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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: “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.

    You won’t find articles like this anywhere else. Please help support my website blog by becoming a Patreon supporter today for just $1 or make a donation of any amount via PayPal. Licensing images to be able to legally use them in my article, for example, costs $50 per photo.

    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.

    Image from needsrowjerry.bandcamp.com/album/waffle-house-jukebox-favorites-vol-1

    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, whichcollected 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 that 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




    RJL: Christmas Stories

    Robert J. Lurtsema as Santa Claus. Photograph by Kurt Stier.


    If you listened to public radio in New England in the 1970s and 80s, even into the 1990s, chances are you remember the name Robert J. Lurtsema. Lurtsema hosted and produced a very popular 5-hour morning drive classical music program, Morning Pro Musica, for nearly 29 years. The radio show emanated from WGBH, a 100,000 watt FM public radio station in Boston. For a time, his show was also simulcast on WGBH-TV.

    Lurtsema wasn’t just a well-known Boston area radio personality. Morning Pro Musica was carried by numerous public radio stations throughout New England, and for a time, over many NPR affiliate stations throughout the US via satellite. At its height, the program had a half million listeners. The Christian Science Monitor called Lurtsema “the world’s greatest alarm clock”.

    Even if his name doesn’t ring a bell, you’ve probably heard Lurtsema’s distinctive voice. He voiced the opening to Public Television’s Mystery! (Produced by WGBH-TV), narrated many public TV documentaries, narrated an episode of the PBS TV series Nova, and can be heard on several records.

    No Personality

    I only knew Lurtsema as the host of Morning Pro Musica, but he had a profound influence on me as an undergraduate studying radio at Emerson College. My voice wasn’t anything like his but I adopted his speaking style. To say it was laid back would be an understatement. Thus, I earned a reputation at my college’s non-commercial radio station for being incredibly boring on the air. I wanted to work in public radio so it didn’t concern me that I wasn’t as exciting as Howard Stern. Unfortunately, I was never able to break into public radio, though I did score interviews with the two biggest public radio stations in Boston; WGBH and WBUR. WGBH actually called me to do some fill-in announcing but I was recuperating from eye surgery at the time and was reluctantly forced to decline. They never called again. Like a single beautiful woman, you only get one chance with public radio. I ended up working in commercial radio so I was forced to develop a personality. But I digress.

    Getting To Know You

    Photo courtesy of David Lurtsema.

    As I got to know Lurtsema better through my research, it turns out he lived quite a life. He served in the US Navy for 5 years and held all manner of jobs before finding his calling as a classical music radio host. He was awarded a lifetime scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music. My research also revealed he was passionate about environmental causes, nuclear disarmament, medical research, and civil rights. He sat on dozens of boards for music organizations throughout New England and was the artistic director for 5 years for the “Brown Bags for Kids” series at Worcester’s Mechanics Hall. He narrated two children’s records…The Story of Babar and Peter and The Wolf. He performed live narrations with orchestras. He authored 2 books, was a sculptor, painter, photographer, and composer (his bassoon quartet composition was adapted as the theme music for the PBS-TV program “Julia Child and Company”).

    Ambassador Lurtsema

    During his radio years he became an unofficial US ambassador as it were, having received formal invitations from the governments of France, Germany, Scotland, Greece, Canada, Israel, Finland, and the Netherlands. The latter country hosted him as one of 40 distinguished guests of Dutch heritage (the Dutch spelling of his last name is Luurtsema).

    Warm Fudge

    Back in late 80s, I had my clock radio set to wake to Morning Pro Musica even though I wasn’t a classical music buff. “Start your day with Robert J”, as the slogan went. Lurtsema began every show with a recording of bird songs…a recording he made himself. The bird songs would play without interruption, often for as long as 5 minutes, and then slowly mix with his opening classical piece. What a wonderful way to wake up! He had a calming voice which the New York Times likened to “warm fudge”. His pauses were so long you could drive a Mack truck through them. He was a welcomed alternative to screaming morning DJs in hysterics over nothing, playing music that was equally meaningless. In a promo for Morning Pro Musica, one listener described Lurtsema’s program as “sanity in a world soon to become insane. It’s an opportunity to take that last deep breath before you get on the fast track.”

