Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday 80s Flashback for December 28, 2012

[Full Cold Moon] -- Our final Flashback of 2012 honors the December Full Cold Moon. It arrived at 5:21 EST this morning (did you see it?). This moon is named for the month in which winter fastens its grip and the nights become long and dark [according to the Farmer's Almanac]. That description, however, is a bit of a misnomer because the December full moon rarely occurs with the solstice, which is the longest night of the year and after which the nights become shorter. In fact, the concurrence of December full moon and Winter Solstice in recent memory occurred on December 21, 1980, December 22, 1999, and December 21, 2010. The next time we have a December full moon occur with the Solstice will be ... December 21, 2094! []

If you want to know what lunar tunes I've selected for this week, you can read and hear more after the break.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 25

We made it! Day 25, the final day in our musical Odyssey, is finally here! And I can think of no better song for today than Greg Lake's "I Believe in Father Christmas."

Greg Lake recorded this song as a solo single in 1974. A few years later, he recorded another, stripped down version with his band Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP). That version was included on the band's 1977 album Works Volume II. While the original release became something of a hit (#2 on the UK charts), and a Christmas standard, Lake's intention was far from that of having a hit holiday single. He wrote the song as a protest against crass commercialization of the holiday. Can you imagine what he might have to say about the holiday season today, almost 40 years later?

While there are some folks who find "I Believe in Father Christmas" to be irreverent, I find them to be an ode to a simpler time, the words of a man who mourns the loss of something more innocent. And the music video, shot in the Sinai desert and Qumran in the West Bank, includes images of violence from the Vietnam War, which seem to underline the central theme. All of that serves to make this song much more than it appears on first blush -- much like the holiday itself.

There have been several covers of "I Believe in Father Christmas," over a dozen of them, in fact. But for my money, the only band that has come close to capturing the essence of the original is U2, who recorded the song in 2008 as part of the Product Red campaign to fight AIDS in Africa.

So, for all who celebrate on Christmas Day, I leave you with the Greg Lake and U2 versions of today's song. And I leave you with this message: I, too, believe in Father Christmas.

Greg Lake's original version:

U2's 2008 recording for Product Red (video link updated 12/25/2020):

If you like my music posts, I would appreciate you giving me some +K in Music on @klout. And, please, do check out the other entries in my 25 Days of Holiday Music series!

Monday, December 24, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 24

Image by @UberDorkGirlie

December 24 is a date observed by both Christians and non-Christians the world over as Christmas Eve. Not all of them observe this date, let alone Christmas Day, in quite the same way. But for just about anyone who observes Christmas, today's date marks a countdown: T-just-one-day until the big event. Food, shopping, wrapping, etc., it all has to be done today! (Note: For many families, Christmas Eve Day is the date for the big gift-giving event, so those folks had the crazy rundown yesterday).

Of course, as you've read here and other places, there are many parallels between Christianity and ancient Pagan religions. Still, a considerable percentage of the world's population looks to this season to celebrate the coming of light into the world -- some celebrate the return of the Sun, while others celebrate the birth of the Son (of God). And while we may disagree on the details, some of which may be rather important, we can all agree that this is a season of giving, of love, and of coming together. And it is in that spirit that I offer up today's holiday tune, "The Christians and the Pagans" by American singer-songwrite Dar Williams. This tune was the second single from Dar Williams' second studio album, Mortal City (1996). There was no music video associated with it, and it didn't chart, but it has become a concert favorite. It tackles issues of both interfaith and sexual orientation: Amber, a lesbian and a Pagan, asks if she and her partner can spend the holiday with her devout Christian uncle and family. What ensues are a number of scenarios illustrating opposing cultural and political views, yet the family members try to get by on politeness as the "christians and the pagans sat together at the table." They all come to see that -- maybe, just maybe -- their differences do not need to keep them apart after all.

As I mentioned, there is no official music video for "The Christians and the Pagan," but I found a fan video with lyrics, and I've included them after the video, so that you can enjoy this holiday tale.

The Christians and the Pagans

Amber called her uncle, said ’we’re up here for the holiday,
Jane and I were having solstice, now we need a place to stay.’
And her christ-loving uncle watched his wife hang mary on a tree,
He watched his song hang candy canes all made with red dye number three.
He told his niece, ’its christmas eve, I know our life is not your style,’
She said, ’christmas is like solstice, and we miss you and it’s been awhile,’

So the christians and the pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,

And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said,
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses.

