As you may have heard, this year marks the 25th anniversary of Robert Drake’s holiday marathon: The Night Before on XPN. To celebrate, our resident Kringle is pushing the limits of endurance radio by adding an extra hour to his now-standard 24. Despite occupying more airtime than little Ralphie and that leg lamp this year, you might be surprised to learn that there are still plenty of musical confections that Robert simply doesn’t have time to play during The Night Before. Between the special features, holiday greetings and oft-requested tunes, countless recordings are left on the cutting room floor. But not anymore.
While planning out this milestone show, Robert approached me to help him take advantage of the late-night hours immediately following the Night Before. Though my truest love for holiday music belongs to the sounds of Halloween, Robert and I share an affinity for the more head-scratching offerings of the Christmas season. This year, we present Merry Fringemas: a three-hour dive into the forgotten corners of holiday music. You’ll hear the full show starting at 1am Christmas morning, right after Robert’s 25th hour of The Night Before. Here are a few of the oddities you’ll enjoy/endure:
Paul Revere and the Raiders – “Wear A Smile At Christmas”
Best known for their early songs like “Kicks” and their chart-topping “Indian Reservation,” Paul Revere and the Raiders released a real humbug of a Christmas album in 1967. Perhaps inspired by politically-minded sad-sack John D. Loudermilk (who wrote many of the Raiders’ hits) A Christmas Present… and Past takes everyone to task for their enjoyment of the season.
Phil Spector – “Silent Night”
I’m quick to cite A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, otherwise known as the Phil Spector Christmas Album, as one of my all-time favorite recordings (holiday music or otherwise). Despite this, I almost always lift the needle before this final track, where the troubled producer (and convicted murderer) himself delivers a spoken-word thank you message to the participating bands. The fact that this album was originally released on the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination gives the message a haunting weight.
Heather Noel – “Santa Came On A Nuclear Missile”
The centerpiece of our Merry Fringemas special is a journey into the weird and wonderful world of Christmas-themed “song poems.” Collected by the fine folks at Bar/None Records, these slices of outsider Americana are unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. In a nutshell, aspiring songwriters were effectively conned into sending their music-less lyrics to be recorded by no-name session musicians, usually in just one take. The results are nothing short of astounding.
Joseph Spence – “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”
Credit where credit it’s due: I first learned of this recording from our Folk Show host emeritus, Gene Shay. Blues musician Joseph Spence was a truly unique spirit; inventing his own picking style, using unconventional guitar tuning and, best of all, forgoing traditional singing in favor of impassioned grunts. The melody and (some of) the lyrics are in there somewhere, but this is a classic completely transformed.
Sparks – “Christmas Without A Prayer”
Just to prove that outsider Christmas music is still alive and well, here’s a song from just a few years ago by the cult pop duo Sparks. Brothers Russell and Ron Mael have been making all kinds of music together since the late ’60s, and this isn’t even their only holiday-themed song! It’s no wonder they’re my favorite band (and a favorite of Robert’s, too).
Hear these and much, much more from the cutting room floor of The Night Before on Merry Fringemas at 1am ET Christmas morning on XPN!
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