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Christmas GiftThis year, I am offering something both very different and far more ambitious than in the past – a complete archive of the eight Flagpole Christmas albums. (Well, nearly complete, but more on that later.) These MP3's are free to all comers, but please keep in mind that this music is very rare, long out-of-print, and otherwise unavailable for download. So, hopefully, no one should get too upset at our petty larceny. Like Phil Spector, I'm pleased to offer this "Christmas Gift For You" to get your holiday season off to a rockin' start!

Randy Anthony

Flagpole Magazine is an alternative weekly magazine in Athens, Georgia that sprang up in the early 1980’s parallel to the development of a robust post-punk, alternative music scene anchored by the now-legendary band R.E.M. (read more). Many such weekly rags took root about that time, including the Austin Chronicle in my hometown. The reason we are here, though, is that Flagpole issued a series of eight Christmas albums (six tapes and two CD's) from 1990 through 1996. These albums were virtually an act of civic pride: All of them featured local bands, and the proceeds supported local charitable organizations. "We compile and release a Christmas album every year because we love doing it," explained Flagpole music editors Marc Pilvinsky and Jason Slatton, and it showed.

Flagpole MagazineWith the exception of the 1992 compilation, The Mother of All Flagpole Christmas Albums, however, none were widely available outside the Athens area. In fact, until recently I'd managed to secure just the two compact discs - and I spend a lot of time looking for stuff like this! But, a couple of years ago, the blog Beyond Failure posted the first five tapes as free MP3 downloads - three with complete artwork, two without. Together with my CD's that left just one - and it came up for auction on eBay this year. Guess who won?

So, here they are - cleaned up, properly tagged with restored artwork, and compressed into handy zipped files - minus the two CD's, which are still available online through Athens Music. Like I said, this isn't the "complete" collection - just the ones you can't buy. That said, on the first three releases I have substituted, where possible, the cleaner, more dynamic files from the "Mother" CD, and I have also included the rough scans posted by Beyond Failure. On all the tracks taken from tape, you may notice a little "bleed through" on the quieter portions of a few tracks. This is an unfortunate artifact of old cassettes; because the tape is wrapped on top of itself, a ghost is slowly imprinted a few seconds in advance - thankfully audible only in the quietest passages or before the song starts.

Now, I'm not going to go on at any length about these albums - not yet, at least - but let me say a word about the documentation. These are old, pre-internet albums released mostly for a relatively small, local market. The cassette liners are much more informative than most, but the dates are occasionally fuzzy - especially for the 1993 and 1994 releases, for which I have little or no documentation whatsoever. It is startling how little information there is about the Flagpole albums on the web - even the Flagpole website barely mentions them. This is something I hope to remedy starting with this post.

The Flagpole Christmas Album (1990)
The inaugural volume of the series set the mold that every other would follow - a who's who of local talent performing an eclectic mix of holiday originals and covers. Artists include Vic Chesnutt, Dashboard Saviors, Vigilantes of Love, Five-Eight, and Hillbilly Frankenstein who - many years later - would wax a complete Christmas album, Santa & The Trucker (2008).

zip file zip file, 120 MB (ripped from cassette tape and compact disc)

The Flagpole Christmas Album

Son of the Flagpole Christmas Album (1991)
This time out, the biggest names are Michelle Malone and Dreams So Real - both of who recorded for major labels around this time - and frequent flier Vic Chestnutt, who is sort of the annoying sitcom neighbor of the "Flagpole" series. Perhaps the highlight - and certainly the funniest moment - is the "duet" between Tom Waits and Peter Murphy on Porn Orchard's "This Holiday Season."

zip file zip file, 115 MB (ripped from cassette tape and compact disc)

Son of the Flagpole Christmas Album

Daughter of the Flagpole Christmas Album (1992)
We can feel a certain momentum building that, very shortly, would result in the "Mother" CD compilation below. Here, we get cuts from hard-edged singer/songwriter Marlee MacLeod, Bill Taft and Kelly Hogan of the late, lamented Jody Grind, Kevin Kinney of drivin' 'n' cryin', and - as if to prove not everyone in Georgia is a hipster - jam rockers Widespread Panic.

