As the summer solstice comes to an end today, June 22nd, so does the 2nd outing of Taped Together.
The final track this time round also completes a circle. The very first track we uploaded for this project was Ennio Morricone’s Here’s To You. Today’s track, Belinda May, is also by the maestro, but is a very different creature altogether. Whilst no words are sung beyond the name “Belinda May”, an entire story is nonetheless told through the music. If you listen to this once and mistakenly hear a summery, kitsch lullaby of a love song, then listen to it again. Preferably find somewhere you can stop and watch the world go by for 2.54 minutes. A view from a window, a promenade, a seat in a favourite coffee shop. If that’s just not possible, then stick on headphones and close your eyes.
There is none of the powerful build up, no epic crescendo, nor rousing chorus of Here’s To You. Instead the song dives straight in and gets busy, skipping along at a pace that belies the slower, bitter-sweet vocal. Morricone famously uses the human voice as an instrument and this may be his lightest and loveliest example.
But back to that story-without-words. Maybe it’s twilight at the end of searingly hot summer’s day. Or maybe not. Explaining this any more, it occurs to me, spoils it entirely…I’ll leave it to you to make your own story.
Anyone brave enough to remix a track by Kraftwerk is deserving of respect, in particular the practically perfect piece of music that is ‘The Model’. Equally, anyone prepared to try their hand at mashing up Duran Duran’s ‘Girls on Film’ is also a brave soul. To bring these two tracks together, successfully, is a genius move. If it works. And this does.
Turn it up, and enjoy.
About the person behind the track: Marc Vidler is Go Home Productions. Check out his site for more goodness, including a rather excellent Smiths & Destiny’s Child mashup - ‘How Soon is Independence?’
Like no other band, The Beach Boys capitalized on summer and everything it evoked during pre-Vietnam America. Summer was their schtick. “Endless Summer” was their promise. Although their act had its hokey quality, The Beach Boys broke some serious musical ground, especially with Pet Sounds (1996), an LP now ranked 2nd on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” Here, the band introduced its own version of The Wall of Sound, and you can hear it on full display with my favorite track, “Sloop John B.” The tune started out as a West Indies folk song called “John B. Sails,” and Carl Sandburg helped popularize it when he included it in his 1927 collection of folksongs, The American Songbag. In the Beach Boys version, the sound is ever sunny; the lyrics are decidedly less so…
My Body Is Made of Sunlight is from the classic 2005 album The Lick Of The Tip Of An Envelope Yet To Be Sent.
I love a bit of Acid Folk, and this song has a special resonance for me - not merely because Circulus have a Crum Horn player who’s a doppleganger for a colleague of mine at Made by Many. Not just because I stalked Circulus a few years ago, and saw them 3 times in as many months - even including hanging around them and trying to engage them in conversation like I had some kind of deranged band-crush. And not because the last time I saw them play at the Union Chapel I walked out the back before they were on to find the whole band chuffing away on some huge stinky reefers… which I blame for their piss-poor performance that night. No, I think this is a beautiful song and it arouses the pagan within me. Perhaps this is because these days either side of the Summer Solstice would once have been the holiest of holy-days. This music puts me back in touch with the shamans and druids, the ancient ones, and I feel re-born. That’s why they call it Acid Folk FFS. Check out the band’s My Space page here.
I’ve always loved songs with more than one layer of meaning as this iconic 1964 Motown track does. Marvin Gaye co-wrote it with Mickey Stevenson, who had in mind the image of black kids in Detroit cooling off of hot days in water sprays from open hydrants. Released July 21, 1964, it became the huge summer hit. The opening 6-note trumpet flourish was a call to action, and the insistent beat that followed made you want to get out there (even white girls like me). That’s how Motown mogul Berry Gordy wanted it, and Martha & co. viewed it as a party song. But summers in the mid-60s in America were not all about dance parties - civil rights actions were very much in the news, and “racial unrest” was the polite way to describe it. The tune’s insistent beat (it’s impossible to stay still) led some black activists to use it as a call to demonstrate: getting out in the streets took on a rather different meaning in cities like Detroit, Newark, and my hometown, Washington DC. The power of rock is that you can hear it both ways, and Dancin’ still has that double edge for me.
