CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #1: “Jingle Cats”
Okay…here’s the deal. I’m really not sure if anyone out there was anxiously waiting for this or not. But here it is.
THE THIRD INSTALLMENT OF THE CHRISTMAS CLASSICS COUNTDOWN!
Er…make that “Calendar,” since, as faithful reader Tim Planert pointed out, I always count up.
So, I know every time I say that something is going to be a “short post,” it inevitably turns out to be longer than any which has come before. That said, this month’s posts are likely going to be considerably shorter than other Holiday-themed “Countdown” selections of the past.
1. The “100 Film Favorites” Countdown is STILL ongoing. I promise entries #2, #1, and a special “honorable mentions” post are on their way.
2. I’ve got another, similar project to the Film Favorites Countdown in the works, which I am excited to tell you more about soon.
3.I’m ashamed to admit it, but…I’m kinda scraping the bottom of the barrel. At least in terms of the strict criteria I’ve held myself to in the past (selections must be songs or poems taken from a Christmas-themed film or television special), I couldn’t magic up 25 unique selections at a moment’s notice without “double-dipping” (using other songs from specials I’ve already talked about).
Therefore, I have decided to take inspiration from this October’s “Creepy Classic Countdown,” in which I highlighted all varieties of spooky media. All throughout December, I’ll be linking to an assortment of Christmas music, including songs without video accompaniment and even YouTube covers of classic carols. I will talk about books, TV episodes, and other assorted Yuletide media.
Hopefully none of you are too distraught that I’m bending my traditional rules.
In spite of all this rule-bending, we start off today with a selection which WOULD have fit the original criteria. It’s “Jingle Cats,” a compilation of “carols” cobbled together entirely from the pitch-shifted meowing of the feline multitudes.
Producer Mike Spalla created the first Jingle Cats recordings in the early 90s, and his first few albums proved wildly successful (at least for novelty recordings consisting solely of animal noises). The Jingle Cats franchise even expanded into new territory with the release of “Jingle Dogs” and “Jingle Babies” albums…but even this failed to restore the brand’s lost novelty. Spalla rolls with the punches, though: the latest Jingle Cats album was released in 2009.
From what I have been able to find, the video I’ve linked today (yes, an ENTIRE HALF-HOUR of Jingle Cats tunes – featuring real live kitties surrounded by “Tim and Eric”-style psychedelic video effects) was released in 1998, when the Jingle Cats were truly at the height of their career.
I’m gonna be straight with you here: I was unable to watch the whole thing.
I’ve watched “Manos” without the MST3K commentary, multiple times.
I’ve watched 1970’s “Dracula vs. Frankenstein”
I’ve even sat through “The Rescue of Pops Ghostly.”
But “Jingle Cats” has bested me. If you do set out to watch the whole half-hour, good luck.
You’ll need it.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #2: “Christmas Carol Caption Fail” by Rhett & Link
In order to catch up with the ACTUAL calendar, here’s entry 2, only slightly late! It’s quickly become one of my favorite Christmas-themed YouTube videos.
Rhett and Link, a pair of self-proclaimed “internetainers” from North Carolina, have taken the web by storm in recent years. I’ve been following the duo since 2008, when they were slightly-less-mainstream then they are now. That means I’m a better person than anyone who has come to appreciate their songs and videos at any subsequent point in time.
Just wanted to make that clear.
One of Rhett & Link’s most popular series is entitled “Caption Fail.” These videos are the aftermath of a convoluted process: First, the two men recite a script they’ve prepared, then upload that video to YouTube. Next, they transcribe what YouTube’s notoriously inept automatic captioning tool THINKS they said in the video. They record themselves acting out the same scene with the new “caption fail” dialogue, and then upload the new video. Then the whole thing happens AGAIN. The end result is hilariously nonsensical banter, and the speed and accuracy with which Rhett & Link are able to recite it provide much of the videos’ humor.
Now, watch as Rhett & Link apply their “Caption Fail” algorithm to some time-honored holiday tunes.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #3: “Christmastime” by Michael W. Smith
Ah, back on track! I proudly present this, the third post, on the honest-to-goodness THIRD of December.
So you know how I promised short entries? Well, here’s one for real.
“Christmastime” is a 1998 song by Christian music artist Michael W. Smith. Smith is one of the most prominent and popular performers on the Christian music scene…meaning he’s actually showed up on the Billboard Hot 100 list (once topping out at #6)!
I sang with my church choir from 7th-12th grade, and we performed “Christmastime” several different years as part of our Christmas performance. As such, the song has stuck with me, and is strongly connected to many memories. But I love the song in and of itself. It has a driving energy, and the combo of sleigh-bells and children’s-choir backing vocals really amps up the “spirit of the season.” It’s really a shame that, even with an abundance of 24/7 Christmas music this time of year, you don’t hear this song more often.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #4: The Bottle Boys
Today’s post is another quickie. It’s a collection of Christmas music from the Bottle Boys, a group of Scandinavian street performers who play surprisingly complex arrangements of pop tunes by blowing, clinking, shaking, and thumping bottles of various sizes. Recently, their rendition of “Under the Sea” (performed in a swimming pool) went viral, and their takes on “Call Me Maybe” and “Party Rock Anthem” are excellent as well.