    Have A Taste

    On the flip side of the record so to speak, not everyone held Lurtsema in such high esteem. Many were annoyed by his notoriously infinite pauses. Some considered Lurtsema narcissistic. Classical snobs didn’t like the selections he played or the way he framed them. Still others felt Lurtsema was just plain boring. He was an acquired taste, but for myself and hundreds of thousands of other listeners, it was a taste that lingered pleasantly on the palette.

    News Break

    The music Lurtsema played (he spent hours meticulously planning each program months in advance) and his on-air personality (or lack thereof) wasn’t all he was known for. He also insisted on writing and reporting his own newscasts during his show, something none of the other music hosts could get away with. He always opened his news segments with, “Here’s a look at some of the items in the news as edited and reported by your ‘Morning Pro Musica’ host.” The morning after the 1980 presidential election in which Ronald Regan defeated Jimmy Carter, Lurtsema announced, “there is no news worth reporting this morning”, and proceeded with his show. WGBH tried to replace his news with live hourly NPR news reports from Washington, D.C. and California. According to one telling of the story, Lurtsema threatened to quit and the radio station backed down, while another story said listener protests were so overwhelming that the station was forced to restore Lurtsema’s own newscasts.

    Live From Tanglewood

    From 1995 onward, during the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s opening weekends of their summer seasons, Lurtsema broadcasted live from Tanglewood, a music venue in Lenox, MA, and the home of the BSO since 1937. During this period, Morning Pro Musica featured live performances and interviews with John Williams, Seiji Ozawa, and Arlo Guthrie just to name a few. Other notable guests on his program included Aaron Copland, Isaac Stern, John Cage, and Itzhak Perlman. In the radio industry, or at least in the public radio realm, Morning Pro Musica became the gold standard for classical music programs.

    Tell Me A Story

    My rare original “Christmas Stories” CD on the Philo Records label. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    Lurtsema hosted special Christmas editions of his morning show featuring Christmas stories he narrated himself. Over the years, his listeners wrote in asking for copies of his moving readings. In 1981, he answered their requests with his first and only solo record…Robert J. Lurtsema Christmas Stories, which celebrates its 42nd anniversary this year.

    Best Pauses

    In case you couldn’t tell, the cherubic faced man in the Santa Claus suit on the cover of Christmas Stories is indeed Mr. Lurtsema. The image, with his obscured smile, gives us a glimpse into his playful side. According to Wikipedia, “Lurtsema displayed a subtle sense of humor. On April Fool’s Day 1982, he stood in for the singing birds with his own deadpan chirping, and on April Fools’ Day 1992, the birds were replaced by howling wolves. Aware of his reputation for long pauses, on another April Fools’ Day, Lurtsema presented selections of his ‘best pauses.’ One morning, he devoted his full five hours to playing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ in all of the variations that he could find.”

    Lurtsema vs. Shatner

    Christmas Stories’ backside. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    Like Morning Pro Musica and Lurtsema himself, Christmas Stories is unusual and at the same time remarkable. Besides the fact that it was put out by a radio announcer, this Christmas album doesn’t include a single Christmas song and Lurtsema doesn’t sing any songs, which would’ve proved interesting in itself. I envision him doing a spoken holiday song a la William Shatner. If you’re looking for sing-a-long with Robert, this isn’t it. Rather, it’s a showcase for Lurtsema’s voice and unique delivery, both of which were well suited for the subject matter.

    Perfect 5 Star Rating

    Robert J. Lurtsema Christmas Stories enjoys a rare 5 out 5-star rating on Amazon. Some of the comments from the reviews include, “an amazing set of Christmas stories (and history) told by one of the best voices of our time. A must have for the holidays and Christmas Eve. I am not religious and I find these moving and in the true spirit of the season.” Another person wrote, “this collection of Christmas stories is carefully chosen and beautifully delivered. The recording quality is exceptional. A wonderful album!” Still another opined, “for beauty of language and soul of reading, this is a great addition to any library of Christmas recordings. Highly recommended!”

    Despite such high praise, Christmas Stories didn’t exactly go platinum. I have a memory of seeing multiple copies of this record embarrassingly collecting dust in discount record bins. Its appeal would’ve been very limited. Lurtsema was popular, but he wasn’t Frank Sinatra. Besides, the album was distributed by a very small record label, Philo Records, which catered to folk, jazz, and world music, and operated out of a converted barn in Vermont.

