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Album Spotlight: Truth, Part 1

Image from Sundazed.com

Album: Truth

Artist: Truth

Record label: People Records: PLP-5002

Year released: 1970

Number of tracks: 12

Genre: Psychedelic Rock & Folk

The purpose of my Album Spotlights is to bring lesser-known albums to your attention, often vintage albums, with backstories you’ll find compelling and music you’ll find enjoyable.

Let me take you back to 1970. Gas cost 0.36 cents per gallon. The average cost of a home was $23,450. The hourly minimum wage was $2.10/hr. A McDonalds hamburger cost less than 20 cents. Some of the top shows on television included Hawaii Five-0, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, The Partridge Family, The Flip Wilson Show, Mary Tyler Moore, and The Wonderful World of Disney. Richard Nixon lowered the voting age to 18. Four students were killed at Kent State University. The Vietnam War entered its 15th year. Apollo 13 returned safely to earth days after an oxygen tank explosion. The Beatles broke up. Star Wars was released. The first Earth Day was held in the US. Elvis died (or did he?). And Truth was released.


Reaching for the Truth: My sealed original copy of “Truth” from 1970. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Truth wasn’t a novel or a movie. It was the debut album by hippy musicians recorded under the same name. Recorded in 1969 and released in 1970, Truth’s members consisted of Micheal DeGreve on guitar and vocals, and Bob Doran and Janice Kerr on vocals (strangely, none of them were identified on the record’s jacket). DeGreve was close friends with Doran and Kerr who were married. The three were backed by select members of The Wrecking Crew, a well-respected group of Los Angeles session players who performed anonymously on hit songs by The Beach Boys, The Monkees, The Byrds, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Sony & Cher, Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas and the Papas, and producer Phil Spector. As if that weren’t enough, Truth was produced by three former Motown execs.

Despite all of the enormous talent behind it, the album got little traction. Doran and Kerr split up which effectively killed the group, thus making Truth a one and done release for the promising young trio.


Image from Van Morrison’s official Facebook page.

In all fairness to Truth, it had some pretty stiff competition on the record store shelves in 1970. You might recognize some of the other albums that were released that year: George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, Paul McCartney’s McCartney, The Doors’ Morrison Hotel, Woodstock, John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, Van Morrison’s Moon Dance, Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys, The Beatles’ Let It Be, The Velvet Underground’s Loaded, and Badfinger’s No Dice, just to name a few.


The fact that Truth was released on a small, unknown record label called People Records (not to be confused with James Brown’s People Records from 1971) didn’t help. The newly established label apparently did little to promote the record. People Records’ complete “catalog” included only one other album…Kim Weston’s Big Brass Four Poster, also released in 1970. It’s got some great music, but like Truth, it didn’t make any serious impact. To add insult to injury, various bios of Weston don’t even mention the album. Weston’s husband, William “Mickey” Stevenson, was People Records’ founder and producer. It’s nice to have friends in high places. That aside, People Records disappeared about as quickly and quietly as its only two album titles.


After being out of print for 54 years, Truth was reissued for the first-time last month by Sundazed Records. With song titles like “Far Out”, “Let It Out, Let It In”, “Contributin’”, and a wild song about Lizzie Bordon simply called “Lizzie”, you know you’re listening to something from a different era. Sundazed describes the music on Truth as “sitar head-swirlers, sunny, melodic harmonies and a country folk influence…” I would call it a great trip without the drugs.

Truth be told, Truth was actually issued on CD for the first time back in 2012 by Relics Records, though it was an “unofficial” release. That’s code for saying it was a bootleg. I don’t own a copy of it but I’ve read reviews complaining about the sound quality. So much for Relic’s motto, “Cuts for Connoisseurs”.

Like his personality, DeGreve has a gentle voice, reminiscent of John Denver’s. But paired with Doran and Kerr, the trio sound more than a little like The Mamas and the Papas with some extra spunk. They may have been hippies, but they could harmonize like crazy.

“I would call it a great trip without the drugs.”

Michael DeGreve and his girlfriend, Kris, circa 2021. Photo from DeGreve’s Facebook page.

I tracked down Truth’s vocalist and lead guitarist, Michael DeGreve, and in a lengthy phone interview, I asked him to reflect on this gem of a 1970 musical time capsule along with some of his other memories.

Peter: Were you the guy who was holding on to the Truth tapes?

Michael: “Mickey Stevenson [Truth’s producer] had them and I don’t think they exist. Mickey Stevenson was the head of A&R at Motown. He put The Funk Brothers together at Motown, he wrote songs like ‘Dancin’ in the Streets’, produced Martha and the Vandellas. I mean, I was 19 years old and I knew who Mickey was…I think [the tapes] are gone. I connected with Mickey but he was so crazy busy. He just gave me a thumb’s-up, go for it, I don’t have them. God bless him. But Jay Millar [the GM] at Sundazed [Records] took a virgin copy of the album and did all that work. It’s never sounded any better. It had never been [officially] on CD before. I had a couple of extra pictures that are on the inside cover of the CD.”


Image from Mickey Stevenson’s official Facebook page.

Peter: Where did the name “Truth” come from?

Michael: “I think it came from Mickey…my best memory. I wasn’t really supposed to be a part of this, though.”

Peter: You kind of came into Truth by accident. Bob Doran, one of the vocalists, asked you to come along and play guitar for the audition and Mickey insisted you be a part of the group.

Michael: “Exactly right. Exactly right. Bob and Janice, my neighbors (laughs), it’s so funny, I had only been playing guitar a couple of years. I was really a basketball player. I had scholarships everywhere…I worked at the LA Times. So anyway, they said, ‘We’ve got this interview with Mickey Stevenson.’ I said ‘really?’ They said, ‘Would you play for us?’ I went, ‘Yeah!’ So, I went over to Mickey’s office and blah, blah, blah, and he said, ‘Well, you’re a part of this, right?’ I said, ‘Mickey, no, man, I’m waiting for my friend. We’re going to do more of a rock ‘n’ roll thing.’ He said, ‘We’re going to use some of The Wrecking Crew, but will you put you band together and do all your guitar parts?’ I said, ‘Yeah, of course.’ We got to the end of the first vocals and I could see him talking through the glass. Janice had said, ‘Hey, Michael’s got a part on this.’ “I was living with [Bob and Janice]. We had been, you know, 3 hippies up in the hills rehearsing all those harmonies. Mickey said, ‘Well, get out there and do it.’ Which is what you did at Motown. So, I did it. I could see him talking through the glass and Mickey said, ‘Get in here’, and I got this 10-minute thing- ‘you gotta be a part of this and whatever you do next is whatever you do next, but please be a part of this.’ You know, this is Mickey Stevenson for God’s sake. I said, ‘Of course, alright, I’ll definitely do it.’ Peter, I’m 19 years old and Tina Turner played with my hair in the studio one night. I met everybody at Motown through Mickey. I wish I would’ve been old enough musically to walk through some of the doors Mickey was trying to open, but it was an amazing influence in my life.”


Image from The Funk Brothers’ official Facebook page.

Peter: John Latini played bass on Truth, but besides him, the three of you, and some unspecified members of The Wrecking Crew, I don’t believe the record identifies anybody else. Do recall any other names?

Michael:Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. My best friend, ‘The Bear’,David [Smith], plays acoustic guitar on [‘Being Farmed’]. I think Jimmy Curtis, my drummer that was in The Lid, my first band, was on it, and of course, I played a lot of the guitars.

“And then the other half of the album was…I was too young to even appreciate it. Trust me when I tell you, I did not know who The Wrecking Crew was. I mean, I should’ve. I just knew Mickey brought all these guys in. One time, one of the guys, I don’t know if he was actually a member of The Wrecking Crew, Jerry Sheff, a bass player, did one of the tracks. Now, I know all their names and got introduced to a bunch of them. There’s a song of mine called ‘Thoughts’…Ben Benay, he plays that sitar part on my song ‘Thoughts’. So, it’s really a mixture, you know. Mickey, he put The Funk Brothers together, the band that did all the Motown hits, Mickey put that band together. He and Clarence Paul and those guys would run the sessions and I put the sessions together that we did. It’s an amalgamation…I haven’t listened to it in years…But I’m just so thankful [the reissue] happened…

“I just sent a long Facebook thing to Gabe and Andy, Bob and Janice’s two boys who were born right at that time…but when all this [publicity] first happened, I left out a lot of that, so I did a kind of Mea Culpa, and said, ‘You know, I didn’t mention Bob and Janice and told some of our story about we lived together, all that stuff. It was great.’”



Peter: You mentioned all of the incredible talent behind Truth including yourself and Mickey. So, you must have been surprised when the album got out there and sort of disappeared?

Michael: “I was. I was. Especially because it was Mickey. I don’t know if it was that just people didn’t exactly know what to make of it or what. Mickey and I were really close in the studio. We did some social things. He opened the door, like me meeting some of the people that were my legends…Stevie Wonder, I mean, God, I didn’t know him, I just got to meet him. It was a label [Mickey] just put together. Other than Kim Weston, his lady, we were the only other thing on it. So, I never really understood what the business thing was. I know people have gotten a hold of me over the years in places in Europe and things saying they had it and they loved it. I think it was called in those days, Peter, rack jobbing, or something. Whatever they didn’t sell they went out, you know, you’d see [records] in grocery stores in those days or whatever. Somehow, he did that. Yeah, I think I was a little disappointed about that time.” 

Peter: Since Truth wasn’t exactly a huge hit, did you ever see any royalty checks?

Michael: “Never received any royalties! Bummer!”

Peter: Is there any standout memory you have from Truth’s recording sessions?

Michael: “Lots of them. I guess the first one, of course, the one I told you about, Mickey actually wanting me to do it. Right when we were doing it, I had a fire. I was living up on Sunset and there was a fire in the middle of the early morning. The firemen broke down the door and got me out of there alive. I had nothing in the world except one pair of pants that were too short…my guitars were burned, and Mickey took me shopping to get a beautifully built 12-string.

“My memories are, we used to record in the evenings. That’s how that Tina Turner story happened. One night we got there and Mickey said, ‘Michael, I’m so sorry, can we do this tomorrow night? I promised Ike and Tina [Turner] could do vocals.’ And I [said], ‘Yeah, can we stay?’ (laughs)

“My memories are of my very first lead guitar solo ever, is the last thing on the album. Ah, pretty primitive. I go, ‘Oh, man, I hope my real lead guitar player, Bob, doesn’t hear this’ (laughs).


Image from Johnnynash.com

“What it was for me, it was being around, if my memory serves, I know he was in the studio with us, Johnny Nash, the guy that wrote ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ and having a real cool conversation with Johnny about, he was also a vegetarian, which I’d just recently become in ’68, and I think he sang back-up a little bit.

“Everybody came in and did stuff. Mickey’s on ‘Anybody Here Know How to Pray’ and a couple of other things. What was fun for me and what I remember about the most was the collaborative experience of all of us when we rehearsed, and did the album, and wrote all the harmony parts, and being in the studio in that environment with Mickey Stevenson and Jim Saunders and the great engineers. It was just an amazing experience. Lots of memories doing the sessions. I can look back and remember looking through the glass and being in the room and watching the guys from The Wrecking Crew go, see my friend John Latini. I still keep in touch with John, not in a few years, but I used to. He’s on that Bob Smith Visit album along with Jimmy Curtis, my drummer for years who I’m still in touch with…”

Peter: So, do you have a favorite track from Truth?

Michael: “Yeah, I have two. It’s the one Mickey loved the most. It’s the first one on the album. One of my very first records, a little bit of my Justin Hayward/Moody Blues influence, called ‘Have you Forgotten’. I also love the song ‘Let It Out, Let It In’. I thought that was just really well done. The harmonies are beautiful. But you know, I’m liking it more now, Peter.

“I quit listening to it. Life just got busy. Susan and I met and that part of my life started. Then I went out and did a two-year gig in Milwaukee, then went back. My agent called me and said, “What do you think about Cheyanne?” And I said, “I don’t. Where is it?” I went out there for two weeks and stayed 6 nights a week, 11 shows per week, on a handshake, for 30 years.”