The food was great, the tree plugged in, the meal had gone without a hitch,
Till timmy turned to amber and said, ’is it try that you’re a wtich? ’
His mom jumped up and said, ’the pies are burning,’ and she hit the kitchen,
And it was jane who spoke, she said, ’its true, your cousins not a christian,’
’but we love trees, we love the snow, the friends we have, the world we share,
And you find magic from your god, and we find magic everywhere,’

So the christians and the pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,

And where does magic come from? I think magics in the learning,
Cause now when christians sit with pagans only pumpkin pies are burning.

When amber tried to do the dishes, her aunt said, ’really, no, don’t bother.’
Ambers uncle saw how amber looked like tim and like her father.
He thought about his brother, how they hadnt spoken in a year,
He thought hed call him up and say, ’its christmas and your daughters here.’
He thought of fathers, sons and brothers, so his own son tug his sleeve, saying,
’can I be a pagan? ’ dad said, ’well discuss it when they leave.’

So the christians and the pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
Lighting trees in darkness, learning new ways from the old, and
Making sense of history and drawing warmth out of the cold.

If you like my music posts, I would appreciate you giving me some +K in Music on @klout. And, please, do check out the other entries in my 25 Days of Holiday Music series!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 23

Today's tune is "Carol of the Bells." The music was written by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in the late 1800s. It is based on the folk chant, "Shchedryk," which is a New Year's carol. Leontovych created his piece as an assignment for a harmony course to illustrate the use of a four-note ostinato motif (hear it):
File:Shchedryk 4-note motif.jpg
Leontovych's tune was introduced to Western audiences during a concert tour of the Ukrainian National Chorus. They performed it in the United States at Carnegie Hall on October 5, 1921. The now well-known English lyrics were created by Peter J. Wilhousky in 1936. An American composer who had emigrated from the Ukraine, Wilhousky is also known for his arrangement of the Battle Hymn of the Republic for Chorus, Band, and Orchestra. In true American fashion, Wilhousky's lyrics and the English name of "Carol of the Bells" are both copyrighted, but the original musical composition is not.

For the Sunday before Christmas, I have a few different versions of "Carol of the Bells" for your listening enjoyment.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 22

Today's tune is a staple of the Christmas holiday: "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." Now, notice that comma that appears before "Gentlemen." That is not only the correct punctuation, it is the correct pronunciation -- you are meant to pause slightly before saying "Gentlemen." That is because the greeting or wish is "God rest you merry" and it is addressed to a group of, presumably, gentlemen. It is not a song that declares "God rest you" to a band of "merry gentlemen" as though they were in jolly old Sherwood. And the "rest" in "God rest ye" (or "God rest you") means "keep." So the song indicates a wish, or prayer, perhaps, that God keep you merry, healthy, and happy.

Perhaps the song's best known use is in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, as it is the tune that a young caroler sings at Mr. Scrooge in hopes of a coin or two, but only to be chased away by a ruler for his troubles.

As befits this merry carol, I have several versions to share with you today.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday 80s Flashback for December 21, 2012

Snowy Road Wallpaper from

[The Friday Before Christmas] -- Yes, even though I'm focused on my daily 25 Days of Holiday Music series of blog posts this month, I'm still trying to bring you great 80s tunes. As this is the Friday before Christmas, and many people will be traveling to see their families (in fact, many already have begun their journeys), I thought some traveling music might be just the thing this evening. If you want to know what songs are in this holiday collection, just read and hear more after the break.

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 21

Well, we're still here. Of course, I never had any doubt about that (but that's because I knew about the calendar upgrade).

In yesterday's musical offering, I provided some information about the Winter Solstice and the start of Yuletide. So, today, I leave you with those references and focus on celebrating the Solstice. And what better way to celebrate the Winter Solstice and the return of the Sun than with some music by the Paul Winter Consort?

For over three decades, saxophonist Paul Winter has participated in an annual holiday celebration of Music, Dance, and the Return of the Sun. His band, the Paul Winter Consort, blends jazz and world music while performing with dancers and musicians from cultures the world over. Today's song, "Tomorrow is My Dancing Day," features* the dancers and drummers of Forces of Nature Dance Theatre as well as many other guest artists. This video includes footage from previous celebrations and was used to promote the 30th Winter Solstice Celebration at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City (December 2010). If you like today's holiday tune, you can download it as part of the 2012 Winter Solstice Collection -- it is a free download of the full 10-track album from Paul Winter.

