Christmas continues, in my world, for at least a few more days, but this is still getting in under the wire I suppose. These are the write-ups I did for the minds.com Vinyl Collector group in December, all Christmas records: Kinks, Wombles, Redd Kross, Yobs. You want more, wait till next year.
It’s a small but growing group of dedicated vinyl collectors and music enthusiasts. I’ve learned a lot, and gotten a lot out of setting down my own thoughts. Kind of feels like we’re “building something,” on the group itself as well as on the minds platform, which is less censored, manipulative, and nefarious than any other web service I know. If you’d like to sign up and join the fun, you can use this link.
Here’s to a good next year for everyone.
The Kinks — “Father Christmas” / “Prince of the Punks” — Arista — ARISTA 153–1977
Lots of rock bands have put out novelty Christmas singles over the years, but I can’t think of too many that did it quite so well, and, I guess the word would be, “fittingly.” It’s not that Ray Davies did a Christmas song so much as that he turned Christmas itself into a Kinks song.
I have loved this mildly ironic socially-conscious Santa Claus meets the poor kids parable since I first heard it way back when. And Christmas aside, no single song the Kinks did in their later punk-reactive phase is so well put-together, on-target, and satisfying. It is about as perfect as a song of its kind can be. The guitars sound great, that lead is killer, the arrangement dead effective, it rocks and rolls just hard enough to make it seem easy, and the chorus is as catchy and shoutable as choruses get. There’s nothing more to say about it, really, except; A+, Mr. Davies. You did it again.
There is, however, more to say about the flipside, “Prince of the Punks.” For many years I’d unthinkingly classed this as a typical sardonic lampoon of the punks around town, in the same spirit as “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” or “Well Respected Man” from days gone by. Ray is still, in effect, in his Fortis Green front room, or rolling down the King’s Road in his limo perhaps, casting a jaundiced eye once again, skewering the hypocrisy and posturing of the purveyors of the “latest thing” in his updated but characteristic style. The old boy hasn’t changed a bit, and a rousingly dry, hummable, vitriolic character study has always been one of the things he does best. A solid B side.
Much later I learned that the song’s subject wasn’t some generic punk character but in fact none other than Tom Robinson, of the celebrated, admired, and at least quasi-punk Tom Robinson Band. (Things were so different in the 70s, children: much of what was called punk rock then probably sounds like Springsteenish roots rock to you now, as it kind of does even to me, though I still like it: that’s the “pub rock” roots showing, I expect.)
The enmity between Ray Davies and Tom Robinson stems from the fraught debut album of Robinson’s pre-punk folk rock band Cafe Society, which Davies produced and released on the Konk label in 1975. This friction seems to have developed into a massive, longstanding feud, and for all I know it’s still simmering to this day. In the intervening couple of years, the Sex Pistols happened, Robinson got punked up and politicized, came out as glad to be gay, and launched a successful career in the new, “new wave’ context, which, to judge from the “Prince of the Punks” lyrics, seems to have just, well, burned Ray up.
Robinson had a response-song as well, “Don’t Take No for an Answer”, directed at a “well respected man” who wants not a slice but “the whole lot”, pretty much a classic “record company screwed me over” anthem (and, if I’m honest, a better song.) This was released on the TRB’s 1978 live 7" Rising Free, and these two records, with their bitter dueling B-sides, rested in my record collection side by side, as it were, for decades before I realized there was a connection between them.
And I gotta say that, once the Prince of the Punks has a face, and that face is Tom Robinson’s, the sheer pettiness and nastiness of Ray’s rather grossly uncharitable lampoon is suddenly, well, a bit unappetizing. And, to quote Jez Usborne, not very Christmassy.
I love and respect Ray Davies more than perhaps any other person on this earth, but this is… well, not your finest hour, sir. And despite my effectively worshipful esteem for Ray Davies the artist, I’ve heard stories, and it doesn’t diminish my love to grant that in his personal and professional life, the guy could be a bit of a bastard. This isn’t all that uncommon among great artists, or lesser ones, I am given to understand, and fair enough: it’s all part of the rich tapestry of their island story. But I have no trouble believing that a peeved Ray Davies, the celebrated millionaire pop magnate, would, as reported, tie up and strangulate struggling little Tom Robinson’s comparatively microscopic publishing for years and years just out of spite.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas, indeed. Have yourself a good time. But remember the kids who have nothing while you’re drinking down your wine. That’s all I’m saying.
