinosaurs come to life in The Lost World (1925) and other films. Unfortunately, DeMille could not come up with a script that he liked, and he left the project in pre-production.
~From War of the Worlds: From Wells to Spielberg by John L. Flynn
Captain Beefheart - There Ain't No Santa Claus on the Evenin' Stage
(from The Spotlight Kid, Reprise MS-2050, 1972)
"Nobody knows how to make sad songs anymore. They all just sound like vampires now. Songs break my eardrums instead of my heart these days."
~Don Van Vliet