If you like my music posts, please consider giving me +K in Music on @klout. And, please, do check out the other entries in my 25 Days of Holiday Music series!

Related: 25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 20 ("What Night Is This?")

*Updates 12/21/2020: The 2012 video is no longer available, so I had to replace it with a shorter performance video from 2017. Here is a longer live version of the song (audio only). I also updated a few of the other links in this post.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 20

Thanks to A Game of Thrones, we've been seeing "Winter is Coming" since, um, since well before last winter. But Winter is truly coming in the Northern Hemisphere, and it arrives at 6:12am on December 21 (EST). That makes today, December 20, the eve of the Winter Solstice. After tonight, the days become longer as we trudge through the cold part of the year on our way to Spring. This evening is also Mother's Night (sometimes written as Mothers Night or Mothernight) in the reconstructed and/or revived traditions of Europe's pre-Christian spiritualities (called by many names such as Asatru, Germanic and Scandinavian Paganism, Heathenry, etc.). As the first evening in Yuletide, Mothers Night is devoted to honoring the female ancestor spirits (in your family line, as well as the Goddesses of home and hearth). Yule continues for 12 nights, or 12 days if you prefer, and is likely the source for the modern 12 days of Christmas.

With all of the above in mind, I give you today's song: "What Night Is This?"

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 19

Get your dancin' shoes, or your best western boots, because today's song is a toe-tappin' delight. "Two-Step 'Round The Christmas Tree" is an all-out and raucous country number from Suzy Bogguss. Recorded for her 2001 holiday album, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, but it wasn't released as  a single. Single status was reserved for her version of the title track or, perhaps, "Mr. Santa" (which had originally been released as a non-album single in 1989). While "Mr. Santa" is a cute rewrite of "Mr. Sandman" with a holiday twist, "Two-Step 'Round The Christmas Tree" is about a woman who does not want a "Silent Night," but rather wants to move the tree so she can dance around and celebrate. Sounds about right for the middle of the week before the holidays, eh?

If you like my music posts, please consider giving me +K in Music on @klout. And, please, do check out the other entries in my 25 Days of Holiday Music series!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 18

Are you ready for a mistletoe-y Christmas? Mistletoe has long been part of our winter holiday traditions. Well, for decorative or charm purposes, mistletoe has deep historical roots, but the kissing thing is probably a little more recent. Speaking of its decorative aspect, I'll wager that most folks have seen more plastic mistletoe than the real variety. Anyway, if you want some historical and mythological background on the parasite known as mistletoe (yes, it's a parasite), you could do worse than the Smithsonian Magazine particle, Mistletoe: The Evolution of a Christmas Tradition. And if you really want to get into the biology of this plant, I suggest you scroll down to the Biology of Mistletoe section in the APSnet feature, What Does Mistletoe Have To Do With Christmas? But if you want to hear some mistletunes, (but not that musical mistletoe) stay right here because you're in the right place.

Monday, December 17, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 17

Between now and next Tuesday, you will see and hear many stories about the meaning of the Christmas Holiday (see what I did there?). And there could very well be an increase in stories, like this 1985 piece from Milt Timmons or, more gently, this piece, about the the holiday having much older roots. There will also be the annual claims of a "War on Christmas." I myself have written about all the hub-bub that is kicked up every December (The Reason for the Season?).

But despite the strife highlighted in the media, there is something common among the traditions that find a home in the last month of the year: The lighting of candles to dispel darkness. Granted, that is the general purpose of a candle. But it takes on a greater significance at this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. With the Winter Solstice occurring later this week, the image of a single candle also reminds us that we are moving halfway out of the darkness, the light is returning -- that light being either the Sun God or the Son of God, depending on your particular observance.

Whatever you celebrate during this season I call Chrismahanukwanzakyule, I hope you enjoy the beautiful and poignant "One Small Candle" by Jessica Radcliffe, Lisa Ekström and Martin Simpson. It can be found on the 2001 album, Beautiful Darkness, which is a moving musical meditation on the Solstice.