Luckily for us, the group has also recorded themselves performing numerous Yuletide-appropriate pieces. Here’s a few of them now:
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #5: Family Matters – “Christmas Is Where the Heart Is”
Welcome to Day 5! Today we return to “Family Matters,” last seen in this year’s Creepy Classics Countdown. I’ve wanted to find this particular episode for a long time, but until now I haven’t been able to find any clips on YouTube. How fortuitous that on the very day I want to talk about it, it’s suddenly up…and not just a clip, but the whole episode! It’s…A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE!
Episode 511, “Christmas is Where the Heart Is,” sees Steve and Carl trapped on the El train (“L”? I’m not a Chicagoan) on Christmas Eve, when a power outage strikes amidst their last-minute shopping. The many passengers are irritated by the inconvenience, and only grow more so when Urkel nasally beseeches them to show a little Christmas spirit. He attempts to lead the crowd in “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but to no avail. Finally, though, Steve is able to get to the heart of the matter when he asks the various passengers to remember what is so special about the homes and holidays they’re rushing toward:
“Christmas isn’t a place. It’s a feeling. It’s the love and warmth of friends and family. It’s a feeling we get in our hearts this time of year, and we take that feeling with us wherever we go.”
Steve borrows a Christmas tree from a man who conveniently happens to have carried one aboard, and sets it in the middle of the aisle. Won over by Urkel’s merry monologue, the passengers eagerly use any odds and ends they have (spare bows, mittens, scarves and watches) to decorate the impromptu Tannenbaum. Now that the true spirit of Christmas has shone through, the train suddenly lurches to life by the magic of sitcom convention. Moved in more ways than one, Carl leads the passengers in a second, more successful round of caroling.
This 1993 Christmas episode remains one of my favorites, and I hope you enjoy it, too. Just a heads-up: The video features what appear to be Dutch subtitles. Maybe we can thank Sinterklaas for the miraculously convenient upload.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #6: “Deck the Halls with Parts of Charlie”
“Who needs mistletoe and holly
when we could just dismember Wally?”
From 1989 to 1996, HBO was home to one of the most iconic horror-hosts of recent decades. The Crypt Keeper, a dessicated denizen of the very crypt he kept so well, presented seven seasons-worth of anthology-style horror stories drawn, fittingly, from EC Comics’ 1950s series “Tales from the Crypt,” as well as several similar series. Due to HBO’s premium cable status, the show’s producers were free to let the blood, sex, and profanity fly, and the Crypt Keeper lorded over it all with a rotten pun always at the ready.
Then, in 1994, he got a Christmas album.
Today’s selection, “Deck the Halls with Parts of Charlie,” starts off that album, “Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas,” in style.
As folks who have visited the Count Gauntly set can attest, keeping a few spare organs on hand always helps to liven up a room. So listen well, boils and ghouls, as the Crypt Keeper offers some crafty decorating suggestions, including “stockings filled with ears and fingers, chopped from all those carol-singers.”
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #7: Yuletide Theremin Revue
Okay. I know it’s really the ninth. Fortunately, this is a snow day for Fairfax County Schools, so I have some time to catch up.
People who have known me for a while (particularly at TJ) have likely noticed my passion for unusual and eccentric musical instruments. Well, one of the most recent additions to my collection is a theremin. The first fully electronic instrument, it was invented by its namesake, Soviet scientist Leon Theremin, in the early 1920s. It is unique among musical instruments in that the performer “plays” it by NOT making physical contact. Rather, you wave your hands around in the vicinity of the device’s two antennae: the upright one controls frequency (pitch) while the horizontal loop controls amplitude (volume). Each of your hands serves as one plate of a capacitor, with each respective antenna serving as the other plate. As the distance between hand and antenna changes, so does the capacitance between “plates.” This variable signal is translated via circuit wizardry into an audio output which, when connected to an amplifier, produces the theremin’s distinctive ethereal wail.
Even if you’ve never seen a theremin before, you’ve almost certainly heard one. The eerie, wavering “eeeeEEEEEEeee” sound is frequently included in the soundtracks of science fiction films and TV series – particularly those of the 1950s.
It’s a strange instrument that makes a strange sound. So it follows that the people who play the theremin are strange as well.
Case in point, these fine thereminists who employ their calculated hand-waving to shriek out some traditional carols in a markedly nontraditional fashion.
First up, we have drag queen “Pussy Willow” performing “We Three Queens,” accompanied by “herself” on electric organ and recorder.
And here’s “Pekkanini,” with a surprisingly tropical rendition of “White Christmas”:
Next, here’s Thomas Grillo, a gentleman who looks (and may well sound) rather like Dwight Schrute:
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #8: Babar – “A Child in the Snow”
The character of Babar the elephant, created by French children’s author Jean de Brunhoff, first appeared in 1931, in “Histoire de Babar” (“The Story of Babar”). In the tale, a young Babar flees the jungle to escape a hunter. He arrives in human “civilization” and learns of the advantages of technology and government. He brings these advancements back to “his people,” and the elephants appoint him as their king when the old monarch dies. As the series continued, Babar marries, raises a family, and imparts lessons to his children.
