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Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Stop The Cavalry" The Cory Band w/ The Gwalia Singers (1981)

Most of you have probably never heard this UK single before and technically, it's not even a Christmas song, but an anti-war song.

Yet if you live in the Seattle area, you definitely know it. It gets regular airplay on Seattle's Warm 106.9 radio during their annual holiday music format. For decades, it was a holiday season radio hit in the Puget Sound. An earworm that never seems to leave your brain once you hear it. It reached #3 on the British pop charts in December 1981. But there was never an American release of the song at that time. Either it wasn't considered or no American record label was interested in licensing the track for the U.S., thinking it wouldn't sell to American record buyers.

So how did this song get to be such a huge hit in Seattle and pretty much nowhere else outside of the UK?

Well first, we're weird here in Seattle. That said, there's a fascinating back story (here) to how this record was nearly lost forever and how it was finally saved.

The original label the record was on, Stiff Records, was a British independent specializing in "pub rock", new wave and punk (Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Madness, Lene Lovich, Tracey Ullmann and Ian Dury & The Blockheads were among Stiff's best known artists.) It became one of the most influential independent labels in the world in the early 1980s, ushering in the punk and new wave genres to the UK and the world.

This song however was clearly none of the above genres.

It was originally recorded by Jona Lewie (another Stiff artist), but it was The Cory Band's cover of the song that became the Seattle hit.

The Cory Band is a Welsh brass band and one of the longest continuous running bands in the world. They were founded in 1884 (The Rolling Stones have nothing on these guys) and are recognized as one of the world's most innovative and popular brass ensembles. 

However somewhere along the way from the song's initial release, Stiff had erased and reused the original studio master tape of The Cory Band's version of this song (being a low-budget independent record label, that is not uncommon.) So when a Seattle record producer heard the track and contacted Stiff in 1997 to license an American re-release of this extremely rare single because of overwhelming demand from Seattle area radio listeners, Stiff looked in their vaults. Then told the producer the awful news.

A makeshift workaround had to be arranged with a vinyl copy of the song. Luckily, there were a few mint copies remaining from the original pressing. The producer made a decent transfer suitable for the re-release and sold 13,000 copies of the reissue locally.

It still remains one of the perennial holiday favourites in Seattle. Enjoy.  

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving from History's Dumpster

The famous pilgrim celebration at Plymouth Colony Massachusetts in 1621 is traditionally regarded as the first American Thanksgiving. However, there are actually 12 claims to where the “first” Thanksgiving took place: two in Texas, two in Florida, one in Maine, two in Virginia, and five in Massachusetts.

President Jefferson called a federal Thanksgiving proclamation “the most ridiculous idea ever conceived".

The famous “Pilgrim and Indian” story featured in modern Thanksgiving narratives was not initially part of early Thanksgiving stories, largely due to tensions between Indians and colonists.

Held every year on the island of Alcatraz since 1975, “Unthanksgiving Day” commemorates the survival of Native Americans following the arrival and settlement of Europeans in the Americas.

The first Thanksgiving in America actually occurred in 1541, when Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his expedition held a thanksgiving celebration in Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle.

The turkeys typically depicted in Thanksgiving pictures are not the same as the domestic turkeys most people eat at Thanksgiving. Domestic turkeys usually weigh twice as much and are too large to fly.

The average long-distance Thanksgiving trip is 214 miles, compared with 275 miles over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday.

Americans eat roughly 535 million pounds of turkey on Thanksgiving.

One of the most popular first Thanksgiving stories recalls the three-day celebration in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621. Over 200 years later, President Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving, and in 1941 Congress established the fourth Thursday in November as a national holiday.

Every Thanksgiving, a group of Native Americans and their supporters gather on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning. The flyer for the event in 2006 reads, in part, “Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today".

Thanksgiving is an amalgam of different traditions, including ancient harvest festivals, the religious New England Puritan Thanksgiving, the traditional harvest celebrations of England and New England, and changing political and ideological assumptions of Native Americans.

Since Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving holiday in 1863, Thanksgiving has been observed annually. However, various earlier presidents--including George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison--all urged Americans to observe various periods of thanksgiving.

The Pilgrim’s thanksgiving feast in 1621 occurred sometime between September 21 and November 1. It lasted three days and included 50 surviving pilgrims and approximately 90 Wampanoag Indians, including Chief Massasoit. Their menu differed from modern Thanksgiving dinners and included berries, shellfish, boiled pumpkin, and deer.

Even though President Madison declared that Thanksgiving should be held twice in 1815, none of the celebrations occurred in the autumn.

