Christmas Music

I love Christmas music. It’s a little point of contention with my family that as soon as Thanksgiving is over my Pandora or Spotify stations and playlists are pretty much dedicated to Christmas music. As the Girls have gotten older, they are not as into as they were as little ones. That’s okay, it’s to be expected. Surly teen years and all.

My tastes in Christmas music are pretty broad. If you know me this isn’t surprising. I love the classics. I think I still have my Gene Autry Sings, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” album that I listed to as a little boy. My parents had a few Time-Life Christmas Collections that Dad would pull out every year for the turntable. Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, the different orchestras that recorded standards, Burl Ives. Then there was The New Christy Minstrels (I’m still not even sure about this enormous group of very happy looking sweater-wearing, sleigh-riding folks. I honestly don’t think that album ever got played in our house. It looks like it’d be a fun album, but again, I have no memory of ever actually hearing it to make a judgment on the music.

As I was entering my teen years in the early 80’s, I was introduced to some new classics. The world before the Internet was not an easy time to hear new, interesting Christmas music. Maybe 96 Rock would play The Kinks, “Father Christmas” every once in awhile, and that was pretty exciting. Of course, one of the greatest musical moments in my life, and so many other people a certain age now, happened the magical year of 1984. Band Aid’s, “Do They Know it’s Christmas?“. I could not get enough of this. So many of my favorite bands and singers were on this. The video made me so happy! Seeing all those stars together having such a good time, playing and singing together. That they raised money to try to send relief to Ethiopia was fantastic. Sadly, there’s speculation on where the money actually ended up.

I’ve heard, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” countless times. Great song. For my ears, it’s hard to beat Andy Williams’ version. I am a bit confused though by a line in the song: “There’ll be scary ghost stories…” Why? Why are we telling ghost stories at Christmastime? Is that an allusion to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? I’ve always wondered how that line ended up in there.

The other classic that raises a question in my mind is from “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. There are lots of good versions of this one, pick your favorite. My question is what kind of disturbed individual includes the line, “Oh what a laugh it would have been, if Daddy had only seen Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night!” Now, obviously, the sly wink and nod is that of course it’s Daddy in the first place that’s kissing Mommy. That’s all good and fine, but here’s the problem – this song is told from the perspective of a little kid. They are a little disturbed, maybe, that their mom is kissing some other guy, even if that guy is Santa, but beyond that they’re thinking how funny it’d be if their dad saw this kiss. In the Jackson 5’s version you hear young Michael trying to get his brothers to believe him. “I did! I did see Mommy kissing Santa and I’m gonna tell my daddy!” What do people think is going to happen when Daddy hears that Mommy’s been kissing another dude?  Cue up The Ramones, “Merry Christmas, I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight

I’ll wrap this up with some of my more recent favorites. Obviously Mariah ends up here. You’d have to be a pretty serious Scrooge to not love this song. I’m not even going to put the title because it’s just so obvious. I will include this video though because it makes me pretty happy every time I see it. Also, the piano player on Mariah’s album is phenomenal. His playing absolutely takes the songs up at least 5 notches. Kelly Clarkson has gifted us with her fantastic, “Underneath the Tree” that I somehow just heard for the first time this year. The Shins covered another one of my favorites a few years ago and put a very Beach Boys’ spin to “Wonderful Christmastime.” Some people can’t stand Macca’s song and those people are wrong. The cover brings three things I love together, Paul McCartney, Beach Boys’ song structure/harmony, and The Shins. I’ll leave off with a song that I’m thankful I never had to relate to, but I look forward to hearing it every year, Dropkick Murphys “The Season’s Upon Us

Christmas songs are gifts bestowed upon us this time of year. Like all gifts, they illicit different responses from us. For the most part, they are given with love; although there are a few that I think were written, recorded, and released just to put a plant a horrible earworm. My gift to you is not including any of the ones of those that make my Naughty List, feel free to leave them in the comments if you want. Something to remember when you’re listening to these songs is that the majority of them were recorded in the summer or fall, a very un-Christmasy time of year. I read that Frank Sinatra had the recording studio decorated for Christmas and got them to crank up the AC so there’d be a bit of chill in the air.

I’ll leave you with a teen favorite, Billy Squier & the classic MTV crew reminding us that “Christmas is a time to say, ‘I Love You.'”  Merry Christmas to all and to all some great tunes

.oooooh

 

10 Influential Albums – Day One

Oldies But Goodies Volume 1

A high school friend nominated me for this look at 10 influential albums in my life. I’m super excited and hope you’ll enjoy it. Each day I’ll look at an album that has been a big part of my life at one point or another. I tried to pick ones that have had a lasting impact on me. It hasn’t been easy and for every one I feature, I have one that I could have included, but then, it’s not 20 influential albums…

First up is a compilation. Some people say those don’t count, but I disagree, especially if it is one that first introduced me to several artists and songs that I love dearly to this day. This way my gateway to 50’s rock.