    CD Or Not CD, That Is the Question

    In spite of or perhaps because of its limited appeal, there’s decent inventory of Christmas Stories on the used record market such as eBay and for reasonable prices. Alas, the coveted CD is more expensive and much harder to come by, which is odd since it was distributed by Rounder Records which had much wider distribution. I ended up finding one on Amazon of all places! The Amazon listing shows “CD-R”. To me, that meant the seller was selling copies, which is against US Copyright law. I went ahead and purchased one anyway and was extremely surprised to receive an original CD, not a copy, and it even included the original Rounder Records mail-in postcard. As of this writing, the listing is still on Amazon but there are no more CDs available. I contacted the seller about this and they apologized and said their inventory constantly changes.

    If you’re not into physical media as I am, Amazon sells the MP3 download of the album for under $10. If you’re entertaining the idea of buying Christmas Stories, I’d suggest getting the digital download, CD, cassette tape, or a sealed or mint copy of the vinyl record so the crackles and pops don’t compete with the star of the show. I’ve included links at the end of my article. Unfortunately, there are no liner notes by Lurtsema or any background information about his readings, and the CD doesn’t include any bonus tracks.

    The Bird Is the Word

    Earlier I mentioned recordings of happy chirping birds that Lurtsema used to open each show with. If you’ll allow one of my trademark digressions, WGBH radio released a record and cassette of those recordings in 1984, entitled Dawn Chorus: The Birds of Morning Pro Musica, which can also be sourced on used music sites. Lurtsema isn’t heard on this recording, just his birds.

    My “Man Who Planted Trees” CD and my very rare “Voices of The Loon” CD. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    Lurtsema On Record

    There are other Lurtsema related records you might find of interest, such as the Paul Winter Consort’s The Man Who Planted Trees from 1995, beautifully narrated by Lurtsema, and Voices of The Loon from 1980.

    My “Wassail! Wassail!” CD. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    There are 2 additional Christmas titles I’ll briefly bring to your attention if you’ll indulge me, though they’re not Lurtsema records per se. Wassail! Wassail! from 1995 features a mix of early American Christmas music and narration. Of the 21 tracks, 4 are narrated by Lurtsema, including a powerful reading of The Angels and The Shepherds. Though long out of print, this CD is available on used record sites.

    The overlooked “The Christmas Revels” CD. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    I donned my detective’s fedora and after some extensive digging, discovered The Christmas Revels: In Celebration of The Winter Solstice. It includes just 1 reading by Lurtsema which is why it flew under my radar. The track I speak of, The Shortest Day, is a poem written by Susan Cooper. It times out at less than 90 seconds, but it’s 90 seconds of full throttle Lurtsema. You can easily find this CD used, and possibly the original gatefold vinyl album as well, but amazingly, I found this 43-year-old title being sold new on CD by none other than The Christmas Revels themselves (link at the end of this article).

    David Lurtsema, Robert’s brother. Photo by David Lurtsema.

    Since I was already wearing my detective’s fedora, I decided to track down David Lurtsema, Robert Lurtsema’s only brother. I’ve become quite the detective since I started my own blog and after some searching on the Internet and a few phone calls, I was able to connect with him. David’s 81 and still working, yet he managed to carve out some time for a late night (very late night!) phone conversation.


    Peter: What did you think of Robert’s radio program, Morning Pro Musica?

    David: “Um, I really didn’t hear that much of on the air for him. As far as radio is concerned, I went to his studio a couple times, but that was about it. And listening to his program…not very much because I [couldn’t] get it [where I lived].”


    A page from the program of the Celebration of Life of Robert Lurtsema. Document courtesy of Emmanuel Church.


    Peter: Can you give me one interesting or humorous story about your brother?

    David: “When he passed away, they had a big celebration of life at [an] Episcopalian church somewhere in Boston; a big church. [Editor’s note: It was Emmanual Episcopal Church in Boston]. There were like 5,000 people there and they asked me to get up and speak. What the hell am I going to say? So, I figured I’d say what he said and I told a story that he had told me that’s true as far as I know. My brother was in demolitions in the Navy. The captain called him in and said, ‘Robert, you’ve been recommended for E4’, because he was an enlisted man. He was a 3rd class petty officer for three times and [he never took the test]. [The captain said,] ‘I want you to promise me you’ll take the test and you’ll study hard.’ Well, if he took the test and passed it, he knew that he would be extended because doing demolition work, they needed these guys. He said, ‘Okay, captain, I’ll take the test and I’ll study hard.’  So, he did and the captain called him in again and he said, ‘Robert, you’re the only man in the history of the Navy to get 100%…Wrong!’ I got up in front of 5,000 people to tell that story. It got a couple of laughs.”