Babar experienced enduring popularity, both in his native France and in translations abroad, and more than a half-century after his debut the elephant-king finally scored his own TV show. “Babar,” produced by French-Canadian animation studio Nelvana, aired from 1989-1991. Most episodes take the form of a story told by an adult Babar to his children. The narrative is then presented in flashback, with a young Babar learning the lessons the story is meant to impart.
Today’s selection, “A Child in the Snow,” was one of the last episodes of the original series. Though it isn’t directly Christmas-related, I first encountered this episode paired with another animated adaptation of a famous French character in “Christmas with Madeline and Babar.”
But let’s be clear here: The REAL reason I’m sharing this episode is because it revolves around a cryptid. “Child in the Snow” sees Babar returning to the winter cabin he had often vacationed in as a boy. Upon arrival, the king of the elephants is dismayed to find that modernity has crept up around the cabin: a ski resort has sprung up next-door, and with it a thriving tourist economy. Though Babar’s wife and prime minister assure him that “things change,” he insists that “not everything” does. Before the special can entirely become “Babar’s Mid-Life Crisis,” our cryptid is thrown into the mix. Gradually, we learn that Babar has returned in hopes of finding the Great White Mammoth, a mysterious creature who saved his life when he was stranded in a blizzard as a boy.
So there you have it. Another late 80s/early 90s animated holiday special featuring a cryptozoological creature in a pivotal role. I’m sure Bigpaw is thankful to have the company.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #9: “Hung for the Holidays”
You may remember William Hung from his disastrous “American Idol” audition in January 2004, in which the buck-toothed crooner sang and danced to Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs,” and then boasted to the dumbfounded judges that he had done it all with “no professional training.” Though Hung was summarily booted from the show, the clip went viral, at a time when “going viral” was just starting to become a thing. He made the talk-show circuit, was invited to appear on an “American Idol” reunion special, and in subsequent years made cameo appearances on a number of TV series, including “Arrested Development” and “George Lopez.”
Now here’s what you might not know: In 2004, at the peak of Hung-mania…ol’ Willy H received a record deal. By 2005, he had released not one, not two, but THREE entire albums.
And I own them all.
Hung’s second musical outing was the suggestively-titled “Hung for the Holidays.” The gawky engineer-turned-pop sensation warbles his way through six Christmas staples (with three “inspirational” spoken word tracks tacked on to pad the album’s meager length). But even six tracks is a lot of Hung to take in at one sitting. So I’ve pared it down to just one selection for you: I present William Hung’s rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy.”
Also, the album came with a complimentary “Hung for the Holidays” ornament. It occupies a place of honor on my Christmas tree as we speak.
P.S.: Not Christmas-themed, but too good not to share – Here’s “Free,” the single original song from Hung’s debut album “Inspiration,” written by Saul Alvarez:
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #10: “Peace on Earth”
“Joyful all ye creatures be,
Ye at last the world did free.
To the world He did restore,
Peace on Earth forevermore.”
Hey folks. I wanted to take a moment to offer up a word of caution before you watch today’s selection – it’s undoubtedly the bleakest clip I’ve shared in any of our three Decembers thus far.
“Peace on Earth” is a 1939 cartoon short produced by MGM, and may stand as the sole example of the “post-apocalyptic Christmas special” subgenre. The short animated parable depicts a world populated by intelligent, civilized forest critters, who live in tiny towns nestled amid the crumbling skeletons of mankind’s remaining handiwork. As the film begins, an elderly squirrel trudges home through the snow while a roadside choir joyfully sings of “Peace on Earth, and goodwill to men.”
When he reaches home, still singing the song to himself, the squirrel’s grandchildren are curious.
“What are men, Grandpa?” one asks.
The old-timer explains that men were a warlike species who once walked the Earth, waging neverending war on one another for innumerable, but petty, reasons. A grim sequence shows soldiers in WWI attire (pickelhaubes, dusters and gas-masks) firing at one another’s entrenched regiments until the final two representatives of our species lie dead.
After our departure, the animals gradually edge their way inquisitively into the shattered human settlements, including a church, where they discover “a mighty good book of rules…pity men didn’t pay much attention to it.” Taking inspiration from Bible passages such as “thou shalt not kill” and “love thy neighbor,” the former forest-dwellers set about rebuilding a variation on human civilization – save that this society is wholly dedicated to the ideal of world peace.
This short is particularly grim when viewed in its historical context. At the time it was made, World War I (or rather, “The Great War”) was still the worst military conflict the human race had yet endured. But a war still greater loomed on the horizon…in fact, by the time the film was released, WWII was already underway in Europe and Asia.
Taking WWII and the subsequent Cold War nuclear arms race as evidence that “men” had still not gotten the message, Hanna-Barbera re-made the short in 1955 as “Goodwill to Men,” incorporating more recent technological “advancements” in warfare, including flamethrowers, bazookas, long-range missiles, and ultimately the atomic bomb.
But as dark and sinister as this film gets, remember: There are many, many enviromentally- or pacifistically-inclined stories which feature “man” as the villain, from “Bambi” to “FernGully” to “Avatar.” But all of these stories – literally every single one – were MADE by man (well, “humans,” if we want to be gender-neutral here).
