July 30, 2007

One Last Colortini

Many painful losses in the news today, including filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and football coach Bill Walsh. Two people who left indelible fingerprints in their field. Talk show host Tom Snyder also passed away. As someone on another site pointed out, Snyder was once in the front-runner to host both the NBC evening news and The Tonight Show—that’s something unheard of. But it speaks to Snyder’s remarkable versatility.

I was in high school when The Late, Late Show premiered on CBS in 1995. Having never seen The Tomorrow Show (it was canceled to make way for Letterman), I had no idea who Snyder was. Ironically, it was who Letterman hand-picked Snyder to host the program that followed Late Night. Because I had to wake up early to catch the school bus, I could only watch Snyder’s show on Friday nights or during the summers. Ever since the show went off the air, my Friday nights have not been the same.

No talk show host has ever conducted better interviews that Snyder. When someone sat on his blackened stage, it felt like just two people talking. He would bring up hard questions, he would tell stories or jokes, and he would simply enjoy the medium of late-night television. Snyder always delivered his opening monologue with ease. And usually, it ended with his trademark laugh. Snyder seemed like a man who simply enjoyed life and he loved spending his time talking with his friends, many of whom often made appearances on the show.

His talk show was the last vestige of true news in late-night television. Though I will always love Dave and Conan, neither of them could touch Snyder in his ability to simply back, relax, and talk for an hour.

So, in honor of Tom, truly one of television’s finest and a one of my heroes, 77 Santas will “fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air.”

July 29, 2007

The Sunday EP

With the site redesign, we’re going to start a new feature: The Sunday EP. No full-length mix, just five or so songs that have been playing this past week. We’ll do our best to stay on the schedule—in the past, these things always started strong and then died out in their third week.

Tonight – Sibylle Baier
This buried treasure was originally recorded in the early 1970s, after Sibylle Baier took a road trip with a friend. The song is melancholy and intimate, sounding like something that was never intended to be shared with the world. As one of the reviews on Amazon.com said, if Sylvia Plath had been a singer rather than a poet, it might have sounded something like this.

Pretty Voice – Cloud Cult
Chamber pop that any fan of The Decemberists would probably enjoy, The Village Voice described this band as “Modest Mouse on lithium.” I can hear some Neutral Milk Hotel in here as well. The band distributes their albums on their own album and work from a geothermal energy powered organic farm. That’s indie. This song is perfect for a Sunday afternoon drive—it’s loud and warm. By the end, you’ll be driving 90 mph.

Welcome Home, Son – Radical Face
Handclaps, beautiful vocals, and dreamy vocals. Ben Cooper, only 24 years old, is the mastermind behind this band and album. The stunning chorus feels as if it washes over you. Give it a listen—this band deserves an audiences.

The Temptation of Adam – Josh Ritter
Tapping into Elliot Smith and Bob Dylan, the prolific Josh Ritter delivers yet another stunning opening line: “If this was a Cold War we could keep each other warm.” I’ve loved some of Ritter’s songs—including this one—but have felt lukewarm about others. I don’t think he’s ever fully delivered the masterpiece he’s clearly capable of producing. I’m hopeful that this album will be the one I’ve been waiting for.

Valerie – The Zutons
I don’t know why America hasn’t embraced this band more. Take this song—a message to an ex-lover that tears ass and sounds like a band at the top of their game. It manages to sound retro yet completely original, resulting in a refreshing way to end The Sunday EP.

Lastly, the final three Simpsons tracks. I had meant to post these on Friday but had some errands to run and the movie to see. On Saturday, I had to battle the weather and mow the lawn and fire up the charcoal grill before a storm. So, apologies about being late, but the movie is fantastic. I laughed around every thirty seconds. Everything I wanted.

The Monorail Song

A Fish Called Selma (Medley) a.k.a The Planet of the Apes Musical

Talkin’ Softball

July 26, 2007

The Simpsons

Continuing a feature we started at our old site, a blog celebration of The Simpsons. Originally, the series started as very Bart-centric—in the early 90s, everyone wore their “Don’t Have Cow” or “Eat My Shorts” T-shirts. Over time however, while the show explored side characters, it also realigned and focused more on Homer. Without a doubt, Homer Simpson is my favorite cartoon character ever. Though at times he does some incredibly stupid things, deep down, he is still a blue-collar man trying to do what’s best for his family. Throughout it all, Homer might be the most consistently funny cartoon character every created. Some of the songs below highlight this.

