Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Is There Really a Santa Claus, Part 3

Here's some background on the next three tracks of my latest holiday mix, titled Is There Really a Santa Claus?

Track 9
O Come O Come Emmanuel, by the Front Range Christian School Advanced Band (2013)
I was browsing on the Bandcamp website sometime around Christmas last year and stumbled upon a new CD called A Falcon Christmas by students from the Front Range Christian School. There wasn't anything particularly distinctive about the page or the cover of the album that was pictured there, but, on a whim, I clicked on the preview button for the first track, which was "O Come O Come Emmanuel." Well, this doesn't happen to me too often these days, but I found myself frozen in my seat just seconds after the music began. It's a fairly pared-down version of the beautiful old hymn, but the strength of the lead singer's vocal and the emotion he conveys are nothing short of stunning to me. I've probably listened to this track at least 40 or 50 times since then and it never fails to knock me off balance and disrupt anything else that's going on in my my mind or in my surroundings.

I don't know much about the school or its music program, except that this song opens the school's first-ever student album. I gather the music that's featured on A Falcon Christmas was played at the school's Christmas Concert last December, which featured a number of school music groups and students from various grade levels. The school has also posted a video on YouTube that appears to feature the same performers who were responsible for the track I've used, and it's an excellent piece as well (see below) I hope these folks continue to make music of all types going forward. They've obviously been blessed with talent, and I feel blessed to have stumbled onto their fine record.

Track 8
Brand New Christmas, by Hot Chocolate
Hot Chocolate
Imagine you're a contestant on Jeopardy, you select "Hits of the '70s" for $1000, and it turns out to be an Audio Daily Double. Alex's clue is "This group had their first Top 10 hit in 1975 with this song," and then you hear the following audio clip. Would you know the answer? Well, yeah, of course you know the answer now — it's Hot Chocolate, right? I mean, it would sort of have to be considering that I'm posing the hypothetical under a heading that highlights that band's name. Well, I probably should have thought of some better way to sneak in an Audio Daily Double reference, but there it is. Would you have recognized the tune?

Anyway, this next track is indeed by the British band Hot Chocolate, which was originally formed in London in 1970 as Hot Chocolate Band but the name was quickly shortened. Their first recording was a reggae version of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance," but its release was put on hold when they were told they needed Lennon's OK before it could be distributed. As it turned out, Lennon liked their version, and the group was briefly signed to Apple Records before the breakup of the Beatles led to the dissolution of Apple as well. The band eventually scored with not one but three Top 10 hits during the 1970s: "Emma," which made it to #8 in 1975; "You Sexy Thing," which went as high as #3 in 1976, and "Every 1's a Winner," which made it to the #6 position in 1979. The song "Brand New Christmas" appears on their 1980 album Class, which unfortunately didn't sell as well as their earlier albums. In fact, after "Every 1's a Winner," none of the music Hot Chocolate produced was much of a winner at the register, or in the eyes of the critics, either. They were, however, one of the few interracial R&B groups of that period, and while I haven't really explored this question, I'm guessing most of today's most popular groups are even less integrated. Anyway, the band is still together some 35 years later, and some of the same tragic concerns they lament in "Brand New Christmas" are no better today than they were then. That's a sad fact worth reflecting on for a moment or two, wouldn't you say?

Track 7
Holiday Greetings from the Commodores
The Commodores
As I've mentioned before, I like using short promotional greetings like this one not only because they're fun to listen to but because they can serve as a bridge between two different types of songs and make things flow better as a result. I'm guessing most folks today don't often think about Lionel Richie, much less know that he got his start in a funk band known as The Commodores. I know them from their first hit, "Machine Gun," which I really liked, but they're probably best known for the string of ballads that Richie wrote, including "Just to Be Close to You," "Still," and "Three Times a Lady," none of which I particularly cared for. Richie left the group in 1981 to peddle more schlock, but what I'll always remember about the man is that his album Can't Slow Down beat out Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA for Grammy Album of the Year in 1984. So now you can maybe understand why I'm a little bitter, right? (Sorry, Lionel!) Of course, Richie is one of the most successful singer/songwriters in pop music history, and from everything I hear, a pretty solid guy, too. He can't help it if the Grammy voters picked the wrong album to win 30 years ago.

Back later in the week with the title song from this year's mix, by an artist whose work appears more frequently in my mixes than nearly anyone else.

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