It's not that I've completely forgotten my childhood Christmases; just mostly. I sure don't remember those ugly drapes and that lamp! But kids don't really notice things like that. What I do remember is the oversized tree bolted inside its metal stand in the middle of the living room. And lots and lots of metallic tinsel. Mom viewed Christmas decorating as one more chore to cross off her do-to list. Christmas wasn't a competition in 1960. Everyone had a tree...and that was it.
I do remember the best and worst of Christmases. The worst was when I couldn't keep my fingers off the presents under the tree with my name on them. I tore the wrapping off one well before that magical night and my big sister (looking so blithe in the picture) sprinted down the stairs, snatched it from my tiny hands and informed me that now I would get no gift whatsoever. I think I even shed some tears and threw myself upon my bed, despondent. (She later relented.) The best were when I received a cardboard play store with cardboard shelves and a plastic-molded cash register with fake plastic money.
The supermarket is the one with my cousin's grubby hands on it. I'm on the lower right.
The most awesome world-changing Christmas present I received as a kid was the RECORD PLAYER. I have no photos to commemorate the occasion, but that record player changed my life forever. It was blue with buckle snaps and a black plastic spindle insert to accommodate my 45-RPM records. My life was complete. I remember Mom and Dad and my big brother and at least one sister gathering around as I placed the needle on that very first record. The muffled warble of The Beatles choking out my one speaker was the most glorious sound in the world. I still don't know how my mom knew. Apparently she didn't actually ignore me, as she seemed to do most of the time. Mom was a casual radio listener ~ she liked Arthur Godfrey's talk show ~ but she had to deal with my dad, who was enamored with music, and thus this little foreign girl wasn't a complete anomaly.
Christmas music in my first ten years of life consisted of the banal Jingle Bells and Rudolph. Music wasn't sophisticated, at least not for a grade school kid. This was a song I tended to like:
And this one (yes, I have a penchant for Anne Murray this time of year):
At mass, which I was required to attend, the carols were "Away In The Manger" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", which confused me because I had a cousin named Harold. On the plus side, at least I knew the tunes.
As I moved into my teen years, the holiday season was best forgotten. I bought gifts; my parents (my mom) bought gifts; but it was simply going through the motions. Dad liked a good snifter of eggnog with a stiff shot of whiskey, but he mostly wasn't around, frankly. I had a little brother and sister who geeked out over their gifts, which mitigated the sadness. I mostly retired to my room as quickly as civility allowed. I did, by that time, have a best friend, and we exchanged LP's for Christmas (two albums for each). They weren't Christmas albums; they were country.
As far as Christmas music was concerned, we weren't the type to drop the needle on Nat King Cole and Andy Williams was a bit too bland. The only country artist making Christmas music was Buck Owens, although this one is pretty hard to beat:
When I had tiny babies, I really paid no mind to Christmas music. It wasn't until I grew older that I discovered the true classics. And a good holiday song is hard to come by.
Yep, here's Anne Murray again:
"O Holy Night" is my favorite sacred Christmas song. My favorite sentimental song is this:
I only hear these songs once a year, so they don't grow old. I'm not too old to latch onto new favorites, though. I currently like this one a lot:
Everyone has a favorite Christmas song. If you're the traditional sort, you gravitate to the classic hymns sung (badly) at church services. If you are a baby boomer, The Beach Boys might be more to your liking. I'm a hybrid ~ I'll take one from Column A, a couple from Column B, and one or two from C.
Remakes (and they mainly are, after all) had better offer either a superb singer or a novel take. Originals are rare. It's hard to write a new Christmas song; trust me, I've tried.
A long, long time ago, I wrote this:
I been thinkin' 'bout a Christmas tree I want one forty feet high Is that unreasonable? Well, so am I I been thinkin' 'bout packages With blue and silver bows And I been thinkin' A lot about mistletoe Don't get me started I'll drive you to tears With my reminiscences Through the years About Christmas By a roarin' fire If you're gonna do it right You gotta do it big My philosophy of life Pull all the stops out And make a silent night No indiscriminate songs of cheer Nat King Cole is Who I need to hear Cuz it's Christmas And it's a heady time The folks who know How to do it well Always cry at the sound Of a peelin' bell They remember The child inside I been thinkin' 'bout a Christmas tree I want one forty feet high If that's unreasonable Well, so am I
(Not a big week for news. Is that Robert Plant? Kidding.)