Animals aren’t telling us to get our act together.
Animals are busy being animals.
It’s PEOPLE who, along with their remarkable knack for destruction, also stand as the only known species capable of self-reflection and self-improvement. So don’t view your fellow humans as some kind of sprawling plague. Remember: you’re one too. Rather, let’s try at this time of year to appreciate and embrace our status as creative, productive beings capable of discourse and cooperation.
“Peace on Earth” wasn’t REALLY made to extol the virtues of squirrel-culture. It was made for people, by people, and represents one (human) voice for the power of peace.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #11: “Up on the Housetop”
Only two more weeks until Christmas!
Today’s entry is a relatively obscure Christmas special which first aired in 1992. My family taped that first airing, so I’ve seen it a lot in subsequent years. However, it’s surprisingly hard to find any legitimate video release of the show. I purchased a bootleg DVD last year, and even that required some searching. The video I’ve linked appears to have been transferred from a VHS tape, as the intro suggests “adjusting tracking”…which the person enacting the transfer never seems to do.
In “Up on the Housetop,” protagonist Curtis Calhoun finds himself “not in the mood for Christmas this year.” Irritated by the cold weather and ubiquitous bell-ringing Santas guilting him into charity, Curtis wishes the whole season would “just go away.” As if by magic, his family members call in rapid succession to report that, for one reason or another, they will be unable to make it to their annual Christmas reunion.
Suddenly saddened that Christmas really has “gone away,” Curtis sits alone on Christmas Eve in front of his television, growing even more depressed when he realizes that “It’s a Wonderful Life” is the only thing on TV. When the blizzard outside takes that away too, Curtis climbs to the roof of his apartment building to adjust the television antenna. He inadvertently locks himself out in the snow and falls asleep “up on the housetop.”
Late that night, Curtis is awakened by a mysterious, red-suited visitor whom he believes to be a cat burglar. The stranger, who introduces himself as Kris, reveals that he knows all about Curtis’ Yuletide troubles. But, like Urkel, Kris insists that “Christmas is where you find it,” before flying off into the night, complete with sleigh and reindeer.
The next day, Curtis decides to take “Kris’s” message to heart, and gathers up the handful of people left in the apartment building for an impromptu Christmas party, at which the assembled revelers join in a chorus of – what else – “Up on the Housetop.”
Expect a few more obscure specials to come over the remaining fortnight!
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #12: Allan Sherman’s “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas”
Today’s selection comes to us from Allan Sherman, one of the first musicians to specialize almost exclusively in parodying earlier songs. To avoid potential lawsuits in the early, legally-gray days of parody, Sherman mostly wrote new lyrics to popular tunes already in the public domain, including classical music, folk songs, and even Gilbert and Sullivan compositions. You may already know Sherman without realizing it: he was behind the cult classic, “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah,” written from the perspective of a very unhappy camper at “Camp Grenada” and set to the tune of “Dance of the Hours.” Though Sherman later expanded into parodying more recent (copyrighted) songs as well, his early work remains the most famous and successful. “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” even climbed to #2 on the Billboard charts upon its release in 1963.
Sherman released “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas” in December of that same year. The song, as you can probably guess, is a parody of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”…but with a list of more “modern” Christmas gifts, all of which are portrayed as kitschy, slipshod, or useless. The first (and thus most-repeated) gift is “a Japanese transistor radio,” riffing on the perceived nature of Japanese electronics of the era as being particularly shoddy (the same stereotype is voiced by 1950s Doc Brown in “Back to the Future,” to which Marty (from the 80s) counters, “What are you talking about? Japan makes all the best stuff.”)
So remember, whatever lies beneath your tree on Christmas morning, whether it be “a pair of teak-wood shower clogs” or a “pink satin pillow that says ‘San Diego’ with fringe all around it,” it’s the thought that counts.
And you can always keep the receipt.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #13: Christmas by Trivialord
Okay. I missed a day, on account of preparing for and taping the next episode of Count Gauntly’s Horrors from the Public Domain.
What do you get in return?
How about a big heaping pile of plugs for my own stuff?
Yes, for unlucky post 13, I’m sharing some early…er…”gems” from my YouTube channel, “Trivialord.” The two videos I’m featuring today showcase mediocre talent and questionable facial hair, but they’re both Christmas-themed and I’M GONNA SHARE ‘EM, DAGNABBIT!
First up is “The Twelve Days of Awful,” in which I channel Allan Sherman with my own rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Only this time, each “gift” is a movie. I would say “a terrible movie,” but “Star Trek 11” (J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot) actually turned out to be good. And thus, the title and original premise of the video are thrown out the window. So now the song essentially lists “12 films which are the respective entries in their series” – i.e., “Leprechaun Back 2 tha Hood” was the sixth “Leprechaun” film, “Ernest in the Army” the tenth “Ernest” film, and “The Great Day of the Flyers” the whopping twelfth installment of the “Land Before Time” saga.
Also, it stands as one of the very first videos I ever used editing software to create.
And you can tell.