Peter: Well, I love “Far Out” because I think it’s so emblematic of the time, but I also love the harmonies.

Michael: “You know, that’s what was fun about it, the three of us sitting around with a glass of wine and a joint, working out those three-part harmonies. That’s one of Bob’s songs, and of course, it was the hippie expression, ‘Hey, man, far out!’ (laughs). Bob wrote it. Cool! (laughs) I love that you love that one. I’m going to send Bob some spiritual vibes wherever he is in the cosmos. It would just make him smile so much.”

Peter: And what was the deal with “Lizzie”? A song about Lizzie Bordon!

Michael: “When you find that out, tell me” (Peter laughs).

Peter: You all kind of crack up or go a bit bonkers towards the end of that song, so it sounded like you had some fun doing it anyway.

Michael: “I think so.”


The naked Truth?

Peter: Maybe you don’t remember, but that great black and white picture on the back cover of Truth- were the three of you topless or naked?

Michael: “I think we were topless, but…I know we were topless, even Janice, but I don’t know if we….I don’t know. I think we had pants on.”

Peter: It’s my perverse curiosity. I can’t help it.

Michael: “No, no, I don’t mind visiting any of these things. If I knew the answer for sure I’d say, yeah, we were. Nudity was not much of a thing back then, brother. I thought it was a beautiful picture.”

Peter: It was! You look very Christ-like.

Michael:“Well, thank you. I wish (laughs), it’s an aspiration (laughs). Not sure I’ve lived up to that, especially when I was into rock ‘n’ roll and all of that. Trust me. But I never did anything past a brief psychedelic era, and then I smoked pot daily for 20 years. I’ve been battling cancer the last two years so I don’t even do that anymore. I don’t even drink.”    

Peter: One thing I wanted to ask about is there’s not a lot out there as far as photos of Truth or the sessions.

Michael: “There isn’t. There isn’t. No. That’s it. Jay [from Sundazed Records] wanted more too, but I gave him the two [pictures] that are on the CD. But that’s it. I have no other pictures of Truth…we just didn’t; it wasn’t a big thing, or, I don’t know. I thought, ‘Why isn’t anybody taking pictures’, you know?

“That’s kind of the same thing about Gypsy’s Lament [DeGreve’s solo album]. Why do I not have pictures of the first session when I walked in. I had Leeland Sklar [bass] on one side of me, David Lindley [guitar, violin] on the other, and I looked around and went, ’Oh God, please freeze frame this. I just want to do this.’ And the whole thing with [Graham] Nash and I. There’s no pictures of all that stuff…I wish there was. With all my heart I wish there was.”

Peter: I know the other two vocalists on Truth, Bob and Janice, were married. They divorced shortly after Truth came out and that pretty much ended the group?

Michael: “Yeah, that was certainly a part of it.”

Peter: Did Bob or Janice go on to do anything else musically or was that pretty much it for them?

Michael: “Ah, that was pretty much it for them. Janice sang a little bit of vocals in a cover band. I was already on the road by then…but [Janice] sang with Bob’s cover band right after The Lid broke up…he had a band like we all [did] trying to make a living playing. She sang and she had two kids and Bob had gone back to Florida, what little I know. I really don’t know much after that. We had a really good mutual friend that I’m in touch with and he said Bob was living with one of the soap opera stars on one of them deals, and Janice raised her kids and moved to New Jersey…”

To Be Continued

That concludes Part 1. Come back here next month for Part 2 of my interview with Michael DeGreve and find out what it was like to be a hippie, the big names in music who performed on his solo album, and what DeGreve is cooking up these days.



Trivia: On June 21, 1967, 75,000-100,000 hippies converged on San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district to celebrate peace, love, and freedom. It became known as the summer of love.

Trivia (from udiscovermusic.com): “During the 60s and 70s, Los Angeles producers needed reliable standby musicians who could be counted on to contribute to records in a variety of styles and deliver hits on short order. The Wrecking Crew were musically versatile performers who were usually brilliant at sight-reading. Their contributions feature in pop songs, television music, theme songs, film scores, and advert music. The reason The Wrecking Crew’s contributions to so many hit recordings went unnoticed at the time was that record labels wanted to keep it that way, maintaining the illusion that famous bands, such as The Monkees, always played their own instrumental parts.”

Trivia (from nbcnews.com, Nov. 2004): A man who placed a lava lamp on a hot stove top was killed when it exploded and sent a shard of glass into his heart, police said. Philip Quinn, 24, was found dead in his trailer home Sunday night by his parents. ‘Why on earth he was heating a lava lamp on the stove, we don’t know,’ Kent Police spokesman Paul Petersen said Monday. After the lamp exploded, Quinn apparently stumbled into his bedroom, where he died Sunday afternoon, authorities said. Police found no evidence of drug or alcohol use.”

Links:

Michael DeGreve

Sundazed

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Albums That Weren’t Albums

Bang The Drum All Day. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Photo by Peter Skiera.

They looked like albums. They were the same size as albums. They were sold in record stores. Yet these series of “records” weren’t records at all. They were essentially a series of large greeting cards made to look like records. Instead of containing a vinyl record you could play, each contained a thin, 12” cardboard “record” with the printed message: “I bought this Album for you as a gift… sorry, I couldn’t afford the record!’ (a blank “From” area at the bottom was provided to write a personal message to the recipient).

Photo by Peter Skiera.

Long playing vinyl record sales were really taking off in the 1960s. A company by the name of Kanrom saw an opportunity to cash in by selling gag “records” as unique gifts for Birthdays, Wedding Anniversaries, etc., or just to give to a friend (or a former friend) for a laugh. The company promoted them as “Wild, Whacky, Bawdy…and Screamingly Fun!…A Truly Wild Group Of Conversation Pieces.”

A record company that wasn’t a record company. Photo by Peter Skiera.

There was a total of 12 “records” in the series, released under the name High In-Fidelity Records. As the “label” implied, most of the titles had a sexual theme and featured naked or partially naked women on the covers (I used puzzle pieces in my pics to obscure the nudity). The Rated-PG artwork (remember, this was the 1960s) definitely took some attention away from the real records. They didn’t chart like real records did, so how much of that attention turned into actual sales isn’t known.

Each “record” cost $1.25. That seems impossibly cheap, but adjusting for inflation, that would be almost $13 today. That’s not that far away from the cost of an actual record.

Swing Out Sister. Photo by Peter Skiera.

The back of each “album cover” listed “suggested [song] titles suitable for enclosure” that played off of the album’s title and artwork. For example, Songs For Swinging Mothers, the cover of which featured four very pregnant women on a swing set, included suggested songs like Get Me To The Church On Time, Things We Did Last Summer, Careless Love, and Don’t Blame Me.

The cover says it all. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Some of the other titles in the series included Victory At Sea (featuring four couples on the deck of a boat), Music For Casual Affairs (picturing a pair of male and female bare feet at the end of a bed), Great Piano Pieces (depicting four naked ladies strewn across pianos), Music For You (the cover of which showed a horse’s rear end), and a similarly-themed Music For Half-assed Friends (featuring ½ of a toilet on the cover). The “suggested” songs for that latter title included Just In Time, Doing What Comes Naturally, At Last, I Gotta Go Now, You Go To My Head, and Just A-Sittin’ And A-Rockin’.

Politicians are the same all over. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Perhaps the most controversial “album” of the High In-Fidelity series was Communist Party Music, complete with a Nikita Khrushchev look-a-like along with several topless ladies. A few of the “suggested” songs for this release included Cuban Love Song, How The West Was Won, West Of The Wall, Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf, and He’s A Devil In His Own Home Town.

It’s fun to look back on these risqué fake records from 60+ years ago. Even with the resurgence of vinyl, with our politically correct environment, I’m not sure you could get away with something like this today. That said, I can definitely imagine some amusing album covers poking fun at various news headlines…

My thanks to musiceureka for some of the information featured in this article, and my thanks to my Patreon members for helping to make this blog possible.

Have A Strange Valentine’s Day

Photo licensed from depositphotos.com

For the last several Decembers, I’ve brought you strange holiday records as part of my “Have A Strange Christmas” series. I thought I’d use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to take a similar look at some unusual vintage romantic records.

Photo from Sundazed Records.
  1. Love Is A Drag (Lace Records: MLA200; Mono; 1962)

I love strange vintage albums, and I love them even more if they’re wrapped in mystery. This album, self-described as “for adult listeners only”, is of a male crooner singing love songs to another man. Yes, you read correctly. Perhaps it wouldn’t be quite so scandalous if it just came out (so to speak), but Love Is A Drag was released more than sixty years ago!

Love Is A Drag wasn’t a comedy or novelty album. Top session musicians were brought in and a professional singer was recruited. The songs, including The Man I Love, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, Bewitched, and He’s Funny That Way, were sung with sincerity, not in a campy style. This was a serious jazz record.

The mystery I illuded to is that the male singer remained anonymous for decades, for good reason since it was recorded in 1962 when this kind of content wasn’t generally accepted. The album only stated that the singer was “a most unusual vocalist”. Neither of the men pictured on the cover was the singer. I guess it was the 1960s version of The Masked Singer. The album’s liner notes said of the singer, “…he has broken the barrier which has confronted so many other great singers who, for lack of courage, have not attempted.”

Regarding the album’s title, which was printed in pink letters, the liner notes clarify that the word “Drag” in Love Is A Drag, meant a bore or a headache and was not a reference to a drag queen. Based on the cover photo, I would’ve thought it had to do with taking a drag on a cigarette.

Thanks to an LGBT music historian, J.D. Doyle, the mysterious singer was revealed 50 years later as none other than big band vocalist Gene Howard. Howard was part of Gene Krupa and later, Stan Kenton’s bands and sang with Anita O’Day and June Christie. He was 42 when he recorded Love Is A Drag, was married with two children, and was very much heterosexual. Just sayin’.

Besides being a talented singer, Howard was also a professional photographer and co-founded a studio with his friend, Murray Garrett. I mention this because the back of the album includes a very small credit, “Garrett/Howard, Inc.”, for the artwork. Yes, the undisclosed singer had his last name on the back of the jacket and was at least partly responsible for the photograph on the front.

Edison International Records was behind Love Is A Drag, but the label didn’t want to be associated with a “gay record”, so Lace Records was invented just for this release. By the way, I wouldn’t recommend trying to hunt down the original Lace LP. It will set you back $70 and higher.

Over time, Love Is A Drag developed its own cult following. As the story goes, Frank Sinatra, Liberace, Bob Hope, and Shirley MacLaine were all closeted fans of the album. If you’d like a festive and flamboyant Valentine’s Day, check out Love Is A Drag.

My copy of “MTMYMB” with the super rare “instruction” booklet. Photo by Peter Skiera.

2. Music To Massage Your Mate By (ALA Records: ALA-4002; Stereo; 1976)

If you think this album cover looks like something out of the 1970s, you’re right. It was released in 1976. It’s an all-instrumental album and all six song titles end in “of Love”, such as The Sounds of Love and Doorways of Love.

    Music To Massage Your Mate By came with an 8-page “explicitly illustrated instruction booklet” with black & white photos. According to the liner notes, the booklet “is a vehicle for your enjoyment and of course the enjoyment of your partners.” Note the word “partners” is plural. Keep in mind, this is 1976. Some jughead wrote “I guarantee it!!” on my copy of the booklet. I guess he was giving it as a gift and was trying to be funny.

    The liner notes continue: All you need do is “go to that particular room in your home- one that is quite comfortable, with low light- and play the album, following the steps in the booklet…and you’re on your way.” On my way to where? Maybe I shouldn’t ask.

    The front cover of the album looks like a still from a 70s low budget porn film. The woman looks as uninterested as humanly possible. Her “partner” looks like a cheesy Burt Reynolds stand-in. I wish the price sticker on my copy covered his face. Perhaps the jazzy music on the record will put the two of them in the mood so they can be “on their way”.

