A Short Holiday Hiatus

Tonight I’m leaving for Germany to spend Christmas with my parents. Therefore, I’ve decided to put the blog on a short hiatus until my return close to the new year. In lieu of Song Musings, my weekly feature looking at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date, I’m republishing a post that first appeared recently on Dave’s blog A Sound Day as part of his fun Turntable Talk series. The topic was perfect for this time of the year: “Songs of the Season”, i.e., writing about a Christmas/holiday song the invited participants love and why it has meaning to them. Following is what I contributed.

Once again, I’m happy to share my thoughts for Turntable Talk – thanks, Dave, for keeping this great feature going and inviting me back.

When I received the notification with the topic, it immediately took me back to my years growing up in Germany. I have fond memories of Christmas, which was a pretty big deal in my family.

For many years, we (my parents, my six-year-older sister and I) drove to Heidelberg to gather at my grandma’s (from my mom’s side) house. My dad picked up his parents, who also lived in Heidelberg, and we all celebrated Christmas eve (December 24) together.

The old town of Heidelberg with the Old Bridge over the river Neckar and the Heidelberg castle on the hill

Every year, my grandma got a Christmas tree – a relatively small but real tree with real candles – nothing like the scent of wax candles! On many occasions, my sister and I got to decorate the tree. While working we listened to my favorite mainstream radio station where they played song requests from listeners. Apart from straight pop songs, there were many, typically modern Christmas songs, such as John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War Is Over), Chuck Berry’s Run Rudolph Run and Wham’s Last Christmas.

Christmas songs weren’t limited to the radio. My grandparents liked to sing traditional Christmas carols on December 24 in the evening before we exchanged Christmas presents. This was preceded by my dad lighting the candles on the Christmas tree and switching off all other lights in the room. It was a festive atmosphere I enjoyed, especially as a small child. I was also full of anticipation about opening presents, which would follow the singing!😊

This brings me to my Christmas song pick. There are many Christmas tunes I like, both traditional carols and modern Christmas songs. For this post, I decided to select a traditional Christmas carol performed by what I think probably is the best vocal group I know: Silent Night by The Temptations.

Composed in 1818 by Austrian church organist and composer Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr, an Austrian Roman Catholic priest and writer, Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht became a popular Christmas carol. It was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St. Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village in the Austrian Empire on the Salzach river in present-day Austria. In 1859, the Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, then serving at Trinity Church in New York City, wrote and published the English translation that is most frequently sung today, translated from three of Mohr’s original six verses.

Silent Night has appeared in various films and television specials. It has also been recorded by numerous artists, such as Nat King Cole, Percy Sledge, Elvis Presley, Mariah Carey and, of course, The Temptations. The mighty-sounding vocal group from Detroit included it on their second Christmas album Give Love At Christmas, released in August 1980.

In addition to being a beautiful song with an outstanding vocal rendition by The Temptations, Silent Night (Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht) has a special meaning to me. It is one of the carols my family and I used to sing each Christmas eve back in Germany.

Before signing off temporarily, if you celebrate it, Merry Christmas. If you don’t, have a great time anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

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Musings of the Past

Making Your Christmas Groove

It’s been about seven weeks since the last Musings of the Past, a feature that roughly runs once a month where I revisit previous posts published at a time when this blog was in its younger days. I guess I missed November! With the holiday season being in full swing, I thought this would be an opportune moment to republish a post from December 2017, which featured a variety of modern Christmas songs from various music genres. The Spotify playlist at the end wasn’t in the original post.

Making Your Christmas Groove

A list to get you into the mood for that most wonderful time of the year

When I was looking back at previous posts on the blog, I came across a list of Christmas rock, soul, rap and pop tunes I had put together last year [December 2016 – CMM]. For the most part, I still stand behind it and thought it would be fitting to publish a slightly updated version.

One of the things I liked to do during the Christmas holiday while growing up in Germany many moons ago was to listen to my favorite radio station, which was then called SWF III. At that time of the year, the DJs would frequently play song requests from listeners.

Not surprisingly, Christmas pop and rock songs were high in demand. Some of these tunes became seasonal anthems, such as Wham’s Last Christmas, Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time and Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas. Okay, maybe these are not the most compelling examples, but these tunes come to mind first when I think about those times.

Some folks may cringe at the thought of pop and rock artists dressing up as Santa and performing Christmas songs, whether they are covers of traditional tunes or new songs with holiday themes. Others may get cynical about music artists and record companies suddenly discovering Jesus and Santa when people conveniently are willing to spend insane amounts of money on Christmas presents. I get all of that and being cynical about it is not unfounded.

I still think there are some great Christmas rock and pop songs that have come out over the years – in fact, make that over the decades! Plus, let’s be honest, while many traditional Christmas tunes have beautiful melodies, they don’t exactly groove. I don’t know about you, but I like listening to music that makes me want to get up and move – by the way, probably not such a bad thing during the holiday season when many folks like to indulge on food and drink. So how about rockin’ and rollin’ off that of these extra calories!

