Saturday, December 31, 2016

It's New Year's Eve!

In anticipation of this evening's festivities — and tomorrow's holiday — here are several of my favorite New Year's tunes:

Happy New Year, by Charlie Weaver

Happy New Year, by Spike Jones and His City Slickers

Happy New Year, by The Glad Singers

I've also got three Happy New Year mixes on the Extras page of my holiday music website, HERE

Whatever you do and however you do it tonight, have a safe and enjoyable New Year's Eve! The coming year will likely be filled with awesome challenges, and we're going to need everyone to be at their best!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Let It Snow!, Part 12

Well, we didn't do it in time for Christmas, but at least it's done! Here are a few notes about the final two songs in my latest holiday mix, Let It Snow!:

Track 37
Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas), by Greg Trooper (2003)
Looking back over the list of public figures who died this past year, the name of Muhammad Ali stood out as perhaps the most widely known and most influential of them all. He's a man I greatly respected — not so much for his boxing skills as for his principled opposition to the Vietnam War and subsequent positions on public issues. I was hoping to find a suitable audio clip of Ali wishing people a Merry Christmas or some such thing, but when I googled Ali's name along with the word "Christmas," many of the resulting links were to this song by singer/songwriter Greg Trooper. I wasn't aware of the song at the time — in fact, I'd never heard of Greg Trooper. I'm not sure why I hadn't because he's been around at least as long as I have and several of his records were produced by Garry Tallent of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, but them's the facts. So I listened to it on YouTube, and instantly liked it. In fact, I thought it would be a great way to end this year's mix, as it's the kind of thoughtful, quiet and reflective track that I like to use to close out each CD. Yet if I had to explain the meaning of the song from Trooper's point of view — just what is he trying to say? — I wouldn't have the foggiest idea how to do it. I'm not even sure I have a valid interpretation of what it means to me. Clearly, Trooper was a fan. He seems to admire Ali for defying the odds and remaining true to himself regardless of what anyone else believed.
Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas)
I saw Muhammad Ali
Talking to me
From the TV
Teaching me
The meaning of Christmas. 
Float like a butterfly
Sting like a bee
How could this be?
Him teaching me
The meaning of Christmas?

His hands were shaking
His knees were weak
But listen to this old warrior when he speaks
I am the greatest he said with a grin
But he was talking about you
Not about him
And he was teaching me
The meaning of Christmas.

I remember they called him a clown
But then Sonny went down
In no more than six rounds
And he was teaching us all
A new day was coming.

And I remember this Louiseville kid
Wouldn't do what they said
Found his own God instead
And he was teaching us all
The meaning of Christmas.

There are kings in the east
There are kings in the west
There are kings all around
But not every king knows
The meaning of Christmas.

It seems clear that Trooper's references to Christmas are to Christmas in the broadest sense of the word — not only to the day of Jesus' birth, but to the spirit of the holiday and the rich and diverse group of qualities and ideals people ascribe to it. Still, it's not the most comfortable fit. The Ali brand of bravado and trash talk might be a useful model for someone lacking in confidence or self esteem, but it's hardly the kind of quality we associate with Christmas. To an awful lot of people, Ali's abandonment of Christianity and his adoption of the Muslim faith should disqualify him from a seat at our holiday table. He did more than change parishes, he "found his own God instead," a rather clear violation of the First Commandment. Yet still somehow this song sounds appropriate. Perhaps because here on earth, each of us is free to set our own moral compass and to worship the God of our own understanding, and because tolerance for these truths, so long as others are not disrespected or hurt, is indeed part of the holiday spirit. Ali refused to be drafted at a time when the majority of the Christian people of our country were probably quite opposed to his position. The power establishment certainly was. And whose position turned out to be the more moral stand? I don't know, I can see where Muhammad Ali could teach me a thing or two about the meaning of Christmas. The whys and wherefores will likely come, as all things inevitably will, in time.

Listen to Greg Trooper's "Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas)"

Track 36
Another Lonely Christmas, Prince

I was a big Prince fan going back to his very first commercial releases. I was amazed by the brash openness of his third album "Dirty Mind," and his flaunting of conventional morality on his follow-up release, "Controversy." His 1982 album "1999" hardly left my turntable for the first five or six months after its release, which is quite something considering it came out around the same time as Michael Jackson's "Thriller." I was blown away by the song "When Doves Cry," even though it kept Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" from reaching the top spot on Billboard's Hot 100. I didn't care too much for the movie "Purple Rain," but the soundtrack was awesome, and I remained a big fan of Prince's music throughout most of the 1980s. I didn't follow him too much after that, although I was lucky enough to see him close up at NBC's Burbank Studios in 1999 and to attend special performance of his at the Key Club in Hollywood that was just incredible. His death this past April came as a real shock. I had no idea he was in such pain and so close to the end of his endurance.

I confess that this song was never one of my favorites. The lyrics are beautiful and sobering, and they always struck me as a message to enjoy each day to the fullest. I would have preferred to include something else of his, but I'm not sure Prince ever recorded anything else about Christmas. In the end, he seems to have been a very private and possibly lonely soul. I can identify with that. Many people are. He certainly left a rich musical legacy behind, and he did a great deal of good while he was here. Those things, too, reflect the meaning of Christmas.

Listen to Prince's "Another Lonely Christmas"

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Let It Snow!, Part 11

Three days left in 2016 and five songs left to examine from this year's holiday mix, so let's have at it!

Track 35
The Christmas Song, by Natalie and Nat "King" Cole (1998)
We seem to have lost an awful lot of entertainers and cultural icons this year; in fact, I'm beginning to brace myself each time I look at the news for fear of hearing about another death. Singer George Michael died on Christmas Day, followed by Carrie Fisher yesterday, and, remarkably, Fisher's mother, Debbie Reynolds, this afternoon. It seems kind of odd sometimes to feel so affected by the passing of some celebrity we never met and know so little about, especially when so many very special unsung heroes and non-celebrities die without any fanfare nearly every day. But many of the popular entertainers whose deaths attract wide notice have become a common point of reference whose works serve as mileposts as make our own clumsy ways through life, "I remember seeing her first movie in college," we might think, or "I remember listening to her music when we drove up the coast that summer." Well, we've lost too many this year, and I'm afraid we'll need to get used it with so many from the post-WW II generation entering their 70s and 80s.

