GFS Listening Booth

Listening booth — Billy May, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo”

GFS Listening Booth

A few years ago I published my first list of the best Christmas albums to own, and one of them was the fantastic compilation, Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails. The first track from that LP is a ridiculously fun and funny Latin jazz tune from 1953 called “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo.” Billy May leads the orchestra on this one (lead vocals by drummer Alvin Stoller), and it’s a gem.

But almost as good as the song is this YouTube video for it, set to clips from Rankin/Bass’s immortal 1964 stop-motion TV special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Be-ho-ho-hold!

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Space Age Santa Claus

Album Cover of the Week: Space Age Santa Claus

This cover has made the rounds for at least a few years, but I just stumbled upon it this year. It’s a delicious slice of mid-century Christmas cheer called Space Age Santa Claus.

Space Age Santa Claus

According to the entry on this 45 rpm single (on a post that is now only available through Google cache), “Space Age Santa Claus” is the A-side of this single (from Delhi Records, 1961), and the B-side is “When Christmas Bells Are Ringing.” Both tunes were written by Ross Christman — which sure sounds like a pseudonym to me — and performed by the Hal Bradley Orchestra with Patty Marie Jay on vocals.

I’m a little confused as to the perspective in this drawing. Is that a regular-sized Santa holding a really small tree? Or is the tree normal and Santa is just colossal? Because if it’s the latter, what kind of freaky children would be big enough to play with those toys?

Anyway, I’ve got a special treat for you this holiday season. In addition to the full-size cover scan from my Flickr group, you can also enjoy “Space Age Santa Claus” right here! And as an extra-special bonus, here are the lyrics:

Santa Claus has a rocket sleigh

Getting ready to zoom away

On his first trip into space

In his pressurized suit with the fur along the border

And a long white bearded helmet made just to order

He’ll take the Christmas spirit every place

His eight reindeer will travel by jet

They’ll go farther than they’ve ever gone yet

With the Space Age Santa

Space Age Santa Claus

He’ll loop tinsel ’round through the stars

Light up Christmas trees all over Mars

He’ll take the dark clouds out of the air

And hang up fluffs of angel hair

He’ll start a gift shop on the moon

Set the moon folk humming Christmas tunes

He’ll stir up egg nog in the Milky Way

To fill the Dippers for the holiday

Space kids will hang up nylon hose

Hear the song about Rudolph’s red nose

Saturn will stroll down Santa Claus Lane

And swing a jaunty candy cane

The Gemini twins will whirl with joy

When he makes the Swan a wind-up toy

He’ll show them how to add to all the fun

And make it orbit ’round and ’round the sun

Oh, Santa Claus has a rocket sleigh

Getting ready to zoom away

On his first trip into space

In his pressurized suit with the fur along the border

And a long white bearded helmet made just to order

He’ll take the Christmas spirit every place

His eight reindeer will travel by jet

They’ll go farther than they’ve ever gone yet

with the Space Age Santa

Space Age Santa Claus

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The Bill Evans Trio, 1961

Sunday Jazz: Remembering drumming great Paul Motian

The Bill Evans Trio, 1961

Paul Motian (r) with Scott LaFaro (l) and Bill Evans, 1961

Jazz drumming legend Paul Motian died last Tuesday at age 80 due to complications of a bone marrow disorder. My first exposure to Motian was through his output with Bill Evans in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Motian was a member of Evans’ trio when they recorded a pair of immortal albums at New York’s Village Vanguard in 1961 — Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby.

Motian recorded and performed almost up until his death, although to be honest it’s his Evans stint I remember the most. But hey, there are worse things to be remembered for, right? For my humble remembrance of Motian, then, a selection from Waltz for Debby. It’s the Miles David modal workout “Milestones.” Listen to Motian carry the tune along as Evans and bassist Scott LaFaro play off each other brilliantly.

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Horace Gillom, punter, Cleveland Browns

Football Friday: November 25, 1951 — The Day the Flags Flew

Horace Gillom, punter, Cleveland Browns
Browns punter Horace Gillom was ejected after punching Wayne Hansen of the Bears in retaliation for an earlier hit.

Today marks the 60th anniversary of one of the more ignominious contests in the annals of the NFL. On November 25, 1951 the Chicago Bears met the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns at venerable Cleveland Municipal Stadium and made league history.