If you like my music posts, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout. And, please, do check out the other entries in my 25 Days of Holiday Music series!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 16

Image from Post-Gazette

I have been trying to write these posts at least one day in advance and queue them up for publishing. And, for the most part, I have succeeded in posting a song one day in advance. But I was out all of Saturday and I did not have a chance to prepare today's song, even though I had a song in mind for today. In light of the events that made the news this week, I'm glad I have the chance to change my plans for today's offering, and instead post "Peace, Peace" by Rick and Sylvia Powell. I remember singing it with my hometown choir so many years ago (another lifetime to be sure). Like many other vocal groups, we paired it with the audience/congregation singing "Silent Night." And because "Peace, Peace" is so wonderfully complimented by "Silent Night," I can hardly begrudge anyone's choice to perform these songs together. I would, however, dearly love to have a recording of just "Peace, Peace," as when it is sung alone I find it to be an excellent -- and non-denominational -- ode to peace, love, and joy:

Peace, peace, peace on Earth
And good will to all.
This is a time for joy, This is a time for love.
Now let us all sing together
of peace, peace, peace on earth.

Having said that, I hope you enjoy this performance by Milwaukee's Vocal Arts Academy (recorded during their "Lights of December" concert in 2010):

Crowd-funding options to help the victims' families in Newtown, CT:

Remember, if you like my music posts, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout. And, please, do check out the other entries in my 25 Days of Holiday Music series!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 15

The song for Day 15 is brand new to the holiday scene as it was just released this very week. It's from Philadelphia's home grown psych rockers, Southwork, and it's called "Gift of Love." The WXPN post that hipped me to this tune calls it a “secular winter holiday love song.” And it is great fun. You should definitely put this in your rotation if you need a soundtrack to help you get your holiday To-Do's done. In fact, you can download "Gift of Love" for free!

Remember, if you like my music posts, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout. And, please, do check out the other entries in my 25 Days of Holiday Music series!

Friday, December 14, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 14

Are you tired of Santa songs yet? No? That's good, because I have another one today! And we're going back to Rosemary Clooney in the 50s for this one.

Well, sort of.

Today's song, "(Let's Give) A Christmas Present to Santa Claus" was recorded in the early 50s, and it was likely released as a single during that time (or at least played on the radio). It did not, however, appear on an album until 1997's Songs from White Christmas (& Other Yuletide Favorites) which collected 12 Clooney Christmas classics, all recorded between 1951 and 1956 (including a duet with Gene Autry, "The Night Before Christmas Song"). This same collection was later re-released as The Night Before Christmas (2009), but with a different track listing.

Also, if you like my music posts, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout.

Friday 80s Flashback for December 14, 2012

[Mashed Up] -- Only two songs this week, but they're mashed up together (c'mon, I've been writing daily music posts for 14 days now).

DJ Lobsterdust, not an 80s artist, took two classics of electronic 80s pop and pit them against each other in a sonic cage match. One of the songs, "Personal Jesus," was the first single from Depeche Mode's seventh studio album, Violator (1990). It was originally released in August, 1989, and it reached #13 and #28 on the UK Singles Chart and the Billboard Hot 100 respectively. (And, in case you didn't know, Johnny Cash did a killer cover of this tune for his 2002 album American IV). The song that "Personal Jesus" squares off against is Soft Cell's 1981 cover of "Tainted Love," which was composed by Ed Cobb and originally recorded by Gloria Jones in 1965. The 1965 release was a flop, but Soft Cell's version hit #1 in the UK and cracked the top ten in the US. It has sold well over 1 million copies.

Individually, these songs are gems. Together, through the aid of DJ Lobsterdust, they are "Tainted Jesus." (Note: Embedded video updated 12/8/2020).

Well, that's all until next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the archives. And I am also posting a holiday song per day through December 25 (25 Days of Holiday Music). As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.

And if you are on Twitter, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout.

I'll see you around the interwebz!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 13

Yesterday's song was about Santa Claus, so I thought we would follow it up with another on that same topic. But I want to go in a different direction. The title of today's song -- which is performed by the great Celtic folk-rock foursome, Emerald Rose -- gives you a hint of that direction: "Santa Claus is Pagan, Too."

