Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Advent Calendar: Day 23

December 23rd: Mis-Shapes

I didn't know what to call today -- for a while it was drafted as 'Leftovers', but December 23rd is a wee bit early for such. So, here's a mixed bag of Mis-Shapes: a bunch of Christmas tracks that don't seem to belong to any other category -- the ill-advised, the inexplicable, the inappropriate and the frankly unpalatable. (Funnily enough, exactly the same recipe that was used to manufacture the shortlived boyband Upside Down in 1996.)

Larry "Wild Man" Fischer was -- still is -- an outsider artist par excellence, a paranoid schizophrenic protegé of Frank Zappa, who in 1968 released the legendary album An Evening With Wild Man Fischer. It's pretty hard to come by but I have a bootleg and, let me tell you, it's thorough. He's mellowed a lot lately, by the looks of it, but this surely is a record to make any Christmas party stop with a bang.

Joe Pesci made a Christmas record. The only two words in that sentence that belong together are Joe and Pesci, and possibly a. Actually this is a cut from the 1998 album Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just For You, in which Pesci's character from My Cousin Vinny works his way through various genres, wreaking an expletive-filled and yet strangely unappealing variety of havoc on almost everything in his path. This is, heaven help us, the most musically successful track on the record. But, ah, it's kind of sweet in its way.

Captain Sensible's 'One Christmas Catalogue' is the only song in this little collection that isn't either out-and-out bad or too weird to assess, and I'm just kind of cramming it in here because it hasn't felt like it fitted anywhere else in the last 22 days. Not sure it was a UK hit though I think it did all right in some other territories. I'm sort of a fan of it, mostly because it's (unmistakeably) the production and songwriting work of Tony Mansfield of the peerless New Musik (and later producer to A-Ha et al). I do find the lyrics curiously incomprehensible, though presumably it's expressing some cynicism on the topic of the commercial aspects of Christmas, so well done Captain for that, & how odd that no one else has spotted it. -- Btw, the B-side of this (for younger viewers: music used to be released on discs with two playable sides) was a cover of FGTH's 'Relax', oddly.

William Shatner's 'It Hasn't Happened Yet' isn't really a Christmas song at all, it just sets up a Christmas scene, before melancholically pissing all over it and ordering another scotch. This is from Shatner's Has Been, his curious but remarkably successful 2004 outing with Ben Folds, which also yielded a great cover of 'Common People' that you've surely heard.

Yogi Yorgesson -- wow, I just did a really big sigh while I was typing that -- was the comic alter ego of US entertainer Harry Stewart. The character was originally styled as "the Scandinavian Swami", a Hindu mystic of Swedish extraction, performed by Stewart in a costume of turban, lumberjack shirt, loincloth and snowboots: though apparently the spiritualist side of the persona was slowly scaled back as it proved unpopular with audiences, for reasons that are unrecorded by his biographers but seem not incomprehensibly remote to present sensibilities. Yogi's Yingle Bells EP was released in 1954, shortly before Stewart's death in a car crash; but Stewart, and particularly Yorgesson (there were other characters too, such as the comedy Japanese guy, Harry Kari), remains popular among a discernible constituency. I first came across Yorgesson as a teenager: his signature track "Who Hid the Halibut on the Poop Deck?" delighted me then, and it delights me still.

Ken Barrie of course recorded the theme song to 'Postman Pat', and did something else as well which I can't remember at the moment. (Inexplicably he has no Wikipedia page.) This song, it has to be said, sounds not wildly unlike that celebrated ditty, and even more like the theme tune to 'Bertha': and no wonder, as a little Googling reveals that all three were written by Bryan Daly. (Scant info on what else Bryan has been up to, unless he really is one of the directors of the 2006 documentary Islam: What the West Needs to Know. All together now: "Everybody knows the bright red imam...") Anyway, this song about Christmas pudding certainly plods along with all the emphatic affability of a be-tinselled jackboot stamping on the face of the Archangel Gabriel. Once you've heard the chorus once, or even kissed or shared a toothbrush with someone who's heard it once, it will never stop playing in your head. NEVER. NEVER. SOMEBODY KILL ME.

Still in the broad general arena of kiddiwinkies' television programmes, it stands to any kind of reason that there must have been a Worzel Gummidge Christmas single -- and so there was: an E.P. in fact, or more precisely a Maxi-Single, in 1980. What's more unexpected, perhaps, is that it's by some way the most depressing song ever released. It makes Leonard Cohen sound like the Vengaboys. I imagine they were aiming for poignant. They overshot. He sounds psychotic. Imagine! "Here you go, Billy. Look what Santa's brought you. A Maxi-Single by a psychotically depressed talking scarecrow with interchangeable heads." "Thanks mum, thanks dad. Just so you know, precisely because of this, I'm going to wet the bed till I'm 14. And then on the day that Jon Pertwee dies, I will be found naked from the waist down in my local butchers, repeatedly punching all the offal, and then I will be sectioned. Thanks dad, thanks mum. Ta."

And finally, I think a very strong contender for the stupidest Christmas song there's ever been. And in saying that, let's not forget that over the past 22 days you've heard Neil Diamond singing the Hallelujah Chorus and a grown man clucking Winter Wonderland like a chicken. But here's Ringo Starr, as recently as 1999, on his hopeless album I Wanna Be Santa Claus, doing a kind of George Harrison-style cod-Indian Christmas track, with a chorus in Latin. Wait! There's more! The Latin is, let's be adult about this, an epic heap of FAIL. It's wrong, it's just wrong. He means "Pax vobiscum" -- 'peace be with you'. In fact he keeps singing "Peace be with you" during the song, but that's not what "Pax um biscum" means. "Pax um biscum" doesn't mean anything. It's conceivably a hastily scribbled Christmas shopping list -- for what, after all, is Christmas without Paxo, Um Bongo and some biscuits? -- but I can't help feeling this doesn't quite have the universal resonances that he's aiming for. Oh, and that's Joe Perry from Aerosmith on guitar.

Stick o stick a fork in me. I am the little chipolata who couldn't. Let's go back to bed, shall we? Tomorrow shall be my dancing day. Crimbo Eve! V exciting. See you back here for some altogether classier fare. Until then, my dears: pax um biscum trifl cranby sos & xmas puddum, to you and your kin. xx

Track listing:
1 Wild Man Fischer: I'm A Christmas Tree
2 Joe Pesci: If It Doesn't Snow on Christmas
3 Captain Sensible: One Christmas Catalogue
4 William Shatner: It Hasn't Happened Yet
5 Yogi Yorgesson: I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas
6 Ken Barrie: Christmas Pudding
7 Jon Pertwee: Christmas Isn't Christmas
8 Ringo Starr: Pax Um Biscum (Peace Be With You)

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