This album is hot garbage so here lemme rank the most non-horrible Xmas songs for you:
12. The Ramones, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)”
11. Yellow Man, “Santa Claus Never Comes To The Ghetto”
10. either Barrington Levy, “One Christmas Day” or Jacob Miller, “All I Want For Ismas” (undecided at press time)
9. Charles Brown, “Please Come Home for Christmas”
8. Marvin Gaye, “I Want to Come Home for Christmas” (saccharine as fuck but still like open-heart surgery because of Marvin’s voice & phrasing)
7. “Merry Christmas Baby” – the Bawse & the E Street Band, mostly because of the keys/drums/horns of the intro (Bittan/Weinberg/Clemons).
6. Bill Withers, “The Gift of Giving.”
5. Prince, “Another Lonely Christmas”
4. The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl, “Fairytale of New York”
3. Donny Edward Hathaway, “This Christmas”
2. Darlene Love, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”
1. Vince Guaraldi, “Linus and Lucy,” obviously
[Close, but nope: Run-DMC, “Christmas in Hollis” due to sheer annoying oversaturation (oddly, however, this does not impact the seeding of “Linus and Lucy”), Joni Mitchell’s “River” which is lovely but loses points for encouraging pouty Caucasian female wallowing, James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” (boring), and “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” by John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, due to John Lennon’s hypocrital ass singing us a big ol’ guilt-trip let’s-all-do-better song while pretending he’s not a man who consistently physically assaulted the women in his life. HAVE A SEAT, LENNON.]
In high school, I found out Armen Keteyian is the person responsible for making NCAA basketball anthem “One Shining Moment” famous, and I’ve hated him ever since. CBS Sports has shoved it into our ear canals every April since the ’80s because of him. There’s an entire website dedicated to the song. Even the normally dignified Luther has lent his voice to it. (Teddy P too, but he’s always struck me as a play-for-pay kind of guy who’d take any gig, so this isn’t a shocker.) It’s a dumb piece of music that turns the joyous ache consuming the bodies of young athletes into a big sappy graduation speech over a beat. There’s no stopping it. And here it comes, since it’s almost April. THANKS, ARMEN.
They’re cueing up “One Shining Moment” in the CBS studio at this very moment – GO ‘CATS! – and as a person with ears and a soul, I should be grouchy about that. But researching the song for the purposes of this post required me to actually listen to the song – and I’ve just realized “One Shining Moment” may actually have a place in my life (??). It’s got nothing to do with athletics – sure, I’m slightly above average in height, with a perfect mid-range jumper and a dominating presence in the paint, but I’m also lazy and uncoachable; basketball’s not my thing. You know what my thing is, though? Picking records, listening to find out how they hit my ears and heart (or not, as the case may be), and presenting the results in online blogs featuring many pictures of myself looking all cute and shit. I’m a natural. I’m also a Beat Swap Meet regular, and when I actually read the lyrics of the song, I’ll be damned if that second verse, right before the bridge, doesn’t hit home: “When it’s done, win or lose/You always did your best, ’cause inside you knew/(That) ONE SHINING MOMENT, YOU REACHED DEEP INSIDE/ONE SHINING MOMENT, YOU KNEW YOU WERE ALIVE.” See, I just did a whole lot of reaching deep inside record bins, feeling alive as hell as I exchanged cash for music. “One Shining Moment,” it turns out, is the BSM anthem! Armen Keteyian, you rascal.
I set up my own March Madness bracket to determine the apartment 680 champion for BSM #24, held on a warm Sunday earlier this month in Chinatown, as always. A note on the seeding process: ranking was based only on my level of excitement upon finding each one. The winner of each matchup, however, was determined by old-fashioned intensity of listening pleasure – a heady, mysterious criteria, subjective as hell. My bracket, my rules™.