Second, here’s a video demonstrating marginally more impressive talent (though with an even worse beard – bear in mind it was the tail-end of a No-Shave November at the time). It’s my hand-whistled performance of “Greensleeves (What Child is This?)”. Believe it or not, this video got a lot of exposure among the hand-whistling community online.
And yes, that community exists (the moderator of HandFlute.com decided to feature my video on the website).
I know you’re jealous.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #14: Cheech & Chong’s “Santa Claus and His Old Lady”
Now for a Christmas selection which is far out, man…
“Santa Claus and His Old Lady” was the first single released by comedy duo Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong. Cheech and Chong were primarily popular in the 70s and 80s, and much of their schtick played on themes of the Hippie movement…particularly the use of drugs (marijuana especially). The pair released a string of successful comedy records throughout the seventies, and then branched into film with a series of stoner comedies, beginning with 1978’s “Up In Smoke.”
The duo’s “Santa Claus” bit, released in 1971, takes the form of a short sketch. It begins with Cheech attempting to compose a variation on “Donde esta Santa Claus?” Chong “enters,” and acts confused by the references to Santa, claiming not to know who Claus is.
Cheech thus regales his pothead comrade with the story of Santa, who, apparently, once lived in the projects with his “old lady,” Mrs. Claus. Eventually, the couple was evicted, due both to Mrs. Claus routinely doling out “special brownies” and Santa’s team of “midgets” producing copious amounts of noise. The Clauses headed north, where they started a “commune” at the Pole. After acquiring some flying reindeer fueled by “magic dust,” Santa Claus now travels the globe each and every year with presents for the children of the world. But it’s not all cookies and milk: Santa still faces repression (or possibly recession) at the hands of Border Patrol, who object to his callous nation-hopping.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #15: “Christmas in the Stars”
“Everyone will have a cookie,
I brought extra for the Wookiee.”
For those of you who thought you might never get to hear a prissy golden robot sing carols custom-tailored to a galaxy long ago and far, far away, fear not! Today’s selection, 1980’s “Christmas in the Stars,” is here for you.
This album got a mention way back in 2011’s “Christmas Classics Countdown” when I talked about “The Star Wars Holiday Special,” but it’s just so darn majestic that it warrants its own entry. The album features nine cosmic Christmas ballads, ranging from new arrangements of classic songs (“Sleigh Ride” performed in R2-D2’s burbling droid language) to an assortment of original tunes, including the truly one-of-a-kind “What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb)?”
The featured selection here is the titular “Christmas in the Stars,” which begins the album. Anthony Daniels (as C-3PO) excitedly walks us through his fastidious Christmas preparations, including the purchase of “peppermints, and lollipops, and twenty different kinds of chocolate bars.” He ardently hopes that the other Star Wars characters “all have marked the date, and that none of them is late.”
Part of me really wants Han Solo to show up late, drunk, and make a mess of Threepio’s carefully-planned soiree.
Just imagine it: Amidst the torn crepe ribbons and a shattered ornament or two, the normally talkative droid stands alone, silent, struggling to contort his expressionless face to convey his crushing despair.
Ah, now there’s an image that fills me with Christmas cheer.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #16: “The Aliens’ First Christmas”
WARNING: The video I’ve linked to starts out with a terrible “GoAnimate” rant from the original poster. The link above SHOULD start the video at the beginning of the actual program, but if not, SKIP AHEAD to the 4:15 mark.
Now that that’s cleared up, on to the selection itself. “The Aliens’ First Christmas” is a 1991 special, a sequel to 1989’s “The Aliens Next Door.” Both specials were pilots for an animated series which never materialized. They follow the Peoples family, who are obliged to move to the distant planet of Zolonia when patriarch Roger is transferred by his company. Fish out of water in a completely foreign culture, the Peoples themselves become the “aliens next door.” Through interacting with their Zolonian neighbors, Charlick and Mavo, the Peoples attempt to overcome the many misunderstandings which arise due to their vast cultural differences.
And what sets this one apart from the original pilot?
Well, now it’s Christmas! And that means lots of traditional trappings, both religious and secular, to attempt to explain to aliens. I smell hijinks!
Oh, and if those voice actors sound familiar, it’s because “The Aliens’ First Christmas” has a virtually identical cast to “Up on the Housetop.” Roger and the Peoples’ son are both voiced by G. Brian Reynolds (Curtis), Santa by Russ Harris (Gash the guitarist), and Mavo by Rachel Rutledge (Mrs. Whimbley, the lady who finds Curtis on the roof). I literally realized the overlap as I was writing this, and it’s blowing my mind pretty hard. That’s the wonder of dedicating one’s life to obscure television: occasionally you find connections. Then you can share those connections with the readers of your even more obscure Facebook blog!
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #17: Dean Shostak’s Crystal Carols
Managed to get behind again. Sorry about that. The good news is that the long-awaited FINAL POST in the 100 Film Favorites Countdown is on its way, and should be up in a day or two. But now on to the matter at hand – there’s only a week left ’til Christmas!
