Sunday, 23 December 2012

Valentines - A Christmas Prayer

As a reluctant nod to the season, herewith Christmas Prayer, a lesser-known Valentines track from 1955 - at least it isn't on the Collectables Best of collection that I have. I first came across it on a UK compilation  of Christmas-related songs from "the Roulette family of labels" on the now-defunct Westside label, which issued quite a lot of doo wop.

As the Collectables CD of the group's Rama recordings includes an amusing but hardly essential snippet of song in praise of Boston DJ Joe Smith, I'm surprised by Christmas Prayer's absence. It was released at the time and an A side, and it isn't just a novelty: the rough edge to the singing and harmonising is highly pleasing to these ears, despite the corny saxophone quote ("jingle all the way") just in case anyone should be in any doubt about the seasonal nature of the song.

I presume Richard Barrett, the man who discovered Frankie Lymon, and later achieved fame as a producer, is the lead vocalist, and we're definitely talking gospel-inflected, soul-anticipating mode. And it sounds like there was a bit of leeway in the harmonising too - it's not that the singing is ragged, just that it doesn't sound rehearsed to death, and that another take might have been different again. Anyway, have a listen and see what you think.

The Christmas Past album also includes solo tracks by Lymon, the innocent air of which sounds especially poignant in retrospect. I may talk more about Barrett and Frankie Lymon in a later post.

But apart from that Valentines track, the most interesting discovery to me on the Christmas Past compilation - apart from the energetic idiocy of the Marcel's Merry Twist-Mas, that is - was the Orioles' 1950 recording of Oh Holy Night, a song which is a staple of telly talent shows in the UK these days, and very possibly in America too.

As is well known, Elvis Presley covered Crying in the Chapel, but if you listen to the end of this recording you may be aware of a certain vocal characteristic which I can only describe as a kind of gentle caressing of a word, later audible in Presley's work. It's a fairly restrained vocal by Till, even at the end, but it's definitely R&B/doo wop, I'd say: like the Valentines, it's not overly smooth.

You can find a complete tracklisting for the West Side comp on the allmusic site here, although it seems to have become a collectors' item, as copies are going for around thirty pounds on a certain well known shopping website just now.

And a Merry Twist-Mas one and all. If you don't know the moves, there's a handy guide here. But it misses out an all-important detail about arm movements which I read in Clive James's autobiography.

So yes, by all means turn up your little computer speakers and push back your chair for a spot of remote communion (trust me, the animation in the youtube clip below won't require your whole attention), but please remember that the full effect is only achievable if you alternate the towelling of your backside with pointing out the approach of low-flying enemy aircraft - but do keep those elbows by your sides.

What, one more? Oh, alright, then. Happy Ricks-mas:

Since you ask, I prefer it to the Drifters' version and it's my blog, so that settles that. What? No, find the Drifters' version on youtube if you want, that's not part of my responsibility. Well, alright then, so you won't be coming back. Ever. I'll just have to accept that.

Ee, I love Christmas, me.

Unca Marvy's R&B Notebooks page on the Valentines here

This is a repost from December 2010 as I still like these songs. 

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