Sparks, ‘Wonder Girl’ (‘Billboard’ magazine, November 04, 1972). Click to enlarge.
The band known as Halfnelson originally released their song “Wonder Girl” in 1971 to little fanfare. The group changed their name to Sparks, re-issuing the single in 1972, where it became a regional hit in Alabama and just scraped Cash Box‘s Top 100.
PK AND THE SOUND EXPLOSION, CHRISTMAS DISCO (1977); MISTLETOE DISCO BAND, CHRISTMAS DISCO (1978); MIRROR IMAGE, YULETIDE DISCO (1979)
The ’70s kind of sucked for Christmas albums. Though there were a lot of great holiday singles released over the decade, the seasonal albums were pretty boring, with hardly an LP or tape you could play at a party and rock the house. Consequently, the short-lived Christmas disco phenomenon represents a welcome batch of upbeat holiday tuneage for the ’70s music fan and, by extension, the 8-track collector.
After Salsoul Orchestra’s 1976, Christmas Jollies, most disco Christmas albums were issued by Pickwick Records, a budget label largely known for soundalike remakes of current hits. Session guitarist P.K. Thompson (today a Nashville bluegrass player) and his band the Sound Explosion released a flurry of soundalike LPs on Pickwick in 1977, ripping off Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, and the Beach Boys.
Maybe PK and the band were just exhausted after ripping off other artists all year, but from the sounds of Christmas Disco, they don’t have their heart in this dance-music thing. It sounds like they’d rather be playing country and western, especially on the slowish, not-disco-at-all version of “Let It Snow” and the twangy Nashville guitar solo on “Winter Wonderland.” The album’s largely a female chorus singing nonstop over a backing of tinny brass and clueless disco hi-hat, with tracks transitioned in a nonstop dancefloor style. Because of this, the Pickwick 8-track doesn’t rearrange cuts but simply fades down and up for the track shifts, breaking three songs in the process. Boo.
But things get better for the remaining four albums in the category, which are really just two albums credited to different acts. Recordings released by Pickwick under the artist name Mirror Image (not surprisingly, another soundalike act) also came out on Mistletoe and Holiday Records under the Mistletoe Disco Band moniker. Happily the quality for these recordings was much higher, resulting in something you might almost want to listen (or dance) to.
The Mistletoe Disco Band’s 1978 Christmas Disco (reissued in 1979 as Mirror Image’s Yuletide Disco) is a well-played, continuously delightful collection in the classic disco style. The drumming is on point, the mandatory disco strings add energy, and the arrangements are clever, borrowing from MFSB’s “TSOP” and Silver Convention’s “Fly Robin Fly.” Vocal passages trading off with instrumental renderings (some with oddball synth voicings) keep the familiar melodies fresh, while sizzling percussion breakdowns make this feel like something you’d actually hear in a club.
Both 8-tracks of this material sound swell, with the Mistletoe DB’s tape a bit glossier. Note how Pickwick and Mistletoe programmed the exact same tracks completely differently. Each tape breaks a different song, and the Mistletoe version adds a partial reprise of “Silver Bells” (about two minutes or so) to fill out the program. Christmas disco is hardly a timeless phenomenon, especially on 8-track. But if you were headed to someone’s Christmas party back in the day, you’d be thrilled to have had either of these in your back pocket. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum!
Raise your hand if you’re familiar with this, strange but fun, number one UK hit from Lieutenant Pigeon. Anyone? Ah, a few hands. Good.
“Mouldy Old Dough” is apparently the only British #1 to feature a mother and son team (Rob & Hilda Woodward). And it may be the only chart-topper to have been recorded in the quiet front room of a house in Coventry. Get out yer rock flutes and have a listen!
Lieutenant Pigeon: ‘Mouldy Old Dough’ (‘TopPop,’ 1972)
Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog 1972 Photo By Bror Augustsson – Kamerareportage
Abba Unseen – In Pictures
An ABBA exhibition opens in London’s Southbank on the 14th of this month featuring little seen photos, memorabilia, and costumes. The show runs until April 29, 2018. You’ll want to read all about it.
The Guardian quote: “The Abba tour plane in Australia, 1977… Inside was standard seating with everyone in ordinary rows, the band, as ever, not separated from their crew. This was the way Abba always toured, without pomp. Their riders were also remarkably slim, only asking for post-show drinks.”
David Cassidy And Kim Carnes By Getty Via Rolling Stone
David Cassidy: Kim Carnes Recalls Wild Times With Teen Idol
Singer Kim Carnes toured and wrote songs with her friend David Cassidy in the early 1970s. In a new article she reminisces.
Rolling Stone quote: “As David used to say, he couldn’t go to a market, he couldn’t go out anywhere, and our house became a safe place for him. We’d get out a bottle of wine and smoke a joint and put on this collection of really whacked-out, crazy, bad records, and we’d put on the same records time and time again, and laugh just as hard every time about them. But then, we’d put on what we all liked: Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck.”
Mavis Staples sings
Mavis Staples: ‘All That Progress We Made – And Now We Have A Liar In The White House’
The incredible Mavis Staples of The Staple Singers chats about her latest record and long career in a new interview. Social and musical influences inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahalia Jackson are mentioned, as well as work with Curtis Mayfield, Prince, and many others. Read up.
The Guardian quote: “Dylan asked Staples to marry him in 1964, shortly after they had kissed for the first time at the Newport folk festival; she said no, feeling that back then she couldn’t marry a white man. ‘That’s a long time ago,’ she says, in a clipped, no-nonsense fashion, shutting down any discussion of rekindled romance. ‘These days, we just play and go back to our own lives. We’re old now. As soon as the gig’s over, I’m going to bed to sleep.'”