Growing up in Los Angeles, summer has a different flavor. It’s hot, but it’s not as humid. Once the sun starts to set, the LA haze and smog give the sun a deep red glow and a slow, soulful song sounds perfect as you cruise up the Pacific Coast Highway for a weekend in Santa Barbara. This song is an old skool classic that still strikes the right chord even today. It’s a perfect song for grilling in the backyard or hanging out at the pool. It reminds me that it’s ok to take it easy and that there is a world beyond Manhattan.
Predictable? Nostalgic? Yes. But screw it. It’s summer.
This is, obviously, just the consummate, gorgeous, partly cloudy summer song. It was also part of the soundtrack to some of my earliest summer memories - those of family drives, on warm evenings, to the local driving range/putting green, where we ate ice cream, listened to my Dad’s terrible jokes and hit buckets of balls. Yes, I had a sort of embarrassingly normal small town childhood, thanks to my parents. People would fee bad for them when, later, I started coming home with funny colored hair, big boots and boyfriends named Razor. And today, I’m a shit golfer. But, no matter what else is on the mix, I always end up sneaking in a bit of Frank.
"Here it is, the groove, slightly transformed, just a bit of a break from the norm. Just a little somethin’ to break the monotony, of all that hardcore dance that has gotten to be…"
Fresh Prince, Summertime, 1991
The Fresh Prince (before Will Smith rebranded and renamed himself for his career) teamed up with DJ Jazzy Jeff for Summertime. This isn’t the song I am nominating for Taped Together (rest easy @kirstinbutler who earlier in #tapedtogether put this track into the “lo spectrum” of best summer namesake tracks). Instead you have the original track to download and a rare remix to enjoy.
This ‘family’ of connected tracks came back to mind last month when @Faris an ambassador of the appropriate Talent Imitates, Genius Steals shared a video on Borrowing Culture in the Remix Age where authorship and creative originality are questioned and celebrated. Popular commercial music such as Fresh Prince can go on to be reinterpreted into a number of infinite possibilities. A cover, a mash-up or a new idea can take a main ‘ingredient’ and make it far more palatable. I don’t like aubergine/eggplant, but I love baba ghanoush. The same ingredient concept can work with music and culture.
REMIX (TO LISTEN TO HERE)
I nominate Hybrid’s remix of Summertime (even the name of the Welsh house/breaks/techno producers is suggestive of being a result of many parts). Whenever I’m DJing an outdoors summer party I spin this track from my 1998 compilation vinyl album Old School Vs. New School. The album in itself was at the zeitgeist of recombinant and remix culture. It has reworked/remixed/rerubbed tracks that create results of ‘old school’ (vintage relatively traditional rap) with contemporary production techniques that gave tracks an up-to-date flavour in the big beat and nu-breaks sound of 1998.
I like the track as a guilty pleasure, based on familiarity of the lyrics and featuring the original instrumental basis of the song. Add a bouncy squelchy bassline and some strings = sounds great on an outdoor sound system in the sun.
ORIGINAL (FOR DOWNLOAD BELOW)
Summertime is, like most rap tracks of the 1990’s, based on either a percussion break such as the Amen Brother sample and/or an instrumental sample. This was based on a sample from funk band Kool & The Gang’s 1974 instrumental track Summer Madness. In fact, the original title is name-checked in the lyrics of Summertime. Kool & the Gang also reinvented themselves from a jazz funk band to a pop funk band.
I love the original Summer Madness, it’s a mellow chilled aural representation of a summer evening. It features a revolutionary sound rising synthesizer scale which give the track a distinctive sound and was also stolen by Bill Conti who did the Rocky soundtrack and it give a key part in the Rocky theme Gotta Fly Now two years later. In fact Bill Conti did such a good job of stealing the sound, someone realized and featured the Kool & The Gang track for a few moments of the Rocky movie.
So there it is: jazz funk chill, stolen via Rocky soundtrack, rapped over by the Fresh Prince, beats by Jazzy Jeff, club treatment remix by dance producers and into a DJ Stoney summer party.
The groove IS slightly transformed… It breaks the monotony.
Today’s track is curated by Saneel Radia / @saneel
Summer is current. I hear lots of people talk nostalgically about summer, but I don’t go there mentally. Every summer day I wake up thinking I have a lot of fun to “get done.” It’s an odd balance of structure and chaos, productivity and play. My internal dialogue includes thoughts like “I’m having fun drinking this beer on this patio, but I really should get to that one rooftop and drink a different beer,” or “it’s almost evening and I haven’t played tennis which was on my to-do list, but then I won’t get gelato, which clearly has to be in the plan.”