    My Laff Records copy of “Massage”. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    Believe it or not, another label called Laff Records licensed the music from ALA Records and released it on their own label also with the booklet. The only difference is the Laff label doesn’t show the 6 song titles, only “Continuous Uninterrupted Music for Massage.” Perhaps it was going to cost too much to print out all the songs on the label.

    Apparently, this strange album has its own fan club. One enterprising person is selling t-shirts featuring the album cover on eBay for $30. Why not surprise your mate on Valentine’s Day by playing this record and wearing this shirt? Then you’ll be “on your way”…probably out the door.

    Photo from discrepancy-records.com.au

    Before I go to my final strange Valentine record, I must mention one other ALA Record called Music to Strip For Your Man By from 1973. If the red headed woman on the cover looks familiar to you, it’s because she’s the same woman on ALA’s Massage cover, but in better condition. What a difference 3 years can make. The record identifies her as “professional stripper Honey West”. Incidentally, the cover photograph was taken by Robert Wotherspoon who also took the photo on the Massage album cover of Honey and the Burt Reynolds reject.

    This album also came with its own black and white illustrated booklet…16 pages of stripper instructions and revealing demonstrations by Honey West. Apparently, booklets inside records were a thing.

    Like the songs on the Massage record, the music on Music To Strip was also jazzy, but with better song titles reflecting 1973 lingo like Funkie Mama, High Times, Strut Your Stuff, Funk Town, and my personal favorite, Theme For A Dirty Ol’ Man.

    The liner notes on the back cover are classic 1973: “This package now lets you join the trend toward “THE NOW” way of sensual living…as you bump and grind, he’ll lose his mind…take it off for him…that ain’t no sin.” Not exactly Ernest Hemmingway.

    Unlike the Massage album that followed 3 years later, we know what band performed on Music To Strip For Your Man By…it was Teddy Phillips and His Orchestra. Phillips was regionally popular in late 1940s/early 50s Chicago, playing frequently at the Aragon, Trianon, and Willowbrook Ballrooms. In 1956, WGN-TV aired his performances on The Teddy Phillips Show. Perhaps the big band business slowed down in the 1970s to the extent that Ted was forced to resort to recording stripper albums. Whatever it takes to put food on the table.

    3. Sonny Lester & His Orchestra ‎– Ann Corio Presents How To Strip For Your Husband (Roulette Records, R 25186; Mono; 1962)

    Composer, conductor, and producer Sonny Lester came up with the concept for this 1962 album after being introduced to Ann Corio, a popular East coast stripper during that time and star of the Broadway show, This Was Burlesque. The album’s liner notes described Lester’s music as “brassy and bouncy”, and the record probably appealed to similarly described females. The notes go on to say the record offered women the opportunity to become “in the privacy of your own fancy, and perhaps the enjoyment of your spouse, an ecdysiast” (i.e. a stripper).

    Perhaps a sign of the times, unlike the 2 previous records from the 1970s which stated “Mate” and “Man” in their titles, this 1962 album title narrows it down to “husbands” specifically.

    Some of the original songs include Seduction of The Virgin Princess, Bumps & Grinds, and Lonely Little G-String. The entire album was supposedly recorded in a single session. Oddly enough,a cover of The Stripper, a song that reached #1 the year before,wasn’t included.

    Included with the record was- you guessed it- a black and white “special instruction” booklet featuring “America’s most famous strip teaser”, Ann Corio. It detailed stripper tips and was an indispensable guide to making your marriage merrier.

    According to spageagepop.com, the album’s sales accelerated after Corio herself was a guest on The Jack Paar Show and promoted the record. A woman shoplifted a copy of the album from a Macys which made headlines, resulting in more sales. In fact, How To Strip For Your Husband sold so well, it was followed up with More How To Strip For Your Husband Vol. 2.

    The first volume was later packaged as a box set with another Lester record, How To Belly Dance For Your Husband, which…wait for it…came with its own instruction booklet featuring belly dancer “Little Egypt”.In 1968, the first volume was re-issued again on vinyl and 8-track tape with completely different cover art but included a reprinting of the original booklet. In 2010, both volumes were re-issued on a single CD with the stripper instructions incorporated into the CD booklet. It was re-issued in France in a special edition box as part of a “cheesecake collection”. How To Strip For Your Husband was the stripper album that just wouldn’t die. The real question is- how many men actually “benefited” from it?

    I hope my article brought a smile to your face and you have a strange but romantic Valentine’s Day. If you’d like some suggestions for Internet radio stations to play on Valentine’s Day, head on over to my Patreon page. Thanks to my Patreon members for helping to make this website blog possible. You won’t find articles like this anywhere else.

    Trivia (from massagestudiospa.com):The beginnings of ancient massage practice can be traced back to around 3000 BCE in India…The touch therapy used centuries ago in India is one of the earliest findings of a practice similar to the massage therapy we know today.” 

    Trivia (from wearemarlow.com): Stripping for cash began in “18th century Europe, when gentleman’s clubs, Burlesque clubs, private banquets and other secret sex clubs transformed the political economy of stripping. This was essentially the era that would catalyze the market for stripping/exotic dancing as we know it today.”

    You won’t find articles like this anywhere else. Help support my website blog by becoming a Patreon member today for as little as $1. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for helping to make this blog possible.

    Album Spotlight: Sissy Spacek, “Hangin’ Up My Heart”

    The purpose of my Album Spotlight is to bring lesser-known albums to your attention that feature enjoyable music and interesting backstories.

    My “Hangin’ Up My Heart” CD. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    I’m willing to bet you’ve never heard of Hangin’ Up My Heart, but you surely know the artist…award winning actress Sissy Spacek (not to be confused with the band of the same name). I imagine most of you reading this know Spacek best from Coal Miner’s Daughter for which she won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. As a horror film buff, my first exposure to Spacek was in the 1976 film Carrie, which ranks right up there with some of the greatest horror films ever made.

    Truth be known, I fell in love with her (not her character) in that movie. Although she portrayed a high school student, in reality, Spacek was 25 years old at the time. I thought she was uncommonly beautiful, except toward the end when she was caked in blood. Even in the ho-hum (compared to today’s standards) photo on the front cover of her album, her natural beauty is undeniable.

    Have Guitar, Will Travel

    Mary Elizabeth Spacek was born on Christmas Day in 1949 in Quitman, Texas. At age 17 she moved to New York with her acoustic guitar, intent on pursuing a career in music. She played various clubs in Greenwich Village and landed a role as an extra in an Andy Warhol film. The music path didn’t pan out so she took up acting with some assistance from her famous cousin, actor Rip Torn. She enrolled in the famous Lee Strasberg Theatrical Institute. A year later her oldest brother, Robbie, died at age 18 from leukemia. Fast forward to 1974 when she married Jack Fisk who she met on the set of her second movie, Badlands. They remain married to this day, making theirs one of the longest lasting marriages in Hollywood. They have two grown daughters, one of whom is also an actress.

    Movies Killed the Radio Star

    As I mentioned, Spacek originally wanted to be a music star not a movie star. In 1968, at the age of 19, under the name “Rainbo”, Spacek released a single for Roulette Records called John, You Went Too Far This Time. The “John” in the title referred to none other than John Lennon. In the song, which sounds deliberately Beatle-esque, Spacek laments Lennon’s infamous Two Virgins album cover which pictured him completely naked with Yoko Ono:

    Now I gaze in awe before that picture
    My mind retires to the place it was before you came
    I love the things you showed me up ’til now, John
    But since that picture, I don’t think my love will be the same

    Interestingly, there’s no trace of Spacek’s Texas accent in the song. Side B featured C’Mon, Teach Me to Live, co-written by Spacek. Needless to say, the single failed to chart. She passed an auditioned for Decca Records but they felt she sounded too much like an artist they already had on their label…Loretta Lynn.

    It’s funny how things sometimes circle back around. It was Lynn who personally selected Spacek for the starring role in Coal Miner’s Daughter in 1980. Spacek sang nine songs herself rather than lip synch to a professional singer (Loretta Lynn in this case) as is the Hollywood tradition. The original soundtrack album shot to #2 on the Billboard Country chart and earned Spacek a Grammy nomination.

    “Hangin’ Up My Heart” on Atlantic Records circa 1983.

    #17 At 34

    Just a few years later in 1983, at the age of 34, perhaps encouraged by her success with the Coal Miner’s Daughter soundtrack, Spacek went back into the recording studio for Hangin’ Up My Heart (Atlantic 79 01001). With a little help from her friends Vince Gill and Rosanne Cash, producer Rodney Crowell, and Loretta Lynn co-writing one of the songs with Spacek, it’s surprising the record only reached number seventeen on Billboard’s Country chart. The ten-track album produced three singles, with Lonely but Only for You peaking at number fifteen. 

    Singing Stars

    Movie and television stars who aren’t professional singers but release their own albums don’t always produce good results. William Shater, David Hasselhoff, Joe Pesci, and Steven Seagal come to mind.  In Spacek’s case, reviews on Amazon of Hangin’ are mostly favorable, averaging 4.4 out of 5 stars, with 79% of the reviews being 4 stars and above. Typical comments include, “The only sad thing about this is that there isn’t enough. I want more. I can’t believe there weren’t some additional tracks that were part of the recording sessions that could have been added to the CD release”, and, “It is so wonderful that this album of genuine quality has been re-released so that it can be enjoyed by many music fans…”

    Read Me A Story

    Spacek has been on CD before besides Coalminer’s Daughter and Hangin’ Up My Heart, but not musically. She narrated her own autobiography, My Extraordinary Life, she read To Kill A Mockingbird (on 11 CDs!), and, appropriately enough, she narrated Loretta Lynn’s autobiography, Coalminer’s Daughter, and Steven King’s Carrie.

    My vintage Technics SL-P999 happily playing “Hangin’ Up My Heart”. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    Frankly, I’ve never been much of a country music fan. I didn’t feel so bad about that after I read that Spacek said when she was young, neither was she. But Hangin’ isn’t your traditional country music record. It has a distinct contemporary country-pop flair with some rock elements. Not to the point of being over the top, but this isn’t your grandpappy’s country music.

    Old Home Town

    My personal favorite is a good example. From the very first notes it’s obvious He Don’t Know Me, penned by Spacek, is more pop than country. Had it been me, I would’ve named the album after it. The title track is fine, but He Don’t Know Me is stronger. Lonley But Only for You, one of the tracks released as a single, is a lovely country love song and is another stand out. If You Could Only See Me Now is musical payback for a former lover and you can almost picture Spacek smiling as she sings it.

    Not all of the songs on Hangin’ are originals. Spacek covers Hank Williams’ Hony Tonkin’ and David Pomeranz’s sweet Old Home Town. Glen Campbell covered the song the year before, but in Spacek’s version, she sings like an angel in cowboy boots with a southern accent:

    I wanta’ hold you, love you forever
    I wanta’ kiss you up and down
    Oh, you’re so sweet to come home to
    You’re just like an old home town

    I don’t know if it’s the way the CD was mixed or if the master tape is like this as well (I don’t have the vinyl record to compare against the CD which came out 25 years after the record), but I felt the drums sounded subdued. Perhaps that’s the way country music was expected to be recorded in the early 1980s, but had I been the engineer at the mixing console, I would’ve given the drums more punch and made them leap off the speakers.

    I don’t know if it’s the way the CD was mixed or if the master tape is like this as well (I don’t have the vinyl record to compare against the CD which came out 25 years after the record), but I felt the drums sounded subdued. Perhaps that’s the way country music was expected to be recorded in the early 1980s, but had I been the engineer at the mixing console, I would’ve given the drums more punch and made them leap off the speakers.

    Sabu Who?

    The only other criticism I have is that the CD times out at a stingy 30 minutes, making Hangin’ Up My Heart seem like it’s over before it started. Like one Amazon reviewer commented, it would’ve been nice if they had tacked on a few outtakes, different mixes, or rare tracks like Spacek’s cover of John Prine’s Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone, which was the B side of Lonely But Only for You, but wasn’t included on the LP. Oddly, the picture sleeve for the single lists an incorrect song on the B side.