Now a Thanksgiving dinner staple, cranberries were actually used by Native Americans to treat arrow wounds and to dye clothes.

The tradition of pardoning Thanksgiving turkeys began in 1947, though Abraham Lincoln is said to have informally started the practice when he pardoned his son’s pet turkey.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the next-to-last Thursday in November to prolong the holiday shopping season, many Republicans rebelled. The holiday was temporarily celebrated on different dates: November 30 became the “Republican Thanksgiving” and November 23 was “Franksgiving” or “Democrat Thanksgiving".

Not all states were eager to adopt Thanksgiving because some thought the national government was exercising too much power in declaring a national holiday. Additionally, southern states were hesitant to observe what was largely a New England practice.

Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879), who tirelessly worked to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday, also was the first person to advocate women as teachers in public schools, the first to advocate day nurseries to assist working mothers, and the first to propose public playgrounds. She was also the author of two dozen books and hundreds of poems, including “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Considered the "Mother of Thanksgiving," Sara Hale was an influential editor and writer who urged President Lincoln to proclaim a national day of thanksgiving. She selected the last Thursday in November because, as she said, harvests were done, elections were over, and summer travelers were home. She also believed a national thanksgiving holiday would unite Americans in the midst of dramatic social and industrial change and “awaken in Americans’ hearts the love of home and country, of thankfulness to God, and peace between brethren

Thanksgiving football games began with Yale versus Princeton in 1876.

In 1920, Gimbels department store in Philadelphia held a parade with about 50 people and Santa Claus bringing up the rear. The parade is now known as the 6abc IKEA Thanksgiving Day Parade and is the nation’s oldest Thanksgiving Day parade.

Established in 1924, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ties for second as the oldest Thanksgiving parade. The Snoopy balloon has appeared in the parade more often than any other character. More than 44 million people watch the parade on TV each year and 3 million attend in person.

Baby turkeys are called poults. Only male turkeys gobble and, therefore, are called gobblers.

In 2001, the U.S. Postal Service issued a Thanksgiving stamp to honor the tradition “of being thankful for the abundance of goods we enjoy in America.

Long before the Pilgrims, native Hawaiians celebrated the longest thanksgiving in the world—Makahiki, which lasted four months, approximately from November through February. During this time, both work and war were forbidden.

In 2009, roughly 38.4 million Americans traveled more than 50 miles to be with family for Thanksgiving. More than four million flew home.

The people of the Virgin Islands, a United States territory in the Caribbean Sea, celebrate two thanksgivings, the national holiday and Hurricane Thanksgiving Day. Every Oct 19, if there have been no hurricanes, Hurricane Day is held and the islanders give thanks that they have been spared.

Thanksgiving can occur as early as November 22 and as late as November 28.

The Friday after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday largely because stores hope the busy shopping day will take them out of the red and into positive profits. Black Friday has been a tradition since the 1930s.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Killing Me Softly With His Song" Lori Lieberman (1972)

This song may be best known as Roberta Flack's signature song, but this was the original version of it, released a year before Roberta Flack's version became one of the biggest hits of 1973.

Now there's two utterly different stories on the origins of this song.  

Lori Lieberman claimed she was inspired to write the song after watching a Don McLean concert. When he sang "Empty Chairs", she was so moved by his performance that the next day, she told her songwriting partners Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, who then composed the song.

Gimbel and Fox however contended that the song was inspired by an Argentinian novel. Hopscotch by Julio Cort├ízar. In Chapter 2, the principal character describes himself as sitting in a bar listening to an American pianist friend 'kill us softly with some 'blues'. Gimbel put it in his 'idea' book for use for later with a parenthesis around the word 'blues' and substituted the word 'song' instead.   

However, the dispute was settled when a New York Daily News interview article from 1973 was unearthed with Gimbel admitting that Lieberman's story had indeed inspired the song.

The song was revived in 1996 by the hip-hop group The Fugees, reaching #2 that year and the Plain White T's recorded a version in 2008.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Now That's What I Call Yacht Rock!

In the late 1970s and early '80s, the airwaves were filled with a certain vanilla latte type of music nobody really had a name for back then.

It was a super polished style of slick, studio perfect pop music that's mostly associated with acts like Kenny LogginsSteely Dan and Michael McDonald era Doobie Brothers. But acts like Hall & Oates, Chicago, Pablo Cruise, James Ingram, Toto, Christopher Cross, Boz Scaggs, Nicolette Larson, George BensonDr. Hook and others were also making this type of music. Or converting briefly to it.

