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A Midnight Christmas MessA little history: Christmas music became a really huge deal during the 1940's, and its popularity remained high through early 1960's. Back then, everybody recorded a Christmas album, and often more than one. By the late 60's, thanks to the rise of the godless counterculture, holiday music had fallen out-of-fashion. Try to imagine a Christmas song by the Doors or the Stooges or Janis Joplin, and you'll see what I mean. The 1970's, subsequently, were a veritable desert of Christmas music, where the hippest artists putting out the stuff were ones like the Partridge Family, the Carpenters, and John Denver. I mean, I like 'em, but I'd never defend them as cool....

Anyway, things started to heat up with the advent of punk rock in the late 70's. Punks liked singles, and they loved to skewer traditions, and these factors led to a profusion of 7-inch releases - but relatively few albums. In 1980, there was the cacophonous and profane Yobs' Christmas Album, followed in 1981 by two far more urbane collections, A Christmas Record (Ze) and Ghosts Of Christmas Past (Crepuscule). And, in 1983, we got the tremendous, if brief, Boston Rock EP. All good stuff, but slim pickings.

And, that was about it until New York City's Midnight Records stepped into the fray with three wonderful vinyl albums: A Midnight Christmas Mess (1984), A Midnight Christmas Mess Again!! (1986) and It's Midnight Xmess Part III (1987). These albums hardly burned up the charts, and they were very focused both on the American Northeast and the then-burgeoning, now-flourishing garage rock revival. All the same, they helped pave the way for the explosion kicked off by A Very Special Christmas. Once again, everybody was recording Christmas albums - a trend that continued unabated till somebody invented the internet. Thereafter, the annual tide of holiday recordings turned into a veritable flood that continues unabated.

A Midnight Christmas Mess AgainA little more history: Midnight Records was both a label and store. The business had been established in 1978 in New York City by French expatriate and record dealer J.D. Martignon, but the label didn't issue its first records until 1983. Martignon opened the record store in Chelsea in 1984, across the street for the infamous Chelsea Hotel. The notoriously cranky Martigon and his enterprises were key factors in the development of the New York-based garage rock revival that grew out of the seminal mid-70's punk scene that produced the Ramones, Television, Talking Heads, and Blondie. That revival, of course, spread worldwide, but Midnight Records never really took off the way similar labels like Norton and Bomp did as the century wore on - perhaps due to Martignon's storied irrascibility.

Still, the Midnight label stayed in business till 1993, and the store kept its doors open through 2004. Thereafter, Martignon sold records out of his apartment, before passing away in 2016. Today, Martigon and his legacy are largely forgotten. As for those Christmas albums, they have never been reissued in any digital format, and copies are now hard to come by. After Martigon's death, the label's master tapes were auctioned off, and, with that diaspora, it's hard to imagine the Midnight Christmas albums will ever again see the light of day.

Like I said, Midnight Records is known as a garage rock label, and that was, indeed, their focus, with signings as (relatively) notable as the Fuzztones, Cheepskates, the Vipers, the Tryfles, the Brood, and Plan 9 - all of whom contribute tracks to the Christmas Mess albums. But, as evidenced by the rest of the tracks, Midnight reached far afield from garage rock. You'll find strains of rockabilly (Johnny Rabb), blues (The Senders), jangle pop (The Tryfles), and nascent riot grrl punk (The Sterilles). There's even a track by horror rock pioneer Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who worked with the label for a while, waxing a great live album with the Fuzztones.

Midnight Xmess Part IIITaken as a whole, the Christmas Mess series is really impressive and wildly entertaining. These are all-new recordings of mostly original songs, though, bear in mind, the production is programmatically lo-fi. And, the line-up of East Coast bands is now obscure to all but the most fervent garage rock fans. I mean, who the hell were Nadroj & The Wolrats? I don't know, but their contribution, "Forget It" (1984) is a screaming slice of holiday fury that sounds like the Sonics came back from the grave (with apologies to the Sonics who, as of this writing, are still very much alive).

