Saturday, December 8, 2012

Holiday Horrors: Akahana no Tonakai (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

Nightmare: Akahana no Tonakai (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer) unavailable for purchase

It's not that I don't like some of Nightmare's songs, because I do. They did the theme song for Death Note, for example, which is pretty good. They're not afraid to take on new stuff, either: last year's Visual Kei tribute to Disney featured two reworked tunes by Nightmare.

But this song? What can be said for a song that starts out with ethereal keyboards and toy piano twee and then segues into speed metal without a by-your-leave? One thing it's good for, though, is clearing out the remnants of a house party that's gone on far too long.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Holiday Horrors: The Police Got My Car

Cheech & Chong: The Police Got My Car

[purchase Dr. Demento Presents the Greatest Christmas Novelty CD of All Time ]

Christmas music has found its way into nearly every genre of music from rap to garage band … and reggae to blues. I’m glad there’s been a resurgence in holiday music and that radio stations put it out over the airwaves. However, I’m somewhat of a traditionalist who still enjoys music this time of year that captures something about the meaning of the season. When I got to thinking about it, I came up with a dozen “holiday horrors” in no time at all. The Dr. Demento album link above offers cuts of a few of them (by the likes of Wild Man Fischer, Elmo & Patsy, Singing Dogs, Stan Freberg, Weird Al Yankovic, and others).

I settled on posting something from Cheech & Chong when I heard one of them ask, “Hey man, isn’t Santa Claus a group, man?” in their rendition of “Santa Claus and His Old Lady.” That misconception and total disregard for the season could only be held by those inane misfits and miscreants of comedy, Cheech & Chong. So here is their version of “The Police Got My Car,” sung? to the tune of “Feliz Navidad.”

Check out the comment recently posted by YouTube visitor Victor Roman: “This is an outstanding song and i play it out loud in my neighborhood every Xmas day - bright and early in the morning - it used to piss everyone off but after 7 years - its more like a joke tradition and has become a time to crack beers open for xmas breakfast and hobnob with the neighbors.”

Now that sentiment makes sense on Christmas Day, doesn’t it? I suppose that most “holiday horrors” go down alright with a few cold brewskies while BS’ing with others in your ‘hood. Why not use this song as an ice breaker to make some new friends?

I still remember that day in 1972 when some friends and I took my parents to a Cheech & Chong concert in Eugene, Oregon. My dad said “They’re quite humorous,” and my mom profoundly stated, “They’re doing something for humanity.”

Monday, December 3, 2012

Holiday Horrors: Wassail Song

Bluesboy Jag: Wassail Song
Source (it is a free download embedded in a zipped file)

On the one hand, I applaud the “cigar box” concept: if it were possible to make my own instrument that does the job, why should I succumb to the mercantile mentality that makes me pay for the namebrand rather than the sound. When we listen to a musician’s chops, most of us cannot ID the brand of the instrument (some of us can’t even ID the instrument!). Why not play a cigar box guitar?

A cigar box guitar is literally a guitar hand crafted from a cigar box:  you cut a sound hole, slap a neck onto the wooden box, decorate as desired, tune the strings. Obviously, some are going to sound better/worse than the rest (hence the horror).

A four year old project (as far as I can see it goes back to ’08) Cigar Box Nation Christmas Songs features various contributors of Xmas classics. Requirement: tune must include a cigar box guitar and the song must be public domain.

The musician here, Bluesboy Jag, claims a long road to where he’s at now. His bio lists various jobs all across the spectrum: cook, tech support, various manager positions and, of course, musician. You can learn more about him here.

The song “Here We Come A-Wassailing” hints at an interesting pedigree. The song was apparently written in the mid 1800s but is based on a tradition that probably goes back several centuries before that: Christmas singers going door to door would be given food and drink at the doors of the rich.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Holiday Horrors: Nuttin' For Christmas

Sugarland: Nuttin' For Christmas


The crass commercialism of the holidays has always seemed to me the ugliest part of the season - so much so that I spent Thanksgiving and the subsequent week putting up a pair of feature posts at my own blog promoting the authentic side of giving, and offering a few suggestions on how to support struggling artists and small labels through Kickstarter donations, concert subscriptions, and other artist-friendly options, thus bringing the local to the Internet age.

But although the feedback of blog comments and friend-filled Facebook feeds can too-easily leave the impression that the world believes what we do, outside in the arena of Santas and shopping my own efforts always seem tiny and hollow compared to the loud and over-annunciated voices of the popular. Black Friday remains one of the top shopping days of the year, Walmart remains stuffed to the gills with shoppers: everywhere, the soundtrack sings of purchasing, and oh what fun it is to buy; of getting, and oh what joy it is to demand of others, and open the booty they have provided.

Sadly, the "gimmie" song is both a harbinger and hallowed component of the mall-rat culture. For every White Christmas, there is a Christmas Don't Be Late; for every cover of Joni Mitchell's River or The Pretenders' 2000 Miles, there is a Here Comes Santa Claus, a Santa Baby, a Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. A simple search for the words "want", "for Christmas", and "lyrics" reveals a holy host of songs about stuff, from Hippopotami to Beatles. And so on, etcetera, in his name, amen.

