Time To Bust A Yule

December 15, 2012

ornamentAs a kid, Christmas was the one time of year that music was played in our house more than any other.

Our mom would throw on seasonal music from the ’50s and ’60s and Johnny Mathis or Andy Williams would croon from the stereo console in the living room.

The song that keeps coming to mind the past few days is Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. The version that I keep hearing contains an opening verse about palm trees and Beverly Hills that is omitted in most including Bing Crosby’s iconic take on the song.

We might not be in Southern California and the nearest palm trees are hundreds of miles away, but the sentiment of meteorological dissonance resonates.

Outside, it’s a gray, rainy Saturday morning that has a feel more befitting Halloween than Christmas and the temperatures today are expected to climb into the low ’60s, unseasonably warm as it has been this season.

The one recording of White Christmas that fits the time frame and my memory of it being a female singer would seem to be one by Darlene Love from the mid-’60s, but the singer I hear in my head doesn’t have the soul that I’d expect from Ms. Love.

But it is a mere week and a half until Christmas and Paloma has ensured that – though the weather outside might not suit the season – there’s no doubt what time of year it is.

For the first time since we’ve been together, we’ve put up a tree that has not been – as anticipated – a source of interest to the three felines and Paloma has garnished it in Christmas card-worthy fashion from the astounding inventory of ornaments that she has collected over the years.

There are also other traditional accoutrements – wreaths, garlands and such – as well as the smell of baking from the kitchen.

So, here are four holiday songs…

David Bowie and Bing Crosby – Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy
from The Singles Collection (1993)

Working in record stores in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it was a given that the holiday season would bring confused shoppers who didn’t set foot in record stores the rest of the year.

It was also a given that you would have to repeatedly explain that Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy, the unexpected Christmas duet by David Bowie and Bing Crosby, was unavailable.

Recorded during the summer of 1977 for a Crosby television special scheduled for that November, the duet was released in the US as a single in 1982 and, then, quickly went out of print. The situation was finally rectified a decade later with the song’s inclusion as a bonus disc on Bowie’s two-CD The Singles Collection.

The Pretenders – 2000 Miles
from Learning to Crawl (1984)

Following the deaths of original members James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon in 1982, Chrissie Hynde put The Pretenders on ice for a time. With new members Robbie McIntosh and Malcolm Foster in place, the wistful 2000 Miles became the reconstituted band’s first release in late 1983.

Though apparently about guitarist Honeyman-Scott, the seasonal references and the song’s sense of longing led to 2000 Miles becoming a modern Christmas staple.

Billy Squier – Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You
from A Rock And Roll Christmas (1994)

In the Midwest in the ’80s, Billy Squier was a rock god. The rock stations to which I was listening played not only the hits like The Stroke, Everybody Wants You, and In The Dark, but practically every track from the albums Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion.

So, the rollicking Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You was in heavy rotation each December.

Bryan Adams – Christmas Time (1985)

Like Billy Squier, Bryan Adams was a fixture on radio stations in our part of the Midwest from his debut. By 1985, the Canadian had firmly established himself as a superstar and he was still notching hits from his album Reckless, which had been released a year earlier.

So, it was hardly surprising that when he released the holiday-themed Christmas Time that year, it garnered considerable radio airplay. Like the string of hits he had had at the time, the song isn’t rocket science and Adams hardly reinvents fire, but the sentiment is true and it’s an engaging track.

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February 2, 1985

February 4, 2012

In early 1985, the shift in my musical interests, which had been evolving and changing in fits and starts for a couple years, was ongoing.

By ’85, my friends and I had our driver’s licenses, so there were more opportunities – if we could procure transportation – to make the trek into Cincinnati for music.

(of course, funding such purchases was an ongoing challenge)

Though MTV had finally made it into the homes of our small town the previous summer, not all of us had cable, so the channel was merely a piece of the puzzle in shaping our tastes.

The alternative rock of 97X – which had been broadcasting for a little more than a year – had captured my fancy, but reception of the station was often dodgy.

The stations that were available to us on the dial were mostly a mixture of Top 40 and album rock, not necessarily adventurous but far more eclectic than they would be by the time we left for college. As playlists hadn’t yet been completely whittled down, Top 40 was still a viable, if less captivating, option.