As a kid going on car trips with my family always meant listening to Dad’s music and that is what formed my foundation. Early rock ‘n roll, doo-wop, rhythm and blues, and rockabilly made up these collections. I loved playing them on the turntable! It was good, heavy vinyl, not any of the flimsy stuff that my current records were made of.  This particular album has so many great songs on it. Seems like Side 2 has more of my favorites on there. “Roll With Me Henry (The Wallflower)”, “Stranded in the Jungle”, and “Let the Good Times Roll” are definitely my favorite. These songs bring back so many memories, all good. I remember several years back Dad was able to burn this onto a CD for me. I honestly don’t know how because to the best of my knowledge he never hooked up his turntable capable of digital transferring, but he knew how much I loved these songs and somehow made it happen. 

It Could’ve Been

Chuck Berry – The Great 28

I know. Another compilation. However, it’s Chuck Berry. I’m not including this one because I have never gone and dug deep into Chuck’s catalog, therefore, as influential as he has been to my musical life, it doesn’t count the way today’s entry does. It does count in that it was an important part of my life when Glitter Queen and I got our second tattoo and this was the soundtrack. Full disclosure – we skipped past “Havana Moon”. That’s my least favorite Chuck Berry song.

LP means Long Play


If you have old records and you haven’t taken the time to play them lately you really should do yourself a favor and do it.

And look, it takes time. It’s not a quick scroll through your Playlists to find what you’re looking for, click the button and then go. No.

It. Takes. Time. But man, oh man. It is time well worth spending.

I grew up listening to records. Not just the radio; although that’s the only place that I heard current stuff, but my dad’s record collection. I’ve written about this before. Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, etc. In our basement we had Dad’s stereo set up with all of his records taking up about 6 feet of space on the bottom shelves. Going through those record covers, flipping by them, pulling them out to inspect. I literally spent hours of my youth doing this.

At first we had one of the turntables that you could stack up several records and after a side finished playing another record would drop down on the turntable and it would start up. It was fun, but you know if you want to listen to an entire album you either had to have to copies – which we didn’t – or you had to not do the stacking method. 



[aside]Nothing is convenient about records. Nothing. And that’s probably one of the main reasons that they went out of style. As I said above, it takes time to listen to a record. Very few of us want to take that time to do that nowadays. Nowadays? Good grief. [end of aside]

So sometime around 7th grade I started getting my own records. We upgraded the turntable around the same time. Gone was the stackable option. That was okay because I didn’t do that too often. I think maybe that was really for playing a stack of 45s for a Rompus Room Dance Party. I never had a Rompus Room Dance Party. Promise. My dad was a member of Columbia Records Club. I enjoyed going to the record store more than ordering records from the Club though. Again it is the visual and physical sensations of flipping through the records, looking at the front and back album cover art and design.  In the the Club if you knew what you wanted that was one thing, but in a record store a big part of the experience for me was browsing.  [I still enjoy it today; although I can’t tell you the last time I was in a store that sells records] 

I think the first record I bought with my own money was Rush – Moving Pictures. 

Great record. Great cover and inner sleeve design too. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep the inner sleeve in good condition because it was printed on really thin paper. Really thin. As you know, 7th graders aren’t necessarily gentle creatures so as you can imagine, my fear was well founded. Even the record cover paper was thin. I was surprised. I was used to handling thick cardstock covers from my dad’s collection. This was so thin. So was the vinyl. Dad’s Ventures album was about two times thicker than my Rush album.

If you had your own record collection, or were allowed to use your family’s then you know how to handle records. I just said that 7th graders aren’t gentle, but to have access to the records in my house you had to prove that you knew how to handle them correctly. Fingers had no part of holding a record. Dirt, oil, grease, who knows what else could be on those fingers. The less skin contact you were able to make with the record surface the better. That was one of the harder things about the Rush album. It was so THIN and flimsy! Holding it between your palms, (or once my hand got big enough to put a finger in the hole of the record my thumb on the edge of the vinyl) showed a lot of flexibility. Lots more than I was used to. I remember being at friends’ houses who didn’t put so much care into their records. Finger prints all over them. Dirt and scratches. Not at the Benefield house. As I said, you had to prove that you were ready.

So along comes the Walkman and suddenly music is totally portable. At first I was content to record my albums on cassettes. TDK Chrome was the best blank cassette you could buy of course, but I didn’t get those as often as I’d like.

 Then I started just buying the cassette versions of the music I wanted. In my mind it was far superior because it saved me the time of making that recording. Making sure I had the levels just right so it sounded good on the cassette. I got a little obsessed with cassettes. I had so many cases that I would take with me on trips because I had to have ALL of my music with me in case I wanted to hear a particular song. Obnoxiously I would take three or four cases full of cassettes on trips.

The Walkman to the Discman to the iPod. Portability and convenience. I love it, but it is still a different experience listening to music on the iPod than it is on a record player. Like so much else that goes on today it’s quick and impersonal. The picture you see of the album cover, if there is one at all, is maybe one square inch. Liner notes? Maybe on the Internet. Convenient, yes. An Experience, no.

So again, if you have records and a way to play them I would encourage you to take set some aside some time, grab 10 – 15 of your favorites and immerse yourself in that aural joy of records. It’s good by yourself, but it can be even more fun with a friend. I need to get my turntable fixed so I can share this with my Girls.