Yes, today's song sings the praises of the jolly bearded man we know and love. However, it is not necessarily the goodly Saint Nick, grand patron of consumerism and department stores, who often inhabits the red suit and sleigh. No, this merry tune runs through a variety of pre-Christian traditions and briefly attributes them to certain aspects of Mr. Claus (and one non-Pagan aspect, that of Santa having a Buddha belly). The song doesn't try to force the issue and argue, say, that Santa Claus is really Odin, but it does make a point that "Christmas time is really Yule." But it is all done in good fun, and includes the following, good-natured verse:

Now history says Christ was likely
Not a Capricorn
But if you want to share our Yule
We don’t care when he’s born

So, whatever your beliefs and winter holiday preference, if you love Santa then I'll ween you'll love this song, too. Give it a listen, and I dare say you'll not be able to resist tapping your foot or even singing along!

(Remember, if you like my music posts, I would appreciate you giving me +K in Music on @klout.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

25 Day of Holiday Music: Day 12

"Oh, you better watch out, you better not cry..."

Last week, on Day 4, I shared a little about Christmas Eve as it was observed in my childhood home. So, if you read that post, you know that we waited until that evening to put up the tree and that Christmas music would be playing. We did not have much in the way of a Christmas music collection -- I can recall only two albums (yes, they were "LP records") in the house -- but the local radio played an abundance of holiday themed tunes. And, for my money, it wasn't Christmas until I heard the song featured today: Bruce Springsteen's rendition of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

"Santa Clause is Coming to Town" was written by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie and it is a long-lived classic, but it is only 78 years old. According to Wikipedia, the earliest recorded version of the song was by banjoist Harry Reser and his band on October 24, 1934. It was also sung on Eddie Cantor's radio show in November 1934. "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" has been covered numerous times, and it was the basis for the 1970 Rankin-Bass produced animated TV special of the same name. But just about the most famous version, right up there with the original, of course, is the one by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (which includes that wonderful banter between Springsteen and saxophonist Clarence Clemons who also delivers a killer solo).

(Hey! If you like my music posts, please +K my influence in Music on @klout.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 11

Today's holiday song, "I Wish It Was Christmas Today," started as an SNL skit (Saturday Night Live, Season 26, Episode 21; airdate May 19, 2001). In that episode, Jimmy Fallon, Horatio Sanz, Chris Kattan and Tracy Morgan performed their Christmas tune under the banner of "And Now A Holiday Treat For All." In 2009, during The Strokes' hiatus, frontman Julian Casablancas recorded and released a version the song. Casablancas also appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and performed the song live with The Roots, Horatio Sanz and Jimmy Fallon.

You can see the 2001 SNL skit here, while Julian Casablancas' 2010 performance of the song (taped at the House of Blues in Dallas, TX) is here . And below you will find the single version by Julian Casablancas.

(Hey! If you like my music posts, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout.)

Monday, December 10, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 10

Our 10th holiday song this month was written by the songwriting duo of Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson. Don't worry if you haven't heard of them. Today's song is probably the best-known tune in their collective catalogs. That is, unless you count "Who Shot the Hole in My Sombrero?" by Hayes. (Yes, he wrote a sombrero song. But, no, I'm kidding about it being well-known or even popular).

Christmas is sold as a time when friends, family, and loved ones gather en-masse. But for many people, Christmas is a lonely time, and perhaps no holiday song tells the tale of unrequited love better than Hayes and Johnson's "Blue Christmas." It was first recorded by country artist Doye O'Dell in 1948. Within a few years, the song became a fixture in holiday music rotations with recordings by several artists.

In 1957, however, "Blue Christmas" gained crossover appeal. That is when Elvis Presley recorded a version for Elvis' Christmas Album. Musically, Elvis' cover of "Blue Christmas" is interesting because it is a "blue" song -- or, rather, it makes use of "blue notes," particularly in the backing vocalists' part. "Blue Christmas" was not a single when first released on Elvis' Christmas Album. But the 1957 version was released as a single in 1964 and peaked at #11 in the UK. It did not chart in the US. But don't you worry about Elvis: Elvis' Christmas Album (1957) is one of the best-selling Christmas/holiday albums of all time in the United States (as least as of 2016).

And just because I can, here is Elvis with a live performance of "Blue Christmas" from his 1968 Comeback Special. 

Updates 12/10/2020: New Elvis video embedded; previous one was removed from YouTube. Also updated the hyperlink for best-selling holiday albums: Elvis' Christmas Album is still among the best-selling holiday albums, but it is no longer #1 as it was in the 2008 listing I previously linked (but which has disappeared from the web). 