Casey Kasem’s weekly countdown of the most popular songs in the land was no longer appointment listening, but one of our town’s drugstores was now stocking Billboard magazine in the racks. I’d often peruse the latest issue.

And, twenty-six years ago this week, there were half a dozen songs that debuted on the Hot 100…

Jermaine Jackson & Pia Zadora – When The Rain Begins To Fall
from Voyage Of The Rock Aliens soundtrack (1984)
(debuted #95, peaked #54, 11 weeks on chart)

Jermaine is, of course, Tito’s brother and Pia Zadora was an ’80s b-movie actress who’d had a hit a couple years earlier with The Clapping Song which I had never heard outside of its time on American Top 40.

I seem to vaguely recall the movie Voyage Of The Rock Aliens being in theaters and I think I might have even stumbled across it late night on cable in college, but the synopsis on Wikipedia leads me to believe I’d have changed the channel swiftly.

As for the song, Tito likely shook his head over the generic dance/pop fluff of When The Rain Begins To Fall which featured lyrical puffery such as “When the rain begins to fall, you’ll ride my rainbow in the sky.”

The Manhattan Transfer – Baby Come Back To Me (The Morse Code Of Love)
from Bop Doo-Wopp (1985)
(debuted #87, peaked #83, 3 weeks on chart)

The jazz vocal quartet The Manhattan Transfer had notched a major hit several years before with the retro-styled The Boy From New York City. That song was catchy even if, at the time, it had the stink of something my parents might have listened to all over it.

The group failed to recapture that success with the similar Baby Come Back To Me, a song that I hadn’t heard before. It’s doo wop vibe still relegates it to being from my parents generation, but that’s a far more forgivable offense now and I kind of dig it.

Jermaine Stewart – The Word Is Out
from The Word Is Out (1984)
(debuted #82, peaked #41, 15 weeks on chart)

I don’t think I’ve ever heard The Word Is Out. Of course, I’ve heard it now and can’t remember it.

A year or so later, Jermaine Stewart would suggest that folks could stay dressed with the earworm We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off, a song that, even having mostly abandoned Top 40, I was familiar.

David Bowie/Pat Metheney Group – This Is Not America
from The Falcon And The Snowman soundtrack (1985)
(debuted #66, peaked #32, 12 weeks on chart)

Unlike the previous three songs, I was quite familiar with This Is Not America, David Bowie’s collaboration with the Pat Metheney Group (even though I had no idea who Metheney or his group was or what David Bowie was doing mixed up with them).

Bowie had released Tonight, his follow-up to the massive Let’s Dance, six months or so earlier to considerable hype and subsequent disappointment. This Is Not America, taken from the soundtrack to The Falcon And The Snowman – a Cold War thriller starring Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton – wasn’t a big hit, but the moody, hypnotic song was far better than anything on Tonight (aside from Loving The Alien).

Bryan Adams – Somebody
from Reckless (1984)
(debuted #59, peaked #11, 17 weeks on chart)

Bryan Adams seems to get slagged quite a bit and perhaps it’s a bit deserved for Everything I Do (I Do It For You), but prior to gifting the world with that ubiquitous track from Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood flick, the Canadian singer had a string of hit albums.

Adams was hardly reinventing fire with his straight-forward, meat-and-potatoes rock, but the stuff sounded pretty great blaring from the radio on a summer day. And Reckless had a half-dozen tracks that made the album a fixture on the radio for a good year or so including the anthemic singalong Somebody, a song that Paloma is surprisingly fond of.

Duran Duran – Save A Prayer
from Arena (1984)
(debuted #53, peaked #16, 14 weeks on chart)

Duran Duran broke in America with their second album Rio and the hits Hungry Like The Wolf and the title track. Having dug the hits, I shelled out the money for a copy of Rio and felt it money well spent.

The British quintet’s subsequent string of hit singles were hit and miss for me, though, and nothing was compelling enough to make me purchase another Duran Duran album, certainly not The Wild Boys, a new studio track which heralded the arrival of the live set Arena.

As a follow-up, the band issued a live version of Save A Prayer. The shimmering ballad had been a favorite when it first appeared on Rio and, even now, it would absolutely make the cut as one of the five or six Duran Duran songs that I’d consider essential.


I’m Taking The BC Lions And The Eleven Points

September 25, 2010

Of late, Canada has had an increased presence in my life.

