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Archive for December, 2018

The Yuletide Ten

These are my provisional favorite recordings of Christmas songs; yeah, lots of qualifiers there, e.g., “provisional” because you know the moment I post this I’ll think of something I left out (as I fortunately did while proofing it, resulting in a last-minute substitution), and “songs” as opposed to “carols” because they are all secular.  “Recording” is truly the operative word, since I might hate one version as much as I love another, which explains the absence of “Sleigh Ride,” since I’m not immediately aware of a recording I consider definitive; I prefer an instrumental but also hate when they use sound effects like hooves, whip-cracking or—shudder—whinnying.  Overanalyzing the various versions on the radio or Madame BOF’s endless CD compilations is now an annual Bradley tradition.

These are listed alphabetically by title, to avoid any additional favoritism.

  1. “The Christmas Song” (Nat King Cole):  It’s always surprised me that Madame BOF doesn’t like this popular Christmas song (co-written by Mel Tormé, whose recording I like less, oddly enough)…except this version, from one of her most beloved CDs.  So, like any smart spouse, I’ll gladly meet her halfway.
  2. “Happy Holiday” (Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme):  I keep forgetting that like the evergreen, ha ha, “White Christmas,” this was written by The GREAT Irving Berlin and introduced by Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn (1942).  I’m also not a big fan of “The Holiday Season,” which is sometimes yoked with it in a medley, and was popularized by Andy Williams (the top dog in Madame BOF’s own Yuletide pantheon, although unlike her, I wasn’t raised on his Christmas specials); I like its exuberance, but the lyrics are just too, oh, I don’t know, brash.  I initially found this rendition of the original by the spousal singers jaw-droppingly cheesy…and really, it still is, but I’ve somehow come to embrace it, complete with whistling, “lah dee dahs,” and the overall sense that they’ve had way too many martinis.
  3. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” (John Lennon):  This is one of two Lennon songs (the other being “Imagine,” which I vividly recall hearing on the car radio on the way to Mom’s house on the night of the day Dad died) that open my tear ducts in a positively Pavlovian fashion.  The combination of John’s overly idealistic yet no less laudable message of peace and love, the fact that he was gunned down in his prime by a psycho, and the fact that it happened 17 days before Christmas are just too much for this lifelong Beatles fan to endure; my then-girlfriend, barely two months before my first date with the future Madame BOF, was so traumatized by his death that she practically had to be institutionalized.  Forget any remakes.
  4. “A Holly Jolly Christmas” (Burl Ives):  I’ve always loathed Ives, and—again unlike Madame BOF—wasn’t raised on the endless Rankin/Bass specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, in which he popularized this.  But I recall with crystal clarity the day when, out on the frigid porch of our old house in Bethel, this became my unofficial Christmas anthem through a complex emotional alchemy that I neither will, nor perhaps ever could, explain here.  Just trust me.
  5. “Jingle Bell Rock” (Hall & Oates):  Until recently, I would have gone by default with the 1957 Bobby Helms original.  I’m always suspicious of Christmas songs remade by pop stars (don’t even talk to me about Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town”—oy!), and Madame BOF always thought this one was done by Jon Bon Jovi, for whom I have no use.  But this year I gave it a closer listen and said, “Hey, that sounds like Daryl Hall!”  Since I am, to the endless mockery of some of my harder-edged friends, a longtime H&O fan, it has now won me over.
  6. “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (Dean Martin):  Although I prefer Dino’s singing to that of Sinatra (whom I like as an actor,  but certainly not as a man), I often find even his schmaltz-dripping renditions of Christmas songs—so brilliantly spoofed by Bob Rivers in “I’ll Be Stoned for Christmas”—too much for me.  Somehow, though, this one has endeared itself to me, possibly through a kind of Stockholm syndrome, given how often I’ve heard it on the CD and radio.
  7. “Linus and Lucy” (The Vince Guaraldi Trio):  I rank this with the James Bond and Pink Panther themes among the great compositions of the last century.  It’s become so ubiquitous, and so widely associated with Peanuts cartoons overall, that I almost omitted it.  But it was, after all, introduced onscreen in A Charlie Brown Christmas (from which “Christmas Time Is Here,” which evokes in me a unique tranquility, deserves special mention).
  8. “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree” (Brenda Lee):  Man, I just loves me that “beeowippidip” that punctuates many of the lines.  Honorable mention goes to “Shoppin’ around for a Christmas Tree,” another letter-perfect parody by Rivers; incredibly, my three favorites, rounded out by “Merry Christmas Allah,” appear back-to-back as the final three tracks of the Rivers album White Trash Christmas.
  9. “White Christmas” (Bing Crosby):  ’Nuff said…except to give honorable mention to the Drifters version and delightful animated video thereof, which I will always associate with the late Martin Kuritz, a former Viking Penguin author of mine who kept in contact, and once e-mailed it to me.  Marty, I miss you.  “…no man is a failure who has friends.”
  10. “Winter Wonderland” (Eurythmics):  This used to be a pleasant but by no means favorite tune, until I had another of those inexplicable, emotional micro-epiphanies.  Since our daughter, Alexandra, and her husband, Thomas, set up housekeeping in Washington, D.C., our new annual tradition has been to spend Thanksgiving down there with them, and I now consider our obligatory visit to Zoo Lights at the National Zoo the next day as my personal start to the Christmas season.  But one year, while the four of us were strolling through it, I heard part of this song in passing, and suddenly the Maudlin Man was totally choked up at the joy she brought to my life when she was a little girl, and the amazing woman she has become, and…oh, I can’t even explain it; never mind.  Just enjoy the song.

Quite coincidentally, we officially occupied the new house in Newtown one year ago today (well, the 20th, although I see it’s just after midnight as I post this).  Merry Christmas!

 

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