zip file zip file, 134 MB (ripped from cassette tape and compact disc)

Daughter of the Flagpole Christmas Album

The Mother of All Flagpole Christmas Albums (compact disc, 1992)
The name of this CD draws, obviously, on the previous three, but - lest we forget - it's also a play on Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's pledge to wage "the mother of all battles" should the United States invade his country. We did, of course, and it ended rather badly for Saddam.... Anyway, unlike the first three, self-produced cassettes, this CD was released by Ort-Tone and distributed by DB Records. I've seen release dates for "Mother" ranging as high as 1995, but it definitely came the same year as "Daughter" (with which it shares cover art). All but two songs - Bloodkin's "Christmas In August" and Flat Duo Jets' bizarro reading of "Jingle Bells" - are drawn from the previous three volumes. Against all odds, "Mother" is still in print (available at both Amazon and Athens Music), so I am not offering it for download.

CD available at Athens Music

The Mother of All Flagpole Christmas Albums

Red-Headed Stepchild of the Flagpole Christmas Album (1993)
After the relative notoriety of the "Mother" CD - it was recommended in the December 1992 issue of Spin Magazine - this cassette tape (which I have never actually seen) marked a return to the pointed, insular obscurity that defines the series. Five-Eight makes a return appearance, joined by Chris Stamey of the dB's and a woman named "Black Francis" - who is not leader of Boston's Pixies, but the song she performs ("Big Big Sleigh") is a parody of the Pixies' "Gigantic."

zip file zip file, 119 MB (ripped from cassette tape)

Red-Headed Stepchild of the Flagpole Christmas Album

Soft-Spoken Beatnik Cousin of the Flagpole Christmas Album (1994)
The title of this edition alludes to the fact that it's (mostly) a spoken word album - hipster poetry and in-jokes that, for me at least, fail to impress. That's not to say it's not entertaining at times - perhaps most obviously on the Blondie track (a local stripper, not the band), which outlines a truly tasteless Christmas. Most of the names are obscure to me, but Murray Attaway of Guadalcanal Diary drops by for a rendition of "Up On The Housetop," and the aforementioned Bill Taft closes the set with a phone message. (Beyond Failure did not include artwork with this post, either, but Flagpole music editor Gabe Vodicka was kind enough to send us scans.)

zip file zip file, 129 MB (ripped from cassette tape)

Soft-Spoken Beatnik Cousin of the Flagpole Christmas Album

Chilly, The Flagpole Christmas Album That Could Not Love (1995)
This is the tape that I won on eBay this year (best two bucks I ever spent), and it's as good and eclectic as any "Flagpole" album. Increasingly, though, no one outside the Athens zip code will have heard of these bands. One exception is the Vigilantes Of Love, who recorded a number of albums in the 90's, including three for Capricorn, and whose "On to Bethlehem (My Heart's Electric)" is the standout track. Also, the Possibilities turn in a rousing cover of the Kinks' "Father Christmas."

zip file zip file, 101 MB (ripped from cassette tape)

Chilly, The Flagpole Christmas Album That Could Not Love

The Flagpole White Christmas Album (1996)
Fashioned after the Beatles "White Album," this is the only wholly new CD Flagpole ever issued, and the final edition to date. Like the cassettes, it was never distributed nationally but, surprisingly, it is still for sale through Athens Music - which is where I got mine. Therefore, I am not offering it for download in hope that a few of my faithful readers will reach out and make Christmas a little merrier in Georgia. Artists of note include Anne Richmond Boston and Drive-By Truckers.

CD available at Athens Music

The Flagpole White Christmas Album

Christmas TreeHave you been very, very good? Well then, you get to reach into Santa's swingin' sack one more time! Peruse our MP3 giveaways from 2003 (including Weezer and Keith Richards), 2004 (Shelby Lynne, White Stripes), 2005 (Cheap Trick, Leon Russell), 2006 (Marshall Crenshaw, Screaming Santas), 2007 (T. Rex, Turtles), 2008 (MxPx, BoDeans), 2009 (Aimee Mann, The Fray), 2010 (R.E.M.), and 2011 (Blondie, Blues Magoos).

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