ROUND ONE: THE MEAN SIXTEEN
The Soul Searchers, We the People (5) vs. The Wonderful Side of the Mustangs (11)
I know the band but I’ve never pursued We the People in the wild. It just never struck me as a must-have. But I found it for cheap, and today it gets a high seed based on my knowledge of quality output from Chuck Brown, the fact that it’s on Sussex, and, yes, maybe a little bit because of the current media presence Allen Iverson, cornrowed pretty-eyed bowling alley thug with a crossover embedded in my memory like the hook in that EPMD song. His retirement ceremony was just on, and lots of longform pieces had popped up in tribute online. He was on my mind. DC was on my mind because Georgetown was on my mind, and it was all because of Allen. Anyway, I knew this one would sound exactly like its cover told me it would, and since big fat drum breaks are always on my mind, it got added to my stack. In case you forget it came out in ’72, flipping it over and seeing the words “Your Love is so Doggone Good” on the tracklist will remind you. (“Ashley’s Roachclip” did the same thing in ’74.) The fact is you simply cannot go wrong with anything on Sussex, especially in 1972 – We the People was released between Heavy Love and Electric Coffey. Sexy.
Nassau is Funky, sure, but when it comes to our collective geographic awareness, the Bahamas are repped by the incredibly boring duo of Mychal Thompson and Ulrich Fox. Or maybe that’s just basketball fans’ collective geographic awareness. My brain is heavy with basketball right now. In any case, I chose the Mustangs because of that rad, unusual cover, and because it was released on something called Penn Records (I generally love tiny hot-climate record labels). It was a pick based on curiosity – the fact that I gave it a lowly 11 seed should say something about my shaky confidence in the music itself.
The Heptones, Legends from Studio One (15) vs. The Pogues, Red Roses for Me (12)
Rock steady, baby/That’s what I feel now! My intro to the Heptones was the horn-heavy anthem to bitterness “Pretty Looks Isn’t All,” a song about a bitchy island girl who likes some Rick Fox-looking jerk. I’ve loved Earl Morgan’s voice ever since, but when I get really honest with myself, it’s Leroy’s voice that’s synonymous with the Heptones – high and sweet, perfect for rocksteady slow-dancing or rocksteady crying face-down on your bed because you want to slow dance with Rick Fox but it’ll never happen. I need more of that voice in my apartment, and when I saw “Sweat for You Baby” on the track list, that did it. It’s actually called “Swept for You Baby,” but “Sweat” actually works better. It’s more accurate, considering your body’s response to the nearness of your crush. (Big Youth flipped the song in an incredible way, even though linking to it makes me deeply uncomfortable.) There’s also a lovely version of “Break Up to Make Up,” wackily titled “Make Up to Break Up” (!), but no matter how you arrange the words in the title, it would not exist without the songwriting contributions of my girlfriend Linda Creed. She had great stories about meeting and learning from Sly Stone, who helped her improve her songwriting technique and who probably tried to fuck her, I’m guessing?
The Pogues. Because 1. It was St. Patrick’s Day. 2. My name is LOGAN. I plucked this one out of the bin, did a jig, then blew up a car, sent a donation to Sinn Fein, and went to mass.
Booker Ervin, Structurally Sound (7) vs. Oliver Nelson, The Blues and the Abstract Truth (3)(Died at 39 and 43, respectively)
Mingus was my entry point for Ervin. Setting the Pace became my joint the summer after tenth grade, and I dove into all the Book records in college. I’m willing to accept that the gentleman I saw at the BSM with the Strata-East shirt on perhaps had a subconscious impact on my decision to buy this (Charles Tolliver’s name is on the credits). This one would’ve been an instant purchase regardless, though – second pressing on Pacific Jazz, super clean condition. I awarded it a high ranking based on the fucking undeniable offense of Mr. Ervin, the names of Tolliver and Red Mitchell on the back cover, the inclusion of “Take the A Train” (I’m reading a Billy Strayhorn biography), and the fact that, though it’s not the Temptations’ version, “You’re My Everything” is included in the track list (OH how I love the Temptations’ version of “You’re My Everything.” Ruffin coming in with that “ba-by” at 01:32? Aw damn.)
