Today, the first of three Labor-Day-themed posts. Here’s a mix of songs about work. And, yes, I’m aware that many other songs that could be included here — I came up with enough additional songs to fill a second CD, and then some. Since much of this blog is devoted to children’s literature, I should also note here that a couple of the songs later in this mix have lyrics that include obscenity (mostly f-bombs): I’m thinking specifically of Cake’s “Nugget” and Cam’ron’s “My Job.” To begin the mix, here’s a song from the start of the Great Depression….
This One’s for the Workers: Labor Songs, 1929-2010
Probably the best-known song by West Virginia singer, songwriter and fiddler Blind Alfred Reed (1880-1956). Ry Cooder recorded it on his self-titled debut album (1970), and Bruce Spingsteen recorded a revised version of it for the reissue of his We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (subtitled American Land Edition in this version). Springsteen retained only the first verse from Reed’s original; new verses address the failed government response to Hurricane Katrina.
To give you a sense of how popular this song was, two versions were hit singles in 1932 — one recorded by Crosby and the other by Rudy Vallee. With music by Jay Gorney, E. Y. “Yip” Harburg’s lyrics tell of working people abandoned by the country they helped to build, and for which they fought. During the third year of the Great Depression, the message resonated with the public. Harburg may be better-remembered today for “Over the Rainbow” (and other songs from the 1939 MGM Wizard of Oz), “Old Devil Moon” (and other songs from the musical Finian’s Rainbow), or for “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” but this is one of his most powerful lyrics.
Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Millard Lampell — the Almanac Singers — recorded this song for their second record, Talking Union (1941; re-released with additional songs, 1955). Written by Seeger, Hays, and Lampell, the song uses a “talking blues” style later adopted by Bob Dylan.
An idol of Bob Dylan and sometime member of the Almanac Singers, Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) here sings in support of Henry Wallace, Progressive Party candidate for President in 1948. As the liner notes to Hard Travelin’: The Asch Recordings Vol. 3 (on which this song appears) tell us, Guthrie “was certain that if farmers and laborers joined together they could elect Wallace; they didn’t.” Guthrie is best-remembered today for his “This Land Is Your Land.” Of songwriting, he once said:
I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built. I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.
A #1 hit in 1958, the Silhouettes‘ “Get a Job” has an upbeat sound that masks the more serious subject matter — unemployment. As the song’s protagonist says, his girl is “tellin’ me that I’m lyin’ about a job that I never could find.” The band Sha Na Na took its name from the backing vocal.
Another pop hit (#2 on the U.S. pop charts), this one about prison labor. Written by Cooke (1931-1964), the song is said to be inspired by his encounter with a chain gang. Cooke’s biggest hits — “Wonderful World,” “Cupid,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “You Send Me” — tend to address more conventional pop-music subjects. But “Chain Gang” and the posthumously released “A Change Is Gonna Come” display Cooke’s social conscience.
The half-sister of Pete Seeger and an accomplished folksinger and songwriter herself, Peggy Seeger sings of how gender discrimination prevents women from getting the jobs (and salaries) they seek. Compelling narrative, strong message.
Joe Strummer sings about jobs he doesn’t want to do. “Career opportunities are the ones that never knock. / Every job they offer you is to keep you out the dock.” Co-written by Strummer and Mick Jones (who actually had worked a government job opening letters to make sure they didn’t contain bombs), the song appears on the Clash’s self-titled debut album.
Bragg covers Leon Rosselson’s song about the Diggers, English agrarians (1649-1650) who sought to establish a more egalitarian society whose members could farm the common land for their mutual benefit.
In his cover version, Waits recasts the song as a minor-key lament, reminding us that those dwarves in Snow White were in fact miners. And mining is a tough job. From Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films.
Inspired by John Ford’s film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath (novel, 1939; film, 1940), Springsteen‘s song paraphrases Tom Joad’s speech near the end of the film. Joad, played by Henry Fonda, says: “I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build, I’ll be there, too.”
