Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Lonely Christmas Nights with George Baker

Brandon is an American living in the Netherlands. He's a photographer and writer. Recently, he tweeted (x'd?) a picture of a Christmas album by George Baker. An exchange followed. Long story short; he wrote an extensive review of that 1978 lp for this blog:

Once upon a time, I was a late night DJ on KWVA, a college radio station in Eugene, Oregon. It was the late ‘90s, an era when used record shops were plentiful and well stocked with a variety of bizarre LPs that had passed repeatedly through their stacks. Somewhere in a closet in my parents’ house in Portland, my collection of about 100 of ‘em is mouldering, some with multiple stickers marking their declining value as they were sold and resold in stores up and down the West Coast.

Originally released for the holiday season of 1978, George Baker’s Another Lonely Christmas is the sort of album I’d probably have bought for a buck or two in the House of Records back in the ‘90s, a store literally in an old house a few blocks away from KWVA’s studio. There’s Baker on the cover, dressed like a recently divorced weekend weatherman on a third tier news channel. He’s all on his own in an empty restaurant, it’s presumably Christmas night, and he’s staring forlornly off camera, glass of wine in hand, too melancholy to bother with the plate of bread, turkey, and cheese beside him.

It’s a cover that makes a promise to the listener: “Within this sleeve you will be provided with a not insubstantial amount of overly sincere, premium AM radio sappiness, the sort of thing a DJ just as depressed and lonely as Baker is on the cover would slap on around 10:30 on Christmas Eve before taking another swig off a bottle of Wild Turkey.”

I would have paid as much as five American dollars for this album in the ‘90s. Hey, for me, that was a lot back then.

I came across Another Lonely Christmas Night in the front window of the Record Palace in Amsterdam a few weeks ago and took a photo to remind myself to pull it up on Spotify at a later date. I did so during a train ride down to Leiden on Friday night. I was expecting something along the lines of John Denver’s Rocky Mountain Christmas, maybe with a hefty sprinkling of The Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait.

Baker’s album is that, but so much more. He definitely swung for the fences with the opening track, ‘Christmas Morning.’ It’s an instrumental number with a ‘70s brass section, a pan flute, and even synths. It’s the sort of thing Ron Burgundy probably would have put on his hi-fi at some point if Anchorman had taken place during the holiday season. Sure, Baker may be lonely, but he’s not down for the count, dammit!
Another Lonely Christmas Night doesn’t reach those same heights during the remainder of its running time, but Baker’s cover of ‘Silent Night’ is a syrupy wonder and his voice sounds like it was briefly possessed by the recently deceased spirit of Elvis Presley on ‘Dreams.’ With his Dutch accent creeping in, it’s definitely a Christmas curio. And just try not to boogie a bit when the disco grooves of ‘The Hallelujah Song’ kick in. Baker was born Johannes ‘Hans’ Bouwens and is perhaps best known for Una Paloma Blanca and Little Green Bag, the latter was included on the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack.
Is this Christmas album a recording by a Dutch singer doing his best to conjure the souls of crooners like Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, Kenny Rogers, and Hall and/or Oates? Yes. C’mon, he chose ‘George Baker’ for his stage name, a heartland nom de plume so generic it wouldn’t look out of place on a feed store in Nebraska. ‘If you’ve got a show pony in need of a grooming kit, you’ll find it at George Baker’s!’

The back cover of Another Lonely Christmas Night features a black and white photo of Baker in a leather jacket, once again on his own, this time on a platform in what at least appears to be Amsterdam Centraal around 3 AM some long ago December eve.
And maybe that’s the best time to listen to this album as we march into the middle of the 2020s; a late night ride through the heartland of the Netherlands in the dead of winter. Pull it up on Spotify, dream of Dutch Christmases long, long ago, and stare out into the distance.

Fun facts: the album was released with an alternate cover (see here), maybe because the original sleeve wasn't appealing to Christmas music lovers enough. This 1978 album isn't GB's only involvement in Christmas music, 7 years ago he recorded a single with German Schlager band The Cappuccino's. Watch here.