Dean Shostak is a Williamsburg-area musician who performs his “Crystal Concert” at the Kimball Theatre twice weekly. The Concert features Shostak performing on a variety of “crystallophones,” musical instruments made of glass. The most iconic of these is the glass armonica, invented by Benjamin Franklin, but Shostak’s collection also includes some more recent additions to the realm of “glass music,” such as a set of glass handbells, and one of the world’s only all-glass violins (save for the strings).
As part of Williamsburg’s annual overhaul for the Christmas season, the Crystal Concert is re-christened “Crystal Carols,” and presents a seasonal repertoire to match. Offering historical insight on his instruments in between pieces, Shostak leads us through an enchanted evening filled with the ghostly cry of wet fingers on glass.
I’ve worked with Dean on several projects, and he’s notoriously cagey about limiting how much of his material makes its way online. Thus, there’s not really much in the way of clips for me to share with you. I did, however, manage to track down one “video,” which I enjoy for its weird nostalgic value: Behold, an early Weather Channel update from Wednesday, December 19th, 1996, accompanied by Dean Shostak’s performance of “Silent Night” on the Glass Armonica.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #18: “Carol of the Old Ones” from “A Very Scary Solstice”
Bet you thought I only knew about one humorous horror-themed Christmas album. Not so! May I present “A Very Scary Solstice.” Created by “The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society,” a community of LARPers and others dedicated to the author’s “mythos,” the album features parodies of 25 classic Christmas songs, all with new lyrics suited to the eldritch horrors of Lovecraft’s oeuvre.
Lovecraft is perhaps best known as the creator of Cthulhu, an indescribably horrible slumbering monster known as an “Old One,” who stands poised to destroy our world should he ever awaken. “Indescribable horror” is a recurring theme in Lovecraft’s work, to the point that one wonders, if everything is so horrible he can’t describe it, how did he manage to find enough to say to fill a book? At any rate, dimensional rifts, subaquatic demons, and lots and lots of tentacles are par for the course when it comes to Lovecraft.
2003’s “A Very Scary Solstice” was followed in 2006 by “An Even Scarier Solstice.” Both albums are available for purchase at cthulhulives.org . If you want the full experience, be sure to spring for the “Unbearably Scary Solstice Combo,” which includes both CDs and both the official songbooks, packaged in (get ready) a tentacle-shaped stocking. And all for the low, low price of $48!
I gotta say, these HPLHS folks really do know how to put together an alluring bundle. Back in high school, I purchased the full bells-and-whistles combo pack for “A Shoggoth on the Roof,” a Lovecraftian adaptation of Broadway staple “Fiddler on the Roof” which, for legal reasons, had never been staged (subsequently, there have apparently been small performances in Sweden and Ireland).
I’ve never regretted it.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #19: “The Obligatory Holiday Episode”
I like Weird Al. A lot.
But even I have to admit that “The Weird Al Show” was not a shining moment in television history. Produced for a single season from September to December 1997, the series was a pale imitation of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” and “Beakman’s World,” which took place in Al’s kooky “split-level cave, 20 miles below the surface of the Earth,” as the theme song explains. Making Weird Al the next Pee-Wee Herman seems like an idea with promise, but the show was ruined by two letters: E/I.
In the late 90s, the major television networks began enforcing a standard which required all programs aimed at young audiences to present content which was “educational / informational.” Shows had to “teach” something. Series like those on PBS were in the clear, since that was their angle already. Other shows, like Disney’s “Doug” and “Pepper-Ann,” were billed as “E/I” due to the characters’ dealing with “real-world issues.”
But where did this leave a surreal program about a mustachioed parody artist living in a cave?
Screwed over. That’s where. CBS heavily censored Yankovic’s scripts for the program, instructing him to remove instances of potentially harmful “imitable behavior.” Worst of all, the network ruled that each episode had to revolve around a moral lesson. These mandated morals are presented ham-handedly, and since Al himself is the one inevitably “learning” the lesson (things like “don’t lie,” “control your jealousy,” “be a better friend”), the “Al” of the show tends to come off as a big jerk.
By far the best element of the show which managed to survive the censors is “AL-TV,” a segment in which Al and his friends, typically at random, excitedly decide to “WATCH TV!” and sit down to view a show-within-the-show. This set-up best captures the essence of Al’s zany comedy: the characters “channel surf,” clicking through snippets of parody music videos, parody television series (I would watch “The French Prince of Bel-Air”), and, best of all, 50s stock footage mashed together into “educational videos” with comical narration dubbed in:
But after about two minutes, it was back to the inane lesson-learning.
That was a lot of intro, and may have turned you off of the show entirely. But if you can only stomach one episode, make it today’s selection, “The Obligatory Holiday Episode.” As it was the last episode filmed, Al and the crew already knew the show was ending. So what better way to cover the bases in a short time than making an episode about EVERY HOLIDAY AT ONCE?
Al invites his friends over to the cave for this crazed omni-holiday shindig, hopeful that his preparations will please everyone. But he fails to listen to his friends’ real concerns and desires (that’s the lesson of the day, kiddies), and it looks like the gang is headed toward some none-too-happy holidays. But the day is saved by Al’s “obligatory” lesson-learning, and a cameo appearance by Dick Clark (the show’s producer) to ring in the New Year brings the tumultuous life of “The Weird Al Show” to an upbeat end.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #20: Perfect Strangers – “A Christmas Story”
“Christmas isn’t just about presents. It’s also the birthday of Baby Jesus.”
