Categories
Uncategorized

My Grandmother Had The Best Christmas Music

If you’ve paid attention to my posted lists of my favorite Christmas music in previous years, you’ll see that it is heavily weighted towards music from long before I was born.  One thing I share with a lot of aging baby boomers (the folks who raised me) is that three names come to the forefront when thinking about Christmas: Jesus, Santa Claus, and Bing Crosby–though not necessarily in that order.

Crosby and Irving Berlin–the latter being the Jewish genius behind so many great, sentimental, World War 2 Christmas songs, most of which were showcased in the inter-connected movies Holiday Inn and (later) partial remake White Christmas.  The song “White Christmas,” written by Berlin and sung by Crosby, is far and away the best selling single of all time at 50,000,000+copies.  You read that right.  Fifty million plus–and that’s just the Crosby version.  Hundreds of artists have covered it since.  In my mind, White Christmas is forever tied to “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” another Crosby song, sung from the perspective of an American soldier at war overseas, that tapped eloquently into the zeitgeist of the era. The opening scene, of White Christmas, with Bing Crosby singing the song to the exhausted troops, thousands of miles from home, artillery exploding in the background, focus on that line “…if only in my dreams.”

And therein lies the seed of why these songs were so popular and why they remain so.  America, in the course of a decade, emerged from a bitter depression and plunged into a desperate and all-consuming war–a war that not only effected every household in the nation, but gave pause to consider the implications of failure.  By 1948, it is safe to say that virtually all Americans knew deprivation, desperation, uncertainly, fear, and loss–as well as exultant joy, pride, confidence, and accomplishment.  The music of the time, heady at one moment, deeply sentimental the next, reflected that–and it’s fair to say that the era profoundly effected how we celebrate Christmas as well.

ASCUP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers has validated my own sentiments, released its list of the top 30 most performed holiday songs of all time.  Sadly, Mariah Carey is mentioned.

Top 30 All-Time Christmas Songs

1. “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” (1934)
2. “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” (1946)
3. “White Christmas” (1941)
4. “Winter Wonderland” (1934)
5. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (1944)
6. “Sleigh Ride” (1948)
7. “Jingle Bell Rock” (1958)
8. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1949)
9. “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (1945)
10. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (1943)
11. “Little Drummer Boy” (1958)
12. “Silver Bells” (1950)
13. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (1958)
14. “Frosty the Snowman” (1950)
15. “Blue Christmas” (1949)
16. “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (1963)
17. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” (1951)
18. “Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)” (1947)
19. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” (1962)
20. “Carol of the Bells” (1936)
21. “Feliz Navidad” (1970)
22. “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” (1964)
23. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (1952)
24. “Last Christmas” (1984)
25. “Home for the Holidays” (1954)
26. “Wonderful Christmastime” (1979)
27. “Happy Holidays” (from Holiday Inn) (1942)
28. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” (1994)
29. “Santa Baby” (1953)
30. “This Christmas” (1970)

It’s unfair to say that all the best holiday music came from the post-war years–I’ve got a Reverend Horton Heat album that says differently–but it’s no surprise the those songs top the lists.  Imagine if all we had for the season was George Michael singing “Last Christmas” or Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas”–two songs, and performers, I utterly despise.

http://www.vocativ.com/culture/music/most-popular-christmas-songs/

Categories
Uncategorized

Christopher Lee’s Heavy Metal Christmas

http://www.metalinjection.net/av/92-year-old-actor-christopher-lee-releases-new-heavy-metal-christmas-single
http://www.metalinjection.net/av/92-year-old-actor-christopher-lee-releases-new-heavy-metal-christmas-single

Did you know that Christopher Lee, who most of us know best as Saruman The White, J.R.R. Tolkein’s traitorous fallen wizard from the Lord of The Rings, has made a tradition of releasing a heavy metal Christmas album each year,  just in time for the holidays each year. If you squint, he does sort of look like a scary, evil Santa.

His interpretations are just strange enough to be cool, and it shouldn’t be missed.

 

 

 

Categories
Uncategorized

My Favorite Christmas Records #20-23

This is Part Three of an ongoing series.  Also see PART ONE and PART TWO.

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

Note: Click on the album titles for longer expositions on the albums.

# 23 Kristin Chenowith’s A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas

chenowith

 

 

#22 Christmas Cheers By Straight, No Chaser

518VLiij-gL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#21 Joan Osborne: Christmas Means Love

519mNGAVNTL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#20 Elvis Presley: If Every Day Was Like Christmas

Elvis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Commentary

The Great Carols Conflict

This post appears out of order–it should have hit the net before the last post, but I’m apparently not clever enough to handle complex things like calendars.  I trust that you all are smart enough to figure it out, so here you go

My wife has a little less Christmas spirit than I do. More specifically: she’s sane. I am not.

While we both object to the ridiculous hastening of Christmas marketing–some national retailers were stocking Holiday displays in mid-October this year,– including the appearance of Christmas paraphernalia on store shelves, and Christmas commercials on TV and radio before we even carve our Jack-O-Lanterns, there is a small, silent part of me that responds to the commercial propaganda with an irresistible anticipation. My wife wants nothing to do with anything Christmas-related before about Dec 20. When Christmas carols begin warbling from the radio in mid-November she has been known to glower and mumble irritably.