    “I thought she was exceptionally beautiful, except toward the end when she was caked in blood.”

    With my expectations set extremely low and fingers and toes crossed, four months ago I wrote Mrs. Spacek at her farm in Virginia complementing her on her record and asking her to sign a photo I included along with a postage paid return envelope. Disappointingly, she met my expectations and I never received any response. I hope she at least re-used my envelope so the postage didn’t go to waste.

    Hangin’ Up Your Wallet

    If you’d like to add the Hangin’ Up My Heart to your own music collection, you’ll have to hang up your wallet after you empty it. The CD, issued by Collectors’ Choice Music (CCM-955) in 2008, starts at around $80 and goes up to $250! I got my near mint copy for a much more reasonable price from a seller in Italy of all places. You’ll be relieved to know you can buy the used cassette tape and vinyl record in nice condition starting at about six bucks on eBay. If you don’t care about physical media, Amazon sells the complete MP3 digital album for under $10.

    One And Done

    I guess after Hangin’, Spacek thought it was time to hang up the microphone because she never recorded another album after that. That means once you own Hangin’, you’ve completed the entire Spacek collection. That said, in the letter I sent Ms. Spacek, I encouraged her to consider releasing a follow-up album. She turned 74 on Christmas day, but I’ll bet her singing voice is better than ever. And yes, at 74, she’s still a beauty.

    Hangin’ quietly and humbly celebrated its 40th Anniversary last year. It holds up exceptionally well four decades later and continues to satisfy. Like her photo on the front cover, the music has an unpretentious beauty about it. In the movie Carrie, Spacek as Carrie White tells her mother, “If I concentrate hard enough, I can make things move.” If you give her the chance, she’ll move you with Hangin’ Up My Heart.


    Trivia (from imdb.com/name/nm0000651/trivia/?ref_=nm_dyk_trv):

    Sissy Spacek is the 22nd great granddaughter of King Edward I.

    Directors George Lucas and Brian De Palma were holding joint auditions for “Star Wars” and “Carrie”. Carrie Fisher auditioned for Carrie White and Sissy Spacek auditioned for Princess Leia. They wound up getting each other’s roles.

    Thank you to my generous Patreon supporters who help make this website blog possible. You won’t find articles like this anywhere else. Help support my blog by becoming a Patreon member today for as little as $1.

    Album Spotlight: “Alien”

    My imported “Alien” CD. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    The purpose of my Album Spotlights is to bring lesser-known albums to your attention with backstories you’ll find interesting and music you’ll find enjoyable.

    A few days ago, it hit me that it’s been a year and a half since my last Album Spotlight. I was way overdue for another, so I’m kicking off the new year with a new Album Spotlight. In fact, I’ll probably post another next month to make up for the long absence.

    Before you change channels on me, this is not about the soundtrack to Alien the sci-fi/horror film. That said, I imagine the band Alien is indeed alien to you. If so, you’re forgiven considering the group hails from Gothenburg, Sweden and formed almost 40 years ago. However, their songs aren’t sung in Swedish and their music doesn’t sound Swedish. In fact, if I hadn’t told you Alien was from Sweden and I played this CD for you, you’d swear they were an American hard rock band.

    AC/DC & Deep Purple

    That makes sense because the lead singer and co-founder, Jim Jidhed, was influenced by AC/DC. The guitarist and other co-founder, Tony Borg, was influenced by Deep Purple and Eric Clapton. They might be Swedish, but they have roots in American rock ‘n roll. They also recorded Alien, their self-titled debut album, in Van Nuys, California, not Sweden.

    Frankly, I’ve never been a hard rock kind of a guy. I generally don’t go for records that should come with a free coupon for Tylenol. Yet Alien the album (Virgin 259 198) won’t give you a migraine. In fact, the album produced 3 singles. One of the singles, a cover of Only One Woman, a beautiful ballad written by the Bee Gees, made it to #1 in Sweden.

    The Blob

    Alien did a great job of turning Only One Woman into a rock power ballad, but my favorite track off of Alien is Brave New Love. I became acquainted with the song thanks to my interest in horror films. I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming. The song was used in the end credits of the 1988 remake of The Blob.

    Photo by Peter Skiera.

    Throughout Alien, Jidhed’s vocals are forceful while Borg’s guitar is tight and hard rocking. You won’t be able to get through the album without playing air guitar, especially on Feel My Love. Besides Brave New Love and Only One Woman, other standout tracks include Tears Don’t Put Out The Fire, Jaimie Remember, and Touch My Fire. It’s a great listen from start to finish.

    Alien from left to right: Drummer Toby Tarrach, lead singer Jim Jidhed, and guitarist Tony Borg. Photo from Alien’s Facebook page.

    Alien has so far released 7 albums altogether though not all under the same personnel. Co-founder and lead singer Jim Jidhed departed the group in 1988 to pursue a solo career. The band carried on with a new lead singer but he left a few years later. The other musicians weren’t much better in the stability department. Jidhead returned as lead singer in 2005, left again, and reunited with band yet again in 2010. He’s still with the band today along with two other original members, Tony Borg on guitar and Toby Tarrach on drums.

    “If I hadn’t told you Alien was from Sweden and I played this CD for you, you’d swear they were an American hard rock band.”

    The strange USA version of “Alien”.

    The composition of the band might be confusing, but that’s nothing compared to the album that’s the subject of this Spotlight. Alien came out in 1988 in Sweden. The following year, the record company remixed 5 songs from the original record, cut out 4 of the 12 songs, and tacked on 2 new songs that were recorded by the new singer who had replaced Jidhad. They also replaced the album artwork with something much stranger, yet retained the album’s original title. This Frankenstein album was the version that was released in the USA and some other countries. But hang on, it gets even better.

    The “Alien” 25th Anniversary Edition 2 CD set. Photo from Alien’s Facebook page.

    If you decide to buy Alien, you’ll not only have the choice of the original release from 1988 and the remixed version from 1989, but also a rare 2012 re-issue from Greece of the original album limited to 1,000 copies. Then there’s the 25th Anniversary 2 CD set from 2013 that included both the original and the remixed version. This same set was re-issued on a different label in 2019. Are you still with me? Then, of course, there’s the various vinyl record and cassette iterations.

    Depending on which variant and format you’re looking for, prices on eBay start at around $29 and go up from there. The fact that most of the product exists outside the USA doesn’t do anything to help the cost. If you’re into 80s hard rock bands, I think it’s worth the investment. I bought my original Alien CD from a seller in Italy. On the other hand, you can listen to the entire remastered album for free on YouTube (link at the end).

    I reached out to the group to ask some questions about Alien the band and the album and received a response from band co-founder and guitarist Tony Borg.


    Alien’s Tony Borg. Photo from Alien’s Facebook page.

    Peter: What led you to start “Alien” in 1986?
    Tony: “I had been in many bands with great success in the 1970s and 1980s, but had never started a band myself. My goal before Alien started was to work as a session musician. I got to play with many Swedish but also American artists. When I played with the famous artist Lill-Babs, I understood that it would not be my thing, therefore, I started Alien.”

    Peter: Was there anything memorable about the “Alien” recording sessions?
    Tony: “There absolutely was. What became our first hit song was an instrumental song called Somewhere Out There that Jim and I wrote at 4:00 a.m. after midnight. It was recorded one night in the studio as a filler song and [B side] for Only One Woman but became a big hit in Sweden. Jim and I would often sit at night, drink coffee, have a cigarette and create many of the band’s songs.”

    Peter: Why didn’t “Somewhere Out There” make the “Alien” album?
    Tony: “During that time, bands used to put remix songs on the back so as not to waste good songs on B-sides. We rather wanted to show that we were a real rock band that could write good songs without vocals. That’s why we wrote that song to be a B-side.”

    Peter: Why did you decide to record a cover of “Only One Woman”? Were you surprised that it was a hit?
    Tony: “We collaborated with Anders Hjelmtorp on the record label Virgin. Anders had been an old disc jockey so he had some song suggestions for us. We thought the song was good but when Jim and I changed the time from 6/8 to 2/4 time, the song felt perfect for us.”

    Peter: Were you surprised that “Brave New Love” made it into the credits of “The Blob” movie remake?
    Tony: “How come? Because we recorded the record at ‘Sound City’ in L.A. so we were so close to the film industry and they needed that kind of song right then. It was a chance like it can be when you are in the right place at the right time.”

    Peter: What’s your favorite song on “Alien”?
    Tony: “My favorite song is I´ve Been Waiting. The music has the right suffering and the right expression and the lyrics are true to my story.”

    Image from Alien’s Facebook page.

    Peter: Is there a story behind the original “Alien” album art?
    Tony: “I have a friend called Anders Holmberg who had just started painting pictures with cool landscapes so I asked him if he wanted to do our covers. I have our cover for the Swedish album in my possession, but the rest of the paintings have been sold and are probably adorning the walls of some fans’ homes.”

    Peter: Why did you release a different version of the album “Alien” for the US including a completely different album cover?
    Tony: “It was the record company that wanted to adapt the record to the American market. We agreed because we thought it was possible to mix the record even better.”

    Peter: What do you think of the remastered “Alien” from 2013? Did you have any involvement in that?

    Tony: “No, this is something that the record companies do without asking the artists. This is what the record industry looks like.”

    Peter: How do you think the music on “Alien” holds up 36 years later?
    Tony: “I think it’s a good record, a bit timeless. I’m proud that the band got to make such a good debut album.”


    Image from aliensweden.com/shop/

    Alien’s latest recording, Into The Future, saw the band turn into a more heavy metal direction which has met with mixed reviews. Frankly, I don’t know the band’s body of work well enough to categorically state that Alien is their best album, but few bands release such a strong debut record. If you enjoy hard rock, classic rock, melodic rock, metal, album oriented rock (AOR) radio, or classic 80s music, seek out Alien. Despite the album turning 36 years old this year, the music doesn’t sound dated or…alien.

    Trivia (from Tony Borg): “When we went to L.A. to record [Alien], we stayed throughout the spring in L.A. What we didn’t know was that every week we climbed all the sales and pop charts, so when we got home to Sweden, we had become a very popular band without our knowing it. We just had time to pack our bags to embark on a tour with 70 gigs booked while doing videos, television and a ton of interviews so it’s been a very hysterical career for the band.”

    Links:

    Alien on YouTube

    Alien’s website

    Have A Strange Christmas: “Christmas Vacation” Soundtrack

    Photo by Peter Skiera.

    This is the 5th and final installment in my “Have A Strange Christmas” series where I highlight a strange Christmas record.

    For many, the Christmas season just isn’t the same without an annual viewing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. In the movie, Clark W. Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, plans to surprise his family by using his Christmas bonus to have a large swimming pool installed in their backyard. Unfortunately, instead of a Christmas bonus, Griswold’s stingy boss gives him a year’s subscription to the Jelly of The Month Club (there really is such a thing). His wife’s Cousin Eddie shows up unexpectedly and takes matters into his own hands as only Cousin Eddie could.

    The film was based on a short story called “Christmas ’59,” by John Hughes, which was published in a December 1980 issue of National Lampoon magazine. I won’t spoil it for you if you never saw the film, but it’s a very entertaining holiday movie the whole family will enjoy. Good talk, son.

    In December of 1989, Christmas Vacation opened at #2 and quickly became #1 at the box office, grossing over $73 million. Initial reviews were mixed (Roger Ebert only gave it 2 stars) but the movie went on to become a holiday classic. Despite its popularity and the great songs used in the film, an official original motion picture soundtrack was never released. Or was it?