“Yeah, I guess I forgot that.”
“Well, the sheep-herders never forget it. We were the first to get the news, you know.”
Way back on the fifth I shared a Christmas episode of “Family Matters.” “Family Matters” was a spin-off of the earlier sitcom “Perfect Strangers,” which chronicled the misadventures of Larry Appleton and his distant cousin, Balki Bartokomous. In the pilot episode, Larry has just moved to his first apartment in Chicago (leaving behind a large family in Wisconsin) in hopes of striking out on his own and embracing his independence. His style is promptly cramped when Balki arrives unexpectedly, having traveled from the ambiguously Greek, fictional island-state of Mypos. But as the series continued, Larry grew to appreciate Balki, and the “perfect strangers” became more sympatico. Here, in the first Christmas episode of the series, Balki presents Larry (who is missing his friends and family back home) with a heartfelt gift, and Larry realizes what he has overlooked: Balki is both friend and family. The Christmas Spirit surges unchecked, and the heretofore “broken” Christmas lights suddenly switch on.
This is uncannily similar to the ending of the “Family Matters” episode, in which “rediscovering Christmas cheer” brings an end to a power outage…twice. I am beginning to suspect that the primary energy source in the Miller-Boyett sitcom universe (they also created “Full House,” “Step by Step,” and “Boy Meets World”) is sappy holiday moments.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #21: “Christmas Comes to Pac-Land”
Upon its release in late 1980, “Pac-Man” became one of the first mega-hits of the arcade game industry, growing into a pop culture sensation almost overnight. And so, like all pop culture sensations of the 80s, Pac-Man received his own animated series: The simply titled “Pac-Man,” produced by Hanna-Barbera, which aired from 1982-83.
You might wonder how a game which revolves around chomping ghosts while also trying not to BE chomped by said ghosts could be adapted into a half-hour television program with any sort of compelling narrative.
The show follows Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, “Pac-Baby,” and the family’s similarly spherical pets, Chomp-Chomp (a dog) and Sourpuss (a cat). And the storyline does indeed revolve almost entirely around the Pacs’ desire to chomp, and yet not be chomped by, the “Ghost Monsters.” You know, when your protagonists’ most ardent wish is to attack and voraciously devour the antagonists, it’s hard to blame the antagonists for responding in kind. It’s mutually assured destruction. What’s more, since the Pac-Family and the Ghost Monsters inevitably respawn through the wonders of video game rules, the series chronicles nothing less than the two clans’ eternal brinksmanship. Their immortality makes the struggle all the more pointless, but their mutual hatred all the more intense.
“Christmas Comes to Pac-Land” begins with one of the many battles in the neverending Pac-Ghost war. But when Pac-Man manages to chomp his enemies, the disembodied floating eyes of the defeated Ghost Monsters spook Santa’s reindeer (who just happen to be flying overhead), and the Jolly old elf and his team tumble from the sky. Santa explains the wonders of Christmastime to the Pac-Family, and expresses the urgency of his annual flight. And so Pac-Man trudges off into the snowy night to locate Santa’s sack of toys, which fell from the sleigh in the crash. When he finds the Ghost Monsters have seized the toys, it’s up to Pac-Man to explain his newfound ideals of “Peace on Earth” and “Goodwill toward men.” Christmas can only proceed through a temporary truce (a la that one in WWI when all the Europeans stopped to play soccer, but called it something else).
A Ghost/Pac-Man peace accord?
Christmas really is a magical time.
-I appreciate that the show includes all FIVE of the ghost antagonists from both “Pac-Man” and “Ms. Pac-Man”: Inky, Blinky, Pinky, Clyde, and Sue (a female ghost who replaced Clyde in “Ms. Pac-Man”.
-Baby Pac-Man, the game from which “Pac-Baby” was derived, looks awesome. Produced by American arcade giant Bally-Midway without the consent of Namco (the Japanese creators of Pac-Man), the game eventually led to a breakup between the two companies. But it’s so cool, I can’t believe Namco got mad. The game is a hybrid between video game and pinball machine: Similarly to how, in the original “Pac-Man,” Pac-Man can exit through tunnels on one side of the map and re-emerge on the opposite side, “Baby Pac-Man” features a maze with two tunnels along the bottom edge. But when the character “exits” through these tunnels, a ball emerges at a corresponding location on the bottom pinball field. The game then proceeds like a normal pinball title, with the player using flippers to bat the ball around the playing field. When the ball is hit back into the “tunnels” at the top of the pinball field, Baby Pac-Man once again enters the maze to gobble more pellets. It sounds like a blast to play, and I’d love to see a real cabinet up close. Let me know if you happen to see one, won’t you?
-Peter Cullen provides the voice of Santa Claus in this special (he also has voiced Eeyore in recent decades, and is the classic voice of Autobot leader Optimus Prime)
-“Christmas Comes to Pac-Land” is apparently aired every holiday season on Boomerang, a cable channel dedicated to re-running old Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network shows.
