Christmas in the City

I busted out the Christmas library last Sunday. (We steadfastly avoid Christmas music in this house before Thanksgiving.) The laptop stash has about 1,000 songs, many ripped from CDs but others harvested in the wilds of the Internet, back when the Internet was rich with that sort of thing.

On the subject of the Internet being not so rich with that sort of thing anymore, there was a roundtable in the Awl this week titled “The Rise and Fall of the Obscure Music Download Blog,” which pegs the heyday of the period it discusses from 2004 to 2008. My two cents in addition is that while music download blogs may have become less popular a few years ago, the web remained a fertile source of free-but-dubiously-moral downloads until Megaupload was taken down last January. That caused a lot of websites to run for cover, either becoming by-invitation-only or going dark altogether. Small as this site is, I didn’t feel the need to do either, but over the last couple of years I haven’t posted mp3s with anything like the frequency I did a few years ago. I count only three in 2012 so far, and two of those were airchecks.

But I digress.

Given that it’s Friday and we frequently write about five of something on Fridays, here are five Christmas tunes that have popped up on shuffle this week.

“Merry Xmas Song”/Pink Floyd. In Floyd World, “Merry Xmas Song” is apparently quite a famous rarity, a goof recorded during a 1975 radio broadcast. It’s notable for being one of the few Nick Mason vocals the band ever recorded, but other than that, it’s pretty much worthless.

“Drummer Boy”/George Conedy. I’ve had the album Merry Soul Christmas in my library for several Christmases now, but I don’t know any more about it, or about Conedy himself, than I did when I first got it, and neither does anybody else. It’s a warm and soulful organ jazz record that puts me in mind of Booker T. and the MGs.

“Christmas in the City”/Marvin Gaye. The list of major Motown acts that didn’t make Christmas albums is a small one. The Four Tops didn’t—not until 1995, anyhow. Neither did Marvin Gaye, although he cut four Christmas tracks that were eventually released on a 1993 compilation called Christmas in the City. “Christmas in the City” is an instrumental that’s not especially Christmassy, but given how rare it is, it’s probably worth a listen.

“O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”/Edison Mixed Quartet. A few years ago I found a compilation of Christmas cylinders recorded between 1904 and 1929. I ended up deleting most of them, some because the sound quality was awful, and some because the musical stylings of the pre-1920 Pioneer Era of Recording don’t always sit well. But these two are quite lovely, despite their highly mannered and theatrical style. “Hark” dates back to 1912, “Faithful” to 1914.

Precisely who the members of the Edison Mixed Quartet are, we can’t be sure, although we can guess that some of them were stars of the Edison stable, or would become stars when they recorded under their own names. For classical and Christmas music, the titles of pieces and/or names of the composers would have been more important than the names of the artists. Thomas Edison’s name on the records was a sufficient guarantee of quality to record buyers of a century ago.

If you had said to the singers on the day of recording that what they were doing would last 100 years, I expect that they may have acknowledged the possibility while at the same time dismissing its likelihood. But against the odds, here, in a world they could not have imagined, their music still exists. We should all be so lucky 100 years from now.

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