The Browns crushed the Bears 42-21 thanks in part to an amazing six Dub Jones touchdowns, but the stat that is even more eye-popping is the penalty line. Here are the game totals:

  • Chicago Bears — 16 penalties, 165 yards
  • Cleveland Browns — 21 penalties, 209 yards

As a Raiders fan I’m familiar with penalties, and 37 of them are a lot. There was one flag thrown every 96 seconds on average on that day. During one drive the Browns were penalized three consecutive times for personal fouls. Numerous players from both teams were ejected, including Cleveland’s punter.

Those 37 infractions between the two squads represent a dubious feat that has managed to stand the test of time for six decades, which is probably a good thing. A writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer covering the game wrote the following poem to commemorate it:

Over and over you would hear the man say, ‘It’s being called back — there’s a flag on the play.’ “
James Brown – A Soulful Christmas (1968)

8 More Christmas Albums You Need To Own

Several years ago I shared eight of my favorite (and best, if I may humbly say so) Christmas albums. I think it’s high time to add to that list, so here are another eight Yuletide platters that would make worthy additions to any holiday music collection. As on the first list, there’s enough variety here that you should be able to find something new to love. So here we go, in no particular order…


A Time to Be Jolly (1971)
Bing Crosby

A Time to Be Jolly - Bing Crosby

Bing was in his late 60s and in the last decade of his legendary career when this was released on the brand new Daybreak Records label in 1971. The only thing that gives this away, however, are the vintage late-’60s/early ’70s MOR musical arrangements, which are really quite nice. Most of the tracks on A Time to Be Jolly kick off with some slightly vanilla choral parts, but when Bing’s ageless croon pops up everything just feels right. The highlight of this set for me is the title track, which is like the rest of the album is a tad hokey but is winningly earnest. (This collection has been re-released under a few different names since ’71, most recently as the ingeniously titled Christmas Album.)


A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas! (1959)
The Three Suns

A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas! - The Three Suns

Look, I’m not even going to try to pretend this isn’t cornier than ethanol. The Three Suns were reportedly Mamie Eisenhower’s favorite group, which should tell you something. A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas! is not music to be played with the lights down and the fireplace crackling. This is nothing more than fun Space Age holiday pop, with the kitsch turned up to 11 (witness their unconventional arrangement of “Jingle Bells,” complete with tuba and accordion). It’s also guaranteed to bring some Christmas glee to even the Grinchiest holiday humbug.


Merry Axemas: A Guitar Christmas (1997)
various artists

Merry Axemas: A Guitar Christmas (1997)

Consider this to be the polar opposite of the Three Suns. While you might be inclined to write Merry Axemas off as a nothing more than a festive electrified wankfest, it’s actually pretty substantial holiday tuneage. Hard rock and blues rock dominate the album, as you might expect with a name like “Merry Axemas,” but their are a few subdued tracks that really shine. Eric Johnson’s “The First Nowell” is understated and atmospheric, as is Jeff Beck’s string-bending rendition of “Amazing Grace.” The best of the bunch is Steve Vai’s “Christmas Time Is Here” (via Vince Guaraldi), although the Alex Lifeson’ decidedly un-Rush-like “The Little Drummer Boy” doesn’t lag far behind.


Christmas Becomes Electric (1969)
The Moog Machine

The Moog Machine - Christmas Becomes Electric (1969)

Hey, I’m not above listening to novelty albums during Christmas, and this falls squarely into that category. There are a whopping 17 songs on this LP, but most of them clock in at under two minutes. And honestly, that’s just long enough to bask in the vintage Moog glory without overdoing it. Any of the songs here are as good as the others, so let’s go with a peppy number and a slower one — here’s “Deck the Halls” and “Silent Night.”


Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (1993)
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

OK, time to class up this list a little. At last check the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was up to about 106 albums released, and truth be told this one probably isn’t that much better than the rest. Really, you pretty much know you can expect a certain level of quality and consistency when you play an album like this. The choral arrangements are lovely and the whole thing just oozes sophistication. So why is this particular holiday album of theirs worth seeking out? Among other reasons, their stunning version of “Silent Night.” The counter-melody (I think that’s the term) of the pipe organ lends the song a haunting, otherworldly sound that gives me chills every time I hear it.


A Soulful Christmas (1968)
James Brown

James Brown – A Soulful Christmas (1968)

The Godfather of Soul released two holiday albums in the 1960s — this one and 1966’s James Brown Sings Christmas Songs. I have to give the edge to A Soulful Christmas, if for no other reason than the inclusion of “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” which is as awesome as the title sounds. True, the arrangements are thoroughly non-traditional but if you don’t mind a sweat-soaked dose of vintage funk and R&B mixed in with the usual Yuletide fare, this is the album to own. Of course if you really want to go nuts, you can find most of the songs from these two records as well as others on the mid-’90s JB compilation, Funky Christmas.


Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails Part Two (1997)
various artists

Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails Part Two (1997)

If you liked volume one of the Christmas Cocktails collection, there’s no reason not to like the second. It’s the same fun, whimsical blend of retro holiday cheer, featuring many of the same artists from the first set (Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson, Les Brown, and Eddie Dunstedter all return). While Part Two doesn’t hit quite as many high notes as the first volume, it’s hard not to love tracks like Rawls’ “Merry Christmas, Baby” or the Ventures’ surftastic “Frosty the Snowman.” A word of advice however — skip Part Three.


A Merry Christmas With Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters (2000)
Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters

A Merry Christmas With Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters

Yeah I’m double-dipping with Bing — so what of it? The credits on this compilation are a tad misleading, as only a half dozen of the 20 songs actual feature Der Bingle and the Andrews Sisters performing together. But those six — most notably their rendition of “Jingle Bells” as also heard in A Christmas Story — are worth the price of admission alone. The rest of the album is nearly as awesome, with seven solo Bing tracks and six more from the Sisters by themselves.

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Detroit Thanksgiving parade - Jazz Festival float

Sunday Jazz: Thanksgiving Jazz Playlist

Detroit Thanksgiving parade - Jazz Festival float

OK, so I’m cheating a bit on this one. I can’t think of very many jazz numbers written specifically about the Thanksgiving holiday, so it pretty much all comes down to the titles. Still, I think you’ll agree that this is a decent feast of music.

(Spotify users — you can listen to these and other featured Sunday Jazz songs by subscribing to my GFS Sunday Jazz playlist.)

Dave Brubeck, “Thank You”

Thelonious Monk, “Stuffy Turkey”

Kenny Burrell, “Wavy Gravy”

Vince Guaraldi, “Thanksgiving Theme”

Mongo Santamaria, “Sweet ‘Tater Pie”

Ella Fitzgerald, “Flying Home”

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Get over yourselves, already

Cork it, 1972 Dolphins

This post originally ran in November 2005, when the Indianapolis Colts looked poised to unseat the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only undefeated team in the modern NFL era. They ultimately failed, and so this year the 9-0 Green Bay Packers are next in line for a shot at sports immortality. And wouldn’t you know it, the ’72 Dolphins just can’t shut the hell up. Same crap, different year.

1972 Miami Dolphins

Get over yourselves, already.

I’d like to take a moment to delve into the world of sports. Last night, the Indianapolis Colts beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to go to 11-0 this season. And just like all the other times a team has gone undefeated this deep into the season, we have to watch the graying, braying remnants of the 1972 Dolphins (who finished 17-0) celebrate whenever the last undefeated team loses.

And I, for one, have had enough. I am hereby declaring myself a Colts fan for the rest of the 2005 season. Or at least for as long as they stay undefeated.

There are probably a number of reasons Colts fans can come up with why this year’s team deserves to finish with an unblemished record, but I only care about one — I want to see the likes of Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris, and Bob Griese cry in their empty champagne glasses.

Seriously, how pathetic is it that a group of professional athletes can take so much glee when another team loses the chance to achieve something as difficult as going undefeated for an entire NFL season? And let’s be honest, if there were ever a more overrated team than the ’72 Dolphins, I’m having a hard time thinking of one.

Go Peyton! Tony Little sez "You can doooo it!"Don’t take my word for it, see for yourself. What the stats tell us is, well, telling.

  • Over 14 regular season games, the ‘Fins beat two — count ’em, two teams with winning records.
  • The combined record of their regular-season foes was 51-86-3.
  • The second-place team in the AFC East (the New York Jets) finished 7-7 in 1972. Some real stiff competition there.

If they had lost just once during the regular season, the ’72 Miami Dolphins would still rightly be remembered as a very good team that won the game’s ultimate prize. Nothing more, nothing less. But because they somehow managed to win them all (no small feat, admittedly), they are lionized as one of the league’s legendary teams. And the fact is they simply aren’t.

Now, the 2005 Colts probably aren’t the best team ever, but they’re the best team this year. And if they can win eight more times, I will be a very happy sports fan. Even if it means I have to watch a silver-haired Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison sipping champagne in 2035.