Meet the Flinstones
It’s impossible Homer Simpson without the outstanding voice-work of Dan Castellaneta. A winking nod to The Flintstones, the last prime-time animated sitcom, is brilliant.

Underwater Wonderland
Unfortunately with the popularity of Family Guy (don’t get me started—I loathe everything about that show), The Simpsons was forced to cut back on fantasy sequences and flashbacks. Family Guy doesn’t have a plot, in fact it barely has scenes, and relies solely upon fantasies and flashbacks, while usually stealing some jokes The Simpsons.

In Marge We Trust (Medley)
Better known as Mr. Sparkle, the gags suffer a bit without the subtitles, such as the Japanese soap logo saying, “I am disrespectful to dirt! Can’t you see that I am serious?”

Mr. Plow
One of my very favorite episodes that pits Barney against Homer in a battle to conquer Springfield’s competitive driveway plowing business.

The Land of Chocolate
After a German company purchases the power plant, Homer must actually answer some questions about his job. One of my favorite sequences from the show—“That was ten minutes ago!”

Honey Roasted Peanuts
Twenty dollars can buy many peanuts!

Homer’s Barbershop Quartet
The Be Sharps reunited on the rooftop of Moe’s to perform “Baby on Board.” Also a classic episode, perfectly spoofing The Beatles.

TV Sucks!
How apt—Bart is dying to see the Itchy and Scratchy big-screen movie, yet Homer punishes the boy and forbids him to see it.

Tomorrow, our final post in the celebration, featuring the very best (think monorail and apes!) songs from the show.

July 25, 2007

Merry Christmas (In July)!

The big half-way day is finally here.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Tift Merritt
Any song that starts with an organ this cool deserves to be listened to. A wonderful version done by the beautiful Tift Merritt.

Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis – Neko Case
Okay, we can argue about whether this Tom Waits song is really about Christmas. Quite honestly, with someone like Neko Case covering it, I don’t really care. This is quintessential Waits material that has never sounded so sublime.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Jigsaw Seen
Tapping into “Paint It Black,” Jigsaw Seen tear through a classic that I had previously never thought could rock so hard.

Christmas Will be Just Another Lonely Day – Brenda Lee
It wouldn’t be Christmas without Brenda Lee. This is one of my favorite Christmas songs by her, filled with her smoky, sexy voice and backed-up with melancholy strings.

Hard Candy Christmas – Dolly Parton
One of Dolly’s best, in my opinion. During the chorus, you believe she’s only repeating that things will be fine only to convince herself.

Santa Claus Is Watching You – Ray Stevens
A novelty classic. One year, during a visit to Hershey Park in Hershey, PA, my cousin Travis and I kept repeating, “Cause Santy Claus is watching you!” And then Travis would do, “He’s everywhere! He’s everywhere!” in a perfectly-pitched imitation of Ray Stevens. I should point out that this happened about six years ago, when we were both over twenty-years-old.

In the Bleak Mid-Winter – Sarah McLachlan
This song was written in 1872 by Christina Georgina Rossetti, though it wasn’t published until 1904, well after her death. One website claims that Rossetti wrote this poem in response to a call for Christmas poems in Schribner’s Magazine. Whatever the muse, she left us with a haunting and beautiful song perfectly

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Aimee Mann
Like Jigsaw Seen, Aimee Mann knows how to spice up a classic. The horns and marching drums make this sound like a whole new song.

Hardrock, Coco, and Joe – The Three Little Dwarfs
Hardrock, Coco, and Joe, a Chicago-land classic and, thanks to super station WGN, a national classic too? Must be because we grew up in Central Pennsylvania and love this little film. Every Christmas morning the short was played on Bozo. Though the films have copyright info, the video quality is so poor, it’s nearly impossible to read. IMDB dates the film to 1951. Wikipedia credits it to a company called Centaur Prodictions. It’s certainly unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Originally called “The Three Little Dwarfs,” most remember this song as simply “Hardrock, Coco, and Joe.” The three are Santa’s helpers and deliver an unforgettable chorus.

O Holy Night – Nat King Cole
The king of Christmas music, Nat King Cole’s stunning voice carries this beautiful version. By the end, his delivering is moving and passionate. Each time I hear this song, I get chills.

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland
Not that I have anything against Entertainment Weekly (subscriber for twelve years—I love you, EW!), but last year, after 77 Santas posted a history of this song, EW printed a very similar article in their magazine. Probably no correlation, but I like to think so.