    Paying my respects. Photo by Mary.

    Peter: I was in Rhode Island visiting relatives a couple of months ago and I went to visit Robert’s grave in Canton, MA, where his ashes are interred.

    David: “I’m so glad you’re telling me. I know where it is now. Great. That’s where he was supposed to go but I never got the word what happened with that. All I got with the word was, was that Betsy [Robert’s girlfriend] was bitch moaning and complaining that he didn’t have some great, ah, thing built for him, and I think the thing about the family was, well [chuckling], why don’t you take some of the money and give it to him yourself?”

    Peter: Since I’m writing about Robert’s “Christmas Stories” record, what was Christmas like as a child in the Lurtesma household?

    David: “Well, I don’t have a lot of recollection of it because there was 10 years between us. So, in other words, when [Robert] was old enough to go in the navy, I was what, 6, 8 [years old], somewhere in there. So, I remember how the Christmas’ were for me but to remember him there, it wasn’t very often      

    Peter: But did you decorate and have a tree?

    David: “We did. We decorated to the hilt. The tree [had] many lights and many ornaments. A lot of presents.”

    Peter: Any other stories you’d like to mention about your brother?

    David: “Another thing you may not know about him, as long as I’ve got it in my head…I don’t talk to anybody about this much, so I’ve got to bring it out of the memory. He was a child prodigy. His IQ was up like 160 or something. Off the charts. He graduated high school with 2 double promotions…he had 2 [college] degrees in 4 years…a degree in public relations and communications and, ah, I can’t remember what the other one was. It’s been too long now.

    “He did children’s stories in Phoenix with a collaboration with some people there. He did, ah, what else? I can’t think right now.”

    Peter: He wrote a couple of books.

    David: “Yes. He wrote a book on music. I have the book. It’s basically written for musicians because most people wouldn’t be able to comprehend what was in there.”

    David (left) with his brother, Robert, on Cape Cod. Photo courtesy of David Lurtsema.

    Peter: I only knew Robert as a listener of his show. What was he like as a person?

    David: “When I got out of the Navy, I lived with him for a month or so. We both loved a lot of the same things but his lifestyle was more erratic than…erratic is probably the wrong word. I should say looser than I wanted to live. He liked to go to nudist colonies. That’s fine, but too much of anything is not good.

    “I remember his apartment in, ah, oh, I can’t remember the name of the town.”

    Peter: Cambridge?

    David: “Yes. Thank you. He had an apartment in Cambridge. His bed was suspended by 4 cables coming out of the 4 corners of the ceiling and the cables were attached to springs to hold the thing together and the mattress on top of that. So, the bed was suspended off the floor. That was quite the thing. He was very innovative.

    “I went to a psychic a few years after he died [to get] in touch with him. We had a lot of conversations back and forth and it was all taped…and the psychic is getting a kick out of his personality because he [had] a very unusual sense of humor. She caught that right away as soon as she started talking. She’d never met him. It was very revealing. The things I wanted to say to him about how I wished we had spent more time together and how he regretted not doing it because he didn’t really know who I was until later. A lot of good things happened from that. I was so glad that I had done it.”

    In terms of Lurtsema’s gifted story telling on Christmas Stories, his brother says that stemmed from their father. “My father was a storyteller. He was a carpenter. He would come home in the evening and have dinner with us; my two sisters, my brother and I, and he would always tell stories about the day. He would talk about Mrs. McGillicuddy or Mrs. Schwartz, or whatever, with an accent that was theirs so you knew what nationality they were. It was kind of play acting but it was very entertaining for us. And of course, all that rubs off on everybody.”

    “As far as his storytelling and so on”, David continued, “I have those records you’re talking about. There’s The Man Who Planted Trees. If you haven’t heard that it’s excellent. And Christmas Stories and so on. I went to a lot of performances when I was…in Boston…one where [Robert] was doing imitations, voice overs, I guess it was for Peter and what was it…”

    Peter: “Peter and The Wolf”.

    David: “’Peter and The Wolf’. Thank you. It’s late here. Later for you though.”