Listen, I hate “Cuse,” “Zona,” “Nova,” and every other stupid syllable-shaving effort put forth by dudes on the Internet trying to be cute during college basketball season. Names are important. They should be appointed only after careful thought. Oliver knows. The Blues and the Abstract Truth gets a boost in the rankings on account of its beautiful, cuteness-free title, an aspirational description of the things Oliver’s septet has in store for you (folk songs via brass and drums in a New Jersey studio, a particular kind of truth, and maybe some more stuff if the band has time). Van Gelder’s always yammering on about space in his recordings, “the songs have to have a sense of space,” whatever, all I know is that he’s good at his job and GOOD LORD was I excited to find this one, a surprisingly elusive little bastard that everyone in LA seems to snatch out of the bin before I arrive. Haynes is here, along with Hubbard, Chambers, and MY #1 LOVER Eric Allan Dolphy, jr., AKA the funky diabetic AKA sax/flute game Adam Morrison. These guys are special to me, as I overplayed my CD of this album during my formative years as both a woman and a jazz dork. There’s a definitive spot exactly where those 2 paths in my life cross, and that spot happens to be right in the middle of my living room floor where my dress lands in a soft heap when “Stolen Moments” comes on.
Albert Ayler, Prophecy (2) vs. Bobby Timmons, Do You Know the Way? (10) (age 34 and 38)
All the Ayler I ever see in the field that’s even remotely affordable for me is last year’s reissue of Spirits Rejoice, and there’s no fucking way I’m letting an Ayler reissue anywhere near my sacred turntable. Stop it. When I came across Prophecy, I had a moment of conflict. It’s an Italian pressing with a janky sleeve (two pluses in my book), live in ’64 (PLUS), but its pressing is circa 2002 from the 1975 original and that’s a big fat minus. After standing and thinking for an eternity, though, I finally added it to my stack, seduced by the two versions of “Ghosts.” The next day I came across the album’s 3-star review on Allmusic.com, a deeply upsetting judgment that interfered with my ability to sleep that night. Scott Yanow, you can just fuck right off.
Morelike Do You Know the Way to Monk’s Barbershop Because I Want That Kinda Beard. Timmons is vintage emo-masculine and irritatingly underrated. He forever has a place in my heart that began with 10 to 4 at the 5 Spot and my love for him has only deepened from there, and I saw Strayhorn’s “Something to Live For” on the track list of Do You Know the Way?, so this one was an instant pick. Billy Strayhorn was the Michael Sam of the big band era, people.
Eric Kloss, Doors (14) vs. Pharoah Sanders, Deaf Dumb Blind (4)
YEP. My boyfriend Jackie McLean got me interested in oddball alto sax players and I was hoping Kloss would provide me with Arthur-Blythe-like thrill levels. Nope, Kloss didn’t do that, but I’m still in love with the fact that he named an album Grits & Gravy. (I was so excited when I found it! With my leftover cash I bought my mama a car and spent the rest on PCP.) Kloss is weirdly absent from jazz-bro discussions about sax greats, I’m told (girls aren’t allowed to participate in such discussions, dummy). He’s a shadowy figure never on anyone’s favorite list, despite his pedigree as a student of Sonny Stitt (by which I mean Charlie Parker, LOLOLOLLLLL, am I right, guys?) and loose, swingy style that somehow works with that sharp, bossy tone of his. Seems like he’d be jazz-bro catnip, but what do I know? I’m a girl, dummy! Anyway, Doors is on Cobblestone, so I figured what the hell.
Deaf Dumb Blind was an auto-purchase. I know the material on this record is improv-spiritual-top-of-the-mountain jazzbeard porn, but it was actually the cover that got me going; I can’t lie. The credits on the back also got me going – McBee, Bartz, Liston Smith, Jarvis, Shaw – and I can’t lie about that neither.
Sam Rivers, Streams (9) vs. Loudon Wainwright III, Attempted Mustache (8)
Ladies and gentlemen for your listening pleasure this evening in lovely Montreux on the banks of Lake Geneva, I present Sam Rivers performing his work Streams, featuring Crystal Waters and Billy Ocean, HEY-OOO. Sam’s already got a good reputation in apt. 680 on account of Crystals, and apart from that beautiful cover, I liked that this was a 1973 Impulse! release not by Keith Jarrett, the label’s annoying golden boy of ambiguous ethnicity. I also figured Sam getting helped along by Cecil McBee and Norman Connors would make this one a solid purchase.