And it wasn't necessarily limited to any one subset of bands and artists. Although it always had a core of artists that tended to appear on each others albums - namely Michael McDonald, Steely Dan, Kenny Loggins and members of Toto. But many other major pop acts of that time period are guilty of contributing to it in some way. Including Elton John, The Bee GeesThe Eagles Fleetwood Mac, Barbara StreisandCliff Richard and Smokey Robinson.

But thanks to a later generation of lovable hipster music fans (they just get it. don't they?) This music finally has the proper name those of us who actually grew up in the era of this music never really had for it; Yacht Rock.

Yacht Rock was what was left when you removed the Anne Murray, Barry ManilowMelissa Manchester, Neil Diamond and the rest of the torchier ballads and disco crossovers from the then-current Adult Contemporary radio playlists of that period.

Yacht Rock is also the name of a hilarious 2005 internet mockumentary series about this era of music. Originally made for internet video site Channel 101, the series is one of the most popular online video series ever and was the subject of a June 2015 article in Rolling Stone. And the source of the very name Yacht Rock.

Yacht Rock as a genre also connotes a recurring theme in the lyrics and album covers of these songs, usually about sailing. But also the fact that many yacht owners simply loved laid back, easy going pop music when out for a sail (and that's not a stereotype. Having some friends who are yacht owners on Puget Sound and sailed with them on day cruises, I can testify to this.)

And Yacht Rock today has made a comeback, mostly by way of the internet series and younger music fans rediscovering these old songs and the artists behind them (the resurgence in vinyl LP records in the last decade to today has also contributed.) But also in the fact that this was once the most familiar type of music on the radio for two decades. And the older fans really miss it.

And I confess, it's a guilty pleasure for me too sometimes....

Saturday, November 21, 2015

"Here Come The Judge" Pigmeat Markham (1968)

Whether or not this is the very first ever true rap song, a jury of hip-hop scholars will probably forever be out. But this is widely considered to be the earliest known prototype of the genre.

Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham (1904-1981) was a vaudeville comedian in the 1920s and '30s, later moving into acting and singing. He got the name "Pigmeat" from an early act of his, where he declared himself as "Sweet Poppa Pigmeat".

For decades, Markham's career was severely limited to only nightclubs and theatres that accepted black entertainers called the "Chitlin' Circuit", as Jim Crow racism and segregation was still dominant in every aspect of American life in those days. He was little known among white audiences until the 1960s when Pigmeat Markham released several comedy albums that crossed over. 

Sammy Davis Jr. performed the "Here Come The Judge" act on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. The success of Sammy Davis Jr.'s rendition of Markham's act later got Markham himself a deal to appear on Laugh-In for one season. The success of which spawned this single, which made it to #19 on the Billboard Top 40 charts in 1968.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Duz and Bonus Laundry Detergent

Once upon a time, you could buy a box of laundry detergent and get something really useful out of it besides a plastic scoop.

And during the 1950s and '60s, there was such a detergent. In fact, a few of them.

Duz and Bonus laundry detergents each offered a bonus goodie. Duz offered a free china plate, bowl, cups and later, glass tumblers in each box. Moms would then religiously buy Duz until their china set was complete.

They must have sold a lot of these dishes as today, they are still as ubiquitous as Herb Alpert records in any second hand store.

Bonus offered free bath towels.

It was like Cracker Jack for housewives.

Breeze was another line of detergent that offered premiums.
But tragically, Duz, Bonus and their many imitators stopped including extras in their products by the late 1960s. And without the goodies, these brands died off.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thursday, November 12, 2015

L'eggs, L'aura & L'erin

Somewhere suspiciously next the ubiquitous L'eggs pantyhose display stand in any supermarket of the early '80 was the L'erin cosmetics stand.

Most people already figured this was a natural place to put the makeup. But for L'eggs, it was uniquely important; They owned L'erin.

L'eggs is a product of underwear conglomerate Hanes. They were introduced in 1969 with their famous plastic egg containers, which had zillions of uses (some women would keep jewelry in them, some people made arts and crafts out of them. In fact, some people bought them just for the big plastic egg containers, which sadly, they have long since phased out.)

Seeing an complimentary advantage to their very successful pantyhose line, in 1980, L'eggs created the L'aura cosmetics line.


L'aura was the original name for L'erin. But everybody got it mixed up with that big French cosmetic conglomerate, L'Oreal. It was quickly renamed L'erin.

But L'erin cosmetics as a product? Well, the verdict wasn't good.

First, most women were used to the idea of makeup being a distinctly personal art. They wanted something glamourous and luxurious. And all other cosmetic companies were working overtime to accommodate this image.

But L'erin just wasn't that. At all. L'erin's commercial tag line for it's first few years was "Put Your Face On And Forget It". Which sounds like something their dads would say when he needed to use the bathroom.

