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Saturday, 15 December 2018


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I vividly remember seeing Little Village, the John Hiatt/Nick Lowe/Ry Cooder/Jim Keltner supergroup, back in 1992 at the Crystal Palace Bowl in London.

Hiatt introduced a song -- Fool Who Knows, on which Lowe sings the lead vocal -- by talking about the already-white-haired Lowe saying something along the lines of "don't be fooled, underneath that youthful exterior beats the heart of a much older gentleman".

The Little Village album is fine work, I think, and What's So Funny... is one of the great protest songs, but I still think Lowe's finest work is The Beast In Me, the song Cash made famous. It may be sacrilege to say this on a blog with many US readers but this Brit thinks Lowe's recording of it (on The Impossible Bird) is demonstrably better.

(Said album also features a top-notch rendering of the Frazier-Owens gem, True Love Travels On A Gravel Road.)

Over the years we have accumulated a few Christmas albums. Some have aged better than others. They occupy a segment in our changer and there are a few that I really look forward to hearing when I hit Xmas random on the control panel. Others not so much. Three that have become favorites include Oscar Peterson Christmas, Christmas Time in Harlem by Louis Armstrong and if you can find it, the Brave Combo Christmas album.
The season would not be complete without their rendition of Santa’s Polka.

[Wow, that Oscar Peterson album is *beautiful*. But then, I would think so....

BTW, did you know Oscar used to read this blog? He was a photography enthusiast too. MR interviewed him for L-L. --Mike]

A few years ago, I’d guess 2013 Nick performed at the WFUV Holiday Cheer show. I photograph that show each year. The Beacon Theatre is the venue every year. The house band that night was Calexico and Nick was joined by Kathleen Edwards and Iron and Wine each doing a set. Nick performed songs from your favorite Christmas album as well as his hits. Great show. He’s a very cool and approachable guy.

"I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass"


I have had "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" in my head since I first read this a few hours ago. It is only 1140am and a full day to go. Thank you, Mike.

[The cure for earworm: Remember the old commercials that went, "Byyyyyyy...MENNEN"? Repeat that in your head several times and the earworm will go away.


Tip from Amy Sedaris. It works for me...also, sorry to do that to you! --Mike]

In Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man the main character needed to learn a "Pepsi" (the novel's name for jingles &/or earworms) to block his mind from being read. Sixty years this has been with me:

" Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tension, apprehension,
And dissension have begun"

(Does the Pepsi jingle from back then need repeating?)

Try Bruce Cockburn's record just called "Christmas". Sung like he believes it.

The later "Party of One" from 1990, his last true pop record, is fully the equal of his early discs. That shift to his current laid back style may have been brave, but it was also bankrolled by a bad cover of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" used on the soundtrack of the bad movie "The Bodyguard." It made him a millionaire.

Personally I always find it a good occasion to play Bach’s Weihnachtsoratorium. Loud!
There is a lot of high quality classical music related to the birth of Christ. Händel, Berlioz, Britten…

I have a friend who runs a record shop. Jazz, Blues, Soul and the better kind of Rock Music. At this time of the year he always presents a box full of Christmas albums. There are a lot of them as you also can read in this article from The Guardian.

If you don’t want a holy Christmas but just a cheerful party with family and friends I recommend A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector, alias the Devil himself.

Quality Street is a brand of assorted chocolates and toffees that is a popular treat in the UK for kids and families, especially around Christmastime.

Wikipedia explains:

MacKintosh ensured the chocolate aroma burst out as soon as it was opened and the different textures, colours, shapes and sizes of the sweets made opening the tin and consuming its contents a noisy, vibrant experience that the whole family could enjoy.



A lot like clicking on the link and seeing what's new at TOP!

This thread also reminded me of the Oscar Peterson album, which I lost a few years ago. Perhaps it is on Spotify. I'm in awe that the mighty Oscar Peterson used to read TOP! Suddenly, a distant and titanic figure is revealed to have been doing, as a pastime what I've been doing. I feel sort of humbled.

Lastly, "Cruel to Be Kind" is, in my humble opinion, perhaps the most perfect pop song to come out of the second British invasion of the early 1980s.


Thank you for the recommendation, Mike. I will listen to Quality Street tonight.

Over here, this gets played a lot around the house at this time of year.


A Very Merry Christmas to you!