(not that there’s anything wrong with that)

There’s long been music from north of the border in my world and some fantastic stuff at that.

And, a month or so ago, I happened across a groovy website for the brilliant Canadian sketch comedy troupe The Kids In The Hall.

(I keep the page open at work and – to balance out the moments when I want to set fires – I often will read a transcript of a sketch or two)

As much as I dug Second City Television, I thought that The Kids In The Hall was the better of the two groups. In fact, I’m willing to state that The Kids In The Hall was as good if not better than the more heralded Monty Python.

(of course, Monty Python did provide the demented template for acts like The Kids In The Hall)

I digress.

There’s been more than music and merriment that has made me wonder if I’m turning Canadian.

I’ve been watching broadcasts of the Canadian Football League on Friday nights.

It happened unexpectedly one evening when I dialed up the NFL Network and found a pre-game show for that night’s CFL game – Calgary and Saskatchewan. It was no-frills, football not antics.

I dug it.

The games I’ve watched have been entertaining and the style – due to differences from the American version – is wide-open. The quarterbacks seem to take more shots deep than their brethren here in the US.

It is strange to hear the announcers note the difficulties for teams that find themselves in a lot of “second and long” situations. For thirty plus years, that scenario has merely meant your team needed some yardage to avoid having to convert on third and long.

(that missing down really makes the brain a bit dizzy)

And I find myself mentally chastising quarterbacks for throwing passes that I expect to sail out of the endzone only to remember that there’s twice the amount of real estate in the Canadian version.

Oh, I’m not ready to abandon the NFL. Not yet.

But it is a pleasant throwback to watch a game and not have the screen plastered with so much information and a neverending crawl that makes focusing on the actual game a potentially seizure-inducing effort.

It is a delight to not have to sit through the “entertainment” added to attract viewers that would otherwise have little interest in tuning into a game.

(seriously, does the NFL feel that the health of the league can only be ensured by having that fleshy-headed icon of mediocrity known as Daughtry perform at each game?)

No, I’m not Canadian, but I realize that I might be edging toward the morning when I spit out my coffee, demand a cup of brew from Tim Hortons, and start planning Thanksgiving break around the Grey Cup.

Anyone know a Canadian bookie?

While I sort out how to develop a problem gambling on Canadian football, here’s some songs by the first four Canadian acts that scrolled up on shuffle…

Daniel Lanois – The Maker
from Acadie

The ridiculously talented Daniel Lanois helped U2 achieve greatness and helped Bob Dylan reclaim relevence, and those are just two of the highpoints of a career that has seen him produce and work with a staggering area of music legends.

He’s a talented musician in his own right, though, and Aaron Neville makes an appearance on the moody, world-weary modern spiritual The Maker from his solo debut.

Blue Rodeo – 5 Days In July
from Five Days In July

It makes me happy to read Blue Rodeo described as “a veritable institution in their home country” on All-Music Guide’s site. The alternative roots rock band should have had a larger audience in the States.

Paloma and I saw the band live in the mid-’90s. I believe it was some show we’d gotten into as guests of the label and had no expectations or much knowledge of Blue Rodeo. It was a small club – maybe two hundred people – and I left believing I the band was one of the best live acts I’d ever seen.

Bryan Adams – Diana

Diana hit radio during the summer of ’85 when Bryan Adams’ career had taken the jump to megastar with the release of Reckless the autumn before.

The song wasn’t on the album – I think it was on a twelve-inch single with one of the hits – but the stations in our area played the hell out of the catchy rock song in which Adams pined for the Princess Of Wales.

At the time, my buddy Beej had a girlfriend who was obsessed with Diana. She actually resembled her and cut her hair to mirror the princess.

(it was a bit trippy)

The Odds – Wendy Under The Stars
from Neopolitan

The Odds were a wonderfully quirky band who released their debut, Neopolitan, in 1991. I saw the band sometime that autumn as the opening act for Warren Zevon.

(great show except for the loon who squawked for Mohammed’s Radio through the entire two hours)

The band might slow things down a bit on Wendy Under The Stars but the engaging song is still power pop with a bit of jangle as the protagonist recounts his memories of the night Elvis died.

(the song captured the attention of a crowd that had been – up to that point – indifferent as soon as the band got to the chorus)