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Steelers Email to My Father

[Here is a copy of an email I sent to my father after the Steelers lost today.]

This image courtesy of Behind the Steel Curtain pretty much says all that needs to be said about today's game against the (previously) 4-8 Chargers:

This scoreboard image makes it seem like the game was close. It was not. Tomlin was outcoached by a coach who was supposedly fired going into this game (but who has dodged that bullet yet again). 

 But there were two bright spots: The Rat-Birds and the Bungles fell! 

 And then there was a HOLY COW! WHAT THE WHAT?? moment ... 

And, perhaps, a glimmer of hope for the playoffs? (Well, not if they're not ready for a deep run). 

 It's a good thing my Monday Morning Mood isn't affected by football.

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 9

I was looking for an appropriate Holiday song for this 9th day of December which happens to be a Sunday. And I kind of wanted it to be a classic song as well. I racked my brain last evening, and just was not satisfied with anything I came up with, whether from my own collection or searching online.

And then I woke up with the perfect song in my head.

Now, today's holiday selection is not exactly a Christmas song, but because it is in the 1954 holiday classic, White Christmas, it is often considered such. White Christmas is best known for its songs by Irving Berlin, songs that were admirably performed by the stars, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. Today's selection, "Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)," appears in the film as a means for Crosby's character to pass a little homespun wisdom to Clooney's Betty Haynes. And it is indeed wisdom that life is better than one might think, and you can find happiness by focusing on the good things and people in your life.

"Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)" was nominated for an Academy Award as "Best Song" but did not win.

Update 12/9/2020: New video embedded. Previous one was removed from YouTube.  

Saturday, December 08, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 8

Welcome to the 8th day of our holiday-song-a-day journey through this month!

In 2001, when alt-rock band Cake released "Short Skirt/Long Jacket," they probably had no idea what was in store for their quirky little tune. It was the first single off their fourth studio album, Comfort Eagle, so they were well-used to accolades, critical acclaim, and radio play. But I doubt they expected the song would go in these directions:

  • Used in the films Waitress (2007), All About Steve (2009), Date Night (2010), and The Change Up (2011). The latter three used an instrumental version.
  • Become the theme song for the NBC series Chuck (2007 - 2011). Again, an instrumental version was used.
  • Have both the song and the CD used in the 3rd episode of Season 8 of the CBS series ER.

You may have noticed that I have yet to tie "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" to the holiday season. I mean, it certainly doesn't reflect any of the December holidays in lyrics or tone.

Well, here's the thing. In the same year that Cake released "Short Skirt/Long Jacket," Ken Rosenberg wrote and recorded a parody of the Cake song with his Whale Holiday Carol Marching Band. This parody, titled "(Fruit)Cake White Beard Red Jacket," received airplay at WVUD (Delaware), WYSP and WXPN (Philadelphia), and 98 Rock (Baltimore). You can download the song from the WHALE Band Press Release Page. And you can enjoy this video created by YouTube user Burnett Lacy:

Friday, December 07, 2012

Friday 80s Flashback for December 7, 2012

[Shuffle] -- I didn't have much time to work out a theme this week. That is probably due to my additional blogging duties for 25 Days of Holiday Music. So, I plugged in my iPod Nano, dialed up the 80s collection, and hit shuffle. The first three songs that queued up became the selections for today. If you're ready to find out what those tunes were, you can read and hear more after the break.

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 7

Our artist for Day 7 is Tonic Sol-Fa. They are four guys singing a cappella. Founded about 12 years ago at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, Tonic Sol-Fa has a catalog of 14 CD releases and two DVDs. They've sold over 1,000,000 copies of their CDs and have a successful touring career, having appeared on NBC’s Today Show, numerous late-night TV shows, and Garrison Keillor’s 30th anniversary celebration of A Prairie Home Companion.

I would call Tonic Sol-Fa's musical something along the lines of, say, hip-pop. And by that I mean they have a pop-oriented and far-too-safe-to-really-be-called hip-hop sound. It's, um, kind of a slick barbershop quartet thing. Their recordings are distinguished by their sparseness: only four voices and a little percussion. Today's song comes from a promotional giveaway CD: Pillsbury® Holiday Shape® Cookies Presents: Tonic Sol-Fa -- A Capella Holiday Music Favorites. It is always among the first CDs I crack out after spending Thanksgiving at my parents' home. Of the 10 tracks on this disc, "Sn ō" is the most contemporary, and that's saying something considering Sonic Tol-Fa's rendering of some old, favorite hymns. Still, "Sn ō" is an upbeat, but steady, interpretation of "Let it Snow," and it is a perfect addition to the 25 Days posts.

