Back to the 16th Century

Ofiginally posted December 2017

Canadian Loreena McKennitt sings “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” from her “Midwinter’s Night Dream” album released in 2008. It is one of the oldest of the English carols, dating back to at least the 16th century. The first printed version appeared in 1760. It’s even referred to in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: “… at the first sound of ‘God bless you, merry gentlemen! May nothing you dismay!’, Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.”

McKennitt has used Middle Eastern instruments on her version, a callback to the place where the events being commemorated took place.

Let’s add some jazz to the season

Originally posted December 2015.

A now-deceased college fraternity brother of mine posted this clip on Facebook earlier in 2015 and I liked it. It’s by a group called Pastiche, friends of Andy’s from his San Francisco days as a DJ. They’ve put out three CDs and worked as backup vocalists for many recording sessions. I’m hearing a little Manhattan Transfer or maybe The Andrews Sisters here.

Apparently in the seven years since they’ve broken up. One of them, Sandy Cressman, has made a new career of interpreting Brazilian jazz in San Francisco.

What sound do the bells on sleighs make?

Jingle Bells, of course! Yeah yeah, I know. Silly song, nothing to it, right? Well, listen to this instrumental arrangement by Roy Clark, the extraordinary guitarist who died a few years ago.

The song was written by James Lord Pierpont and first published in 1857. Oddly, it was originally intended as a Thanksgiving song, but it evolved. The historians theorize that “jingle” was meant initially as a verb: shake or rattle the reins on the sleigh in order to make its presence known to other sleigh-drivers.

A Tropical Christmas

Originally posted in December 2013.

Here’s Carole King singing “Christmas Paradise,” an original Christmas song from her 2011 album “A Holiday Carole.”

And yes, that is pretty much what it’s like to celebrate Christmas in Hawai’i. For a while there Dad would make a point of jumping into the pool on Christmas Day for the joy of being able to say truthfully “I swam on Christmas.”

You’ve decorated the halls, now the tree!

Originally posted December 2016.

Let’s hear Nat King Cole sing O Tannenbaum in German. As far as I can tell his accent is pretty good. It’s from “The Christmas Song”, first released in 1960 as “The Magic of Christmas.”

The song didn’t start out as a Christmas song when first written in 1824; as the Christmas tree evolved into a tradition in the 19th century, so did this song. It was originally a celebration of “the fir’s evergreen quality as a symbol of constancy and faithfulness.”

Decorate the house!

Originally posted December 2018.

Julie Andrews sings “Deck the Halls.” The melody was written in 15th-century Wales, and the original lyrics had nothing to do with Christmas or decorating, but were well wishes on the New Year. The English lyrics were written in the 19th century by a Scotsman named Thomas Oliphant and were first published in 1862. You can hear the Welsh lyrics and melody here.

As a bonus, here is Eddie Kamae and the Sons of Hawai’i singing the same song in Hawai’ian:

Rain and snow and cold and…yuk!

First posted in December 2015.

Given the major storm system moving from west to east on the Mainland, Judy Collins (with Tyne Daly!) singing about the bleak midwinter seems appropriate. This is from her 2007 “All On A Wintry Night” album. It’s pretty spare; the only instruments are piano and possibly harpsichord, but with Collins’ beautiful voice why throw a bunch of lush string arrangements into the mix?

Christmas Transport

Originally posted December 2017.

All these folks promising to come home for Christmas have to get there somehow.

Here are The Andrews Sisters singing “Sleigh Ride.”

It’s not clear when this was first recorded, but it appeared on the 2004 compilation “Songs for Christmas”.

The sisters had an incredible career. It began in the 1930s in the Midwest, first in vaudeville and then touring with big bands. They recorded hundreds of songs as a trio and with other singers, most notably Bing Crosby. During World War Two they toured military bases both domestic and overseas; they also found time to make 17 mostly-B movies between 1940-1948. They cut back on recording and touring in the 1950s, preferring to perform in nightclubs. Their last album appeared in the early 1960s. Patti, the last of the sisters, died in Los Angeles in 2013 at 94.

Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme

This was originally posted in 2016.

Here are Steve (Lawrence) & Eydie (Gorme) wishing you “Happy Holidays.” They married in 1957 and performed together until 2010 when Eydie retired for health reasons. She died three years later. It’s unclear whether Steve is still performing; he announced in 2019 that he was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s but treatment was ameliorating the symptoms.

This is yet another beautiful Christmas evergreen written by a nice Jewish boy, this one named Irving Berlin. It’s from their 1964 album “That Holiday Feeling.”