A handful of seasonal releases come under the groove microscope of our resident archivist
Two of my favourite Christmas records both happen to be compilations, and they’re both from the early 1980s.
The first one is ‘Chantons Noel, Ghosts Of Christmas Past’, which was released on Les Disques Du Crépuscule. Not of all it is electronic, but about 80 per cent of it is. Aztec Camera are on it, for example, but I bought it in 1981 when it came out because there was a Cabaret Voltaire song on it you couldn’t get anywhere else, ‘Invocation’. It was the last thing Chris Watson did with them. It’s pretty weird for a Christmas album, it’s an anti-Christmas album, really. They re-released the following year with more tracks, and again in 1988 with even more, but no Cabaret Voltaire. And then in 2015 they released ‘Ghosts Of Christmas Past (Remake)’ double CD which has 35 tracks, and this year a version of ‘Remake’ has been released for the first time on vinyl. It’s a seasonal favourite!
My other favourite is ‘A Christmas Record’, a compilation put together by the New York label Ze. Ze released lot of no wave stuff in the late 1970s, as well as Suicide, Kid Creole & The Coconuts, Was (Not Was) and The Waitresses, whose hit ‘Christmas Wrapping’ came from this album. Cristina, NYC new wave scenester, is on the album. Her song is ‘Things Fall Apart’, which has a really weird, anti-Christmas feel. She did a cover of ‘Is That All There Is’, which Peggy Lee made famous. Her version changed the lyrics, and the composers Lieber and Stoller hated it so much they sued and got it withdrawn.
The Was (Not Was) track is called ‘Christmas Time In Motor City’, and the lyrics are all about a down and out Santa Claus in Detroit at three in the morning in some diner. The Suicide track is ‘Hey The Lord’, and Alan Vega does ‘No More Christmas Blues’.
I love these two albums, there haven’t really been any similarly left field Christmas albums since, apart from the reissues that is.
I did a Christmas album myself back in 1999, actually. ‘Tino’s Breaks Volume 3: Christmas’, which was part of the Tino series of releases. There were four tracks on one side and 20 minutes of solid scratch tracks on the other side. We did a few thousand on green vinyl and re-released it on red vinyl the following year. I used a sample I liked from the Crépuscule album, which brings that full circle.
Finally, you probably wouldn’t think that the world of academic avant-garde electronic music would have produced a Christmas record, but you’d be wrong. In 1967, Olivetti in association with General Electric commissioned Pietro Grossi to create a seven-inch vinyl Christmas record in a gatefold sleeve for them to give to their workforce and other people. The sleeve is a colour image of a snowflake made from circuit board detail.
On the inside sleeve it says, ’Merry Christmas 1967 and Happy New Year’ and ‘This recorded music was played by the central processor unit of a GE-115 computer, with the aid of programs specially studied in cooperation with the Studio di Fonologia Musicale of Florence’.
The music is JS Bach, Paganini on side one, then original compositions on the other. Pietro Grossi isn’t credited on the record, but he was one of Italy’s most important electronic music pioneers.