In our continuing retrospective of 1969, I thought I'd take a peek at the top forty chart for the week of March 29 fifty years ago.
What was I doing fifty years ago? Well, there was a documentary on TV about the Amazon River that Mr. Reisenauer assigned his geography class to watch. I was probably the only one who watched it ~ and took notes. I wanted an A on that quiz! (and I got one). The April Fool's edition of TV Guide had landed in our mailbox. Alice and I always giggled over the episode descriptions: Gomer Pyle, USMC: "Gomer changes a lightbulb." Saturday night sucked for TV. I could either watch Lawrence Welk, Adam-12, or My Three Sons (I chose "none of the above"). So, I, of course, played records.
And speaking of records, "Dizzy" by Tommy Roe still held the top spot on the charts. There's a big difference between the charts and 45-RPM singles ~ with records I could play songs I actually liked anytime I wanted, as opposed to the putrid offerings on AM radio.
Such as the #2 song on the charts, by a group that didn't really think through its name. If you've gotta add a Roman numeral to your band name, you've already lost. Nevertheless, here are the Classics IV:
The Zombies held the third spot with a much better song, and one that is played all these fifty years later. "What's your name? Who's your daddy? Is he rich (is he rich) like me?" So many questions:
I'll just skip anything written by Jimmy Webb, because Jimmy Webb sucks. But here's something I bet you've never heard (kidding). The #5 single of the week sounds great now, but trust me, in '69 it was like someone's obnoxious ringtone that seared your every nerve, because the song was inescapable.
Let's skip to #11, because the rest of the top ten hits only the biggest sixties geek would even remember. I like this one, and for some reason I'm thinking it's been featured lately in a television commercial. The Foundations:
In scanning the charts for the week, it's interesting how many songs are utterly forgettable. Like most every year of our lives, we remember events that either touched us or infuriated us or in retrospect, actually mattered. Musically, I'm not sure what mattered. Not a lot.
But to leave you with something from the year 1969, here is a song that was new on the charts on March 29:
It might have started in the womb. Maybe it's life experience. I'm skeptical.
Why do we like the kind of music we like?
I think it's just a click - click on, click off - but mostly on. Our brain synapses zzzt on something and they we are - hooked.
I'm a rather eclectic music lover. I love lots of things, and I don't know why. I love big bands, and I surely wasn't around during their heyday. I love sixties rock because, yea, I was around then. I'm not completely in love with sixties rock, though; maybe because it's too familiar. I used to love it, but now I say I love it because - well, that's what I'm supposed to say.
But the topic of why we pick what we pick fascinates me. I should have been some kind of scientist, or at least a sociologist, but I have no discipline or ambition. Really, I have neither. I just like to "wonder" about things.
I like to play the game (sometimes) that if I was suddenly catapulted onto a stage with a live band, what songs would I sing? Well, first of all, as a known failed singer, I would gravitate toward something that was within my vocal range. I would also lean on the songs that are waaaay familiar - you know, like something by Merle Haggard, or any three-chord song from the sixth decade of country music - again because I am lazy and insecure.
But say my voice could magically wrap around any song.
I believe I would choose something like this:
I'm a sucker for those classic songs - maybe I'm just old, or maybe my taste has improved with age. When I was a kid and Sinatra would flick onto the TV screen, I would stomp away. My dad wasn't a Sinatra fan, either, so I took my cues from him. One has to become old before they appreciate Sinatra, maybe. But I watched this movie - "The Joker Is Wild" - on my portable black and white TV and I folded that memory inside my skull - it was a sad, melodramatic movie, trust me - but kids gravitate toward melodramatic things - emotions that are "out there" - because our brains aren't fully formed and we have to be hit over the head with stuff before it registers.
On the flip side, maybe I would sing songs like this:
Because that would just be fun.
I suppose I could channel Mike Love, because this is a song that I will fold into my heart forever. I even, at ten years old, wrote alternative lyrics for this song, because girls couldn't sing about "California Girls". So I titled mine, "English Boys" (I was heavily into the Beatles then,)
But honestly, I'd probably just do this one:
And no, he doesn't say "pickles in my head", but I'd probably sing that, just for fun. And everybody would get it. Because that's what everyone hears.