From a sociological perspective, the song I have chosen for this week's theme is centrally located within the type: though its title sounds like it might be antithetical, its narrative eminently reinforces the message of Be Good, Get Stuff which so permeates the holiday canon. First written in the fifties, when the substance-seeker tropes of the new middle class may have been loudest and crassest of all in our sordid history of buying as Americans, and with no less than five top popcharting versions by five different artists in 1955 alone, it has more recently been recorded by such unlikely repeaters as punk band Reliant K, hard radiorockers Smashmouth, and acoustic pop-lite group The Plain White Ts, adding to a collection of older versions from Eartha Kitt, The Fontane Sisters, popular satirist Stan Freberg, and others of the usual mass genres.

The version here, recorded and released in 2009 by Countrypop duo-and-then-some Sugarland, is twangy and silly, but hardly redemptive. Worse, it suffers from the same overly corny, too-cute sentiment which is so deeply embedded in the song's lyrics and melody, I suspect it cannot be shaken free. Better, still, would be the gift of a full-blown universal moratorium on ever recording or playing it ever again, save in cases of extreme irony - so if you happen to be omnipotent, and wondering what to get me this year, feel free to put the total eradication of this song from the earth on the top of the list.

Holiday Horrors: The Twelve Days of Christmas


Other than “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” I can’t really think of a holiday song that I truly hate. There are some that are sappy, and others that are annoying. There are versions of holiday songs that I don’t like, and, especially over the past few years, I have heard some original holiday songs that grate, but who wants to write about those?

“The Twelve Days of Christmas,” though, is a generally painful song. First, there is the repetition. I understand that many old folk songs are repetitive, because they were designed to allow them to be sung and memorized before they were written down, or before most people could read. Maybe back when people had longer attention spans, this song was a hoot. But now it just goes, on and on. I’ve seen it compared to “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”

Then, there are the gifts. Way more birds than anybody needs, before you get to troops of people, plus, of course, five gooooooooooooooold rings. And it annoys me that every year, some (probably junior) reporters are forced to report on the cost of the presents, as if they had some bearing on the economy. I’m guessing that it was harder back in the pre-Internet era, when, I assume, the cub reporter had to call, say, an employment agency, and ask how much it would cost to rent a bunch of milkmaids or pipers.

The song’s very ridiculousness makes it ripe for parody, and my favorite is the Bob & Doug McKenzie version, a cartoon of which is above. The McKenzies were characters created by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas on SCTV, a brilliant sketch comedy show from the late 1970’s-early 1980’s that never really got the kind of consistent scheduling that has allowed Saturday Night Live to run forever. A number of SCTV alumni later joined SNL, and/or went on to greater fame in movies and TV, but for me, the SCTV shows approached Monty Python in their inventiveness and lunacy.

SCTV was produced in Canada, and the McKenzie brothers were created in response to a requirement, or request, that the shows include Canadian content. So, these characters embodied pretty much every Canadian stereotype, and somehow, we in the USA got it. The popularity of these dim “hosers” led to a movie and a couple of albums, from which “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” comes. It is funny, sloppy and gently rude, and thus effectively demonstrates the McKenzie brothers’ charm. And they get bored part of the way through, just like me.

We’ve been encouraged to post multiple versions of the songs we choose, so here’s another parody, by Allen Sherman from the early 1960’s. Here, the recipient gets a series of cheap, tacky gifts, and exchanges them on the twelfth day. Not only is it a send up of the increasingly prevalent consumer culture of the time, one of the running gags is that Japanese electronics are inferior. Times have changed, I guess.

Holiday Horrors: The Little Drummer Boy

Let me open the new week on Star Maker Machine with a wish and a warning. First, let me wish our readers the very best of holiday seasons, no matter what you are celebrating. As for the warning, remember that, if you mention this week that a certain holiday song is one of your least favorite, that song will follow you around for the rest of the season. This week, my fellow Star Makers and I will be taking the heat so that you don’t have to. Our posts may be examples of how we wish no one would do holiday music, but there may also be examples of how some of these songs can be redeemed. And there may be examples of times when songwriters try to counteract the corniest impulses of the season by injecting a little playful horror into their songs. I don’t know exactly what will happen either, but it’s all in the spirit of fun.

For me, this week must begin with The Little Drummer Boy. My strong feelings about this song date back to my junior year of high school. I never had a strong dislike of The Little Drummer Boy until we sang it in my high school choir. Now, you might say, sure the melody may be a bit monotonous, but it’s not that bad. If you say that, you are probably a soprano or tenor. I am a bass, and the arrangement we sang had a bass part that was just the word “prum” over and over again on the same note. Do you have any idea how challenging it is to hold a single note when you are profoundly bored? Since then, I do.

The obvious choice of a version for this post would have been Bing Crosby, with or without David Bowie. Indeed, I find the Crosby/ Bowie version to be one of the most tolerable. But I wanted a version that messes up the song a bit, my revenge perhaps. Grace Jones certainly fills the bill. Her arrangement remakes the song in glorious 80s excess. The horror here is either the arrangement or that awful outfit. As far as I can tell, this version of Drummer Boy is not available for purchase.