It would have been easier to pick ten songs that represent summer than to come up with just one. I tried to resist choosing a song with ‘summer’ or ‘sunshine’ in the title but I just couldn’t do it. All the great songs I could think of that say summer to me are ones where the singer is experiencing summer too. (Moreover, there was always a singer; as I scoured my record collection not one instrumental track set off my internal summer alarm.)
Still, this track isn’t entirely literal. The song, as the title says, feels like summer, specifically it feels like one of those laidback Sixties summers. It’s not about an actual summer though, but the feeling of summer. Singer Lisa O’Neill is dumping you, listener, and the feeling that gives her is the same feeling that she gets from summer. And a good summer, I think she means, rather than the dreary, grey one I’m experiencing now as I write this with - no joke - the heating on.
It was the summer of 1988 when my cousin brought home a cassette tape from a conference he attended in Indiana. It prominently featured two African American men behind bars on the cover. One of the men was wearing a Los Angeles Raiders baseball cap pulled down below his brow, the other an obscenely large clock around his neck. I later discovered his reasoning for such a bold aesthetic statement: “I wear a clock around my neck so I know what time it is.” It works on so many levels.
That summer on the prairies of Saskatchewan, Don’t Believe The Hype became the primary song of choice from Public Enemy’s Nation of Millions repertoire. It was played on high school playgrounds, in pseudo-tricked out Chevrolets, and in our modest homes while we were suppose to be cleaning our rooms. Chuck D’s rhyme and reason blazed through the walls of our ear canals like a lion released from the cages of the San Francisco Zoo, and for us, our musical landscape would never be the same again.
The sun isn’t just a star, it’s magic. Summer days are filled with its light that coats everything in a fine lustre. The grass, greener than
before, the flowers, a dance in colour, the sea a deeper blue than ever. Boys that much more handsome, girls that much more pretty. It fills us with hope, makes what was not possible before, seem possible now. It makes falling in love so easy. The sun isn’t just a star, it’s magic.
But then, what is magic? It is but an illusion, a suspension of reality, a voluntary lapse in reason. It’s a trick in human gullibility. The sun isn’t magic… The sun’s a trickster.
If we were playing a word association game and you said to me ‘summer’, I’d immediately close my eyes and picture myself back in Canada driving up to the cottage with this song on the stereo. The Tragically Hip, or The Hip as Canadians like to call them is one of the most famous bands you’ve never heard of and we secretly like it that way. I believe that music takes a snapshot of memories and for many their songs immediately bring back images of friends, family and summertime Canadian rituals.
From a simple beat and voice in the introduction, to a complex listening experience in the end, this song is an incredibly strong backdrop to our summer. It may not mean as much to those who live in perma-warm locations (California, Texas, etc.) but for individuals in the Midwest and Northeast, summers are a blip, and their brevity makes them that much more special. Often we are overwhelmed with the endless choices of diversions the summer offers us but as time goes on, we learn to soak up as much as possible in the few months we have to be outside “playing” with our friends. In tune, this song becomes progressively more complicated, but by the end of it, your ears remain comfortable, accepting the rush of auditory information until finally and quickly, the excitement comes to an end.
Picking my one ultimate summer song was a real toughie. In the end I went for the nostalgiafest. Perfect Skin — and, in fact, the whole of Lloyd Cole & The Commotions’ album Rattlesnakes — was the soundtrack of my summer of ‘85.
The summer I moved from Liverpool to London, from Toxteth to Pimlico, from theater to advertising, from Liverpudlian caffs to Soho restaurants, from chip butties to champagne (ah, London adland in the 80’s…) and fell in love with someone, to quote the Buzzcocks from a few years earlier, ‘I shouldn’t’ve fallen in love with’. One of THOSE summers.
It’s great to be involved with the Taped Together summer playlist. The big question for me was whether to go indie / alternative or electronic / dance? Glastonbury or Ibiza.
I lean towards electronic but this time I wanted to find something with real crossover. I hope I’ve managed find it in this absolute gem from Two Door Cinema Club - a band that are in the process of going stellar. The subtle but supremely tasty remix comes courtesy of The Twelves.