Yea, Dwight. I mean, if I'm going to spend my teeny vocals on one song, this would be the one.
Everybody will tell you....if you're trying to sell your music, you need to tell people what it is.
Because apparently, people will not click on that little ">" sign and listen to a 15-second preview.
I'm being needlessly sarcastic here, because I, too, kind of like to know what I'm getting into before I bother to check out someone's music. Frankly, and no offense, if the description contains the words "hip" and "hop", I'm really not interested, for example.
But the whole "genre" discussion is very difficult for me.
Somebody on one of those songwriter message boards posted a link to some place where one can upload their music for (paid) download. Yes, there are a million of these sites, and my problem with them is, the only people who seem to be aware of them are the songwriters/artists; not the general public.
I wasn't particularly interested; just curious. So, I clicked on the link, and I saw the usual genres listed. Here is the list:
1. "Country" music
4. Rhythm & Blues
5. Blues (just plain, without the "rhythm")
6. Hip Hop and Rap
7. Kids music
8. Modern folk (what is that?)
9. Easy Listening
12. Latin & Calypso
If I was actually interested in utilizing this site's services, I wouldn't know which genre to choose! I can easily rule out 9 of the 14. And the other 5 are questionable. I can't ever, ever choose "country", because you know what that is, nowadays. It's something that assaults one's ears, so I am afraid to even click on anything that says it's "country".
An example of "country" (and I don't mean to pick on Carrie, but I'm not really up on the latest "country" stars):
Pop? Well, no, because "pop" is something like Michael Jackson or someone, right?
Here's some pop. I really, honestly, had never heard this song before, but she's in the entertainment rags a lot, so I picked on her. But seriously, do you find much difference between this song by Katy Perry and the Carrie Underwood song? I have pretty good ears, I think, and I can discern very little difference:
Rock? Yes, my husband does rock, but again, rock, to him, is apparently different from the rock that is titled, "rock". It does get confusing, and I think it's a generational issue.
Here is rock:
I don't know what modern folk is, but isn't "modern folk" an oxymoron? Isn't the whole concept of folk music naturally regressive? I don't know about you, but when I hear the term, "folk", I think of Peter, Paul and Mary singing, "Michael Row The Boat Ashore" (hallelujah).
Easy listening could fit the bill, because our music is, not to brag, easy to listen to. But "easy listening", to me, conjures up something like this:
So, really, that just leaves "other". And who's going to buy music labeled, "other"? Nobody.
I tend to label, when I am forced to, our music as "Americana". But a lot of sites, obviously, do not recognize Americana as a genre. What is more Americana than two Minnesotans and one Hawaiian, doing their slice of life, or slice of emotions, music?
I really hate labels. Labels force everyone into a box. Labels prohibit people from experiencing a range of music. They think, well, I like Fall Out Boy (yea, seriously, I had to do a Wikipedia search for adult contemporary to even find that name), so I want to hear ONLY songs that sound JUST LIKE THAT.
In my day (as the geezers are wont to say), we heard everything on the radio. Everything was played on the same channel. We heard Dean Martin, and we heard Bobby Gentry, and we heard the Seekers, and we heard the Monkees. And we made up our own minds.
I am glad (glad!) that I was exposed to a bunch of different music. I know Frank Sinatra, and I know Count Basie. I know Buck Owens, and I know the Four Tops.
Music, after all, is music. One can dissect it, or one can enjoy it.
In everybody's focus on commerce, they forget the basic fact that music, from the first time someone hummed something, or somebody played three notes on a lute, is here to bring joy into our lives.
If music was just here to bore us, or to lull us to dreamland, we could read dull prose. Something by Al Gore, for instance.
We should stop trying to put it all into neat little boxes, and just experience the joy of music.
And we, in the 1960's, or the 2010's, didn't invent music, you know. People the world over have loved music since the beginning of time. I hear that Stephen Foster was quite the dude. Very prolific. For example:
And I obviously missed it, but my parents knew good music, too.
So, categorizations? I will pass. I might even like Fall Out Boy if I ever heard them on the radio.
I think I might, just for fun, tune my work radio to some new channel. Because I would like to practice what I preach. I bet I will find some stuff that I like, and I otherwise never would have known.