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Songs of the Season: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

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Some classical music with no obvious, overt connection to the holiday has nonetheless become associated with Christmas over the years—at least in the United States. Bach has a Christmas Oratorio, but his choral movement known as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” also seems to have become something of a Christmas tune (as well as a popular piece for weddings).

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is the English title of the 10th movement of the cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147 composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. A transcription by the English pianist Myra Hess (1890–1965) was published in 1926 for piano solo and in 1934 for piano duet.[1] The British organist Peter Hurford made his organ transcription for the chorale movement as well. Today, it is often performed at wedding ceremonies slowly and reverently, in defiance of the effect suggested by Bach in his original scoring,[2] for voices with trumpet, oboes, strings, and continuo. Written during his first year in Leipzig, Germany, this chorale movement is one of Bach’s most enduring works. (via Wikipedia.)

It is, or at least can be, stately, beautiful, serious but also full of joy. You can see why people like it for occasions such as weddings and Christmas. The Windham Hill version is pretty much my favorite version as a “holiday” song:

David Qualey, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” – from A Winter’s Solstice

The numerous other versions available can vary greatly in appeal:

Sarah Brightman also included a version on her album, A Winter Symphony.

For more…

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Song of the Day: Pump It Up, Elvis Costello

Music for cooking to… (I’m doing a roast chicken, but also making some hummus and dahl for lunches.)

Elvis Costello, “Pump It Up” – from This Year’s Model (1978)

This Year’s Model was Costello’s second album, and the first  he recorded with The Attractions. The song marries the twin pleasures of blasting tunes and tossing off.

And here is a great video for the song, which I’d never seen before:

For more…

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Funk for Friday: Curtis Mayfield, Superfly

So obvious there doesn’t seem any point in spinning it. So funky there is no way not to.

Curtis Mayfield, “Superfly” – from Superfly-The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

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Funk for Friday: Sly & The Family Stone, If You Want Me to Stay

The Washington Post recently published an opinion piece arguing that the Kennedy Center should honor Sly & The Family Stone:

There’s no band more deserving. Sly and the Family Stone’s multi-race, mixed-gender lineup epitomized the social idealism of 1960s America, and the group’s protest songs melted genres with a funky, euphoric electricity that has never been matched.
via Kennedy Center should honor Sly and Family Stone, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell – The Washington Post.

Of course I agree, and I was particularly pleased to see the emphasis on Sly’s melding of genres, and of races.  Musical genres in general seem to have metastasized in recent years in a seemingly endless proliferation of variations of house-this, garage-that and most especially indie- and alternative-everything.  But the barrier between black and white still seems to me to remain fairly strong. Look at the faces of the alternative and indie crowd, of the bands (in whatever increasingly fine-grained genre they have been sorted) and to a somewhat lesser extent their fans.

On the other side, R&B – by whatever name it is going by – also still seems fairly unmixed, though perhaps less so than rock, depending on how you define it.  Britain seems to regularly throw out soul singers of often tremendous talent who happen to be white. Amy Winehouse is of course the obvious example, but there’s also Adele – currently topping charts all over (and check out her NPR Tiny Desk concert) – and Duffy, who made a big splash a couple of years back with the single “Mercy” from her album Rockferry.

Leaving aside international hip hop, the R&B and rock scenes in the US seem less multiracial now than they promised to be back in the 1970s, when you had bands like Sly and War.  Of course, I could be completely wrong – there are so many bands out there doing so much that it is impossible to keep up with it all these days.  But when you look at what is big and obvious, you don’t see too many bands like Sly & The Family Stone. So this is kind of my pet peeve and I won’t keep flogging it, at least right now, but rather dish up the track I am spinning, that’s got me grinning, just at the moment.

Sly & The Family Stone, “If You Want Me to Stay” – from Fresh (1973)

Coming as it did on the heels of the utterly whacked There’s a Riot Goin’ On, 1973′s Fresh surprised a lot of Sly fans by actually living up to its name. The weariness and paranoia of Riot are totally missing in action, replaced by a relaxed optimism that seems to shine from every note of tracks like “If You Want Me to Stay” and “In Time.” The band–newly buttressed by the rhythm section of Rusty Allen and Andy Newmark–plays it loose and funky, and Sly’s oddball sense of humor resurfaces on a cover of Doris Day’s “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).” Sadly, Sly would never again make a record even half as fresh as Fresh.

