Wednesday, December 23, 2015

W.O.C.K On Vinyl - Bonanza: Original TV Cast - Christmas on the Ponderosa (1963)

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Before things get too serious here at Rock On Vinyl, I thought it might be fun to post a song / album at the end of each month, that could be categorized as being either Weird, Obscure, Crazy or just plain Korny.
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While growing up as a young boy in Warrnambool, Australia during the 60's, I would religiously watch the T.V series Bonanza on the B&W telly with my brother and we would both aspire to living a life in the wild, wild west with the Cartwright family and fighting off any cattle rustlers and outlaws that might have came mozing by.

Did you like Bonanza and do you like Christmas music? If your answer to both questions is yes, then you'll love this little curio. Presented as a holiday gathering at the Cartwright homestead--The Ponderosa--it starts with Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) welcoming his guests (you the listener included) in to help decorate the x-mas tree. Soon, applejack is flowin', songs are bein' sung, stories of the season are told, and in Ben's case, the need to fend off the attentions of a persistent female neighbor ensue.

Now, Big Hoss (as portrayed by the one of a kind Dan Blocker) couldn't carry a tune if a white guy portraying an evil Mexican bandito holding a pistol to his head insisted on it but kinda like Ringo Starr, by sheer force of personality, he carries off a rousing version of "Deck The Halls" in such a way you feel like your snacking on some mincemeat pie, sipping applejack and stomping your feet in encouragement to the big loveable bear singing in front of the roaring Cartwright hearth.

Little Joe (Michael Landon) does his best Elvis impersonation on "Oh Fir Tree Dear" and imparts a surprisingly moving little memory of his departed mother to Pa (the Cartwright curse strikes down any woman who takes on the Cartwright name) and Adam (Pernell Roberts) humorously tries a little too hard to sound manly on "The New Born King" but there is a sense everyone sincerely had a good time making this.

Lorne Greene had a background in radio and stands out on this album with his Corinthian (Canadian?) leather rich tones imparting by turns some x-mas stories and leading some infectious sing-alongs, like "Christmas Is A Comin' (May God Bless You)". His voice is just tailor made for this medium. Most of the zestier sing-alongs feature the Ken Darby Singers and they help to bring a professional sheen to the fun but mostly amateur vocal stylings of the Bonanza cast regulars. They also make it seem that the Cartwright's have some neighbors who seem unusually gifted vocally and maybe should be spending more time tending their herds and crops and less time singing!

On the evidence of songs like the Landon sung "Santa Got Lost In Texas",  Elvis certainly didn't have anything to fret over and could content himself with more important activities, like his movies and pharmaceuticals. That said, the already mentioned sense of fun is absolutely infectious and surprisingly cohesive. When we, the guests, leave the party singing "Silent Night", the quiet ruminations of Lorne Greene's character Ben, are effectively emotional. As it's put in the liner notes, "Someone begins Silent Night, and we all sing it together, happy to share the words and the tune and the surge of Christmas joy. Only the shadowy ranch house and the big pines and the star sprinkled sky are near enough to hear Ben's quietly spoken words as he stands alone on the wide veranda listening to our carol drift back through the trees."

Like a good episode of it's parent show, your sort of sad it's over so quickly. At just over 29 minutes there's a whole lot of Ponderosa goodness packed in here. No, there's never a dull moment and, hell, what with all the work involved in living on the dangerous Western American frontier and all, you gotta pack your partying into dense, compact little bursts. Burn white hot and get the hell out so you can go ride the fences, brand the steer and get into a knock down drag out at the saloon in Virginia City on the morrow. Good old frontier life.

Pop this on at your next Christmas party and surprise, confuse and confound your guests. For that extra dumbfounded, glazed over expression from your family and friends, make sure you crank Hoss' "Deck The Halls" at maximum volume. Like Hoss KO'ing a sassin' outlaw on the show, his voice will floor your festive, hot buttered rum fueled guests. As those liner notes put it so perfectly, "Christmas On The Ponderosa will delight you in many ways; the happy spirit of the Cartwright's, the joyous songs, the funny, the wise, the tender stories; but, most of all, because you're not merely listening in, You're actually there!" Wonder if Hoss is up for a few shots...... [review by Godwaffle at rateyourmusic.com]
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This Month's WOCK on Vinyl post is a little earlier than normal to catch the festive season and share this nostalgic release with you before Christmas day.
I am very grateful to Ozzie Musicman for making this rip (MP3/320kps) available to me some time ago and so the O in WOCK is for Ozzie and the C is of course for Christmas
Merry Christmas everyone and I hope your Santa stockings are filled with lots of new and wonderful music.
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Track Listing
01 - Hark! The Herald Angels Sing    
02 - Deck The Halls    
03 - The New Born King    
04 - The First Christmas Trees    
05 - Oh Fir Tree Dear    
06 - Christmas Is A-Comin' (May God Bless You)    
07 - O Come, All Ye Faithful    
08 - Jingle Bells    
09 - Santa Got Lost In Texas    
10 - Stuck In The Chimney    
11 - Why We Light Candles On The Christmas Tree    
12 - Merry Christmas Neighbor    
13 - Merry Christmas And Goodnight (Silent Night)

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Christmas On The Ponderosa (56Mb)
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