Last winter our family watched The Star Wars Holiday Special, a 1978 program which lives up to its reputation as basically the worst thing that ever happened anywhere ever.

It’s truly remarkably that they kept making Star Wars movies after the holiday special disaster, but an even more extraordinary fact is that only two years later they returned to the holiday theme with Christmas in the Stars.

RSO Records also released the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack by John Williams and the London Philharmonic Orchestra as well as a great story album of the film (subtitled “The Adventures of Luke Skywalker” and narrated masterfully by Malachi Throne). The label’s unprecedented success in the seventies was due in large part to brilliant crossover marketing between film and popular music — notably with a string of hits from Grease and Saturday Night Fever. Still, when compared the millions RSO invested and lost in the Bee Gees/Peter Frampton Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film, a Star Wars Christmas album was a wise investment.

The album reportedly sold out its initial pressing of 150,000 copies, although its hard to find anything endearing about it besides the painting on the cover by legendary Star Wars production artist Ralph McQuarrie. It is, we suppose, less terrible than the holiday special, but something about a lecture on the meaning of Christmas from Anthony Daniels just doesn’t sit well. Apparently the single “What Can You Get a Wookie for Christmas (When He Already Has a Comb?)” enjoyed airplay, but we suspect this was largely on the Dr. Demento Show.

Christmas in the Stars does carry two special distinctions for record collectors. First, it was one of the earliest digitally recorded and mixed records after those amazing albums made here in Minneapolis at Sound 80. We think the Flim and the BBs album and the SPCO recordings are much better than Christmas in the Stars.

And second, the song “R2D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas” (credited on the single to The Star Wars Intergalactic Droid Choir and Chorale) is the recorded debut of Jon Bon Jovi. At seventeen, he was working as a custodian at the Power Station, a legendary New York recording studio run by his cousin, Tony Bongiovi. Whether or not this is canon — and whether or not Bon Jovi could make an appearance in a future Star Wars sequel — is now up to the people at Disney.

 

Sometimes we feel silly listening to a favorite album in the summertime when a Christmas tune comes on somewhere in the middle. Often, the tunes are so memorable they’re an enjoyable listen any time of year, like the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” which first appeared as a single during the holiday season of 1987 and was added to their third album, If I Should Fall From Grace With God.

if i should fall

The album is our favorite of theirs, so naturally we’re going to play it every time a copy passes through the shop regardless of the time of year. And folks enjoy “Fairytale of New York” every time. It’s so popular the song is said to be the most-played Christmas song of the 21st century in the UK, having reached their top twenty chart every year since 2005.

Like several songs on the album, “Fairytale of New York” tells the story of Irish immigrants. In this case a couple whose lives have fallen apart following addiction, unemployment and poverty. Shane MacGowan and Jem Finer wrote the song, originally to be a duet between MacGowan and bassist Cait O’Riordan. When the band began recording If I Should Fall From Grace With God with top-tier producer Steve Lillywhite, Kirsty MacColl, his wife, was brought in to record the part.

Why do people love “Fairytale of New York” so much? We suspect one reason is that beneath the couple’s harsh barbs, there’s an underlying affection. While some lyrics have long been questionably appropriate for airplay (Notably “You’re a slut on junk” and “You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot”) there’s a deep sentimentality to MacGowan and MacColl’s delivery.

Lenny Bruce is best known for his blue material, but “The Djinni in the Candy Store” is a beautiful bit (mostly) suitable for listeners of all ages. The Common Sense Media organization would probably knock down its star rating for Bruce’s joke about “income property” and make some remark about its ethnic stereotypes, but “The Djinni” is mild compared to most of Bruce’s material.

the real lenny bruceFrom time to time we think of Bruce’s Djinni, when tackling a big project in our own store. The whole bit, first recorded by the comedian in 1958, is just an elaborate set-up for a groaner of a line, but as often happens in Lenny Bruce’s best material the Djinni becomes a memorable character. The only one who makes us laugh more is poor Cardinal Spellman, who must explain the ways of the Church to Christ and Moses when the return to Earth in a later routine.

