Friday, December 8, 2017

It's Christmas Time Again, Part 1

Well, it's time to kick things off for 2017 and take a look at the tracks included on my latest holiday mix, It's Christmas Time Again!

Track 4
Holiday Traditions at the Playboy Mansion
Hugh Hefner
As in previous years, a number of the tracks on this year's mix pay tribute to well-known celebrities who died during the past 12 months, and the first such person year is Hugh Hefner, the founder and publisher of Playboy magazine. Recognizing Hefner was a difficult decision, for while he championed the principles of sexual liberation and free expression, which I enthusiastically support, he and his magazine objectified women and promoted images and stereotypes that many women found deeply offensive. I ultimately chose to include a short excerpt from an interview in which Hef described some of the holiday traditions observed at the Playboy Mansion. It was obvious from his remarks that this was a guy who loved Christmas -- after all, it was one of times each year when he ate dinner sitting in a chair rather than propped up in bed. Kind of a nice tradition, don't you think?

Listen to Hugh Hefner describing holiday traditions at the Playboy Mansion

Track 3
Here I Come, Unknown Artist
I first ran across this creepy little number via the Internet Archive, which, among millions of other websites, songs and video clips stores recordings of a program called "Crap from the Past" that ran every Sunday night from March 1999 through October 2002 from midnight to 2:00 a.m. (so Monday morning, really) on KFAI-FM, 90.3 FM Minneapolis, 106.7 FM St. Paul, and KFAI.org. The show's host, Ron "Boogiemonster" Gerber, liked to call it "a pop music radio show for people who already know plenty about pop music," and I'd say that's as good a description as any. The December 17, 2001 show featured the third track on this year's CD, called "Here I Come." As Gerber explains, it came on a three-track record that also included a couple of spoken word stories. No artist was willing to claim dredit for any of it, but it seems the record was made in Finland. 

Listen to the December 17, 2001 "Crap from the Past" Show

Track 2
Jing, Jing a Ling, by Honey and the Bees (1969)
Honey and the Bees
I'm a huge fan of '60s and '70s Motown, soul and R&B, and there's a whole lot of fine but forgotten ":urban" Christmas tunes from that era, several of which, I'm pleased to say, I've featured on previous CDs. This one's really special, and it manages to kick this year's mix into a dynamite groove from almost the very start. (Of course, we don't stay there for long, but it was nice while it lasted.)

Honey and the Bees were a short-lived and underappreciated girl-group based primarily in Philadelphia and made up of Nadine Felder, Jean Davis, Gwendolyn Oliver and Cassandra "Ann" Wooten "Jing Jing a Ling' was released as a 45 in 1969 (b/w Auld Lang Syne), made it one of their first releases. That was followed by a nice but relatively unsuccessful album called Love in 1970. The group broke up sometime around 1972, but within a short time, Oliver and Wooten hooked up with Cheryl Mason-Jacks and Richie Rome to form The Ritchie Family, a disco group that scored with two decent hits, "Brazil," which made it to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975 and "The Best Disco in Town," which made it to #17 the following year. Wooten and Mason-Jacks later cntributed backgrounds vocals to the John Lennon/Yoko Ono "Double Fantasy" album as well as several solo albums by Yoko Ono.

Listen to "Jing Jing a Ling," by Honey and the Bees

Track 1
Christmas in Heaven, by Monty Python (1983)

This year's mix starts off with a track from the 1983 movie "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life." I've never seen it myself, and I don't really have any interest in seeing it. I understand the guests at the giant Christmas party depicted when the song is performed are either dead or on their way to their miserable demise and that the song is meant to ridicule the modern Western materialist lifestyle most of us pursue and enjoy today. I heard the song earlier this year and immediately felt it could work as an intro song to an upcoming holiday CD, and when I decided to assemble a knock-off version of my regular mix this year, "Christmas in Heaven" just happened to be one of the first tracks I saw. I think it kind of works out in the lead position this year.

I'll be back with more tomorrow. It's another beautiful warm day in Los Angeles and I aim to enjoy a little bit of this beautiful weather while it's there for the taking.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Jim Nabors, 1930-2017

I was terribly saddened to learn of Jim Nabors' death this evening. Best known for his portrayal of North Carolinian auto mechanic and Marine private Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show and, later, Gomer Pyle, USMC, Nabors was also a successful singer and recording artists who produced a number of best-selling Christmas-themed albums in addition to a range of popular releases.

