Thursday, December 1, 2016

Let It Snow, Part 1

I mentioned in a previous post that I'll be doing a fair amount of traveling during the next several weeks, which will make it difficult to post on a consistent schedule. But I'm committed to at least trying to keep up. I started this blog several years ago as a way of sharing a little background on the various songs and audio clips I include on my annual holiday music mixes. As it happens, I had extra time on my hands in each of this blog's first several seasons, which allowed me to not only discuss every track on each annual mix but to also post about a variety of related and not-so-related topics. Things were more hectic last year, and as a consequence, I wasn't even able to finish examining the various tracks on my 2015 mix, Deck Those Halls! I hope to strike a better balance this year. It's unlikely I'll be posting on topics outside of the new mix, but I'd like to at least be able to offer a word or two about each of the 37 tracks that are on it.

This evening's post is coming to you from Cleveland, following a surprisingly relaxing five-hour drive from Indianapolis, where I spent last night and most of today. The President-elect and his running mate were both just up the road from me in Indianapolis this afternoon and that's all I have to say about that just now. I wish them the best.

Let's turn now to the task at hand — a look at the tracks on my latest CD. I typically post on two or three tracks at a time, working my way from the front to the back. The tracks in each day's post are presented in reverse order so that the final list, if assembled chronologically as daily posting clusters, would yield a list in true reverse order. Please don't ask me to explain why that's important or what it even means because if I ever did know I can't recall just now. OK. let's get started!

Track 3
Coming Up Christmas Time, by the Hanna-Barbera All-Stars (1991)

The Hannah-Barbera All Stars include (front, L to R): Quick Draw McGraw, Boo Boo, Yogi Bear;and (back, L to R): Huckleberry Hound, Doggie Daddy, Augie Doggie and Snagglepuss.

Track 3 on this year's mix is a Christmas song originally written for the Hanna-Barbera television special "Casper's First Christmas." It's sung by a collection of well-known Hanna-Barbera characters while they are driving through the countryside at the beginning of the special.

The song was used again at the beginning of "Yogi's First Christmas," although in this episode, it's sung by Snagglepuss, Huckleberry, Augie, and Doggie Daddy while Ranger Smith is bringing them to the Jellystone lodge. When they sing the song again a few minutes later, it awakens Yogi and Boo Boo from their hibernation. Curiously, while the lines sung by Yogi and Quick Draw in the original version are instead sung by Huck and Doggie Daddy in this version, the audio of Boo Boo singing the line "You better bundle up, it's starting to snow again" is left unchanged, despite that he is not even taking part in the song this time.

Outside of the two Hanna-Barbera specials it was originally used in, the song has been featured in numerous holiday concerts, often as an opening number.

Track 2
From All of Us to All of You, by Jiminy Cricket and Friends (1958)
Jiminy Cricket

The second track on this year's mix features one of my very favorite Disney characters, Jiminy Cricket. As a child, I had a had a number of phonograph records with various Disney stories on them, and the one I listened to the most was the story of Pinocchio. Jiminy Cricket played a leading role in the story — in fact, I think he pretty much told the story, dfidn't he?. Of course, it's been years since I've listened to the record, but I sure remember my favorite song on it, "Give a Little Whistle":
When you get in trouble and you don't know right from wrong,
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle!
When you meet temptation and the urge is very strong,
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle!
Take the straight and narrow path, and if you start to slide,
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle . . .
And always let your conscience be your guide! 

"From All of Us to All of You" harkens back to that same era. It's the title track to a holiday television special that first aired on ABC on December 19, 1958. The original animated program was organized as a series of Christmas cards from various specific Disney characters. In subsequent years, the program was recycled and filled with additional clips to promote whatever new features Disney had planned for the coming year. In 1986, large portions of the original were repackaged and released on home video under the title "Jiminy Cricket's Christmas." Compared to most of the other titles in Disney's U.S. catalog, this feature has been largely forgotten. It remains very popular in Scandinavia, however. In Sweeden, for instance, it's still broadcast every Christmas Eve, and it continues to attract blockbuster audiences comparable to major football contests in this country. 

Track One
Introduction/Jingle Bells, The Lawrence Welk Orchestra (1972)

Among the greatest influences in my young life were my two grandmothers. Both descended from proud Yankee families that had been in New England since the early 17th century, and while they were extremely different from one another in temperament, they each flew in the face of convention by pursuing full-time careers and holding positions of significant influence. My paternal grandmother graduated from Wellesley College in the early 1920s and after a brief career as a Broadway actress traveled half-way around the world alone to teach English in China. She returned to New England after marrying an American banker, but he promptly lost everything in the Great Crash of 1929 forcing her to return to teaching to support the family. By the mid-1930s, she had become headmistress of one of New England's most prestigious preparatory schools for women, a position she held for over 25 years.My maternal grandmother toured this country for years with the famous Tony Sarg Marionette Company, and later ran a popular girls' summer camp in New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, my grandmother the headmistress was unfailingly proper and formal. My maternal grandmother, by contrast, was a little more free-wheeling. When my grandfather died in 1970, she turned his bedroom into a sort of rec room with mod-style plastic furniture, orange shag carpeting and pop art posters on the walls. Yet despite this admirably modern sensibility, she adored Lawrence Welk. No matter what else may have been happening around her, everything stopped at 8 p.m. every Saturday when Welk's "Champagne music makers" came on TV. The only time I recall her being cross with me was when my brother and I made fun of the show and its principal sponsor, Geritol. We thought Welk's schtick was hopelessly square, and we'd seen I Love Lucy's Vitameatavegimin episode often enough to have a pretty good handle on what Geritol was all about.

