Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gee Whiz ... It's Christmas (Again!), Part 1

I finished my 2011 holiday CD shortly before Thanksgiving, and I'm now in the process of sending copies to my holiday mailing list. It's called Gee Whiz ... It's Christmas (Again!), consists of 43 tracks and plays for almost exactly 80 minutes. I'm very pleased with the final product, and I hope you'll enjoy it, too. I intend to post the complete CD on my regular holiday music website for a limited time beginning Monday, December 12, and anyone who's interested can download it from there either as a single .mp3 file or a zipped folder containing all 43 individual tracks.  I probably won't keep it up past Christmas, so if you want a copy, don't delay!

During the next couple of weeks, I'm planning to share some additional information and personal thoughts about many of the tracks on this year's CD. I'll be going through the tracks in order beginning with Track One, but the tracks within each day's individual posting will be listed in reverse to yield a final list in true reverse order.

Ready? OK, let's get started!

Carla Thomas

Track 3
Gee Whiz, It's Christmas, by Carla Thomas (1963)

Memphis native Carla Thomas is perhaps best known for the music she recorded in the 1960s for the Atlantic and Stax Records labels. Back then, she was known as the Queen of Memphis Soul. Her first record was released in 1960 -- a duet she recorded with her father, R&B star Rufus Thomas. This was followed by “Gee Whiz (Look in His Eyes),” which became a smash hit. Unfortunately, Thomas's next several records failed to sell as well, which no doubt affected her decision to release this familiar-sounding holiday tune in 1963. While it’s appeared on a host of compilation albums over the years, “Gee Whiz, It’s Christmas” was first released on the same day as Phil Spector’s classic album A Christmas Gift For You – November 22, 1963. If that date sounds familiar, it’s probably not because of either of these records. That was the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Not surprisingly, this tragedy affected record sales and nearly everything else in the United States during the 1963 holiday season.

Track 2

Welcome Christmas, from Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
If you're not familiar with this classic holiday story, you must be new to Planet Earth. Welcome. The Grinch series was launched in 1957 as a book by the inimitable Dr. Seuss. In 1966, Chuck Jones adapted the book as an animated television special featuring the voices of Boris Karloff and Thurl Ravenscroft. The track I used on this year's CD was taken from this version of the story, which is still broadcast on TV each year. In 2000, the Grinch became a big-budget, live-action film starring Jim Carey. Information about the plot is available in many places on the internet (you might start looking HERE). I'm not sure why I thought of linking this track with the preceding one, but I merged the two together by adding crowd noises and applause to the back of "Welcome Christmas" so it appeared to be part of a single concert following "Deck the Halls." I guess I must have had some subconscious desire to hear the E Street Band do both tracks back-to-back on some upcoming tour. And who knows? It could still happen. They're going back out on the road next year, and everyone used to think my interest in hearing Bruce do The Clash was pretty silly, too, until a couple of years ago.

Track 1
Deck the Halls, by The Max Weinberg 7 (2001)

Perhaps the toughest part of putting each year’s holiday CD together is figuring out the beginning, and this year I really had a tough time of it. By mid-October I’d fooled around with three or four different opening scenarios, including a montage of radio news reports that highlighted our continuing economic woes and the growing gulf between our nation’s richest citizens and the rest of us. The resulting clip told a powerful story, but I decided that not only was the piece likely to turn some people off as “too political,” but it was a little too depressing. Fortunately, I stumbled across a series of bootleg recordings around that same time that features highlights from several of the annual benefit shows that Bruce Springsteen has been doing in Asbury Park in recent years along with a number of his friends and fellow local entertainers. One of the songs was a short instrumental version of “Deck the Halls” that is credited to the Max Weinberg 7 but was apparently performed by Max’s horns section. As you probably know, Weinberg joined Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band in 1975, and he’s served as its principal drummer for most of the past 35 years. When Bruce disbanded the E Street Band in 1990, Max started exploring other options and ultimately formed The Max Weinberg 7, which became the official band on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and for a time, The Tonight Show. Happily, Bruce reconstituted the E Street Band in 1999, and they’ve been more active than ever during the past dozen years, completing four lengthy world tours and, now, preparing for a fifth, which is scheduled to begin in early 2012.  This created a challenge for Weinberg, who was forced to juggle a busy touring schedule with the responsibilities of a nightly TV show. His son, 19-year-old Jay Weinberg, filled in as drummer on the European leg of Springsteen’s most recent tour, and from the videos I’ve seen he did an amazingly good job. In any event, I like this song as the opening track. It seems to get things started on a pretty good note.

More information about some of this year's other tracks next time. 

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