Saturday, December 21, 2019
Like all music, there are great Christmas songs, middling tunes, and finally, the putrid.
In the late nineties in my workplace we had piped-in music. Songs were cycled on a predetermined schedule. Like all Muzak, it was aimed at offending no one. Thus, we heard "The Weekend" by Steve Wariner forty times a day, and something by Mariah Carey. Come Christmastime, holiday songs abounded. You know how it is when you hear a tune that makes you grit your teeth, and then you have to hear it once an hour, on the hour?
There was a song by Andy Williams that I can't find anywhere online, probably because someone had the good sense to burn the master in a fiery blaze. It was jazzy. The lyrics went something like this: "boo-dee-doo-dee-boo-dee-bup-POW!" Nothing quite says Merry Christmas like an over-age hipster throwing tradition to the wind. I regret that I can't remember the title, because I would cherish sharing its awfulness with you.
I'm not necessarily a traditionalist. I'm down with Wham! and with rockin' the jingle bells. I do believe, however, that Christmas tunes should fall into one of two categories: wistful or gleeful. Many people associate the holiday with Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, but give me Dean Martin any day. Dino'd had an eggnog or two before he sauntered up to the mic and he was in a good mood, like we all should be this time of year. He didn't take the whole thing too seriously; too somberly. If I want a good cry, I know which songs to punch up; but if I just want to feel good, who's better company than Dino Crocetti?
But aside from jazzy cocktail tunes, the worst for me are the drudging, tedious ones. I don't understand why anyone would like this one:
I've sampled it by many different artists, from Johnny Cash to the old boo-dee-doo-dee-POW! Andy Williams, and I don't care who sings it, it reeks. Here it is, in a nutshell: "PAH-rum-pum-pum-PUM". I can't begin to describe how much I hate this song. Any tune that relies on onomatopoeia can go to hell.
Here's another one. First of all, the tune is kind of scary for a kid. It sounds foreboding, like something evil is wafting in on the wind. I don't think that's what Jesus intended:
I don't include kids' songs on my list, because kids are entitled to like stupid songs. That's how they learn about music. At age eight, I instinctively knew that "Up On The Rooftop" wasn't a standout song, but it was easy for a kid to sing along to. I can even tolerate Alvin and The Chipmunks. In fact, when I was little, I sang along to lots of dumb holiday songs, but I liked "Winter Wonderland" and "Silver Bells" the best (I wasn't big on reindeer, and my older sister had wised me up to the Santa Claus scam at a young age).
Late on Christmas Eve as I'm nursing a glass of wine, give me "I'll Be Home For Christmas" or even "The Christmas Song". Something sad and pretty. If I'm wrapping packages, I'll take Brenda Lee and Bobby Helms. Hell, there just aren't any great new Christmas songs being written ~ sorry, aspiring songwriters. Just don't play stupid, scary, scatting, or pandering songs.
And I'm sorry, all you nostalgists out there, but I really don't like Andy Williams.
I may or may not write another post before the Big Day, so if I don't, please have a happy Christmas. Remember what matters.
And it's okay to be a bit grumpy.
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
The years 1966/1967 were transitional ones in the music industry. By 1968 one would never hear a song on the radio that wasn't "sanctioned" by the keepers of the groovy rock and roll flame. In 1966, still though, one could hear songs that didn't exactly fit the mold. That's probably why people of my generation have more eclectic musical tastes, whereas the current generation of radio listeners don't stray from their worthless pile of crap (oh sorry, editorializing again). It's why I can appreciate Frank Sinatra and the Glenn Miller Orchestra, in addition to Dwight Yoakam and the Beau Brummels (look it up).
So, while a wide swath of the year-end chart was filled with rock (or more correctly, pop) songs, a few strays managed to wander in.
And here they are:
This instrumental was recorded by a group called the T-Bones. Instrumentals were also a dying breed by this time. The last big instrumental hit I remember was in 1968, when the Ventures recorded the theme song for Hawaii Five-O. Nevertheless, this is called "No Matter What Shape":
The main reason this track sticks with me is because it was also used in an Alka-Seltzer commercial. Yes, TV to a child of the sixties was like God speaking from heaven (sadly but truly).
Watch it here:
Remember Andy Williams? Yea, I don't much, either. He did a lot of Christmas specials and he introduced the Osmonds to a national viewing audience, but I never watched his show. Sorry, I did have to draw the line somewhere. I did like "Moon River", though. My main beef with Andy is that he recorded possibly the worst Christmas song of all time. Christmas songs are supposed to be pretty. This one was jazzy, and not in a good way. The sound system at my previous workplace used to play it at least five times a day, and I had to be restrained from smashing multiple computers. I deigned to never learn the name of the song and I hope I never have to hear it again.
