Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – Christmas Playlist Part One

Shanghai Aug 2012When did it start so damn early? This year the cards were up at the local Hallmark in early October and the shelves were being racked in Shopper’s the day after Thanksgiving. Well before the little ghosts and goblins paraded up and down the street we were inundated with the onslaught of Christmas, spending and greed. Stations have flipped to “Holiday” music and the TV spots bombard us with what we have to have. Ones that irk me this year are the “I Want It” campaign from The Source (hey I want I lot of things as well but most of them I don’t have to pay for), the whole Canadian Tire series (they are not funny and we all know the Canadian Tire guy is the Tim Horton’s guy from last year who misses his Mommy because of Timmy’s lasagna – you’re a donut place by the way) and the new Leon’s annoying couple commercials. I believe you’re a couple as much as I believe I need a blow dryer from Wal-Mart this Christmas.

The pressure builds for months and frankly it becomes a little too much to bear. As we get older most of our families grow, fracture, expand and shrink TWO AND A HALF MENsimultaneously.  People come and go from our lives and it seems that every family dinner has a different cast of characters. When you sit down this Christmas (sorry it will always be Christmas to me) look around the table and be thankful  that you were invited to spend time with people who love you and think a kind thought for those who  are missing this year. It’s not about the presents, it’s about the presence.

carpenterYears ago I made a Christmas compilation for the friends and family “Jesus Was A Carpenter” featuring the songs that meant the most to me. Looking back on the decade old mix it is surprising how few new songs I would add to the collection. Even though we are bombarded by new Jesus was a Carpenterlabel compilations and quickly cobbled together “superstar” Christmas collections very few of these new versions will resonate for long. Most of you will be sick of the songs on my list but for reasons that are strictly personal these are the songs that mean the most to me. Here is part one.

Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy – David Bowie & Bing Crosby

How we waited to see out hero David Bowie on “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas” in 1977. Der Bingle had just passed away in October of 1977 and the special aired after his death on November 30th. With such limited television access to our musical gods back in the seventies this was a major event. We knew our Mom’s would watch to see what this David Bowie character was all about and why we spent so much time listening to him.  At this point in his career Bowie was knee-deep in his brilliant German trilogy “Heroes”, “Low” and “Lodger”. His look with pretty clean cut and his crucifix was pretty prominent on the TV special. He drops by the home of his neighbour “Sir Percival” to see if he can play a tune or two on his piano. Upon arrival he discovers Sir Percival’s American relative Bing. The spoken word preamble to the song is almost as good as the duet as Bowie speaks of listening to the classics by John Lennon and Harry Nilsson and of being the father of a six year old son. The two then perform a quiet but stunning duet of “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy”. It still sounds wonderful today at 53 as it did to an 18 year old Bowie fanatic. I pulled the 7” vinyl out to have a look and noticed that the spelling of the TV special is wrong on the cover with Merrie spelled as Merry, and, as I couldn’t remember, the flip side of the release I have (RCA PH-13400) was “Fantastic Voyage” from Bowie’s album “Lodger”. The 45 was also in mono and was the truncated 2:32 version which does not include the essential preamble.  Of course you can’t mention Christmas singles without giving a nod of the stocking cap to Bing himself for the biggest selling Christmas single of all time with “White Christmas” the classic made its first film appearance in 1942’s feel good “Holiday Inn”.

Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses

This one still brings a tear to my eyes for a couple of reasons. I remember hearing it on CFNY on Christmas Eve day while driving back from a friend’s farm after taking them to be with their family for Christmas. I was feeling sorry for myself as it was going to be my first Christmas not being with my wife and kids and I was very out of sorts. I was also very lucky to have known and worked with Patty Donahue the singer for the Waitresses. We lost Patty in 1996 to cancer and when that song came on the radio the waterworks started.