I think it’s an absolutely brilliant record. Hopefully it’ll become part of a summer soundtrack for some of you as well.
I didn’t think it was possible to make the quintessential summer groove “Feel It All Around” by Washed Out any more languid and luscious, and then I heard fellow South Carolinian Toro Y Moi’s remix. The sonic equivalent of an August afternoon, dj Moi’s “Feel It All Around” weaves its dreamlike web of funk, as promised, all around you.
The best summer tracks run the hi-lo spectrum from Samuel Barber’s “Summer Music” to Will Smith’s “Summertime,” but they all share a certain lassitude, an evocation of ambient warmth and go-with-the-flowness. “Feel It All Around” has that same sense of torpor and drift, with a little grind thrown in for good measure. For maximum effect accompany its three-minute-plus chillwave vibe with a deep-tissue sunscreen massage from a willing partner, and feel any residual real-world tension melt away. I predict it’ll become a staple of your summer soundtrack this year.
Among the allures of summer is that ephemeral sense of anticipation, a looking forward to something you can’t quite put your finger on but something incredibly intense and wonderful and toe-curlingly indulgent nonetheless. The season itself, with its lustful heat and sunset romance, smells of strawberries and champagne for no one in particular, it’s the ultimate love song for no one.
If you’re lucky, or perhaps foolish, enough, all this buildup will materialize in the presence of a lover, somewhere between your anticipation and the summer wind. This track by Complicated Universal Cum is the ultimate soundtrack to the season’s undercurrent of anticipation and romantic restlessness. Its quietly sensual video oozes powerful anticipatory attraction, softly reminding us of what it’s like to be with the one you couldn’t wait to be with before you even knew them.
May summer 2010 be full of fulfilled anticipation and quiet indulgence in the moment.
We began Taped Together as an effort to share the holiday spirit with interesting people we know through music, but also as an experiment in the intersection of two seemingly opposite concepts-turned-buzzwords-of-2009: Crowdsourcing and content-curation. The tracks in this month-long playlist were crowdsourced via our wonderful contributors, but we curated “the crowd” by inviting people — creatives, writers, musicians, social entrepreneurs and other miscellaneous smart cookies — whose voices and thinking we already loved.
In that sense, Taped Together has been as much a music project as it has been a living example of a new, experimental model of content discovery - something you could call “meta-curation,” producing the controlled serendipity of sourcing from a hand-picked crowd.
As for Taped Together, it doesn’t have to end with the holiday season. We hope to one day extend it to other occasions and purposes — why not a meta-curated Taped Together running mix, or party playlist, or reading companion? We’ll be exploring all the fascinating possibilities in this tremendously exciting new decade. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, as promised, we’re making all 31 tracks available for download here.
As artificial a time-keeper as the calendar is, its greatest claim to purpose is perhaps its capacity to make us look back on a segment – a month, a year, a decade – and size up its impact on culture, civilization and ourselves. The end of 2009 is all the more monumental a hallmark because it also wraps up the first decade of a new century, and what better way to greet the blank slate that is before us than with Lennon’s iconic anthem to hope and peace?
The irony, of course, is that we’ve come a long way – culturally, technologically, industrially – since Imagine was written 40 years ago. Just in the past decade, we discovered water on Mars, dreamt up augmented reality, elected Obama, and sequenced 99% of the human genome project with 99% accuracy. Yet despite all this incredible evolution, we’ve practically devolved on the peace front, kicking Lennon’s vision to the curb and spitting on it a little bit before moving on to more exciting things. Litigation, digitization, flashturbation. But what about imagination? Our human capacity to imagine – despite the pageantry fluff of it – a better world instead of a better gadget, a better airplane or a better party drug?
Imagine has struck so many chords in its timeless genius – from a major airport named after it to being quoted in the United States Supreme Court – precisely because it bespeaks our incredible collective capacity for change, for betterment, for imagination.
May 2010 be the year in which we really begin to Imagine.
Back in the mid seventies Barry White (aka the Walrus of Love) ruled the Juke Boxes in every late night, smoke filled bar. Everyone could relate to the honest, matter of fact, in your face message he moaned.
"You’re the First, the Last, My Everything" was #1 R&B, #2 Pop in 1974.
