Monday, December 5, 2016

Let It Snow, Part 3

Don't stop me, I'm on a roll! Here are some quick thoughts about the next three tracks from my annual holiday mix for 2016:

Track 9
Holiday Greetings from David Bowie (as Elvis Presley) (2013)

From all outward appearances, it seems as though David Bowie lived a wonderfully rich and happy life. Such statements are often intended as consolation following a premature departure. To me, particularly in the case of David Bowie, this richness of his life only serves to make his passing that much sadder. 

Bowie was an artist, a writer, an actor, a songwriter, and a performance artist, but he will probably be best remembered as a tremendously bold and innovative musician and recording artist. I was a huge fan from as far back as I can remember. In fact, a brief glance at a list of his best-known songs conjures up a series of remarkably specific memories of where I was and what I was doing when each track first registered for me:  Changes, Space Oddity, Young Americans, Ashes to Ashes, Cat People (Putting Out Fires), DJ, Fashion, Let's Dance, Modern Love, Absolute Beginners, This Is Not America — the list goes on.

The track I selected for this year's mix is a short little holiday greeting Bowie recorded in 2013 for the BBC6 program "This Is Radio Clash." Speaking in the unmistakable voice of the late Elvis Presley, Bowie says:
“Hello everybody, this is David Bowie making a telephone call from the US of A. At this time of the year I can’t help but remember my British-ness and all the jolly British folk, so here’s to you and have yourselves a Merry little Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thank you very much.”
Interestingly enough, Bowie tied one of Elvis's record-breaking statistics shortly after his death this past January when 12 of his albums simultaneously scored spots in Billboard's Top 40 weekly album listings. 

Of course, one of the most beloved David Bowie holiday tracks is a song he recorded with Bing Crosby in 1977 for the holiday television show "Bing Crosby's Olde Fashioned Holiday Special." Unfortunately, Crosby died before the program first aired, but this wonderful recording preserves the memory:

David Bowie was an absolute original, and he died far too soon.

Watch the animated film "The Snowman" with an introduction by David Bowie

Track 8
A Message from the King, by Bob Rivers

I posted about comedian/radio DJ Bob Rivers last year when I included his holiday-themed rendition of the Led Zeppelin classic D'yer Mak'er on last year's mix. This year I included a track brings Elvis Presley back to life and sits him (where else?) at the holiday dinner table:

Track 7
The Season's Upon Us, by The Dropkick Murphys

I like many different styles of music, but what I listen to and probably love most is straight-up rock and roll. Without meaning to do this intentionally, I noticed several days ago that many of my recent holiday CDs feature at least one rock track that serves a personal stand-out cut from the mix. Last year it was "O Christmas Tree," by The Orphan, The Poet. This year, it's the seventh track of the mix, "The Season's Upon Us," by the amazing Boston-based band known as the  Dropkick Murphys.

I was born in Boston myself, and for 17 wonderful years I lived in that city's diverse South End neighborhood. I worked for the City for several years under Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, and I spent a couple of years in the aggregate working on a number of local political campaigns. Boston's political scene is rich and exciting, as demonstrated by the number of Massachusetts natives who have gone on to national office, or at least played in the genuine major leagues.

Boston's also known as a breeding ground for up-and-coming musicians, largely because of the many colleges and universities in the area. I spent a year studying urban government at Boston University in the early 1980s, and there was never a night when some hot new band wasn't playing somewhere.

The Dropkick Murphys started taking off right around the time I was relocating to California, so I don't have any particular history as an early fan of the band, but I love their stuff and really enjoy this holiday track. The band took its name, by the way, from an old-time professional wrestler who competed (performed?) in the area during the 1940s. By the time I hit down, Dropkick was better known for his post-wrestling career as the manager of a well-known sanitarium for hardcore alcoholics. More than a few wonderful people became sober at Dropkick Murphy's, and there's a special place in heaven for the good work he did.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Let It Snow, Part 2

Here's some background on the next three tracks from my latest holiday mix:

Track 6
You're a Mean One, Mr. Trump, College Humor Website (2015)

What can I say about this one? It was a whole lot funnier when it first came out, because, well, nobody thought he had a ghost of a chance to be elected President then, right?

