Thursday, November 29, 2012

Here Comes Santa Claus, Part 3

My latest holiday mix is called Here Comes Santa Clausand a couple of days ago I started sharing some of my thoughts about the 38 individual tracks that appear on it. I plan to review a few tracks each day until done, and while I'm reviewing the tracks from first to last, each day's post will proceed in reverse order to yield a final list that runs from 43 to 1 without bouncing back a few spaces at the start of each new post. Today, I've got some background on Tracks 7, 8 and 9:

Track 9
Honky Tonk Hanukkah, by Honky Tonk Confidential (2006)
Bob Scheiffer with his band, Honky Tonk Confidential
I featured a great track by Honky Tonk Confidential (HTC) called Christmas Prison on my 2011 holiday mix, and "Honky Tonk Hanukkah" was a relatively easy choice for the follow-up. It's easy to see why this song is their best-selling download, for like "Christmas Prison" it's got an infectious melody and the band really plays the hell out of it. Based in Washington, DC, HTC's had a lot of press the past couple of years because of their association with Bob Scheiffer, occasional presidential debate moderator and host of CBS's Face the Nation. Scheiffer's one of the few real honest-to-God professional journalists left in Washington, and while he did a fine job moderating the third and final debate this Fall between President Barack Obama and that other guy, he seems to be enjoying himself even more when he's onstage with "his band." Sure looks like fun to me. Incidentally, I wrote a little bit about holiday surf rock instrumentals in yesterday's post and was thrilled (and a little surprised) to discover that this fine country bluegrass band has stuck its collective toe in that water, too. So put on your baggies and check out HTC's surf rockin' version of O Come O Come Emmanuel.

Track 8
Happy Holidays Jingle
I have no idea who produced this track or where it came from, but I've had it kicking around on my computer for at least five or six years and it seemed like a fun little addition to this year's mix.

Track 7
Here Comes Santa Claus, by Esquivel (1959)
The title track of this year’s compilation is a genuine Christmas classic, written in 1947 by Gene Autry and Oakley Haldeman, and while it’s been recorded by hundreds of different artists and was cited by ASCAP several years ago as the 21st most frequently performed Christmas song of all time, this is the first and only time it’s turned up on one of my mixes. The song was inspired by Autry’s participation in the annual Santa Claus Lane Parade, now known as the Hollywood Christmas Parade. Autry was a fixture at the annual event, and as he rode his horse along the route in 1946 he heard crowds of children wherever he was shouting “Here Comes Santa Claus!” From that line, he says, the song was born. Autry's first public performance of the song was on the Gene Autry Melody Ranch Radio Show before a live radio audience on November 30, 1947 (65 years ago tomorrow). The song quickly became a big hit, ultimately reaching #7 on the Billboard singles chart that winter. It’s subsequently been recorded by a wide range of artists including Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Billy Idol, Bob Dylan, and Ludacris, and Autry himself released two additional versions of the song in 1953 and 1957. The version I used for this year’s mix is by the late Juan Garcia Esquivel, better known simply as Esquivel. Originally recorded in 1959, Esquivel’s version was first released that same year as part of the RCA Victor compilation “The Merriest of Christmas Pops,” but it made a bigger splash when it was re-released 37 years later on the last album Esquivel worked on, Merry Christmas from the Space Age Bachelor Pad. In the interim, Esquivel had slowly built an impressive following with his signature blend of quirky instrumental pop that ultimately became known as “sophisticated lounge” or “space age bachelor pad” music. Marked by its wordless vocals, exotic percussion and deliberately overstated dynamic shifts, Esquivel’s style is often described in jazz-related terms, but in contrast to most modern jazz, it tends to be tightly arranged and carefully scripted. I've used stuff from Esquivel on two of my previous mixes – "Stop Singing Those Dreadful Songs," which featured holiday greetings from the artist, and "Hooray for Santa Claus," which included Esquivel’s version of "Auld Lang Syne." He was a cool cat and a solid hipster whose stuff was always in orbit.

Incidentally, the Gene Autry website has a wealth of Christmas-related material in a special section called Gene Autry's Cowboy Christmas. In addition to "Here Comes Santa Claus," Autry recorded dozens of other holiday tunes, and in 1949 his version of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer hit #1 on the Billboard singles chart. It's the only song in Billboard history to ever fall off the chart completely from the #1 position. You can read more about Autry's other holiday releases and even download lots of free stuff including some great desktop backgrounds from the Autry site. But don't delay! There's no guarantee it will remain up past Christmas.

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