According to Classic Labor Songs (Smithsonian Folkways, on which this song appears), “Californian Jon Fromer has spent a career working in television and radio. He is an active officer of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Communications Workers of America…. He is a member of the Freedom Song Network, an organization of San-Francisco-area musicians dedicated to social change.”
“It’s the flight of the salesman, death of the bumblebee, nothing left for the attorneys and the tumbleweeds.” A song about the Great Recession, featuring a rap from one of the best lyricists working today: Dessa.
25) Money Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings (2010) 3:22
“Money. Where have you gone?” On I Learned the Hard Way, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings contribute another song to the music of the Great Recession.
In North America, those of us who are teachers or students are thinking about school. In August and September, the summer holidays end, and a new term begins. To commemorate (or commiserate?) this season last year, I posted Dark Sarcasm in the Classroom: A Back-to-School Mix. This year, I’m posting a mix about language. Enjoy!
Leading the mix itself and its “ABC” section (which concludes with track 7), it’s the vocalese trio of Dave Lambert (1917-1966), Jon Hendricks (b. 1921), and Annie Ross (b. 1930). From their album Lambert, Hendricks & Ross! (a.k.a. The Hottest New Group in Jazz!).
“West Xylophone, Yemen, Zimbabwe!” They Might Be Giants’ alphabetical trip around the world, from their second children’s album, Here Come the ABC’s. If I weren’t restricting myself to one song per artist, I would definitely include other TMBG songs in this mix.
I don’t know much about Gordon MacRae, but Jo Stafford was a popular vocalist in the 1940s and 1950s. With husband Paul Weston, she was also half of the deliberately off-key comedy duo Jonathan and Darlene Edwards. This song appears on the compilation Small Fry: Capitol Sings Kids’ Songs for Grown-Ups.
Steven Page mocks Ed Robertson’s attempts to write a new alphabet song. Appears on Snack Time!, the first BNL children’s record. Word is that the group (now sans Page) is working on a second children’s record.
“These are the books I like to read / Because reading suits me. / With every page I turn, the pictures coma alive. / Imagination takes what’s possible to new heights.” And the song name-checks both Harold and the Purple Crayon and Green Eggs and Ham! From Frances England‘s Fascinating Creatures.
The first of 6 songs from Schoolhouse Rock on this mix. Since I encounter students (yes, college students) who do not know what a noun is, I often wish that these were still airing during Saturday morning cartoons.
“Hey, you know what? A round cookie with one bite out of it looks like a ‘C.’ A round doughnut with one bite of it also looks like a ‘C.’ But it is not as good as a cookie. Oh, and the moon sometimes looks like a ‘C,’ but you can’t eat that.” Words of wisdom from the Cookie Monster. The song appears on Songs from the Street: 35 Years of Music, and (I expect) on many other compilations.
A song of malapropisms, a term named for Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals (1775). This particular song, however, is from a different play — the Broadway musical Top Banana (1952), with music and lyrics by Johnny Mercer and book by Hy Kraft.
From the band’s debut — a 6-song cassette. This Canadian quartet were my favorite group of the 1990s. Their live shows were something to behold. Below, an example of their improvisational stage shows. The song itself starts at around 4:30. Warning to our underage listeners: in the live performance below, Jian Ghomeshi drops a bunch of F-bombs at around 7:40 or so. The audio-only version (above) is clean.
The jump blues of Louis Jordan (and others) helped create the sound that would become known as “rock ‘n’ roll.” From The Best of Louis Jordan (MCA Records, 1975), a solid single-CD collection of his work.
The final song in our “nursery rhyme” sequence appears on A Good Man Is Hard to Find: The Middle Years Part Two (1938-1940). One in Bluebird/RCA’s fantastic series of Fats Waller CDs — now, alas, out of print.
