Sunday, December 23, 2012

Do You Remember Christmas Radio?--Part Two

Thursday, 12/20--12 PM to 1 PM

"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," Andy Williams
Rich, dulcet tones!  That cliche was born in the brain of some poor writer trying to express the bliss that melted their dendritic spine upon listening to Mr. Williams.  So warm, so sweet, it just compels me to run outside, drop down, and start making pavement angels like a dumb-ass.

My most wonderful Christmas was 1984.  Just the day before I had been knocked out by a nasty stomach virus that prevented me from enjoying any of the Christmas Eve festivities at my childhood home.  But come the next morn, I was sitting right there by the tree, opening presents and downing multiple mini-cans of grapefruit juice.

My least wonderful Christmas was 2010, which I spent hungover.  I really should have known better than to let my brother goad me into that drinking competition.

"Silver Bells," Martina McBride
All you country bitches sound alike to me.  So do all y'all hat-donning, chaw-chomping, arsenal-stockpiling fellas.  This is a cheese pizza left out in the rain, but it'll be okay, 'cause everyone in the city of Nashville has that friggin' recipe, unchanged since 1936.

"Let It Snow," Dean Martin
The snow around the Martin homestead was always stained a rich Kentucky brown.  Deanie's not as out of his skull on the good stuff as on, say, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," but he's still dropping g's and elongating meaningless syllables like nobody's business.

"Deck the Halls/The Twelve Days of Christmas," Kenny G
If Kenny G had never put himself on his own album covers, he'd never accumulated half the negative rep he has in certain chilled circles.  The man is now as ever a purveyor of inoffensive background music.

"All I Want For Christmas Is You," Mariah Carey
"I can't stand Mariah Carey.  Never have been able to."

"I remember when she first came out, with that 'Vision of Love' song.  And it was like okay, she can sing.  No question about that.  But it's all just dime-a-dozen R and B, who really needs it?"

"And here we are, twenty years later, and she's still a superstar."

"Yeah."

"And she even had the gall to do a Christmas song that they play all the time on the radio, and in stores, just raping our ears with that stupid crap!"

"Yeah.  I'm going to have to ask you to leave my home."

"Christmas Eve/Sarajevo," Trans-Siberian Orchestra
The story behind this song is much heavier than the actual track, itself a somewhat clever medley.
This is better known perhaps as that SUPER FUCKING DRAMATIC GUITAR ORCHESTRA SONG.  Preferable to Mannheim Steamroller's music made for boring middle-class people, but really, few things aren't.

"There's No Place Like Home For the Holidays," Perry Como
The Carpenters did the definitive version, but oh well, the radio hates me.  I always liked the lyrics use the word "terrific" in its less popular sense.

"The Christmas Song," Nat King Cole
There's nothing creepy, or anachronistic, about this one.  It's the essential holiday song to me, more so than "White Christmas," and no one did it more justice than Mr. Cole.

"Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," Darlene Love and Ronnie Spector
This should not suck.  But it does.  Additionally, it swallows.  Pour acid on a ferret, y'all, Christmas is dead.

"Frosty the Snowman," Willie Nelson
I can only imagine what kinda "magic" Willie keeps in his hats.

"Christmas Waltz," The Lettermen
"Santa's on his way/He's filled his sleigh with things."  Oh goodie, I love things!  Again, the Carpenters own this, the most self-aware Christmas song yet written.

"O Holy Night," Richard Marx
"O Holy Night" is a beautiful tune that dates back to the 19th century.  The brilliant melody--calling for a soaring quality that is by turns delicate and mighty--has attracted multitudinous singers, including some of the best voices to ever bless a record.  Enrico Caruso, Whitney Houston, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole.  And this is the one Wash-FM plays for me right now.  Mr. "Right Here Waiting."  GET OFF THE STAGE.

"Winter Wonderland," Jason Mraz
Mr. A to the Z is all about the snow play!  Asshole.  Thank Jebus I'm not eating till after I'm done this segment.  So much pizza, wasted.  Is he doing some call-and-response ala "Yellow Submarine" with himself?  Dear Lord.

"Joy to the World," Anne Murray
She's like the country Annie Lennox.  More with the hair than anything, Annie Lennox is a far superior singer.

"This Christmas," Harry Connick, Jr.  
If I played this at a party and people didn't catapult shit at me, I'd wonder out loud if I really had any friends at all.