    Merry Clarkmas

    The music on the Christmas Vacation CD isn’t strange, but the backstory has created a strange mystery worthy of a Columbo episode. A story on the Internet persists that a limited-edition CD of the soundtrack was released in 1999 for the movie’s 10th Anniversary. As the story goes, Warner Brothers Records teamed up with RedDotNet and Six Flags to sell the CD’s via on-demand kiosks at Six Flags Magic Mountain (where “Wally World” was based for the first “Vacation” film) for one week only. The blank CDs were burned one by one as purchased by customers and the booklets and the rear jewel case perforated inserts were assembled by Six Flags employees. Each CD’s back insert was printed with its own individual serial number, up to 20,000. The story goes on to say that 7,000 of the 20,000 CDs were burned and sold to the public. An interesting tale, but is there any truth to it?

    A Hot Seller

    I’ll begin my examination with those reported Six Flags sales figures: 7,000 CDs sold in 1 week. That averages out to 1,000 CDs burned per day. If my math is correct, that translates into 125 CDs per hour based on an 8-hour day. That’s quite a run for a CD that was just a movie soundtrack, was never advertised, and was only available at one location for one week. Even if you dismiss those figures as unreliable, it’s pretty certain that thousands of unburned CDs were left over. For them to become available years later, someone would have to burn and assemble all of those leftover blank CDs, warehouse them, and then sell them years later.

    Another argument against the Six Flags story: Warner Brothers purchased Six Flags in 1993 and sold it in 1998. During the 5 years they owned the Park, Warner never once made the Christmas Vacation soundtrack CD available. Yet a year after they sold Six Flags, Warner licensed the CD to be sold inside the Park which they no longer owned?

    Image from rateyourmusic.com/release/comp/various-artists/national-lampoons-vacation-cancelled-passport-edition/

    Another Six Flags CD

    Not to confuse matters, but I think it’s relevant to point out that the 2003 CD soundtrack of National Lampoon’s Vacation, the first Vacation movie, adopted the exact same story line. Discogs.com notes the CD, called the “Cancelled Passport Edition”, was “manufactured and distributed by RedDotNet in association with Warner Bros. Motion Picture Studios and Six Flags Magic Mountain Theme Park USA. Numbered series of 20,000.” An expired listing on Worthpoint.com added that, “for the last few thousand copies, WB added music from 1985’s ‘European Vacation’ and 1997’s ‘Vegas Vacation’”, neither of which ever made it to CD. Let me make sure I understand this. The kiosks were reprogrammed and the roll of rear artwork was changed out by park employees to add 10 more songs to the track list during the last three or so days the CDs were being sold? Honestly, I find this a little hard to believe. In any event, we now have two CD soundtracks using the same Six Flags cover story.

    This raises another issue. If Six Flags had such on-demand CD burning kiosks then one could logically conclude there would be many, many more titles out there that were burned and sold to public. However, I was unable to find a single CD title beyond these two that was born from a Six Flags RedDotNet CD kiosk. Disogs.com lists discographies from other amusement park on-demand kiosks but not Six Flags other than these 2 titles. Surely, Six Flags didn’t install these on-demand CD kiosks for one week each just for two titles and that’s it.

    Proof Of Purchase

    During the course of my research, out of the 7,000 CDs supposedly burned at Six Flags, or whatever the number is, I was unable to find a single case where someone claimed to have purchased their Christmas Vacation CD from a Six Flags kiosk and could prove it. Without exception, those who said they owned the CD admitted they bought their copy from one website or another, not at Six Flags.

    RedDotNet CD kiosks did exit but I was never able to find any information about Six Flags having installed such on-demand kiosks. Yet I had no difficulty finding information about on-demand CD kiosks at Universal and Disney which I’ll address a little later. A New York Times article by Karen Bannan from April of 2000 reported RedDotNet CD kiosks being in Target, Sam Goody, Warehouse Entertainment, and Walt Disney, but no mention whatsoever of Six Flags.

    According to billboard.com, in 2004, Warner Music Group inked a deal with Mediaport Entertainment to offer its music via kiosks to be installed in “retail outlets, colleges, military bases and travelers’ waiting areas”. The article made no mention of Warner having previously partnered with RedDotNet at Six Flags.

    This Was A Bootleg

    There’s clear information on the Internet that goes against the Six Flags story. Web.archive.org lists the CD as a bootleg. An article on yardbarker.com states, “Strangely, in 1999 a purported ‘10th anniversary’ soundtrack started popping up online on various auction sites. The claim was that they had been made to be sold at Six Flags. Ultimately, it proved to be false, as this was a bootleg CD. In fact, one of the songs on the CD was from John Williams’ ‘Home Alone 2: Lost in New York’ score.” There are also comments on the net that say some of the tracks are of inferior sound quality and some of the discs exhibit skipping problems. Incorrect track listings, questionable sound, and playback issues are often telltale signs of a bootleg.

    Get A Life

    All this begs the question- If the Six Flags story is false and these CDs are bootlegs, why would someone go to all the trouble of making up an elaborate false history about them? What’s the point? Don’t they have anything better to do with their time? Or do they just get off on putting one over on people? In the history of bootleg recordings, I don’t think there’s ever been an instance where someone fabricated a detailed backstory to try to pass off a series of bootleg recordings as legitimate.

    One CD that is definitely legitimate is A Hollywood Christmas and it’s the closest you’re going to get to an official Christmas Vacation soundtrack. The CD was released by Time Life Music (24892-D), of all labels, in 2009, and includes Ray Charles’ That Spirit of Christmas which was used in the Christmas Vacation film, as well as Holiday Road by Lindsey Buckingham (which actually wasn’t used in the film). The latter is the only time that song has ever been licensed to another label for inclusion on a CD. But I digress.

    For this article, I decided I needed to somehow obtain one of these legendary Six Flags CDs and evaluate it for myself. It turned out I had a much easier time finding copies and obvious bootlegs. One company on Amazon was selling what it described as the Christmas Vacation “official soundtrack” CD starting in 2011, yet the CD didn’t even come in a jewel case or include a booklet. I’d hardly call that “official”. 

    There was a convincing limited-edition soundtrack CD released down under in 2011 by “MSH Music”. I couldn’t find any information about this Australian record company or any other titles the label released, so I’ve concluded it was a bootleg. Real record companies don’t usually release a single title in a single country limited to 1,000 pressings and then disappear. That’s not what I’d all a successful business model.

    My “free” Christmas Vacation soundtrack CD. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    Free CDs 

    I found a company in Florida burning their own “Special Edition” Christmas Vacation soundtrack CD. They say it’s one of their best-selling titles. The track list is somewhat similar to that of the Six Flags CD. As the CD was on sale for less than 14 bucks including shipping, I bought one (link provided at the end). Technically, I bought the jewel case and the artwork since the website says, “You’ll receive a jewel case with custom artwork created for the soundtrack. This is what you are purchasing. The audio recordings contained within are always absolutely free of charge…with no claim to their quality, copyright or ownership being implied.” In the words of Monty Python, “Say no more. Know what I mean? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.” 

    Story #2 

    Incidentally, the above website selling this CD states yet another version of the Christmas Vacation soundtrack story: “A soundtrack for the filmNational Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was released on LP, cassette and CD in 1989. The soundtrack was out-of-print by the mid 1990’s. Since then, there have been several limited-edition print-on-demand CD issues offered at Universal Studios Theme Parks including 10th and 20th Anniversary editions, both of which are also out-of-print.” Wrong! The soundtrack was never officially released in 1989 in any format. It’s true that Universal had CD burning kiosks starting in 1999 (“The Disc Kiosk”), but the selections drew from their back catalog, and Universal didn’t own the rights to the Christmas Vacation soundtrack. Also, there was never a “20th Anniversary Edition” Christmas Vacation soundtrack. This is enough to make the vision of sugar plums dancing in your head explode.

    A CD from a Disney Wonderland Music kiosk. Image from disneycds.com/category/75

    Universal wasn’t the only amusement park burning CDs. According to mousetroop.blogspot.com, Disney had their own on-demand CD burning kiosk system called “Disneyland Forever”, limited to old theme park music, announcements, sound effects, and narration culled from its 40+ year history. The customer selected up to 10 songs (at $2 per track!) from the touch screen kiosk they wanted burned on their CD. The machines could even print the customer’s first name on the cover and on the face of the CD. Disney shut down the service in early 2001. There were also “Wonderland Music Experience” kiosks that operated through 2006 and sold complete Disney CD titles.

    You’re Getting Warmer 

    Themusicshopandmore.com sells a Christmas Vacation CD for $27.98 that looks very close to the Six Flags CD and has all the same tracks, but alas, without a serial number. The site openly admits their CDs are unofficial. There has probably been more bootlegging of this soundtrack than of all the alcohol during prohibition. Will the real Six Flags Christmas Vacation soundtrack CD please stand up?

    After keeping a very close eye on discogs, an actual Six Flags Christmas Vacation CD became available from a seller in Romania. I got really excited until I saw the price: $227! GM Chrysler! I wouldn’t pay that even if I had the money.  

    “An interesting tale, but is there any truth to it?”

    Too Legit To Quit 

    I was feeling like I was on a mission: impossible until I finally tracked down a real Six Flags Christmas Vacation CD in a web shop in Germany of all places. The site sells “Griswold Christmas madness”…Christmas Vacation merchandise like Wally World glass moose mugs, Clark Griswold action figures, Griswold drink coasters, and the coveted Six Flags Christmas Vacation CD. Their website states they were able to secure some of these ultra rare discs thanks to their “long history with the film [industry] and contacts in the USA”. The website repeated the Six Flags story adding, “Park employees had the honorable task of producing the CDs at the burning stations…then the employee removed the perforated cover from a long endless roll, packed everything up and wished the lucky owner of the rarity a nice day.”  

    The site goes on to say that after the leftover Six Flags Christmas Vacation CDs shipped from the US to this German website, German Customs released the CDs to them after Warner Brothers provided a letter stating the CDs were legit. I contacted the site and asked to see a copy of the letter but my request was denied on the basis that the letter was a private internal document.  

    Going, Going, Gone 

    I exchanged numerous emails with someone connected to the website who I’ll keep anonymous, peppering them with questions. By the time I decided to purchase the CD, the price had skyrocketed from $36 to over $60 USD (the regular retail price was shown as $109)! That was a lot better than $227, but I still couldn’t bring myself to drop that kind of dough on a CD, especially being financially challenged. Another week or two passed and the website indicated they were sold out. I had to face the hard reality that I blew what might have been my only chance to buy this rare CD without having to spend megabucks. 

    More time passed and my curiosity forced me to visit the German site again. Miraculously, they somehow found 20 more copies (“the last 20 brand new with extra high collector’s value”). Despite the “extra high value”, the price had actually dropped to $44. This time I bought one, though the purchase process turned into its own wild adventure since the company only shipped to the UK, Germany, and Switzerland. I was able to enlist the help of a relative who lived in Europe who then forwarded the CD to me. What I won’t go through for my blog. Suspiciously, 3 weeks later the site is still selling “the last 20” CDs and for the same price.  

    An insert sheet which went into a little more detail about the process accompanied my CD. It was in German but here’s a portion I Google translated: “In the park, park visitors were able to use the RedDotNet Music Kiosk System to select titles or entire soundtracks from the music program and have them burned to CD by park employees on the on-site production machines. The cover inlays ran down from large rolls (hence the perforations and simple printing techniques). The CDs produced without silver dye coating (i.e. without an industrial protective layer – hence the CD burning appearance) and the cover inlays were paired with the jewel case – the soundtrack was ready. Every single soundtrack inlay that rolled off the roll had a unique serial number. 00001 to 20000. The finished soundtrack CDs were handed over to the customer unsealed directly at the kiosk system because ‘sealing technology’ was not provided for on the devices.”

    The back insert of my “Christmas Vacation” CD. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    By most appearances, my CD fits the Six Flags narrative. My copy has a serial number (5,237), though if 7,000 were sold to the public as the story goes and this CD was “brand new”, I don’t understand how it could have such a low number. The booklet and rear insert appear to be perforated. It’s a CD-R with a bluish tint. The CD label art features 4 small Clark Griswold’s as opposed to a single Clark Griswold. It would seem I had found the Christmas Vacation CD holy grail.

    Photo by Peter Skiera.