Natalie Cole died on New Year's Eve of 2015 at the age of 65. As the daughter of popular entertainer Nat "King" Cole, Natalie's career got off to an easier start than many, and I remember her best for her first several albums, which included hits like "This Will Be," "I've Got Love on My Mind, and "Our Love." After several years of great success, however, Cole apparently become heavily involved in drugs and her career hit the skids. In time she was able to recover somewhat, although she seemed to have to struggle each step of the way. In 1991 she released an album of duets with her late father, which became her biggest record ever. This track, released in 1998, is in that mold. "The Christmas Song" has been released by hundreds of different artists, but it will always remain most closely associated with Nat "King" Cole, which is a big part of the reason this version is so special.

Listen to "The Christmas Song" by Natalie and Nat "King" Cole

Track 34
O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Tyler Joseph (2013)
My friend Eddie turned me on to Tyler Joseph and his band TWENTY ØNE PILØTS shortly after the release of their first major label album last year, and they quickly became one of my very favorite groups. The band originated in Columbus, Ohio in 2009 as a collaboration between Joseph and two college friends. In 2011, the two friends were replaced by drummer Josh Dunn, and it's remained a two-person operation ever since. After self-releasing a variety of material and touring for several years, the band signed with Fueled by Ramen, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. They've released two albums for the label thus far, the first of which, Vessel, was well-reviewed and attracted considerable notice. Additional interest was generated by the group's busy touring schedule, so that by the time they released their second major studio effort, Blurryface, in May 2015, it debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200.

This track is an excerpt from a program found on Vimeo titled "Christmas with the Stars," which appears to have been produced by the Five14 Church in New Albany, Ohio. The program is cast as old fashioned variety show, with some kidding on either end of the song between Joseph and the master of ceremonies. But there's nothing funny about the performance of the song itself, which showcases Joseph's fine voice, a quality that's sometimes overlooked in his work for TWENTY ØNE PILØTS:

For those who aren't familiar with them, here are several songs by TWENTY ØNE PILØTS:

The song "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is a beautiful carol that appeared twice on my 2014 mix, "Is There Really a Santa Claus?" in versions by the Front Range Christian School Advance Band and Boyz II Men.

Track 33
KJR Rock and Roll Christmas, Ric Hansen and Julie Miller (1975)
From one of my favorite songs on the mix we turn next to the one I probably dislike the most. This is a promotional track put together in the mid-1970s for Seattle radio station KJR, featuring two of its former DJs: "Rockin'" Ric Hansen and Julie Miller. I certainly don't mean to be critical of Ric and Julie personally, but this whole business of radio stations creating "morning teams" to "entertain" listeners with crappy jokes and talk about what they did over the weekend has always struck me as one of the lamest acts around — and schlock like this, which is about as edgy as a ball of yarn, simply underscores how far from its moorings commercial radio has slipped. There were lots of good independent radio stations around in the mid-'70s with announcers who had genuine personalities and playlists that reflected the popular tastes in their communities, and for all I know KJR was one of them. In fact, I've read about some of the fallout following Clear Channel's acquisition of the station several years later that suggests Hansen was a good guy with a considerable following during his tenure at the station. But I have an instinctive negative reaction to anything involving business marketing and commercial radio these days, and this track makes me gag every time I hear it. So why in the name of God did I include it in this year's mix, you ask? Well, life involves a certain amount of suffering, and why should I have to endure this on my own? When I first started these mixes at least half of the tunes I included were dreadful monstrosities a normal person could barely stomach and now we're down to only a couple of them per disc and I pulled the other one of those intended for this year's disc* at the last minute so please just listen to this, cringe with me for a moment, and be grateful for the progress we've made. 

Listen to "A KJR Rock 'n Roll Christmas," by Ric Hansen and Julie Miller

*For those masochists among you, my last-minute deletion this year was "Christmas Season" by the inimitable Little Suzi, and you can listen to it HERE. Good luck to you.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Let It Snow!, Part 10

Our goal, as it is every year, is to offer a comment or two about each of the tracks on my latest holiday mix, and after the two we take care of today we'll have commented on 32 of this year's 37 tracks. Hang in there for just a few days more, my friends, and we'll all be better off for having made the effort.

Track 32
White Christmas (3:00 Weather Report), Steve Baron as "Bobby the Poet" (1967)
Political parody, satire, and comedy have always attracted sizeable and enthusiastic audiences in this country, going back almost to the earliest days of our Republic. Of course, the form in which it's presented has evolved over the years — from printed essays, newspaper cartoons and sheet music to Saturday Night Live sketches on YouTube  — but the aim hasn't changed too much. Americans like to see powerful people taken down a peg or two now and then. We detest hypocrisy, and we like to see how our would-be leaders react to the occasional sharp elbow or smart jab.

The right to poke fun at public figures in this country is solidly grounded in our Constitution, thanks, in large part, to the unanimous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1988 case titled Hustler v. Falwell. Hustler is an adult magazine that likes to include shocking material in its pages, and back in 1983 it ran a parody ad that suggested that the ultra-conservative religious leader Jerry Falwell lost his virginity to his mother in an outhouse while drunk. Falwell sued, claiming Hustler was guilty of the intentional infliction of emotional distress. However, the Supreme Court, in an 8-0 decision written by conservative Chief Justice William Rhenquist, held that the magazine was engaged in protected political speech, regardless of how offensive it might be to some:
The sort of robust political debate encouraged by the First Amendment is bound to produce speech that is critical of those who hold public office or those public figures who are ‘intimately involved in the resolution of important public questions, or, by reason of their fame, shape events in areas of concern to society at large. 
Such criticism is essential to the protection of a free society.

"White Christmas (3:00 Weather Report)" is a silly little track that isn't particularly funny or insightful, and I'm not saying that because it pokes fun at my greatest hero, the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. This is one of a handful of similar numbers recorded by comedian Bill Minkin, who primarily made fun of Kennedy's accent. This was hardly a new idea. Several years earlier, comedian Vaughn Meader recorded an entire album of material about the Kennedy Family called "The First Family" that became the largest and fastest selling record of all time shortly after its release. "Bobby the Poet," of course, is supposed to be Bob Dylan.