L'erin was trying to be simpler and more practical, aiming for the young, active woman who wanted less drama and fuss in their makeup kits. But being sold primarily in supermarkets and discount stores (this wasn't exactly Estee Lauder), the cosmetically savvy ladies just weren't impressed. They viewed L'erin as cheap and chintzy.

And it was. The makeup quality itself was also notorious, as millions of raccoon-eyed girls staring back from their '80s high school yearbooks can testify. The mascara was clumpy right out of the bottle, the eyeliner and eye shadow ran under hot lights or in the hot sun. By this time, boys were getting into makeup (the Duran Duran thing and the first wave of glam metal had hit) and I remember girls experimenting on us with their once-used L'erin cosmetics....And then laughing their butts off when we walked outside on a hot day.

The eternal price of trying to be cool (Sigh!)

L'erin lasted until 1984. It was sold in 1983 by Consolidated Foods (now Sara Lee) to another makeup company and after a few attempts to resuscitate the brand, L'erin was discontinued. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"TV" The Judy's (1981)

A lost indie pop classic, "TV" was a song by The Judy's, Texas' (Pearland, specifically) most famous New Wave band.

This song got airplay on some wavy Seattle radio stations and this was where I first heard this song. But being on a local Houston area independent label, getting a copy of their album Washarama was nearly impossible since the label didn't have any national distribution. But The Judy's were unquestionably popular in the Lone Star state in the early 1980s. Their other hits included "Guyana Punch", "Her Wave", "Grass is Greener" and "Milk"

And "TV" is perhaps the only song to ever mention Allied TV Rentals, which was a famous national TV rental company, where you rented TVs by the week. A model that grew into today's rent-to-own businesses, such as Rent-A-Center, ColorTyme and Aaron's. Allied TV Rentals itself however went out of business nationally in 1987.

In spite of some worthy press and incredibly catchy singles, The Judy's never got the national fame and chart success they deserved. However, they still maintain a website where you can order their albums. 


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Frozen Sodas

Ooooooh....What's this?

Chills & Thills was a cherry and orange flavoured (artificially of course) frozen soda concentrate made from 1967-68 that was apparently targeted to those hip young people that were probably influenced by Timothy Leary. Or wanted to be.

You mixed it with tap water, which made it fizz into a thick foamy (and judging from the film degradation on these commercials, possibly psychedelically bright coloured) goo you ate with a spoon.....

....and once you hit brainfreeze, you begin acting like this lady.

But Chills & Thrills wasn't the first frozen soda concentrate. That distinction belongs to an earlier Bird's Eye product called Sodaburst.

Sodaburst was a frozen instant ice cream soda fountain drink made from 1963-64. It came in four flavours. All chocolate, "Black & White" (chocolate syrup and vanilla), Strawberry and Pineapple. Plus a scoop of vanilla ice cream in each one. Just add tap water.

The problem here likely, as mentioned in the TV ad, was the price. If it was too pricey, mom was not buying it. And chances are, it probably didn't taste very good.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Reveal See Thru Roasting Wrap

Here's something you probably need this Thanksgiving that you'll also need a time machine to buy.

Reveal See Thru Roasting Wrap was a hybrid foil/plastic wrap product of Colgate/Palmolive of the 1970s. It essentially turned your oven into a rotisserie when you wrapped it around prime rib, ham, fish, turkey or chicken. The foil ends sealed everything, roasting everything in it's own juices.

The inner plastic was of a special heat resistant type. But being plastic, it could only be heated to a certain temperature. And even in those days, there was concern over chemicals in the plastic leaching out into your food.

Reveal disappeared off the grocery shelves by the late 1970s, but it was actually used in the restaurant business well into the mid '80s (I remember seeing this in some kitchens under a different name.)    

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

"Dancing In The Dark" Bruce Springsteen (12" Extended Remix, 1984)

It seemed like a good idea.

But Bruce Springsteen's music (and this song in particular) is the type that utterly clashed with the general type of the R&B infected New Wavy dance music that was popular in the dance clubs in 1984 this version was made for. No matter how much drum machine and strange background singers you put in it.
That might be why Bruce Springsteen himself has never re-released this version of "Dancing In The Dark" on any of his compilations.

And let's face it, it's a horrible remix.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Danka Toaster Pastries

Danka was a tragically named breakfast pastry for toasters that existed in the late 1960s and early '70s.

From the advertising, Danka was for your square, sensible middle aged person who wanted their toaster pastries to do more than pop up. (Well, what do you want them to do then? Your taxes?)