— The Kinks — “Father Christmas” promotional film:
— “Prince of the Punks” lyrics.
— “Prince of the Punks”, as a bonus track on the Sleepwalker CD re-issue.
— Tom Robinson Band, “Don’t Take No for an Answer” on Top of the Pops.
— original post on minds.
The Wombles — Keep on Wombling / CBS Records / CBS 80526 / 1974
I’ve posted about the Wombles, and sung the praises of Mike Batt, in this space before, if you’ll recall. But, as it’s the Christmas season, and as this album contains one of my favorite Christmas songs, I think it’s worth another post.
This is the third Wombles album and it’s arguably the most ambitious and fully realized work in the Wombles corpus. Aside from “Wombling Merry Christmas,” which I’ll get to in a bit, this album takes the already impressive pop artistry of the previous albums to further heights. Side A is a “concept album” titled “Orinoco’s Dream (Fantasies of a Sleeping Womble)”, comprising tracks 1 through 6. Orinoco is the Wombles’ keyboardist/vocalist, that is, it’s Mike Batt in the Womble suit, and the song cycle takes him through a series of dreams in which he is successively: an astronaut (“the captain of the skies”), a cowboy, a jungle explorer, an underground train conductor, and the conductor of an imaginary orchestra (doing “The Hall of the Mountain Womble”); the final song describes an encounter with a litter-crunching giant in a litter-strewn dreamscape.
This is orchestral psych-pop at its finest, a wide-ranging collage of stylistic pastiche, inventively conceived and arranged, each song a little work of art all its own, yet part of an integrated whole. I can only imagine what might have happened had I heard this a a kid (the ostensible target audience): it is mind-blowing, mind-expanding, the kind of music you can really lose yourself in. And apart from that, they’re simply great pop songs, as good as any you can imagine.
Side B leaves Orinoco’s dream behind, but not Batt’s inventiveness and sure-footed compositional ingenuity. “Tobermory’s Music Machine” is a tour de force of inspired W. S. Gilbert-tinged patter about a record player, featuring a bit where the needle sticks and skips, and another bit where it slows down and speeds up (“slower and slower and slower and slower, and faster and faster…”) finally ending when the contraption’s spring breaks. Truly one of the greatest pop productions I know of. “Wipe Those Womble Tears from Your Eyes” is a countrified pop tune, a traditional pedal-steel driven sentimental “I believe in you when no one else will” ballad, whose Wombly references don’t diminish its effect. “If nobody wants to know you, I’ll be here to sympathize…” This kind of stuff works on me, whether it’s done by George Jones or the Wombles (and had George done it, it’d have been a hit I’m sure.)
“Invitation to a Ping-Pong Ball” is another work of surreal pop genius, and it rocks as well, though some with particularly acute contemporary sensitivities might recoil from some of the Chinese pastiche elements… but, of course they have Wombles in Peking, and they clean up the Chinese litter just as well as those of Wimbledon Common do with the Wimbledon Common litter. Anyway, it’s 1974 now. We’re seven years old in 1974. We don’t yet know we’re supposed to get mad at songs…
And then we come to “Wombling Merry Christmas,” which closes the album and is another pop masterpiece, possibly the best of them all. The single spent eight weeks in the UK Top Ten over the 1974–75 Christmas season, though it was, they say, mocked by the hipper-than-thou pop establishment, which doesn’t surprise me one bit. It has since been acknowledged as a Christmas classic and a genuine thread in the fabric of British culture. I have seen crowds of drunken yobs and their falling-down ladies weeping rivers of sentimental tears when it plays in London pubs. Or maybe that was just me. Anyway, it’s simply beautiful. Golden tears falling from heaven indeed. God bless you, Orinoco.
(I will also note that in AD 2000, a weird edit of this song with Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” was released under the title “I Wish It Could Be a Wombling Merry Christmas Every Day.” It doesn’t do nice things to my brain, but I’m noting just because, well, ya gotta see The Move’s Roy Wood cavorting with Wombles and assorted Britishers. You just gotta.)