I’m going to call “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” the most depressing Christmas song. In fact, it was originally even more somber than the version that we know today.The song was written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. Judy Garland made the song famous in her 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis. Garland found the original lyrics too sad for a Christmas song. There is a fatalistic view on the world—there is talk of everyone being together, of muddling through, friends once gone who will come back. It reminds me a hymn almost, that promises a great reward in Heaven, where all friends and family will one day meet each other again.In fact, the original version, which Hugh Martin didn’t want to rewrite, did include religious undertones.Have yourself a merry little ChristmasIt may be your lastNext year we may all be living in the pastHave yourself a merry little ChristmasPop that champagne corkNext year we may all be living in New York.No good times like the olden days,Happy golden days of yore,Faithful friends who were dear to usWill be near to us no more.But at least we all will be togetherIf the Lord allows.From now on we'll have to muddle through somehow.So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Garland’s version probably has the most recognizable lyrics. There is a tender delicateness to this version—that quiet, music box-like introduction that draws the listener into the word. It’s beautiful.

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon
I’ve always loved “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” but probably never more so than in the past few years. While the song was topical on its initial release, the song has sadly remained as relevant as ever and will probably always be. But it’s the message of this song that remains with me—war is over, if you want it.

Christmas Baby (Please Come Home) – Darlene Love
No surprise that we’re closing out the summer season with this, one of my favorite songs ever. The best commentary I’ve read on the song appears here, and is reprinted below.

The lyrics in this song work so well because of their simple understatement. As in the title, the single word “Christmas” is repeated by the background choir to begin each line of the song. Darlene Love then describes, in the briefest of sketches, familiar elements of Christmas: “The snow's coming down,” “Lots of people around,” “Pretty lights on the trees,” etc. Each verse ends with the same line: “(Christmas) Baby, Please Come Home!”
The chorus fills in the sketchiest of details.
They're singing “Deck the Halls,”
But it's not like Christmas at all,
'Cause I remember when you were here,
And all the fun we had last year!

And that's all we're told really. Boy and girl together last Christmas. Boy and girl not together this Christmas. Girl misses boy. So the apparent conflict is in their separation.

But there's something else going on here. There is no happy ending. The boy never shows up. If we listen closely to the lyrics and their delivery, though, we can feel another kind of tension. There is another conflict occurring, and that is between the forced joy of the season and the singer's own personal feelings of being sad and lonely. Once we become aware of this implicit conflict, the pieces of the song fall into place. We realize that the background choir is a group of people singing the single word “Christmas” over and over in a monotone, the effect being almost oppressive. In contrast, Love's individual vocal is marvelously expressive, her voice caressing and playing with every word, every syllable.

In this new light, the details of the season can be seen as constant tugs to involve the singer in the traditional, social events of the season, to give up her feelings of loneliness and isolation, to “go with the flow.”

With this tension in mind, let's see how the conflict plays out and reaches resolution.The song opens quietly. Strings quaver in the background, foreshadowing the emotions to come. Christmas bells ring on the beat. A lonely, halting bass line climbs the scale and then descends repeatedly. We work our way through the simple chord structure for one verse. Then the drums accelerate and launch us into the first vocal verse.

The vocal verses are richly layered. Multiple percussion instruments play interlocking rhythms, strings play counterpoint to the vocal, what sounds like a saxophone is used to add to the rhythmic surge.

Darlene Love's magnificent vocal soars in and around the pounding rhythms, like a surfer working her way through heavy swells, just beyond the reach of the undertow, harnessing all that power, playing with it.

A saxophone solo serves as punctuation. It is rich and warm, reminding us of the intimacy lost, the closeness needed but no longer available.

Another chorus, then the final verse. Darlene Love's voice quivers on the final word of each line, as if on the verge of tears, near breakdown. “If there was a way, I'd hold back this tear, but it's Christmas Day, please...”

Now the background singers echo her plea, “Please...” The call and response continues, accelerates, trading this one word back and forth, faster and faster, a piano now building in the background, begging for release, gradually climbing the scale, the pounding of the drums accelerating, until Darlene finally explodes, “Baby, please come home!” The piano soars now. Darlene repeats her request. The drums run free, no longer just carrying the beat but improvising, as the power of the climax winds down into release. Conflict between seasonal reminders and personal feelings are resolved, as the singer expresses her emotions fully and completely. Liberated from all restraint, she pours her true emotions out, honestly and openly, without shame or remorse.