I can't be certain, but I think the first time I heard today's holiday song was in 2002. Or was it 2003? I do know I was still involved with a community theater in Hatboro, PA. And I know one of the directors there handed out promotional copies of the Pillsbury promotional CD. (He worked at one of the local grocery stores and they apparently had an overabundance of the discs).

These days, it is difficult, but not impossible, to find the Pillsbury giveaway. It's not even listed on Sonic Tol-Fa's discography. However, the exact same tracklist is available on their 2002 release, Sugaure. So if you enjoy "Sn ō," please check out a copy of the full album.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 6

One of my favorite vocalists is Holly Cole who is very popular in Japan and in her native Canada. Cole began her music career in the mid '80s primarily as a jazz singer. Her first few albums were recorded in the trio format, specifically the Holly Cole Trio which featured Cole's voice accompanied by pianist Aaron Davis and bassist Davd Piltch. In the early 90s, Cole became a solo artist -- actually, the trio simply dropped "Trio" from the label -- and expanded her repertoire. Their first effort in this new direction was their 1993 tribute to Tom Waits, Temptation. Have I mentioned that Holly Cole and her musical partners don't write any original songs? They interpret and sometimes recreate other artists' songs, but I strongly recommend you don't write her off as a mere cover singer.

The Holly Cole Trio's first recording was their 1989 EP, Christmas Blues. It has a wonderful, jazzy cover of The Pretenders' "2,000 Miles." But today's holiday tune is "I'd Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus," a fun ditty about a wish that is surely common for any fan of Santa Claus: a chance to ride in Santa's sleigh, and maybe even take the reins! "I'd Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus" was written by the songwriting team of Burke and Van Heusen who cranked out a slew of hits in the late 1930s and 1940s. I couldn't find a video on YouTube or DailyMotion, so I created my own. Er, well, I slapped the mp3 file together with still frame capture image and exported the combo to a format that YouTube would accept. That's the effort I go through for you here during #25Days!

I hope you enjoy the song...

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 5

Katherine Kennicott Davis, who has over 600 songs and hymns for choirs to her credit, composed "The Carol of the Drum" in 1941. Within 10 years, it was popularly known as "The Little Drummer Boy." For more about the history of this carol, I refer you to the very excellent summary, History of Christmas Carols: Little Drummer Boy by Penelope Hart (aka: GoodLady).

Due to the carol's origins in choir music, most recordings of "The Little Drummer Boy" seem to focus on orchestral arrangement or vocal aesthetics (see your favorite choir, Josh Groban, Rosemary Clooney, the Celtic Woman performance, and other artists). The next subset of recordings focuses on popular artists and unusual pairings, such as Bing Crosby and David Bowie in 1977). But for a song nominally about a drummer, precious few recordings seem to emphasize drumming (though there is this version with a nice drum solo).

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 4

"The children sleep upstairs and Santa works below."

In my childhood, Christmas Eve and Christmas morning loomed very large. Christmas Eve in particular was a flurry of activity because, for many years, we waited until that day to put up the tree. Oh, we already had it, and by Christmas Eve day it would have been resting on the front porch for a few weeks, just waiting for its big moment. But it was Christmas Eve -- and, yes, the evening to be precise -- that the tree got to be front and center for a few hours. I have vivid memories of my father first rearranging the furniture to clear the bay window area. Then he would drag in the tree which was wrapped in old throw rugs and such to avoid scratching the floor or door jams. Next, he would judiciously saw off some lower branches to prepare it for the tree stand. The scent of pine filled my nostrils and the sounds of Christmas music wafted throughout the house.

Later in the evening, after a visit to church (yes, there was a time in my life when I attended church) and a helping of Christmas sausages, my father would read a story. The story was always a choice between 'Twas the night before Christmas or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I'm not certain how we alternated between them -- maybe even years for Night and odd for Rudolph, or maybe my sister and I took turns choosing the story -- but the important thing is that, as far as we kids were concerned, that story concluded all family work for the evening. After the story, my sister and I would be sent to bed.