Want More Like This? Watch "How the Trump Stole Christmas"

Track 5
Holiday Greetings from Ricardo Montalbán (1971)

Montalbán (R) with his Fantasy 
Island costar Hervé Villechaize
Ricardo Montalbán (1920-2009) was a Mexican-born actor who enjoyed considerable success in the movies and on television beginning in the early 1940s and continuing until shortly before his death. One of the few Mexican-American actors to work pretty much continuously through the 1940s and '50s, Montalbán is perhaps best known for his starring role as Mr. Roarke in the ABC television series Fantasy Island. I like these short holiday messages from various celebrities as they usually make for successful segues from one song to another and break things up pretty well. I especially like the greetings from the one-hit wonder sorts of public figures, mostly for the irony. Unfortunately, my supply is dwindling down to a precious few.

I like this clip because Montalbán goes out of the way emphasize his Mexican heritage and ends his holiday message by asking us all to "get well soon." While Montalbán has been dead for seven years and couldn't have imagined the results of this year's election, I'd like to think he's hoping our country recovers quickly and completely from our recent episode of collective mental illness.

Track 4
'Twas the Night Before Christmas, Art Carney (1954)

This is a track I've meant to include on one of my holiday mixes for several of the past dozen years or so and yet never quite did. I'm not sure why I haven't found a spot for it before now, because it's a great version of a beloved classic by an actor I've long enjoyed  Art Carney. This song was actually released as the "B" side of a holiday 45 RPM single titled "Santa and the Doodle-Li-Boop," which was released on the Columbia label in 1954. I've always thought of Carney as an actor, based on his work in The Honeymooners, his Academy Award-winning performance in Harry and Tonto (1974), and his many other roles on television and in the movies. But he also enjoyed considerable success as a recording artist, particularly during the 1950s, when released many albums and singles geared toward younger listeners.

This particular song, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," is based on the classic poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," which was first published anonymously in 1823 and later attributed to Clement C. Moore. It's not only a holiday classic, but it's largely responsible for the general acceptance of Santa Claus as one of the key characters in the holiday pantheon. The poem has been recorded by hundreds of different artists over the years in a variety of styles, but Carney's version is particularly memorable. A number of critics have lately described it as the "first rap" record, as it was delivered in syncopation and accompanied by only a single jazz drummer. 

Carney was previously featured in this blog for his role as the department store Santa in "Night of the Meek," a classic holiday episode from the original "Twilight Zone" television series that first aired in 1960. 

Listen to John Cleese's Version of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"

Hear Michelle Obama read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"

Hear President and Mrs. George W. Bush Read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"

Watch Art Carney in the Honeymooners episode "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"

Introduction to Track 4
'Twas the Night Before Christmas, Tammy Grimes (1985)

For the past five years, I've included a number of tracks at the end of each new holiday mix in honor of certain talented entertainers who died during the preceding 12 months. We seem to have lost too many great entertainers this year, including several I was unable to honor for want of a suitable audio clip to include.

One change I have made this year is to place the various memorial clips throughout the mix rather than bunching them together at the end.

Actress Tammy Grimes died on October 30 at the age of 82. She was well-known in our household as she attended the girls' summer camp my godmother and grandmother ran in New Hampshire when she was a teenager. I knew her best for her role as the successor host to E.G. Marshall on the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, which I listened to as a child and have enjoyed ever since. Grimes enjoyed great success on the stage and in the movies, and I wanted to at least note her passing here.

Listen to Tammy Grimes' reading of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Obamas Light the National Christmas Tree for the Final Time

President Obama and his treasonous army of Kenyan-born socialists apparently called a truce in their shameful War on Christmas Thursday evening in order to allow the President to light the National Christmas Tree:

Of all the hateful lies perpetrated against President Obama, the charge that he's anti-Christmas is among the most preposterous. This year marks the eighth Christmas the Obamas have celebrated in the White House, and they sure seem to be animated by the holiday spirit each and every time. If you want to get real about things, using federal resources to celebrate Jesus's birth would seem to be a clear violation of the Establishment Clause in our Constitution's First Amendment. If the price for this violation involves replacing seven of ten "Merry Christmas" greetings with "Happy Holidays," I'm not sure that amounts to a "war" on Christmas in any sense of the word. Merry Christmas to the Obama Family, who have maintained the various White House holiday traditions and done us all proud.

