The Wombles - Keep on Wombling - CBS Records - CBS 80526 - 1974 I've posted about the Wombles, and sung the praises of Mike Batt, in this space before, if you'll recall. But, as it's the Christmas season, and as this album contains one of my favorite Christmas songs, I think it's worth another post. This is the third Wombles album and it's arguably the most ambitious and fully realized work in the Wombles corpus. Aside from "Wombling Merry Christmas," which I'll get to in a bit, this album takes the already impressive pop artistry of the previous albums to further heights. Side A is a "concept album" titled "Orinoco's Dream (Fantasies of a Sleeping Womble)", comprising tracks 1 through 6. Orinoco is the Wombles' keyboardist/vocalist, that is, it's Mike Batt in the Womble suit, and the song cycle takes him through a series of dreams in which he is successively: an astronaut ("the captain of the skies"), a cowboy, a jungle explorer, an underground train conductor, and the conductor of an imaginary orchestra (doing "The Hall of the Mountain Womble"); the final song describes an encounter with a litter-crunching giant in a litter-strewn dreamscape. This is orchestral psych-pop at its finest, a wide-ranging collage of stylistic pastiche, inventively conceived and arranged, each song a little work of art all its own, yet part of an integrated whole. I can only imagine what might have happened had I heard this as a kid (the ostensible target audience): it is mind-blowing, mind-expanding, the kind of music you can really lose yourself in. And apart from that, they're simply great pop songs, as good as any you can imagine. Side B leaves Orinoco's dream behind, but not Batt's inventiveness and sure-footed compositional ingenuity. "Tobermory's Music Machine" is a tour de force of inspired W. S. Gilbert-tinged patter about a record player, featuring a bit where the needle sticks and skips, and another bit where the tape slows down and speeds up ("slower and slower and slower and slower, and faster and faster...") finally ending when the contraption's spring breaks. Truly one of the greatest pop productions I know of. "Wipe Those Womble Tears from Your Eyes" is a countrified pop tune, a traditional pedal-steel driven sentimental "I believe in you when no one else will" ballad, whose Wombly references don't diminish its effect. "If nobody wants to know you, I'll be here to sympathize..." This kind of stuff works on me, whether it's done by George Jones or the Wombles (and had George done it, it'd have been a hit I'm sure.) "Invitation to a Ping-Pong Ball" is another work of surreal pop genius, and it rocks as well, though some with particularly acute contemporary sensitivities might recoil from some of the Chinese pastiche elements... but, of course they have Wombles in Peking, and they clean up the Chinese litter just as well as those of Wimbledon Common do with the Wimbledon Common litter. Anyway, it's 1974 now. We're seven years old in 1974. We don't yet know we're supposed to get mad at songs... And then we come to "Wombling Merry Christmas," which closes the album and is another pop masterpiece, possibly the best of them all. The single spent eight weeks in the UK Top Ten over the 1974-75 Christmas season, though it was, they say, mocked by the hipper-than-thou pop establishment, which doesn't surprise me one bit. It has since been acknowledged as a Christmas classic and a genuine thread in the fabric of British culture. I have seen crowds of drunken yobs and their falling-down ladies weeping rivers of sentimental tears when it plays in London pubs. Or maybe that was just me. Anyway, it's simply beautiful. Golden tears falling from heaven indeed. God bless you, Orinoco. (I will also note that in AD 2000, a weird edit of this song with Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" was released under the title "I Wish It Could Be a Wombling Merry Christmas Every Day." It doesn't do nice things to my brain, but I'm noting it just because, well, ya gotta see The Move's Roy Wood cavorting with Wombles and assorted Britishers. You just gotta: In sum, this is one of my favorite records, of which, after all these years, I am still very much in awe. Wombling through, I'll tune into you if you'll tune into me... we'll send a message into the night. Merry Christmas everyone. notes: -- The Wombles - "Wombling Merry Christmas" on Top of the Pops: -- The Wombles - Keep on Wombling album, playlist on youtube: -- #music #christmas #vinylcollector #minds