Thursday, December 1, 2016

Let It Snow!, Part 1

I mentioned in a previous post that I'll be doing a fair amount of traveling during the next several weeks, which will make it difficult to post on a consistent schedule. But I'm committed to at least trying to fulfill this blog's primary purpose.

You see, I started this blog several years ago as a way of sharing a little background on the various songs and audio clips that comprise my annual holiday music mixes. As it happens, I had extra time on my hands in each of this blog's first several seasons, which allowed me to not only discuss every track on each annual mix but to also post about a variety of other holiday-related topics. Things were more hectic last year, and as a consequence, I wasn't even able to finish examining the various tracks on my 2015 mix, Deck Those Halls! I hope to strike a better balance this year. It's unlikely I'll be posting on topics outside of the new mix, but I'd like to at least be able to offer a word or two about each of the 37 tracks that are on it.

This evening's post is coming to you from Cleveland, following a surprisingly relaxing five-hour drive from Indianapolis, where I spent last night and most of today. President-elect Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence spent a good part of today about a mile away from where I was working. May God help us all.

Let's turn now to the task at hand — a look at the tracks on my latest CD. I typically post on two or three tracks at a time, working my way from the front to the back. The tracks in each day's post are presented in reverse order so that the final list, if assembled chronologically as daily posting clusters, would yield a list in true reverse order. Please don't ask me to explain why that's important or what it even means because if I ever did know I can't recall just now. OK. let's get started!

Track 3
Coming Up Christmas Time, by the Hanna-Barbera All-Stars (1991)

The Hanna-Barbera All-Stars
Track 3 on this year's mix was originally written for the Hanna-Barbera television special "Casper's First Christmas," which first aired on NBC on December 18, 1979. It's sung by a collection of well-known Hanna-Barbera characters, including Yogi and Boo Boo Bear, "Quick Draw" McGraw, Huckleberry Hound, Doggy Daddy, Augie Doggie and Snagglepuss. The singing begins as the group drives through the countryside in an open convertible at the beginning of the special. No explanation is offered as to why Yogi and Boo Boo were involved. As bears, one would normally expect them to be hibernating by Christmastime.

The song was used again the following season at the beginning of another Hanna-Barbera seasonal special called "Yogi's First Christmas," although, in this episode, it's sung by Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound, Augie, and Doggie Daddy while Ranger Smith is bringing them to the Jellystone lodge. When they sing the song again a few minutes later, it awakens Yogi and Boo Boo from their hibernation. This repurposing of the song appears to have been done without too much thought, as a number of the characters who sang the song in the Casper special were nowhere to be seen when it's trotted out again for Yogi's program. But it's an upbeat and energetic little number that seems just right for one of the opening spots in this year's mix.

The version I use is from Hanna-Barbera's Christmas Sing Along, a holiday compilation released in 1991. Curiously, one of the lines sung by "Quick Draw" — "To make sure I get what I want, I buy my gifts for me" — is omitted altogether in the now-out-of-print 1991 version. I guess it came off as rather contrary to the Christmas spirit.

Track 2
From All of Us to All of You, by Jiminy Cricket and Friends (1958)
Jiminy Cricket

The second track on this year's mix features one of my very favorite Disney characters, Jiminy Cricket. As a child, I had a had a number of phonograph records with various Disney stories on them, and the one I listened to the most was the story of Pinocchio. Jiminy Cricket played a leading role in the story — in fact, I think he pretty much told the story, didn't he?. Of course, it's been years since I've listened to the record, but I sure remember my favorite song on it, "Give a Little Whistle":
When you get in trouble and you don't know right from wrong,
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle!
When you meet temptation and the urge is very strong,
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle!
Take the straight and narrow path, and if you start to slide,
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle . . .
And always let your conscience be your guide! 

"From All of Us to All of You" harkens back to that same era. It's the title track to a holiday television special that first aired on ABC on December 19, 1958. The original animated program was organized as a series of Christmas cards from various specific Disney characters. In subsequent years, the program was recycled and filled with additional clips to promote whatever new features Disney had planned for the coming year. In 1986, large portions of the original were repackaged and released on home video under the title "Jiminy Cricket's Christmas." Compared to most of the other titles in Disney's U.S. catalog, this feature has been largely forgotten. It remains very popular in Scandinavia, however. In Sweden, for instance, it's still broadcast every Christmas Eve, and it continues to attract blockbuster audiences comparable to major football contests in this country. 

Track One
Introduction/Jingle Bells, The Lawrence Welk Orchestra (1972)

Among the greatest influences in my young life were my two grandmothers. Both descended from proud Yankee families that had been in New England since the early 17th century, and while they were extremely different from one another in temperament, they each flew in the face of convention by pursuing full-time careers and holding positions of significant influence at a time when women seldom did. My paternal grandmother graduated from Wellesley College in the early 1920s and after a brief career as a Broadway actress traveled half-way around the world alone to teach English in China. She returned to New England after marrying an American banker, but he promptly lost everything in the Great Crash of 1929 forcing her to return to teaching to support the family. By the mid-1930s, she had become headmistress of one of New England's most prestigious preparatory schools for women, a position she held for over 25 years.My maternal grandmother toured this country for years with the famous Tony Sarg Marionette Company, and later ran a popular girls' summer camp in New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, my grandmother the headmistress was unfailingly proper and formal. My maternal grandmother, by contrast, was a little more free-wheeling. When my grandfather died in 1970, she turned his bedroom into a sort of rec room with mod-style plastic furniture, orange shag carpeting and pop art posters on the walls. Yet despite this admirably modern sensibility, she adored Lawrence Welk. No matter what else may have been happening around her, everything stopped at 8 p.m. every Saturday when Welk's "Champagne music makers" came on TV. The only time I recall her being cross with me was when my brother and I made fun of the show and its principal sponsor, Geritol. We thought Welk's schtick was hopelessly square, and we'd seen I Love Lucy's Vitameatavegimin episode often enough to have a pretty good handle on what Geritol was all about.

Of course, The Lawrence Welk Show is an easy target of ridicule. Even today, years after the death of its well-known host, Saturday Night Live routinely parodies its stale and somewhat stilted style. One of my favorite clips on YouTube features two of Welk's typically square "all-American" duos singing "One Toke Over the Line" completely oblivious to the fact that they were essentially copping to smoking trees. Welk wins points in my book, however, for his willingness to poke fun at himself. In 1969, for example, the show opened its 15th season by having Welk appear dressed as a hippie and announcing he'd had it with playing the "square" polka and champagne music that had made him famous. The change didn't last long.

I wish I could say that I've matured to become a genuine fan of Welk's style of entertainment, but frankly I still find it ridiculously saccharine for my taste. Yet it harkens back to a simpler and less frantic time, and that's always kind of nice:

Here's the television version of the track that opens this year's mix:


I chose it in my grandmother's honor, and I'm confident it's an opening she's going to enjoy.

Back again soon with a beat-inspired classic from Art Carney and a short homage to one of the better-known campers from the summer camp my grandmother and godmother ran for 50 years.

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