Ever since I worked in retail as a young fella during school and university holidays, Christmas music has been ruined for me. The particular chain I worked for had licensed 3 Christmas albums. And they played those same albums every year I worked for them (about 5 or 6) on rotation, all day, every day, throughout December, until the big day.
At the risk of causing TOP readers to snort/spew their morning beverages, on the other hand, my wife is an unrepentant fan of Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas album. At least she has the decency to play the album upon select occasions, and I can’t deny her the joy it brings her.

Never liked X'mas music, period.

Nick's Long Limbed Girl is a particularly apt, heartbreaking number for a retired fashion/calendar photographer to contemplate. Especially so around Christmas, when you're living alone and, if it's sunny, no amount of heating keeps the inside of your Mediterranean apartment as warm as the day outside, the product of architects who pretend the Med basks in perpetual summer, and use hollow blocks with which to build your home. At night, it's even worse.

Insulation? What's that, amigo?

Buy hey, white or not, he still appears to have hair: it could be worse!


My current favourite Christmas album is this.

But then, even my friends think I am a little odd...

Thanks for this. I had almost forgotten about Nick Lowe. He was one of the people responsible for getting me through high schmo by way of Brinsley Schwarz. This piece caused me to revisit them, good memories, all!

You could always switch to “Gradpa’s gonna sue the pants off of Santa” or “Grandma Killer Fruitcake.” Both by Dr Elmo.

Could easily do without any of the music but not without my favorite Christmas movie: DIE HARD.
Selfless giving and helping people in the true spirit of Christmas...

Saw Nick Lowe at a pub in London when he was in Brinsley Schwarz. They played the songs from their just- released "Nervous On The Road", great album. Nick wrote most of it.

The friend who had brought me there explained that the local etiquette was that the pub patrons bought beers for the musicians during their break between sets, and I soon found myself sitting across the table from Nick. My memory is of an unassuming gentleman with a very quick, but gentle, wit. I remember laughing a lot.

Mike, you forgot to mention that Nick Lowe produced the early (and best) Elvis Costello albums.

Several months ago I went to the last survivor of the several camera shows that we used to have here in the LA area. The old shows used to fill large auditoriums, the current one is one small room and a larger one. Rather depressing, but you take what you can get. And Elvis Costello was there.

Ze Records bought out A Christmas Album in 1981. My favourite track on it is Christmas Wrapping by the Waitresses. It's joyous.

River by Joni Mitchell is a different take on the festive season but I love it.

I agree with all that Mani wrote about Quality Street chocolates.


every time the question 'which is your favourite?' comes up it causes almost as much discussion and fervour as Brexit.

By the way the answer is the old purple one! anyone who says different is just wrong!

It should be noted that the purple one changed from a brazil nut centre to a hazelnut many years ago, about the time of the decline of British Empire, and some say there may be a connection.

if you have amazon prime , well I'll just leave this here:

Hark is a real coffee spitter as they say.

I totally agree with Cockburn's "Christmas". You might also want to try Emmylou Harris' "Light of the Stable" which includes Neil Young(!), Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals.

If "Die hard" is a Christmas movie, then "The Thin Man" is too*.

*"You have to keep [your Christmas present], the man at the aquarium said I couldn't bring it back."

A great post about a wonderful musician and songwriter. Nick Lowe is a gent. On YouTube you can see his fabulous performance a few years ago on Letterman, performing 'Children, Go Where I Send Thee' in rockabilly style with a superb band. He looks like Buddy Holly would have done had he reached his mid-60s.

Love the post. A couple things to add;

1) Drummer Jon Wurster loves to post every December "Those Christmas albums you love so much; they were recorded in July by musicians wearing shorts and sandals"

2)My favorite Christmas record happens to be by a little known band out of Philadelphia called Marah. Their piece de resistance was an album called "Kids in Philly". Think Randy Newman leading The Replacements covering Springsteen's 2nd album. Their Christmas album is called "A Chrstmas Kind of Town" also distributed by Yep Roc.

3) It was just announced that Nick Lowe is getting a proper biography released in March titled "Cruel To Be Kind: The Life & Music of Nick Lowe" by Will Birch

4) Always loved the story that in the early 90's when Nick Lowe seemed to be at his lowest, Curtis Stigers covered "What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding" for a little soundtrack called "The Bodyguard". 9 months later, songwriter Nick Lowe goes to mailbox and there sits a check for $1 million dollars. It pays to do good work.

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