Ever noticed how the best songs come with smells attached? For me, California Girls always kicks up soda stream concentrate. All Sisters of Mercy tracks smell of dry ice and snakebite. This song (The Waters of March) smells of all kinds of stuff from from my childhood to now. Most of all, it smells of pine cones, sticky vinyl seats, hot tarmac and burning brakes from a family caravan holiday in the Alps in the 70s.
A good Christmas track should get you relaxed, smiling and feeling grateful for whatever you have - regardless of any belief in Santa. This is it, the ultimate feel-good life-affirmer.
In 1988 the Beatles sued Nike for £7.5million for unauthorised use of ‘Revolution’ in an ad. In 2008 Sony/ATV (who control the Beatles catalogue) decided for the first time ever to allow Beatles music for use in ads. However, the tracks must be re-recorded by other artists.
Last Christmas (I gave you my heart) and Lowe London stopped me in my tracks with a choir (surely the original ‘crowd-sourcing’?) and piano providing the soundtrack to ‘Clues’, a spot about choosing the right present. I kept singing the words over and over, I’m sure I know this song. A day later, it clicked.
'From Me To You' is considered the Beatles first hit, and surprisingly 2008's John Lewis (the UK department store) Christmas spot was the first EVER Beatles song to be used in a British advertising campaign. What's magical about the ad is that it's by the people behind the brand. It’s not Tracy at B&Q in Croydon or Maureen at Asda. The song was re-recorded by the John Lewis Music Society (as started by Mr. John Spedan Lewis in 1925), a classical choir who perform choral repertoire concerts in London.
To give the track a more intimate feel it features the vocals of Matt Skinner (no, not Mike Skinner of The Streets), but a member of John Lewis’ IT department. The charm about the track is that it’s slightly amateur, like a school recital, complete with the sound of a triangle being struck. However, this delicate slowed down version cuts through with the beautiful melody and poignant words that give it some festive MAGIC that wasn’t even in the original.
Of course, soon as the YouTube hits reached 100,000 it was time to release the track in its unedited glory of two minutes and eight seconds (the original track is 1:56). In response, John Lewis allowed free downloads of the track (whilst encouraging donations to the Wallace & Gromit’s Children’s Foundation, its registered charity of the year). I’ve been playing it as a closing track at Christmas parties, ‘who’s this by?’ they’ll ask. ‘REALLY?!’
This year’s John Lewis festive spot use the nu-folk cover version of Guns N’ Roses Sweet Child O’ Mine by Taken by Trees. It’s good, but please, bring back the choir.
I prefer non-denominational, non-jingle-belled tunes, but my unshakable soft spot remains the Christmas specials from my childhood. I’m talking about A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the cruddy, spindly tree that helped kids understand the true meaning of the season, the stop-motion oddity of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Yukon Cornelius and the Abominable Snowman, ‘cmon man, are you kidding?), and of course, the Chuck Jones/Dr. Seuss mastery of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Although the entire Peanuts soundtrack is, as Rick Liebling puts it, “music with emotional resonance,” the Grinch certainly has the more iconic anthem (sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, aka Tony the Tiger, not narrator Boris Karloff as most people think).
From the first note, there’s a rush of nostalgic adrenaline that brings me right back to childhood. To this day, it’s the oddly effective blend of morality and commercialism in Seuss’ Grinch that makes me feel like it’s okay to love Christmas without being a total douche about it, and it’s the song that anchors that feeling.
Cardinal was a one off band/recording by ex-Moles, psychedelic protagonist Richard Davies and multi-instrumentalist Eric Matthews some time in the mid 90s. I picked it up on vinyl from Plastic Passion in Blenheim Crescent, W11. It’s a great, unsung LP, full of lilting Zombies/Left Banke melodies and a ‘Man Who Fell To Earth’ Bowie sensibility. This song - If You Believe In Christmas Trees - is the album’s opener. Hope you enjoy it.
"Peace at Least" is an extraordinary, uplifting and just plain funny Christmas track.
It’s one of thirteen tracks on the Christmas concept LP ‘Peace’, by Rotary Connection, the psychedelic soul band formed in Chicago in 1966, with the dazzling Minnie Riperton at the centre. I could wax on until next Christmas as to why Rotary Connection are one of the best bands of all time, about how unearthly Minnie Riperton’s five octave vocal range was, how flawlessly tight and complete Charles Stepney’s arrangements were, and how they influenced everyone from Earth, Wind & Fire to The Orb to hip hop. But I’ll stick to “Peace at Least” for now.