Be that as it may, Andy had a hit with this next song in 1966. I'm tempted to say my seventh grade choir had to learn it - I could be wrong. We learned a lot of really bad, bad songs.
I always loved Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. So sue me. Herb had a great gig going for a few years, playing with his brass-mates. I bet he rolled in zillions (maybe not quite that many) dollars playing his trumpet. Later, unfortunately, someone convinced him he could sing, and he did "This Guy's In Love With You". Really painful. He redeemed himself, however, by forming A&M records with some guy whose name started with an "M"...Hold on....Jerry Moss. A&M Records is most famous for recording the Carpenters, and sadly, the Captain and Tennille. But let's get back to the Brass:
(Sorry, the only video I could find that wasn't a static picture was horrendous, so I went with the static picture).
How can that song not make you want to get up and do a mean syrtos, kalamatianos, pyrrhichios, hasapiko or sirtaki? (No clue, really, but thanks, Wikipedia!)
This next song isn't "quirky", but rather, "good". It was more of a surprise, because Bobby Darin was that finger-snapping guy who did "Mack The Knife". Yet here was a new Bobby Darin. Sadly, Bobby died young. But he left us with this:
Shockingly, a country song also made the Hot 100 in 1966. I would embed it here, but the only performance video is unembeddable (please tell me why). Suffice it to say that "Almost Persuaded" by David Houston was apparently huge in not only country corners but on the mainstream charts as well. I attribute that to the piano riff, which will live in the memories of old folks like me forever. If you are interested in learning about David Houston (who also, like Bobby Darin, died far too young) and why this song was a hit, click here.
Nancy Sinatra tried hard to be a singer. She recorded a bunch of songs with Lee Hazlewood; songs that weren't bad. She wasn't a natural singer, but how many of us really are? Not me! And she managed to score a hit that will linger forever in campy history. I think I did a karaoke version of this once. I'm sure I was drinking....
Are ya ready, boots? Start walkin'!
If a little kid can be jaded, I was soooo jaded about a Petula Clark song in 1964. I remember shopping with my mom ~ there weren't shopping malls then ~ you had to trundle out into the snow and enter the department store through a frosty glass door ~ and every display shelf where I lingered, I heard, When you're alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go..............downtown.
Okay! Dang! I got it! Geez, I just want to go home! Stop torturing me!
So, I may have a bit of a misplaced dislike for Petula. But she was actually a really good singer and it's time to get over it. So here's Petula's hit from 1966:
I admit, I always found Lou Christie to be..okay, creepy. A good falsetto I can appreciate. Heck, Frankie Valli made a living from it. Maybe it was the songs. The weird thing is, he recorded a song that I love love love, that I only found by watching the movie, "Rain Man". I've probably already featured "Beyond The Blue Horizon" once or twice or more in this blog. I don't get why Lou didn't do more songs like that. But let's go with the 1966 hit that I guess made him some good dough:
Sam the Sham was a good moniker for someone whose real name was Domingo Samudio. Again, I was a kid, so I didn't know that sham meant "phony". He wore a turban, so I thought "sham" was some kind of royal title. Every frat house movie ever made puts more jingle into Domingo's pocket, because "Woolly Bully" is the ultimate party song. But that hit came before 1966. I bought this next single and I don't even know why, because I don't really care for it. Again, I apologize for the bad, out of sync video, but it's all I can find:
Okay, this (this!) was the number one song of 1966. I'm very patriotic but I'm also a music lover. It's a delicate balance. If you grew up around my time, all you heard was Viet Nam, Viet Nam. My big brother enlisted in the National Guard so he wouldn't have to go to Viet Nam.
Da Nang, Saigon. The Ho Chi Minh Trail. It wasn't a Robin Williams movie. It was all a mistake, a blunder. Thousands of our finest men got killed for nothing. Nothing. And it was a reality that thundered in our ears, day by day by day.
I became pen pals through one of those back-of-the-magazine ads, with a soldier who was deployed to Viet Nam. I was barely a teenager, and had no right to even pretend to understand what those guys were enduring. I hope he came home okay.
Sergeant Barry Sadler, who I don't know anything about but would like to learn, somehow, perhaps through serendipity, recorded this song. In 1966 everybody hated everybody ~ the hippies hated the old-timers and John Wayne sure as hell hated Jane Fonda. Everybody basically did.
As a music lover, I cringe at this song. As a patriot, I'm going to cut it some slack:
I didn't mean to get all heavy on a topic that was supposed to be fun. 1966 is a snapshot. It was what it was and we can nestle in its bubble and listen to the Monkees, or we can appreciate it for its jagged existence.