     One glaring omission- The photo in the Christmas Vacation soundtrack listing on discogs, which I consider the website of record when it comes to CDs and LPs, shows a black printed number below the CD’s center hole. My CD has no such number.

    Image from facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=662995692695388&set=pb.100069548886165.-2207520000&type=3

    The Silence Is Deafening

    So, it’s time to revisit the questions I posed at the outset. Is the Six Flags story really true or is it just an urban legend? Is the Warner Brothers National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 10th Anniversary soundtrack CD legitimate? Always up for a challenge, I donned my detective’s fedora and contacted both Warner Brothers and Six Flags Magic Mountain in an attempt to once and for all confirm or debunk the Six Flags story and CD (I couldn’t contact RedDotNet, not to be confused with RedDot Networks, because they’re out of business). The film division of Warner Brothers referred me to the Warner Brothers Music Group. I sent them a message every week for 13 straight weeks and they ignored every single one of my messages despite an auto reply stating they’d respond “shortly”. I asked for the contact information for a manager so I could report my experience and that message was also ignored.

    After finding their email address, I emailed the Press Department of Warner Music Group every week for 10 weeks and they also ignored all of my messages. How the staff of a major US company can blatantly ignore their responsibilities and still keep their jobs is beyond me. If I ignored customer emails when I was with Como Audio I would’ve been let go in pretty short order. In desperation, I sent a snail mail letter to Warner Brothers in CA but that also received zero response. If the Six Flags Christmas Vacation CD is a bootleg, I don’t get why Warner Brothers wouldn’t be more willing to say so.

    I had only slightly better success with Six Flags in Los Angeles. Their Guest Services referred me to their Public Relations Department which, after 3 weeks, finally got back to me with, “We unfortunately do not have any information or details to share regarding this matter. We wish you the best of luck with your story.” I realize we’re talking over 24 years ago, but it would seem to me the Park would have some kind of record of this (a press release, photos, a contract with RedDotNet, sales records, etc.). Of course, there would be no record if it never happened.

    ThThThTh…That’s All Folks

    I’m not one to give up easily, but I’ve raised the white flag (all 6 of them) on this magical musical mystery tour. You’ll have to make up your own mind about the Six Flags story and the Christmas Vacation soundtrack CD. Regardless of which side you come down on, it certainly makes for a strange Christmas.

    Trivia (from www.imdb.com/title/tt0097958/trivia/): “After failing to get the Christmas lights to work one last time, Clark Griswold takes his frustration out on the plastic decorations in the front yard. Chevy Chase actually broke his pinky finger while punching Santa Claus. He resorts to kicking and clubbing the decorations after that. The film kept rolling, and the take was used.”

    Trivia: In real life, Randy Quid, who played Cousin Eddie in “Christmas Vacation”, is the third cousin of Gene Autry, who recorded several hit Christmas songs.

    Classic lines from Christmas Vacation:

    Clark to Cousin Eddie: “Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere, leave you for dead?”

    Clark to Cousin Eddie: “If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am right now.”

    Clark to a sexy female store clerk: “It’s a bit nipply out. I mean nippy out…It wouldn’t be the Christmas shopping season if the stores were any less hooter — hotter than they are.”

    Art to Clark: “The little lights are not twinkling.”

    Clark to his family: “We’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f***ing Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white a** down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of a**holes this side of the nuthouse!”

    Every word in my articles is 100% written by me. I never use ChatGPT or any AI technology. Ever.

    Thank you to my wonderful Patreon members who help make this blog possible. Join over 300 other music enthusiasts and help support these in-depth articles you won’t find anywhere else.

    Read more about my Christmas Vacation soundtrack CD on Patreon.

    Did you miss last week’s strange Christmas record?

    Have A Strange Christmas: “Star Wars Christmas”

    My “Christmas In The Stars” CD. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    This is the fourth installment in my “Have A Strange Christmas” series where I highlight a different strange Christmas record every week through the end of December.

    Star Wars (A New Hope) was released in theaters in 1977 and quickly became a sensation. It grossed almost $800 million worldwide. Not bad for a low budget film that 20th Century Fox didn’t have much confidence in. Star Wars won six Oscars and went on to spawn 10 more films, making it the third highest grossing film franchise in history.

    Crap

    In typical capitalist fashion, every imaginable piece of Star Wars crap was licensed in order to cash in on the hyper-drive hysteria…a ceramic C3-PO tape dispenser, Darth Vader shower head, Death Star waffle maker, life-sized R2-D2 aquarium by Hammacher Schlemmer, and believe you me, that’s only scratching the surface. There was even a Star Wars Christmas album!

    A Cast of Thousands

    Christmas In The Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album (RS0 Records RS-1-3093) record and cassette was released in November of 1980 and featured C-3P0, R2-D2, Chewbacca, and a then unknown Jon Bonjovi in his first commercial recording (his cousin ran the New Jersey recording studio and co-produced the album). Over 70 people (!) were involved in the making of the record and it was one of the first non-classical and jazz albums to be digitally recorded. With all that talent you’d think this would be the most amazing Christmas album ever. It is. Amazingly bad.

    Fast Track

    The album actually came together at light speed. Several sources cite a Lucasfilm internal memo from September 1980 that outlined the album concept. Just nine 9 days later, actor Anthony Daniels flew in from London to record his vocals as C-3PO and supposedly had only 1 weekend to do it. Talk about fast tracking a project!

    The album and its mostly original material scored a minor holiday hit with the single What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb?). It reached #69 on the Billboard Hot 100. If you don’t remember the song, best we keep it that way. Strangely, 3 years after the record came out, a second single was released, R2D2’s Sleigh Ride with Christmas in the Stars on Side B. Even more strange, 10 years after the record came out, a 3” “CD single” was released in Japan featuring R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas and Christmas In The Stars.

    After CDs were introduced, someone decided the album was important enough to be issued on CD….not once, but twice. The first was the original 1994 CD by Polygram called Meco Christmas In The Stars (Meco previously recorded Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk) with a pathetic generic cover. In 1996, Rhino Records reissued the CD with the original album artwork and new liner notes. It’s said that up to 9 songs from the original recording sessions remain unreleased to this day. Based on the existing material, perhaps it’s just as well.

    My “Christmas In The Stars” cassette. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    You can buy Christmas In The Stars on the used record market, but be prepared to spend all of your Christmas money from Santa. Discogs has one cassette tape listed for $150 while eBay has one for $2,100! Amazon has the CD for $89 and the vinyl record for $200.

    After reading some of the comments left on Amazon, you’d wonder why anyone would pay that kind of money: “Without [a] doubt, the worst Christmas album of all time. Even kids will hate it. Stay far away”, and “To call this album bad would be an understatement. I realize that this is a children’s album, but I can’t imagine that too many children would enjoy this insipid junk. The lyrics are especially awful. When I met Anthony Daniels, he called this album ‘pure crap’. Take it from C-3PO himself, folks.” Just for the heck of it, I contacted Anthony Daniels and asked him to reflect on Christmas In The Stars. He ignored all of my messages. If I were him, I wouldn’t want to talk about it either. He probably has PTSD.

    Truly Terrible

    You’ll find other negative reviews besides comments on Amazon. Bradley Torreano’s write-up on Allmusic.com doesn’t pull any punches: “Few Christmas albums are as truly terrible as Star Wars: Christmas in the Stars…this could be the worst Star Wars related album on the market. To those who enjoy bad music on a camp level, this album is priceless. Fans of the series should give it a listen just to hear how bad it is, but this is really only recommended for those who enjoy terrible music for its comic value.” Ouch.

    I’m afraid I must agree. Instead of Christmas In The Stars, it should’ve been called Crap In The Stars. Hearing C-3P0, a robot with a British accent portrayed by Anthony Daniels who wasn’t a trained singer, croon Christmas songs is just plain bizarre. Take the “duet” of Sleigh Ride he performs with R2D2. Please, take it. Or his butchering of a modified reading of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas. “Bells, Bells, Bells” is another oddity in which C-3PO tries to explain to R2-D2 what bells are…Chiming what the hour is now / Or they’ll lead you to a cow. Huh? Not exactly Lennon and McCartney. Besides that, the highly sophisticated robot R2-D2 doesn’t know what bells are?

    With all that talent you’d think this would be the most amazing Christmas album ever.



    Mauray Yetson. Photo from mauryyeston.com/about

    The lack of depth in the lyrics is surprising considering the songs were written by Yale University music professor Maury Yeston, who went on to win two Tony awards and three Grammy nominations. Yeston also appears on the album as Santa on The Meaning of Christmas, and his voice is multi-tracked to create the “choir”. He briefly addresses his lyrics on his website: “The fun and light tone of [the album] was targeted towards the younger audience (Maury’s own son was then 7) that had fallen in love with Artoo, Threepio and the Droids, and of course the Wookiee.”

    Listening to Christmas In The Stars will make you think you have a DVD of a Star Wars Christmas TV special playing but with the picture switched off. Yet the record wasn’t related to the “Star Wars Holiday Special”, a 1978 made-for-TV movie that should’ve been destroyed along with the Death Star.

    Photo by Peter Skiera.

    Frankly, the most impressive thing about the album is the cover artwork by Star Wars production artist Ralph McQuarrie. It depicts Santa’s workshop of the future, with toys being assembled by robots. I guess all the elves were transferred to another department, or worse, laid off. Santa is pictured warming himself before a fireplace while C-3P0 and R2-D2 look on. It’s not Currier and Ives but it’s nice as far as intergalactic Christmas album covers go.

    According to the liner notes from the CD, Christmas In The Stars wasn’t to be the only Star Wars holiday recording. A series of Star Wars Christmas releases were planned but never materialized for whatever reason. RSO Records folded after the first run, which probably didn’t help matters. Whatever the reason, it was nothing less than a Christmas miracle that we were spared from further abuse.

    Speaking of strange Christmas music, the Star Wars CD booklet promotes other classic Rhino Records Christmas albums you’ll surely want to add to your holiday music collection like The Flintstones: Christmas In Bedrock and Have Yourself A Looney Tunes Christmas. As the latter release exclaims, “Christmas tunes like you’ve never heard them before…”, and probably never wanted to.

    There’s no doubt that Star Wars was an incredible sci-fi film. Christmas In The Stars is a different story. It’s an album for the ages. Ages 5 to 10. It was ground breaking, as in dig a hole in the ground and bury it. The best part of the album is when it ends. It has to be one of the worst Christmas records ever. If you buy this album, may the remorse be with you.

    Every word in every one of my articles is 100% written by me. I never use ChatGPT or any AI technology. Ever.



    Trivia (from www.starwars.com/news/10-things-about-christmas-in-the-stars): “Yoda was supposed to make an appearance [on “Christmas In The Stars”]. Frank Oz, the actor and puppeteer who helped launch Yoda to fame in “The Empire Strikes Back”, was approached to reprise the voice of the Jedi Master for the album’s ‘Meaning of Christmas’ track. Oz couldn’t participate due to scheduling conflicts, so the album eventually settled on Santa’s son, ‘S. Claus’, to fill the role (with revised dialog).”

    Thank you to my wonderful Patreon members who help make this blog possible. Join over 300 other music enthusiasts and help support these in-depth articles you won’t find anywhere else.

    Return here next week for the final installment in my “Have A Strange Christmas” series.

    Did you miss last week’s strange Christmas record?

    Have A Strange Christmas: Merry Christmas, Santa Claus

    My Max Headroom 45 RPM single. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    This is the third installment in my “Have A Strange Christmas” series where I highlight a different strange Christmas record every week through the end of December.

    Max Headroom was a “computer generated”, stuttering announcer who invaded our culture and our TV screens in late 1980s. In reality, Headroom wasn’t a computer creation at all. He was Canadian actor Matt Frewer heavily caked in makeup and latex prosthetics, wearing a shiny fiberglass suit, with strange looking contact lenses in his eyes (when he wasn’t wearing his fashionable Ray-Bans, that is). You never saw him below his elbows. For all anyone knew, he wasn’t wearing pants. A green screen behind him featured colorful Amiga computer graphics.