I was able to find a clip of Minkin's 1967 appearance on ABC's "Hollywood Palace" variety show, in which he performs another of his Kennedy parodies, "Wild Thing":

Track 31
O Come All Ye Faithful, Cast of The Brady Bunch, featuring Florence Henderson (1970)
If you grew up in the 1970s, as I did, you're surely familiar with "The Brady Bunch," the story of a widower with three sons who marries a widow with three daughters to form a large and lively brood that appeared on our family room TVs every Friday evening. It's a show that's somehow become more popular and iconic years after it first aired — primarily, I think, due to the nostalgia factor. The show debuted in September of 1969 and ran for five seasons. This track is from the show's one and only holiday episode, "The Voice of Christmas," which first aired on December 19, 1969. Mrs. Brady, played by the late Florence Henderson, loses her voice shortly before she's scheduled to sing a beautiful Christmas carol in church. Her youngest daughter, Cindy (Susan Olsen) makes it her mission to intercede with Santa to make sure her voice returns in time. Florence Henderson died last month at the age of 82. The relevant clips from the episode appear below:

Five more tracks remain, so I won't be away too long.

Brace Yourself, Friends, for Our Annual Boxing Day Horror Show

As if real life isn't scary enough these days, it's time for the latest installment in an ongoing project we started three years ago — our annual Boxing Day Horror Show. What's it all about? Well, it's based in large measure on the notion that, unlike our European brethren, too many Americans are eager to head right back to work, or worse, to the malls, on the day after Christmas. We thought it would be a neat public service if we could somehow do something to encourage folks to stay home an extra day to enjoy one another's company and scarf down all the various leftovers. Of course, the lure we chose had to be both fast-acting and short-lived. It had to both keep folks home on the 26th and then kick them out hard the following day. After all, we're Americans. One day's worth of playing hookie is fiercely independent, while anything much longer than that could create another generation of "welfare queens and kings," and there will be none of that around here, thank you very much. Alright then, how about bad holiday movies? Not just bad, you understand — but rather the worst holiday movies we could find. You don't believe it? Check out the Boxing Day posts for each of the past three years, and, assuming you survive the experience, you'll quickly discover that I'm not f*@#ing around here.

This year's winner is the quintessential bad holiday movie, "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" (1964). This one's a classic. True, if you scout around a bit you'll discover that I've used the movie's theme song to kick off one of my previous holiday mixes. Of course, there's no reason why a really bad movie can't have a pretty cool opening track, right? Now, on with the show:

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Let It Snow!, Part 9

Here's the next batch of comments:

Track 30
Person of the Year:  Pope Francis, by Dr. John McLaughlin (2014)
For the past 34 years, there was one unshakeable constant in American politics — namely, whatever was going on in the world, you could hear it discussed over the weekend by Dr. John McLaughlin and his fellow panelists on The McLaughlin Group. The phrase "unshakeable constant" isn't mere hyperbole either, as McLaughlin was on the set in the center chair without missing a single weekly episode throughout the program's 34-year history. 

McLaughlin, a former Jesuit priest who ran for the U.S. Senate from Rhode Island as a Republican "peace" candidate, grew slightly frustrated with politics while working as a speechwriter for President Richard Nixon. He quit his White House job shortly after Nixon quit his, and then he quit the priesthood, too. (McLaughlin, that is, not Nixon. Nixon never was a priest, hard as that is to believe.) In time, McLaughlin drifted from politics to the media, working as a local talk show host in Washington, D.C. and then accepting a job as Washington editor for the National Review. He created The McLaughlin Group in 1982, and I started watching it almost from the start. 

McLaughlin's style was unique. He often came off as a self-important, pompous, and ill-tempered know-it-all, but there was just enough of the imp in him to pull it off without being off-putting. He leaned pretty sharply to the right, but he claims to have voted for President Obama at least once, and I always felt as though he kept a relatively open mind about many things.

Dr. McLaughlin died this past August at the age of 89, and I was very sorry to see him go. The short clip I included is one of him declaring Pope Francis as his "person of the year" during The McLaughlin Group's year-end awards show in 2014. He references the Holy Father's pronouncement that animals can go to Heaven, adding that this gave him hope that his beloved dog, Oliver, would be waiting for him there. Let it be so. Amen.

Track 29
Christmas with Donald Trump, by The Private Gentlemen's Yacht Club (2015)

According to their website, The Private Gentlemen's Yacht Club is
an elite group of individuals who meet regularly to share our love of luxury yachts. Occasionally we have been known to write songs and make videos in order to break up the monotony of our luxurious lives.
They must have had at least a little free time on their hands these past couple of years, as they not only recorded this neat parody of a Donald Trump Christmas album, but a host of other social commentaries, including the song that's currently featured on the front of their website, "All I Want for Christmas Is a Shotgun." (CAUTION: This and most of their material features strong language.)

The group is British, the style is irreverent the politics are leftish, but they nail it on the head in a sloppy sort of way more often than not.

Track 28
Christmas in Chicago, by Leon Russell (1972)

Leon Russell was another true original we lost this year —  a singer, songwriter, musician, and producer who was responsible for a host of solo records and collaborations over the years. In fact, over the course of his nearly 60-year career he recorded more than 30 albums and over 400 songs, including tunes with artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to the Beach Boys; and from Bob Dylan to Joe Cocker. The early 1970s were a particularly active period for Russell, when he helped launch the career of Elton John and scored with the best-selling album Carney, which featured the hit single "Tight Rope." He wrote songs for The Carpenters and Helen Reddy, and helped The Gap Band to begin their successful career. He also wrote "This Masquerade," a stunning song that won the Grammy "Record of the Year" honors for George Benson in 1977, and "Lady Blue," a song he recorded himself that still gives me shivers whenever I hear it. He also recorded "Christmas in Chicago," which I added to this year's mix in his honor. This man was a giant, and he will be missed.

I'll be back with more sometime soon. Enjoy Christmas Eve by doing something special.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Let It Snow!, Part 8

Today, we take a quick look at four more tracks from my latest holiday mix, Let It Snow!

Track 27
Chanukah Prayer, by Carole King (2011)
Carole King
If you grew up in the 1970s, you knew Carole King's music, and, if you liked music at all, you probably owned a copy of her 1971 album "Tapestry." King first made a name for herself as a songwriter in the 1960s, writing a number of big hits for other artists including, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," a #1 hit for the Shirelles in 1960; "The Loco-Motion," a #1 hit for Little Eva in 1962 and Grand Funk in 1974; "Up on the Roof," a hit for The Drifters and, later, James Taylor; and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," which became a signature song for the great Aretha Franklin. Many of her songs were co-written by lyricist Gerry Goffin, her husband at the time. But King was not only a talented songwriter, but a terrific singer, too, and at the urging of James Taylor and others, she released an album of her own called "Writer" in 1970. That one didn't attract much attention, but the follow-up, "Tapestry," sure did, topping Billboard's Album chart for 15 consecutive weeks and remaining on the chart for over 300 weeks. At the 1972 Grammy Awards, King pulled off a rarely-seen hat-trick, winning awards for Best Song ("You've Got a Friend"), Record of the Year ("It's Too Late"), and Album of the Year ("Tapestry").