My personal rules exclude carols from regular rotation until the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (unless she awakes in a bad mood) because I recall fond memories of my mother rushing about wildly trying to catch up on all the holiday chores she let go until the very last minute while a succession of vinyl LPs blared Andy Williams, Steve & Edie, Bing Crosby and dozens of others on the old General Electric stereo—the fancy kind with the device on the center that let us pile on up to seven records that played one side of each in succession, after which the entire stack was flipped to play the b-sides inrecord player reverse order. That was the day, as a child, that I knew with certainty that Christmas was, at last, on the horizon—and possibly why we celebrate the holidays here from around November 25 until Twelfth Night.

We listen with some respect to my wife’s sensibility now—and it isn’t until the day after Thanksgiving, the dreaded Black Friday, that I generally  let the music fly.  Traditionally, the first Carol of the year is Steve & Edie’s Sleigh Ride,

followed by The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York—not spiritual tunes, but songs of joy, festivity, celebration, love, dreams, hopes, regrets and so many of the varied emotions that flood our hearts at this time of year.  My favorite Christmas carol pun, always sure to coax a few groans from the crowd: “Steve and Edie sleigh me.”  Get it?

I have about 40 Christmas recordings on CD dozens more on vinyl , and a growing variety of MP3 recordings– so many that some are barely played while others seem to invariably be called up again and again. Posts about my favorite Christmas albums are in the near future, so I won’t spoil that here, but for 5 weeks everyone around me is subjected to swing-heavy barrage of seasonal cheer. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the assault is relentless, but also cheerful and more than a little nostalgic.

Categories
Commentary Uncategorized

My Favorite Christmas Recordings #2 The Carpenters: Christmas Collection

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

51w7a+LpflL

So, this isn’t a perfect album–it’s a wildly self-indulgent attempt by Richard Carpenter to create a sort of Christmas Magnum Opus, a collection of songs that range from orchestral to pop.  Much of it is brilliant, a bit of it isn’t–but all of it features the incredible, heart-breaking voice of Karen Carpenter.  And let’s be a little honest here.  I grew up on new wave and punk rock, but I am utterly and unapologetically in love with the tragic Karen Carpenter.  I’m two steps removed from fantasies of traveling back in time to try and save her from herself–two small steps.

The centerpiece of this record is “Merry Christmas Darling,” and that’s sort of like saying the centerpiece of the solar system is the sun.  It matters.  A lot.  In my mind, it’s the perfect Christmas song–romantic, sentimental, nostalgic, and a little sad.  Combined with Karen’s honeyed voice, it’s a mind blowing creation.  Pop music perfection.

Carpenter 2 Carpenter 3

Categories
Uncategorized

My Favorite Christmas Recordings #3 Ella Fitzgerald: Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

hqdefault

So, it’s Christmas Day, I’m busy with family stuff, and I’ve still got 3 album entries and the second part of “Christmas Traditions” to write and post–go ahead and call fumble, I’ve clearly dropped the ball.

If there is a singular voice of Christmas in our home, it is Ella Fitzgerald–what can I say about this legendary singer that hasn’t been said before, and by people who actually know what they’re talking about.  She’s slick, she’s deep, but still accessible in the way the very best of these holiday records must be.  Literally, I’m short of words, and there’s no hyperbole that can tell you how rarely that happens.  It’s just a perfect album, everything you want, and like several others it could (and almost was) the number one choice on this list, falling short only on sentimental value–the two records ahead of it simply evoke more memories and traditions.  No Christmas collection should be without it.

Ella

 

Categories
Commentary Uncategorized

My Favorite Christmas Recordings #6 The Roches: We Three Kings

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

51ZDM9FKR9L

The second of two albums called “We Three Kings” in a row on this list, this one, by the three sisters known as The Roches, this is another one I bought on a whim from a discount rack in a department store, and in the years since I’ve bought half a dozen additional copies to give as gifts to relatives and especially good friends.  The Roches’ songs are vocal-driven, deeply harmonious but pleasantly quirky.  You haven’t heard voices mixed together quite like this before, and that’s a very good thing.

The subject of Christmas music is a study in minute differences of interpretation and presentation, with literally thousands of albums covering a genre in which just a few dozen songs are counted as “classics” and “standards.”  The Roches make it interesting, weaving their unique voices together to create something that is both fun and beautiful.

This stuff is interesting enough to listen to loud and traditional enough to let play quietly in the background while you nibble cookies, cold shrimp, and from a cracker and cheese tray with your 89-year old aunt Julie.

roches

Categories
Uncategorized

My Favorite Christmas Recordings #7 The Edge of Christmas

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

the-edge-of-christmas-lg

This one is getting harder to find–it’s out of print and less people are seeming willing to let go of theirs, so your work is cut out for you.