    David said something at one point in our conversation that I wanted to end with because it had an important message for all of us: “He was somebody I loved greatly and admired, but we just didn’t spend enough time together and we were both very sorry about that.”


    As with his radio program, Robert J. Lurtsema Christmas Stories is a refreshing break from the usual onslaught of holiday chestnuts we subject ourselves to on an annual basis. It requires one to slow down or even to stop and contemplate the reason for the season. Anyone could’ve recorded these stories, but not in Lurtsema’s inimitable way. As much as I enjoy listening to this wonderful album, I can’t help but feel sad knowing there will never be another show like his or another host like him. If he were still alive today, he’d be 92, and if his health allowed, I’m certain he’d still be playing those singing birds every morning. Two-plus decades after his passing, I still miss waking to his voice. He truly was the world’s greatest alarm clock. I don’t know what the voice of God sounds like, but I can only hope it sounds a lot like Robert Lurtsema’s, prolonged pauses and all.

    My eternal thanks to David Lurtsema for sharing his memories, memorabilia, and photographs.

    Trivia: Robert Lurtsema was originally hired to host ‘Morning Pro Musica’ only on weekends. Not long after, he was promoted to the coveted weekday morning drive slot when the seat became available, yet he still continued to do his weekend shows, working 7 days a week for the next 22 years. In 1993, ‘Morning Pro Musica’ went back to weekends only, which Lurtsema hosted until his death. On June 12, 2000, at age 68, he died from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a rare illness of the respiratory system.

    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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    Links:

    eBay

    Robert Lurtsema’s Christmas Eve air check

    Robert Lurtsema aircheck

    Christmas Stories MP3

    Christmas Revels

    The Man Who Planted Trees

    Rescue Your Records

    If you own records like I do, you probably have a few that never saw life on CD, or perhaps they did but the CDs are hard to find or too expensive, yet you’d love to listen to those albums on CD. If you’re technically inclined you could copy the records onto CDs yourself, but you probably wouldn’t be able to eliminate the pops and clicks and generate high definition artwork.

    Where To Turn?

    I have a few records that were never released on CD and probably never will be. I prefer not to play them since they’re collectibles, yet I wanted to be able to enjoy the music. Yes, I still own and play CDs and I own 2 CD players, yet I didn’t have the ability to transfer the records onto CDs. Even if I did, they would include all the noise from the records. If I used a service to do this, I wanted to be sure my records would be handled with care and I’d end up with something I’d be happy with. I searched the Internet and found a resource I felt comfortable relying on…Record Rescuers in San Diego, CA.

    Recordrescuers.com, a division of King Tet Productions, has been in business for almost 30 years and was one of the first to offer this kind of a service. It isn’t a store, a sideline business, or a part time hobby. Owner Eric Van der Wyk is an audio engineer and composer as well as a graphic designer and musician. He plays the electric sitar amongst other stringed instruments and studied Classical Indian music under Ali Akbar Khan. He’s worked on audio and video projects for Warner Brothers, the late Roy Clark, Troma Entertainment, Buck Trent, and many others. His website (link at the end) has numerous glowing reviews from satisfied customers from around the world, be they professionals or regular music lovers like you and me.

    The process to turn your records into custom CD-Rs is pretty simple. The first step is to contact Van der Wyk to discuss your needs and coordinate mailing your record(s) to his studio. Pack your records securely, include a check for whatever you owe (or Van der Wyk can invoice you via PayPal after he receives your platters), and send them off. Some of his customers actually have records shipped directly from the sellers they bought them from.

    Once received and paid for, Van der Wyk dubs your precious albums onto CD-Rs, and in the process, removes most if not all of the surface and other noise in the records’ grooves. Everything is done in the digital domain in 24 bit/96kHz (high resolution) which Van der Wyk says is twice that of a Blu-Ray DVD movie soundtrack. He’ll also craft the artwork for the CD-Rs if you’ve included that option.

    Depending on how busy Van der Wyk is, you’ll generally have your albums and new CD-Rs back to you in about a week, give or take. He does his work in the order received, but rest assured, he won’t allow your albums to sit around for an extended period. He prides himself on turning around his projects promptly.

    Despite the company’s name, Record Rescuers isn’t limited to just LP’s. Van der Wyk also works with 78 and 45 RPM records, cassette tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, and DAT tapes. He’s even transferred MiniDiscs to CD-Rs, though you may have to ship him your MD player.