Of course, The Lawrence Welk Show is an easy target of ridicule. Even today, years after the death of its well-known host, Saturday Night Live routinely parodies its stale and somewhat stilted style. One of my favorite clips on YouTube features two of Welk's typically square "all-American" duos singing "One Toke Over the Line" completely oblivious to the fact that they were essentially copping to smoking trees. Welk wins points in my book, however, for his willingness to poke fun at himself. In 1969, for example, the show opened its 15th season by having Welk appear dressed as a hippie and announcing he'd had it with playing the "square" polka and champagne music that had made him famous. The change didn't last long.

I wish I could say that I've matured to become a genuine fan of Welk's style of entertainment, but frankly I still find it ridiculously saccharine for my taste. But it's certainly a valuable reflection of our nation's cultural development, as this clip clearly shows:

Here's the television version of the track that opens this year's mix:


I chose it in my grandmother's honor, and I'm confident it's an opening she's going to enjoy.

Back again soon with a beat-inspired classic from Art Carney and a short homage to one of the better-known campers from the summer camp my grandmother and godmother ran.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Hear My 2016 Holiday Mix, "Let It Snow!"

This year's holiday mix is ready and now available for streaming on my holiday music website under the tab titled "LATEST MIX." I posted it last evening along with a quickly written rant about the state of our nation and so forth, but don't worry. You can skip over all of that and simply stream the mix using thge button at the bottom of the page.

I'll be traveling for work for most of the next several weeks and will therefore have little time to post right away. But I'll do what I can and try to stay focused on the tunes that appear on this year's collection.

Stay strong, festive and hopeful, friends. There's lots of cheerful music to keep us going, and it's only a couple of quick clicks away!

Friday, November 18, 2016

We're Still Here . . . and Back for 2016!

This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving, which over the past few years has become the day I've posted my latest annual holiday mix. Well, the new one's not ready yet. Far from it. And after prematurely closing down the discussion of last year's selections without so much as a word of explanation, I figured I ought to post a quick something to let folks know that all is well at this address, and –
oh yeah – another mix is on the way. I'm not sure exactly when it will be done, but hopefully on or about December 1. We'll try to follow the same procedures as usual, and I'm hoping to find a few good tunes to help create at least some small measure of holiday cheer. As crazy as things have become in recent days, we all could use it!

Sharon L. Jones, 1956-2016

Sad news, Grammy nominated classic soul singer Sharon LaFaye Jones, whose work as lead singer for the Brooklyn-based group Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings helped kick-off a revival of the 1970s soul sound in recent years, passed away earlier today after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 60 years old.

Holiday music fans know Jones for the magical Christmas song she released several years ago, "There Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects."
Jones began her recording career relatively late in life, releasing her first record at the age of 40. But after partnering with the Dap Kings, she took to the road repeatedly and built an ever-increasing following over the past several years.
She was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, but Jones continued to record and perform whenever possible during periods of remission.
"It's therapy,'' she said in July. "I know I need rest and sleep. But I want to work and that is our job.
"You got to be brave. I want to use the time that I have. I don't want to spend it all laid up, wishing I had done that gig," she told Associated Press.
If you're not familiar with her music, check it out on amazon.com. And if you haven't heard "Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects" — or even if you have — press the play button on the box below. Sharon will be sorely missed.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Here's Your Boxing Day Horror Show for 2015: Magic Christmas Tree

Several years back, we started a perfectly awful post-holiday tradition that we thought was in keeping with the emotional angst so many of us suffer from on the day after Christmas. In many parts of the world, the 26th of December is celebrated as Boxing Day. Stores and other businesses remain closed, and people tend to stay home with their families to enjoy the good feelings kindled during the preceding two days. There's lots of laughter and fellowship and plenty of leftovers to share, and everyone benefits from an extra day away from the cares of everyday life. In our country, unfortunately, the the 26th of December typically means a trip to the mall to return the gifts we didn't like, and maybe pick up an extra helping of fried dough or something.

So, in order to coax people to at least consider staying close to home and hearth, we've taken to posting a choice holiday movie from the dreadful bin on Boxing Day – you know, a movie so bad it's good. Well, this year's selection certainly qualifies. Filmed in 1964 "on an extremely low budget," this year's feature is Magic Christmas Tree, which has been called "one of the worst and most depressing holiday films of all time."  Get ready for this year's Boxing Day Horror Show:

UPDATE (8/4/16):  Apologies, but the full film is no longer available on YouTube. Neither is the trailer. But the good folks at RiffTrax have posted a clip on YouTube, which I've embedded below to at least give you small taste of what you missed. If you're up for a slightly larger serving, a longer clip is apparently available on Hulu backed by their typically snarky commentary, which you can hopefully see HERE. 

Haven't had enough horror for one day?

Watch Last Year's Horror Show, "Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny"

Watch Our First Boxing Day Horror Show, "Santa Claus"