The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Low Culture

Organic Intelligence IV: Global Christmas
The Quietus , December 15th, 2021 10:03

The Low Culture Organic Intelligence newsletter is back, this time with Finders Keepers' Andy Votel sourcing those ear-boggling Christmas hits that never were

J.P. Massiera

We’re not luddites, we just feel you deserve better than some unsatisfying algorithmic advice when it comes to music. This is the fourth edition of our Low Culture subscriber’s newsletter, Organic Intelligence, which features tQ’s favourite people taking a deep dive into their record collections to offer you DJ bag gold, Discogs bargains and all-back-to-mine nuggets. This month Andy Votel unearths five fuzzy festive gems. You can listen to (an alternative mix of) this Organic Intelligence playlist on Spotify, Apple and Tidal (and remember that all your monthly playlists, as well as your exclusive essays, can be found on the Low Culture Quietus page). To get access to the Organic Intelligence newsletter, you need to sign up to our subscriber system via the Steady checkout below.

Listen to the modified global Christmas playlist on Spotify, Apple and Tidal (and remember that all your monthly playlists, as well as your exclusive essays, can be found on the Low Culture Quietus page here).

First of all, let's get things nice and sparkling clear: technically speaking, I've never* intentionally bought myself a festive record in my life. I don't know how these records ended up in my collection, but I’m not surprised they're here. I think the infinite monkey theorem says that when your record collection gets close to the "enter depressing number here" amount then surprising patterns emerge. And now I find myself narrowing down a list of 20 Christmas records to champion my all-time top 5 for The Quietus. How did I get here?

In the past I've proudly challenged myself to do thematic radio shows and DJ sets based on zoology, booze, bonfires, architecture, motorbikes and typewriters not to mention endless regional specific compendiums which all sound pretty cool, right? But what kind of person collects Christmas records? An elf? A “heavy breather"? Most certainly a middle aged man who lives with his parents and rotates seven festive jumpers and eats Arctic roll and Iced Magic for breakfast every morning.

Or maybe not? If you're a Can completist, a McCartney disciple, a slasher soundtrack fanatic, a James Brown broker or a Bollywood fiend – whether you're comfortable with it or not, you have a Christmas record collection just like me you chummy bugger! Rosemary’s Baby? Profondo Rosso? Enjoy your egg nog. But are there actually any good Christmas records? Well yes, of course there are. My wife, Jane Weaver (who has never bought me a record of any description for Christmas in 20 years) confidently counts Slade’s 'Merry Christmas Everyone' as a top slice of unrivalled oblique compositional genius, and she'd be correct. Whereas Wizzard's equally well-known Christmas cash-in carries possibly one of the most deranged and misguided notions ever committed to vinyl.

On a global scale there are obviously zillions of Christmas singles and albums, so logic denotes that a handful of them must be good. So literally, here are five.

*Full disclosure, I actually bought 1,000 Christmas records in Winter 1998. All had the same title, Twisted Nerve Christmas Stocking Filler. Driven by what? Irony? Kitsch? Oh, and then there was that Moomins record on Finders Keepers. They're both good… I’m obviously a lost claus.

1. J.P. Massiera - 'Bonne Année, Douce Nuit, Ivresse Des Profondeurs' (France 1967)

Pantomime/ Pandemic restrictions aside, the only mass I intend to attend this year is the Midnight MASSiera, in which I ritualistically crack open this rare seasonal 45 by the Niçoise answer to Joe Meek who has continued to inspire and invigorate me despite his untimely passing a few days after Christmas in 2019. Jean-Pierre Massiera who once released a concept E.P. about one aspect of the life of Jesus Christ, namely the Messiah's final moments before approaching the Electric Chair. (A record I once played at the Mancunian nightclub of the same name and crucified the dance floor.) This is the Frenchman's debut release from 1967 in which our scalpel-happy proto-mixologist lays down an intoxicating statement of intent. Pressed up as a festive freebee to promote his SEM studios in Nice this single is a psychedelic selection box which ambitiously showcases the full capabilities of the wizard's workshop using virtually every tool in the box to crowbar his manifesto onto both 3 minute sides of a 7” single. (Of course, it's best savoured as a two course listen.)

Primitive sampling, VariSpeed spoken word, squeak boxes, furious fuzz guitars, erratic time-signatures and underwater monster sound effects all do their best to lubricate Massiera’s jagged cut-and-paste journey from 'Silent Night' (in three time signatures) towards a conceptual version of 'Un Bateau S'En Va' (a nautical hit made popular by French starlet Sheila the previous year) entitled 'Ivresse Des Profondeurs' (intoxication of the depths) which sonically illustrates the effects of nitrogen narcosis during submarine disasters while tipping his snorkel to his life long love affair with booze. There may be few snowmen on the The French Riviera but anyone familiar with this man's work will testify this cacophonic maiden voyage was just the tip of the iceberg.

2. Marcel - 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' (Germany 1971)

Unwittingly pre-empting todays “McChurch” slang-tag for corporate Christianity, the band name McChurch Soundroom potentially did to sensitive Sunday-schoolers what Rentaghost's McWitch did to Perth pagans. Having marketed their only (Conny Plank produced) album under the name Delusion, complete with amazing artwork depicting a melting wax skull, during young Germany's well-documented “ground zero” attitude towards religion and politics in the early 1970s, it would be safe to assume that this Swiss Krautrock six piece had a secular chip or two on their clavicles. This theory however turns on a sixpence when you learn that main songwriter Marcel Schaar decided to produce this unlikely version of the 16th century smash hit. 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' was recorded for an xmas inspired compilation on the collectable drugsploitation label Pilz called Heavy Christmas. Produced by John O'Brien-Docker from the Aldous Huxley inspired kosmiche rockers Brave New World (also struggling on the theistic scoreboard) this track is the kind of rumbling, heavy head-nod prog that earned accidental psychonauts such as Our Solid Ground a place on the Nurse With Wound list. If I was writing a hype sticker I’d confidently suggest that this track sounds like Black Sabbath with Gainsbourg’s Melody Nelson choir over the top which is fully justified (honestly) but an unlikely unsparkled instrumental version still holds that special place on my Christmas list.

