Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Run DMC - Christmas In Hollis (1987)

A single that was included on two 1987 Christmas compilation albums featuring various artists: A Very Special Christmas (A&M records 3911) and Christmas Rap (Profile records 1247). The track was produced by Run DMC along with Rick Rubin, and has become hugely popular during the Christmas season. It re-released and reached no.78 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in 2000, 13 years after it was first released.
The title refers to Hollis, the neighborhood in Queens where Run, DMC and Jam Master Jay grew up. The track samples Clarence Carter's 1968 Christmas song Back Door Santa, as well as using the melody from Frosty the Snowman, Jingle Bells, and Joy to the World. The song was famously used in the 1988 film Die Hard, played by the limousine driver Argyle when he drives into Nakatomi Plaza's underground garage. It was heard briefly in 'Can't Fix Crazy', the final episode of the first series  of Orange Is the New Black, and was also heard at the beginning of the Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode 'Christmas'.
The song is currently being used as part of UK catalogue retailers Argos Christmas 2014 campaign.


Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Charles Brown - Merry Christmas Baby (1961)

First posted 21/12/2012.

R'n'B dynamite from the man who goes back so far, he even influenced Nat King Cole and Ray Charles. This much recorded tune truly evokes the spirit of the festive season.
Are we the only ones bothered by the fact that many of our most treasured holiday songs were recorded in the balmy surroundings of Los Angeles? Think about it… Bing Crosby probably played a round of golf and had a couple of cocktails by the pool before laying down White Christmas in an air-conditioned studio. L.A. also served as the backdrop for the holiday classic Merry Christmas Baby by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, with the great Charles Brown on vocals and piano. Guitarist Moore tried several times to recreate the success of that number - even recruiting Brown soundalike Frankie Ervin for this blatant rip-off recorded in November ’55 (just in time for the holiday season).
Who cares? We’ll take this over Michael Bublé’s Christmas any time of year. 


Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Merry Christmas, James Brown Style!

Post first published 22/12/2011

Between 1966 and 1970, James Brown released three Christmas-themed albums; Christmas Songs, A Soulful Christmas and Hey America.
The records are a mix of Christmas standards (The Christmas Song, Charles Brown's Merry Christmas Baby), Christmas-themed throwaways ("Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto, Go Power at Christmas Time), obvious filler ("hey, let's do a blues vamp, throw snatches of vibraphone that quote Rudoloph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and title it something seasonal like, uh, I don't know, maybe Believers Shall Enjoy (Non-Believers Shall Suffer)) and stuff that has no obvious reason for being on a Christmas album (Say It Loud (I'm Black & I'm Proud)).
In some ways, they represent James's songwriting at its worst-- the lyrics usually sound like they were entirely ad-libbed-- but his gifts as a singer, a star and a bandleader are such that the records are pretty enjoyable. I was planning to post a bunch of rips, but I discovered that all of the tracks I wanted to post except one are currently available, including a gang that had been left off Rhino's classic James Brown Xmas reissue. So instead, I'll post the one omission and run down some other faves:

This is one of my favorite James Brown songs; when I listen to it, I feel transported. I can't explain why I find it so affecting, but for a few minutes I feel flush with benevolence and optimism like, hey, maybe we all can get along. Really.

I'm Your Christmas Friend, Don't Be Hungry

James's tendency towards maudlin sentimentality on these Christmas records can get really silly, especially when a song also includes lines like "I do the monkey, the mashed potato/Whenever I'm blue", but he infuses the "I'm your friend/I'm your friend" refrain with so much soul that it really moves me.

This song probably contains more WTF? moments than any other James Brown song, and that is saying something. James begins with a shout to those who've come to see him in concert in the past year, riffing about having seen "a million peace signs", before briefly slipping into some Christian fare ("God gave his son, let us celebrate") and then launching a hail of multi-cultural catchphrases, shouting "as salaam aleikum" and "danke schön" (which he pronounces "donkey Sean") and then singing snatches of ethnic-themed supper-club fare (Hava Nagila and Volare).

Friday, 12 December 2014

Double Exposure ‎– Everyman (Has To Carry His Own Weight) (1976)

Sampled by many, most famously by M&S Presents The Girl Next Door back in 2000; a cracking dance tune in and of itself, but not the reason we're here today. Now, the original is by Double Exposure, a Philadelphia-based act (who were originally called 'United Image' back in the 1960s) that recorded on the iconic Salsoul label.
On December 11, 1975, at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, PA, Double Exposure began recording what would become one of the most successful albums ever to come out of the Philly music empire. Their 1976 album Ten Percent featured a pair of major club hits, with the title track's remix by Walter Gibbons being the first commercially available 12-inch single. and the other track Everyman (Has To Carry His Own Weight).
The group are currently, as of September 2008, recording new material, including an Eli/Dixon/Green composition called Soul Rece$$ion at Eli's 'Studio E' facility in Philadelphia. Some original Salsoul/Philly/TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)/MFSB (Gamble and Huff) session musicians appeared on Soul Rece$$ion, including Earl Young (drummer), Bobby Eli, Dennis Harris, T G Conway, Jimmy Williams & Rikki Hicks.


Thursday, 11 December 2014

Sister Sledge - Got To Love Somebody Today (1980)

This track hails from Love Somebody Today, the follow-up album to the mighty 1979 album We Are Family and seems pretty much a forgotten child of the Nile Rogers/Bernard Edwards collaborations. It did get a release, but failed to reach the heights that the more famous sibling songs did (US Pop no.64, R&B no.6), but make no mistake, Got To Love Somebody Today is no poor relation to the sisters more famous tracks.
As an aside, Love Somebody Today was one of four albums to be written and produced by Edwards and Rodgers in 1980, the other three being Sheila and B. Devotion's King of the World which included its hit single Spacer, Chic's fourth studio album Real People and Diana Ross' multi-platinum selling Diana which includes Upside Down, I'm Coming Out and My Old Piano.
Thats some prodigious output for one year.


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Stephanie Mills - You Can Get Over (1979)

While the previous two tracks we have posted this week were one-off from acts that were (sadly) never hard from again, I think its fair to say that today's artist has staying power.
Stephanie Mills has had a career spanning from 1975 covering many musical styles, including some TUFF disco tracks. You Can Get Over is a track from her classic 1979 album What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin'. Written and produced by James Mtume and Reggie Lucas ( of MFSB fame), the rack didn't make much of a dent in the charts, getting to no.55 on the US R&B chart and no.101 on the main Billboard chart, but that doesn't detract one iota from it being a great track.
And as an extra-special treat, heres the full 12" version; nine minutes of late-70's DiscoSoul loveliness. Enjoy.


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Air Power - Be Yourself (1979)

Before writer/producer Donald Burnside formed First Love , he gave us the lone Air Power single on legendary LA-based disco label AVI (American Variety International) Records. Soaring disco strings, funky clavinet stabs and endless percussion breaks make this one an essential piece of the late period disco puzzle. Another gem from 1979.


Monday, 8 December 2014

Mary Clark ‎- Take Me I'm Yours (1980)

Not much seems to be known about either the artist or label; Mary Clark only released this track (and a great one it is) and it was the only release on the Le Shawn label, in 1980. According to some sources, less than 200 copies were pressed, so laying your hands on a copy would be hard, to say the least.
But in the digital age, nothing is impossible. The song has surfaced on the Internet via various platforms, so one of those 200 lucky owners went that extra mile and ripped this gem to Mp3. Whomever you are, we thank you, as  a bass line like this well as flights of brass and violins and the powerful and vibrant voice of Mary Clark deserve a wider audience.