I bought this for one song: the super-classic Waitresses holiday hit “Christmas Wrapping.”  I loved the Waitresses, their brilliantly hilarious lyrics, and “who the fuck cares” approach to rock and roll stardom.  They were a rock and roll band with a punk rock soul beneath their new wave spirit.  No song encapsulates their essence better than Christmas Wrapping: cynical, smart-assed, irreverent, and in the end just a little soulful.  The way Patty Donahue rips through this breezy, ultimately joyous tale of seasonal dysfunction…ah, what a band.  It broke my heart to learn of her death of lung cancer at the tender age of 40.

Early death haunts another of the super-classic Christmas anthems on this anthology.  Kirsty MacColl joined The Pogues to record my family’s favorite Christmas song, the achingly bittersweet Fairytale of New York,

a tale of immigrants’ love and aspirations gone sadly, bitterly wrong, that so perfectly captures the wistful/joyful dichotomy of the season.  Only adding to the mood is the knowledge that MacColl died on a Christmas vacation in Mexico, at the age of 41 and at the height of her career, struck down by a Mexican tycoon’s  recklessly piloted speedboat while swimming in a marine sanctuary–her killer using his power and influence to escape justice.

This album is worth the price for these songs alone, but they’re just the beginning. The third classic here in the now-iconic duet “Peace On Earth” by David Bowie and Bing Crosby.

Other high points come from Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famers The Pretenders and The Ramones, as well as one of the more under-appreciated bands of my college years, The Smithereens.    Get this one before you can’t.

edge

Categories
Uncategorized

My Favorite Christmas Recordings #9 Christmas With The Rat Pack

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

51p2ImLqxWL

Pushing into the top ten, these records could be stacked in just about any order and I’d be happy.  It’s that close.

“Frank Sinatra. Dean Martin. Sammy Davis Jr.” Really, what else do I need to say?  As genres go, my favorite Christmas tunes lean towards cocktail-ready, hipster-jazz/swing, and these songs are classic.  Most notable is Dean Martin’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” that suddenly controversial chestnut that’s drawn the ire of a few cranky feminists (trying to raise, happy, healthy, empowered daughters–rather than sullen and paranoid defeatists, we’re partial to confident, bright-eyed, and joyful feminists around here) and some sallow young men who would curry their favor: the argument is that it is a song about date rape, that the woman wants to leave but the man won’t let her, and that the line “say, what’s in this drink?” very clearly demonstrates that the man has drugged her cocktail.

http://www.salon.com/2012/12/10/is_baby_its_cold_outside_a_date_rape_anthem/

http://www.salon.com/2013/12/19/the_6_creepiest_baby_its_cold_outside_covers/

If you’ve never savored the joys of something largely because other people think it’s naughty, then this is your chance.  Turn up the stereo, pour a glass of eggnog, and bask in the smooth Dean-o delivery while reflecting on the simpering paranoia of the articles cited above.

The entire album is wonderful–these guys recorded a lot of holiday music over the years, and the folks assembling the collection clearly chose the crispest versions of the most classic of the lot.  Most of the tunes you’re looking for are here–and there’s nothing to make you want to scoot forward a few tracks to that song you’ve been waiting to hear.

1. I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm – Dean Martin
2. Mistletoe And Holly – Frank Sinatra
3. Christmas Time All Over the World – Sammy Davis, Jr.
4. The First Noel – Frank Sinatra
5. Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Dean Martin
6. I Believe – Frank Sinatra
7. Silver Bells – Dean Martin
8. The Christmas Song – Sammy Davis, Jr.
9. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – Frank Sinatra
10. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Dean Martin
11. The Christmas Waltz – Frank Sinatra
12. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Dean Martin
13. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Frank Sinatra
14. Medley: Peace On Earth/Silent Night – Dean Martin
15. Jingle Bells – Sammy Davis, Jr.
16. White Christmas – Dean Martin
17. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear – Frank Sinatra
18. Winter Wonderland – Dean Martin
19. I’ll Be Home For Christmas (If Only In My Dreams) – Frank Sinatra
20. A Marshmallow World – Frank Sinatra
21. Auld Lang Syne – Frank Sinatra
Categories
Commentary Uncategorized

My Favorite Christmas Recordings #10 Ultra-Lounge Christmas Cocktails Part One & Part Two

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

51FnMsu4M8L 51tz5amwdSLWriting this, I’m not sure that I shouldn’t just chuck the list, put these as the the top two, and end this now.  As it stands, these would almost certainly be my “desert island” choices if I could pick just two albums that would have to do it for me for the rest of my days.  All kinds of good stuff is here, jazz and swing, from Dean Martin to Jackie Gleason.  That’s right: Jackie Gleason.  I bought this on a whim, not knowing a lot of the stuff that was on here, and I’m glad that I did–it turns out that there are a lot of songs out there I wanted, but didn’t know that I wanted.  I could write a tremendously long list of all the high points, but the “just the facts, ma’am” on this one is that there are over 40 cuts from big time artists, many of which you’ll never, ever hear on the radio, which makes them worthwhile in and of themselves.

Screenshot_12

Screenshot_13