As impressive as the series is, it's the first volume, A Midnight Christmas Mess, that is the real peach and, I suspect, had the most impact on garage rock and Christmas music. The album is packed non-stop with original Christmas nuggets that really, truly rock. Nearly all the tracks are keepers, but the hands-down classic is the opening song, Wednesday Week's "Christmas Here (Could Never Be Like That)." Wednesday Week hailed from Los Angeles, making them one of the few bands on the album not from the New York area. Their song, however, is an askew ode to Christmas in the Big Apple - ice skaters at Rockefeller Center, plastic nativity scenes in store windows, burning trash cans in homeless camps. It's one of my Top 100 Songs, and it's the only track from the Midnight Christmas Mess series to appear on CD, showing up on Santa's Got a GTO (1997) and Ho Ho Ho Spice (2002) - though I suspect both were mastered from vinyl.

The pickings are a little slimmer on the second and third editions - only half the tracks are classics, geez! - but fans of the genre will dig them, too. The Midnight Christmas albums deserved a wider audience from the very start and, had they been released a few years later, they might have found it. The fact that they didn't, and probably never will, is one of the little injustices that make record collecting a fascinating and rewarding pursuit. Happy hunting! [top of page]

http://www.cheepskatesmovie.com/id56.html

http://streetsyoucrossed.blogspot.com/2005/10/midnight-ravers.html

http://www.shakesomeaction.nyc/blog/tag/midnight-records

One of the most obscure albums I'll recommend within these pages is A Midnight Christmas Mess (1984) and its two follow-ups - Midnight Christmas Mess Again!! (1986) and Midnight Christmas Mess Part III (1987) - released by New York independent label-cum-record store, Midnight Records. Both on their label (active 1985-1989) and in their store (still alive and kicking), Midnight focuses on 60's garage rock, proto-punk, and psychedelia, as well as bands who continue in that tradition. Their Christmas LP series consisted of all-new recordings by largely now-forgotten East Coast bands, and the first volume is really a peach - non-stop nuggets of original Christmas songs that really, truly rock. The pickings are a little slimmer on the second and third editions, but fans of the genre will dig all three platters.

Bear in mind, the production is programmatically lo-fi, but if you love garage rock, you're used to that by now! Sadly, the Midnight Christmas Mess records are quite out-of-print and have never been reissued on CD. Last time I looked, they're not even listed in the Amazon database, and they are rarely hawked on eBay. But, Midnight Records - still around after all these years - claimed to have some vinyl copies available for mail order. [top of page]

Albums Albums

SongsSongs

  • Are You Ready For Christmas (Luther n' BBB's, 1987)
  • Celebrate! (Whooping Cranes, 1987)
  • Christmas Dance (Johnny Rabb, 1984)
  • Christmas Here (Could Never Be Like That) (Wednesday Week, 1984)
  • Christmas I'll Be Home (The Vipers, 1986)
  • Christmastime With You (Cheepskates, 1984)
  • December Mourning (Crocodile Shop, 1987)
  • Forget It (Nadroj & The Wolrats, 1984)
  • Gloria (In Excelsis Deo) (Tryfles, 1984)
  • Gotta Get Lucky For Xmas (Johnny Rabb, 1984)
  • Here's What I Want On Christmas Day (Justin Love, 1984)
  • It's Christmas (A Time For Giving) (Screamin' Jay Hawkins, 1984)
  • Last Minute Rush (Cheepskates, 1984)
  • Merry Christmas (Plan 9, 1984)
  • Merry Christmas Baby (Senders, 1987)
  • Mrs. Claus Has Menopause (Sterilles, 1987)
  • O Tannenbaum Now (Das Furlines, 1986)
  • On Comet (The Point, 1984)
  • One Winter's Night (The Brood, 1987)
  • Santa Ain't Santa (Woofing Cookies, 1986)
  • Santa Is Comin' Down Again (Psycho Daisies, 1986)
  • Sleighbell Bop (The Holidays) Star (Cheepskates, 1986)
  • Xmas Time (It Sure Doesn't Feel Like It) (Dogmatics, 1984)
  • Xmas Will Never... (Love Pushers, 1987)
  • Yuh Xmess (Gorehounds, 1987)

Further ListeningFurther Listening

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