What a dreadful way to end Day 2!  To go out on a cheerier note, here's a picture of me from that infamous Christmas Day 1984, co-starring my slumping older brother and my mother with her technicolor nightmare robe.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Do You Remember Christmas Radio?--Day One

Wherein your humble blogger picks one random over each day for three days, and absorbs the seasonal playlist of Washington DC's soft-rock bastion, 97.1 WASH-FM.

12/19, Wednesday--9:30 PM to 10:30 PM

"Little Drummer Boy," Jackson 5
You know why the Jackson 5 are considered one of the iconic acts in American music history?  Not because of their Christmas songs.  Why is Cookie Monster's nephew on here clearing his throat?  Why is that being passed off as a drum roll effect?  Why change "lamb" to "mule"?  Was that Joe Jackson trying to throw in a passive-aggressive eff-y'all to the establishment?

"White Christmas," Bing Crosby
The biggest-selling single of all-time per the good folks at Guinness, with a tally in excess of fifty million copies.  Thus any radio station worth their Mr. and Mrs. Claus salt 'n pepper shakers will have "White Christmas" on their playlist.

I remember two white Christmases in my entire life, and frankly the whole business is overrated.  I never asked for any presents that required snowfall for maximum enjoyment anyway.

"May all your Christmases be white."  First of all, racist.  Secondly, and less sarcastically, that's just one of those statements it's impossible to get a temperature reading of.  Why would anyone tell anyone else that?  If pressed, could they explain why precisely it's so much better to gaze upon sheets of the gentlest white stuff on one specific day over another?

"Please Come Home For Christmas," Charles Brown
Yep, that's his name.  And truly this song is a real "nothing face."  I think Don Henley was more soulful than this guy.  But fret not, Chuck, you will outpace Jon Bon Jovi in the vocal-vitality department.

"Up On the Housetop," Gene Autry
Ol' Gene sounds like he's fulfilling a contract, but bells and whistles abound like the display window of a mom 'n' pop.

"Happy Holidays," Steve Lawrence and Edyie Gorme
So that's who sings this.  Per my mom, Steve Lawrence just made all the thick cotton panties moist back in the day, although she didn't put it in those exact words.  Edyie comes with the package but she's inconsequential.  In fact, so is this song.  No drama, real or imagined, no abrupt hitches, no opportunities for histrionics among the cast of players, and I swear there's more whistling happening than actual singing.  'Bout as durable as a Dixie Cup.

"The First Noel," Elvis Presley
You know why Elvis is considered one of the iconic acts in American music history?  Jebus, Cletus, can you tame that lip just a smidge?  It's yer friggin' lord and savior yer singing about, not a mangy mutt.

"Merry Christmas Darling," The Carpenters
Heaven is here!  Milk, honey and bacon!  Let us all gather 'round and SHUT UP while one of the true great voices of pop music opens our presents and claims them for herself to zero protest.

Karen relied on vibratos a good deal, but most of the time--and here especially--they are wise and true.  She makes "you" sound like, y'know, you.

"Frosty the Snowman," Beach Boys
Now the Boys generally did Christmas correctly, even penning a couple originals that get play on the radio to this day.  But this timeless classic comes off a lesser tune in the hands of the California boys.  Their clean harmonies go unsteady with the big band shuffle.  It's not unlistenable in the slightest, just unremarkable to extremity.

"Here Comes Santa Claus," Ray Conniff
I much prefer Mitch Miller's vast orchestra of kung fu killers to this claptrap.

"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," Perry Como
Who are these uncredited women on backing vox?  Why was this a thing?  They gets no love.  I bet this song sold like chocolate-covered candy canes, but much of that did those poor ladies see?  Yep, barren stockings all 'round that Christmas.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Lou Rawls
Blander than a meal of toast and cranberry juice.  But nowhere near as crumbly or colorful.

Oh no, I hear slap bass.  All these miniature incorrigibles are devilishly constructing a migraine-man in my gourd.  Friggin' kids!  Get off my smooth noodle lawn!

"Jingle Bell Rock," Bobby Helms
Well-voiced to the point it overwhelms the dispassionate sound behind it all.  I dunno about the wisdom of the unisex chorus to somehow enhance the main vocalist's performance.  'Course I guess you could say having only the one voice is counter to the inclusive spirit of the season.

And I know he didn't do this version, but he did do a version, so ooohhhh maaan I wanna slap Bono with a titanium rod.

"Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," The Crystals
Carole King didn't write this one, the Crystals just made it sound that way.  Wicked display window:  toy soldiers painted with loving eyes and patient hands; wide-eyed dolls and their adorable dresses; miniature balls attached to strings of garland; blinking lights burning holes into brains.  I bet the saxophonist was wearing a Santa hat in the studio when he laid that solo down.

