things Jesus loves

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A lesser-known New World Gospel, possibly a companion piece to Charlie Parr’s “Jesus at the Kenmore.”

By the way, we’ll be DJing some of our favorite odd and spooky blues, folk and gospel records during Charlie’s two-night stand at the Cedar Cultural Center. To celebrate the release of his new LP Dog, Charlie will be performing acoustic the first night and electric the second night. Details on the Cedar’s website here and here. Looks like the first night is already sold out, though!

Some years ago we met the Devil at a crossroads. In exchange for making our record shop beloved unto the masses, we agreed to share with our followers the holy doctrine of the almighty Jim Backus at least once a year.

Yea, wretched sinners — behold the Truth of Truths

You have now heard “Overture” and “Creation” from Truth of Truths, a rock opera based on the Bible, produced by Ray Ruff in 1971. Not just spiritually enlightening, Truth of Truths boasts occasional sludgy rock passages a la Iron Butterfly and soul-pop in the 5th Dimension vein.

And yes, the voice of God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, is none other than Jim Backus. Mr. Magoo is your Lord. Thurston Howell III your almighty Creator.

You were created in His image.

DSC08427

Police officer Don Vegge often performed the offertory at Faith Evangelical Church in Billings, Montana on his musical saw. He is heard here performing “Amazing Grace” and the moving “Through It All” by the late Andraé Crouch from his Lp, The Carpenter’s Saw.

Vince Guaraldi’s score to the 1965 television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, has become one of the most popular holiday reissues on LP. Each year we order more and more copies of the venerable classic, beginning earlier and earlier in the year, and each year all are gone by the first week of December. The current pressing, on green vinyl, is already backordered by wholesalers. Sorry to offer the bad news but you may have to find another Christmas album for that special someone this year.

guaraldi christmas

As the beloved television special celebrates its fiftieth birthday this year with a documentary produced by ABC, much attention has been drawn to differences between the network and Peanuts creator Charles Schultz. David Michaelis’ epic and much-recommended biography, Schultz and Peanuts, describes a first screening at CBS, which broadcast the original special on December 9, 1965. Executives sat in silence, and afterwards offered such remarks as, “Well you gave it a good try” and “the script is too innocent.” Most significant of all, Schultz and director Bill Melendez were told, “The Bible thing scares us.”

Linus’ recitation of the birth of Christ reminds Charlie Brown of “the meaning of Christmas,” but in the era of the big three networks such explicit proselytizing was unexpected. For Schultz the inclusion of the scene was a deal-breaker, although even Melendez did not support it. Schultz held his ground, and so on that December evening, instead of seeing The Munsters, nearly half the television viewers in America saw Linus step to the stage, ask for the lights to be dimmed, and read the words of St. Luke.

linus

The mailrooms at CBS were flooded with letters thanking Schultz for “keeping Christ in Christmas,” and the scene was praised by the New York World Telegram as “the dramatic highlight of the season.” While the three television networks dared not offend audiences, Schultz often approached the Gospel and religious controversies in Peanuts. Still, despite the best-success success of Robert L. Short’s book The Gospel According to Peanuts, Schultz’s theology is enigmatic. In his biography, Michaelis points to a moment in October 1963 when Sally hid behind a a couch with her brother to whisper a secret to him: “I prayed in school today.” Both sides of the then-contentious school prayer debate desired to claim Schultz’s comic as an affirmation of their side.

Linus himself suffered for his faith in the Great Pumpkin. After being mocked by his peers, he says to Snoopy, “I was a victim of false doctrine.” There is, however, nothing false in his earnest recitation of the Gospel in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Schultz may have won this disagreement, but he compromised on another subject which often appeared in his strip. Michaelis reprints this strip from the 1950s in which Schultz expresses his opinion of jazz.

peanuts jazz

Schroeder plays Beethoven’s “Für Elise” in the Christmas special, but most of the music is provided by a pianist of a very different stripe. Vince Guaraldi was just shy of forty when he was hired by producer Lee Mendelson to provide the music for A Charlie Brown Christmas, and enjoying the unexpected success of a B side, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” he had written in 1962. Although he was a veteran of Cal Tjader’s latin jazz ensembles, the underground hit established his sound as light, swinging and sophisticated. Known to his peers as “Dr. Funk,” Guaraldi created just the sort of music Schultz despised. Months after the Christmas special aired, Schultz told a reporter, “I think jazz is awful!

Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy,” likely known to millions as “the Charlie Brown theme,” has become a pop music standard. The song was originally written for a 1963 documentary about the strip, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, the success of which led the network to invest in the Christmas special. Our favorite song Guaraldi wrote for the Peanuts gang was “Skating,” which accompanied a lovely scene of Snoopy (“world famous figure skater”) gliding on a frozen lake.

In our review of Paul Fonfara’s new album, Seven Secrets of Snow, we compared his title tune to Claude Thornhill’s “Snowfall” and other songs which invoke the loveliness of winter weather. Guaraldi’s “Skating” is surely one of these songs, whether it was welcomed by Charles Schultz or not.

 

 

This was actually kind of difficult to compile – Elvis starred in an unbelievable 33 films, singing an average of ten songs in each. If Hymie’s would just get the intern I’ve been asking for I could have given that person the job of sifting through all of the soundtrack albums for the turkiest of the turkeys. Instead I had to do it myself.

(10) “Yoga Is As Yoga Does” from Easy Come, Easy Go

Funny, when you consider Elvis’ enthusiasm for karate in the early 70s (He studied with Memphis master Kang Rhee for four years). Funnier because its Elvis doing yoga.

(9) “Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce” from Girl Happy

fort lauderdale

I think if you interviewed a dozen people leaving the theater at the end of this movie, nine of them would have forgotten the plot already. Even by beach party movie standards Girl Happy is pretty stupid. Its almost stupid by Elvis movie standards, but actually there it ranks pretty well.

(8) “Ito Eats” from Blue Hawaii

ito eats

There’s really not a lot I can add to this.

Okay, I can’t keep my mouth shut any more than Ito can stop eating – Here’s the liberation anthem of fat Hawaiian guys, seldom heard at their marches because bongo drums and ukuleles are too much work to carry around. Usually its just performed acappella around a spit.

(7 & 6) “Poison Ivy League” and “Carny Town” from Roustabout

poison ivy league

carny town

Roustabout is my favorite Elvis movie. First he’s cruising around on his motorcycle after getting fired for fighting with fancy college boys and then he’s invited to join a traveling carnival run by Barbara Stanwyck. The problem is the songs in Roustabout are some of the very worst. I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of debate over including “Poison Ivy League” on a list of the worst Elvis movie songs, but “Carny Town” is included as a bonus because I think it could be a great punk rock anthem if played by the right group. I’d like to hear Dillinger Four take “Carny Town” on with the same fanaticism they gave to “Sally MacLennane”.

hard knocks

Okay, “Hard Knocks” is also included. The songs in Roustabout are really bad! The thing about “Hard Knocks” is that Elvis really could sing the blues. He also hard a hard life. People who thumb their noses at Elvis’ 1969 hit “In the Ghetto” usually don’t understand that he grew up in rural poverty which is sometimes a lot worse than urban poverty. “Hard Knocks”, on the other hand, is about the least soulful song about tough times I have ever heard. What’s really ridiculous is that songwriter Joy Byer’s husband later asserted he wrote the songs from Elvis movies credited to her (At least 10 by my count). Who would want to claim this song?

(5) “Signs of the Zodiac from The Trouble with Girls

If you were a kid and you really liked rock and roll, and you rented a few of these movies (Remember renting movies?), you got a pretty askew view of the world. Between Elvis movie and Douglas Adams books its a wonder I grew into somebody who could succeed at all.

(4) “Song of the Shrimp” from Girls! Girls! Girls!

shrimp

Girls! Girls! Girls! includes Elvis’ only genuine sea chanty (“Thanks to the Rolling Sea”) and some irresistibly funny tracks when revisited today (“I’d Rather Be Tied” and “We’re Coming in Loaded”) but the goofiest song is “Song of the Shrimp”. In a lot of ways the Elvis movie soundtracks are charmingly naive little vignettes, and Girls! Girls! Girls! is a great example – In this case our little look at Ross Carpenter’s life is a lot of fun even if the songs he sing aren’t.

(3) “The Bullfighter Was A Lady” from Fun in Acapulco

bullfighter
The next track is “There’s No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car”, which nearly made it onto this list. Fun in Acapulco is fun movie and makes for a lively soundtrack, but it has the feeling of wasted potential. If Elvis had followed Edyie Gorme and made an album in Spanish it would probably be his most popular record today.

Okay, so I might as well tell you the truth: If I made a list of my 10 favorite Elvis movie songs it probably wouldn’t be any different. Sure, I love “GI Blues” and really everything from Loving You, but those are great songs. I don’t love them the same way I love these ten tracks.

You’re either going to love Elvis or you’re not, and nothing I can write is going to change your mind. Not going to love Elvis? Well, nuts to you. That’s right. Nuts to you.

(2) “Go East Young Man” from Harum Scarum

go east

The most difficult thing about compiling this list was finding nine songs worst than everything on the soundtrack to Harum Scarum, which is also the very worst of the Elvis movies. Elvis is kidnapped while touring the mideast and forced to assassinate a sheik. Hilarity ensues.

(1) “Dominic” from Stay Away Joe

So far as I can tell the songs in this movie were so bad they never bothered to makde a soundtrack album. I can’t say because this is one of the few Elvis movies I haven’t seen (Did I tell you there are 33 of them?) and I’m not going to watch it now, even for your benefit. There’s just too much else to do.

I have no idea what’s going on in this scene but I really like it.

We’re re-visiting some posts from back in the Hymie’s archive (two years back to be specific. We’ve added a new track from one of our favorite albums of 2013 to this one.

Yesterday we explored the phenomenon of “Top 40 Jesus” and today we’re taking a cue from this scene from the 1999 Kevin Smith movie Dogma. Cardinal Glick (George Carlin, in the role he was born to play) introduces Buddy Christ, the revamped Savior (“A booster!”). Of course, those of us with a collection of rock and roll records are already familiar with Buddy Christ…

mystery song #2 (plastic jesus)

“Plastic Jesus” gets around, although of it’s many versions my favorite is still this obscure one by Mantanooska Thuderbuck on a 1976 compilation from Stash Records (Pipe, Spoon, Pot and Jug). It was originally written as a jingle for WWVA, a West Virginia AM radio station still on the air today (87 years strong by my count).

The Buddy Jesus in pop songs is a little more approachable, maybe – if possible – a little more forgiving. Sometimes he’s sort of a regular guy, as in Kris Kristofferson’s “Jesus Was a Capricorn”:

jesus was a capricorn

The album Jesus Was a Capricorn also included “Why Me?”, a sincere country gospel song which topped the country chart and peaked at #16 on the pop chart (it probably should have been included in yesterday’s post).

Kristofferson seems lost or at least struggling in “Why Me?” but in this next song it’s Buddy Jesus himself who is having a rough night – This is “Jesus at the Kenmore” by Duluth’s own Charlie Parr:

06 jesus at the kenmore

Charlie Parr’s Jesus is a lot more approachable than the Top 40’s Jesus, even as he’s being dragged from the bar saying:

You better straighten up and fly right
You know I can take you out

Actually, the recurring theme in “Buddy Jesus” songs is that the Savior struggled with his humanity – He was as lost as you and I, even when He didn’t let on (damn Capricorns). In some songs “Buddy Jesus” is really approachable, as in the lonely “I Am the Way” above (a Loudon Wainwright III song based on Woody Guthrie’s “New York Town”) of “Jesus Was a Wino” (by Lydia Loveless from the 2011 album Indestructible Machine):

05 Jesus Was A Wino

The best Buddy Jesus song could also have been included in yesterday’s collection of top 40 Jesus songs (it hit #28 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1969). This song was the only hit for Lawrence Reynolds, who continued to sing it until he died in 2000. Here’s “Jesus is a Soul Man”:

jesus is a soul man

Since we first posted “Buddy Jesus” in 2011, Charlie Parr has released a couple albums, including Barnswallow, which has become a favorite around the record shop — if you’ve been in and out this summer a couple times you’ve probably heard a track or two from it. The album features some of the most compelling original material Charlie has written, including “Jesus is a Hobo”:

jesus is a hobo

 

While we work on a glitch with the Hymie’s blog we’re going to re-run a few favorite posts from 2011.

spirit in the sky

There used to be a lot more religion in popular music – the roots of rhythm and blues and country music drink from the same watershed of gospel music, whether you like that sort of stuff or not. The very best performers in each genre, from the early years to the present, can perform comfortably in the church and in the watering hole. Rock and roll, though, has always had a tenuous relationship with Jesus, and since it’s arrival so has pop music. Sometimes a relationship that leads to strange bedfellows…

Take, for instance, “Spirit in the Sky”: A 1973 hit that peaked at #3 and sold more than 2 million copies – one of the most kickass 70s rockers, and also about the most cynical piece of gospel garbage this side of Swaggart. Singer Norman Greenbaum was Jew who saw Porter Wagoner sing the praises of redemption of TV and saw dollar signs. The only thing “Spirit in the Sky” set Greenbaum up with was a life without work (he admits as much to the New York Times here).

Guitarist Russell DaShiell, then with the under-rated band Crowfoot, provided the memorable fuzzy guitar work that drives “Spirit in the Sky”. He recorded three albums with Crowfoot, one solo record and worked here and there as a session guitarist (notable a favorite of Laura’s, Tom Fogerty’s kickass solo album Myopia). Greenbaum, who long ago sold the rights to his single hit, still pockets five figures every time Hollywood puts “Spirit in the Sky” in some dumbass movie, but DaShiell gets nothing. It may be true that the Lord takes care of old folks and fools, but he’s overlooking one old man and overcompensating another, if you ask me.

my sweet lord

George Harrison, too, phonied his way into top ten standing (all the way to #1) – “My Sweet Lord”, one of his first post-Beatles singles, borrowed substantially from the Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine”, leading to a long legal conflict ending with Harrison’s lawyer buying the rights to the Chiffon’s song.

But it’s controversies didn’t end there, as the uppity set couldn’t stomach the “Hare Krishna” mantra over which the song’s back nine are laid. Harrison was a follower of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and not a Christian, leaving “My Sweet Lord” like so many of the Savior’s top ten hits: Indelibly tainted. As a “George guy” myself, I have always heard in “My Sweet Lord” the best of intentions, and the album from which it came – All Things Must Pass – helped me through the grief and depression that followed my brother’s death. I think it is one of the great albums of it’s era.

jesus is just all right byrds

jesus is just all right doobies

(“Jesus is Just All Right” by the Byrds and by the Doobie Brothers)

My brother, incidentally, was a musical sort of guy in a semi-serious sort of way. He loved to sing, especially compulsively repetitive songs. “Jesus is Just All Right” by the Doobie Brothers was a favorite. It was actually first done by the Art Reynolds Singers, and earlier covered by the Byrds (creeping into the charts at #97). The Doobie’s rockin’ version reached #35 a few years later.

you light up my life

It’s not clear the one lighting up Debby Boone’s life was Jesus, but Marge Simpson says so and I’m not one to argue with television’s awesomest blue-haired mom. It’s a cover of a song from the movie You Light Up My Life, originally sung by Kacey Cisyk. I never much liked it or understood why it was such a big hit, but I have to admit she sings the hell out of that song.

If indeed the Lord is lighting up her life (and why the hell not?) it’s the longest He sat atop the world He holds in His hands (ten weeks at #1).

07 Jesus Walks

“Jesus Walks” took the Son of God back up the chart (to #11) in 2004, courtesy of Kanye West and a well-worked sample from the ARC Choir’s “Walk with Me”. West laments that he can sing about anything – “guns, sex, lies, videotape” – except Jesus.

If I talk about God, then my record won’t get played
Huh?

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