Neil Young Archives
Neil Young’s Online Archives
Neil Young has launched a new website at NeilYoungArchives.com. Master quality audio for every Young tune imaginable (and previously unknown) is available and fans will definitely want to get stuck in. There’s a lifetime of the artist’s music ready for enjoyment – and a video from Neil to help get you started.
Neil Young Twitter quote: “We developed this site…to provide fans & music historians with access to all of my music and to my entire archives in one location. The site allows me to share with the world the material I’ve spent a lifetime creating and collecting. I hope you enjoy it.”
Curtis Mayfield & Curtom Records Thanks NATRA (‘Record World’ magazine, 1974). Click to enlarge.
Curtis Mayfield launched the Curtom record label along with band manager Eddie Thomas in 1968. Above, we have an August 1974 Curtom ad from Record World magazine thanking NATRA (National Association of Television and radio Announcers). Mayfield, his former band The Impressions are seen, along with Leroy Hutson, and Natural Four.
Mayfield wrote songs for and helped produced all of the artists found here and Mayfield’s hit tune at the time, “Kung Fu,” can be enjoyed below.
THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY, A PARTRIDGE FAMILY CHRISTMAS CARD
In the wake of David Cassidy’s passing last week, I thought I’d post one more tribute to his career, this time a Christmas offering from his “band” and TV relatives The Partridge Family. This 1971 album, the band’s fourth, represents kind of a turning point for the group — the start of their declining fortunes, sadly. It follows three sparkling and successful LPs and a handful of hit singles released in 1970 and 1971. Not messing with the formula, it features the familiar Partridge pop sound: lilting, undemanding arrangements with quite a bit of harpsichord, generic backing vocals by Ron Hicklin’s group, a slightly rockin’ feel, and David Cassidy’s warm lead vocals on most cuts.
Thematically, A Partridge Family Christmas Card continues the convention of naming records (and styling cover art) after household objects. They’d already given us LPs resembling a photo album, a calendar, and a fan magazine, and would go on with album art inspired by shopping bags, loose-leaf notebooks, and bulletin boards. (Had they continued for a decade, I’m sure we would have seen The Partridge Family Potholder and The Partridge Family Utility Bill.) The original LP release featured a removable greeting card (a photo of the band) inside a custom red envelope.
That card inspired a title song (of sorts) for the album, a charming holiday number inexplicably never issued as a single. “My Christmas Card To You” mixes seasonal chamber-pop sentiments (“To you and all your family, your neighbors and your friends”) with a soulful verse that finds Cassidy crafting a musical greeting card: “’Stead of lettin’ the postman bring it / I decided I’d rather sing it.”
The Partridge Family: “My Christmas Card To You” (1971)
And sing it he does! He’s in fine voice throughout the record, rendering a woodsy, “Everybody’s Talkin’” version of “White Christmas” and giving a laid-back, finger-poppin’ groove to a couple standards (“Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”). For his sexy teen-idol moment Cassidy borrows “Blue Christmas” from former sexy idol Elvis Presley. He also joins the Ron Hicklin Singers for a “family” number on “Winter Wonderland.” The Hicklins also provide a couple Partridge-free numbers of their own, with singer Jackie Ward (aka Robin Ward of the 1963 hit “Wonderful Summer”) standing in for Shirley Jones as the prominent female lead.
But Jones herself gets a rare Partridge vocal, too, a warm and affectionate version of “The Christmas Song” (you know, “chestnuts roasting…”). (You’ve gotta feel that Shirley Jones got a raw deal with the whole Partridge Family thing. I’m sure they told her, “Hey, it’s got multi-generational appeal. You’ll sing for the grownups, David’ll sing for the kids, it’ll be a blast.” And Shirley had the vocal chops: she starred and sang in Oklahoma!, Carousel, and The Music Man. Letting her belt a few out on the show seemed totally plausible, yet she hardly ever did.)
Just for fun, here’s a tape I spotted online recently—a bootleg (eg, rip-off) issue of the PF’s 1971 album Up to Date. Lacking a photo of the Partridges, the bootleggers decided any family would do…
The 8-track version of A Partridge Family Christmas Card is a real treat, with no split songs, no repeated songs, and no long pauses — impressive for an album of 11 songs, which doesn’t divide easily into four. The cart was duplicated by Ampex, who made tapes for smaller labels like Threshold (Moody Blues), Curtom (Curtis Mayfield), and Bell (as here). But, like so many Ampex releases, this cart makes grinding and growling noises as it plays. The cover’s vibrant red-and-green design anticipates Talking Heads ’77 (well, maybe).
And here’s another album in a bootleg edition, with smiley-face art perhaps inspired by the TV show’s theme, ‘C’mon Get Happy.’
I should mention my second-favorite moment here (after the title track) — a soulful ballad rendering of “Frosty the Snowman,” the only sincere, compassionate reading of the song I know outside of the Cocteau Twins. Frosty’s story is rather poignant, after all, and David renders it with sympathy, perhaps sensing that his own time in the spotlight would be as brief as that jolly, happy soul.
The New Yorker has a highly-readable story taking a look at the details behind Devo’s career-changing cover of the Rolling Stone’s “Satisfaction” in 1978. Fans of Devo, Brian Eno, David Bowie, and Mick Jagger will want to have a read.
New Yorker quote: “The first thing the band did with that five thousand dollars was get a wardrobe for the video. But they didn’t want to look like rock stars—they wanted to look like anything but. ‘We didn’t want to be lumped in with rock and roll, and we thought the way people dressed in rock and roll was stupid,’ Mothersbaugh said.”