Doin’ the Christmas Shuffle, Vol. 19

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(Pictured: John and Yoko’s War Is Over campaign began with billboards at Christmas of 1969. It would be followed two years later by a song you may have heard.)

In 2007, I started putting my Christmas library on shuffle and writing about whatever comes out. It’s a tradition I have tried to maintain ever since, and we’re gonna come in right under the wire with this year’s lone installment. This one has a twist: I have about 70 cuts in my library that show as “never played.” That’s not accurate—sometimes Media Jukebox simply loses play information—but by shuffling up that list, I can plausibly say I’m writing about and listening to stuff that is relatively new to this feature.

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” (acoustic guitar demo)/John Lennon. There are several bootleg versions of “Happy Xmas.” This one, from The Alternate Shaved Fish, makes brand-new a song you’ve heard a million times. (Get the whole Alternate Shaved Fish from ROIO, my favorite bootleg site, here.)

“Love for Christmas”/The Gems. Fabulous girl-group R&B recorded for Chess in 1964 and featuring Minnie Riperton. Funky16Corners has the story and the download here.

“All I Want for Christmas Is You”/Carla Thomas. Not the Mariah Carey perennial, but a melancholy broken-heart ballad from 1966.

“Silver Bells”/Supremes. This has been a radio staple since 1965, a year in which Motown acts first started recording Christmas music. The best compilation of that stuff is still A Motown Christmas from 1973. Another set came out in 2008 that looks to have been more extensive, but it seems to be out of print.

“Christmas in Vidor”/Rodney Crowell. I received two 2018 Christmas releases thanks to Jeffrey Thames at KPFT in Houston: Love the Holidays by the Old 97s and Christmas Everywhere by Rodney Crowell. I did not like the Old 97s album, which is performed with a tongue-in-cheek attitude that slops over into contempt for its audience. Crowell’s album is vastly better. He treats the season with humor too, but isn’t snide about it. “Christmas in Vidor” is not a happy day, but it makes for the best song on the album.

“The Little Drummer Boy”/Moonlion. A disco version, which made #95 on the Hot 100 for the week of December 27, 1975.

“Merry Christmas Baby”/Melissa Etheridge. From her 2008 album A New Thought for Christmas, Melissa goes for gritty where other people who cover the same song go for smooth, and it works.

“Winter Wonderland”/Neil Diamond. From a December 1984 show in which Diamond also tackled “Adeste Fideles,” his own “You Make It Feel Like Christmas,” and 25 years of hits. Get the boot from ROIO here.

“Soul Christmas”/Count Sidney and His Dukes. Hell yeah man, this is the good stuff, released in 1967. As Rockin’ Sidney, Sidney Simien hit in the middle of the 80s with the indelible “My Toot Toot.” Don’t Google that one unless you want it in your head for the rest of the day.

“Run Run Rudolph”/Creedence Clearwater Revisited. This sounds a little bit limp to me—no John Fogerty, no bueno—but it’s harmless. It appeared on Hope for the Holidays, a 2009 benefit album made for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, an all-over-the-road collection featuring everybody from Mike Love to Hoyt Axton to Weezer.

OK, so that’s all of that. On the flip, read a few words about one of the most successful radio people I know.

In 1983, I applied for a job at a new radio station in Madison called Magic 98. I didn’t get the gig—not for 25 years, anyway—but one guy who joined up that year was Pat O’Neill. Since then, he’s become a Madison radio institution, with over 30 years on Magic’s morning show. As Magic’s program director, he’s built one of the best adult-contemporary stations in the country, often imitated, never duplicated.

Late last month, Pat shocked us all by announcing his departure for another radio gig, out of state, in a place he has yet to reveal. His last day is tomorrow.

Here’s a little secret: doing good radio is not all that hard, if you have the talent and commitment. What is hard, even if you have the talent and commitment, is consistency. At Pat’s direction, Magic does what it does, at a high level, day-to-day and year-to-year. If a baseball player does that, he ends up in the Hall of Fame. In radio terms—as a programmer, a jock, and captain of the ship—Pat is surely that. I’m fortunate to have been in his lineup. Or on his boat. (Or wherever we’ve been these last 10 years.) Thank you sir, best of luck, and may all good things come your way.

(There will be a new post here on Saturday, so stop back.)

9 thoughts on “Doin’ the Christmas Shuffle, Vol. 19

  1. >>>>Here’s a little secret: doing good radio is not all that hard, if you have the talent and >>>>commitment. What is hard, even if you have the talent and commitment, is >>>>consistency

    This may sound like a super-snarky question, but go with me here. I have no doubt of your friend’s talent and consistency. But what if the great songs of your genre just aren’t there? What if the performers Corporate is pressuring you to play are just . . . terrible by your high standards? How do you create great radio out of -that-?

    1. I sense some subtext in your question that’s unstated, so let me respond this way: yes, it helps one’s case for a sports hall of fame if he or she played on championship teams. Good ownership helps make winners. In radio, appealing music certainly does too.

      However: my personal opinion of the music is irrelevant to whether I succeed at my job. The goal of a radio programmer in the long run and a jock at the beginning of a show should be relevancy to listener’s lives in terms of the entertainment value and information we provide to them. Music is part of that, but not all. You can serve the people whether they’re tuning in for Bulgarian folk songs or classic rock. If you do the best you can with whatever the station gives you, your conscience should be clear.

      If you’d like to elaborate on your question, I’ll be happy to pursue it further.

  2. mikehagerty

    Music does matter, though. No less than Bill Drake said, regarding the success of KHJ, Los Angeles, “Thank God we had the Beatles, the Stones, the Beach Boys and Motown all at their peak”.

    When he left KHJ and the RKO chain in 1973, he launched K-100 in Los Angeles with a better-than-decent FM signal and the same star morning and afternoon talent he had at KHJ. The hitmakers then were John Denver, Helen Reddy and the DeFranco Family. It didn’t go so well.

    Truth is, a lot was wrong with K-100 and there were successful Top 40 stations in late 1973 playing that music. But if you’re trying to create that “firing on all cylinders” magic, great music helps a bunch. It’s a wonderful situation when the music is so good that a PD can give the advice Gerry Cagle used to give his jocks at KFRC—“Hey, try to be as good as the music today, okay?”

    1. I think we’re talking about two different things here. I can’t control the music my stations play. (If I could, there’d be fewer young women shouting personal empowerment anthems on the AC station and more young women singing about anything on the country station.) Those decisions get made by people higher up the organizational chart than I, and one hopes they’re making those decisions with an eye toward success, however they might choose to define it.

      Gonna mix metaphors here. The decisions made about a music format are analogous to decisions on player acquisition and development to put together a winning baseball team. You hope the people in charge make good decisions and success follows. However, Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres was the greatest hitter of his generation, even though his team didn’t win anything. That didn’t keep him from consistently doing his best work every day. A music format that isn’t blessed with .300 hitters needn’t keep a jock from doing his best work every day, either.

  3. Hooray, a Christmas Shuffle post at last *and* I get shouted out. I’m coming to the conclusion that the Old 97’s album is okay taken as a whole but spoil any momentum if they pop up on random. (“Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Blue Christmas” remain insufferable.) Crowell, on the other hand, gave the season every bit of gravitas you’d expect him to.

    Best of luck to Pat, and I second “Kung Fu Christmas”, which I have ripped directly from [i]Goodbye Pop[/i] with the “Mel Brewer Show” preface featuring Messrs. Murray and Guest. “We’re talking two people, two giants, two greats: Nina Simone and Frankie Valli.”

  4. Pingback: Hard to Turn the Radio Off | The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

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