The song for which Barenaked Ladies named their 2000 album appears on Ken Nordine’s spoken-word/jazz classic, Colors. I’ve placed it here because, like nursery rhymes and playground chants, the song is as much about the sound of words as what they mean. And, linking us to the next song, the theme of the record is Nordine trying to describe colors — the sort of task for which one might want to unpack some adjectives….
The mix concludes with four Schoolhouse Rock songs. I generally don’t like to use so many songs from the same record (in this case, a 4-CD set), but since each track is performed by a different artist, I’ve given myself a pass here. Here, the late Blossom Dearie — of “Peel Me a Grape” fame — teaches us about the adjective.
32) Verb: That’s What’s Happening Zachary Sanders (1974) 3:00
“A verb tells it like it is.” In addition to teaching us about verbs, this cartoon features an African-American superhero — not a common sight on television either in the early 1970s or today. Zachary Sanders also sang the Schoolhouse Rock song “Electricity, Electricity.”
33) Interjections! Essra Mohawk (1974) 3:01
“Darn! That’s the end.” Essra Mohawk also sang the Schoolhouse Rock song “Sufferin’ Til Suffrage.”
They were hits. They were available on vinyl. But you can’t buy them now. They’re unavailable on CD or in digital form. Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes (Special Mix),” Opus’s “Live Is Life,” the English version of Nena’s “99 Luftballoons” (“99 Red Balloons”), the English version of Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom (Coming Home),” the American Version of Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus,” Blue Clocks Green’s “Hemingway.”
I have most of these on vinyl (photos below are from my collection unless otherwise indicated). But the audio comes from persons unknown who have shared the sound files. For the record (pun! pun!), I don’t condone piracy: I’ll only seek a “bootleg” copy of song if it’s unavailable commercially. As always, if you are the owner or if you represent the owners of this material, just ask and I’ll take it down.
Let’s start with the best unavailable song: Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes (Special Mix)” (1986). Here is an 8:20 version, which is longer than the 7:14 on my 12-inch. With the exception of the extra minute, both of these versions are very similar in that they’re a vastly different version of Gabriel’s original — a new arrangement, with much more of Youssou N’Dour’s vocal.
The 7:14 version is also available as a b-side to the original single.
Perhaps this can be had in Australia (the band’s home), but it’s out of print here in the States. At the time, I liked the song (I own the original 45) even if it sounded a bit like an INXS knock-off. Now, however, this Models song sounds like a lost INXS classic. Time has shifted my aesthetic evaluation, or perhaps I was unfair to the song when it was first out. The video (below) reflects fashions I would have thought were hip in the 1980s and which now look like… they were hip in the 1980s. Um, yeah.
The Australian rock stars just before they became superstars. From the 12” of “What You Need,” here’s a very 1980s remix by Nick Launay. I enjoyed it just as much as the original version, which was a top #5 hit in the U.S. It (the original) appears on INXS‘s Listen Like Thieves. The title track only made it to #54 on the U.S. pop charts, but their next album would yield four top ten singles in the US. That record was, of course, Kick.
Like Nena’s hit, the German version of Peter Schilling‘s song is readily available. The English version is not. A sequel to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (1969) and “Ashes to Ashes” (1980), “Major Tom (Coming Home)” appears on Schilling’s record Error in the System.
This is the closest to the “American Version” of Falco‘s song that I can find — it’s about a minute and a half longer, but it includes the spoken-word narrative of major events in Mozart’s life, and the other elements of the American release. And, yes, the video is as ridiculous as the song.
The b-side to the 12” single, this is not strictly instrumental. It’s absent RUN-DMC’s vocals but does include Steven Tyler’s vocal. On the original record, the inner groove had just the beats. So, when the needle reached the end, it simply repeated those beats endlessly.
And who can forget the video?
Well, that was fun. Perhaps, in another post, I’ll share other forgotten (but still available) music from the 1980s: Big Pig, Royal Crescent Mob, Toni Childs, David & David, Screaming Blue Messiahs, Red Rider, and so many others….
Image credits: from my record collection except for Nena (Wikipedia).
Happy First Day of Summer! Here’s a “Summertime” box set. I will now take your questions.
