Wednesday, December 21, 2011

EscalatorYule 2011: Stave Three - Tidbits and Morsels for Christmas Ears

Once, in the mid-1980's - I had the opportunity to meet and talk briefly with Albert Hague. Mr. Hague was a composer and lyricist who had won a Tony for the Gwen Verdon show Redhead in 1959. At the time of our meeting, he was experiencing a bit of renewed notoriety for having played "Professor Shorofsky" in the film and telelvision series Fame. I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Hague after a concert he had given for some local schools in my hometown.

Why bring this up in EscalatorYule, you ask? Well - my love of Holiday music goes way back in my memories, to my earliest days. Part of that love is due to the work of Mr. Hague. In 1966, he was responsible for many of the tunes featured in the original animated film How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Dr. Seuss himself came up with most of the lyrics, Mr. Hague - the music.

So, now - even though our conversation was extremely short, just enough to recognize our mutual appreciation of music - every time I hear someone whistling/humming along to 'Fahoo Foraze' or 'You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch,' I think - "hey , I met that guy!"

It may not be the coolest holiday memory, but it was significant for me - and I've been keeping a whimsical eye on holiday entertainment since.

I've been collecting Christmas Music - via LP, cassette, CD, or (as it happens in this day and age) Internet download - since about the same time in my personal history. In 1987, I compiled a mixed tape of some favorite Holiday songs and made copies to give to friends and family. In the intervening years, I've made nearly two dozen different mixes, each featuring some of the neatest, most interesting, and original versions of both classic tracks and whatever intriguing pieces I can find that many folk may not have already heard. I start putting them together every year about July. My wife has the tolerance of a Saint.

There are tunes that we hear ad nauseum every Yuletide Season on radio, satellite, and on various and sundry "in-store play" compilations that litter the retail market from Thanksgiving through New Years, and for the most part - I try to avoid those. Recently, however, I've heard and re-heard a few songs that I've convinced myself I shouldn't enjoy - and started to actually fancy them, either through interesting re-interpretations or just their likable novelty. A few to reconsider for your Xmas mix:

'Santa Baby' - Eartha Kitt nailed it the first time out in 1953, and it was played into the ground for 30 years thereafter. Then, on the first 'Very Special Christmas' LP, Madonna up and ruined it for the ages. Or at least for me. For a time, it was hard to even listen to the original without being reminded of the sub par material girl rehash. Then, earlier this holiday season, I was surprised to find a newer arrangement that I really kind of like. I was even more surprised when I realized that this new, improved version was done by Taylor Swift.

'Don't Be A Jerk, It's Christmas' - I'm not a Spongebob Squarepants fan, never really have been. However, this original song should definitely be the mantra of the holidays. Good advice all around for surviving the Yule.

All I Want For Christmas Is You" - Yeah, I know - Mariah Carey. Well, while she may have the most famous version of the song - there are plenty of covers around. I'm not a Mariah fan, but the song itself is well written; and a well written song can be decently performed by just about anyone with a modicum of talent. One of the newest versions I've heard (because, believe it or not, Ms. Carey's version is nearly 20 years old) is by a band named This Providence. I haven't heard anything else by that particular group, but I dig their version of what has become a modern addition to the canon of "Classic" holiday tunes.

There's many good ole Christmas songs that get a new treatment every year. Many by bands who either couldn't care about the song and are trying to make a quick holiday buck, or maybe just haven't heard the originals. It's easy enough to ignore the dreck - but some songs just shouldn't be touched.

Case in point: I've yet to hear a version of 'This Christmas' which even comes close to Donny Hathaway's riveting original ("shake a hand, shake a hand, now..."). The same can be said for The Waitresses 'Christmas Wrapping' which both laments some of the trials and tribulations of the season while becoming a traditional classic all it's own. It's had a few covers as well, but nothing beats the original. Plus, it does have a happy ending - with horns!

I continue to seek out new and original songs every year for the holidays, but like to settle in with some time-honored audio as well. I know I have my favorites, I'm sure you do as well. I hope that you'll get to hear them all this season.

More EscalatorYule coming soon!

The Dispatch From Escalatorville
Z.F. Lively, List Checker/Bell Ringer
Yukon Cornelius, Chief Pick-Licker

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