In 2013, shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized in Washington state, Nabors married his longtime partner Stan Cadwallader at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle. Following the announcement of his death earlier today, Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President and former Indiana Governor Mike Pence, issued a statement mourning the loss. 

 "So sad to hear about the passing of Jim Nabors," she wrote. "We heard him sing 'Back Home Again in Indiana' at the Indianapolis 500 countless times. We will miss his beautiful voice."

Ho! Ho! Ho! It's 2017 and We're (Finally) Ready to Rock!

A warm season's greetings to you and yours -- or, better yet, as our esteemed former President and his fellow travelers frequently exclaimed during what must currently be described as the Golden Era of American Democracy:  "Merry Christmas!" It's great have you with us as we throw a couple of logs on the fire and begin to string up the festive holiday lights for another year. It's always nice to see the warm faces of good friends during the holidays, even as we remember those we've lost during this most discouraging of years.

I want to start with a heartfelt apology to anyone who's looked this way in vain for news about my latest holiday CD, as I'm at least several weeks late in opening up the store this year. The truth is that until last Sunday I wasn't planning to open up at all. I've been exceedingly busy the past couple of months and expect that to continue for the next couple of months or more, and I've been finding it difficult to scare up the old Christmas spirit of late. Moreover, for the first time ever I've been having trouble finding the kind of material I like to use in my annual compilations. The combination of these various factors led me to regretfully conclude that I wouldn't be able to create a Christmas mix this year.

Toward the end of the recent Thanksgiving weekend, however -- right around 2:00 on Sunday afternoon -- I was overcome by feelings of guilt and inspiration in roughly equal measure and found myself starting to poke around in my files to see whether there was anything there I might be able to use. Perhaps I could throw together an EP, I thought. Even a few tracks would be better than nothing.

Well, within an hour or so I started to feel some of the old magic returning, and before I knew it I'd assembled the rough outline of another full CD. While it usually takes me a month or more to assemble each annual mix, I actually created this year's mix in a single, albeit extremely late evening and I'm pleased to report that my 2017 mix, titled "It's Christmas Time Again" is now complete and ready to go!

Over the next several weeks I will try to follow the model I've used in previous seasons -- that is offering a few words about each of the tracks included on this year's CD. There are 34 tracks in all, so I'll be lucky to finish the project in time for Santa's arrival on Christmas Eve. But I'm going to try, even if I have to cheat a little bit and clean up a post or two after the fact.

I'll be on the road sporadically throughout these next several weeks -- tonight I'm in Exton, Pennsylvania, where it's drizzling and in the upper 40s. Today's news brought little cheer or solace as our nation's elected leader retweeted a series of anti-Muslim videos and continued to promote legislation that would slash the taxes of many of our wealthiest citizens at the expense of million of middle class and working Americans who are going to have trouble buying holiday gifts this year. Several more once-respected public figures have been exposed as sexual predators, and North Korea has successfully launched another intercontinental missile test. And to top it off, another beloved celebrity has died. Against that background, I'm mighty glad to have something nice to throw into the mix. There's an awful lot of good still out there. I'm hoping we can salvage something better from this year's holidays and begin to set things on a better and more uplifting course -- after all, whatever else is going on, It's Christmas Time Again!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

It's New Year's Eve!

In anticipation of this evening's festivities — and tomorrow's holiday — here are several of my favorite New Year's tunes:

Happy New Year, by Charlie Weaver

Happy New Year, by Spike Jones and His City Slickers

Happy New Year, by The Glad Singers

I've also got three Happy New Year mixes on the Extras page of my holiday music website, HERE

Whatever you do and however you do it tonight, have a safe and enjoyable New Year's Eve! The coming year will likely be filled with awesome challenges, and we're going to need everyone to be at their best!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Let It Snow!, Part 12

Well, we didn't do it in time for Christmas, but at least it's done! Here are a few notes about the final two songs in my latest holiday mix, Let It Snow!:

