Friday, November 20, 2015

The Song Remains the Same

I had a call from my brother one Friday evening this past May. It was around 7 p.m. in Los Angeles, which made it 10:00 back in North Yarmouth, Maine, where he lives with his wonderful wife and their beautiful daughter, who'd just turned 13. "You'll never guess what I'm doing," he said. There was music in the background -- slightly distorted, somewhat muffled, and loud -- like the sound of a rock show from outside the arena. "Wait," he said. "Let me get closer." The song sounded vaguely familiar until, in an instant, it all became clear:  " . . . to be a rock and not to roll . . . ." He was waiting for his daughter and her friends so he could take them home after their first school dance, which ended with Led Zeppelin's classic "Stairway to Heaven." I thought for a moment about the long, twisted road I've been on for the last 35 years, and the unbelievable changes the world's been through since my first dance. Yet now, as then, a group of awkward young teenagers were nervously getting together in a school gymnasium to the sounds of "Stairway to Heaven."

What's this got to do with holiday music? Not too much, I guess, except to underscore that few things can evoke powerful memories so effectively as music, which is probably why holiday songs have the power they do. For example, what led me to start thinking about school dances was a quick reference to Led Zeppelin in one of my very favorite holiday music blogs, Stubby's House of Christmas. I can't say I know a whole lot about Stubby, other than what I've read in the blog. He reportedly lives in Greenville, NC and loves cats. He also does an incredible job each year of discovering and writing about an impressive array of newly released holiday music of nearly every type and style. Stubby's introduced me to a number of my very favorite seasonal releases recently, including "Sha La Da La La (Christmas Time)," by the Sha La Das, and the wonderful holiday album released in 2013 by The Bowmans, titled Make Sure the Snow Falls

Well, it's not even Thanksgiving yet and Stubby's already outdone himself this year with a bevy of great recommendations, including a great new holiday single called "Mystic Snowman," which is a mash-up of "Stairway To Heaven," "Greensleeves," "Carol of the Bells" and "Frosty The Snow Man" -- if you can believe that. Looking quickly at the cover, I was surprised to see it was from Led Zeppelin . . . and then I looked at the name more closely. Yup, it's Lez Zeppelin, an all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band based in New York City. The band is currently wrapping up a Fall tour, and you can find information about that and all kinds of other things at their website. And you can download their beautiful holiday tune for only 99 cents on amazon.com HERE.

And while it isn't strictly speaking a holiday song as such, the preceding narrative gives me a good excuse to close today's post with one of the most amazing cover versions of another act's song I've ever seen -- Heart's version of Led Zeppelin's iconic "Stairway to Heaven." This is from the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors program, which was aired on television two days after Christmas that year. The remaining members of Led Zeppelin are in the hall with President and Mrs. Obama and the other honorees that year, and the resulting performance is too magical to describe. Watch it!

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