Hey Santa b/w MR. SCROOGE
Back in the dim and distant past of the mid 80s, at a time when The Cars were still chart toppers and The Replacements hadn’t quite made the jump to a major label deal and fullblown melodies, there was a rock ‘n’ roll band called The Clams. That name has since been hijacked by a surf rock band, but the original Minnesota Clams were a great vehicle for garage rock riffs and massive hooks. A lot of people have only really caught up with them via the Rum Bar Records compilation ‘The Complete Clams’ (issued in May 2022), but it’s clear that decades after they disbanded, The Clams were a band with a huge potential. At the very tip of their musical iceberg, ‘He’s Like Heroin’ presented them like a huge-voiced, female fronted Stooges; ‘Give Me A Reason’ served up sixties garage pop loaded with bubblegum sweet melodic hooks and ‘The Dangerous Kind’ showed them dabbling with something much punkier, but with equally cool results. The Clams were a band that often sounded great, no matter what. Their vocalist Cindy Lawson disappeared off the map for a good few years after their disbanding, but made a much unexpected return to the US rock scene in 2021. Her counter vocal on a Beebe Gallini Xmas recording showed how much her voice had matured, but it still retained so much of its former sass and power, before Lawson’s own LP (‘New Tricks’, released in May ’22 alongside the Clams comp) showcased a hugely confident vocal curl on a range of power pop bangers that came with a strong root in mid 60s melodies. The album suggested that she was back in a very big way. Hot on the heels of that Rum Bar LP, this two track festive treat gives fans more of “the voice”, but if anything, Lawson’s natural coolness sounds even better here. When applied to music that aims to lift the spirits – first and foremost – but also supply a dose of yuletide nostalgia, it appears that she’s able to summon some pleasingly huge sounds. On the newly written ‘Hey Santa’, the clean opening chords and soaring vocal melody immediately hark back to the Phil Spector stable, providing melodies that are very broad, but they become much more indebted to the works of the Wall of Sound when a classic girl group groove takes a hold via a massive drum part and curly vocal. The 60s derived music comes strongly juxtaposed with ironic, modern lyrics about iPhone accessories and not wanting traditional toys, but nothing here ever leans on novelty. If anything, Lawson approaches each syllable with a great earnestness that sells the song, and by the time she reaches the chorus and drops in various whoahs that are clearly stolen with love from The Ronettes, this sounds like a modern classic in the old school mould. To hear it once is to love it. On the flip, Lawson and her band tackle The Orchids’ ‘Mr. Scrooge’, which they make their own with the help of another beefy drum part and well arranged harmonies. Although the lead vocal remains very strident, the more spacious and slightly slower arrangement immediately shows how it wasn’t written with Cindy in mind. There are a couple of moments where she wobbles on a broader melody, but reaching the second verse and beyond, and with a much higher register, she positively explodes, dominating another tune that calls back to the glory days of Gold Star Studios. That’s not to take anything away from the assembled band, though. This very natural sounding recording features some really cool bass runs, a hard edged guitar that’s just perfect for the role it’s given, and as previously suggested, a really taut drum sound brings a great amount of life to the recording as a whole. Xmas singles may only have a limited amount of stereo time every year, but the retro feel of these tracks ensures they won’t actually get old any time soon. This duo of 60s inspired bangers deserves a place on any festive playlist loaded with old favourites. In time, they have every chance of becoming part of your listening tradition along with those Brian Setzer LPs and that well worn copy of ‘A Christmas Gift From Phil Spector’. …And if, somehow, you’ve stumbled across this release due to a love of xmas related songs, be sure to backtrack and check out Cindy’s ‘New Tricks’ LP too – you won’t be disappointed.