    But wait, there’s more, as Flex Tape’s Phil Swift might say. Van der Wyk also repairs cassette tapes and transfers VHS tapes and any kind of film, including Betamax and 8mm, to DVD. It’s one stop shopping for all of your audio and video restoration needs.

    Van der Wyk with a draft of the artwork for my RAM CD-R. Photo by Eric Van der Wyk.

    Van der Wyk’s graphic design experience kicks in when it comes time to create the high-definition artwork that goes in the front and back of the jewel case and gets printed on the CD-R’s surface (if you’ve paid for that service). This makes him as much an artist as an audio engineer. He has many examples of his finished work on his website and you can see images of the albums he’s recently restored on his facebook page (link at the end).

    In my case, after I emailed and then spoke with Van der Wyk, I shipped him 3 albums…Kay Martin’s I Know What He Wants For Christmas (But I Don’t Know How To Wrap It), Paul McCartney’s RAM (in mono), and John Bult’s Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday. Allow me to briefly break down each record and its corresponding Record Rescuers CD-R for you.

    1. I Know What He Wants For Christmas
    “I Know What He Wants For Christmas” LP & CD-R. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    I wrote extensively about this album in an old “Have A Strange Christmas” blog post, so I’m not going to rehash the details here. For this article, suffice to say it’s an adult Christmas record from 1962 with cheeky songs like Hang Your Balls On The Christmas Tree, Santa’s Doing The Horizontal Twist, and I Want A Casting Couch For Christmas. Side B features live bits from Kay Martin And Her Body Guard’s risqué comedy shows (“Ms. Martin’s received 11 requests and not a damn one of them is for music!”)

    This record was reissued in 2015 on RockBeat Records, which is impossible find, but was never released on CD. I have the original pressing on dark green vinyl and I didn’t want to degrade the condition with each play, so I asked Record Rescuers to transfer it to CD-R.

    After I received the newly minted CD-R, I popped it into my beloved vintage Technics SL-P999, unsure if it would even play CD-Rs considering it’s 34 years old. It read the TOC. So far, so good. With fingers crossed, I pressed the “Play” button with some degree of hesitancy and was amazed at what my vintage Blueroom Minipod speakers reproduced. The sound quality was eyebrow raising, without a single snap, crackle, or pop from a 61-year-old record! The organ sounded, like, crazy, man. Martin’s voice is somewhat reminiscent of Lola Albright’s with a pinch of Lucille Ball, and it was strong and clear. The mostly spoken word comedy show portion had a few sonic issues that managed to find their way onto the CD, but nowhere near as bad as it sounded on the record.

    The album artwork Van der Wyk generated was equally impressive, and he invested quite a bit of time getting it just right. A previous owner had written on the front cover and used Wite-out and colored markers which I asked to be cropped out. Although this personal touch made my copy unique, I didn’t appreciate how it ruined the front cover. All in all, the CD-R is a great acoustic and artistic restoration of a wild vintage holiday album. Kay Martin herself would be titillated.

    2. RAM

    “RAM” LP & CD-R. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    Paul McCartney’s second solo album after the Beatles broke up was RAM from 1971, and what an album it was. Every track was a winner, not just the #1 hit Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. RAM was issued in stereo, but interestingly, in Brazil, a mono version was also released. Mono versions were also shipped to US AM radio stations (AM stations broadcast in mono) in a white cover with a white label. Other than the Brazil pressing, the mono version was never made available commercially to the public.

    That changed in 2021 when the mono version of RAM was remastered at Abbey Road studios in London and re-issued as a limited-edition vinyl record (my copy is stamped #14868). It was never released on CD though there are various bootleg CDs of the album. Why would anyone want to hear this fantastic album in mono? Because the mono version uses a different mix from the stereo version. Some actually prefer the mono mix to the stereo mix.

    Record Rescuers came to the rescue again, expertly transferring my record to CD-R. The plain white artwork is hardly exciting but Van der Wyk worked his magic and made the CD-R look great. The quality of the recording was fab. This is one CD that will find itself in my CD player very often.

    3. Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday

    “Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday” LP & CD-R. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    Were it not for this record cover from 1981, country singer John Bult would’ve remained unknown. It’s gone down as one of the worst album covers in history. At first glance, the picture looks like an older man trying to pick up an underage girl in a seedy bar. Or, judging from the expression on her face, perhaps he got her pregnant and he’s trying to comfort her. Interpret the cover however you wish, but you must admit it isn’t exactly Sgt. Pepper. For his part, Bult said he never approved that cover photo and had assumed one from a professional photo shoot was going to be used. He wasn’t a happy camper, and from what I’ve read, apparently still isn’t to this day.

    Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday was reissued in a small batch four years later, still using the same embarrassing front cover, but it was never put out on CD. This was another opportunity to put a scarce album on CD-R so I could enjoy it without fear of degrading the original.Here again, I was blown away by Record Rescuers’ work. The artwork for this title, which presented a bit of a challenge, was spot on. The sound was perfect, as if I bought the CD from a record store. I could practically hear the truck accident described in the depressing title track. Not bad for a 42-year-old record!

    Here again, I was blown away by Record Rescuers’ work. The artwork for this title, which presented a bit of a challenge, was spot on. The sound was perfect, as if I bought the CD from a record store. I could practically hear the truck accident described in the depressing title track. Not bad for a 42-year-old record!

    I reached out to Van der Wyk to get more information about his craft.

    Eric Van der Wyk. Photo from https://soundcloud.com/kingtet

    Peter: Why did you get into the audio restoration business?

    Eric: “As a struggling artist in the 70s, (with no budget for decent recording equipment) I had an idea that by 2000 I would connect my reel to reel tape deck to a computer and use it to make my old tape recordings sound better.
    I achieved this in 1996 by creating new interfaces for a computer, that’s when I decided it was a career idea, not a hobby. This lead to my suite of related services for restoring irreplaceable audio recordings from LPs, 45s, 78s, cassettes and reel to reel tapes.”

    Peter: Does your background as a musician give you an advantage in this kind of work?

    Eric: “I think it helps immeasurably. My broad knowledge of music styles and appreciation for diverse genres helps people to know they’re in good hands. I try to find something to love about every recording that I’m given to remaster. I think it helps to love what you’re doing and have passion for preserving something that’s important to my clients.”

    Image from record Rescuers’ facebook page.

    Peter: What specific equipment do you use in your home studio?

    Eric: “Over the past 25 years I’ve been steadily upgrading and appending the equipment in my studio, the software involved and the techniques that I’m developing. Like a Doctor or a Lawyer, I consider this a “practice” so my work is always evolving and (in my opinion) on the path towards perfection.
    I use a professional turntable with a unique interface I developed, it is equipped with 7 unique Pro Cartridges, ranging in value from $200 to $900 each and are selected based on various aspects of the type of record involved.”

    Peter: Your process doesn’t involve applying any subjective equalization to the original music, right?

    Eric: “For normal LP and 45 conversions, correct. I do what I call an “honest restoration” which means that no frequencies are boosted and no compression is added. Great care is taken to preserve the original stereo image, dynamics and dynamic relationship between the tracks. What you end up with is something cleaner and hotter but technically “flat” so you can apply your own personal EQ settings on playback and it will respond.
    Artists and record labels appreciate this because I’m not “ruining” the recording trying to make it sound “modern”, and it is appropriate for re-issues. Many of my clients have stated that my remasters and hot, yet warm, and not “cold” like many digital recordings are considered to be.”

    Peter: Do you ever receive records that have so much noise or defects that they’re beyond restoration? What’s the most challenging project you’ve worked on?

    Eric: “Most of the 78s I receive are home-made “acetate” recordings which only had a few good plays back in the 1940s. Today these records have more noise than signal, the noise is literally louder than the voice. So, I developed a nine-step process to make them “listenable.” Any recording that can’t sound “stellar” or “excellent” can at least be improved to become “listenable.” These records are typically from 1947, my website for this service is 78toCD.com and there’s a link to a New York Times article about this.”

    Peter: What are a few of the more rare or unusual record titles you’ve received from clients over the years? What’s the oldest record you’ve ever handled?

    Eric: “I’ve done a few old Edison records that were over 100 years old. Songs like “The Old Grey Mare”, that’s a lot of fun. It really shows the genius of Edison that his “unbreakable” records from over 100 years ago still work! How many “things” today will last that long?”

    Screenshot from Record Rescuers’ facebook page.

    Peter: Do you have a rough idea of how many records you’ve restored since you started?

    Eric: “That’s a great question, I really haven’t kept track. However, when my clients order the optional cover art, I also post a Hi Def jpg of the front cover to my company facebook page. There are now over 5,000 examples of OOP album covers to peruse.