In sum, this is one of my favorite records, of which, after all these years, I am still very much in awe. Wombling through, I’ll tune into you if you’ll tune into me… we’ll send a message into the night. Merry Christmas everyone.
— The Wombles — “Wombling Merry Christmas” on Top of the Pops.
— The Wombles — Keep on Wombling album, playlist on youtube.
— original post on minds.
Redd Kross — “Super Sunny Christmas” 7" / Insipid Vinyl / IV-06 / 1991
Another Christmas record, for ’tis the season, Redd Kross with the irresistible “Super Sunny Christmas”, one of my favorite rock Christmas tunes.
This release is on the Australian label Insipid Vinyl, and I always assumed it to reference and celebrate the Australian Christmas season, which, because of circumstances having to do with placement on the globe and what-not occurs during the year’s hottest months. But people on the internet seem to think it’s just the Southern California Christmas, which could well be.
I love Redd Kross, and this one of their very best songs, a jangly, surfy, pseudo-glam quasi-Merseyside West Coast Bubblegummy amalgam of many of my favorite things. I wish there was a whole album of these, but the single’s all I’ve got. (This is the black vinyl version, which is fine, but the red seems like aesthetically the best, if you’re shopping.) Bikini-clad angels wearing mistletoe as halos… Merry Christmas to you all.
— Redd Kross “Super Sunny Christmas” on youtube.
— original post on minds.
The Yobs — The Yobs Christmas Album / Safari Records / Rude 1 / 1980
Merry Christmas, my friends. The Yobs were the novelty Christmas alter-ego of the London punk rock band the Boys. I have lots and lots to say about the Boys, who arose from the ashes of the glam/proto-punk Hollywood Brats and the London SS (which was Mick Jones’s pre-Clash band.) They were one of the original wave of London punk bands that followed in the immediate wake of the Sex Pistols’ first shows and their first two albums are among the finest collections of pop songs ever recorded. These guys knew what they were doing when it came to constructing songs and recording them. I’m sure I’ll do a write-up of one or both of them here at some point. The Boys staked out the territory for pretty much every punk pop band that followed, the good, the bad, and the horrible. Those albums are among my favorite records and they hold up very well today.
This Christmas album is more or less a piss-take on the whole concept of the Christmas album (and is the first punk rock Christmas album, if I’m not mistaken.) More casual and less inhibited than the main recordings, this record covers a surprisingly wide range of styles, from football chant sing-alongs, to vulgar versions of Christmas standards and originals in the same mold, to ersatz reggae and synth pop. (The latter was meant to lampoon Gary Numan, with whom one of the Boys apparently had some kind of feud.) “The Ballad of the Warrington” is simply a fine song in its own right and wouldn’t be out of place in any context, though it still makes me feel all Christmassy.
It’s a novelty record to be sure, but I love novelty records. (And a Christmas album that isn’t a novelty record — that is, one that is relentlessly earnest and reverent — would be too horrifying to imagine, at that.) Plus, it’s just a sound I like.
Anyway, it’s great fun, and not such an easy record to come by these days.
Many of the songs are NSFW, meaning not safe for work if you have a job, because if your boss hears you listening to it he might flip out and then there’s no telling what he’ll do to you. (Probably fire you and then take the fight to twitter to try to make you unemployable, and thus a public charge, forever; when your mother finally denounces you and tweets something like “you’re no son of mine”, and on Christmas no less, well, that’s gonna hurt the most. Or so you’d think. But when the family dog turns his back on you and walks away contemptuously, you’ll know you’ve hit rock bottom. And the bottle will be your only friend. Merry Christmas.)
(They also did a “Yobs on 45” 7" which mixed some of these songs to a disco beat… now there’s a parody with no resonance nowadays as few would get the Stars on 45 reference, but I remember thinking it was tremendously funny and clever the first time I heard it. It must have been pretty great to be a band at the beginning of everything, where everything you did was the first time out and was thus notable just for the sake of that.)
Anyway, all hail the Boys, the Yobs, and the Spirit of Christmas.
— The Yobs Christmas Album on youtube.
— original post on minds.