    Matt Frewer in the makeup chair. The photo is signed to me by Humphreys. Photo by John Humphreys and Peter Litten.

    I Want My Max TV

    Like Frewer, Max Headroom wasn’t “born” in the USA. He was imagined by British director Rocky Morton who wanted an MTV-like VJ to host a British music video show, but something created by a computer. That wasn’t practical in the mid-1980s, so it was decided that an actor would be made-up to look like a computerized character. UK designers John Humphreys and Peter Litten created the custom makeup effects and the suit. The process to transform Frewer into Max Headroom took just over 4 hours from start to finish.

    The Headroom character got his first big break across the pond in a UK movie for television. From there, he hosted a British music video and interview show that became very popular. It wasn’t long until Hollywood- the ABC network specifically- took notice and developed a television series in 1987 geared at the American market called…wait for it…Max Headroom.

    Max Headroom and Matt Frewer. Photo licensed from alamy.com

    Mad Max

    The weekly science fiction adventure TV show starred Frewer as reporter Edison Carter (as well as Max Headroom, a computerized version of Carter), Amanda Pays (who was also in the UK TV movie) as his coworker, and Jeffrey Tambor as their producer. The show was set “20 minutes into the future” when TV networks ruled the world. Sound familiar? Frewer’s character was a sort of Mike Wallace of the future, exposing the greed and corruption of the networks. Carter also investigated “blipverts”- intense TV commercials lasting 3 seconds that literally caused some viewers’ heads to explode. Sound familiar?

    Taking Max to lunch.

    If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…

    Capitalizing on his popularity, Headroom appeared in TV and print adverts endorsing the New Coke (you can guess how that went), and there were all kinds of Max Headroom branded paraphernalia like a finger puppet, notebook, lunch box, wrist watch, trading cards, sleeping bag, skate board, and even a book titled Max Headroom’s Guide to Life. That’s interesting considering his character combated greed in the TV show.

    Newsweek from April 1987.

    Maxed Out

    Max reached his max in mid-1988, having his plug pulled in mid-second season after just 14 total episodes, not even being allowed the respect of a final episode. TV viewers at the time were much more interested in Miami Vice and Dallas than a wisecracking CGI guy. Ironically, Lorimar, the company that produced Max Headroom, also produced Dallas. At least the show managed to pick up 3 Primetime Emmy Awards before it took its love away.

    The promotional single for radio stations had the same song on both A & B sides and didn’t include “Gimme Shades”, a semi-country tune, as the sleeve stated. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    A Huge Colostomy

    Early on in his career, Headroom gave the world a little musical Christmas gift. Merry Christmas Santa Clause (Chrysalis VS4 44000) was released in 1986 on the heels of The Max Headroom Christmas Special, a US television special that was as successful as a 5-year-old cooking a Christmas turkey by himself. The song is a musical homage to the calorically challenged guy in the red suit who, in Headroom’s opinion, is greatly underappreciated for all he does. The most memorable lyric from the song is, “He bestrides the world like a huge colostomy.” They just don’t write them like they used to.

    “You never saw Headroom below his elbows. For all anyone knew, he wasn’t wearing pants.

    Screenshot from youtube.com/watch?v=_GGgWwVlnI8

    Terrifying

    Headroom was a television star, and although his videos look primitive today, during his short 1986-88 lifespan, they came across as the cutting edge of computer animation, even though they weren’t computer animation. The music video of Merry Christmas Santa Claus features a tube color television set propped up on a bench in front of a shiny white grand piano. The Southwark Cathedral Choir surrounded Headroom as snow, as artificial as Max himself, fell on them. Some of the candid comments from the 23,000 views on YouTube include, “This terrified me when I was a kid”, “This is scary as hell”, “This is terrifying”, and my personal favorite, “Max Headroom f***ing creeps me out!”

    Keith Stracham. Photo from strachan.org/biog-pics.html

    Donning my detective’s fedora, I tracked down Keith Stracham who produced Merry Christmas Santa Claus (You’re A Lovely Guy) and asked for any memories he had. “[Merry Christmas Santa Claus] was recorded at CTS studios in Wembley”, Stracham recalled in an email to me. “I have a memory that Matt Frewer wanted to do it as himself rather than having his voice treated so as to be Max Headroom but that was never going to happen. It was the only time I worked on Max Headroom and Matt was very easy to work with. I remember that I asked Guy Barker to play piccolo trumpet on the track. Guy went on to be a famous jazz trumpeter running his own orchestra.” 

    My radio station copy of Max Headroom’s Christmas single. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    Lest you think this was Stracham’s sole contribution to music, he’s a renowned TV and theater director, producer, arranger, and composer. He composed the theme music to the popular TV game show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, which was heard many more times over than Merry Christmas Santa Claus. He also wrote Mistletoe and Wine which became a #1 hit in the UK for Cliff Richard.

    Merry ChristMax

    Alas, Merry Christmas Santa Claus never made the music charts and Headroom disappeared about as quickly as he appeared. Out of curiosity, I went on Chrysalis Record’s website, the record company that released the song, and input “Max Headroom” into the search bar. There were no results. That speaks volumes. Headroom is as memorable today as the 8-bit Commodore 64 computer that was around during the same time period.

    Max Reboot

    That said, Wikipedia and other sites like syfy.com report that the AMC Network is working on a new Max Headroom TV series presumably for next year. I contacted AMC several times to confirm. After several weeks of silence, my query was escalated to management, but in the end, no one ever responded. I reached out to AMC’s PR Department but they also failed to respond. I queried the company that owns the rights to the Max Headroom character but they also didn’t answer my question. If a new Max Headroom series is indeed in the works, none of the stakeholders seem very interested in promoting it.

    Some would say Frewer’s computerized alter ego was ahead of its time. Others would say it was a very strange creation. Headroom’s lone Christmas song is much more the latter than the former. Have a strange C-C-C-C-Christmas, Max, in whatever universe you reside.


    Return here next week for the next installment in my “Have A Strange Christmas” series!

    Did you miss last week’s strange Christmas record?

    Every word in every one of my articles is 100% written by me. I never use ChatGPT or any AI technology. Ever.

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    Patreon members can read my exclusive interview with makeup designer John Humphreys and see more behind the scenes Max Headroom photos.


    Trivia: Max Headroom’s name came from the last thing Frewer’s TV character saw just before a motorcycle accident that put him in a coma. It was a sign above a parking garage that read “MAX. HEADROOM: 2.3 M”.

    Trivia (from Wikipedia): “On the night of November 22, 1987, the television signals of two stations in Chicago, Illinois, were hijacked, briefly sending a pirate broadcast of an unidentified person wearing a Max Headroom mask and costume to thousands of home viewers…A criminal investigation conducted by the Federal Communications Commission in the immediate aftermath of the intrusion could not find the people responsible, and despite many unofficial inquiries and much speculation over the ensuing decades, the culprits have yet to be positively identified.”

    Trivia: “Paranoimia” was a song by pop group Art Of Noise that featured the voice of Max Headroom. The single reached #14 on “Billboard’s” Dance chart in 1986.

    Have A Strange Christmas: “It’s A Waffle House Christmas”

    This is the second installment in my “Have A Strange Christmas” series where I highlight a different strange Christmas record every week through the end of December.

    My rare, out-of-print “Waffle House Jukebox Favorites CD”. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    Just about everyone has heard of Waffle House if not eaten at one, or passed their iconic school bus-colored signs. What a lot of people don’t know is that they used to regularly record Waffle House related songs and include them in the jukeboxes in their restaurants for their patrons to enjoy while chowing down. Some of those songs include There Are Raisins in My Toast, 844,739 Ways to Eat a Hamburger, Waffle Do Wop, and I’m Going Back to The Waffle House. These were not short commercial jingles but full length, professionally recorded songs. Originally, the songs were shipped to the establishments on 45 RPM records under the Waffle Records label to be loaded into the jukeboxes alongside regular music. Jukeboxes are still in each restaurant today but they’ve all gone digital. The records weren’t sold to the public, but in 1999, the chain released their first CD, Waffle House Jukebox Favorites Volume 1, which collected many of these musical culinary classics. The 10 track CD has been out of print for over 20 years, but you can download the complete digital album from Bandcamp.com for a mere $1,000!

    Waffle Records

    845,000 ways to eat a hamburger.

    Believe it or not, there’s an actual Waffle Records and they recognize the top Waffle songs played in their restaurants’ jukeboxes with their annual “Waffle House Tunies”. This year’s winner will be announced on their Instagram page in mid-December.  

    According to Kelly Thrasher Bruner from WH’s Marketing and Communications Department, there are no new Waffle House recordings planned but they hope to be soliciting new songs soon. Their jukeboxes getting updated with new songs via the Internet.

    Bacon Spirits Bright

    In 2001, Waffle House released a Christmas CD called It’s A Waffle House Christmas. Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia, best known for their 1982 hit Pac Man Fever, Waffle-ized numerous Christmas songs for this 16-track title. There are several tracks credited to “The Waffle House Carolers”, whoever they are, but that’s just the syrup on the waffles. Some of the other songs include a Frankie Valley-like version of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town performed by “The Four Seasonings”, a humorous Elvis inspired ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas reading, and Heading Home For The Holidays done in distinct Dolly Parton style by Mary Welch Rogers, the wife of one of Waffle House’s co-founders. Rogers also lends her vocal talents to Heading Home for The Holidays.

    Rogers didn’t get to sing just because, at the time, she was the wife of one of the co-founders, although that didn’t hurt. She’s a professional singer who recorded songs with 20th Century Fox Records in the late 1970’s, plus, she was the one who came up with the Waffle House song idea in the first place back in 1984. I emailed Rogers, now 73, asking her about It’s A Waffle House Christmas, but she declined to comment beyond, “I enjoyed recording and writing some of the WH songs”.

    Mistletoe And Maple Syrup

    Without a doubt, the standout track on the CD is The Waffle House 12 Days of Christmas: “At the Waffle House on Christmas, my true love gave to me, 6 different omelets, 5 pork chops grilled, 4 eggs a frying, 3 sausage patties, 2 waffles baking, and a bowl of delicious, hot grits.” I figured I’d spare you the lethal caloric intake from the last 6 dishes. Five of the songs are repeated at the end in instrumental form for Christmas karaoke purposes. Apparently, karaoke is a thing for some families on Christmas day. Mercifully, that was never a tradition I was exposed to.  

    Christmas, The Waffle House Way

    These Christmas songs are finger lickin’ good.

    If you’re of a certain age then you know big name companies releasing Christmas albums was hardly unusual back in the day. Goodyear, JC Penny, A & P Supermarkets, BF Goodrich, Avon, True Value, Firestone, and even KFC put out their own Christmas records every year and they were very popular. Those albums, however, were compilations of standard holiday hits. In the case of It’s A Waffle House Christmas, some of the songs were originals and most of those that weren’t had their lyrics “modified” to promote the brand. As to why Waffle House would put out their own Christmas CD in the first place, they explain on the CD’s rear insert: “At Waffle House, the holidays are always a favorite time for good cheer and happiness. This year we decided to capture that same spirit in a special CD collection of holiday songs, all served up with fun and tradition the Waffle House way.”

    Waffle Heads

    My “It’s A Waffle House Christmas” CD signed by Jerry Buckner. Phpt by Peter Skiera.

    Like the Jukebox Favorites CD, It’s a Waffle House Christmas was only sold on the chain’s website and is hard to come by. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I spent many, many (many) months scouring eBay to score my original copy. I finally ended up buying one from Jerry Buckner himself, the guy who wrote or co-wrote many of the WH songs. He even signed the cover for me.

    If you need your Waffle House Christmas fix and can’t find the CD, don’t fret. You can listen to the entire album for free on YouTube (link provided at the end of my article) like 2,200 other Waffle Heads (I just made that name up) have. Some of the comments people left on YouTube about the Waffle House Christmas CD include, “If your party’s not this lit, don’t bother inviting me”, and “could this be the worst Christmas album ever?”