    Peter: Your clients are really passionate about their records, aren’t they?

    Eric: “Indeed, it makes what I do fulfilling and satisfying.”

    Peter: You’ve got the best job ever! You’re your own boss and you get to listen to music all day and get paid for it.

    Eric: “I’m grateful every day to be doing such important work for so many interesting people. It’s challenging, stressful, long hours, but I love being busy with such relevant work. It certainly is a blessing to be successful at a business I made up.”

    Image from madelineforman.com/

    Van der Wyk mentioned a New York Times article. This was perhaps his most famous project. Two years ago, he was asked to restore several 78 RPM records for a then 94-year-old woman who had recorded them back in 1946. Not long after, Madeline Forman packed the records away and forgot about them, knowing her childhood dream of being a professional singer could never become a reality. She rediscovered the dusty records more than 7 decades later during COVID. Her son got in touch with a cousin, who in turn, recommended Record Rescuers to restore the records. The heartwarming story received national press coverage.  

    My Record Rescuers CD-Rs. Photo by Peter Skiera.

    That’s great, you say, but how much does all of this cost? It’s more affordable than you might think. Each CD-R of a restored album costs $35 which includes a jewel case and a label on the CD-R. If you want glossy color front and back artwork in the jewel case then that costs an additional $10. For “full artwork”, which includes the front and back artwork plus color printing on the front of the CD-R instead of a label, that costs $25. Based on the CD-Rs I received, I’d highly recommend this option. If you want an extra copy of a CD-R, that adds another $5-$8.50 per CD-R depending on what artwork level you prefer. If you send in 78 RPM records, those are $7.50 per side. For a complete menu, refer to Record Rescuers website (link at the end). You’re responsible for the cost to ship your records to Record Rescuers in CA but Van der Wyk ships your first order (up to 5 LPs) back to you via USPS Priority at no charge. From my own experience I can tell you he does an excellent job packing the records to insure they arrive back to you in the same condition you sent them.

    Image from Record Rescuers’ facebook page.

    With the thousands of albums Van der Wyk has restored over the last 2+ decades, you might wonder why he wouldn’t make a bunch of extra copies and sell them on his website. People would be willing to pay good money to get high quality CD-Rs of rare or obscure records. Van der Wyk knows that wouldn’t be fair to the customers mailing in their records to him. Moreover, it would be illegal under US Copyright law, though there are companies that somehow manage to fly under the radar and make CD-R copies in bulk of records and sell them.

    If you’ve got audio media, be they LPs, 78s, 45s, reel-to-reels, cassette tapes, or a combination thereof, and  you want to get them on CD-R and get the best sound quality and visual presentation, I can think of no better company than Record Rescuers to trust your precious music with. You’ll be very pleased with the end results as I was.

    And if you’re looking for a unique Christmas or Birthday gift for that special music lover in your life, look no further than Record Rescuers. Imagine their surprise when they see the custom CD-Rs and listen to the music! Unlike some other gifts, this is something they’ll keep forever and enjoy many times over.

    Record Rescuers links:

    Prices

    Main Site

    Reel-to-Reels

    78 RPMs

    Cassettes

    Facebook

    Trivia (from encyclopaediaoftrivia.blogspot.com/2014/06/compact-disc.html):

    “Billy Joel’s “52nd Street” was among the first commercially released on the compact disc format (it was one of 50 CDs released on October 1 in Japan…

    “Mercedes-Benz was the first automobile manufacturer to offer a CD player as a factory option in 1984.


    “Born in the U.S.A.” became the first compact disc manufactured in the United States for commercial release when CBS and Sony opened its CD manufacturing plant in Terre Haute, Indiana in September 1984. Columbia Records’ CDs previously had been imported from Japan.

    “For years after CD players hit the market, they remained unpopular and were mostly limited to fans of classical music. Dire Straits then released “Brothers in Arms”, the first totally digital album. It sold 30 million copies and is credited with launching CD players into the mainstream.

    David Bowie was the first major artist to convert his entire catalog to the compact disc format in 1985.

    Tony Bennett’s 1987 “The Art Of Excellence” was the first album to be initially released on CD instead of the traditional vinyl format.”

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    Disclosure: The CD-Rs reviewed in this article were received at a discount. I do not receive a commission if you do any business with Record Rescuers.

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