Q: Are there good “summer” songs omitted from these four mixes?
A: Yes, of course there are. I came up with an additional 133 songs that I did not use.
Q: Will you assemble more mixes including those songs?
A: If I had world enough and time,… I would. But…. [Long pause.] Yes — the young man in beige?
Q: Beyond “Summertime,” does each mix have any additional theme or mood?
A: Yes. The first three are all uptempo. The fourth is more midtempo, even quiet, and contains the highest proportion of melancholic songs. So, if you want something a little more calm, head for the fourth one.
“Let’s take a kayak / To Quincy or Nyack” or, no, “Let’s take a powder / To Boston for Chowder.” Love the couplets, and the band’s shouted responses to Anita O’Day’s vocals. “Let’s take a trip to Niagara. / This time we’ll look at the falls.” Band replies: “What? No romance?”
“And the sun keeps shining ’til it’s dead and gone. / And it must be summer ’cause I can’t go on.” Power pop with melancholic lyrics. Fountains of Wayne’s new record, Sky Full of Holes, is due out later this summer.
Covered by T. Rex, Blue Cheer, and many others — but here’s the original. For a guy who only lived to be 21 years old, Eddie Cochran had a remarkable impact on popular music. In particular, check out his “Somethin’ Else,” “C’mon Everybody,” and “Nervous Breakdown.”
“Can’t you dig the sunshine?” This ersatz pop group perform this song on a talent show (on their own hit TV series, The Brady Bunch), and place third. Hmm. I guess the judges had no appreciation for camp.
From the duo of Bill DeMain and Molly Felder (a.k.a. Swan Dive), a bit of happy summer pop. I knew Bill when I lived in Nashville. He once made me an incredible mix tape of Italian film soundtrack music. Someday, I should try to recreate it on CD — it was (and remains) one of my favorite mixes.
This “supergroup” (the late Robert Palmer, Chic’s Tony Thompson, and Duran Duran’s John Taylor and Andy Taylor) also had a hit with a cover of T.Rex’s “Bang a Gong.”
12) Summertime Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (1999) 2:10
With music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward, this song from Porgy and Bess gets a punk make-over. This version appears on Me First and the Gimme Gimmes’ Are a Drag — all covers of show tunes.
I’m a devotee of cover versions and I’ve heard the Van Halen rendition of this song, but I’ve yet to hear a recording that beats John Brim’s original. And yes, Mr. Brim is talking about what you think he’s talking about.
Unlike the last song, this one — as far as I’m aware — is just about ice cream. I mean, I’m aware that one could perform it to bring out other meanings. But, in this rendition, it sounds quite literal (to me, at any rate).
After Squeeze broke up in 1982, Chris Difford & Glenn Tilbrook cut a record as a duo. Released in 1984, it’s the “lost” Squeeze album between Sweets from a Stranger (1982) and Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti (1985)
If you’re like me, when you heard that the world would be ending this Saturday, your first thought was: but what music would be appropriate for the occasion? And, if I were to throw a party, what sort of songs might be on the playlist? Well, your musical worries are over. (Do feel free keep worrying about the Rapture, of course.) Our research teams here at Nine Kinds of Pie have conducted a comprehensive, cursory survey of music to celebrate/commemorate/lament the end. And we’re pleased to present the results in the following series of seven (yes, seven!) mixes featuring all of your End-of-Times favorites!
Rapture Party I: It’s the End of the World (and I Feel Fine)
Sinners, this track’s for you! Or, you know, if you make the pronouns third-person, then it could also be for any of the saved who wish to pass judgment on those left behind. Title track from the final album to feature lead vocalist Bon Scott.
Because what would a rapture party be without Louis Farrakhan? Yes, you read that correctly. Before becoming a minister in the Nation of Islam, he was a calypso singer who performed under the name “Charmer.” Appears on The Best of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour vol. 2.