'Peace' was released at the height of the Vietnam War in 1968. This is tangible throughout the LP (never more than on “Christmas Love”), but you sense it clearly on “Peace at Least”. It mixes classic Rotary Connection big band sounds and swirling arrangements, with a story about Santa smoking 'mistletoe'.
Why does Santa come down the chimney?
If he were cool he would come through the door
But I know why, the kid is high
Look at him
He’s stoned, he’s stoned out of his mind
Oh he smokes mistletoe
… and so on. “Peace at Least” (often mistakenly labeled as “Peace at Last”) is unrestrained and full of mischief, but I also think it captures the idealism and love that was bubbling through parts of American culture in the late-60s as many Americans struggled to come to terms with what was happening in South East Asia. The LP was hugely controversial at the time, with many record stores refusing to stock it. And in fact the cover art became the basis for a famous issue of Billboard magazine in which a bloodied Santa was superimposed upon a Vietnam battlefield. It’s one of those LPs that works sensationally well as an LP listened to in its entirety, capturing the spirit of a very different America of 40 years ago.
For anyone interested in experimenting with Rotary Connection more fully, try the double LP (originally two separate LPs), Songs / Hey Love.
Growing up in Southern California, the holidays weren’t exactly a winter wonderland. Shorts and t-shirts, yes. Snow? Not so much. But every year I’d watch A Charlie Brown Christmas and while I loved the characters, the music is what I remember best. It was so different than what I was used to hearing. The piano stylings of California Jazz master Vince Guaraldi were magical. What made Peanuts, and the accompanying music, so great was that it treated children with respect. No silly sound effects, treacly covers of pop standards or too clever by half originals. Instead it was music with emotional resonance that sounds every bit as good today as when it was released in 1965. This particular song, Skating, brilliantly conjures the feel of falling snowflakes and the joy of gliding along on frozen water. For me, Skating is the joy of the holidays.
The Pet Shop Boys have a new version of All Over The World as part of Christmas, their latest EP, which was just released last week. It has an amazing beat and the song’s message is universal, just like the spirit of Christmas. And while we’re on the topic, you should take a look at the Seven Days of Christmas Advent Calendar from the Pet Shop Boys as well - I think it’s a nice bit of fun for the holiday season!
“If Carl Sagan had lived long enough to have owned an iPod, what would have been on it?”
In my quest for the perfect solstice song, I found myself channeling a dead astronomer, hoping for inspiration. I had learned - the hard way - that solstice music as a genre is dominated by the tenderizingly sweet sounds of New Age artists. Alas, I am Old Age and, apparently, diabetic. I briefly explored the limited but promising niche of hibernation songs. I thought about my friends who married on this day-of-longest-night many years ago - so brilliant. Back on track, I tried conjuring up Chinese astrologers, Egyptian priests, Aztec mathematicians and, of course, those henge-loving Druids. Surely they must have chanted or hummed or sang or drummed as they witnessed time writ cosmic in the swinging perfection of the planet’s seasonal pendulum? Sadly, nothing that has survived to rank on Amazon… Finally, I asked Imaginary Sagan. “Good Morning, Starshine?” he offered, apologizing for having come of age in the Hair-y Age of Aquarius.” H’mmm. Might work in the southern hemisphere, where it’s turning into summer, but it’s not festive enough.” “Let’s go to the pub,” he suggested. “You wouldn’t believe how many award-winning thoughts I used to have in pubs. Billions and billions of them.” And he was right. Sitting in the cozy glow, with laughter and live music and the cold Chicago winter on the other side of the door, I watched a parade of Imaginary Ancients troop in, grateful for a pint and some company. It’s a big, cold, lonely universe out there.
So it’s the last call of the night, the last call of the last season of the year. Close your eyes. You are in a pub somewhere in Scotland. You are surrounded by friends, feeling warm, rosy, loving and loved. Now, raise your glass and sway along to The Tannahill Weavers singing “Auld Lang Syne” in deliciously indecipherable Scottish. Here is to you, Robert Burns. Here is to you old friends, stars all.