Of course, after a smash like "Tapestry," it's awfully hard to top yourself, and while she continued to release albums at a pretty good clip through the 1970s and '80s, King pretty much stopped making records in the early 1990s. It was pretty good news then when the word leaked out in 2011 that King's daughter, Louise Goffin, was working with her to prepare a holiday album, "A Holiday Carole." It's a wonderful album that spans a variety of musical styles, leaning heavily in favor of more contemporary songs, a number of which were hits for other artists. Interestingly, none of the songs are written by Carole herself, although Louise Goffin co-wrote several.

"Chanukah Prayer" is my favorite song on the album built around a traditional Jewish prayer. As King later explained,
Louise had the brilliant idea to take the Chanukah prayer that I learned from my parents, and they learned from their parents, and back through generations. She said 'I want to record you singing that and I'm going to build a track around it.
The result is a warm, jazz-inflected tune that brings together three generations on vocals: King, her daughter, and grandson. It could almost be the early 70s all over again.

Hear Carole King's "Chanukah Prayer"

Watch "The Making of 'A Holiday Carole'"

Track 26
Hark! The Angels Sing, by The Fab Four (2002)

When the history of rock-and-roll modern music is finally completed, few acts will loom quite so large as The Beatles, and when the history of Beatles Tribute Bands is definitively written, it will probably include a thing or two about The Fab Four. I previously included one of their tunes on "Is There Really a Santa Claus?" And there are a dozen or more yet to choose from.

Track 25
Ringo Deer, by Gary Ferrier (1964)

While I recall nothing about this phenomenon personally, I understand that large parts of our planet went a little crazy for the Beatles shortly after they started to become known. This enthusiasm manifested itself in various different ways, the best known of which is the non-stop shrieking of teenage girls whenever John, Paul George or Ringo was spotted. Another symptom was the rash of tribute songs recorded about the "Fab Four." Some of them had Christmas themes, many were about drummer Ringo Starr, and a few were Christmas-themed songs about Ringo. One can be found on my 2008 mix, "Home for the Holidays," and another is Track 25 on this year's mix.

I don't know an awful lot about this record, except that it was recorded by Garry Ferrier, a disc jockey for CHUM in Toronto and promoted by the Canadian arm of the Capitol Records publicity team. The lyrics aren't exactly bold or beautiful, but they're fun, as is the song — and the song's subject, too:
The North Pole’s all abuzz these days,
With news that’s really new,
Santa Claus has got a brand new reindeer now for you,
He's a swinging kind of reindeer and very, very rare,
Instead of antlers on his head,
He's got Beatle hair!
They call him Ringo, Ringo, Ringo Deer,
A Ring along  Ringo, Ringo, Deer,
Ringo, Ringo, Ringo Deer,
He's with Santa Claus this year.

I've got at least one more Ringo-themed Christmas song in my collection, so at least we've got that to look forward to!

Track 24
Christmas in the Country Radio Promo (Patriotism), by Van Trevor (1968)

This little number is from the same promotional record as Track 18, which I posted about several days ago. As I noted in my posting, I discovered this record on the now-defunct "Beware of the Blog" website created by community radio station WFMU in Jersey City, NJ. Interestingly enough, one of the four artists who added tracks to the mix, singer Lynda K. Lance, posted a comment to the piece that presented the audio:
Greetings, surprised you found this. we all moved to Nashville, Dick Heard, Van Trevor,Eddie Rabbitt & myself(right after HS graduation & Viet Nam)at the end of '68.Neil Bogart of Buddah(later Casablanca Records)was setting up a label(Royal American) in Nashville under Dick Heards management. Dick and Eddie were in Greenwich Village NY. Van & I met doing performances in the Northeast. this was Dicks idea to borrow something we all took part in regularly for the CMA, PSAs by country music entertainers held in recording studios on Music Row. we would all line up at the mike,a real cattle call, walk thru read copy, sometimes with call letters.that's when you got to hear Tex Ritter tell all his great old stories.glad to see so many collectors like me of info out there. ck my website to see new stuff...wanted to call project "not dead yet"...but wouldn't you know, it was taken! Lynda K.
Lynda's website can be found HERE.

Thirteen tracks left to go, which we could complete by Christmas Eve if we choose to. But I don't think that's in the cards. We'll get them done, but it will be sometime between Christmas and New Year's Day when we do it. Hope that's cool with you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Let It Snow!, Part 7

Track 23
Santa Claus and Popcorn, Merle Haggard (2004)
I'm not especially knowledgeable about the country music scene, but I can't recall a time when I wasn't aware of who Merle Haggard was. I knew he was a country singer, and I knew he was a genuine original. I knew that he'd known more than his fair share of trouble and then some, and that he'd overcome more problems than most of us will ever know. And I knew that despite all of this, he managed to put together a life and career marked by decency, fair play and respect.

Born near Bakersfield, California in 1937, Haggard lost his father at a young age, which knocked him off course pretty quickly. As a teenager, he was in and out of jail repeatedly and initially showed few signs that he'd learned anything from these experiences. Moreover, he didn't seem to have any real idea of what he wanted to do with his life. But then he discovered country music, which he liked and was good at, so for the next several years at least there was something to compete with the worser angels of his personality and keep him on the straight and narrow sometimes.
Too soon, however, he found himself behind bars again. Sentenced to prison, Haggard organized a gambling ring and tried to escape, but his effort fell short. Frustrated by the course his life was Taking, Haggard began to reflect on his options. Soon, he began taking GED courses and flirted with the idea of joining the prison band. He attributes his ultimate decision to straighten himself up to a concert he attended on New Year's Day of 1959 featuring Johnny Cash. The rest, as they say, is history.

