Festive greetings! As that bloke down the street with the herd of National Grid-sapping neon reindeer has been attesting every day since what feels like July, it's Xmas time again!
And whilst we swiftly get some digital snow designed to sit deep, crisp and hopefully even atop our MusicRadar logo, we here at Radar Towers are now firmly partaking of the Xmas spirit - to whit, we give you the inaugural MusicRadar Advent Calendar!
What to expect? A new treat everyday! Sometimes a fun picture like Mr Zappa with some appropriate festive linkage. Sometimes a free MP3 or exclusive competition to win tons of freebies to pass off as Xmas presents. Sometimes a link to a regular feature here on Radar only with a festive bent for the time of year. And sometimes an Xmassy video or song that should get you in the mood for the office party of your dreams/nightmares.
But sadly not chocolate. Sorry.
Actually that was from the track before as Xmas Values is an instrumental as far as we remember but we digress. Plus, it'll be The Pogues and Phil Spector soon. Anyway, get that wine mulled and we'll see you tomorrow!
After yesterday's hairy start to our Advent Calendar, time to give some love to the techier side of MusicRadar. And it doesn't get more techier than 8-bit Christmas.
From the extremely talented Rush Coil, 8-bit Christmas is a free album of festive tunes as interpreted for the chiptune generation. Translated: that's 12 Christmas classics as inspired by old school '80s videogame sounds. X(mas)box 360, if you will.
We've got a full chiptune feature on the way later this month but, until then, feel free to gorge on blip blop versions of Silent Night, Auld Lang Syne, Little Drummer Boy and a jaw-dropping We Three Kings. Bing Crosby it ain't.
Available to stream now and for download later this month, head to 8-bit Christmas now. Trust us, your office needs this.
Here at Radar Towers, we like a lot of stuff. We like Gibson and we like Eigenlabs. We like knackered snares and we like boxfresh samplers. And when it comes to music, we like rock and we like pop. And jazz. And dubstep. And classical and soul and hip-hop and…
Hence our diverse/schizophrenic (delete as applicable) choices for the first and second days of our MusicRadar Advent Calendar and now today's choice - Mr Rainford Hugh Perry, also known as Scratch to his friends.
Anyway, why's Lee 'Scratch' Perry here? Because of a festive freebie by the name of Santa Claus (click here to download the MP3).
Released to celebrate the announcement of Perry's forthcoming USA tour (you must watch this promo video), Santa Claus is a suitably bonkers Perry delight. Produced by Andrew WK (really) and featuring everyone from Moby to the amazing drummer out of Lightning Bolt, Santa Claus originally appeared on last year's Grammy-nominated Repentance. As you'd expect from a Perry-penned Xmas tune, it's mostly about Mickey Mouse and sounds like a trance ragga workout soundtrack. In Rio.
As we said yesterday, Bing Crosby it ain't.
And if you like today's treat, why not try this as well and have yourself a very reggae Christmas. Santa Claus Is Skanking to Town indeed…
It's not a sentence we imagined typing twelve months ago but The Beatles have had an amazing 2009. Remastered boxsets, video games, solo DVDs, signature kit… With all that cash sloshing about, it's unlikely anyone's going short of Christmas presents this year.
Rewind then 42 years to more innocent times and this curio (click here to watch). Released as mail order-only single for fan club members in 1967 and featuring a John and Ringo designed cover, Christmas Time (Is Here Again) is a genuine treat.
The lyrics are loosely based around some imaginary bands turning up at the BBC to audition for a talent show before spiralling into some best wishes from the band and Lennon's Ivor Cutler-alike freeverse poetry but far better than this is the actual music.
Featuring some of Ringo's best drum work, a lovely psychedelic refrain ebbs and flows throughout the song and it's this that has elevated the song above the other throwaway ditties eventually compiled on 1970 fan club album, The Beatles Christmas Album.
A truncated version was eventually released as the B-side to 1995's controversial single Free As A Bird so YouTube is obviously your friend if you want if you want to hear Christmas Time (Is Here Again) as originally intended.
Ringo recorded his own version for 1999 album I Wanna Be Santa Claus while cover versions by REM (for their own fan club single in 2000) and The Smithereens exist.
Our recommendation? Ignore all those, hit that YouTube link, enjoy the one verse career of The Ravellers ("Plenty of jam jars, baby/Plenty of jam jars for you…") and think about putting those wonderful boxsets on your Xmas list. You won't be disappointed.