Ruth Minnikin’s Angel at the Dawn is not a Christmas song, but one that feels as if it should be. Short, beautiful and full of joy, it’s a great reminder of what really matters before indigestion, familial spats and Wii injuries take their toll.
The Godfather of Soul isn’t known for quiet, gentle tracks but this tune sees James Brown’s rough-edged vocals sweetly backed by brushed drums, muted horns, piano and that most Christmassy of percussion: tubular bells. A great tune to wrap the pressies to, whether it’s Papa’s brand new bag or a nice shiny shotgun.
I love this song. It reminds me of watching proper Christmas films with my family. This one’s from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation as the family party plunges into chaos and Clark Griswold (played by the brilliant Chevy Chase) has a mini-breakdown. I nearly went for Vaughn Monroe "Let it Snow!" from the end of the first Die Hard. But this just nicked it.
Whenever anything Sigur Rós-related happens, I pay attention. Earlier this week I learned that the band’s lead singer, Jónsi Birgisson, has a solo album called “Go” coming out early next year; even better, string arrangements on the album are courtesy of contemporary classical wunderkind Nico Muhly (whose must-read blog contains brilliant and hilarious observations about music and pop culture, by the way). “Boy Lilikoi” is the first track available from the album, and in a gesture befitting the holidays it’s available for free download.
Liliko’i are yellow passion fruit, and while I don’t know if that’s what Birgisson had in mind when he wrote the song, he totally evokes their vivid, extraordinary beauty.
The Magnetic Fields are one of my favorite bands. I’ve picked ‘Busby Berkeley Dreams’ off the album ‘69 Love Songs’ because it’s one of my favorite songs. To me it reflects the spirit of the Christmas season because it conjures up the glamour of Christmas parties, events and shows - here in New York everyone is headed to see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall - in a dreamy, wistful, romantic, melancholic way, which I think is also how a lot of people feel around Christmas!
I’ve chosen this song not just because of its sorta lyrically implicit Christmas theme (nativity story-ish), but because it’s a homage to Rod Temperton’s songwriting brilliance during his time with the Heatwave collective and, chiefly, gives you an inkling of the kind of inspiration he had in waiting before he wrote a shedload of Michael Jackson records (“Rock with You”, “Off the Wall”, “Burn This Disco Out”, “Baby Be Mine”, “The Lady in My Life”, “Thriller”). This season draws an end to the year in which the King of Pop has died (yet no re-releases from the Jackson 5 Christmas Album?!), and if like me you wish to remember him musically for those Quincy Jones days, then you’ll love the winter warming production and soothing strings in this.
So this is my little tribute to the hidden genius behind the greatest artist of all time.
How could anyone not love Dean Martin’s It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas? Few voices are so evocative of a feeling and a time of year. From the glazed ham to the bacon-basted turkey to the chinking of the ice cubes against a glass as we sway our way through Christmas sing-a-longs, Dean Martin captures that fireside, wooly-sweatered, laden-tabled feeling of Christmas. The very fact that he doesn’t rush the lyrics but rather wanders through each of the notes captures that rare time of year in which we can all linger a little bit longer at the family table or in front of a fire rather than rush headlong to the next ‘To Do’ that, like seconds on a clock, mark the rests of our year.
Dean also evokes what is, perhaps, a now lost time of Christmas when the world was, consciously or not, a little more naïve, a little less transparent, a little less fearful of harsh realities. It was an ideal time, or at least idealized, but still safer in the way that Christmas makes us feel safe.
The rich texture of his voice captures the ornate experience that is the Christmas ceremony. His inimitable style speaks of classy affairs and his ever-present wink reminds us that, ultimately, Christmas is always just about good times with friends, family and people we love.
To me, this song epitomizes that familiar, comfortable and lazy haze that overwhelms us all after a great meal, a drink or two and the company of family spending meaningful time together.
A beautiful and strange little song about the awkwardness of Christmas. I don’t speak French, but the lyrics seem to be about waiting for your lover while seeking comfort in a piece of cheese and a coffee and watching busy people carry heaps of gifts under their arms. Perfect scenario for Saturday the 6th of December! The album can be downloaded for free at Jamendo
It is inevitable to think about what the future holds around this time of the year. Many of us return to that familiar place and fall into a slump of regret remembering all of the things we dreamed of doing the year before. This year, make some ‘big jumps’.