The first track on Horses, and one of the boldest opening lines to any song ever. So, if you enjoy blasphemy, this song’s for you! If not, well, then I suppose you can comfort yourself with the surety that Ms. Smith will not be among the elect.
“Well, I started as an altar boy, working at the church / Learning all my holy moves, doing some research / That led me to a cash box labeled ‘children’s fund.’ / I’d leave the change and tuck the bills inside my cummerbund.” From the album of the same name.
With a band name like “The Cute Lepers,” we might well assume that the group does not belong to the religious right, a sense which the lyrics confirm: “Headmasters, archbishops aren’t our best thinkers.” From Smart Accessories.
Hank Williams, covered by a band comprised of: Richard Julian (vocals), Norah Jones (vocals, piano), Lee Alexander (bass), Jim Campilongo (guitar), Dan Rieser (drums). From the group’s debut (and only) album, The Little Willies.
From Strange Angels, Anderson’s most accessible record, but also one of her best. Indeed, if you were to pick exactly two Laurie Anderson albums for your collection, you’d want to get this one and Big Science.
When I began this blog, I thought I would post more of the many mixes I make. I haven’t. But here’s the first uptempo mix of 2011 — a happy way to begin the year, and (for those educators and students out there) the new semester.
Adapting the bass line from Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” a title from Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City (1984), and synthesizers from Gary Numan (well, that’s what they sound like to me), Cee Lo Green gives us some New Wave soul. It sounds like a lost soul classic from the early 1980s.
If you know about the Soft Boys, it’s probably because you know the work of the band’s lead singer and songwriter Robyn Hitchcock. But Soft Boys guitarist Kimberley Rew also has a knack for writing quirky pop. In addition to the smash hit “Walking on Sunshine” (after the Soft Boys, Rew was in Katrina and the Waves), he’s also released several solo records that are well worth your while.
According to iTunes, these are the songs released in 2010 that I played most in 2010. As such, the list is going to skew slightly towards the beginning of the year (since those songs have been in the playlist for a longer period of time). The number at the far right is the number of plays the track has received this year. So… here’s what iTunes tells you about me & my year’s musical obsessions — of tracks released in 2010, at any rate.
“The folks back east, they say the market’s fine. / I heard that before 1929. / When Black Tuesday comes, it’ll be a hit. / Right out of the air into the pit.” An uptempo — even danceable — song with a social conscience.
I can’t make out all of the lyrics, and frankly have no idea what this song is about. Its repeated plays in my iTunes may be, in part, a result of my attempts to decipher it. But I also simply like its sound.
“You’ll never listen to me. No, you’ll never listen to me.” Surprised that this is as high as it is in my top 50 most played — “Do-Wah-Doo” is a catchier song from this record. Apparently, my ear disagrees with the previous sentence. “Said you’d lend me anything. I think I’ll have your company.”
I know exactly why I like this one — something about the combination of catchy, uptempo pop with sad lyrics. Not that the lyrics are particularly profound. They aren’t at all. They’re of the person-I-love-doesn’t-love-me genre. We’ve heard this type of song before. Yet, inexplicably, Robyn manages to pull it off.
For this song, it’s definitely the hook. It’s a fantasy of getting “far away from a day job,” but the appeal for me is all about the sound of the song. And, yes, the Record’s do spell the band name with that gratuitous apostrophe (instead of The Records). From the album De Fauna et Flora.
You know Cee Lo Green’s The Lady Killer because of the hit single (the clean version of which is “Forget You”), but the whole album is fantastic. One of my favorite records of the year, hands down.
12. Satisfied Cee Lo Green 3:27 18
Another from The Lady Killer. I’m not going to include more than one track by any given artist, so you’ll have to seek this song yourself. (Support independent record stores and just buy the CD. Trust me. You won’t regret it.)
Beginning with a spoken-word suggestion that we “destroy the bogus capitalist process that is destroying youth culture,” the song then moves to its actual subject: desire. “One look at you, and Heaven’s on fire.”