"Angels We Have Heard On High," Percy Faith and His Orchestra
A genuinely spiritual song, even sans the lyrics.  See, not everything needs CHOIRS FROM THE BALLS OF CHRIST to make an impact.

"Christmas Auld Lang Syne," Bobby Darin
What in the actual?  Oh how I long for that Dan Fogelberg song about the two alcoholics who used to be in love!  It's just the melody to "Auld Lang Syne" with Christmas-themed lyrics.  It's also garbage.  I would take this song over having my leg chomped off by a shark, but just barely.

How have I never even heard of this song before?  It certainly can't be new, as a cursory check of Mr. Darin's existence status reveals that he has been dead since 1973.  This is weird to me.  I can't think offhand of a Christmas song more pointless.  "Auld Lang Syne" is a fine tune as it is, why you gotta throw it under the tree like that?  And oh, did I just hear our little friend the flute do a little decking of the halls at the end there?  Isn't that just the cutest thing.  Makes me wanna soul-kiss a gingerbread man, it does.

"Sleigh Ride," Andy Williams
The "jing-a-ling jing-jing-a-ling" makes me want to extract each tooth with my own bare, unmoisturized hands .  And it changed keys for pretty much no good reason.  Piss on a puppy, y'all, 'cause Christmas is dead.  I demand a classic, Wash-FM, and I demand it now.

"Christmastime Is Here (instrumental)," Vince Guaraldi Trio
Why, Internet radio, it's like you just heard my plea!  But I was born three decades after the mandatory chip-implantation, so it couldn't be that.

A majestic single from a majestic whole.  I can see the snow falling lightly but insistently.  I can feel the wet flakes tickling my unprotected face.  I can hear the crunch underfoot.  I marvel at my very essence come to life before my eyes.  And on.

"Silver Bells," Dean Martin
Yes, it's old Drunky the Drunk Guy!  (He was damn close to being the Dave Mustaine of the Rat Pack, I should think; surely Jerry Lewis was the Lars Ulrich.)  Dude did not punch up his egg nog with booze, nope, he uppercut that shit.  One sip'll give lesser beings the Romney ringside face.  Unisex choir in attendance to prop Mr. Martin up literally.  Fun stuff.

Stay tuned for day 2, coming tomorrow...

Friday, December 21, 2012

It's the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown

AIRDATE:   9/27/1988

STORY:  The Girl in the Red Truck is possibly the sore thumb of the Peanuts television franchise.  It's alternate title is "The One That Mixes Animation With Live Action Footage."   Charles Schulz wrote the script with son Monte, and had high hopes for the end product.  Production of the 48 minute special, with legendary televison director Walter C. Miller at the helm,  took four years and cost millions of dollars.  Three months before Red Truck made its small-screen debut, however, the similarly-crafted Who Framed Roger Rabbit? hit the theaters.  It was impossible for critics and the public to avoid unfair comparisons.  While Roger Rabbit was wildly successful and acclaimed, The Girl in the Red Truck was widely panned.  Schulz made it an effort to explain that the shows conception preceded Roger Rabbit by years, but the initial impression that he had created an inferior copycat in a desperate bid for relevance persisted.

On to the show.

The action begins with Charlie Brown retrieving a letter for Snoopy.  It's from his brother Spike!  Instead of just letting Snoopy have his privacy, Charlie Brown insists on reading the missive aloud to his pet.  (Schulz objected to this scene, which is just Infodump 101, but eventually he was convinced that there would actually be people viewing this show who weren't massive fans of the strip and thus would have little to no idea what Spike's story was.)

For those unaware:  Spike is Snoopy's emaciated brother, he wears a fedora that was apparently run over by a 16-wheeler in a torrential downpour before he picked it up from the side of the highway, his sad little moustache could be duplicated by many elderly women, and he lives in the desert in Needles, California.  He speaks with the cacti, plays one-dog frisbee, ponders tumbleweeds, and learns the French language through cassettes on a hand-held player.  And he keeps his eyes peeled for the red pickup truck that passes through his neck of the desert wood, just so he can share a friendly wave with the young woman behind the wheel.

One day, the truck breaks down in front of the besotted beagle.  Spike communicates with the young woman, Jenny, via his language tapes.  She takes an immediate liking to Spike and, once the truck is fixed, offers him a ride to her home.

Jenny is a vivacious aerobics instructor who dreams of a more meaningful career as a jazz dancer.  She lives in a nice beachfront condo with her boyfriend Jeff, who is apparently some fancy record-industry dude in L.A.  Meaningful conflict attempts to arise when Jeff announces that he has arranged an audition for Jenny without her foreknowledge--and the audition is scheduled for the same day as an aerobics class she is expected to teach.

