My Favorite Christmas Songs

So, given that my last several posts have involved things that don’t really excite approximately 90% of my readers, I was thinking about Christmas music today…largely because I hate it. I mean really, Christmas stops being fun after the second year of working retail, and only starts being fun again when you have kids and get to watch them enjoy Christmas…or so I’m told. My lack-of-enthusiasm for the holiday has deeper reasons that are beyond the scope of a blog post, but for a little bit, I’ll at least attempt to hand out a few awards for my preferred Christmas songs…

 

Favorite Pre-1960, non-religious Christmas song
“Here Comes Santa Claus”

I chose this one because it’s a rare breed. I’m not the biggest fan of hearing it, but it’s notable to me because it’s a Santa-focused Christmas song that declares “We’re all God’s children” and encourages listeners to “give thanks to the Lord above”. As an added bonus, these statements presumably help prevent it from being the victim of infinite remakes.

Favorite Post-1960, non-religious Christmas song
“Christmas Wrapping”

This track is the only Christmas song I know to utilize the word “damn” in its lyrics, and its mention of the now-defunct A&P supermarket ages the song more than its sax riff. It’s also one of only two Christmas-centered story songs I can think of (the other being “The Little Drummer Boy”). While the song was clearly reflective of music trends in the early 1980s, the story itself is all but timeless. Admittedly it is a Christmas song in the same way that Die Hard is a Christmas movie, but from a purely cultural standpoint it’s fun and evokes a mental picture in every one who listens to it.

Favorite Faith-Based Christmas Carol
O Come Let Us Adore Him

Though sung and re-sung by no shortage of artists, I consider Nat King Cole’s rendition to be the definitive one. Moreover, I like the fact that this song references the birth of Christ in a context where singing the song in the middle of August still makes perfect sense.

Favorite Modern Faith-Based Christmas Song
Breath of Heaven

This song, though not directly based off a Biblical account, seems like a reasonable look into how Mary and Joseph were feeling and thinking at the time of Jesus’ birth, with a direct expression of their reliance on God to get them through a very difficult situation for them.

 

If you’ve got any categories you’d like me to add, feel free to write it in the comments.

Dance Music: it ain’t what it used to be…

“Music sucks these days”…my dad used to say that growing up. When he was younger, the quality of music was directly related to the skills of the musician. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the musical talent of many of the rock artists of the 60’s and 70’s. I’m not precisely a fan of the genres, but I will certainly never argue that those musicians were talented. I grew up on late-90’s-early-00’s pop – the point when Lou Pearlman was pumping out teen pop stars like Coke from a vending machine, computer-based recording studios were only just starting to leave the minority, Autotune wasn’t quite yet a thing, and dance music was still pressed on vinyl.


This gem of a song was released in 2003, and I’d argue, amongst the best remakes of a song ever done. The synergy here between Phil Collins, Deborah Cox, and Valentin is something that’s rare form. I’m fortunate enough to have this track on vinyl, though I’m not a purist – I won’t argue that my pressed vinyl sounds better than the CD. Either way, between this, Airwave, and Silence, you’ve got three pillars of dance music of the era that manage to evoke emotion in the process of giving a soundtrack to a dance floor. Honorable mention to Peter Luts’s take on Castles in the Sky.

My previous post on “Outside” is about as good as it gets in recent years, and as much as EDM is mainstream now, it seems much more clearly “template based” than earlier tracks. Sure, quantized, four-to-the-floor rhythms made digitally aren’t quite a drumming pattern that would showcase Ringo Starr’s talent, but the blend with the synths is much more symbiotic than today. Many “remixes” I hear today are basically the album edits with the 16-bar instrumental section in the post-chorus changed out.

There was a scene in a recent episode of Minority Report where the protagonist’s mother commented about how there was more human interaction in the good ol’ days of Tinder than in the present day of the series (the 2050’s, I believe), where people in clubs tap bracelets and get a “green light” or a “red light” before ever exchanging words.

My dad waxes nostalgic of the glory days of actual guitar playing. I wax nostalgic of the glory days of air synths that involved a modicum of composition prowess. I cringe at what my niece and nephew will consider to be the ‘good ol’ days’. Then again, my dad probably feels the same way.

Catching Up – “Outside”

I’ve been meaning to write a blog entry about this song for a while. Unfortunately, life just has a tendency to happen and suck my blogging time away.

Calvin Harris & Ellie Goulding – Outside

Music videos have, as a general art form, seemed to have taken a nose dive since the mid 90’s. There were a handful of standouts here and there, but on the whole, watching them is an exception for me, not a rule. This video isn’t terribly notable (aside from its interesting time-stopping and CGI mirror effects), but the video isn’t the topic of this blog entry – the song is.

I’ve heard this song hundreds of times, and after a while, it got me thinking. As I get older, I find that “learning song lyrics” has been a task that now requires more formal effort and intent, rather that simply being the product of simply hearing the song enough. Perhaps it’s simply due to age, perhaps it’s simply due to some limit to the number of songs I can learn in that manner, and perhaps it has more to do with my focus being on knowing good in-points and out-points for DJ purposes, though most likely it’s a combination of them. Regardless, I did have to listen through the song once more – as well as read the lyrics directly – to ensure that I was accurate in my assessments.

