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A #ChristmasSongOfTheDay Part Four

December 25, 2018 4 comments

So here it is, Merry Christmas….no, wait, not that one please! Don’t worry, in keeping with the rest of Advent only two of my final set of eight choices for the remaining seven days have been chart hits. That makes a total of five out of twenty six, but I make no apologies – if you really want them the usual suspects can be found on every Christmas playlist on every streaming service! Having said that, this final set contains several of my own usual suspects, but they are so good that they deserve to be heard.

For the 19th I gave you one which I’ve featured for all five years that I have done this. It is clearly a favourite of mine, and displays my folkie roots. Kate Rusby is a folk singer-songwriter from Yorkshire, in the north of England. Her shows are full of lovely music and warm, friendly repartee, as I’ve been fortunate enough to witness. She comes from an area with a strong tradition of sharing Christmas songs and has to date released four albums of them. This is the title track from the first of those, and is accompanied by a lovely animated video – the singer in it is a very good likeness of Kate:

I went across the pond for the 20th. Continuing my choices of female singer-songwriters, I selected one from Shawn Colvin’s album Holiday Songs And Lullabies – sorry, my American friends, but I really don’t get your reluctance to call this by its proper name of ‘Christmas,’ as I said here. Again, this one is accompanied by an unofficial video, which complements the song well:

On the 21st – the Winter Solstice – I took a slightly different approach. This isn’t an obvious Christmas song, but a modern variation on the theme of a special baby with mystical powers. It seemed an appropriate choice to mark Yule:

Returning to Christian traditions on the 22nd I chose this one. I’ve seen the band perform this live and it is a magical moment. There is a video on YouTube of them from a 2004 concert DVD but I chose this version: it is the one they originally released in 1972 on their Below The Salt album, and the voice of Tim Hart can be clearly heard. Tim, sadly, died of cancer on Christmas Eve 2009, at the age of 61, and I selected this to pay my respects to him:

It being Sunday on the 23rd I kept to my habit of sharing a carol. This one is very well known and there are many versions to choose from. This, by the amazing Sinead O’Connor, is my favourite by miles, and the video is superb too:

My choice for Christmas Eve has been the same for all five years. For me, this is an absolute no-brainer and the fact that it is a lovely song helps no end! Mindy Smith deserves to be more widely known: she released five albums between 2004 and 2012, one of which – My Holiday – was a seasonal (ie. Christmas) album, and this song is from her most recent release, an EP entitled Snowed In, from 2013. Her website gives no details of any upcoming performances so it appears that she may have ‘retired’ from music – I hope not, and live in hope as she has recently been active on Twitter and Facebook. This is beautiful:

And finally to today. If you’re actually reading this on Christmas Day I thank you for being here and sharing this with me. If not, there is nothing wrong with catching up! There does seem to be a subtext of my liking for female singer-songwriters showing through my choices: this is another whom I’ve been lucky enough to see perform live, and I recommend her highly if you get the chance. She has a beautifully warm voice which is so well suited to her songs. This one is from her album Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs Of Christmas. For me this is the absolutely perfect choice for Christmas Day. Merry Christmas!

Ah, hold on. I promised you eight songs for this final compilation and if you care to count back you’ll see there have only been seven so far. I know it’s cheating, but I think I can be forgiven for adding in a bonus song for Christmas Day. This one has been a chart hit many times, including this year, but has never been the Christmas Number One – a criminal oversight by the British record-buying public, to my eyes. Even in the first year of release it only made number two, kept off the top spot by the Pet Shop Boys’ wilful destruction of a Willie Nelson song. I really think we should have tried harder! You *may* have heard this one before:

So that’s it for another year. I hope you have enjoyed my choices, especially those which may have been new to you. I do try and steer as far clear of the charts as I can, and my disappointment is that I have to leave out so many other good songs. If you are interested, my YouTube playlist is ever growing, currently standing at around 120 songs (including some alternative versions) and can be found here.

Thank you for following, reading, liking and commenting on my posts. As another year draws to a close, I marvel yet again at the wonders of modern technology that allow us to communicate like this, and to share our thoughts, hopes, dreams and, in my case, our love of music. On which point, something new for me: I will be sharing on Twitter and my Facebook page a ‘new year’ song each day from tomorrow up until New Year’s Day, when I will return here with a compilation post of these, for those who won’t have seen each daily offering as they happen. I hope you’ll join me again then.

