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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/

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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

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#22 Christmas Cheers By Straight, No Chaser

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#21 Joan Osborne: Christmas Means Love

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#20 Elvis Presley: If Every Day Was Like Christmas

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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.

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Itunes This Morning

Does music tell much about the man?

Screenshot 2014-02-12 08.16.47 (2)

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My Poetry Poetry

S.o.S.

l love your sinuous
soloman-song geology,
your verdant plains,
your lack of erosion.

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My Favorite Christmas Recordings #1 Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme: That Holiday Feeling

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.

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Here it is, Steve & Eydie standing tall at Number One!  Unexpected?  Maybe.  They would certainly be a dark horse on most people’s lists, but I’m not most people, and I’ve loved these guys since I was a little kid.  Remember those old promo anthologies I was talking about at the bottom of this countdown?  Steve and Eydie featured prominently in many of them, and those songs still resonate with me today.  I had a hell of a time finding it, in fact–the “new price” for this on Amazon is $42.95, which is robbery.  I bought mine for $24.95 from the artists’ web site and never looked back.

The title track is the first Christmas song I listen to each year, by tradition, because I’ve got that holiday feeling, of course.  The snappy little pop jazz duet is the perfect starting gun for the season, the cover of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is easily as good as Dean Martin’s version, and “Hurry Home For Christmas” just dares you not to sing along–then sing again in the shower, on the stairs, in the car….

Some of the tracks have a big band sound more like the music of the 40’s, some of it like late 50’s Swing–it fits in with my favorite Christmas music milieu.  With huge bonus points for “Sleigh Ride”–the merriest song of the season.  I wish my friends and I had half as much fun as the whoopin’ and hollerin’ on that sleigh ride–and with those whoops and whipcracks at the end of the song, I turned to my wife yesterday morning and said “Is it just me, or does that sound like Steve’s giving Eydie a little spankin’?”

“I know!” She said.  “I just thought the same thing!”  We busted a gut.  You should too.

1. That Holiday Feeling
2. White Christmas
3. Winter Wonderland
4. The Christmas Song
5. Baby It’s Cold Outside
6. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
7. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
8. Sleigh Ride
9. Let Me Be the First to Wish You Merry Christmas
10. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
11. What Are You Doing New Years Eve
12. Hurry Home for Christmas
13. That Ol’ Christmas Spirit
14. Happy Holiday
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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.

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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

 

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My Favorite Christmas Recordings #4 Chieftans Christmas: The Bells of Dublin

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.

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At best, I’m ambivalent towards Celtic music, if for no other reason than because a few close relatives of mine have, after a lifetime of identifying as descendents of snobby British folk, have become “just add water” deeply felt Irish.  When my mother bought a kilt a few years ago, that was pretty much the last straw–although it’s great at Christmas, because there is always some kind of crap they’re selling to people who wish they were Irish, whether it’s glossy photography books of rolling green hills and cold, shitty sheep farms, or CDs of hyper-melodramatic mediocre Irish musicians from PBS–like “Celtic Women” or “Celtic Thunder” or mom’s cheeseball (with nuts) favorite, Daniel O’Donnell.

Gagh!

The Chieftains, though, are the real deal–not some box of made for TV marketing tools, and this is one of the best Christmas albums out there, chock full of tradition and reverence.  My favorite track, the “St. Stephens Day Murders” isn’t what you might think if you know a little about Irish history–a hilarious and very familiar tale of internecine holiday conflict.

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My Favorite Christmas Recordings #5 Reverend Horton Heat: 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.

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You step from hard city night into the welcoming, familiar warmth of spilled beer and cigarette smoke.  The tender, washing pint glasses behind the bar, nods acknowledgement.  The waitress smiles, eyes like coal sparkling beneath a tangle of crow black hair, reflecting a the light of a half dozen bare bulbs. Peanut shells crack beneath your boots on the warm, wide plank hardwood floor.  You pick the obvious stool, throw one massive leg over the seat, and take off your gloves, loosen the buttons on your coat.

You don’t even need to reach for it.  Two fingers of Yellow Rose Straight Rye in a highball glass, an inch from your right hand.  In the beat of a heart you throw it down, a double, warm and crisp.  Say what they want about Yanks, they know their way around whiskey–you’ve had more than enough of those fucking Laps and their fucking vodka. Just as quickly, the glass is full again–half a glass with two ice cubes.

“Hey, Big Man.” She’s found you–just a matter of time: febrile fingers on your hunched, knotted shoulder, she leans in, kisses you on the cheek. Her breasts press against your bicep.  “You’re early, this year.  Good weather?”

You nod, take another drink. Her scent is like anise over a vale of vanilla–you could breathe it like pure oxygen and be sustained.  In another world, another lifetime…maybe. No. You’ve known a hundred girls like her, so young, intoxicated by the magic. You find your pipe, pack the bowl, and light it.  The clean, aromatic smoke drifts around your head like a wreath

“We could–” She whispers.

“No, Ivy. Not this year.”

The rooms like flicker out, the stage left glowing as the band struts out on stage, road-worn and weary.  Guitar, stand-up bass, a simple drum kit and piano.  They pause to check tuning then turn to the crowd and go straight to their work…dum, dum, dum…three bass beats and the rock-a-billy guitar kicks in, the music swirling like a wild hurricane….

The Reverend Horton Heat owns Rock-A-Billy and has since long before hipster clones crowded seedy bars to hear them roar, and this Christmas album is a treasure as well as a standard of how a band can honor the traditions of the season while not just raising the bar but changing the approach to the bar.  From the first note of the first song, a rollicking ride with Frosty The Snowman, there is no disappointment to be found.  It’s a perfect album and shouldn’t be missed.

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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.

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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.

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