What struck me wasn’t the lyrics – like I said, I had to look them up to tell you what they were. More poignant to me was the hook – the four bar synth melody that repeats a total of eighteen times in the radio edit. In the interminable debate regarding the level to which music itself can convey emotion (this question being the entrance to the rabbit hole regarding the nature of art itself),this purely synthetic loop, 7.5 seconds in length, to me, seems a bit of a paradox. I get a sense of both optimism and hopelessness, a sense of anticipation and letdown, a known cycle and a feeling that something isn’t going to stay the same.

Beyond the paradox, I am wondering why this particular song actually brought about an emotion to begin with. There have only been a handful of songs that have ever evoked a reaction, but they’ve almost invariably been based on lyrical content. Even the handful of others that stand out as a result of their instrumentation at least involved actual instrument-playing, rather than being the result of an evening in FL Studio. Regardless, why this song, and why not so many others? I just don’t get it.

Perhaps what I’m witnessing here is the difference between art and design, as described by my fellow CMN alum Len Wilson: Design answers a question, while art asks a question. Perhaps, in our world of synthetic music, designed to be popular just long enough to make it to the top of the iTunes charts for a week, Calvin and Ellie managed to do something notable: produce art.

 

Ed Sheeran’s Travel Math

On the radio this morning, the song “Don’t” by Ed Sheeran started to play. It’s been a while since I’ve heard that song, but something has always bothered me about it – this lyrical excerpt:

And never wants to sleep, I guess that I don’t want to either
But me and her we make money the same way
Four cities, two planes the same day
And those shows have never been what it’s about

 

Alright, let’s try to make that schedule work. The context of the song leads me to believe it to be two musicians, something that my research for this post confirmed. So, we’ll assume that these people start their day with a 6AM red eye flight out of Raleigh, NC to Washington, DC. Raleigh technically counts as a city they are in, even though they’re probably not performing in Raleigh in order to make the math work, so it only counts on a technicality. So, Ed gets up at 4AM to head to the airport and hop on his 6AM flight; two hours to get through airport security and traffic from the hotel seems reasonable.

It’s a 1hr, 10min flight from Raleigh to DC, getting him there at 7:10AM. We’ll presume he’s singing at a ritzy breakfast for some senators there, so we’ll assume that he’s grabbed his bags, and headed right to the venue where he’s singing. He gets on stage at 9AM and puts on a one hour show. This gets him done at 10AM, and we’ll assume that nobody wants to talk to him after to get a selfie or autograph.

Why did I pick D.C.? Because if there are four cities but only two plane trips, you need at least one non-flying method of transit. So, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that Baltimore is the third city, since the two of them are close enough to be within driving distance, yet still be distinct cities with their own separate airports. However, we’re dealing with traffic. Google Maps puts the distance between the White House and the Rotunda at about 90 minutes, but I’ve never heard a story of travel between Baltimore and DC that didn’t involve groaning and otherwise terrifying descriptions of cars that weren’t moving, so we’re factoring in two hours of traffic for Ed’s tour bus (which doesn’t get in an accident, or pulled over, or a flat tire….). That gets him into Baltimore at noon, and we’ll assume a negligible stop at McDonald’s for lunch. What’s he doing in Baltimore? Well, he’s in the studio for an interview on Z104.3, the local Clearchannel Top 40 radio station. That interview is at 1:00, and also lasts for an hour.

Ed gets onto the tour bus to head to the airport again for the second time today. It’s a half hour trip from the Z104.3 studio to BWI, so we’ll assume that he’s hopping a 4PM flight. Where’s he going? To perform at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, of course! It’s another 1:10 flight, which naturally departs and arrives perfectly on time. Ed arrives at Kennedy at 5:10. He hops the AirTrain to Jamaica, and takes the LIRR to Atlantic Terminal. The timing is, once again, perfect…so Ed gets to Barclay’s Center in an hour.

It’s 6:10PM. Ed has been up for nearly fourteen hours now; that’s usually when most of us have “had it” and pull out our bag of popcorn and start resuming whatever we paused last night on Netflix. Not Ed! Tonight’s his night to perform at the Billboard 100 Music Festival! He goes on stage at 7:00, but he needs to be there at the end of the show because he’s getting an award for…something. So, he heads to his hotel at 11PM, and calls it a night.

What’s the takeaway here? Well, when I actually did the math, it seems that it’s technically plausible to do “four cities, two planes the same day”, Assuming…

  1. One takes an extremely early flight out in the morning…and counts their location of departure as one of the cities, without any actual performance happening there.
  2. Each of the other appearances over the course of the day are approximately an hour long.
  3. The cities are close enough for the flights and driving distances to be within two hours each.
  4. The appearances themselves are timed in perfect sequence to follow a linear travel path.
  5. The planes are all precisely on time, and their arrival and departure times are all correctly timed with the appearance schedules.
  6. Similarly, everyone is “in place” when the flights land – all the bus/limo drivers are in place, on time, and easily found.
  7. “Life” doesn’t happen – no encores, no autographs, no questions, no traffic, no getting bumped from a flight….

And, after that perfectly synchronized day, Ed can NOT then state that you don’t want to sleep, like Ed does two lines up in the song. Ed also can’t have a day like that and then say that the shows are not what it’s about, because no sane person would adhere to that schedule for any other reason.

Flashbacks: the value of media

I was driving for work, and a commercial for a furniture store came on the radio. Their music bed was a song I used frequently during my time editing wedding videos. It instantly brought me back to that time in my life; I started recalling things I haven’t thought about in years.

This is the value of media.

…Also, I think there is a furniture sale somewhere.