As is my custom, I am offering free MP3's of five
treasures from my voluminous collection - songs I love (or love to hate) and that I'm confident you
can't find easily in stores. These are relatively lo-fi files (128 kbps) of (mostly) very rare songs, so
no one should get too upset (we hope) at this petty larceny. Like Phil
Spector, I'm pleased to proffer this Christmas gift for you.
This year, I am spotlighting three garage rock collections released more than 20 years ago by Midnight Records, a label and retail store in New York City. The series started with the magnificent A Midnight Christmas Mess (1984), continued with A Midnight Christmas Mess Again!! (1986), and concluded with It's Midnight Xmess Part III (1987). Midnight Records was the brainchild of French expatriate, record dealer, and notorious crank J.D. Martignon. His entrepreneurial spirit helped foster the garage rock revival that sprung from the same Big Apple scene that, just a few years before, birthed the Ramones, which led to the Sex Pistols - and the rest is history. [learn more]
Nearly none of the bands on Midnight Christmas series achieved any such notoriety, but their passion, humor, and sheer will to rock is still wildly evident in the grooves after all these years. The albums have never been reissued in any format (ergo, these files are ripped from vinyl), with Martignon's death in 2016, probably never will be. So, I hope my gift rocks your Christmas - and inspires you to head to the garage and start your own band!
Crocodile Shop, December Mourning (1987)
This hard-charging, guitar-fueled track includes elements of both where the band started out (new wave pop) and where they would end up (industrial goth). Crocodile Shop was formed in Berlin, Germany by American Mick Hale, but they grew out of New Jersey-based Mod Fun. Hale led that band under the name "Mick London," and they drew a lot of inspiration from (you might have guessed) English mod revival band The Jam. Mod Fun recorded their first album, 90 Wardour Street, for Midnight Records in 1985. By the end of 1987, when "December Mourning" appeared on It's Midnight Xmess Part III, Hale had already changed hats and Crocodile Shop had released their debut EP, Head, for Minneapolis-based Susstones Records. ("December Mourning" also appeared on the band's first Susstones LP, Lullaby, in 1988.) Crocodile Shop's inspirations were darker - Joy Division, Wire, The Jesus and Mary Chain - and they would grow ever more dark, gothic, and electronic. But "December Mourning," despite its morbid overtones, is essentially a pop song - and a really good one. Crocodile Shop (later known as Croc Shop) continued recording till 2003. When they went on hiatus, Mod Fun picked back up where they left off.
Psycho Daisies, Santa Is Comin' Down Again (1986)
The Florida-based Psycho Daisies were led by singer, songwriter, and guitarist John Salton. They released several records during the same period as Midnight Christmas, including Pushin' Up Daisies (1985) Sonicly Speaking (1988), and 30 Milligrams Of Your Love (1990). A reconfigured band released several more in the 2000's after both drummer John Galway and bass player Marco Pettit died, but then Salton himself passed away in 2010. "Santa Is Comin' Down Again" from A Midnight Christmas Mess Again!! was the only track the Daisies ever recorded for Midnight Records, but, boy, is it a keeper! By all accounts, Salton was a true believer in the loud, trippy, sweaty garage rock aesthetic, and his Christmas song meets all those requirements. While it could just as easily be a vintage track by the Seeds, Sonics, or Standells, "Santa Is Comin' Down Again" tells the story of a hard-working, if slightly degenerate, St. Nick. He keeps a six-pack of beer in his big red bag, and he barks at an elf, "Get that reindeer hitched, you son of a bitch!" Okay then.
Nadroj & The Wolrats, Forget It (1984)
A lot of the garage bands on the Midnight Christmas LP's are obscure except to very dedicated students of the genre. In the case of Nadroj & The Wolrats, I think that obscurity was quite intentional. Obviously, their name is a pseudonym, the band never recorded anything before or since, no pictures of them exist, and their scorching, if dispirited song "Forget It" is based on the Sonics' "She's Waiting." Gee, could the band actually be the Sonics? Well, the resemblance is often uncanny, but the singer (whose name, logically, is Nadroj Wolrat) doesn't sound much like the Sonics' leather-lunged Gerry Roslie, even if the Wolrats are ringers for his band. More to the point, the Midnight Christmas Mess liner notes admit that the band is "side project" of The Outta Place, whose singer, Michael Chandler, is listed alongside the Sonics as songwriter. So much for mystery. Anyway, the band billed themselves as "New York's own cave teens" and recorded two albums for Midnight Records, We're Outta Place (1984) and Outta Too! (1987).
The Tryfles, Gloria (In Excelsis Deo) (1984)
By all accounts, the Tryfles’ influence on the NYC garage scene was much greater than their meager recorded output – just one album and one single, both on Midnight Records. The band’s frenzied gigs at local venues like the Dive became legend, and their members later had greater success with the Headless Horsemen and the Maneaters. The Tryfles also featured two girls and two guys at a time when women in rock were rare, and they had two lead singers, Peter Stuart and Lesya Karpilov, and two lead guitarists, Karpilov and John Fay. This came in handy on their contribution to Midnight Christmas Mess, because they covered two songs – at once. The Tryfles probably weren’t the first band to figure this out, and they certainly weren’t the last, but you can sing Van Morrison’s garage anthem “Gloria” and the Christmas hymn "Gloria In Excelsis Deo" at the same time, and it works out pretty good. The Tryfles' “Gloria” is also one (well, two) of the rare covers on the Midnight Christmas series, which skews heavily towards original songs. Regardless, it rocks, and it’s good for a laugh at least once a year.
The Sterilles, Mrs. Claus Has Menopause (1987)
Long before bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater Kinney formalized “riot grrl” in the 1990’s as the official feminist subgenre of punk rock, more than a few bands worked the same aesthetic – loud, political, aggressive, sexual. The Slits and the Raincoats tend to get cited most often, but one band that seems to get all but ignored is Venice, California’s Sterilles. That said, there are good reasons for ignoring them. The Sterilles recorded but one album, On The Rag, released in 1987 as a 5-song EP, then expanded an 8-song LP in 1988. They were something of a joke: Song titles include “You're So Glam It Hurts,” “Gravy Sucking Pig,” and “I Never Stole Your Man, Bitch.” They could barely play. But, in the world of punk rock, these are features, not bugs, and the Sterilles were unapologetically feminine (if not entirely feminist) while playing loudly and screaming rude things. That describes “riot grrl” pretty well, and it describes “Mrs. Claus Has Menopause” from Midnight Xmess Part III perfectly. Enjoy!
Have 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.), 2011 (Blondie, Blues Magoos), 2012 (Flagpole Christmas), 2013 (Pretenders, Donnas), 2014 (Charles Brown, Pearl Jam), 2015 (Willie Nelson, Leroy Carr), and 2016 (Neko Case, Paul Kelly).