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Monday, December 03, 2012

25 Days of Holiday Music: Day 3

Our third holiday offering comes from one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Vienna Teng. Initially a successful software engineer in Silicon Valley who dabbled in music as a hobby (if someone who has studied classical piano since she was five years old could be considered a "dabbler"), she gave up her lucrative career in technology to pursue her passion. The move has paid off with a pair of critically acclaimed independent albums that feature her "chamber-folk" style.

I first heard of Vienna Teng, whose birth name is Cynthia Yih Shih, when she opened for Jonatha Brooke at the Sellersville Theater a few years ago. At that time, she provided her own accompaniment on an electronic keyboard. I was so impressed with her that I purchased tickets when she returned as a headliner. For that April 2007 show, her sound was augmented by a cellist, violinist, and percussionist (this latter musician being Alex Wong, a master on the Cuban box drum known as a Cajón). I have been a fan of her music ever since.

Vienna has not released a collection of holiday music. However, on Warm Strangers (2004), her second album,  she has a song that so completely captures the tone and spirit of this time of year, I have to share it with you. So today's song is "The Atheist's Christmas Carol." Now, do not let the title mislead you. This tune is not an anti-religious screed. Rather, it is a beautiful summation of the pure potentiality of each and every holiday that claims the Winter Solstice as its time of observance. Here is a video of Vienna performing the song live at THE LIVING ROOM in NYC (I've included the lyrics below the video):

The Atheist's Christmas Carol

It’s the season of grace coming out of the void
Where a man is saved by a voice in the distance
It’s the season of possible miracle cures
Where hope is currency and death is not the last unknown
Where time begins to fade
And age is welcome home

It’s the season of eyes meeting over the noise
And holding fast with sharp realization
It’s the season of cold making warmth a divine intervention
You are safe here you know now

Don’t forget
Don’t forget I love
I love
I love you

It’s the season of scars and of wounds in the heart
Of feeling the full weight of our burdens
It’s the season of bowing our heads in the wind
And knowing we are not alone in fear
Not alone in the dark

Don’t forget
Don’t forget I love
I love
I love you

Sunday, December 02, 2012

25 days of Holiday Music: Day 2

Our second holiday offering comes from relative newcomers, Neon Trees. Formed in Utah in 2005, Neon Trees got national recognition as the opening act for The Killers on their Day & Age Tour. After a slew of independent releases, they released their major label debut, Habits (2010), with Mercury/Def Jam Records. A series of appearances on late night television (Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno, and Dave Letterman) helped boost Habits to the #28 and #1 position on the US Billboard Rock Albums and the US Billboard Heatseekers Albums charts respectively. It peaked at #113 on the US Billboard 200. In November 2010, Neon Trees released their Christmas single, "Wish List." It is, appropriately enough, a love song, and a peppy little number at that. Despite the upbeat tempo, however, it is clear to me that this song is about the longing for someone who is not close by, and who may not be close anytime soon. Hence, he sings "Wish as I may, wish as I might | Grant me this one small wish | On Christmas night."

I got "Wish List" as a free download on iTunes, which still looks to be the only place it is available (only not for free anymore). If you like your holiday music with a little pop rock zip, you should add this number to your rotation.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

25 days of Holiday Music: Day 1

In addition to my weekly Friday 80s Flashback posts, I will be sharing one holiday song per day from now through December 25.

We'll kick off this new music feature with the first tune I heard when I hit shuffle on my Holiday Collection playlist early this week: "We Three Kings" by Pink Martini.

Pink Martini plays multiple styles: jazz, latin, lounge music, and classical. Thomas Lauderdale, who founded the band in 1994, refers to the band's diversity when interviewed on the January 1, 2012, broadcast of CBS Sunday Morning: “All of us in Pink Martini have studied different languages as well as different styles of music from different parts of the world. So inevitably, our repertoire is wildly diverse. At one moment, you feel like you’re in the middle of a samba parade in Rio de Janeiro, and in the next moment, you’re in a French music hall of the 1930s or a palazzo in Napoli. It’s a bit like an urban musical travelogue." Pink Martini has a roster of 10–12 musicians, and they perform a multilingual repertoire -- the band's vocalist is fluent only in English, but sings in 15 different languages -- on concert stages and with symphony orchestras all over the world. In 2010, they released their fifth studio album, Joy to the World, featuring 14 tracks of holiday songs. Track #10, "We Three Kings," was released as a free Starbucks download.