Loudon gets the “the fuck are you doing here?” look for being the only earnest, wordy dude in the sea of jazz and funk cats that make up this haul. Diversity is sorely lacking in my bracket, I admit, but I’m doing a thousand times better than the NCAA when you survey the vast landscape of past and current representative faces of D1 basketball – Izzo, Boeheim, Calhoun, Smith, Knight, Coach K. (“Preach,” said Tommy Amaker and Kevin Ollie.) Loudon obviously lacks a jazzbeard himself, but his album title got him a spot in this region. He occupies the tourney’s sole Poignant Caucasian Songwriter slot that John Prine or Randy Newman could’ve just as easily taken.
R.B. Greaves (16) vs. Southside Movement, Moving South (1) (R.B. Greaves was Sam Cooke’s nephew; Southside Movement ended up in this region because it didn’t fit anywhere else)
R.B. Greaves think he cute and has the unabashed GALL to cover “Cupid” on this record. You are therefore questioning my taste regarding this purchase and silently judging me, I can feel it. But if you were in my shoes at the BSM, and you held the Greaves record in your hands and saw the words “Muscle Shoals” + “String arrangements: Arif Mardin” on the back cover, you’d make the same choice. He’s got a smooth, Cat Stevens thing happening with his voice, and yep, the strings are killer, annnnnd that’s about it in terms of bright spots. This one aims for Southern Emo and ends up at Starbucks in Kind of a Bad Mood, but “Birmingham” is the one tear-jerker here, pandering and sentimental, and I adore it. I left the “guilty” in guilty pleasures back in the summer of 2007. I’m grown, and I feel free to acknowledge the things that move me without shame. Only god can judge me. I also know that fucking Larry Bird inspired “One Shining Moment,” so tear-jerking moments can come from the corniest of places and you just need to accept it.
Southside Movement enters the tourney as the #1 seed, straight out of 1975 and sounding exactly like it, with those Middlebrooks-ish horns and Melvin Moore’s growl makin me wanna check the TV listings for the season premiere of The Jeffersons and flip through the newspaper for some coverage of high school phenom Darryl Dawkins. Moving South is well-produced, clean, tight, punchy, but it’s got enough bass and grit to satisfy a lady just like I knew it would. When you get down to it, I just trust 20th Century Records. I trust Russ Regan. Moving South also has that real quick Gravediggaz break so I knew I’d love it. I trust Prince Paul.
Lee Andrews and the Hearts, Biggest Hits (13) vs. Gene Ammons, Jungle Soul! (Ca’ Purange) (6)
“Richard Pitino, huh? HIRED,” said Minnesota’s Athletic Director in 2011.
“Questlove’s dad!” I said softly to myself when I picked up the Lee Andrews record and hugged it tight. “You’re coming home with me.” A lifetime of listening to Art Laboe in cars has given me a healthy affection for doo-wop, but I’d be lying if I said the last name Thompson* had nothing to do with this purchase. You gotta figure that a bloodline means something when it comes to talent, right? I’m not mad at you, Norwood Teague.
* Lee Andrews’ driver’s license says Arthur Lee Andrew Thompson.
Jungle Soul is Bad! Bossa Nova with an uncool title and a better cover. Gene Ammons is in the Kin region as the son of Albert, but that’s only because there was no Boss region. (Springsteen and Benson would’ve been his competitors. “Boss” would’ve been a great nickname for John Thompson, too – he’s big and deep-voiced, plus there’s that story about him Joe Clark-ing the shit out of that drug dealer in DC.) Burrell, Jones, and Jackson are the sidemen on this one and I’m not an idiot, so I scooped it up and brought it home.
ROUND TWO: THE GREAT EIGHT
The Mustangs (11) beat the Soul Searchers (5) (!)