Below are clips of some of my favorite Christmas rock and pop tunes in no particular order: From John Lennon’s haunting Happy Xmas (War Is Over) to Chuck Berry’s rockin’ & rollin’ Run Rudolph Run to Run-D.M.C.’s cool rap Christmas in Hollis to AC/DC’s hard-charging Mistress For Christmas to a fantastic live version of Feliz Navidad with José Feliciano and Daryl Hall to the unforgettable James Brown and his funky Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto, these tunes come in many different genres!

John Lennon/Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (1971)

Chuck Berry/Run Rudolph Run (1958)

The Pogues/Fairytale Of New York (1987)

Run-D.M.C./Christmas In Hollis (1987)

AC/DC/Mistress For Christmas (1990)

José Feliciano & Daryl Hall/Feliz Navidad (2010)

James Brown/Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto (1968)

Otis Redding/Merry Christmas Baby (posthumous, 1968)

The Ravers/(It’s Gonna Be) A Punk Rock Christmas (1978)

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band/Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (2007)

– End –

The original post, which was published on December 21, 2017, ended here. And, yes, I kept Springsteen’s version of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, even though I snarkily commented the other day this tune has been overexposed – oh, well, it was part of the original post. Plus, it’s certainly not terrible!

The Spotify playlist is an addition. Instead of The Ravers, it features a rendition of It’s Gonna Be A Punk Rock Christmas by UK pop punk band Majorettes. Feliz Navidad is the studio version José Feliciano recorded in 1970, not the live performance with Daryl Hall captured in the clip. The playlist also includes some additional tunes. Season’s Greetings!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Aw, The ’80s (Part 1: 1980-1984)

A two-part feature looking back at music of the decade

I’ve mentioned my weak spot for ’80s music on a few previous occasions. My taste has since evolved, and I now find myself wondering more often than not how I could have liked certain songs as much as I did back then. Well, obviously, I was a lot younger (though of course, I’m still young at heart!), and that music was all around me. It also triggers memories of school, parties, the first vacations with friends (and without my parents or any adults for that matter), the first hangover…in other words, it really was the soundtrack of growing up – okay, call me a sentimental fool!

This morning, I rode the car with my wife and put on Duran Duran’s Rio album – she loves ’80s, so it was all her fault! 🙂 Anyway, listening to this 1982 record gave me the idea to reflect on music and some related events from that decade. Since it’s a big topic, I figured it would be best to divide my thoughts in two parts. Obviously, it’s still not possible to make this all-inclusive, so I’m going to be arbitrary and selective, focusing on things that are meaningful to me. Here’s part I spanning 1980 to 1984.

Prince_Purple Rain

Some of the first things that come to my mind when thinking about the ’80s are Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, the death of disco, new wave, the advent of the CD, hair metal bands and Live Aid. Of course, I could add many other buzz words, e.g., music videos. At the time, we didn’t have cable or satellite television at my house back in Germany, so I missed out on MTV and VH1. In fact, believe or not, it wasn’t until 1993 when I first came to the U.S. that I watched VH1 and kind of got hooked, especially on their Behind The Music documentaries. For some reason, I never warmed to MTV.

1980

Some of the events I’d like to call out are Paul McCartney’s arrest in Tokyo for marijuana possession, which resulted in the cancellation of the remaining Wings tour that year (Jan 16); launch of Pink Floyd’s The Wall tour in Los Angeles (Feb 7); release of Back In Black, AC/DC’s first album with Brian Johnson who had replaced original lead vocalist Bon Scott (Jul 25); death of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham (Sep 25); and murder of John Lennon who was shot by deranged Mark David Chapman in front of his Manhattan residence after returning from the recording studio with Yoko Ono (Dec 8).

The biggest hit singles of the year were Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) (Pink Floyd), Woman In Love (Barbara Streisand), (Just Like) Starting Over (John Lennon), Funkytown (Lipps) and Upside Down (Diana Ross). I dug all of these songs at the time. While from today’s perspective my favorite is the Lennon tune, the track I’d like to highlight in a clip is Call Me by Blondie. Co-written by Debbie Harry and producer Giorgio Moroder (remember that guy?), the song was released as a single in February that year and was also included on the soundtrack for the 1980 picture American Gigolo. It became the band’s biggest hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100, as well as the charts in the U.K. and Canada, and scoring in the top 20 in many other countries.