It's instructive to compare this recording to another belonging to a prior generation, but with very similar lyric and thematic content. “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)” was one of Frank Sinatra's favorite songs. This is a similar tale. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy misses girl. And similarly, the tension in this song is also between the need to control and suppress one's feelings and the need to express them. The setting for the Sinatra song, though, is in a quiet bar late at night. The singer is able to express his feelings only to the bartender, and only after several drinks. He expresses his feelings with great restraint, referring to them indirectly, saying that he has to tell someone, or he “soon might explode.”

Given all these similarities, what is interesting is how different the two recordings are. The resolution of the Sinatra song is in the bar closing, the singer getting himself under control, successfully suppressing his feelings. The resolution of the Spector song is in the singer completely expressing and releasing her feelings. Whereas Sinatra successfully avoids an explosion, Love successfully explodes. The lyrics to the Sinatra song are clever and ironic. The lyrics to the Spector song are direct and effective. Sinatra offers a wonderful interpretation of “One For My Baby,” playing the part almost as an actor might. Love simply uses the words and melody as a starting point, with the real effect coming in the arrangement and vocal delivery. Instrumental backing for the Sinatra song is spare and low-key, echoing the reserve of the singer, and emphasizing the understated irony of the lyrics. Instrumentation for the Spector song is rich and multi-layered, representing the powerful opposing forces at work in the song, and the ultimate emotional release of the singer.

All in all, this masterpiece from Spector and Love is a wonderful example of the new aesthetic offered by rock music.

Thanks for spending the holiday season with us—check back in during November and December for oodles of treats. Until then, check in regularly for regular updates.

July 24, 2007

T-Minute One Day to Christmas in July

Before we make it to the Christmas songs today, I’d like to point any readers who might be fans of The Simpsons to visit IDM, our sister site, for a celebration of songs from the television show. On Friday, we’re permanently shutting down IDM and are going to use 77 Santas as our main blog. But don’t worry—November and December will still be entirely devoted to Christmas music.

Tomorrow, 77 Santas is going to end the summer holiday season with a band, so be sure to check in—we have around twenty songs lined up. Today, enjoy eight morsels of Christmas goodness.

Silent Night – The London Philharmonic Orchestra
Anyone who has checked out the past few days knows how much I love classic versions of Christmas songs. This version of Silent Night might very well be my favorite off the London Philharmonic’s Christmas album. This sweet, soaring rendition will instill the Christmas spirit in anyone.

Silver Bells – Clint Walker
Another classic country song. I hadn’t heard Clint Walker’s soothing baritone before but this is a true rendition.

Merry Christmas Baby – Ike & Tina Turner
Nothing like Ike and Tina rocking around the Christmas tree. It sure sounds like they’re happy here—let’s hope so!

Blue Christmas – Webb Pierce
Another country version of an old standard. The nice background vocals add to the melancholy.

Santa Claus, Santa Claus – James Brown
The Godfather of Soul—this one is a classic. Those vocals are just incredible.

There’s Trouble Brewin’ – Jack Scott
An original take on Twas the Night Before Christmas, this song packs a great groove. Plus, it features handclaps, which make any song better.

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – U2
As anyone who was a regular reader of the blog knows, this is my all-time favorite Christmas song. We’ll feature Darlene Love’s masterful original tomorrow, but in the meantime enjoy U2’s very good cover.

O Little Town of Bethlehem – The London Philharmonic Orchestra
Yet another beautiful stunner from the orchestra.

July 22, 2007

Baby, It’s Hot Outside

It's pretty dang hot in most of the country. But we can pretend it's December. Here’s the third installment for Christmas in July.

Christmas In July: Day Three

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – The London Philharmonic Orchestra
A gorgeous version of the old standard. Once again, I can’t get enough of these classical treatments.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Steve & Eydie
This version is nothing you haven’t heard before, but it remains a fun, jazzy song.

Please Come Home for Christmas – The Uniques
One of my favorites that I’ve heard this July. I’d guess that this song is from the early 60s. It’s amazing. For those only familiar with The Eagles version, do yourself a favor and download this.

Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) – Jimmy Newman
Another country classic, this version features some nice organ and Newman’s nice vocals.

Christmas on the Plains – Roy Rogers and Dale Evans
Nothing Roy and Dale riding the plains and celebrating Christmas. Another favorite from this summer, this song is a treasure.