Jimmy Fallon as Jim Morrison (The Doors) sings the Reading Rainbow theme

Jimmy Fallon channels Jim Morrison, awesomeness ensues

Jimmy Fallon as Jim Morrison (The Doors) sings the Reading Rainbow theme

This is the coolest thing you’ll probably see all week, which is a bit depressing since it’s only Monday. Still, you need to see this. It’s Jimmy Fallon (as Jim Morrison) and some random white guys performing the theme to Reading Rainbow as the Doors. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that his house band, The Roots, were really the ones playing on this.

Pretty brilliant. The recreation of the Doors’ look from their Ed Sullivan Show appearance is damn good, and I guess now we know which way Jimmy wears his leather pants. Between seeing this and his Barry Gibb Talk Show sketches, I’m thinking maybe Saturday Night Live should’ve kept Jimmy and dumped Seth Meyers.

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Black Sabbath, 1973

So fresh: 10 Black Sabbath songs that will never get old

Black Sabbath, 1973

Last Friday the original, legendary Black Sabbath lineup — Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward — announced that they are reuniting once again for a tour and a 2012 Rick Rubin-produced album. I’m holding out hope that it won’t be a disaster, as the quasi-Sabbath Heaven & Hell project (R.I.P. Ronnie James Dio) was quite good.

So to honor the godfathers of heavy metal I’ve put together this compilation of ten songs (from the original foursome) that are not their biggest hits, but are still true genre classics.

1 — “Black Sabbath” (from Black Sabbath, 1970)

This is it, people. Scholars can debate the origins of metal all they want, but for my money it starts with the first song from Sabbath’s first album. Those opening three guitar chords from Iommi are the sound of your doom, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Ozzy’s plaintive wails only enhance the dread and when he screams, “Oh no, no, please God help me!” you know God’s not listening. Feel the darkness envelop you, and revel in it my friends.

2 — “The Wizard” (from Black Sabbath, 1970)

One of the many great things about really early Sabbath was that as pummeling as they could be, they also really grooved. Few songs showcase this better than “The Wizard,” featuring Ozzy on harmonica and Bill Ward making great use of the cowbell.

3 — “Hand of Doom” (from Paranoid, 1970)

Speaking of sick grooves, check out the delicate stick work from Ward that starts this one. I love the dynamics on this track, which alternate between the subtle dread of the verses with the full-on power of the choruses. And of course the trademark Black Sabbath mid-song breakdown (which is almost like a new song entirely) is in full effect here.

4 — “Into the Void” (from Master of Reality, 1971)

It amazes me how Tony Iommi can draw upon a seemingly endless supply of great riffs. This is one of his best. Listen to that sludgy Geezer Butler bass part. Awesome.

5 — “Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener” (from Vol. 4, 1972)

Vol. 4 was my entry point into Black Sabbath’s music, and to this day it’s my favorite album of theirs. This is clearly the point where drugs started to heavily influence the band’s sound, but they held it together for awhile. The intro to this song is the soundtrack to a bad acid trip, but then it settles down a bit. Fuck that peace and love crap, man, this is the music I float away to in my mind.

6 — “Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes” (from Vol. 4, 1972)

A masterpiece. One mind-melting riff after another. The intro was one of the scariest things I ever heard as a kid.

7 — “A National Acrobat” (from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, 1973)

I have no frigging clue what the title of this song is supposed to mean, but it matters not. This is a very good song for about the first five minutes, then the coda kicks in and it goes to the next level.

8 — “Spiral Architect” (from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, 1973)

One of the things people tend to overlook about Black Sabbath is that they were just as adept at conveying genuine beauty in their songs as they were menace and power. Witness both the delicate acoustic guitar intro to “Spiral Architect,” as well as the choruses, backed with a string section. Few metal bands could pull off lines like, “Of all the things I value most in life / I see my memories and feel their warmth / And know that they are good” and not be laughed at.

9 — “Symptom of the Universe” (from Sabotage, 1975)

The song that launched a thousand thrash metal bands. I hate to sound like a broken record, but listen to that fucking riff. That riff alone should be encased in gold and put in the Smithsonian. Never mind that Ozzy sounds possessed and Bill Ward is playing with what I’m sure was a cocaine-fueled frenzy. I think I just cracked a rib listening to Geezer’s bass.

10 — “The Writ” (from Sabotage, 1975)

Despite being cast as Satan worshipers, a lot of Sabbath’s lyrics were fairly positive and actually spoke out against evil. But the band saved the most venomous lyrics for “The Writ,” directed at former manager Jim Simpson. But in true Sabbath fashion they change things up, and the song shifts to a yearning, hopeful tone at the 5:30 mark. Great stuff, and possibly my favorite Black Sabbath song.

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