3. P. Shusheela – 'Sathiya Muthirai (Merry Christmas)' (Tamil Nadu 1969)

Given that the Bollywood film industry is one of the largest in the world it’s easy to overlook the more humble cinematic output of South Asia such as Lollywood (from Lahore) and the Tamil language films of the Kollywood scene (from the Kodambakkam neighbourhood of Chennai). Like Bollywood the style and narrative of Lollywood and Kollywood films are embodied in their distinctive music. Given that a majority of their movies operate in wide-reaching family genres it is not unusual that Christmas-themed scenarios are prevalent… this doesn’t mean, however, that the music isn’t absolutely fucking bonkers! The added fact that Kollywood films were probably made on about one percent of the budget of their Bollywood counterparts explains the understandably lo-fi music. There is a tendency towards one-man band compositions produced by composers such as Ilaiyaraaja and (in this case) M.S.Viswanathan. It is however the singer P.Susheela (notice the stylistic habit of using initials as christian names) who is the star of the show on this multilingual Tamil/ English tabla, flute and tubular bell-driven festive looper. Her aerodynamic vocals weave through icy cold clouds like a reindeer-drawn sleigh before settling into a pidgin english chorus of “merry merry Christmas/ happy happy Christmas”, phonetically delivered to a degree more heartwarming than a hot palm toddy. This track is by no stretch of the imagination the craziest track to come from the Tamil scene and its 1969 release on a rare soundtrack to the film Kanne Pappa pre-dates the significant arrival of synthesizers in South Indian studios, but on account of Shusheela's yearning delivery and switchable lingo tricks and its lo-budget victorious small-orchestra arrangements this tracks jolts up the nostalgia factor sending us to places that many of us have never even been to. Yes, it's that magical.

4. Milly And Silly – 'Getting Down For Christmas' (USA 1973)

Lets face it, the transferable skill-set of a novelty band's sleigh bell ace is pretty scant by the time the January sales start, so thank God that, in the case of this record, the archangel Large Professor and a generation of like-minded producers came to future-proof the proceedings. I’m sure that many will baulk at the sound of this saccharine sweet, outsider pop-funk novelty but its legacy is undeniable and indelible. When crate diggers chanced upon this independent American 45 B-side called 'Getting Down For Christmas' a new off-grid hip hop staple had been secured. For those familiar with the track 'School Boy Crush' by Average White Band (as immortalised by Rakim's 'Microphone Fiend') you might agree that the sleigh-bell beat at the start of 'Getting Down For Christmas' is like an isolated studio separate of the AWB classic but without the bass line or the hella creepy-assed Scot-lantic lyrics. First sampled on Main Source's Breaking Atoms – the best rap album ever made? – just a few rotations away from lyrics by a debutant Nas (“When I was 12, I went to hell for snuffing Jesus”), the new adoptive home of Milly And Silly's jingle-beats couldn't have been further removed from “the true meaning of Christmas”. Since then the break, played by an unspecified drummer and arranged by lesser known 1960’s Philadelphians Franklyn Smith and Bruce Clarke, has appeared on Kool G Rap’s 'Blowin' Up In The World' and the Buckwild production 'Ho Happy Jackie' by AZ amongst many others. If you want postmodernism for Christmas, rap Santa never fails. Meanwhile neither Milly nor Silly can figure out whether they've been naughty or nice or even remember the last time they visited home. You can always trust Wu Tang Clan to take a holy grail back to its roots though. On the track 'Careful Click Click' in which Rza reappropriates the “jingle” sample as a gun-clap while Ghostface Killah raps about getting death threats in Israel and selling Heroin in Bethlehem. Hark.

5. X-Ray Pop – 'Le Noel Erotique' (France 1999)

The fact that this individualistic plastic-punk, synth-pop trio from France has an expansive discography rumoured to extend way past the 300 release mark, means it was almost inevitable that there would be a Christmas-themed ditty in there somewhere. Actually X-Ray Pop have been committed to the cause when it comes to DIY Crimbo-tunes. Anyone who owns a copy of their would-be hit 'Ding Dong' and its striking Stereolab doppelgänger stylings might have already considered a tenuous inclusion on the seasonal mixtape but on deeper inspection M. Doc Pilot, Ms. Pam-Pam and Ms. Zouka Dzaza have enough bone fide festive fuzz-box bathroom jams to fill and entire C90. In fact a dedicated 45 single called Fuzzy Christmas was released in 1989 on transparent vinyl which bolsters their existing inventory of tracks with titles like 'Christmas Bong' and 'Béton Christmas' that appear on rare cassettes, or as the French call them K7s – pronounced K Septs, geddit? However, the nicest slice of X-Ray Pop's xmatic oeuvre is a late period track called 'Le Noel Erotique' from their 1999 album Zoukaland. Never leaving their Tours neighbourhood for the big lights of Paris, the group's sonic blueprint of repetitive Casiotonal melodies, yelpy femme vocals, catalogue-shop guitars and Moog Taurus undertones hasn't changed one-jot in their 35-year reign but 'Le Noel Erotique' captures X-Ray Pop in a sensuous dreamscape, keeping one another warm and cosy with a full bottle of Pernod and a strong magnet on the electricity meter.