Jenny's peeved, but not so much so that they can't all head to the local roller rink for some wheel-y good times.  But when Spike is accidentally thrown out of the back door, he decides to head back into the desert instead of waiting for Jenny and Jeff.  (I thought dogs were loyal?)  He pals around with some suspiciously Snoopy-esque figures whose faces insinuate inveterate indisposition.  Spike just isn't meant to enjoy the night, though, as soon some rifle-toting yahoos in pickup trucks roll in, ready to take out some coyotes.  Jenny and Jeff arrive in time to save the day, and offer Spike a newer, warmer, safer place to rest his highway-hat.  But old habits die hard if they even die at all, and our cute li'l hero returns to the dry landscape he has come to love.

I've just written a lot about a story that is tepid and sprinkled liberally with cliches.  Sure, coming so soon after a blockbuster film that used the same visual hook didn't help The Girl in the Red Truck, but a fresh and interesting plot may have.  4

MUSIC:  Composer Paul Rodriguez brings us re-imaginings of "The Best of Laura Branigan, Karaoke."  3

ANIMATION:  Spike looks great.  Snoopy has some weird face stuff happening in the introduction, like his facial muscles kinda forgot how to smile for a half-second.  But really, the animation is secondary to the actors.

Jenny is played by Jill Schulz, daughter of Charles, and reviews announcing her irredeemable horribleness are exaggerated.  She does adequately.  Same with Greg Deacon in the role of Jeff.  There's a lot of meaningful gazing expected in the script.  I suspect that reacting to basically nothing isn't easy, so I'll give both of them a 5.5.  The story did not give them the chance to either succeed greatly or fail miserably.  You can only hold on to the bottom of a wet bag for so long.

BUILT FORD TOUGH



--Dude in the middle looks like a Snoopy/Woodstock hybrid.  I ain't mad.

--Spike's phlegmatic attitude while Jeff bares what remains of his soul is so friggin' California.  Everyone there is searching for the undiscoverable, and because the weather is so monochromatic, they're convinced they can find it one day.  Because snow never comes around and forces them indoors where they can realize how lame they are and make the appropriate lifestyle changes to stave off further lameness.  Lesson:  too much sun is no good.

Poor Spike, you can tell he just wanted to catch the next dust wave east and chill with his bro and all the stupid weird-looking kids in the neighborhood.

--Mountain Dew, Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, Ice House, Red Bull and Bud Light.  A little touch of Hagerstown, way out west.

DRIVERS OF THE HEIR, BEWARE

--Damnit rednecks, this is why we can't have nice coyotes.  Except coyotes aren't particularly nice, what with the attacking children and things.  But hey, I just had to hear the head honcho of the National Rifle Association say that the only way to deal with the increasing gun violence in America is to arm more people.  So I'm not too fond of either of ya.

--The visual dissonance of cartoon Spike and his real-life surroundings is so jarring.  It's funny to see him in his element, and the initial novelty is impressive, but when he interacts with people the shortcomings of the production are apparent.  Admittedly the technology was not then what it is now, but it's also the forced feeling that pervades each frame.

Now I'm not saying Spike should've suddenly gone into town on a quest for erotic cakes, but it would have suited Schulz and Co. better to not make him the centerpiece of such an ambitious project.  Not because Spike is a secondary character in the Peanuts universe but because his base of operation is one of limited visual appeal.  Imagine, instead, adults interacting with the animated kids in the neighborhood--the writers and crew could work with residential homes, schools, and baseball diamonds.  Settings familiar to the fans, given a fresh spin, challenging and stimulating to creators and viewers alike.  I mean, they could have shown animated Snoopy lying atop an actual wooden red doghouse!

Charles Schulz knew they had fallen short:  "I wanted this to be my Citizen Kane, but it's not."  It's a shame, to me, that they never tried it again.  I really feel the second attempt would have been wiser in mind and surer in step.   But!  Que sera, sera, blockhead.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Action in the Morning

Yeah..this is what happens when I need a soundtrack for the morning and decide to browse video game songs that have been ripped to YouTube.



Because honestly, part of appreciating how horrible a gaming experience Action 52 is includes realizing the anti-artistry displayed by the composers as well as the designers.  But when I got to the theme for the second level of Lollipops, I was in for a jolt that my coffee couldn't hope to equal.

Are you serious?