1981

Notable events include the release of Face Value, the first solo album by Phil Collins – like it or not, the Genesis drummer was just everywhere in the ’80s – with Genesis and solo! (Feb 9); first break-up of Yes (Apr 18) only to reunite less than two years later and release their biggest-selling album 90125; U2’s television debut in the U.S. on the NBC late night program The Tomorrow Show (Jun 4); official launch of MTV in New York (Aug 1); Simon & Garfunkel’s free reunion concert in the Big Apple’s Central Park, drawing more than 500,000 visitors – no disputes over crowd attendance here! (Sep 9 ); and Rod Stewart show at Los Angeles Forum, broadcast live via satellite and watched by an estimated 35 million people worldwide – the first such broadcast since Elvis Presley’s 1973 Aloha From Hawaii special.

The top 5 hit singles of the year were Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes), Tainted Love (Soft Cell), In The Air Tonight (Phil Collins), Woman (John Lennon) and Stars On 45 Medley (Stars On 45). Again, to me the Lennon tune holds up the best, though I also still like Bette Davis Eyes and have to admit In The Air Tonight is kind of cool. Even though I feel I’ve been over-exposed to Collins, I admit he’s done some good songs. Here’s a clip of Down Under by Men At Work. Co-written by Colin Hay and Ron Strykert, and released in October, the song was the second single from the band’s debut album Business As Usual that appeared the following month. It was cool then, and I still dig this tune.

1982

Perhaps most notably, the year saw the debut of Madonna with Everybody (Oct 2), the lead single from her first eponymous 1983 studio record, as well as the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album (Nov 30), which remains the world’s best-selling record to date. Some of the other events include the death of comedian and Blues Brothers vocalist John Belushi (March 5); premiere of Pink Floyd – The Wall, a film adaptation of the band’s 1979 album with the same title, at the Cannes Film Festival in France; and start of CD mass production by Dutch technology company and disc co-inventor Philips in Langenhagen near Hanover, Germany (Aug 17).

Eye Of The Tiger (Survivor), Down Under (Men At Work), I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll (Joan Jett & The Blackhearts), Come On Eileen (Dexys Midnight Runners) and Ebony And Ivory (Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson) were the biggest hit singles that year. Below is a clip of Come On Eileen, which appeared as a single in June. Co-written by Kevin Rowland, Jim Paterson and Billy Adams, the song was also included on the band’s second studio album Too-Rye-Ay, released the following month. I always found it cool how the catchy tune blended elements of Celtic folk with pop music.

1983

On March 2, CDs started to go on sale in the U.S., following their initial release in Japan the previous October. Some of the year’s other events in music include the debut of Let’s Spend The Night Together in New York, a film documenting the 1981 North American tour of The Rolling Stones (Feb 11); release of U2’s third studio album War, which debuts at no. 1 in the U.K. and features their first international hit single New Year’s Day (Feb 28); release of David Bowie’s commercially most successful studio album Let’s Dance (Apr 14); unveiling of Kiss’s faces without their make-up for the first time on MTV (Sep 18) – yes, I do seem to recall that seeing their actual faces was a pretty big deal at the time!; and Quiet Riot’s Metal Health, the first heavy metal album to top the Billboard 200 (Nov 26).

The biggest hit singles of the year: Karma Chameleon (Culture Club); Billie Jean (Michael Jackson); Flashdance…What A Feeling (Irene Cara); Let’s Dance (David Bowie) and Every Breath You Take (The Police). Did I have all these songs? You betcha – in fact, I still do, mostly somewhere on music cassettes! Here’s Billie Jean, written by the King of Pop himself, and released as the second single from the Thriller album in January 1983.

1984

Some of the happenings in the music world that year: Announcement from BBC Radio 1 DJ Mike Read of this refusal to play Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood due to its suggestive lyrics (Jan 11), a ban that was put in place by the entire BBC around the same time – in a clear illustration that something forbidden oftentimes tends to make it more attractive, only 10 days later, the tune stood a no. 1 on the Official Singles Chart in the UK; death of one of the greatest soul artists, Marvin Gaye, who following an argument was killed by his own father with a gun he had given to him as a Christmas present the previous year (Apr 1); release of Prince’s sixth studio album Purple Rain (Jun 25), the soundtrack to the 1984 film of the same name – one of his most successful records and the third-best-selling soundtrack album of all time, exceeding more than 25 million copies sold worldwide; and the first annual MTV Music Awards held in New York, where Madonna raised some eyebrows with a racy performance of Like A Virgin (Sep 14) – Madonna being controversial?

The biggest hit singles of 1984 were Careless Whisper (George Michael), I Just Called To Say I Love You (Stevie Wonder), Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (Wham!), Girls Just Want To Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper) and Relax (Frankie Goes To Hollywood). Since I was a good boy and never listened to Relax and Like A Virgin, here’s a clip of Borderline, a song from Madonna’s debut record. On a more serious note, the tune that was written by producer Reggie Lucas still is one of my favorite Madonna songs. It became the album’s fifth and last single released in February 1984, peaking at no. 2 in the U.K. and reaching no. 10 in the U.S., less successful than the scandalous Like A Virgin!

Stay tuned for part 2, which will cover the period from 1985 to 1989.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube