MERRY MONDAY: John Denver – Rocky Mountain Christmas

In my house Christmas truly began when my mom put this LP on the stereo and the dancing chords of “Aspen Glow” crackled through the speakers as she opened up the dusty red Christmas trunk and began unpacking decades of holiday joy.

This album imprinted on me at such an early age that my Christmas memories at their core are fused with the first side of this sparse, country-tinged Christmas album. I specify first side because the songs on the B side are more solemn religious carols that were never my bag as a kid. When mom flipped the album I made myself scarce while she hummed and dusted and decorated.

The six songs on side A were the heart of my Christmas with the pinnacle of joy coming together as I would loudly sing along to “Please, Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)” which is a surprisingly upbeat Christmas tune about alcoholism that as a kid I thought was hilarious. Given it’s peppy tempo I always thought of it like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” except, you know, mommy was crying. To this day it makes me smile to hear it even though the song chronicles an 8 year old pleading with his dad to not come home so drunk that he passes out under the tree like he did the previous year. So, yeah, Merry Christmas!

Don’t let that little dip into the dark side tarnish your judgement. I found the entire original album on YouTube so give it a listen at least up through “Christmas for Cowboys” for the Rocky Mountain Christmas I will always remember.

Advertisements

MERRY MONDAY: The Business vs. Elton John – “Step Into Christmas”

The first time I heard The Business’ cover of “Step Into Christmas” I didn’t realize it was a cover. I came across it listening through their compilation Harry May – The Singles Collection back in college and thought it was hilarious and surprisingly cheerful given the hooligan tone of most of their catalog. I knew it felt super familiar, but I couldn’t put a finger on why. It wasn’t until many Christmases later that I heard the original Elton John version again and it all clicked.

To their credit Micky Fitz (RIP) and the boys stay pretty faithful to the original, but they do crank it up to respectable Oi! levels of speed and sneer. The fact that they’re covering a song from Elton John is just icing on the holiday cake of irony. I’m usually not a fan of ‘irreverent’ Christmas covers, but when the original song was a bit of a lark itself I’ll allow it.

Put on your boots ‘n’ braces and kick off the holidays!

…Or put on appropriately ridiculous sunglasses for a campy Christmas!

SONG OF THE DAY: Hüsker Dü – “Celebrated Summer”

I had originally written a post a couple of weeks ago about “Celebrated Summer” as a post-Labor Day song for Feelin’ Good Friday. Maybe a loud/soft/loud punk song that makes me tear up generally is not typical of good feelings, but it’s one of my all time favorite songs and is fitting given the time of year.

Then I heard about the death of Hüsker Dü drummer Grant Hart and it started to take on a different hue.

The first minute and a half of the Bob Mould penned “Celebrated Summer” is a blistering guitar shot with Mould singing about the prelude to summer, the plans of what to do with all of that sweet freedom to finally live and cut loose. There’s the always present pressure of “the best summer ever!” and the hint at the fear that the best summer, your celebrated summer, has already been lived. Suddenly everything drops out and it’s just Mould’s acoustic guitar as he speaks two disarmingly evocative lines that have always caught me off guard:

Then the sun disintegrates between a wall of clouds
I summer where I winter at, and no one is allowed there

Then Hart ushers up the tempo with shimmering cymbals, Mould’s Flying V plugs back in and rages at the dying light, and he’s shouting again:

Do you remember when the first snowfall fell
When summer barely had a snowball’s chance in Hell 

And the pedal is on the floor racing to the song’s end with Mould excoriating again and again “Was this your celebrated summer?” until slipping back into the acoustic and asking for a final time “Do you remember when the first snowfall fell? Was this your celebrated summer?”

After 30 years of listening to this song I’ve changed my opinion a dozen times on what those lines mean. I always felt this song captured the bittersweet, fleeting nature of summer, but also in a broader sense the transition of the seasons as part of the human allegory of aging: summer to winter, youth to death. Now, in the scope of Hüsker Dü’s life, Grant’s death is the first snowfall. There was never even a snowball’s chance in Hell of a Hüsker Dü reunion, but now the stamp is official: that was their celebrated summer.

FEELIN’ GOOD FRIDAY: Steppenwolf – “Magic Carpet Ride”

Image result for magic carpet ride steppenwolf

Back in the day my dad like most had a stereo with a turntable and a small but respectable collection of LPs and 45s from his younger years. The Kinks, Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Steppenwolf, The Doors, all the usual classic rock suspects could be found and I gravitated to them in my blossoming teen angst, moth-to-flame. There was the 45 of “Born To Be Wild” which I gave plenty of play, but I always thought “Magic Carpet Ride” was the superior song. “Born To Be Wild” always felt a little stiff and a little forced for its rebellious status. On the other hand, “Magic Carpet Ride” has a fluid groove that pulls you in straight away and never feels anything but on point. Is the titular “Magic Carpet Ride” a drug trip, the epitome of turn on, tune, in, drop out culture? Is it a thinly veiled metaphor for sex and free love? Why not both?Given it was released in ‘68 I’m assuming all of the above.

Dance to it. Get high to it. Screw to it. If that’s not rock’n’roll I don’t know what is.

FEELIN’ GOOD FRIDAY: Sex Bob-Omb – “Garbage Truck”

I really dig the dirty groove of this song. It triggers a skewed smile and tempered head bob that from me indicates a song is “in the pocket” as the hep jazz cats say. The Scott Pilgrim flick is one of my guilty pleasure movies and this is probably my favorite song from the soundtrack. The lyrics are oddly sexual, like euphemisms that no one has ever wanted or used, but still kind of work. Thanks Beck, you gigantic weirdo.

In Honor Of Our Impending Doom…

“Around the world the nations wait
For some wise words from their leading light
You know it’s not only madmen who listen to fools”

Some classic Iron Maiden right here. “Total Eclipse” from Number of The Beast and the video is from Beast Over Hammersmith recorded back in 1982. Grab your special glasses and cereal box and embrace the End Of Days!

Mammút – River’s End

After seeing Mammút play live in Portland, ME of all places I was hooked by the end of the first song and by the end of the set desperate to possess their music. River’s End was released in 2015 by Bella Union Records and the 5-song EP is a sampling of tracks from a few of their previous Icelandic albums that were re-recorded in English, so it’s a pretty good place to start for the small number of people not fluent in Icelandic.

The songs are delicately layered and muscular even in their calmest moments with lyrics that evoke emotional landscapes as stark and captivating as the band’s homeland. There is something otherworldly and sensual about the songs like they were written by Molly-dosed absinthe fairies listening to early Sugarcubes albums. My two favorite tracks are “Blood Burst” and “Bakkus” both are rousing and wonderfully chaotic in their energy. Meanwhile “Shore”, “River’s End”, and “Salt” all ease off the gas to varying degrees but are no less potent and at times even more entrancing.  

The kneejerk comparison for people of my generation is of course The Sugarcubes, but Mammút while having similarly great pop sensibilities also have a darker, heavier edge. I keep imagining Lush, Curve, and The Breeders all tossed into a blender when I listen to River’s End. And yes I know those are two decade old references, but whatever. Nevermind.  

Mammút’s next full length album Kinder Versions is due out July 14, 2017 and will be all original tunes in English so if you like River’s End mark your calendars for that.

Purchase through Bella Union, Bandcamp, and iTunes.

The video for “Blood Burst” may or may not be safe for work depending on your workplace’s policy on Icelanders writhing in kiddie pools.