Stunning! Glorious! As I typed this, news came in about #14 Mercer beating #4 Duke, a stunning, glorious event. LawdaMERcer. The Soul Searchers ain’t the musical equivalent of a historically dominating force like Duke (that would be Gaye or Mayfield, thank you), but when they tried to set a screen to let their chunky dancefloor bass take the lead, it looked like it just might work. Alas, no. They failed to account for the Mustangs’ ability to make me feel like I’m wearing a sundress while in young Bahamian love on an 84-degree day. There’s always next year.
Oliver Nelson (3) beats Booker Ervin (7)
Aw, this was a tough one and it could’ve just as easily gone the other way. The Nelson record isn’t infallible, mind you, as it takes a tiny misstep on the otherwise perfect “Stolen Moments.” (I love Dolphy. I don’t love Dolphy on flute. Letting him do heavy work on anything other than alto sax is a big waste. It’s having Richard Pryor at your birthday party just to help hang the decorations.) And Ervin left it all out on the court – side 1 of Structurally Sound is gorgeous, opening with “Berkshire Blues” (no link, and it KILLS ME) then leading into the beauuuutiful “Dancing in the Dark.”
Add the fine assist work put in by John Hicks, and the fact that the whole squad is coached by my man Richard Bock, and you can see how Ervin almost took this one. Dueling “Stolen Moments” led to a buzzer-beater at the end, though, with “Yearnin” giving Oliver the slight edge, shout to Bill Evans. It’s that Van Gelder space thing again, man. Richard Bock, you rule, west coast forever and I mean that, but where do you stand on spatial relations? And Booker, before you go, can you please explain the “Telleferro” middle name? Yeah yeah, Booker T., I get it, but what’s the deal.
Albert Ayler (2) beats Bobby Timmons (10)
I love Timmons* and Do You Know the Way? will see a lot of time on apartment 680’s turntable (skipping over the surprisingly dull title track), but he just came out all lackluster next to Ayler, who cruised to an easy victory. There’s a reason people say, “Your love is like the Holy Ghost” when they really fucking want you to feel it in your bones. No disrespect, Bobby, but don’t nobody compare their love to a pianist.
* no links for anything from Do You Know the Way? (other than the title track. But it’s surprisingly dull, so I won’t link it.)
Eric Kloss (14) beats Pharoah Sanders (4)
Sanders and crew shouldn’t have even suited up, because Kloss comes onto the court with a spooky intro that turns into a pretty, sparkly groove before you know it. My man has been doing the shit for a lonnnng time, put in his work and has been laying in the cut since he was in ninth grade, YOU LOSER. None of the stuff after it lives up to the title track’s beauty, and what the hell is a song called “Libra” doing on here if you aren’t Dennis Coffey or a Libra (Eric’s an Aries), but Doors gets the win for simply being more listenable than the Sanders record. It’s crazy, I know. No disrespect to Farrell’s spiritual calling; in determining a winner, I just had to consider which one of these is going to see more time on my turntable. But hey, how funny is it that this matchup featured an actual blind man winning out over deafness, dumbness, and blindness? (I’m going to hell.)
Loudon Wainwright III (8) beats Sam Rivers (9)
Jazz bros are mad that Rivers was left off the stupid Blue Note publicity stunt pointless reissue cash grab75th Anniversary Vinyl Initiative. Jazz bros are always looking for something to be mad about, though, and as long as they occupy themselves with this harmless shit it means they have less time to troll me. Anyway, the bros don’t believe these are my records or my words, so they won’t bother getting themselves mad that Sam lost to Loudon in the tournament. Hey, my precious Fuschia Swing Song, I love you, and the cover, personnel, and free-flowing beauty of Streams made me believe it might be able to pull out the victory here. But Loudon wins on account of his song choices and overall warmth he emits throughout the entire record. The fact that he’s got a lady banjo player and Tommy Cogbill helped him a little, too. He opens with “The Swimming Song,” which is either about life, death, and love, or just stripping down and swimming in some damn water. Either way, you add some weed smoke and you’ve got my childhood living room.