More from A Badly Broken Code. This is the first Dessa song that I heard, and it’s the song that got me hooked. Since I’m not posting more than one song by any given artist, you’ll have to seek this yourself.
Retro-swing from her debut, Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor (released last year in Europe, and this year in the US — but only via iTunes). Big in her native Holland, but no one’s heard of her in the U.S.
Featuring none of the original members, the Pipettes return! Are they still the same pre-fab pop group that they were? Should we care? The new record isn’t as consistent as the debut, but there are a few strong songs — such as this one.
With lyrics by Dr. Seuss (1904-1991) and music by Albert Hague (1920-2001), “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” has become a holiday classic. Given that it celebrates a misanthrope, it is admittedly an unusual holiday tune. Yes, the Grinch does reform by the end of the story, but this song focuses on his nastiness, offering no hint of the transformation to come. Perhaps the song is so beloved because it celebrates emotions not usually sung about over the holidays: meanness, grouchiness, anger. People certainly experience such feelings during this time of year, but most holiday tunes don’t celebrate them. Seuss — who based the character of the Grinch on himself — gives voice to the darker side of Christmastime. And Hague’s music captures the slipperiness of that “nasty, wasty skunk,” sliding a full octave on each verse’s final iteration of the word “Grinch.”
After Seuss sent Albert Hague his lyric for the song, the composer set it to music, and then invited Seuss over to hear the results. Sitting at the piano, Hague played it for Seuss: “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch! You really are a heel. You’re as cuddly as a cactus. You’re as charming as an eel. Mr. Grinnnnch! You’re a bad banana with a greasy black peel.” According to Hague, Seuss said, “anyone who can slide an octave on the word ‘Grinch’ gets the job.”
Here are 15 versions of the song, starting with Thurl Ravenscroft’s original.
Commercial announcement: I’m posting this, in part, to call attention to the Diane Rehm Show of Wednesday, December 22nd, 11 am EST. I’ll be a guest, and the focus of the entire hour will be How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Excising Boris Karloff’s narration and placing the verses in a different order, this is almost the song as heard on the 1966 TV special, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! — co-written by Seuss and Chuck Jones, and based on Seuss’s 1957 book of the same name. There appear to have been two versions recorded: one that appears in the TV special, and one that omits the narration and places the verses in this order. This is the latter version, brought to you here from A Classic Cartoon Christmas! Many people don’t know that Thurl Ravenscroft is the singing voice of the Grinch — only Karloff is listed in the program’s credits. Best-known for this song and for being the voice of Tony the Tiger, Ravenscroft also sang back-up on records by Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore, and Rosemary Clooney. You’ll also hear Ravenscroft’s voice on many Dinsey records and in Disney’s theme parks. Brian E. Jacobs’ excellent All Things Thurl will tell you everything you need to know.
Like Ben Folds, I’m also not a fan of too much beat-boxing in a cappella. A little percussion goes a long way. So, if I’d prefer more subtle “drums” here, Rockapella do rock the Grinch a cappella. And the lead vocalist really hits those bass notes. From the group’s Rockapella Christmas.
The accordion makes me want to call this the “New Orleans” version of the song, but I’m not sure if that’s strictly accurate… since he grew up in Maine and lives in Texas. The “Americana” version, perhaps? From Cleaves’ EP Holiday Sampler (2001).
The downbeat cover. If many versions embrace the Grinch’s anger, Nelson‘s recording finds the melancholy behind the green grouch’s mood. Purists will note that I called the Grinch “green”: true, he’s white in Seuss’s original book, but he’s green in the TV special that introduced this song. If you’d like an entire mix of more somber holiday music, you might enjoy my Blue Christmas mix, posted a week or so back.
When I first heard this, I thought: Aimee Mann? Really? I’m admirer of her work, but never expected her to cover this song. This version interpolates some of the narration from the TV special — that’s Grant Lee Phillips contributing the male vocal.