Merry Christmas, and a very Happy New Year!

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A #ChristmasSongOfTheDay Part Two

December 12, 2018 22 comments

As promised, here is the second compilation of Christmas songs which I have been posting each day on Twitter and on the Facebook page for my blog (usual plug – eyes right!). This also marks the day when I swap to a temporary Christmas theme for the blog – rather in keeping with the generally happy and festive posts I’m sharing this month (back to the usual misery in January!).

We all have our favourites and it would be very easy for me to post the same songs every year. Whilst the majority of this year’s selection have indeed featured at least once before in the four previous years in which I’ve done this, it’s always good to find something new. Sometimes these can arise from deliberate searches for artists on YouTube – often to see if there is a video for something I’ve heard on Apple Music – and on other occasions I just stumble into them! Day 7 was a case in point. This was someone of whom I’d never heard before, but I was rather taken by this one. It ranks at the Stinking Bishop end of cheesiness but is so much fun that I had to include it:

I was intrigued to learn more about Si Cranstoun, so I consulted the oracle – Google – which led me to a short Wikipedia article. What an interesting character! He had apparently been in ska and fifties revival bands, and had been a busker too, for twenty years before getting his first record deal a few years back. He has since made several albums of fifties-influenced songs, and his sheer exuberance deserves to win him a bigger audience – I hope he finds it, because his music is so much more fun than the dross we get on the radio nowadays! There are a number of other videos of him on YouTube, including some from his busking days, so do check him out if you enjoyed this one.

As the 8th was a Saturday, when many would no doubt have been braving the high street in search of Christmas goodies, I thought I’d choose something appropriate to help them on their way. Or maybe not! Tom Lehrer was a consummate writer and performer of satirical songs, and his Christmas offering is a little gem:

Lehrer only wrote 37 songs and performed just 109 times in a twenty year musical career – his day job was as a mathematics professor – but his fame and recognition grew slowly as people told each other about him. He once described it as having spread ‘like herpes, rather than Ebola’ which gives you an idea of his wit and style! He has long since retired from his ‘proper’ career as well as his sideline, but is apparently still enjoying life at the grand old age of 90. I fear that his style is unlikely to be popular today but he was rather good with words: try I Hold Your Hand In Mine or Poisoning Pigeons In The Park and you’ll see what I mean! Maybe we could get a Lehrer revival going, though I dread to think what he’d write about modern day politics on both sides of the Atlantic!

I usually try to post something more relaxed or traditional for a Sunday, like a carol, for instance. I’ve not shared this one before but it seemed to tick all of the boxes for day 9:

I’ve long been a fan of Alison Krauss – she has a beautiful voice and her brand of bluegrass music is very much to my liking. She has made several sorties into other types of music – notably on Raising Sand, the album she made with Robert Plant, formerly the lead singer of Led Zeppelin. That album won five Grammy awards – just a few of the twenty seven she has won to date! I also enjoy classical crossover as a genre, and this is a perfect example of the blending of styles that seems to come naturally to great musicians.

I marked day 10 with a bit of silliness from the best band I’ve ever seen live. Sadly, they split up in 2016, after more than ten years of making hugely enjoyable music and performing some occasionally outrageous live shows – their anti-Valentine’s Day show several years ago is still the only folk music gig I’ve attended where burlesque dancers were part of the show! This song made the BBC Radio 2 playlist on release, but didn’t trouble the charts – a pity, as it would have livened them up a bit. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the inimitable Bellowhead:

No one sleeps while they’re on!

Although, as I’ve said, I try to avoid chart hits – and my musical taste doesn’t really include many of them anyway – I do make the odd notable exception. This one, which I posted for day 11, is from one of my many favourite bands. It goes back to the 1970s when it seemed that everyone was making a Christmas record, many of dubious and variable quality. This is, I think, the only one of Jethro Tull’s three Christmas singles that charted, and they also recorded an entire album of seasonal music. I love this song, and this special promotional video that was made to accompany it on TV fits it perfectly:

And finally, for Part Two of this compilation, here is the song I posted today:

I bought the Band’s first album, Music From Big Pink, when it was first released, and played it to the point where the vinyl was almost transparent! There was just something about them, the songs they wrote, and the plaintive rawness of their performance that really got to me. This song was released on their album Islands in 1977, and typifies so much of what I like about them. There is a beauty and simplicity in the lyrics and the laid back musicianship that, to me, are very fitting for a Christmas song, and this seems a good point at which to conclude my Part Two. I’ll be back again next Tuesday with Part Three and hope to see you again then. In the meantime, you can see and hear each day’s song on my Facebook page and my Twitter feed, if you’d like to keep up to date – just click the links to the right if you don’t already follow me on either or both. If you do you’ll also see posts shared from my Instagram #AdventCalendar, though maybe the less said about that the better!