In an interview with Ink 19  to promote the release of her debut album The Golden Dove, Mary Timony was asked what inspired the "beautiful and amazing" melody of "Dr. Cat."

"I think I was just playing around with a drum machine beat; it was just a fun, spur-of-the-moment melody."

Or, you jacked it from a virtually unplayable game on a virtually unplayable multi-cart released on Nintendo in the early 1990s.  Either way, well done.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Snoopy's Getting Married, Charlie Brown

AIRDATE:  3/20/1985

STORY:  Peppermint Patty's pops is outta town, leaving his only child all alone in the cavernous Reichardt homestead.  Brave and brazen though she normally appears to be, young Patricia reaches out to her pal Chuck Brown, and borrows his pup Snoopy to fulfill the role of formidable guard dog.  From his perch on the porch, Snoopy spies a cute li'l poodle named Genevieve.  The pair begin a tsunami-esqure romance and are quickly betrothed.

Snoopy's nerves are almost shot by the time The Big Day rolls around, but the presence of his brother Spike--who rolled in, quite literally, all the way from the desert to act as "Best Beagle"--helps Snoop overcome his chilly paws.  Such fortitude is for naught, however, when news arrives that the bride-to-be has left him for a golden retriever.  Who are clearly the studly breed.

Based on a series of strips from 1977, with a couple key differences (Snoopy's paramour was never seen by the reader; and she actually ran off with Spike), Snoopy's Getting Married, Charlie Brown is one of the faster-paced Peanuts specials.  It's a nice excuse to showcase Snoopy for a half-hour and also to introduce Spike to the television audience.  8

MUSIC:  Milquetoast Munsen and the Anti-Funky Bunch.  6

ANIMATION:  Aims square for the middle of the color wheel, lands there, and refuses to move. 8

VOICES:  Brett Johnson's version of Charlie Brown is warm, sweet and childish in the way that these shows specialized in by having actual children in the voice-acting roles.  A solid 9, with an extra half-point for his enunciation of the word beautiful.

Gini Holtzman gets an identical grade for Peppermint Patty.  Always a pleasure to have some minty peanuts mingling in the bowl.

A pair of 7's to Jeremy Schoenberg and Heather Stoneman as the eldest Van Pelt kids.  Daniel Colby gives voice to Schroeder, which is now as ever a non-event for me--5.  Keri Houlihan, however, is a near-perfect 9.5 as Marcie.  (I love it when they do my doppelganger justice!)

Lastly we have Stacy Ferguson.  The future Fergie handles both Sally and Violet, but it is as the former girl that young Stacy gets to display the voice that would somehow regress completely by adulthood.  Her rendition of "Oh Let Me Be the One"--with Schroeder on accompanying tinkles--is a sweet sprinkle of cinnamon indeed.  But is it the greatest pre-ceremony song ever performed?  No.  Nothing will top this, ever.  Still, have an 8 for your troubles.

LOVE: A TEMPORARY INSANITY CURABLE BY MARRIAGE 

--Patty! 5! Nice to see you still on the mailing list!

--I actually believe Eudora Welty ghostwrote the Bunnie-Wunnies series of books.

--Spike is so great.  Woody from Cheers would have had a dog like Spike.  His correspondence with Snoopy, as read aloud by Charlie Brown, is how we learn the details of Snoopy and Genevieve's courtship.

--After Sally's serenade, Schroeder throws down some Beethoven; specifically, the ending of the first movement of Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67.  Cracks my crap up completely.  Dude bashes those keys like he's anticipating candy will come flying out.

--I always stitch the sky blue.



MARRIAGE IS IMMORAL WITHOUT LOVE

--There appears to be some light flirtation between Spike and Genevieve that suggests (however briefly) that the special will stay faithful to the strip, but it's possible that the mighty triumvirate of Schulz/Mendelson/Melendez didn't want casual viewers to turn off their sets with a bad first impression of their beloved beagles desert-dwelling bro.


--So everyone here is cool with two dogs getting married?

Snoopy's bachelor party is a bunch of young boys speaking wistfully on something they could not possibly have any intimate knowledge of:  the pressures of impending maturity.  Snoopy's about to be a husband, and surely a father, so that means only one thing--SO LONG TO ALL THE FUN SHIT.  Kids are the worst.  And what would the offspring of a beagle and a poodle be called, anyway?  A "boodle"?

--"I feel the pain of everyone/Then I feel nothing/'Cause I just ate an entire wedding cake."



I don't know why, precisely, Snoopy's Getting Married, Charlie Brown doesn't have a heartier cult following.  The title alone should guarantee it its own goddamn Tumblr page.