More a cappella, but with more subtle use of the beatbox than Rockapella. Indeed, Straight No Chaser‘s arrangement is more intricate, more complex, but without making the sound too busy. A nice balance here. From Christmas Cheers.
I love Take 6, and I expect the comic business would be fun live. Upon repeated listenings, I find myself wishing there were a version without the ad-libbing. The arrangement is great, but the humor … wears thin.
Elvis’s version has been so overplayed that it’s no longer possible to truly hear the song, in his rendition. The only way to appreciate the song is to hear someone else sing it — in this case, Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes.
To the best of my knowledge, this song has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas, but “Fake Plastic Trees” certainly makes me think of Christmas trees. Why? I blame A Charlie Brown Christmas. This particular rendition of “Fake Plastic Trees” appears on the Clueless soundtrack.
5. Winter Song Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson (2008) 4:27
I find the plaintive refrain of “is love alive?” quite touching.
From Has Been, Shatner’s outstanding collaboration with Ben Folds. It’s here because of the lyrics in the first verse: “It was Christmas, and I was alone. / Strange city. / Strangers for friends. / And I was broke.” What’s nice about this song is that you can either enjoy it straight (if you’re feeling melancholic) or as camp. I tend to experience it in the former mode — hence, its inclusion here.
Another song about missing a loved one during Christmastime, but delivered by Hem with such beauty and feeling. If you like this, I highly recommend the band. They’ve recorded a lot of wonderful music, but I’m most partial to their first two albums, Rabbit Songs (2000) and Eveningland (2004).
9. River Madeleine Peyroux feat. k.d. lang (2006) 5:20
Written by Joni Mitchell, “River” first appears on her album Blue (1971). Here, it’s performed by two of our best contemporary vocalists. “I wish I had a river I could skate away on” — such a plaintive line.
This song has always been associated with longing. Bing Crosby’s original recording, released in 1942, strongly resonated with soldiers missing home, and the people at home missing their loved ones far away. Many have suggested that it’s ironic that one of the best-known Christmas songs was written by Jewish composer Irving Berlin, but I’m skeptical of that claim. This song evokes less the religious connotations and more the cultural experience. It’s nostalgic, dreaming of “just like the ones I used to know,” where “the treetops glisten and glow.” Another example of why Irving Berlin is one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century.
I know nothing about this song’s composer (Felix Bernard) or lyricist (Richard B. Smith). Wikipedia reports that Richard Himber and His Hotel Carelton Orchestra first recorded the song in 1934. Johnny Mercer had a #4 hit with the song in 1946.
I generally avoid placing two songs by the same artist on any one mix,… but have been known to make exceptions on Christmas mixes. This is one of those exceptions, inspired in part by the fact that some of the songs I wanted to include had already appeared on a folk mix I’d done a few years before (and I try not to repeat any songs). It’s also inspired by the fact that Hem is a great group.
The earliest recording of this song — by its songwriter Jane Siberry, accompanied by k.d. lang — appears on the soundtrack to Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World (1991). A newer recording (sans lang) appears on Siberry’s When I Was a Boy (1993). It’s hard to top that original version, but this one has a stark, folky appeal.
A live, acoustic recording by the songwriter — quieter than Elvis Costello’s famous cover or the Brinsley Schwarz original (which had Lowe on vocals). This version allows you to better hear the seriousness of the sentiment: “My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes, sometimes. Where are the strong? And who are the trusted? And where is the harmony — sweet harmony?”
Echoing the use of newscasts on Simon & Garfunkel’s “Silent Night/6 O’Clock News,” Regina Spektor mixes in sounds of gunshots & conflict — but relatively subtly, mostly in the background. The contrast highlights what’s absent from the key words in a line like “Happy New Year to that is living, all that is gentle, kind and forgiving.” It reminds us that much in the world is none of these things.
I bought Billy Idol’s Happy Holidays for the pure campy pleasure of it (check out his “Frosty the Snowman”), but this last track on the record is actually quite effective — and affective. I think its brevity and lack of accompaniment makes this particular track work.