Haggard had a remarkable career and became one of the most successful country music performers of all time.
During his long career, Haggard received numerous awards from the Academy of Country Music, Country Music Association, and National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the Grammy Awards). He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 1994, and the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 1997 In 2006, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and was also honored as a BMI Icon at the 54th annual BMI Pop Awards that same year. During his songwriting career up to that time, Haggard had earned 48 BMI Country Awards, nine BMI Pop Awards, a BMI R&B Award, and 16 BMI "Million-Air" awards, all from a catalog of songs that added up to over 25 million performances.
In later years, he became known for his progressive political positions, and, in particular, his stalwart support of President Obama. I really enjoyed his visit to liberal comedian Bill Maher's show Real Time in 2016, where he talked about his political philosophy . . . and the time Hillary Clinton visited with a group of musicians on Willie Nelson's bus:

"Santa Claus and Popcorn" was written by Haggard himself and first released in 1973 on the LP "Merle Haggard's Christmas Present," which made it all the way to #4 on Billboard's Hot 200 Albums chart. The song was later included on several subsequent Haggard holiday albums, including 1978's "Goin' Home for Christmas" and "A Country Christmas with Merle Haggard," released in 1992. This isn't the first time I've featured a Merle Haggard tune on one of holiday mixes. My 2008 mix "Home for the Holidays" featured Haggard's song "If We Make it Through December," which was an especially fitting tune considering the state the country was in at the time.

Track 22
Holiday Thoughts, by President Jimmy Carter (1979)
President Jimmy Carter and his daughter Amy
light the National Christmas Tree in 1979.
Track 22 is an excerpt from a statement made by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, just under two months into the Iranian Hostage Crisis. For those who don't recall that particular Christmas season, it was a difficult time. In early November, a group of Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 of the American employees there hostage. Earlier that year, the people of Iran had overthrown the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavia U.S.-backed tyrant who had subsequently fled to the United States, where he was being treated for lymphoma. Many in Iran wanted the U.S. government to return the Shah to Tehran to stand trial for his crimes, but the Carter administration opposed that request. The students who ultimately seized the embassy originally planned to remain there for no more than an hour or two, but popular reaction to their occupation was strongly favorable and they had the full support of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, so it continued throughout the whole of 1980 and into the start of the administration of Carter's successor, Ronald Reagan. 

To symbolize the plight of the American hostages and the sad mood of the country, President Carter decided that the national Christmas tree should be lit by no more than a single star until our hostages were safely returned. Eventually, they did return home. But the crisis played a major role in the unraveling of the Carter presidency and served as the prologue to our current era of hostility with the Arab world.This clip harkens back to that difficult time. It also spotlights our 39th president, whose administration will likely never achieve the respect that Carter's post-presidential achievements appear to have earned.

Track 21
We're Getting Pa a Brand New Still for Christmas, Little Lou and Her Country Folk (1956)
This one's rather rare, and the reason I know is that just searched on Google for five words from the song's title in quotation marks and came up with exactly three matches. That's very unusual. And so, of course, is the song:

Fourteen left to look at before we're done. It's unlikely we'll finish the lot of them by the time Santa arrives, but we'll try. If we have to finish things up within a few days of the 25th, that shouldn't be too problematic I hope. So long for now!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Last Christmas with President Obama

I saw this clip last night on Saturday Night Live and was laughing out loud the entire time through my tears:

Friday, December 16, 2016

Andy Cirzan's Back with His Latest Mix, "Warblings from the Enchanted Forest"

Andy Cirzan
One of my favorite mileposts on the road to Christmas each year is Christmas music aficionado Andy Cirzan's annual appearance on WBEZ's Sound Opinions radio program and the simultaneous release of his latest holiday compilation. You see, Andy is truly the "Godfather" of most serious holiday music collectors. He's been putting together his annual complations since the 1980s, and he's been doing his annual gig on Sound Opinions for close to 20 years now.

By day, Cirzan's a vice president of Jam Productions, a successful concert promotion business. On his own time, however, he likes nothing better than searching used records stores, garage sales and similar haunts for crazy, offbeat and previously unknown holiday tunes.

“Ninety-nine percent of the stuff on my CD, there’s zero chance anyone can stumble upon it on their own,” Cirzan explains. “I’m the archaeologist digging away and saying, ‘I can’t wait until people hear this.’ ”

Andy's latest mix is called "Warblings from the Enchanted Forest," and it's another winner. I don't know how he does it, but 12 of the 13 tracks on this effort are tracks I've never heard before, which is a real treat. It's a good mix of styles and tempos, with a little something for everyone. Jazz fans will be especially interested in the last couple of track, by Dexter Gordon and the Dexter Gordon Quartet

Me? I'm rather partial to the first track on the second side of the album, "The Year Around Christmas," a classic 1970s EP featuring a bunch of hip cats groovin' on how to extend the holiday spirit throughout the year. The challenge, they concluded, was to convince people that "peace and love won't hurt anyone." You dig? I wish I knew about this track when I put together my special "The Now Sound of Christmas" mix a few years ago. You can download "Warblings from the Enchanted Forest" for free from Sound Opinions by clicking below, but act fast! The link comes down as this old year ends on December 31.

Download Cirzan's latest holiday compilation, "Warblings from the Enchanted Forest" Now through 12/31/16 ONLY!

Listen to Andy's Latest Appearance on Sound Opinions

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Let It Snow!, Part 6

Here is some background and other thoughts on the next little batch of songs from my latest annual mix of holiday audio treats:

Track 20
Donald Trump Loves Christmas, by Donald Trump (2015)
This may be small potatoes compared to the lengthening list of miserable appointments and horrifying decisions President-Elect Trump has made since Election Day, but I'm still deeply troubled by his willingness to not only jump aboard the preposterous "war on Christmas" bandwagon, but to urge it on to ever-increasing speeds and levels of dishonesty.

Lord knows I have no objection to a presidential candidate discussing a genuine love of Christmas, and I'm sure that the President-elect and his family truly love the holiday, just as he claimed at the Values Voters Summit in the September 2015 speech from which this track was excerpted. But to suggest that he can somehow require businesses to use the phrase "Merry Christmas" is preposterous. There's no question but that over the years there's been an increase in the use of more generic greetings such as "Happy Holidays," but that's driven primarily by the judgments of individual businesses that choose to appeal to a wider audience of customers. Interestingly enough, Trump's own business uses generic greetings, as does Trump himself in tweets and similar social media communications.

Talk of the so-called "War on Christmas" highlights both the fundamental dishonesty of this country's right wing and the President-elect's willingness to pander to its least intelligent members. To hear the right-wingers and Fox News tell it, President Obama and his rad-lib socialist baby-killers have all but criminalized the use of the phrase "Merry Christmas." One Fox News commentator recently claimed that neither the President nor the First Lady has so much as uttered the miserable word "Christmas" since they first entered the White House eight years ago, a claim that's soundly debunked by the following video compilation:

Sure, lots of commercial enterprises favor "Happy Holidays" over "Merry Christmas" these days, including the Trump Organization itself. That's because our country is becoming increasingly diverse, and it makes good business sense to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Neither President Obama nor the Democratic Party gives a damn how you address your holiday guests or holiday cards, and to suggest they're trying to destroy Christmas is just a bunch of malarky.

Listen to Fiona Apple's NSFW Anti-Trump Christmas Song

Track 19
To Heck with Old Santa Claus, by Loretta Lynn (1966)
Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn is among the most popular country music recording artists of all time. She recorded her first hit, "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl," in 1960, and since then 11 of her songs have hit #1 on Billboard Magazine's weekly country music charts. In 1980, the Academy Award-winning biographical film about her life titled "Coal Miner's Daughter" became one of the top films of the year and the Academy of Country Music named her "artist of the decade" based on her work in the 1970s.

"To Heck with Ole Santa Claus" was written and recorded by Lynn for her first Christmas album, "Country Christmas," which was released in 1966. It also appears on "20th Century Masters, The Christmas Collection:  The Best of Loretta Lynn," and her latest album, "White Christmas Blue," which was just released this past October.

Track 18
Christmas in the Country Promo, by Johnny Dollar (1968)
This little gem was one of four promotional tracks released on a single record in 1968 titled "A Special Christmas Card." Each of the four tracks featured a different country recording artist droning on about the wonders of country music over the same dreary musical bed. What exactly did the four artists have in common? They all shared the same manager, Dick Heard, who was also the founder and president of the Royal American record label. All four tracks were posted on WFMU's late lamented "Beware of the Blog," which served up a slew of sensational off-the-wall tracks over its 10-year run. The blog was shuttered in July of 2015primarily due to a lack of volunteer contributors, and, I'm guessing, a dwindling supply of postable material. After all, there's only so many bizarre clips, cuts and stories out there, and "Beware of the Blog" coughed up more treasures than you can believe. Happily, its rich archives are still available for your perusal at the same old address. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Track 17
Sleigh Bells, Reindeer, and Snow, by Rita Faye Wilson (1955)
This is Ms. Wilson's second appearance on one of my holiday mixes. Two years before she recorded this song, back when she was known as "Little Rita Faye," Wilson recorded another Christmas tune in that same full-throated voice that makes this track such a treat. I included that earlier track, "I Fell Out of a Christmas Tree," on my 2010 mix, "Winter Wonderland" — in fact, it's one of my favorite tracks on the mix. Each of these Christmas tracks faded from public consciousness shortly after their initial release, but that didn't stop this plucky young woman, who continued to record for the next several years. Ironically, she achieved her greatest popularity when this track was included on a John Waters compilation of odd tunes and crank numbers several years ago. I've featured a number of tracks off the Waters collection on my various mixes, mostly as a joke. But this one's no joke. Her voice is strong and memorable, and she seems to have gained a certain maturity since her 1953 release. Give it a listen and see what you think.

Listen to "Sleigh Bells, Reindeer and Snow," by Rita Faye Wilson

Friday, December 9, 2016

Let It Snow!, Part 5

Tonight's posting is coming to you from Houston, Texas, where it already feels like Christmas — or at least the North Pole. I mean, it's COLD down here tonight, with temperatures around 30 degrees and a cold, moist wind that cuts to the bone. It's a good night for staying indoors and catching up on stuff. Time to continue with our look at some of the tracks on Let It Snow!, my latest holiday mix for December 2016:

Track 16
A Swingin' Little Christmas Time, by Jane Lynch (2016)
Tim Davis, Jane Lynch and Kate Flannery
I first became aware of Jane Lynch the same way an awful lot of others did, I'm guessing — from her role as Christy Cummings, the uptight lesbian dog trainer in Christopher Guest's wonderfully funny 2000 feature Best in Show. Since that gig, Lynch has been working pretty steadily in both film and television. In 2009 she was cast as Sue Sylvester in the hit TV series, Glee, for which she earned an Emmy in 2010 as best supporting actress.

What I didn't know until recently, however, is that Lynch is also a singer — and a damned good one, too. Several weeks ago, she released her first holiday album, "A Swingin' Little Christmas," which, of course, is where you'll find the tune "A Swingin' Little Christmas Time." Accompanying Lynch on the album is the Tony Guerrero Quintet; Tim Davis, the vocal producer from Glee; and Kate Flannery, best known for playing Meredith, everyone's favorite inebriate on NBC's "The Office." How did this project get going? According to Lynch,
we’ve been touring with the Tony Guerrero Quintet doing a show called “See Jane Sing.” We’ve been this kind of traveling group for the last year and a half or so. Around April, we said, “Why don’t we do a Christmas album?” We were going to do it on our own nickel, so we looked to see which songs are free and in the public domain. There’s some beautiful classic stuff, so we picked 10 of those and Tony wrote five (new songs), and you have our album!
The album has a little of everything — fun and frolicking in places, sentimental and wondrous in others. In short, it's just the ticket to put you in a holiday mood. And if you want an even surer mood elevator and plan to be in the Los Angeles area next Wednesday, December 21, Lynch and her fellow travelers will be performing in the wonderful performance space at Largo at the Coronet. Now, that looks to be a fun evening! Hope to see you there.

Search for Tickets for Jane Lynch's A Swingin' Little Christmas! CD Release Show

Mabel Scott

Track 15
Boogie Woogie Santa Claus, by Mabel Scott (1948)
This next track is a genuine Christmas classic, written by Leon René and first recorded for Supreme Records by Mabel Scott, a respected gospel singer whose transition to popular club act began in the mid-1930s. Scott's version of the tune was a notable hit in 1948, reaching the Top 15 of what was known at the time as Billboard Magazine's "Race Chart." In 1950, Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra recorded and released their version of the song. Patti Page created her own version several years later to very little attention, but the "B" side of the single, "Tennessee Waltz" became a smash hit. In 2002, the Brian Seltzer Orchestra recorded a rockabilly version for his album, "Boogie Woogie Christmas."

Track 14
Holiday Greetings from the Cast of Mama's Family (1986)
The Cast of Mama's Family Celebrate the Holidays 
This isn't so much a track as a little snippet of what passed as dialogue on the popular syndicated comedy "Mama's Family." The show started as a regular sketch on the wonderful Carol Burnett Show, and it featured Vicki Lawrence as the demanding and outspoken Thelma Harper, a/k/a Mama. NBC picked up the show as a January replacement series in 1983, but the network never found the right slot for the program, and it was canceled half-way through its second year of production. The network continued to air reruns during the summer of 1984, however, and it attracted enough viewers to continue in syndication for several years, where it did reasonably well.

Track 13
Kissin' by the Mistletoe, by Dora Hall (1964)
Solo Cozy Cups

I don't imagine many of you remember much about entertainer Dora Hall, am I right? In fact, I'll go a step further and guess that you've probably never heard of her at all. But her story is a uniquely American tale that has always fascinated me, for thanks to her husband's position as president of the Solo Cup Company, this sweet little grandmother hustled and clawed her way through that acid-tinged psychedelic haze of 1970s Hollywood to become the genuine Queen of the vanity recording industry.

Ms. Hall first started, er, ah . . . um "entertaining" people in the 1920s and '30s as a fledgling singer and/or dancer, but she was a woman of modest talents and she enjoyed little success. By the late 1930s, she'd been pretty much filed and forgotten, so that, it seemed was that. Shortly afterward, she met Leo J. Hulseman, the founder and president of the Solo Cup Company. The two fell in love, married and raised a family, and Mr. Husleman managed to build the Solo Cup Company into an economic powerhouse. Well, that may be a bit of an overstatement, but he sure did well for himself, and so, eventually, did his lovely bride. Once their children had left the nest, Mrs. Leo J. Husleman, who adopted the stage name Dora Hall, decided the time was right to make it big on the stage, screen and airwaves with the help of her husband's wealth and prominent business position.

The first step involved Dora's musical talent. She recorded a series of musical numbers that Solo began to give away with every purchase of Solo Cups. I remember my aunt used to buy Solo Cozy Cups when our families made our annual summer vacation trip to Casco Bay, Maine. Somewhere I still have the back of a package of cups on which Dora's rise to stardom was dutifully described. By the 1970s, the Huslemans had branched out into TV. The couple put together several TV specials featuring Dora and a series of second-rate entertainers such as impressionist Rich Little, singers Donovan and Frank Sinatra, Jr., and alleged comedian Phil Harris.

"Kissin' by the Mistletoe" is one of several Dora Hall holiday records. Several of her other contributions to our cultural history appear below. Amazing, right? And uniquely American, to be sure.

Check Out Some of Dora's Children's Records

Hear Dora's Version of "These Boots Are Made for Walking"

That's it for now. But I'll be back soon with still more nonsense. Christmas is a mere 16 days away, and we still have 24 songs to consider!

Our First Family Sends Out Their Final White House Christmas Card

As a history buff and avid reader about all things presidential, I'm always interested in seeing the White House Christmas card each year. Well, President Obama and his family released their 2016 holiday card last week, and naturally it's become the subject of a lot of discussion. Why? Because it features a family picture rather than a more general depiction of the White House in winter.

It is believed that President Calvin Coolidge was the first president to commission a holiday card back in 1927. Since then, there's been an official White House card every year. The styles vary widely, of course depending on a host of factors. Interestingly enough, the Obamas are on the third presidential family to feature a picture of themselves on the card. President and Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt featured family pictures at least half a dozen times. Oddly enough, while the Roosevelts typically signed their cards as "The President and Mrs. Roosevelt," there were two years (1936 and 1941) in which the White House card came from "Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt," with no mention of the President at all.

The only other White House card to feature a picture of the current occupants was the first card sent by President and Mrs. Hillary Clinton in 1993. Truth be told, it wasn't a particularly good picture of the Clintons, although it certainly looked better than any of the grim portraits of the Roosevelts. But it can't hold a candle to the photograph on this year's card, which captures the class, grace and poise the current First Family brought to the White House.

This year's card includes the following message:
"As our family reflects on our many happy years spent in the White House, we are grateful for the friends we've made, the joy we've shared, and the gifts of kindness we've received.
"We wish you and your loved ones a joyous holiday season and a wonderful new year."
I've got a feeling that the new year's going to become mighty horrifying real quick beginning on Inauguration Day.

See the Official White House Christmas Cards of the 15 Most Recent Presidents

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Let It Snow!, Part 4

I'm in Bartow, Florida this evening, where the air is moist and warm and the ubiquitous Christmas lights serve as a reminder that the holiday is only a little more than two weeks away. I, of course, have fallen behind in nearly everything. Notably, I have yet to produce a single hard copy of my latest holiday CD, and that's a problem. For the past dozen years, my annual CD has served as my holiday card, and I don't want friends and family to think I've forgotten about them. I'm thinking of saving a copy of this year's mix to "the Cloud" and providing friends and family with streaming and downloading instructions by email or card. That would preserve valuable resources, eliminate needless trash, and save me several days' worth of hard work. Besides, CDs are so 1990s. A number of people I know and respect don't even have CD players anymore.

Here are some thoughts on several additional tracks from this year's mix:

Track 12
Funky, Funky Christmas, by Electric Jungle (1972)

Several weeks ago, someone at work asked me what type of music I was into. I'm never sure how to answer that question, for as crazy as I am about music, my tastes are very eclectic, and there are so many styles and artists I know nothing about. Moreover, I find it challenging to talk intelligently about some of the stuff I really like. Take funk, for example. I've got a pretty good idea what it is when I hear it, and I can rattle off a bunch of funk classics that I truly love. But I couldn't really define funk with any sort of specificity, nor could I name a single funk song, album or artist after the late 1970s. I'm pretty damn sure "Funky, Funky Christmas" by Electric Jungle qualifies as the genuine article, however, and while Electric Jungle doesn't seem to have released anything beyond this single 45 R.P.M., I'm willing to bet that had they done so, it would have been very funky, too.

I first heard this one several years ago on a spirited album I bought online from Strut Records called In the Christmas Groove, This is the second track I've used off the album. In 2012 I used a track called "Black Christmas," by the Harlem Children's Chorus on my CD "Here Comes Santa Claus." It's a moving and beautiful song in so many different ways, and I still can't listen to it without getting a little choked up.

Now, please don't confuse this track with a monstrosity of the same name by New Kids on the Block. If you want to hear that one, you're going to have to look it up on your own.

Track 11
Big Bulbs, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (2014)

I've posted quite a few times about Sharon Jones in recent years, and her death last month came as quite a shock. She came to musical prominence relatively late in life, but Jones' career really started taking off over the past couple of years. She was an amazingly talented performer, and she will long be remembered for her contributions to the holiday music scene. "Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects" is among the very best new holiday tunes of the past ten years, and their 2014 CD "It's a Holiday Soul Party" manages to capture some of the energy and daring that was such an integral part of Jones' live performances. "Big Bulbs" is from that wonderful album, and you owe it to yourself to check out the complete package.

Track 10
Christmas Party, Teddy and the Tall Tops (1983)

Let's take a trip back in time . . . not so far back as the 1950s, although at first blush this tune sounds like it may have been recorded then, in Memphis or thereabouts. Sounds just like Elvis, don't it? — the young Elvis, before Vegas and the extra weight and all. No, the trip I have in mind involves heading back to someplace in Texas in the early to mid-1980s. Times were good in Texas back then. The local oil business was running full tilt, jobs were plentiful, and in cities like Austin and San Antonio there was a whole lot of new music being made. Sure, country music was still real big with most folks in the Lone Star State, but there were plenty of other styles that were taking off there, too — particularly in college communities like Austin. One of the most successful local Austin bands at the time was Teddy and the Tall Tops. I'm not sure I'd call them a country band, although they were recognized as one of the area's best Country acts for several years at the Austin Music Awards. I think the better term is Rockabilly, or maybe Roots Rock — and, come to think of it, they did pretty well in that latter category at the "Austies" as well. Founded in the early 1980s Teddy and the Tall Tops was co-founded by Ted Roddy and blues guitarist Mark Pollock and included bass player Donny Ray Ford with Russell Flemming on drums. They appear to have recorded a couple of different albums back in the late 1980s and the band remained active on the club circuit (with various adjustments to their original line-up) well into the '90s. Word is that they started playing live gigs again a couple of years ago, although, sadly, without Mark Pollock, who died last year after an extended battle with cancer. The updated version of the band has been spotted a few times in Austin recently, at Ginny's Little Longhorn, and, just a couple of weeks ago, at the one-of-a-kind Lone Star Court

"Christmas Party" was released in 1983 as the "B" side to the single "Christmas in the Congo." Both tunes are exceedingly hard to find these days. I've been searching for the "A" side for several years without any luck, although at least one site reports that it's an original song written by Ted Roddy. That sort of surprised me, as another song by that same name was recorded way back in 1959 by a group called The Marquees. What are the odds?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Let It Snow!, Part 3

Don't stop me, I'm on a roll! Here are some quick thoughts about the next three tracks from my annual holiday mix for 2016:

Track 9
Holiday Greetings from David Bowie (as Elvis Presley) (2013)

From all outward appearances, it seems as though David Bowie lived a wonderfully rich and happy life. Such statements are often intended as consolation following a premature departure. To me, particularly in the case of David Bowie, this richness of his life only serves to make his passing that much sadder. 

Bowie was an artist, a writer, an actor, a songwriter, and a performance artist, but he will probably be best remembered as a tremendously bold and innovative musician and recording artist. I was a huge fan from as far back as I can remember. In fact, a brief glance at a list of his best-known songs conjures up a series of remarkably specific memories of where I was and what I was doing when each track first registered for me:  Changes, Space Oddity, Young Americans, Ashes to Ashes, Cat People (Putting Out Fires), DJ, Fashion, Let's Dance, Modern Love, Absolute Beginners, This Is Not America — the list goes on.

The track I selected for this year's mix is a short little holiday greeting Bowie recorded in 2013 for the BBC6 program "This Is Radio Clash." Speaking in the unmistakable voice of the late Elvis Presley, Bowie says:
“Hello everybody, this is David Bowie making a telephone call from the US of A. At this time of the year I can’t help but remember my British-ness and all the jolly British folk, so here’s to you and have yourselves a Merry little Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thank you very much.”
Interestingly enough, Bowie tied one of Elvis's record-breaking statistics shortly after his death this past January when 12 of his albums simultaneously scored spots in Billboard's Top 40 weekly album listings. 

Of course, one of the most beloved David Bowie holiday tracks is a song he recorded with Bing Crosby in 1977 for the holiday television show "Bing Crosby's Olde Fashioned Holiday Special." Unfortunately, Crosby died before the program first aired, but this wonderful recording preserves the memory:

David Bowie was an absolute original, and he died far too soon.

Watch the animated film "The Snowman" with an introduction by David Bowie

Track 8
A Message from the King, by Bob Rivers

I posted about comedian/radio DJ Bob Rivers last year when I included his holiday-themed rendition of the Led Zeppelin classic D'yer Mak'er on last year's mix. This year I included a track brings Elvis Presley back to life and sits him (where else?) at the holiday dinner table:

Track 7
The Season's Upon Us, by The Dropkick Murphys

I like many different styles of music, but what I listen to and probably love most is straight-up rock and roll. Without meaning to do this intentionally, I noticed several days ago that many of my recent holiday CDs feature at least one rock track that serves a personal stand-out cut from the mix. Last year it was "O Christmas Tree," by The Orphan, The Poet. This year, it's the seventh track of the mix, "The Season's Upon Us," by the amazing Boston-based band known as the  Dropkick Murphys.

I was born in Boston myself, and for 17 wonderful years I lived in that city's diverse South End neighborhood. I worked for the City for several years under Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, and I spent a couple of years in the aggregate working on a number of local political campaigns. Boston's political scene is rich and exciting, as demonstrated by the number of Massachusetts natives who have gone on to national office, or at least played in the genuine major leagues.

Boston's also known as a breeding ground for up-and-coming musicians, largely because of the many colleges and universities in the area. I spent a year studying urban government at Boston University in the early 1980s, and there was never a night when some hot new band wasn't playing somewhere.

The Dropkick Murphys started taking off right around the time I was relocating to California, so I don't have any particular history as an early fan of the band, but I love their stuff and really enjoy this holiday track. The band took its name, by the way, from an old-time professional wrestler who competed (performed?) in the area during the 1940s. By the time I hit down, Dropkick was better known for his post-wrestling career as the manager of a well-known sanitarium for hardcore alcoholics. More than a few wonderful people became sober at Dropkick Murphy's, and there's a special place in heaven for him for the good work he did.