It was back in 1988 that R.E.M. hit upon the idea of doing what The Beatles had done back in the 60s and giving out something a bit special for free to members of the official fan club. In what would become a great tradition, a gift, most often a 7″ single, was sent out every Christmas some of which have become among the most sought-after pieces of vinyl in the back catalogue.
The gifts went out for 24 years in a row. The first ten releases, from 1988 – 1997, were 7″ singles. The 1998 gift was a VHS video featuring two joint performances with Radiohead, while the following year it was a CD with two joint performances with Neil Young. The vinyl made a one-off comeback in 2000 before the final eleven gifts between 2001 and 2011 were CDs or DVDs.
It was a fabulous gesture, but please don’t go thinking that the songs on offer, certainly in the early years, were among their very best or had been afforded top-level production values. Indeed, what they did, for the most part, was offer a unique take on a song/carol/piece of music closely associated with Christmas and on the flip side offered a cover from the punk/new wave era.
Over the next two Sundays, I’m going to bring you all the songs released up to, and including 1997. I don’t actually have any of the singles, but I have picked up at some point a CD bootleg with all of them….(and please note, I’ve taken the numbers of pressings from Discogs and hav no idea how accurate the figures actually are!)
1988 (green vinyl): pressing of 3,000
A: Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers
a song associated with Christmas, popularised in the United States by bandleaders Paul Whiteman (1923) and Larry Clinton (1939)
B: See No Evil
cover of a song from New York-based new wave band Television‘s 1977 debut, Marquee Moon
1989 (black vinyl) : pressing of 4,500
A: Good King Wenceslas
traditional holiday song about St. Stephen’s Day (December 26)
B: Academy Fight Song
cover of a song by Boston band Mission of Burma
1990 (black vinyl): pressing of 6,000
A: Ghost Reindeer In The Sky
adaptation of Ghost Riders In The Sky, made famous at various times by the likes of Peggy Lee, Bing Crosby, Burl Ives and Gene Autry.
cover of the George & Ira Gershwin song from the opera Porgy & Bess
1991 (black vinyl): pressing of 4,000
A: Baby Baby
cover of a song by UK punk band The Vibrators from their album, Pure Mania (1977)
B: Christmas Griping
a track written by R.E.M., but it’s hardly a stab at making something that would air among the festive perennials….
1992 (black vinyl): pressing of 6,000
A: Where’s Captain Kirk?
cover of 1979 single by UK new wave band Spizzenergi.
another song associated with Christmas, popularised in the United States by Doris Day (1964).
I’ll be back next week with the next 5 years worth of Christmas ‘Crackers’.