I was a fan of the Waitresses before Patty and I worked for MCA Music Publishing. I first became aware of the band on the 1978 Stiff Records “Akron Compilation”. Featuring such Akron, Ohio bands as The Waitresses, Jane Aire, Rachel Sweet, The Bizarros and Tin Huey, the hip English label was looking to gain a foothold in North America and picked Akron as their Liverpool. One of the interesting things about the compilation was that if you scratched the tire logo on the cover it was scented to smell like burnt rubber. Akron was the tire capital of North America.  In 1982 a television show called “Square Pegs” debuted on network TV. Based on the life of eight freshmen at Weemawee High the show was created by fabled Saturday Night Live writer Anne Beatts. The show starred Sarah Jessica Parker and also showcased the talents of Jami Gertz and Tracy Nelson.  New wave was in vogue when the series debuted and one of the characters. Johnny Slash was often mistaken for a punk to which he would retort that new wave “is a totally different headspace…totally”. Lasting for a mere 20 episodes the show featured cameos from The Waitresses, Devo, The Door’s John Denismore and Bill Murray and featured some pretty damn cool music for network television. The Waitresses performed the theme song and then appeared as themselves on the show’s pilot performing their classic “I Know What Boys Like”.  Also featured on an episode was their now classic “Christmas Wrapping” which was originally released on a Ze Records compilation in 1981.

Patty and I certainly shared the same sense of humour, and her sense of humour was more than evident in her music and in her life. We always hung out at conventions together along with our boss John Alexander and the three of us were responsible for most of the hi-jinks that went on after hours. From “girl drink drunks” by the pool on Coronado Island to having an armed limo driver at our beck and call in Arizona we always had a good time. One of Bonaducemy favourite nights was at the Universal Records Grammy party in New York in 1994. Along with musician/songwriter Mark Hudson and Alanis we spent the evening hunting down and chatting up the likes of Liza Minnelli, Boy George, Steven Tyler, Spike Lee, The Beastie Boys and, best of all, Danny Bonaduce.

Every time I hear “Christmas Wrapping” I think of Patty and I am thankful that I got to know her.

Next week we will delve a little deeper down the Christmas playlist.

Good times last Friday night at the Spoons and Images In Vogue show at The Revival in Toronto. The place was packed to the rafters and both bands played and sounded great. It was nice to Image members Gary Blair Smith and Joe Vizvary who flew in from Vancouver to perform at the show. The crowd also got to see the four members of The Spoons who recorded “Arias & Symphonies” perform together for the first time in 29 years as both keyboardist Rob Preuss (who now resides in New York) and drummer Derrick Ross both joined Sandy Horne and Gord Deppe on stage for some of Macrae, Carpenter, Punter 001the Spoons greatest hits. Aria`s producer John Punter came to Toronto for the show and it was like a high school reunion for both the band and their former record company Ready Records as both Ready founder Andy Crosbie and former Quality Records staffer Larry Macrae were In attendance. You can read the whole story of the making of the album in the liner notes (which I wrote) on the 30th anniversary package of “Arias &Symphonies” which is available at iTunes, on-line, and, if you can find one, your local record shop.

Our artist Morgan Cameron Ross is releasing his new five song EP “Bathurst & College” on 12-12-12 and you can pre-order on his website at As Nadia pointed out yesterday none of us get paid to write these columns so any support is more than welcome. You may remember Morgan from his former band Birds Of Wales.

Also worth checking out (and free) is the new Holiday Sampler from Dine Alone Records. Great music from Alexisonfire, .moneen., Yukon Blonde, Kate Nash, Deer Tick, Marilyn Manson, The Lumineers and many more. Details at

Larry LeBlancFinally congratulations to Ralph James on his induction of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and Larry LeBlanc on being honoured with the Walt Grealis Award. Ralph will be honoured at Canadian Music Week 2013 and Larry will receive his award at the 2013 Juno Awards. I have learned a lot from both of these men and I am proud to call them both friends.

Cam’s column appears every Thursday.

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DBAWIS ButtonCameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY, New Canadian Music and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

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