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Song of the Day: “Foux du Fafa” by Flight of the Conchords

In honor of all the French accents heard around San Francisco this last week…

Flight of the Conchords, “Foux du Fafa” – from Flight Of The Conchords

Okay, that’s perhaps not entirely fair to the French visitors here in San Francisco, who make the place seem a bit more classy somehow.  So maybe…

Françoise Hardy, “Soir De Gala” – from Tant De Belles Choses

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Funk for Friday: Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul, (I Got) So Much Trouble in my Mind

Another one-hit wonder / cult classic:

Joe Quarterman & Free Soul, “(I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind” – from their self-titled album (1973)

“So Much Trouble” is one of the best funk songs of the 1970s. I think we need a new category – for one-hit wonders that are supremely awesome and among the best songs around.

And check out the Funky16Corners Friday Flashback podcast– F16 Radio v.15 So Much Trouble featuring “So Much Trouble” as the opening track

For more…

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Songs of the Season: In the Bleak Midwinter

Winter Solstice – the longest night, hinge of the year…

Considered one of the finest carols by choirmasters and choral experts, this song is not so well-known by the general public, at least here in United States – but it’s one of my favorites, and the version from Windham Hill’s “Winter’s Solstice” series is particularly fine, one of the absolute gems on those collections …

Pierce Pettis, “In the Bleak Midwinter” – from A Winter’s Solstice III

While I like that very much and it is where I first recall hearing “In the Bleak Midwinter,” there are a huge number of other versions out there. Some of the artists who’ve covered this carol in versions that are available now include: James Taylor, Indigo Girls, Shawn Colvin, Loreena McKennitt, King’s College Choir, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, The Moody Blues, John Fahey, Julie Andrews… and the list goes on. Read the rest of this entry »

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Songs of the Season: All I Want for Christmas is You

Olivia Olson, “All I Want for Christmas is You” – from Love Actually (2003)

A modern classic?

Perhaps – I don’t know. It doesn’t feel that Christmasy to me. It takes more than references to the holiday and some jingling bells to make a real Christmas song. For me there are two main kinds of Christmas songs: those that capture the magic and mystery of the solstice, of the darkness and the lights, of the cold and the firelight and hearth- and heart- warming of foods, fire, family and friends; and those that are associated with the holiday through long-standing traditions.

The latter include all those songs we heard as children, including the ones from holiday movies and TV specials – songs like “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the ones in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The former can be found in some of the better of the Windham Hill collections, among other places.

Since “All I Want for Christmas is You” featured prominently in that feel-good holiday film Love Actually (and in its promotional campaign), perhaps it has or will have that same quality for people in their teens and twenties. Will they feel about it in twenty years the same way my friends and I feel about “Linus and Lucy”? Perhaps… I kind of hope not – it just seems too pop and too commercial. And you could never sing it while caroling… But like “Winter Wonderland” and some of the other peppier, poppier holiday songs, it’s fine to get you in the mood for shopping, skating, wassailing.

The song was written and originally recorded by Mariah Carey and released by her as a single in 1994.

For more…

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Songs of the Season: A Holly Jolly Christmas

Burl Ives provides the voice of the narrator, Sam the Snowman, on the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special, and also sings both the title song and another tune written by Johnny Marks just for the show, “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” which has became a Christmas standard in its own right:

And here’s another version by Ives: “A Holly Jolly Christmas”

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Songs of the Season: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

This must be just about the most popular Christmas song in the United States – certainly the one that pretty much everyone knows all the words to. And pretty much everyone has done a version of it:

Gene Autry, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” (Gene Autry was the “Singing Cowboy”)

Jack Johnson, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”

Chris Isaak, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”

The Temptations, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” – from A Motown Christmas

Ella Fitzgerald, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”

Ray Charles, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”

Dean Martin, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”

More recently, Destiny’s Child did a funked up version of this Christmas classic, with an accompanying video that integrates them into the 1964 TV special:

But here’s the thing – this song epitomizes the commercialization of Christmas:

Robert L. May created Rudolph in 1939 as an assignment for Montgomery Ward. The retailer had been buying and giving away coloring books for Christmas every year and it was decided that creating their own book would save money. In its first year of publication, 2.4 million copies of Rudolph’s story were distributed by Montgomery Ward. The story is written as a poem in the meter of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”. (via Wikipedia.)

