Thursday, December 15, 2011

Gee Whiz ... It's Christmas (Again!), Part 8

Where are we and what are we doing here? Oh, yes … I’ve been sharing some thoughts about the tracks on my latest holiday CD, Gee Whiz … It’s Christmas (Again!), starting with Track 1 and continuing through all 43 tracks. Well, let’s press on!

Track 34
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (Korean)
I’m not the world’s most organized person, and while I hardly ever lose anything, I do misplace things occasionally. Moreover, I don’t always document everything as well as I should when I’m in a hurry. This was never much of a problem when I was younger because I had a good memory for details. Nowadays, however, with my memory overflowing, I find I need to document things in real time or run the risk of forgetting certain details. For example, sometime during the past several years I downloaded an album of Christmas songs performed in Korean, one of which is the song that appears as Track 34 on my latest CD. It's one of the songs on the album that's pictured above, but, unfortunately, I don’t read Korean and I didn’t keep notes on where this album came from, so I can’t tell you anything more about it. If anyone can help shed some light on this, I'd be grateful!

Track 33
Christmas Lost and Found (Part 8), from Davey and Goliath (1960)

Track 32
U.S. Savings Bond Promotion, by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball (c. 1955)
Several years ago, while on vacation with my brother and his family, I played an excerpt from an old episode of I Love Lucy for my young niece, a terrific girl who had celebrated her eighth birthday a few months earlier. Like most children today, she’s used to fast-moving video games and sophisticated high-tech entertainment, but to my delight she immediately fell in love with Lucy, Ricky and their neighbors, the Mertzes. Few shows enjoy this sort of cross-generational appeal and none have survived so well as I Love Lucy. After hearing the pitch on this short promotion, I came awfully close to buying some bonds myself. ("There's no better way to 'spress the spirit of Christmas!") If only we could be sure that our federal Treasury will have the same staying power as the Ricardos!

Track 31
Santa Claus Polka, by Bob Rule and the Rays (1960)
This odd little tune isn’t what it appears to be. For one thing, it’s not really performed by Bob Rule and the Rays. There is no such group. It isn’t really a polka tune, either. It’s just sluggish little number set to music for a fee as part of an assembly line operation tended, among others, by a fellow named Sammy Marshall. You see, Santa Claus Polka is a song-poem -- a uniquely American art form that’s been described as “about half a promise shy of a swindle.” The business of recording song poems was promoted by way of small ads in the back of largely low-brow magazines with headlines reading, “Send Us Your Poems, Earn Thousands of Dollars.” In response to their submissions, budding lyricists were typically sent enthusiastic offers to set their poems to music, but for a fee. Promises to promote the resulting recordings were rarely kept, and the recordings themselves were typically thrown together by disinterested session players using stale melodies and half-baked arrangements. In recent years, however, the song poem genre has begun to attract serious attention as part of a growing appreciation for “outsider music,” material created in relative obscurity that often reflects a slice of popular culture that has been largely overlooked. I don’t know that this track merits such serious reconsideration, but it’s probably worth a quick listen around the holidays.

For more information about song poems in general, you might start with a visit to the American Song Poem Music Archive.

On a related note, I recently heard a story on the NPR series This American Life about a jazz musician named Ellery Eskelin, who never met his father, a giant in the song-poem business, but learned about him after his death primarily by listening to his work. Listen HERE.

More tomorrow, if I feel like it. If not, probably the next day.

No comments:

Post a Comment