On the happy side, I appear to have missed some fine hits from 1966, so I just might do an addendum.
Just to get out of this funk.
Saturday, December 12, 2015
If merchants had to depend on me for their Christmas cheer, they'd be crying into their mug of wassail.
I'm not a Christmas fan.
I do have my reasons. Number one, I happen to work in an industry whose busiest time of the year is the last three weeks before Christmas. Therefore, no one is allowed to take time off, not even one lousy day to do their shopping. Add to that the stress of a long, heart-attack inducing day, and the last thing I want to do when I (finally) get off work is go shopping for holiday trinkets. All I want is a
When I had young kids, I exalted in the subterfuge -- writing out my shopping list in shorthand so no little eyes would tempt themselves and spoil the surprise.
That one big day with one big shopping cart, trudging my goodies through the snow and slush, the cart's wheels refusing to budge, as I twisted the cart like a pinwheel to deposit all those special toys in my trunk.
The Saturday evening when I would put on a favorite Christmas CD, dim the lights and decorate the tree, placing the school-made ornaments in very prominent spots on the branches; stringing together wreaths made of popcorn.
Writing out Christmas cards and slipping school photographs inside. Getting Christmas cards with school photographs slipped inside.
Pasting red, green, and blue window clings on the big picture window in the living room -- red trees and green boughs, white snowflakes, and blue letters that spelled out MERRY CHRISTMAS.
Hauling the big stand mixer out of the top cupboard and mixing up a batch of sugar cookies to be decorated, and a big pan of fudge, and divinity, and whatever other cookies struck my fancy that particular year.
The kids tearing open their gifts on Christmas Eve, exclaiming it was just what they wanted. Me on the floor assembling Fisher Price farm yards and, in ensuing years, admiring all manner of Transformers and Deluxe Lego cities (Those little yellow plastic bricks hurt like hell when you step on one with your bare feet two days after Christmas!)
When we packed up the car and drove to spend Christmas Day with Grandma and Grandpa, the kids loathe to leave their new treasures behind at home, Grandma pulling open the oven door to baste the giant turkey, Grandpa "helping" by sitting back in his recliner in the living room. Me salivating over the fresh-baked pecan pie. My brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews gathered around the long table Dad had set up in the living room to accommodate everybody; munching on green olives and carrot sticks from the relish tray to quell our hunger, Mom's candle evergreen centerpiece gracing the center.
That was Christmas to me.
I really should just chalk it up as a life phase that's come and gone. My kids are grown and they have new traditions of their own. Mom and Dad left in 2001. Really, the only thing I have remaining from Christmas Past is music, if I take the time to listen to it.
But here's the thing about Christmas songs....
Thank God they only come around once a year.
Our local oldies station begins playing Christmas music twenty-four/seven, right after (or maybe even before) Thanksgiving. Those DJ's must be hitting up the liquor store every couple of days, because if one has to find enough holiday music to fill all that airtime, one knows (the DJ's know more than anyone) that the great majority of it sucks. I listened for a few brief moments on my car radio today as I was motoring off to perform a semblance of actual gift-shopping (I got two -- yes, two gifts). I learned, from my radio, that Christmas music falls into a few categories:
- Instrumental (which, to be frank, could be anything - could be Arbor Day music for all anyone knows)
- Too jazzy
- Not bad
I thought I would highlight a few of these types.
Best drunk performance by someone trying to appear sober:
(Yes, I know this is a montage. Sorry, it's all I could find.)
Best sober performance by someone trying to act drunk:
Best cry in your beer, drown your heartache Christmas song:
Christmas song that makes you want to drink yourself to death:
(I'm sure Andy Williams was a fine man. But this song falls into the "sucky", "too jazzy" category. Sorry.)
Other songs I would pay top dollar to never hear again:
- Do You Hear What I Hear (no, and stop asking me!)
- Little Drummer Boy (especially the Johnny Cash version...rum pa pah PUM)
- Christmas Time Is Here (that stupid Peanuts maudlin song with the screechy kids singing. Really gets one in the spirit!)
Now, I like my eighties pop, as you know. Some people, particularly my husband, would say my favorites are sucky. I'm okay with that. Because I like what I like.
Hence, I like this:
It's not so much that I like this song, but I love the performance:
Let's not forget the sixties:
But honestly, Christmas is not Christmas for me until I hear these two songs (I heard one of them today as I was shopping, which inspired this post.)
In conclusion, there are two songs that are my special treasures, for different reasons. The first reminds me what we're doing this all for (and this is the version that lives in my heart):
And this one just makes me cry, because there is no more home:
If I don't have time, and I know I won't, Merry Christmas to you.