Reflections on Mirror Image? A spin with the Roller Disco Orchestra? Cheesy Tunes bites back
Christmas: such a great period to spend time with our family, or put aside a few musical differences. Or the good use of a few days or fortnight away from work (unless the Tories use Brexit to stop this). At this time of writing, it looks as if Ed Sheeran is set to have this year’s Christmas Number One single. A world away from when cheesiness used to dominate the pop charts at Christmas.
As for cheesiness at Christmas, you need to go back to the 1970s. Some may argue that Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody is pure cheese. We think otherwise; it has stood the test of time for 43 years since its initial release. Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday likewise. Again, some think it’s cheesy (and Michael Gove would never, ever, in a month of Sundays honour Roy Wood’s request).
Cheesy Christmas tunes go beyond vox populi’s perception. Cheese can be produced by no name session musicians – some of which went on to better things like Elton John and Tina Charles. Before the Now! That’s What I Call Music juggernaut came along, there was a ready market in budget priced LPs sung by session musicians. Hallmark’s and Pickwick’s Top of the Pops LPs were one example, with scantily clad female models adorning their covers. F.W. Woolworth’s stores had the Embassy and Chevron labels till the mid to late 1980s.
Whereas Hallmark’s and Pickwick’s Top of the Pops LPs were recorded by their own session musicians, you would sometimes hear the same session musicians on other albums. In one country the same group could have an alternative name in another country.
The Non Stop Christmas Party goes on… (and on and on and on)
Let’s go back to 1979. Imagine you’re looking for a Christmas disco record. Your pen pal from New Jersey says Disco Noel kicks serious butt. You call into your local branch of Woolworths and find Disco Noel is out of stock. Instead, your counter assistant points to a double LP on the Pickwick label.
The LP in particular is entitled Non-Stop Christmas Disco. Its session musicians are known as The Roller Disco Orchestra. Not bad, though you are convinced it may a different album to your pen friend’s suggestion. You get the LP back home on a packed 340 out of Ashton bus station (as you missed the more direct 339).
Fast forward to 2014: you look for the same LP on t’ internets. Unlike 1979, you have YouTube for your research. Then you realise that Disco Noel not only has the same session musicians as the double LP. It is a cut down version of Non-Stop Christmas Disco. Still, the memories of hazy school discos and a crafty can of Skol return to the fore. Mission accomplished.
Non-Stop Christmas Disco, Christmas Disco… What’s in a name?
Disco music was mainstream in 1979: at home on BBC Radio Two as well as BBC Radio One and Piccadilly Radio. Only last year, Saturday Night Fever packed out box offices with its soundtrack album selling shedloads. Every town worth its salt had a discotheque of some description – whether a converted cinema or a few nights at a civic hall. It was only a matter a time before turkey and tinsel was added to a mirrorball.
In the United Kingdom, Pickwick released Non-Stop Christmas Disco. It was available as two LPs and as a twin cassette album. The cover ticks the late 1970s Christmas cliché boxes: reds and greens; a small group of dancers with roller skates; and a capitalised ‘Disco’ set in green Dynamo Black typeface (also used by Radio One in white, back then). The track listing:
- We Wish You a Merry Christmas
- Good King Wenceslas
- I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
- Deck The Halls
- Jingle Bell Rock
- White Christmas
- Little Drummer Boy
- Joy to the World
- Sleigh Ride
- We Three Kings
- Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town
- O Tannenbaum
- Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
- Silver Bells
- Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
- The Twelve Days of Christmas
- Winter Wonderland
- Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
- Jingle Bells
- Auld Lang Syne
The track listing is similar to Switched On Christmas, with exactly the same session musicians as Non-Stop Christmas Party. In Australia, on the Rainbow label’s CD reissue, it opens with The Little Drummer Boy and finishes with O Tannenbaum. An earlier LP version opens with The Twelve Days of Christmas and closes with Jingle Bell Rock. The LP version also has Jolly Old St. Nicholas which is omitted from Non-Stop Christmas Party and the more recent CD release.
Whereas Switched On Christmas does not credit the musicians, the identity of the session musicians are mentioned on Disco Noel, Christmas Disco, More Christmas Disco, and Yuletide Disco.
Mirror Image were a group of session musicians. Like The Top of the Poppers were to the Hallmark/Pickwick Top of the Pops albums. In 1979 and 1980, they released a number of LPs for the Canadian market. These include Sounds Like Earth Wind and Fire, Discopedia, and Sounds Like Kenny Rogers. Each of their releases were up to half an hour long. Shorter than a lot of LPs in that era (for comparison’s sake, Supertramp’s Breakfast In America album is 46 minutes long with ten tracks).
There was another reason for their short length besides the budget price point: each LP had enough tracks to fill a single 8-track cartridge. Though 8-tracks were on their way out in 1979, they were supported by companies like Columbia House till the mid-1980s.
Just to complicate things further, Mirror Image were also known as the Roller Disco Orchestra in the UK. On the Holiday label’s Christmas Disco and More Christmas Disco compilations, they were known as The Mistletoe Disco Band. Therefore, the group known as Mirror Image in Canada (and the USA on Disco Noel) were the Mistletoe Disco Band in the USA and Mexico, and the Roller Disco Orchestra in the UK. Same group, same versions, different names.
Just to confuse things even further, there has been more than one LP with the title of Christmas Disco. Besides the Mistletoe Disco Band/Roller Disco Orchestra/Mirror Image version on the Holiday label, Pickwick released an earlier LP from 1977. With the same title. The session group, totally different: PK and the Sound Explosion. The PK, we assume, alludes to an abbreviative form of Pickwick instead of the liquorice chewing gum.
