A retired English teacher and a record store doyen right out of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, New Paltz’s Mark Rosen will hip you to the genuine, the obscure and the woefully underappreciated in pop music if you let him; and while he’s at it, he may gently disabuse you of a couple of your more blatant…abuses. Cultural hygiene is all our concern.
One of Rosen’s many specialties is rock ‘n’ roll Christmas music, a passion that threatens to blossom into a second profession. For more than 30 years, Rosen has been hosting a Christmas Eve radio program on which he airs out his world-class collection of non-traditional seasonal music.
Rosen began collecting Christmas records in 1979 after hearing Lenny Kaye from the Patti Smith Group guest deejaying on the short-lived punk/New Wave radio station WPIX. Kaye spun Christmas music by Smith and by the Greedies (an oddball supergroup featuring Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy and two members of the Sex Pistols); but Huey Piano Smith’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Santa Claus” was the real revelation for Rosen, and his fate was sealed a week later when he found a copy of Huey’s Christmas LP in a crate on the floor of a closet-sized record store in Poughkeepsie. All collections begin at one, and this was the one.
By 1990, Rosen’s collection and expertise had matured enough that he could publish a full-length article for Goldmine magazine: “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree: A Rock and Roll Christmas Wrap-Up.” The piece chronicled rock ‘n’ roll Christmas music starting with the pre-rock ‘n’ roll years and ending with ‘80s punk and New Wave.
Rosen deejayed his first Christmas Eve on WDST in 1982. That show lasted two hours. For the next 29 years, his once-a-year show moved to WPDH and was extended to five hours. This year, WPDH is switching to a national feed, and Rosen takes his five hours of scholarly, personalized holiday joy to ROCK 93.3. The show runs from 7 p.m. to 12 midnight: right around the time that the WPIX Yule log starts dying down.
Everything that Rosen plays come from his personal collection, and you will never hear most of it on any other radio program. Rosen is careful to keep it 100 percent family-friendly.
Songs this year will include: “Away in a Manger” by Paul Westerberg, a surf-guitar version of “Little Drummer Boy” by the Bomboras, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” using “Baba O’Reilly” as a musical bed by Spiraling, “The Season’s upon Us” by the Dropkick Murphys, a 1960 beatnik version of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” called “Cool Yule” by Donny Burns and “Mistletoe Love” from 1963 by James Fenda and the Vulcans (the only Merseybeat Christmas song ever), as well as songs by Big Star, Art Carney, Blondie and many more.