Not much to say about today's advent treat except that as this year's 20th anniversary reissue of 1989's classic Bleach plus the bittersweet experience that is being able to relive the band's infamous 1992 Reading Festival appearance reminds us, it's just a shame that Nirvana aren't here this Xmas.
To business. This shot of Kurt and Krist wasn't actually taken at Xmas. Rather it was taken in Seattle by photographer Karen Mason Blair on 31st October, 1991. The band had released Nevermind only a month previously but it had already been certified a gold album by the time this photo was taken.
A month later, Nirvana embarked on a European tour and the video for Smells Like Teen Spirit went on constant MTV rotation. As Sonic Youth said in their documentary, this was truly the year that punk rock broke and by January the following year, Nevermind was number one on the Billboard chart.
The rest is history. Xmas isn't exactly celebrated by the band. A bootleg album Christmas in Seattle 1988 (full of Bleach outtakes plus their set from the Sub Pop 200 launch party at the Hollywood Underground Club, Seattle) can be easily hunted down.
However for those starting to think of the tragic events of 1994, maybe the festive thing to do is watch the band sing We Wish You A Merry Christmas in this rare video (click here to watch) - a bizarre but fun promo escapade made even weirder by the band declaring they "love RuPaul".
Enough. Go get a Santa hat, put the records on and sing along. What a band.
For some, Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park is the greatest rock movie in the history of the universe ever. Obviously such people are very wrong in the brain and are only being mentioned as a way for this writer to 'neatly' introduce a more seasonal Kiss movie - Kiss Saves Santa.
The short version: Kiss Saves Santa is the Christmas Special obsessive Kiss fan Peter Griffin wants to watch in A Very Special Family Guy Freakin' Christmas, the 2001 Christmas episode of Family Guy. Unfortunately, it all goes a touch pear shaped for Peter as, to cut a long episode short, Lois goes bonkers.
The long version: Despite its awesome premise (Kiss save Santa from pterodactyls by playing the guitar because the pterodactyls can't stand the noise… YES!), Kiss Saves Santa doesn't actually exist in the real world. Of course, it should do - and what reality won't provide, the internet will. Thus we give you…
Think this is all a bit silly? Over to Gene: "Someone stole Santa? That does not rock! To the Kisscopter!"
As we said on Friday, The Beatles have had an amazing 2009, but not quite as amazing as Brett Domino. From a subversive, Cowell-confounding appearance on Britain’s Got Talent to honouring Michael Jackson better than anyone else and celebrating the release of the Stylophone Beatbox, he’s been there to mark the year’s most important cultural moments.
Imagine our delight, then, when we learned that he’s releasing a Christmas song. Hello Mistletoe (Goodbye Cold Snow) marries themes of deepening sexual frustration to quality keytar riffing (make sure you stay tuned for Domino’s Slash moment at 3:25), and is a genuine festive treat.
You can watch the video for the song by clicking here (it’s available to buy on iTunes) and, as a bonus, there’s also a Hello Mistletoe (Goodbye Cold Snow) remix to download. Marvellous.
Over a nearly 20-year career, Tori Amos has been quite the musical provocateur. Whether she’s covering topics such as feminism, sexuality or personal tragedies or turning heads with idiosyncratic versions of alt-rock anthems like Smells Like Teen Spirit - with a piano as her primary instrument! - her next move is almost impossible to pin down.
Which is just one of the reasons her new disc, Midwinter Graces, is such a delightful surprise. Rather than label it a ‘Christmas record,’ Amos calls it a ‘solstice album.’
But don’t let that fool you - it’s filled with shimmering, soothing Amos originals like A Silent Night With You (watch the video here), custom-made for quiet evenings by the fire, along with ‘Tori-fied’ reworkings of classics like Star Of Wonder (We Three Kings) and What Child, Nowell.
MusicRadar spoke with Tori Amos recently about the making of Widwinter Graces. You can check out our exclusive interview and podcast right here. (Warning to all "Bah! Humbug!" types: she's a charmer.)
Make no bones about it, The Beta Band were amazing. Since their implosion in 2004, frontman Steve Mason has recorded electronica under the King Biscuit Time and Black Affair monikers, but any fans of his former band will be excited to hear that eighteen months ago he decided to pick up a guitar again...