-Speaking of Hanna-Barbera properties, I’m reasonably certain that the background music in the later part of this special is “Hope is Like a Christmas Tree,” a song which first appeared in the 1977 “A Flintstones Christmas,” also produced by the animation powerhouse. The song was later re-used in two Yogi Bear Christmas specials, and, while I haven’t been able to confirm it, this seems to be yet another use of the tune in a Hanna-Barbera special.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #22: “General Lee & Santa Claus”
Who’s up for a little Confederate Christmas?
I found a copy of “General Lee & Santa Claus” at a Thrift Store earlier this year, and instantly knew that, whatever lay between those two covers, it needed to be shared come the Christmas Countdown. . The short story, originally published in 1867, tells the story of Lutie, Birdie, and Minnie, three southern sisters aged 5-9. It takes place in December 1865, mere months after the end of the Civil War. The girls’ father, a balloonist spy for the Confederacy, was shot down behind enemy lines two years prior, and disappeared.
Now, with Christmas coming up, the sisters wish to know whether Santa will come to visit them this year, and where he has been for the past four Christmases. They write to the hero of the South, General Robert E. Lee, for some answers.
Eventually, Lee responds that Santa does indeed “love the little rebel children,” but was unable to visit them during the war due to the many blockades. Lee himself offered Santa an alternative…he could sell the toys allotted for the South, and use the profits to provide Confederate troops with food, blankets, and other supplies. And that’s just what Santa did, for four years.
So there you have it. England and France may never have recognized and aided the Confederacy, but apparently Santa Claus did.
Christmas 1865 sees the girls’ father returning home, after having suffered an extended period of amnesia. It’s a Christmas miracle in Dixie, courtesy of General Lee and Santa!
Merry Christmas, Y’all!
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #23: Count Gauntly’s “Scary Christmas to All!”
Closing in on the big day now! The time has come once again to shamelessly plug my own projects and share a very merry episode of Count Gauntly’s Horrors from the Public Domain. “Scary Christmas to All,” our Christmas special and 9th episode overall, has been airing on Fairfax Public Access throughout December.
Over the course of the series, Gauntly and Ogrot have risen through the ranks and become reasonably impressive. They’ve won over their critics. They’ve won over their fellow horror hosts. Now, in the spirit of the season, they’ve decked the vaults with sprigs of wolfsbane in hopes of winning over that most important of Christmas critics: Santa Claus! Can the crypt-dwellers convince Santa to add a subterranean detour to his annual route?
The episode features an assortment of classic PD Christmas cartoons, including:
“Jack Frost” (1934)
“Christmas Comes but Once a Year” (1936)
“The Star of Bethlehem” (1950?)
“Snow Foolin” (1949)
As well as some good old traditional caroling, done in some rather nontraditional ways.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #24: The Twilight Zone – “Night of the Meek”
Everybody knows “The Twilight Zone.” Even if you’ve never seen an episode all the way through (and shame on you if that’s the case), chances are good you’ve learned some of the twist endings by cultural osmosis. At the very least, you know what to expect: Strange things. Creepy things. As described in a Futurama parody, it’s “the kind of place where there might be a monster, or some kind of weird mirror.”
But on December 23rd, 1960, “The Twilight Zone” did a Christmas episode.
It’s not weird.
It’s not creepy.
In fact, it’s one of the most heartwarming Christmas episodes of all time.
“Night of the Meek” stars Art Carney as Henry Corwin, an alcoholic department store Santa Claus who loses his job when he staggers into work drunk. Corwin explains that he drinks because, in his day to day life, he is surrounded by tenements filled with poor children to whom he is unable to be a “real Santa Claus.” He has no power to truly alleviate poverty or other suffering, but hopes beyond hope that he could.
Later that night, Corwin discovers an unusual sack sitting unattended in an alleyway. He soon discovers that the sack is capable of producing any gift requested of it, and uses his power to really “play Santa” by distributing joy throughout his urban neighborhood. Corwin even produces a bottle of cognac for his uptight former boss, Mr. Dundee.
Will Corwin’s magical gift-giving land him in the slammer, or somewhere much more magical?
Probably the latter…in the Twilight Zone.
Tidbit: John Fiedler, who plays Mr. Dundee, also voiced Piglet in Disney’s early “Winnie the Pooh” cartoons.
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS CALENDAR 2013 – #25: “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas”
MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!
Today we wrap up (get it?) the third BTMN Christmas Countdown with “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas,” a 1949 novelty single released by “dialect comedian” Harry Stewart. Here, Stewart performs as “Yogi Yorgesson,” a Swedish stereotype who was Stewart’s most popular character. The song, paired on a record with “Yingle Bells,” actually sold over a million copies, earning Stewart a gold record.
“I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas” tells the story of “Yogi’s” preparation for and celebration of the Christmas season, “the time for kids to flip their lids while their papa goes in hock.” After a raucous family party dissolves into an outright brawl, Yorgesson observes:
“I’m so glad Merry Christmas comes just once a year.”
Yes, even with the months of preparation, Christmas is here just for a moment. I’m glad to have this chance to share the season with you, even if only in a small way. Here’s wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a prosperous New Year to come.
(Heavenly) Peace out,
– Brian Terrill Movie Night