Southside Movement (1) beats R.B. Greaves (16)
Mount St. Mary’s could never have prevailed over North Carolina. Liberty never stood a chance against St. Joe’s. UNC Asheville wasn’t taking Pitt. A 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed and there’s no need to start now. The way Greaves cries “Al-a-ba-muuuuuh” in “Birmingham” is pretty, but one vocal bright spot can’t make this record a winner over the crew from Chicago – whose “Country Girl” is a real banger, by the way. Most songs called “Country Girl” are.
Gene Ammons (6) beats Lee Andrews and the Hearts (13)
It’s called Madness for a reason but this was pretty damn expected. March Expectedness. Going into the game, I’ll admit I was biased toward Gene because of past pleasures he’s brought me, but he was just the better player in this matchup. Turns out that a bloodline isn’t enough to make me want to put a so-so doo-wop record on heavy rotation, no matter how much I love your son’s music and his spirit so free he accepts his guarded, vulnerable, friends-less life not unlike my own. I feared I lost a little bit of my affection for vintage streetcorner vocal masculinity when I picked Ammons over the Hearts. Was this the end of my love affair with harmonizers who are old enough to be my grandpas? Alas, no – I remembered how hard I had rolled my eyes on the drive home when I passed by a big stupid Nick Waterhouse billboard, and I realized I’d always be your beloved “The Funk Brothers already did it, 50 years ago and better” girl. There’s one at every party.
ROUND THREE: THE FINAL FOUR
The Mustangs (11) beat the Heptones (15)
This was less of a nail-biter than the rankings would indicate, though it’s hard for me to tell the full story since I could find zero links to any of the Mustangs’ songs. These are two quality squads from the West Indian Conference but the Mustangs just blow the Heptones out of the warm, clear, blue, sediment-free water. They sealed the win with their sweet song choices and that janky ’70s island studio sound – you know what I mean. It’s tinny and fat-bottomed at the same time? There’s bass, but not really? YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.
Oliver Nelson (3) beats Albert Ayler (2)
Ayler is church. Proper attire and a good night’s sleep are necessary. You’ll break down and cry because life’s blessings are sweet. Or you’ll start fidgeting because you’re not in the mood and just want the sermon to be over.
Nelson is the bar at 1 AM when “90% of Me is You” comes on – you won’t learn nothin new from its easy, mindless pleasure, but sometimes you just wanna rest your glass of Maker’s on your thigh and lean your head back and feel the bass. Either way, God is good. .
Eric Kloss (14) beats Loudon (8)
Loudon’s stories couldn’t hold up to Eric’s run-and-gun offense. Eric’s album is just lighter, less fraught with real-world bittersweet aches and pains. I can’t lie; he also benefits from being on the same team as The Gap Sealer (overlooked as hell) and from being a classic horn-break source for the mighty D-E-L.
The Mustangs (11) beat Oliver Nelson (3)
The Mustangs make me plenty happy without needing to disrobe, which is more than I can say for Mr. Nelson and crew. Ain’t no fun listening to “Stolen Moments” when there’s nobody around for any dress-removing moments to be stolen. I know it’s unfair and he’s just a casualty in my game of love, but I had to hand Oliver a defeat on account of my single-lady woes. Plus his resemblance to Eddie Harris started to get really distracting.
Southside Movement (1) beats Eric Kloss (14)
Offense wins games, defense wins championships, and funk band versatility beats altoist consistency. Every time. Eric will get lots of chances to work it all the way out on my turntable; this loss is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just that Southside’s got sweaty dancefloor burners, midtempo housecleaning burners, and a couple of late-night makeout songs. Extra points awarded for including a song called “Can You Get to That” that is blessedly not a cover. I only need one version of perfection.
The Mustangs brought a combination of romance and bass that I found irresistible. They also provided me a valuable moment of self-reflection, as I now realize I’m not very good at ranking albums based on my projected enjoyment of them. No matter – this is a happy ending, since an 11 seed gets to cut down the net, while I remain the overall champion because all 16 contestants live with me in my apartment, where I play them whenever I damn well please.
Thanks for playing along, and remember: reach deep inside, and don’t quit! DON’T EVER QUIT!*