Friday, December 21, 2012

Here Comes Santa Claus, Part 13

We're now in the home stretch of my look at the 38 tracks on my latest holiday mix CD, Here Comes Santa Claus. We've already covered the first 33 tracks, and today we look at Tracks 34-36, each of which celebrates the life of a popular entertainer who passed away during 2012. That will leave just two final tracks to consider after today's post, and I'm looking to tackle them over the next several days – assuming our luck holds out and the world survives the predicted Mayan apocalypse.

Track 36
Happy New Year from Dick Clark (2000)
Dick Clark in Times Square on New Year's Eve

When radio and television personality Dick Clark died this past April at the age of 82, he left behind a rich legacy of cultural achievement. But during the holiday season, the contribution that stands out most is New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, the program Clark created and hosted for nearly 40 years. This track is made up of two parts – an excerpt from an interview in which Clark discusses the launch of the program in 1972, and an excerpt from his New Year’s Eve countdown from Times Square on December 31, 1999. ABC is scheduled to air a tribute to Clark on December 31 this year, and its New Year’s show will be called “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.” But it won’t be quite the same without him.

Track 35
I’ll Be Home for Christmas, by Donna Summer (1994)
Donna Summer
It’s not for nothing that the late Donna Summer was known as the “Queen of Disco.” While her career had its roots in gospel and musical theater and she ultimately explored a variety of different genres, she was one of the first recording artists to achieve commercial success with electronic dance music and she remains the only artist in history to top the Billboard album charts with three consecutive double album releases – the disco classics Live and More (1978), Bad Girls (1979) and On the Radio (1980). During the period from 1978-80, she had nine Top 5 singles, four of which (“MacArthur Park,” “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls,” and “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)”) made it all the way to #1. Summer died this past May at the age of 63, and her death brought tributes from a wide range of people within and outside of the music industry. This track is from her 1994 album Christmas Spirit, which includes a variety of traditional and popular holiday songs. (My original track list and the list inside this year’s CD list the date of this track as 2005, but that is incorrect. Although "Christmas Spirit" was reissued in 2005 as part of Universal’s 20th Century Masters line under the title "The Best of Donna Summer: The Christmas Collection," it was originally released in 1994.) The song was written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent and originally recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943. It’s written from the point of view of an American serviceman writing home from overseas during World War II, and has subsequently been recorded by scores of other artists.

If you'd like to appreciate Donna Summer's version of the song that much more, listen to this alternate version that will make you wish the world was ending tonight:  I'll Be Home for Christmas (Mayan Apocalypse Version).

Track 34
George Plays Santa, from the Cast of “The Jeffersons,” featuring Sherman Hemsley (1981)
Hemsley (left) and Sean Garrett McFrazier
 in "All I Want for Christmas"
Best known for his portrayal of dry cleaning magnate George Jefferson in the long-running CBS sitcom The Jeffersons, Sherman Hemsley passed away this past July at the age of 74. An intensely private man, Hemsley rarely gave interviews or spoke about his experiences. However, in 2003, he confided in a rare interview for the Archive of American Television that playing George Jefferson was difficult for him. I’ve only seen a limited number of reruns from the show myself, but I get the sense that Hemsley is closer in temperament to the George Jefferson who appears in the 1981 episode “All I Want for Christmas” than the brash and cocky character he typically portrayed in the series. This track was taken from that episode, in which George Jefferson reluctantly agrees to play Santa for a group of orphans at the Help Center where his wife Weezie volunteers. One of the children, Mark, wants nothing to do with Santa, as he’s never received the one thing he’s asked for from Santa in the past – a family of his own. Unsure of how to respond, George notices that many of the younger orphans look up to Mark and depend on him for guidance and support. Isn’t that what a family’s really all about, asks George? The entire episode appears below, in two parts:

The Jeffersons was on the air for 11 years, which makes it one of the longest-running non-animated sitcoms in television history. Hemsley later starred in the NBC sitcom Amen, which ran for five seasons from 1986-91. It's worth noting that one of the three Christmas episodes that series produced, "The Twelve Songs of Christmas," includes a performance of Mary's Boy Child, a Christmas carol written in 1956 by one of the show's stars, Jester Hairston. The full episode is available on YouTube in three parts:

Sherman Hemsley brought a lot of laughter into this world, and the characters he created helped emphasize a variety of lessons about how to treat others and value what's most important. He'll be missed.

1 comment:

  1. I think the child actor who portrayed Billy is Meeno Peluce.