See the Entire 2016 National Tree Lighting Ceremony

Preview the White House Holiday Decorations for 2016

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Let It Snow, Part 1

I mentioned in a previous post that I'll be doing a fair amount of traveling during the next several weeks, which will make it difficult to post on a consistent schedule. But I'm committed to at least trying to fulfill this blog's primary purpose.

You see, I started this blog several years ago as a way of sharing a little background on the various songs and audio clips that comprise my annual holiday music mixes. As it happens, I had extra time on my hands in each of this blog's first several seasons, which allowed me to not only discuss every track on each annual mix but to also post about a variety of other holiday-related topics. Things were more hectic last year, and as a consequence, I wasn't even able to finish examining the various tracks on my 2015 mix, Deck Those Halls! I hope to strike a better balance this year. It's unlikely I'll be posting on topics outside of the new mix, but I'd like to at least be able to offer a word or two about each of the 37 tracks that are on it.

This evening's post is coming to you from Cleveland, following a surprisingly relaxing five-hour drive from Indianapolis, where I spent last night and most of today. President-elect Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence spent a good part of today about a mile away from where I was working. May God help us all.

Let's turn now to the task at hand — a look at the tracks on my latest CD. I typically post on two or three tracks at a time, working my way from the front to the back. The tracks in each day's post are presented in reverse order so that the final list, if assembled chronologically as daily posting clusters, would yield a list in true reverse order. Please don't ask me to explain why that's important or what it even means because if I ever did know I can't recall just now. OK. let's get started!

Track 3
Coming Up Christmas Time, by the Hanna-Barbera All-Stars (1991)

The Hanna-Barbera All-Stars
Track 3 on this year's mix was originally written for the Hanna-Barbera television special "Casper's First Christmas," which first aired on NBC on December 18, 1979. It's sung by a collection of well-known Hanna-Barbera characters, including Yogi and Boo Boo Bear, "Quick Draw" McGraw, Huckleberry Hound, Doggy Daddy, Augie Doggie and Snagglepuss. The singing begins as the group drives through the countryside in an open convertible at the beginning of the special. No explanation is offered as to why Yogi and Boo Boo were involved. As bears, one would normally expect them to be hibernating by Christmastime.

The song was used again the following season at the beginning of another Hanna-Barbera seasonal special called "Yogi's First Christmas," although, in this episode, it's sung by Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound, Augie, and Doggie Daddy while Ranger Smith is bringing them to the Jellystone lodge. When they sing the song again a few minutes later, it awakens Yogi and Boo Boo from their hibernation. This repurposing of the song appears to have been done without too much thought, as a number of the characters who sang the song in the Casper special were nowhere to be seen when it's trotted out again for Yogi's program. But it's an upbeat and energetic little number that seems just right for one of the opening spots in this year's mix.

The version I use is from Hanna-Barbera's Christmas Sing Along, a holiday compilation released in 1991. Curiously, one of the lines sung by "Quick Draw" — "To make sure I get what I want, I buy my gifts for me" — is omitted altogether in the now-out-of-print 1991 version. I guess it came off as rather contrary to the Christmas spirit.

Track 2
From All of Us to All of You, by Jiminy Cricket and Friends (1958)
Jiminy Cricket

The second track on this year's mix features one of my very favorite Disney characters, Jiminy Cricket. As a child, I had a had a number of phonograph records with various Disney stories on them, and the one I listened to the most was the story of Pinocchio. Jiminy Cricket played a leading role in the story — in fact, I think he pretty much told the story, didn't he?. Of course, it's been years since I've listened to the record, but I sure remember my favorite song on it, "Give a Little Whistle":
When you get in trouble and you don't know right from wrong,
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle!
When you meet temptation and the urge is very strong,
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle!
Take the straight and narrow path, and if you start to slide,
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle . . .
And always let your conscience be your guide! 