    The House That Waffles Built

    Photo from https://www.facebook.com/WaffleHouse/photos

    Waffle House started in 1955, 68 years ago, in Avondale Estates, Georgia by two neighbors who wanted a 24-hour, 7 days a week, sit down restaurant, with an emphasis on treating customers like family. It’s now in 25 (mostly mid-west and southern) states with almost 2,000 restaurants, employing over 40,000 people. As their website states, “Waffle House was founded on the principals of providing the friendliest service in town…” Co-founder Joe Rogers, a former short order cook himself, said, “We aren’t in the food business. We’re in the people business.” Incidentally, he named his restaurant “Waffle House” because the waffles were the most popular item on the menu. Waffle House says their restaurants collectively serve over 300,000 waffles every day. Now that’s a lot of waffles.

    Waffles And Chow Mein

    The very first Waffle House. Note the sign in the window on the right: “T Bone Steak Specialist”.  Photo from https://www.facebook.com/WaffleHouse/photos

    Waffle House as a company bought back the very first Waffle House restaurant at 2719 East College Avenue in Avondale Estates, Georgia which changed hands back in 1973. The two founders, Joe Rogers and Tom Forkner, had built the original property for $14,000 but the company hasn’t disclosed what it paid to buy back the building which had been a Chinese restaurant for the previous 20 years. In 2008 it was restored to its original 1955 stainless steel glory and turned into a museum.

    The small section of the eatery has been outfitted with a period counter, 13 stools, cooking equipment, lighting, condiments, wood paneling, and even plates and mugs. There’s also a small memorabilia room featuring old menus, uniforms, hats, t-shirts, and lots of slogan buttons. For the perfect photo souvenir, there’s an opportunity to stick your head into holes of life size cut outs of vintage servers. And yes, there’s a working jukebox so you can play your favorite Waffle House song. If you’re thinking of visiting it’s by appointment only and you can’t eat there, but admission is free.

    “Could this be the worst Christmas album ever?”

    Image courtesy of Waffle House.

    Christmas is a special time to spend with family and friends, to exchange gifts, to hope for peace in the world, and to play strange holiday music. If you think It’s A Waffle House Christmas is odd, come back here every week for the next 3 weeks and be amazed at even stranger holiday recordings. Have A Strange Christmas.

    Trivia: When the first Waffle House opened in 1955, per their menu, a bottle of Coca-Cola cost 10 cents, hashbrowns cost 20 cents, waffles were 40 cents each as were eggs, 0.65 for a cheese omelet, a hamburger cost 30 cents, filet mignon was a whopping $1.50, and slice of fresh pie set you back 20 cents.

    Trivia: Waffle House claims there are 1.5 million possible hashbrown combinations including cheese, onions, and sausage gravy.

    Trivia (from WaffleHouse.com):In 2015, Waffle House proudly served its billionth waffle.”

    Trivia (from Wikipedia): “The founders of the Waffle House brand died in 2017 within less than two months of each other: Joe Rogers Sr. died on March 3 and Tom Forkner on April 26.”

    Trivia (from Wikipedia): “In the 1960s, S. Truett Cathy, the owner of a local diner called the Dwarf House, contracted with Waffle House to sell his proprietary chicken sandwich, the Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich. However, the Chick-fil-A sandwich quickly overtook Waffle House’s own items in sales and Waffle House ended the deal, prompting Cathy to spin off Chick-fil-A into its own chain.”

    Trivia: August 24th is National Waffle Day.

    Trivia: In 2018, legendary country music star Bill Anderson released the single, “Waffle House Christmas”, after having spent a Thanksgiving at a Waffle House.

    Every word in every one of my articles is 100% written by me. I never use ChatGPT or any AI technology. Ever.

    You won’t find articles like this anywhere else. ‘This the season for giving. Please help support my website blog. Become a Patreon supporter today for just $1.

    Or, make a one-time PayPal donation.


    Jerry Buckner wrote or co-wrote many of the Waffle House songs including The Waffle House 12 Days of Christmas and scored a hit with Pac-Man Fever. Read my 10 Q&As with Buckner only on Patreon along with more interesting details about Waffle House.

    Waffle House Christmas CD

    Bill Anderson Waffle House Christmas

    Did you miss last week’s strange Christmas Album?

    See more Waffle House pics on my Instagram page.

    Have A Strange Christmas: “Christmas In The Heart”

    My “Christmas In The Heart” CD and Christmas cards. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    This is my third-year presenting “Have A Strange Christmas”, where I take a deep dive into strange Christmas records. This holiday, I decided to do something a little different. Rather than cram 5 albums into one very lengthy article, I’ll be posting one strange Christmas record each week starting this week through and including the last week of December. I kick off my series with none other than Bob Dylan.

    I recall reading a story about John Lennon playing a Bob Dylan record for Paul McCartney. I think it was around the time The Beatles were recording their Rubber Soul album. McCartney said he didn’t like Dylan’s voice, to which Lennon responded, “Listen to the words, man.” Dylan’s unquestionably a very gifted songwriter, but I’ve never been able to completely get past his whining, gravelly voice. His Christmas album is no exception. Yes, Bob Dylan recorded a Christmas album.

    Deep Throat

    Dylan’s voice is about as far afield from Bing Crosby and Perry Como as it can get, but that didn’t stop him from belting out an entire album’s worth of Christmas songs in October of 2009. Besides his voice sounding like it’s been roasting on an open fire, Robert Allen Zimmerman was born and raised Jewish, although he later converted to Christianity and changed his name. Dylan said everyone can relate to Christmas music regardless of religion. I agree with him on that score, although I find it difficult to relate to most of the songs on Christmas In The Heart (Columbia 88697 57323 1).

    Perhaps if Dylan had used his God-given songwriting talent to write some brilliant Christmas songs of his own for this album, that might have rescued it. After all, we’re talking about the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. Instead, what we have here are 15 Christmas classic covers in two nostril, throat-sonic sound. So much so, I think it should’ve been called “Christmas In The Throat”.

    The three wise men escaping the “Christmas In The Heart” release party.

    Kleenex Says Bless You

    Diving into the songs on Christmas In The Heart, sixteen seconds into the first song, Here Comes Santa Claus, it sounds like Dylan’s voice cracks. Other than that, the song is actually pretty good, as is Winter Wonderland. I’d also put Little Drummer Boy in the same category. Must Be Santa is a hoot and is the unquestionable standout track. The rest of the songs on the album, however, are enough to reduce the baby Jesus to tears.

    My blurry pics of Bob Dylan on stage and my original ticket stub from 1996. Photos by Peter Skiera.

    Dark And Blurry

    To those Dylan devotees who feel I’m being too hard on him, I liked him when he was a Traveling Wilbury, and I’ve already acknowledged that I think Dylan is a songwriting genius. Which is why, 27 years ago, I went to see him perform live in Portland, ME. I sneaked in my Minolta 35mm SLR camera and managed to get some snaps from the mezzanine. Dylan was wearing a very unusual shiny silver jacket that looked like it had a million tiny mirrors sewn on it. “Recording devices” weren’t allowed but I had no idea cameras fell into that category. Security staff were going through the audience literally ripping the film out of people’s cameras (this was before there were digital cameras and smartphones). That’s why my photos came out dark and blurry because I was clicking quickly while trying my best to conceal my camera. I also had the flash turned off so it didn’t give me away.

    My opinion of Heart must be in the minority because the record opened at #1 on the Billboard Holiday chart, reached #5 on the Folk chart, made it to #10 on the Rock chart, and peaked at #23 on the overall album chart. It would seem music lovers across the board loved this record.

    Laughing All the Way

    Indeed, on Amazon, 82% of the reviews are 4 stars or above. Yet I found comments that were more along the lines of what I was thinking: “…it’s almost painful to listen to him try to sing. This may be the worst Christmas album I’ve ever heard”; “You have to LOVE Dylan and/or have a fantastic sense of humor”; “It’s like sticking a large bore needle into your ear into your brain”; “Awful. Sounds like my cat in heat…”; “A strange take on many classic songs and it reminds me of being at a Christmas party where everyone has had a few and someone brings out a guitar.”

    The hype sticker on the front of my Christmas In The Heart CD mentioning Feeding America. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    The Season of Giving

    In light of its success, Dylan must have made a bundle off of this album, right? Wrong. Not that he needed the money, mind you. To his great credit, all proceeds went to charity. In the US, Feeding America benefited, while in the UK it was Crisis, with the rest going to the World Food Programme. Strange as it may be, Christmas In The Heart fed a lot of hungry people in the world.


    Stocking stuffer: Mrs. Claus is looking pretty good for her age. Illustration by Olivia De Berardinis.

    All I Want For Christmas Is You

    One thing I do love about Christmas In The Heart is its visual presentation. The front cover artwork of a horse driven sleigh taken from an antique print reminds me of Christmas albums gone by. Inside the CD booklet is a great color illustration of Bettie Page as a sexy Mrs. Claus. If Mrs. Claus looked like that in reality, Santa wouldn’t dare leave her alone with the elves for 5 seconds, never mind all night long. The deluxe CD edition also came with 5 blank Christmas cards that reproduced the album cover art. Bravo.

    The creativity didn’t stop with the album. Must Be Santa was released as a 45 RPM single. The promotional copy was issued on red colored vinyl and came packaged in a cardboard sleeve with vintage graphics and a label that made it look like an old 78 RPM record. Bravo again. Incidentally, Must Be Santa was backed with Dylan’s reading of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas which wasn’t included on the LP or CD. It’s the most uninspired reading I’ve ever heard in my life.


    “I think it should’ve been called ‘Christmas In The Throat.’”

    “Must Be Santa” screenshot from youtube.com/watch?v=a8qE6WQmNus

    The Ten Worst

    A 2013 Rolling Stone readers’ poll named Must Be Santa one of Dylan’s 10 worst songs. I beg to differ. Granted, it isn’t his best effort, but it’s a fresh, fun polka take on an old Christmas classic that you don’t hear very often. The only thing better than the song is the video which depicts a Christmas Eve party we’d all love to have been invited to. In the video, Dylan meanders through the house singing while wearing different hats. He winds up outside on the porch with the big guy himself. It’s been viewed over 7 million times.

    Amazon’s brand new red colored vinyl edition of “Christmas In The Heart”. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    Back In Stock

    If you missed this album when it came out and want a copy to play so you can clear out the stragglers at your Christmas party, you’re in luck. The CD is easily found on eBay and reasonably priced. Prefer vinyl? You’re in luck again. The record was just re-issued last month for the album’s 14th Anniversary. Why wait one more year for 15? Amazon put out their own exclusive red colored vinyl edition. Don’t bother trying to track down the original 2009 record (which came bundled with the CD) unless you’re okay with spending over a hundred dollars.

    After the album came out, some music reviewers in the press suggested Christmas In The Heart was an intentional parody of vintage Christmas albums. Dylan responded by saying those reviewers didn’t have a clue about him or his music. Christmas In The Heart isn’t a parody, but it is strange.

    Trivia: Dylan produced “Christmas In The Heart” himself but used the pseudonym “Jack Frost”.

    Trivia (from krcgtv.com/features/beyond-the-trivia/beyond-the-trivia-best-selling-christmas-artist):The artist who’s sold the most Christmas albums is Elvis Presley and his 1957 album, ‘Elvis’ Christmas Album’, is the best-selling Christmas album of all time. It contains Elvis’s iconic version of ‘Blue Christmas’. So far, it’s sold some 20-million copies. Kenny G is second on the list at seven million albums, followed by Nat ‘King’ Cole and Mannheim Steamroller.”

    Return here next week for the next installment in my “Have A Strange Christmas” series.

    Every word in every one of my articles is 100% written by me. I never use ChatGPT or any AI technology. Ever.

    You won’t find articles like this anywhere else. Please help support my website blog by becoming a Patreon supporter today for only $1 or make a donation of any amount via PayPal.

    Links:

    Amazon LP

    Feeding America

    Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8qE6WQmNus




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