The fruits of Mason's recent songwriting efforts will be available for all to savour in March 2010 when his new LP Boys Outside is released on Richard X's label Black Melody.
But it's Christmas time, there's no need to be afraid. You don't have to wait until March to hear All Come Down from Boys Outside. You can simply download it by clicking here (PC users right-click and Save As...) or check it out in the audio player below:
A reference to a paper tear-style 'tear', not a tear from an eye, not only is Chase The Tear in an extremely good cause but it's a pulsing slice of motorik brilliance right up there with anything off Third.
What to do…
Go here to watch the video
Go here for more information
Go here to buy it from 7digital
Merry Christmas everyone.
Like your good selves, we at MusicRadar love a good Xmas song. The runners, riders and ultimately winners of this year's 25 Best Christmas Songs poll are all at the top of our proverbial playlist when glugging an eggnog and cracking a cracker.
But we also like a weird song. A cult song. A slightly off the ball Xmas tune that makes Lee 'Scratch' Perry's entry into this year's Advent Calendar sound like Band Aid.
And so we give you the motherload - Christmas Party With Eddie G. A long story short: what started out as kitsch mixtapes made by Hollywood comedy writer Eddie Gorodetsky for his pals somehow ended up being released on CD by Columbia back in 1990. Go here for the full story.
Mr And Mrs Santa Claus by George Jones and Tammy Wynette, ska versions of Winter Wonderland, Foghat sounding like crepe cats Mud… The album's riddled with bizarro treats but, despite having enough quality to elevate it above the novelty, the series didn't exactly last as long as Now That's What I Call Music.
It's now a collector's curio and the curious can either pay top dollar on Amazon or resort to an unholy mix of Google, Blogspot and Rapidshare to sample its delights. Whatever your bent, you must listen to I Want To Spend Christmas With Elvis (Heartbreak Noel) by Debbie Dabney. Oh, and then there's…
With the news that she’s to receive the Critics’ Choice prize at the 2010 Brit Awards and a place on the longlist for the BBC’s Sound of 2010, folktronica singer/songwriter Ellie Goulding has already been anointed Next Year’s Big Thing.
There’s no need to wait until the Christmas decorations have come down to hear what she’s about, though - her website is currently offering a free download of the demo version of Wish I Stayed. Give it a go, then when she’s all over the place in 2010, you can sneer dismissively and say that you only liked her (really) early stuff.
Christmas and heavy metal might not usually go hand in hand (what with all the devil worshiping an' all) but today is an exception: the folk over at Blabbermouth are streaming Metal Hammer's new Dimebag Darrell tribute album in its entirety as a special yuletide treat.
Ok, so maybe it isn't actually anything to do with Christmas - but it is free and it is very good. The album is a tribute to the late Pantera and Damageplan legend and features contributions from Machinehead, Zakk Wylde, Avenged Sevenfold, Chimaira and other scarily-named metal titans, all having a stab at covering Dimebag tunes.
MusicRadar users have already selected what they believe to be the 25 best Christmas songs of all time (thanks very much for that), but if you're looking for more festive music - specifically, the kind that you can download for free - fire up your copy of iTunes 9.
Apple is currently giving away what it's calling the iTunes Holiday Sampler, a collection of eight Christmas songs which features (in the UK) the likes of Weezer, Glasvegas, Aretha Franklin and Rascal Flatts. US users get an even better deal, with their Sampler containing a whopping 20 tracks. We're not sure why there's such a disparity but, because it's Christmas, we'll let it go.
Everyone likes a cigar at Christmas, right? And Boxing Day is pretty Christmassy too, yeah? And guitars are…
You can see where we're going with this. Today's entry into the Advent Calendar is yet another offering of free festive tunes, only this time with another thing in common apart from their Christmas bent - they're all made on cigar box guitars, ukuleles, dulcimers and more!
So head to Cigar Box Nation, hit download and prepare for 23 twanging treats including Ice Bob's I Wrecked My Car At Christmas, John McNair's Biker Santa plus versions of Away In A Manger, Little Drummer Boy and Silent Night like you've never heard before.
MusicRadar likes to take a drink at Christmas, and if that drink also pays homage to a piece of music technology hardware, so much the better.