I hope your pre-Christmas is going well, and look forward to seeing you again next time.

A #ChristmasSongOfTheDay Part One

December 6, 2018 15 comments

You may have noticed that my blog’s tagline includes the phrase ‘with occasional music,’ and you may also have noticed that I have made the odd post or several on this theme. I think I’m now in the fourth year – or maybe the fifth, time flies – of posting a Christmas song on Twitter and Facebook every day in December, leading up to two on Christmas Day itself. This year, for the first time, I’m sharing them with my newish Facebook page for this blog (obligatory plug – please feel free to hit the ‘like’ button on the widget thingy to the right), as well as Twitter, of course. Last year, I began posting them here too, in several chunks rather than daily, and as it went tolerably well I thought I’d do it again. You may have seen last year’s posts: if so, I’m relying on your memory being poor, as a number of these songs have featured before! So, welcome to Part One of 2018’s imaginatively titled #ChristmasSongOfTheDay.

One of the things I try to avoid with my choices is falling back on the usual suspects. There are many very good Christmas songs which have done little or nothing on the pop charts, and those are probably more to my musical tastes anyway. So, if you’re looking for Slade, Mud, Wham etc kindly move along now – nothing for you to see here! Having said that, I do make a few honourable exceptions, and the song I’ve started with each year is one of those. This has been one of my favourites since it was a massive hit in 1970, and was written as a message against the rampant commercialisation of Christmas. Nearly fifty years later that message is just as relevant, if not more so:

For December Sundays I try to choose something reflective, maybe a little more serious than some of my other choices which, as you will see, can be a little raucous! This year, my first Sunday choice was this one, with a beautiful video to accompany it:

I’ve loved Jackson Browne’s music ever since I first heard it, around the time I went to university – 1972. You may know of him as the co-writer of the song from which my blog takes his name, and I rate him very highly as a singer-songwriter. I was lucky enough to see him play live in 2010, at London’s Royal Albert Hall, and he didn’t disappoint. And yes, he did play Take It Easy!

Another longstanding favourite of mine is John Mellencamp (aka John Cougar, Johnny Cougar, John Cougar Mellencamp). This was my choice for Day 3: it is a live concert performance of a Christmas pop classic and, whilst other versions have been chart hits, this one wasn’t – although it does appear on a benefit album, A Very Special Christmas, which was released to support Special Olympics International Inc. This performance is typically boisterous and features a cameo by his then three year old daughter Teddi, who rather steals the show at the end.  The ‘proud Dad’ look on his face is lovely and, thirty or so years on, I hope she is as proud of this as he clearly is:

Continuing in rowdy mode into Day 4 I chose a song and video which encapsulate all the joys of a family Christmas. Or maybe not. You may not be familiar with the Dropkick Murphys but do watch this – the song is great, and the video is a hoot:

Something a little calmer for Day 5? OK, here you go – well, to begin with, anyway. Walk Off The Earth have made their career on the back of a whole raft of very creative videos, both cover versions and their own songs. If you like this, and haven’t come across them before, you can find loads more to watch on YouTube. Again, this is a Christmas pop standard which has featured in the charts, notably in the ‘duet’ by Bing Crosby and David Bowie. WOTE’s take on it is a little different:

The final song in this selection is the one I posted earlier today. Anyone with an interest in rock/folk/pop music will be aware of the Nobel Prize winner Mr Robert Zimmerman. But you may not be familiar with the album of Christmas songs he released in 2009: Christmas In The Heart. This is one of the tracks on that album, and shows a side of him you probably won’t have seen before:

That’s all for today, folks. There are so many songs to choose from, and I’m already afraid that I’m going to have to leave out some of my favourites. Oh well, there’s always next year. I’ll be back on Wednesday with songs 7 to 12 and I hope to see you again then. Do please let me know in the comments if there are any songs you would like me to include. I’m always open to suggestions: but be warned, I can always ignore them, unless they are very good, of course!

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