 

In a seventh season episode of The X Files, the supernatural monster discovered by Agents Mulder and Scully is revealed to be a djinni who has spent millennia a prisoner of her powers. With each new master she watches tragedy unfold as the wishes become nightmares, until she receives her freedom when Agent Mulder wishes for it.

Lenny Bruce’s Djinni seems to enjoy his work, although he describes his bottle as “a glass prison.” He grant’s Sol’s second wish without using his magical powers, and we imagine he wanted to run the candy store. It recalls Yakov Bok, the eponymous hero of Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer, a prisoner who “begged for something to do. His hands ached of emptiness.” Yes, the Djinni seems to take pleasure of the minutia of running the small shop, bringing in the milk and the rolls and so on.

Twice, when doubted, the Djinni is indignant: “I am the Djinni, I can do anything!” He is nothing like the sneaky, manipulative djinni in The Thief of Baghdad, who seems to have inspired Bruce’s hilarious voice. The only thing we don’t like about “The Djinni in the Candy Store” is its brevity. We wish he’d had a few more adventures, perhaps in other settings from Bruce’s albums. Perhaps he could have visited Lima, Ohio or Enchanting Transylvania. Or the Djinni could have helped educate people about gonorrhea and raised funds for the Brother Matthias leper colony in Guiana. After all, he is the Djinni and he can do anything.

This side-long jam from Yusef Lateef’s 1975 live album captures just how Irene the dog feels when the snow starts coming down.

10 years hence


According to Wikipedia, the Ramones performed more than 2,200 times. One of us attended one of those performances, not an impressive boast but a warmly held memory nonetheless.

We count ten “Hey Ho, Let’s Go”s in the album version of “Blitzkrieg Bop,” and the Ramones weren’t famous for changing things around in their live sets — so it’s entirely possible that Johnny Ramone sang that line more than 22,000 times.

Anyway, ten of those times are caught on this live album that was released last week.

Jazz legend Earl “Fatha” Hines had a little to say with this oddball single, released during the California gubernatorial campaign of 1966. His parody of “Mack the Knife,” a jazz standard taken from The Threepenny Opera, responds to the candidacy of Ronald Reagan, who at the time promised to “get the welfare bums back to work, and to “clean up the mess at Berkeley” (in the Gipper’s own words).

Hines speculated on the effects of Reagan’s budget proposals, which in fact did freeze and then cut funding to both the University of California, and Medi-Cal, the state’s medical assistance program. The flip side was an instrumental (“The Medi-Cal Blues”).

DSC06750Earl “Fatha” Hines was sixty-three the year he cast his vote for Governor Pat Brown, and had only recently come out of a lengthy retirement from jazz, during which he ran a tobacco shop in Oakland. Just a couple years earlier his friend and oftentimes manager, jazz writer Stanley Dance, had pushed the pianist to perform again, leading to a surge of recordings in the mid-60s which were highly praised by jazz critics all over the country (Downbeat named him the “#1 jazz pianist” in 1966 — the first of six times he would receive their venerated award). Dance is one of our favorite writers, and we last referred to his amazing contributions to the history of jazz in this post about Johnny Hodges pet monkey, Shuma. For his part “Fatha” became an essential link between early jazz and it’s modern children, performing with musicians from several generations extensively until he passed away in 1983 at the age of seventy-nine.

Highlights from Hines’ post-retirement career include a session of duets with Jaki Byard which is one of the most interesting explorations of jazz piano ever recorded, and a fun appearance on Ry Cooder’s Paradise and Lunch where the two perform Blind Blake’s “Ditty wa Ditty” [sic]. Hines’ other duets from this period include duets with Marian MacPartland, Oscar Peterson and Teddy Wilson. He also joined legendary bassists Charles Mingus and Richard Davis, drummer Elvin Jones and singers Peggy Lee and Dinah Washington on sessions in his seventies. “Fatha” was so important to the history of jazz that no less an authority than Count Basie called him “the greatest piano player in the world.”

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We’ll be closed today, but we’ll be open earlier than usual tomorrow at 9am. Yes, we have a big selection of the limited black Friday release. Also we’ll have some delicious pizza and brownies from our friends at Moon Palace’s Geek Love Cafe. We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

And now, as is our tradition, here is Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.”

alices restaurant

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