A year later, the second album under the name of Christmas Disco was released by Mistletoe Records, an imprint of Springboard International. The group name: the Mistletoe Disco Band. As seen on the reissue on Holiday Records in 1980, and its sequel More Christmas Disco. How many customers were confused, and ended up having more than one Christmas record with the same session musicians???
Non Stop Xmas Disco
Sixteen years on, Mirror Image’s/Mistletoe Disco Band’s/Roller Disco Orchestra’s works were committed to CD. In 1996, Hallmark – now owned by Carlton Communications of below-par ITV franchisee fame – rereleased Non Stop Christmas Disco. This time as Non Stop Xmas Disco, a rerelease of Pickwick Records’ 1979 double LP. Also with the group known as The Roller Disco Orchestra, as in 1979.
By 2017, all the original Christmas Disco and Disco Noel LP had been released on CD and download in their original forms. Digitally remastered from the original master tapes.
D.J Santa and the Dance Squad
By 2007, the Roller Disco Orchestra/Mirror Image/Mistletoe Disco Band had a new alias: D.J. Santa and the Dance Squad. Their latest alias was seen on Christmas Disco Party. Released on the Suite 102 label on a single CD it has all but four tracks seen on the 1979 Pickwick release. Omitted are Good King Wenceslas, O Tannenbaum, Auld Lang Syne, and We Three Kings.
Via Spotify, D.J. Santa and the Dance Squad’s name has been seen on a version of Last Christmas and a different version of Rocking Around The Christmas Tree. There is also a Christmas Disco Medley, which uses excerpts of the Mistletoe Disco Band’s work.
Glitterball of Confusion
Though we know that the Mistletoe Disco Band have had various aliases, here’s a selected discography.
- Mistletoe Disco Band: Christmas Disco (Mistletoe Records MLP-1232 (USA and Venezuela, 1978); Ariola Variedades ML-5069 (Mexico, 1978); Music-Box SMB 117 (Greece, 1978));
- No Artist Details: Switched on Christmas (Rainbow RXM 699001 (Australia, year unknown));
- Mirror Image: Disco Noel (Pickwick SPC-1026 – also as P8-1026 on 8-track (USA and Canada, 1979));
- Mirror Image: Yuletide Disco (Pickwick SPC-1027 – also as P8-1027 on 8-track and CS-1027 (USA and Canada, 1979));
- Mistletoe Disco Band: Christmas Disco (Holiday HDY-1910 – also with 8T and CA prefix for 8-track and compact cassette albums (USA, 1980));
- Mistletoe Disco Band: More Christmas Disco (Holiday HDY-1917 (USA and Canada, 1980));
- The Roller Disco Orchestra: Non-Stop Christmas Disco (Pickwick PDA-070 (UK, 1979));
- The Roller Disco Orchestra: Non-Stop Xmas Disco (Hallmark 305352 (UK, 1996));
- DJ Santa and the Dance Squad: Christmas Disco Party (Suite 102 (UK and USA, 2009)).
One more thing, I recommend you should go for either Switched on Christmas, Non-Stop Christmas Disco, or Non-Stop Xmas Disco (the 1996 reissue of the 1979 double LP). If O Tannenbaum rubs you up the wrong way (by means of your political persuasion* for example), go for the DJ Santa and the Dance Squad release from 2009.
We hope this Cheesy Tunes Special has cleared a few trivial issues for you. If you have younger members of the family wondering why there’s a bit of late 1970s disco in your Christmas playlist, point them to this blog post.
“…This is Me”
On a personal level, this blog post ended a 28-year long quest for a selection of cheesy Christmas disco tunes. None I had heard in that period matched the tunes I remembered from my youth. More specifically, the same disco Christmas cassette that graced the music centre at the Ewing School’s assembly hall in 1989.
I was most surprised to find the same album – Non-Stop Christmas Disco on the Pickwick label – had had been rereleased in 1996 (with Xmas instead of Christmas). And again in slightly modified form as DJ Santa and the Dance Squad instead of the Roller Disco Orchestra, in 2009. On rediscovering it via YouTube, I was transported back to the wooden panelled school hall. Or Christmas dinnertime at the school canteen. Within a few bars of We Wish You A Merry Christmas, my head was in Central Road, West Didsbury for those few seconds.
Towards 2017, the tracks are unadultered kitsch with every post-Saturday Night Fever disco arrangement cliché thrown in for good measure. Even a “oo-oo” in the Michael Zager Band style (as heard in Let’s All Chant) and some Mind Your Language style choral “doo-doo-doo-doos” (in Max Harris’ theme tune featuring the Tony Mansell Singers).
But, like spicy Pringles, the Mistletoe Disco Band’s repertoire can be moreish. Especially its rendition of We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Also the gloriously cheesy take on Jingle Bells and, best of all, White Christmas.
Let’s crank up the turntable and give you some highlights from Non-Stop Christmas Disco.
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
Yeah… partying like its 1979…
With the Christmas bells turned up to eleven, and a touch of Chic for good measure.
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Complete with Tony Mansell Singers style “doo-doo-doooos”.
Dig the basslines and wakka-wakka type music.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
This is from the version where Rudolph’s red nose was caused by drinking too many Cherry Bs.
If Van McCoy did Christmas songs.
Before you panic, Disco Magic is yet another alias for the Mistletoe Disco Band!
Auld Lang Syne
We couldn’t leave this tune out. Mine’s a double single malt whisky. Islay malts desirable though not essential.
East of the M60 would like to thank its regular and not-so regular readers for visiting the blog in 2017. Whether you like the brass band concert reviews, bus related stuff, or oddities like this piece, we hope to see you again in 2018. Have a Merry Christmas and a Peaceful New Year.
S.V., 18 December 2017.
* N.B.: O Tannenbaum shares the same music as We’ll Keep The Red Flag Flying.