A Root’n Toot’n Santa Clause – Tennessee Ernie Ford
Love the delicate intro to this song before Ernie’s deep, round voice comes in—this is a great little song that’s hard to get out of your head.

Silent Night – from the A.V. Bornard Collection of Music Box Medley of Christmas Songs
Another music box song. Some of the songs, this one included, give me chills—I can’t decide if I’m kind of creeped out or if I love them.

July 20, 2007

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

Day Two of our Christmas in July special. While I doubt there are many people listening to Christmas today, I am happy to be doing it. Last winter, when I told some of my friends that I helped keep a blog with Christmas music, many people kind of nodded and asked why was I ever doing such a thing. They hate holiday music—it’s irritating, it’s grating, it’s about religion and stuff!

Well, yes, that’s true. Some of it is awfully irritating. PC and I devoted some time to just terrible Christmas songs last year, including the dreaded “Christmas Shoes” and “Wonderful Christmas Time.” Top 40 radio plays these songs incessantly during the holiday season and yeah, they suck. We don’t shy away from songs focused on the religious aspects of Christmas on 77 Santas. For me, if a song is good, it’s good, no matter what it’s about.

We make it a point to post songs that you probably won’t hear on the radio. If DJs played some of our songs, everyone would be craving Christmas songs year-round. Another round of goodies today.

Christmas in July: Day Two

Snowfall – LeRoy Holmes and His Orchestra
Another song that just oozes with cool, perfectly suited to play next to your swimming pool on a hot summer day.

Old-Fashioned Christmas – Jimmy Martin
This is a song that conjures up nostalgia for a period before I was born. It sure sounds like a lovely want to spend the season.

Christmas Is Just Another Day for Me – Ernest Tubb
Here’s something for the bah-humbugs in the crowd, sung by none other than Ernest Tubb, one of the greatest voices in classic country.

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday – Roy Wood and Wizzard
Somehow this starts out with the cynical sound of a cash-register ringing up a sale but deliver is a great celebration of the season that’s a mix of Beach Boys melody and modern rock.

I’ll Be Home With Bells On – Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers
Long one of my favorites. The warm harmony and the beat just charms you.

Nut Rocker – B Bumble and the Stingers
Stick with it. Yes, you’ll recognize the beginning and then this thing takes off.

Calling On Mary – Aimee Mann
My favorite off Aimee Mann’s Christmas album from last year. Never get tired of her voice.

July 19, 2007

Oh Baby It’s Christmas All Over Again!

Happy Christmas in July. As promised, 77 Santas will be doing a little feature over the next few days doing what we love—posting Christmas songs. PC is busy this summer so we’re only going to hear from his once, but it promises to be a killer full-album post of something special.

In the meantime, I’ll be posting some Christmas mix EP’s. Not quite as long as a full mix CD and better than just a few songs, you can expect six or seven songs a day until July 25, when I’ll pull all the stops and do something special. We’ve compiled a sleigh-full of goodies and I’m trying to save some of the best for November and December.

Enjoy Christmas in July kids! The real day ain’t too far away!

Christmas In July: Day One

Greensleeves – Eddie Layton
This slow-burn version of Greensleeves, or What Child Is This, features organs and bells, creating something as enchanting as it is haunting.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing – from the A.V. Bornard Collection of Music Box Medley of Christmas Songs
Yep, that’s an old-time music box playing this song. It reminds me of an amusement park. If only everyone loved Christmas as much as us, there would be a Six Flags North Pole.

Jolly Old Saint Nicholas – Roy Drusky
I’m quite a fan of classic country music. Drusky delivers a solid and bouncy rendition of this song, one of my favorites that I remember singing as a kid.

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – The Harmony Grits
Not as incendiary as Elvis but it’s close. Really, it’s very close. The lead vocals are so full of passion—I love it. This guy means it! Santa is coming!

Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas) – John Denver
When I first saw the title, I thought it’d be a humor song. It’s not.

Silent Night – Huey “Piano” Smith & the Clowns
Never heard anyone tear into the old standard quite like this. A rocking version that’s a great summer groove.

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear – The London Philharmonic Orchestra
I love classical performances of Christmas songs. This is one of my favorites and a beautiful way to end our first day back.

July 05, 2007

July, July!

Happy Christmas in July. Be sure to check in starting July 21 for 77 Santa’s Christmas in July celebration.