Christmas Music

On iTunes I have 476 tracks identified as Christmas music. I’ve created a playlist with them that automatically drops a track off after it’s been played. At this writing I have all 476 left to hear this year.

The types of music vary widely from Classical to Country, Jazz and New Age, but include of course the usual standards of which I suppose Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” is the archetype. (Of the 476 tracks, 12 are in fact versions of “White Christmas” including two copies of Bing.)

I have a lot of favorites. I grew up in Catholic schools, so am nostalgic when I hear the carols, and have several albums of guitar covers by artists like John Fahey and Eric Williams. I particularly like Christmas in Santa Fe by Ruben Romero & Robert Notkoff, Winter Dreams by R. Carlos Nakai & William Eaton and Navidad Cubana by Cuba L.A. — it gets you dancing around the old árbol de Navidad.

And no collection is complete without Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas.

But when it comes down to it, this may be my favorite. It’s an OK video but the point is to enjoy Clyde McPhatter tenor and Bill Pinkney’s bass.

Updated and reposted from years past.


In Any Civilized Nation Today Would Be a Holiday

Two country music immortals were born on September 8th.

Jimmie Rodgers, considered the “Father of Country Music,” was born in Meridian, Mississippi, on September 8, 1897. He died from TB in 1933. Jimmie Rodgers was the first person inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and among the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

James Charles Rodgers, known professionally as the Singing Brakeman and America’s Blue Yodeler, was the first performer inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was honored as the Father of Country Music, “the man who started it all.” From many diverse elements—the traditional melodies and folk music of his southern upbringing, early jazz, stage show yodeling, the work chants of railroad section crews and, most importantly, African-American blues—Rodgers evolved a lasting musical style which made him immensely popular in his own time and a major influence on generations of country artists.

Blue Yodel No. 9

Patsy Cline, the most popular female country singer in recording history, was born in Winchester, Virginia, on September 8, 1932. She died in a plane crash in 1963. Patsy Cline is an inductee of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Cline is invariably invoked as a standard for female vocalists, and she has inspired scores of singers including k. d. lang, Loretta Lynn, Linda Ronstadt, Trisha Yearwood, and Wynonna Judd. Her brief career produced the #1 jukebox hit of all time, “Crazy” (written by Willie Nelson) and her unique, crying style and vocal impeccability have established her reputation as the quintessential torch singer.

Crazy


Kind of Blue

Kind of Blue

Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue — released 55 years ago today (August 17, 1959) —

… is a nearly unique thing in music or any other creative realm: a huge hit—the best-selling jazz album of all time—and the spearhead of an artistic revolution. Everyone, even people who say they don’t like jazz, likes Kind of Blue. It’s cool, romantic, melancholic, and gorgeously melodic. But why do critics regard it as one of the best jazz albums ever made? What is it about Kind of Blue that makes it not just pleasant but important?

Fred Kaplan tells us Why Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is so great.

The sextet consisted of Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Cannonball Adderley (alto sax), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums) and Bill Evans (piano). Wynton Kelly replaced Evans on “Freddie Freeloader.”

Everyone — every one — should own this album (if you own it, you will listen to it). It rarely costs more than $10, and you can get it from iTunes right now for $6.99.

Kind of Blue isn’t merely an artistic highlight for Miles Davis, it’s an album that towers above its peers, a record generally considered as the definitive jazz album, a universally acknowledged standard of excellence.” — allmusic

To this day Kind of Blue sells 5,000 copies a week.


It Ought to Be a Holiday

Levi Stubbles was born in Detroit 78 years ago today. As Levi Stubbs for more than 40 years he was the lead vocalist of The Four Tops.

The Four Tops were one of soul music’s most popular and long-lived vocal groups. This quartet from Detroit endured for more than 40 years without a single change in personnel. …

The Four Tops consisted of lead singer Levi Stubbs, first tenor Abdul “Duke” Fakir, second tenor Lawrence Payton, and baritone Renaldo “Obie” Benson. Working closely with the in-house songwriting and production team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, the Four Tops cut some of Motown’s most memorable singles during the label’s mid-Sixties zenith. The list of classics recorded by the Four Tops during this fruitful period includes “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “I Can’t Help Myself,” “It’s the Same Old Song,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “Standing in the Shadows of Love” and “Bernadette.” Between 1964 and 1988, the Four Tops made Billboard’s Hot 100 chart 45 times and its R&B chart 52 times. Twenty-four of their singles made the Top 40, and seven of those entered the Top 10.

While their career took off at Motown, the Four Tops had a significant prehistory before arriving at the label, having already logged nearly a decade in show business. Stubbs and Fakir attended Pershing High School in Detroit’s North End, while Payton and Benson attended Detroit’s Northern High School. The four young men met at a friend’s birthday party, where they first sang together. …

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

It’s Stubbs who sings:

Now if you feel that you can’t go on
Because all of your hope is gone
And your life is filled with much confusion
Until happiness is just an illusion
And your world around is tumbling down
Darling reach out
C’mon girl
Reach on out for me
Reach out for me

You will note it was never Levi Stubbs and the Tops, unlike Smokey Robinson and the Miracles or Diana Ross and the Supremes. Stubbs had the opportunity to lead or go solo, but he stayed loyal to his friends for life. He died in 2008.


Crossroads

Robert JohnsonRock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Robert Johnson was born on May 8th 1911.

Robert Johnson stands at the crossroads of American music, much as a popular folk legend has it he once stood at Mississippi crossroads and sold his soul to the devil in exchange for guitar-playing prowess. He became the first modern bluesman, evolving the country blues of the Mississippi Delta. Johnson was a songwriter of searing depth and a guitar player with a commanding ability that inspired no less an admirer than Keith Richard of the Rolling Stones to exclaim, “When I first heard [him], I was hearing two guitars, and it took me a long time to realize he was actually doing it all by himself.”

. . .

Though he recorded only 29 songs in his brief career – 24 of which appeared on 78 rpm singles released on the Vocalion label, including his first and most popular, “Terraplane Blues” – Johnson nonetheless altered the course of American music. In the words of biographer Stephen C. LaVere, “Robert Johnson is the most influential bluesman of all time and the person most responsible for the shape popular music has taken in the last five decades.” Such classics as “Cross Road Blues,” “Love In Vain” and “Sweet Home Chicago” are the bedrock upon which modern blues and rock and roll were built.

Or, as Eric Clapton put it in the liner notes to the Johnson boxed-set, “Robert Johnson to me is the most important blues musician who ever lived….I have never found anything more deeply soulful than Robert Johnson. His music remains the most powerful cry that I think you can find in the human voice, really.”


George Jones

… died a year ago today.

Jones was an acquired taste for me, one I acquired well after the peak of his popularity — though I can actually remember when someone first identified him for me on the radio 50 years ago — a male Billie Holiday in his ability to convey the emotion of a song — and I do consider that the highest praise.

This essay about Jones — and so much more — is simply incredible. If you’ve read nothing else about the singer, read this by Tom Junod.

George Jones, Mama, and Me