"From All of Us to All of You" harkens back to that same era. It's the title track to a holiday television special that first aired on ABC on December 19, 1958. The original animated program was organized as a series of Christmas cards from various specific Disney characters. In subsequent years, the program was recycled and filled with additional clips to promote whatever new features Disney had planned for the coming year. In 1986, large portions of the original were repackaged and released on home video under the title "Jiminy Cricket's Christmas." Compared to most of the other titles in Disney's U.S. catalog, this feature has been largely forgotten. It remains very popular in Scandinavia, however. In Sweden, for instance, it's still broadcast every Christmas Eve, and it continues to attract blockbuster audiences comparable to major football contests in this country. 

Track One
Introduction/Jingle Bells, The Lawrence Welk Orchestra (1972)

Among the greatest influences in my young life were my two grandmothers. Both descended from proud Yankee families that had been in New England since the early 17th century, and while they were extremely different from one another in temperament, they each flew in the face of convention by pursuing full-time careers and holding positions of significant influence. My paternal grandmother graduated from Wellesley College in the early 1920s and after a brief career as a Broadway actress traveled half-way around the world alone to teach English in China. She returned to New England after marrying an American banker, but he promptly lost everything in the Great Crash of 1929 forcing her to return to teaching to support the family. By the mid-1930s, she had become headmistress of one of New England's most prestigious preparatory schools for women, a position she held for over 25 years.My maternal grandmother toured this country for years with the famous Tony Sarg Marionette Company, and later ran a popular girls' summer camp in New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, my grandmother the headmistress was unfailingly proper and formal. My maternal grandmother, by contrast, was a little more free-wheeling. When my grandfather died in 1970, she turned his bedroom into a sort of rec room with mod-style plastic furniture, orange shag carpeting and pop art posters on the walls. Yet despite this admirably modern sensibility, she adored Lawrence Welk. No matter what else may have been happening around her, everything stopped at 8 p.m. every Saturday when Welk's "Champagne music makers" came on TV. The only time I recall her being cross with me was when my brother and I made fun of the show and its principal sponsor, Geritol. We thought Welk's schtick was hopelessly square, and we'd seen I Love Lucy's Vitameatavegimin episode often enough to have a pretty good handle on what Geritol was all about.

Of course, The Lawrence Welk Show is an easy target of ridicule. Even today, years after the death of its well-known host, Saturday Night Live routinely parodies its stale and somewhat stilted style. One of my favorite clips on YouTube features two of Welk's typically square "all-American" duos singing "One Toke Over the Line" completely oblivious to the fact that they were essentially copping to smoking trees. Welk wins points in my book, however, for his willingness to poke fun at himself. In 1969, for example, the show opened its 15th season by having Welk appear dressed as a hippie and announcing he'd had it with playing the "square" polka and champagne music that had made him famous. The change didn't last long.

I wish I could say that I've matured to become a genuine fan of Welk's style of entertainment, but frankly I still find it ridiculously saccharine for my taste. Yet it harkens back to a simpler and less frantic time, and that's always kind of nice:

Here's the television version of the track that opens this year's mix:


I chose it in my grandmother's honor, and I'm confident it's an opening she's going to enjoy.

Back again soon with a beat-inspired classic from Art Carney and a short homage to one of the better-known campers from the summer camp my grandmother and godmother ran.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Hear My 2016 Holiday Mix, "Let It Snow!"

This year's holiday mix is ready and now available for streaming on my holiday music website under the tab titled "LATEST MIX." I posted it last evening along with a quickly written rant about the state of our nation and so forth, but don't worry. You can skip over all of that and simply stream the mix using thge button at the bottom of the page.

I'll be traveling for work for most of the next several weeks and will therefore have little time to post right away. But I'll do what I can and try to stay focused on the tunes that appear on this year's collection.

Stay strong, festive and hopeful, friends. There's lots of cheerful music to keep us going, and it's only a couple of quick clicks away!