Created by a department store/catalog company as a way to make more money during Christmas, and visually best known through a TV special. It’s a manufactured tradition – made to order, literally. And yet it does seem to have become part of our Christmas thing, at least here in the United States. And the song has become one of those pieces of general knowledge – every kid seems to know it, even if they’ve never seen that special. Still, I love it less for knowing its department store origins.

For more…

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Songs of the Season: Angels We Have Heard On High

Everyone knows this tune – it’s another Christmas standard – but I have to confess I didn’t know the title of the song, and the only words I really knew were those most obvious ones from the chorus – that whole “Gloria / In Excelsis Deo” bit.

The song reportedly evolved out of a Christmas custom in southern France, where shepherds tending their flocks on Christmas would call out across the hills “Gloria in excelsis Deo, Gloria in excelsis Deo!” in celebration of Jesus’ birth.

The words of the song are based on a traditional French carol known as Les Anges dans nos campagnes (literally, “Angels in our countryside”) composed by an unknown author in Languedoc, France. That song has received many adjustments or alignments including its most common English version that was translated in 1862 by James Chadwick, the Roman Catholic bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, north east England. The carol quickly became popular in the West Country, where it was described as ‘Cornish’ by R.R. Chope, and featured in Pickard-Cambridge’s Collection of Dorset Carols.

There is also a Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) translation of the carol which is known as Ainglean chuala sinn gu h-ard (literally, “Angels We Have Heard on High”). This was translated into Gaelic by Iain MacMilan from James Chadwick’s English translation. (via Wikipedia.)

It’s nice. I’ve got a kind of rocking version by The Brian Seltzer Orchestra that I sort of appreciate for novelty value, and also a version from some Celtic Christmas album, but the version I’m listening to right now, which I genuinely like is by Robert Goulet. Go figure.

Robert Goulet and Carol Lawrence, “Angels We Have Heard On High” – from Treasury of Christmas Music

Windham Hill Artists, “Angels We Have Heard On High” – from A Winter’s Solstice V

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Songs of the Season: Jingle Bells

Certainly one of the most widely known and popular (in the United States) of all Christmas songs. Sing along:

(This YouTube video – which bills itself as the “Original Jingle Bells Animation Clip” – includes clips from a variety of sources, including animated cartoons, Christmas movies and TV shows, with karaoke-style sing along lyrics overlaid. It’s quite well done, I think.)

I’ve got versions of “Jingle Bells” from a whole bunch of artists, though predictably more from the jazz and pop side of things than classical, folk or Celtic musicians. Even David Hasselhoff of “Bay Watch” recorded it (ugh). The jazz versions can be quite interesting – particularly the ones by Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Fats Waller. And more traditional/predictable versions, like those by Nat King Cole (and by his daughter Natalie) and Bing Crosby.

It’s odd how many artists have recorded versions. It’s a fun song, but for kids – it’s not really beautiful, but it is upbeat and easy to sing. Its real merit is as something we can sing, rather than as something to listen to on holiday evenings. In any case, we will hear it far too often, or at least the basic tune, in store muzak and commercials long before the holidays are over.

Nonetheless, here are a few versions I find reasonably listenable or interesting in other ways:

Ella Fitzgerald, “Jingle Bells” – from Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas

Diana Krall, “Jingle Bells” – from Christmas Songs

The Andrews Sisters with Bing Crosby, “Jingle Bells” – from White Christmas

Earl Scruggs, “Jingle Bells” – from A Very Special Acoustic Christmas

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zerode

is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, film buff and occasional reviewer, and former private detective. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.

 

What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

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