Well, as promised, this has been a somewhat melancholic mix. If you need something more uptempo as an antidote, check out the holiday mix I posted earlier in the week.
Happy St. Nicholas Day! For today’s treat, it’s the holiday tunes that no December should be without. Well, in my humble opinion, anyway. Over the past decade, I’ve assembled 9 or 10 different holiday mixes (all with completely different songs). The idea for this mix is to include favorites from all of those mixes. In practice, I had to fudge here and there to make a coherent mix — and, to keep things upbeat, I omitted all tracks from my two slower mixes. Anyway. Ella Fitzgerald, Ramones, Swingerhead, Jackson 5, Gayla Peevey, & more! Grab yourself some hot cider, a festive cookie, and press play!
Vince Guaraldi‘s entire soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) should be on any list. And you probably already have it. So, instead of a song from that album, here’s DJ John’s mash-up of some of the memorable lines from the TV special, set to Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy.”
The Puppini Sisters released their first holiday album this year, which includes what may be the first listenable version of “Last Christmas” ever recorded — it’s actually a really wonderful rendition of the song. The new record does not include their version of “Jingle Bells,” released as a single in 2006.
Recorded as a V-disc for the troops, this is one of my favorite Ella Fitzgerald holiday songs. If I allowed myself more than one song by a single artist, then you might also be hearing “Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney” and her version of “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” on this mix. Love Ella Fitzgerald.
There are many delightful recordings of this song, notably those by Bruce Springsteen (1975), Fred Astaire (1970), Jimmy Smith (1964), Ella Fitzgerald (1960) and Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters (1943). The Jackson 5′s version best fit the mood I was going for here.
This is my favorite Christmas song of all time, bar none. Gayla Peevey was a popular child singer of the early 1950s. This song, written by John Rox and recorded when Peevey was 10 years old, was her biggest hit.
I love the joy in this one, and the late Solomon Burke‘s wish to give presents to everyone, all around the world. I find the final verse quite touching. “Hope next year, things will have a lot of joy.”
With music written by Raymond Scott and lyrics by Mitchell Parish, here’s Louis Armstrong. He recorded several holiday tracks, including “Cool Yule” (written by Steve Allen), “Christmastime in New Orleans,” and a delightful reading of Clement Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas.”
As readers of this blog may be aware, I have a special affection for a well-honed novelty tune. The contemporary master of the genre is, of course, Parry Gripp. “But, Reggie, where do you keep all the presents?” The answer to that question makes me smile every time I hear it.
Most people remember Boris Karloff as the voice of the Grinch, but forget that Karloff only does the speaking voice, and Thurl Ravenscroft sings all the songs. It’s an understandable forgetting: the credits neglect to mention this fact.
Appears on Brain Drain, the band‘s final album to feature bassist Dee Dee Ramone. The album also includes the song “Pet Sematary” (the theme to the film based on the Stephen King novel). I first saw the Ramones in 1988, when Dee Dee was still a member. When I saw them for the second (and final) time in 1990, Dee Dee had been replaced by C.J. But, honestly, the focus of the stage show was Joey, face obscured by hair and his sunglasses, singing into the mic — and the raw, loud sound of the band. Johnny’s guitar, Marky’s drums, and Dee Dee (or J.C.) on bass created that sound, but what I remember is the sonic experience of it all washing over me.
As the Jesus and Mary Chain did, the Raveonettes mesh Phil Spector’s wall of sound with thick slices of fuzzed-out electric guitar. Here’s their Christmas Song, which has no resemblance to that other Christmas Song (the one written by Mel Torme).
The best track from A Mutated Christmas (Illegal Art, 2001), this brings in vocals from several versions of “White Christmas”: Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and of course Bing Crosby (though only his whistle).
The YouTube video (below) of Straight No Chaser‘s witty mash-up of holiday songs (and Toto’s “Africa”) prompted the group to reform, and release several albums. They re-recorded the tune for Christmas Cheers, which is the version you hear here.
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