Track 37
Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas), by Greg Trooper (2003)
Looking back over the list of public figures who died this past year, the name of Muhammad Ali stood out as perhaps the most widely known and most influential of them all. He's a man I greatly respected — not so much for his boxing skills as for his principled opposition to the Vietnam War and subsequent positions on public issues. I was hoping to find a suitable audio clip of Ali wishing people a Merry Christmas or some such thing, but when I googled Ali's name along with the word "Christmas," many of the resulting links were to this song by singer/songwriter Greg Trooper. I wasn't aware of the song at the time — in fact, I'd never heard of Greg Trooper. I'm not sure why I hadn't because he's been around at least as long as I have and several of his records were produced by Garry Tallent of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, but them's the facts. So I listened to it on YouTube, and instantly liked it. In fact, I thought it would be a great way to end this year's mix, as it's the kind of thoughtful, quiet and reflective track that I like to use to close out each CD. Yet if I had to explain the meaning of the song from Trooper's point of view — just what is he trying to say? — I wouldn't have the foggiest idea how to do it. I'm not even sure I have a valid interpretation of what it means to me. Clearly, Trooper was a fan. He seems to admire Ali for defying the odds and remaining true to himself regardless of what anyone else believed.
Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas)
I saw Muhammad Ali
Talking to me
From the TV
Teaching me
The meaning of Christmas. 
Float like a butterfly
Sting like a bee
How could this be?
Him teaching me
The meaning of Christmas?

His hands were shaking
His knees were weak
But listen to this old warrior when he speaks
I am the greatest he said with a grin
But he was talking about you
Not about him
And he was teaching me
The meaning of Christmas.

I remember they called him a clown
But then Sonny went down
In no more than six rounds
And he was teaching us all
A new day was coming.

And I remember this Louiseville kid
Wouldn't do what they said
Found his own God instead
And he was teaching us all
The meaning of Christmas.

There are kings in the east
There are kings in the west
There are kings all around
But not every king knows
The meaning of Christmas.

It seems clear that Trooper's references to Christmas are to Christmas in the broadest sense of the word — not only to the day of Jesus' birth, but to the spirit of the holiday and the rich and diverse group of qualities and ideals people ascribe to it. Still, it's not the most comfortable fit. The Ali brand of bravado and trash talk might be a useful model for someone lacking in confidence or self esteem, but it's hardly the kind of quality we associate with Christmas. To an awful lot of people, Ali's abandonment of Christianity and his adoption of the Muslim faith should disqualify him from a seat at our holiday table. He did more than change parishes, he "found his own God instead," a rather clear violation of the First Commandment. Yet still somehow this song sounds appropriate. Perhaps because here on earth, each of us is free to set our own moral compass and to worship the God of our own understanding, and because tolerance for these truths, so long as others are not disrespected or hurt, is indeed part of the holiday spirit. Ali refused to be drafted at a time when the majority of the Christian people of our country were probably quite opposed to his position. The power establishment certainly was. And whose position turned out to be the more moral stand? I don't know, I can see where Muhammad Ali could teach me a thing or two about the meaning of Christmas. The whys and wherefores will likely come, as all things inevitably will, in time.

Listen to Greg Trooper's "Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas)"

Track 36
Another Lonely Christmas, Prince

I was a big Prince fan going back to his very first commercial releases. I was amazed by the brash openness of his third album "Dirty Mind," and his flaunting of conventional morality on his follow-up release, "Controversy." His 1982 album "1999" hardly left my turntable for the first five or six months after its release, which is quite something considering it came out around the same time as Michael Jackson's "Thriller." I was blown away by the song "When Doves Cry," even though it kept Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" from reaching the top spot on Billboard's Hot 100. I didn't care too much for the movie "Purple Rain," but the soundtrack was awesome, and I remained a big fan of Prince's music throughout most of the 1980s. I didn't follow him too much after that, although I was lucky enough to see him close up at NBC's Burbank Studios in 1999 and to attend special performance of his at the Key Club in Hollywood that was just incredible. His death this past April came as a real shock. I had no idea he was in such pain and so close to the end of his endurance.

I confess that this song was never one of my favorites. The lyrics are beautiful and sobering, and they always struck me as a message to enjoy each day to the fullest. I would have preferred to include something else of his, but I'm not sure Prince ever recorded anything else about Christmas. In the end, he seems to have been a very private and possibly lonely soul. I can identify with that. Many people are. He certainly left a rich musical legacy behind, and he did a great deal of good while he was here. Those things, too, reflect the meaning of Christmas.

Listen to Prince's "Another Lonely Christmas"