Christmas Records

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. . . And then we’re rushing to the movie theater to see Star Wars!

We’ll be closed tomorrow and then back to our regular hours on Tuesday. We hope you have a wonderful, music-filled holiday with your families!

John Hartford credited his musical career to the Grand Ole Opry, his earliest musical influence heard on the family radio growing up in St. Louis. The program had made its national debut on NBC when he was just two years old. The other influence in his music was outside but not far away — the Mississippi River, where he would watch the steamboats as a boy and work on board one when he was a teenager.

Steamboats and the great rivers of America became a lifelong passion for Hartford, who enjoyed breakthrough success when Glen Campbell’s recording of his song “Gentle on my Mind” became one of the biggest hits of all time in 1967. Hartford recorded and performed prolifically until he passed away on the Fourth of July in 2001, but he also made time to pilot riverboats and share their stories and history.

He once said that “music got in the way” of his career as a riverboat pilot, but still got his license in the 1970s and was often a guest pilot on the legendary Julia Belle Swain riverboat.

And so it is no surprise that the only Christmas tune to be found in his catalog of thirty or so albums would be set not in the North Pole or beside the tree or hearth, but on the lower Mississippi.

sun ra

This wonderfully bizarre double disc collects forty-nine songs that were originally issued on Sun Ra’s Saturn Records label over more than thirty years — they are incredibly rare records, most would cost you hundreds if you could even find a copy for sale. They are also surprisingly varied, a weird window into Sun Ra’s genius and creativity.

Saturn Records was remarkable — Sun Ra was producing and releasing his own records years before other independent artists. He was also an early innovator on electronic instruments and a free jazz pioneer. Still, many of his records are an acquired taste — avant garde jazz is not for everyone, even if it’s awesome.

Half of The Singles is goofy doo wop and rhythm & blues, and half is spacy jazz jams. Many are by singers or groups that Sun Ra and some incarnation of his Arkestra are backing. They are also in solid supersonic jazz form on fan favorites like “Love in Outer Space.” The songs are surprising, fun and sometimes misguided pop. Nothing reaches the wild extremes of classic Arkestra recordings, let alone their solid swinging-ness, but it is fun to listen to a collection of insanely rare records by a jazz genius.

And there’s two silly Christmas songs, originally issued as a 45 by the Qualities on the Saturn label in 1956. Sun Ra plays the harmonium and leads an unidentified backing band.

calvin christmas song

christmas in the stars

switched on santa

merry christmas from the brady bunch

wildest christmas

santa got a dwi

This year’s holiday mix CD from Hymie’s Records is now available, free with purchase. The theme is Santa’s adventures in the North Pole and all around the world — we think its our best one yet!

Compilations of Christmas jazz often include “We Free Kings,” a 1961 adaptation of the carol by Roland Kirk. The album of the same title was a breakthrough for the multi-instrumentalist, in part introducing his uncanny ability to work familiar melodies into his music. Late in that decade he recorded half an album, Rahsaan Rahsaan, on Christmas Eve at the Village Vanguard.

The program included on the album, his first to use the swami-like name Irene, doesn’t include any holiday music per se. It does close with risqué blues titled “Baby Let Me Shake Your Tree,” which Kirk credits to “an old gypsy blues singer.” It seemed like as good a place as any to post this year’s first Christmas song.

We have a rule in our house about shaking the Christmas tree. Also about letting the cat climb it.

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