You may recall that, in 2008, Focusrite/Novation cooked up a cheeky little Ableton Live beer. To celebrate this year’s festive season, it’s gone back into the brewery and come up with a special tipple that celebrates its Launchpad control surface.
“Give your mouse a break this Christmas,” says the label, as two Santa hat wearing rodents dance across a Launchpad that’s as well-lit as any tree you’ll see this year. It’s all very nice.
Sadly, this seasonal ale isn’t available to buy in the shops, so you’ll have to settle for looking at the bottle. Rest assured though that, when we drink it, we’ll be thinking of you.
Second off - watch this YouTube clip and then tell us you don't want this sweet guitar gaming set-up on your house. In a nutshell, possibly The World's Coolest Dad has hardwired in Guitar Hero into his Christmas lights for his son.
You can read the full story over at MAKE but the gist is that engineer Ric Turner used the Wii version of the game and seven light controllers to control 21,268 lights and LEDs. Using Guitar Hero to control Christmas lights has been around for a while (check this Engadget story from 2007) but never with this much… well, light.
Result? A respectable score for Ric's son on Eric Johnson's Cliffs Of Dover, even if (as a passing Radar cynic noted) the song is on Easy mode. Humbug.
Of course, rigging up Christmas lights to sync with songs is old hat to Mr YouTube. Once you've had your fill of Christmas Guitar Hero, have fun with the below festive half dozen. And we're sorry for the last one…
Wizards in Winter - The Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Amazing Grace (the Techno version)
Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley
Sandstorm - DaRude
Jingle Bells - Crazy Frog (and again, we're really very sorry)
...At which point we end the rubbish cash/Cash 'jokes' and tell you about what must be the perfect Christmas present for the music fan in your life - the Johnny Cash 'I Walk The Line' pillow.
First, a message from the makers. Fine Cell Work is a social enterprise that teaches needlework to prison inmates and sells their products. Their mission is to rehabilitate prisoners by giving them the opportunity to earn and save money and the chance to rebuild their lives. 80% of the stitchers are men and the prisoners do the work when they are locked in their cells. Fine Cell Work is now done in 26 prisons and in 2008, 403 fine cell workers earned a total of £61,890.
The Fine Cell Work website has plenty of fantastic designs and products but coolest of all has got to be this cushion. The design speaks for itself - surface embroidery in metallic thread of a rather poignant lyric from freight train classic, I Walk The Line.
Given Cash's well-documented compassion for prison inmates, we think The Man In Black would surely approve - and so do customers as the cushion is virtually sold out. Still looking for a Xmas present for that special someone? You know what to do.
Its sounds might not be particularly festive, but Native Instruments’ Holiday Selection 2009 is a Christmas treat nonetheless.
Designed to be used with Kore 2 and the freely downloadable Kore Player instrument, this features 45 KoreSounds, each of which has eight morphable Sound Variations. It’s Mac- and PC-compatible, so everyone can join in the fun.
Finally, it's Christmas week so time to break out the big guns - and they don't come much bigger (or, unfortunately, much gunnier) than A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector.
34 minutes and 12 seconds of Wall of Sound bliss, we're sure you know every note of the album by now. Instead, here's six festive facts you can pull out next time someone starts talking about the album. And they will.
1. The original title was A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records. It was released as Philles 4005 in 1963 on Philles Records, the record label formed two years earlier by Phil Spector and partner Lester Sill. Nine years later, it was released on Apple Records with different cover art and retitled Phil Spector's Christmas Album.
2. The original release went to number 13. The reissue however made it to number six. One of the reasons for the original's failure was it was released on 22nd November 1963, the same day as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
3. It's Brian Wilson's favourite album of all time.
4. Percussion on the album is credited to one Sonny Bono. This was two years before his only solo hit (Laugh At Me) and three years before I Got You, Babe with the lovely Cher. In the early Sixties, Sonny was employed as a promotion man, percussionist and gofer for Philles Records.
5. Over on drums was Hal Blaine. It would take a separate website to give suitable props to Blaine but here are just six records he's worked on: Strangers in the Night with Frank Sinatra; Can't Help Falling in Love with Elvis Presley; Good Vibrations with The Beach Boys; Bridge Over Troubled Water with Simon & Garfunkel; Mr Tambourine Man with The Byrds; and, back in Spectorland, Be My Baby with The Ronettes. Bloody hell.
