Part of the extreme sport-like difficulty of being a music mixer is attempting to blend contradictory styles of music. The segues must remain germane to the integrity of the entire playlist. It’s no easy feat, and often, like painting a painting it’s the accidents that turn out to be best parts of the canvas.
On this second volume of yuletide tunes (even more so than on Volume 1), I attempted to do just that: Have happy accidents. So you’ll hear Big Band blasters dovetail into country songs that shift into solemn carols, and classical instrumentals giving way to polychromatic pop numbers.
Some words about some of my choices:
The Carpenters‘ Merry Christmas Darling is, to me, the last really stellar Christmas song to make its way into the honorable holiday music canon. The title alone calls back to the 40s or 50s; and Richard’s arrangement makes it work in ways that other contemporary Christmas tunes can’t duplicate. And anything with Karen’s vocal is transformed instantly into something golden. Instead of featuring a cut from the last truly great modern Christmas album, 1963’s A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, I chose this song.
The most beautiful non-secular Christmas song is O Holy Night, from the French Cantique de Noël. And its history and transformation over time is fascinating. The elegance of the melody married to such compelling lyrics: Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices! O night divine, the night when Christ was Borne — makes for something astonishing. We’ve heard the song so many times — usually delivered with blaring glory notes and glissandi — that the song’s impact has dulled. But country singer Martina McBride, with her open, clear tone and natural annunciation brings everything that’s mystical about the song into high relief. This is the finest version I’ve experienced.
There’s really only one White Christmas and that of course is Bing Crosby‘s. If only for the whistling that floats in the break like something you’d actually hear from a joyful person out walking in the snow ’round Christmas time. I love how his vocal, mixed just barely behind the instruments, gives the song a feeling of coming through an old, 1930s, tube radio. Such a gem.
And there’s only one version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas: Judy Garland‘s. But wait! The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, back in 1987, performed a coup and offered up a rendition that, with each small catch in her voice, sets your tear glands on alert. (Please don’t tell Garland fans, but I consider Hynde’s take the better.) Oh, and while you’re keeping secrets, please don’t inform Elvis devotees that Brenda Lee‘s take on Blue Christmas is so much better. It’s the smooth and seamless class of Owen Bradley‘s arrangement (who produced Patsy Cline‘s best-known work) that moves this to the top of the tree.
I’ve several versions of Winter Wonderland that make me smile, and I’ll post a small post on those tomorrow. But Peggy Lee‘s jazz-tinged, sophisticated delivery brings an adult’s wisdom to a song that really is about the glow and ‘magic lights’ of falling in love during a cold season. One of the finest.
Next to Ella Fitzgerald, the singer and songwriter Laura Nyro is my favorite female vocalist. The closing song on my mix is, like Nyro, unusually quirky but grandly romantic and fabulous. There’s an undefinable ache in her voice that blends strength and vulnerability that’s never feigned or displayed as a ‘signature’. She always delights me. Nyro marries two songs here in a charming way, and as this closes my mix, I’ll let you wait for the surprise on your own.