6. Finally, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) was written by Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry and Phil Spector and sung by Darlene Love. The song was originally written with Ronnie Spector in mind but according to Darlene Love, Spector was not able to put as much emotion into the song as needed.
In July (July!) 1987, U2 became the gazillionth band to cover the song when they recorded it during a soundcheck at the Glasgow date on their Joshua Tree Tour. This version was eventually released in 1987 on U2's A Very Special Christmas.
Nice effort lads, but we'll stick with the original.
Whether your choice of festive feet-up reading is the TV Guide or the Radio Times, the first thing any self-respecting music fan does when sat slumped with his/her favourite TV listings guide is see what music goodness can be gleaned from this yuletide.
Or make that did.
Today's world of iPlayer, RapidShare and YouTube means the above activity isn't quite the surprise selector of random musical treats it once was.
Where previously a muso's heart would skip a beat when learning of the Boxing Day showing of that episode of The Muppets with Debbie Harry on it, today you can download that and pretty much anything else when you want and on what gadget you want.
So today's Advent Calendar entry is a blend of the above two scenarios - the nostalgiathon that is the 'special Christmas episode' of your favourite TV show and the future proof easy access of the YouTube clip which means you can watch whatever the hell you want.
So happy viewing - and remember, touch that dial whenever you want.
- The Monkees Christmas Episode (1967)
- Johnny Cash Christmas Special (1977) feat. Roy Orbison and Andy Kaufman!
- Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978)
- Pee Wee's Playhouse - Christmas Special feat. Grace Jones and Little Richard!
- Sesame Street Christmas featuring Michael Jackson!
- A Solid Gold Christmas (1982) featuring Sister Sledge and Alvin and the Chipmunks!
- The Carpenters Christmas Special (1977)
- The Star Wars Holiday Special w/original ads (1978) (hey, it's got Jefferson Starship in it)
- Johnny Cash's Country Christmas (1976)
And finally from 1965, The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood featuring Vic Damone and Liza Minnelli with - steady… - Eric Burdon and The Animals. You have to watch this.
We know what you’re thinking: ‘I’ve got loads of Christmas cards, but I’m a bit disappointed that I haven’t heard anything from zany new-wavers Devo yet’.
Fear not, though, for the band have posted their festive greeting as a YouTube video: Merry Something To You. As its name suggests, this is a song that doesn’t specifically reference Christmas, preferring to let you decide what, if anything, it is that you’re celebrating at this time of year.
It’s probably a little late to start working on a Christmas single for this year, but if you want to get a headstart on everyone who’s planning a festive song for 2010, Peace Love Productions will sort you out with those all-important sleigh bells.
The company’s Sleigh Bell Loops & Samples pack is currently being offered as a free download, and features whole, half, quarter and eight note performances. Both mono and multi-tracked stereo loops are included, and each has been ACIDized, Apple-looped and ReCycled.
Johnny Marks was arguably the greatest writer of Christmas songs in history, having penned not only Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but also Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day and Run Rudolph Run.
chronic.robotosis acknowledges another of his standards, Holly Jolly Christmas, while also honouring acclaimed amateur film maker Sid Laverents, who died this year aged 100 (in particular, his Christmas spectacular Multiple SIDosis).
Most importantly, though, it features a singing, vocoded robot, which is just about the perfect thing to see you into Christmas Day.
From all at MusicRadar, have a good one.
As we bring our Advent Calendar to a close (and thanks to all who stuck with our somewhat random journey), we thought we'd leave you with possibly the most Christmassy image we found on our trawl of the photo libraries of the planet. As anyone else sat in front of BBC2 at 2.15pm BST this afternoon (this ain't no pre-record, you know - it's live!), there's no need for a write-up. Christmas bliss.
So that leaves us with nothing more to say than Merry Christmas to you all. 2009 has been an absolutely massive year for MusicRadar. We've made lots of changes to the site, both technical and creative, and our traffic figures show that not only do you like what you read but that there are more of you here than ever before!
Page impressions (just one of the ways we measure this stuff) have tripled from just over 1,000,000 twelve months ago to well over 3,000,000 (!) whilst unique visitors have similarly skyrocketed. From all of us here at MusicRadar, we humbly thank you for your loyal support and hope we can keep delivering through next year and beyond.
Did anyone say NAMM 2010?
Mike Goldsmith, Editor-in-Chief