December 2013

AC/DC – “Given the Dog a Bone” – (1980)

Here’s another non-single track from the greatest rock-n-roll album of all time. Don’t agree that it’s the best? Well it’s the second-best-selling album of all time behind Thriller. AC/DC is a band known for their sexual innuendo and this track is a fine example of that. Can’t figure it out? I find that hard to believe, but congratulations on your innocence.

Celine Dion & Andrea Bocelli – “The Prayer” – (1998)

Here’s a Christmas song that really isn’t a Christmas song. It’s religious – but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily about Christmas – even if it was on Celine Dion’s 1998 Christmas album (it was on a standard non-Holiday Andrea Bocelli album). It was featured in the movie Quest for Camelot and won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar and a Grammy. The vocals here, as you can probably guess, are amazing. Celine re-recorded this with Josh Groban in 2008, but the original is better. It was a minor hit in the U.S. and a slightly bigger one in Canada.

Frank Sinatra – “Jingle Bells” – (1957)

Let’s be honest, “Jingle Bells” is a kids song. But nobody does it better than Frank. I love the “I love those J-I-N-G-L-E bells.” And then Sinatra comes in singing – you can almost hear the scotch in his hand sloshing around as he sings this one. The background vocals are great too. This is one of my favorite Christmas songs. It just came from that perfect time (the 1950s) for music like this. For me, picturing a “traditional” Christmas scene almost always ends up as a snowy 1950s American scene. With a song like this playing in the background.

Leonard Bernstein – “Carol of the Bells” – (1997)

The Carol of the Bells is the coolest instrumental Christmas song there is. It’s based on a traditional Ukrainian folk chant – it’s Eastern European, so that explains why it’s kind of dark and brooding. It’s a very popular Christmas tune and this is one of the more solid (non-re-worked) versions. There are versions with a chorus, and this one lacks it. But it doesn’t matter.

Jimmy Durante – “Frosty the Snowman” – (1969)

Frosty the Snowman is everybody’s favorite snowman. The song was first recorded by Gene Autry in 1950 and became a top ten hit that year. In 1969, there was a famous animated TV special with the same title. The song was re-recorded by the narrator of the TV program – comedian Jimmy Durante (it was his last appearance in film). His gravelly voice is very recognizable and the song also has a backing chorus. To me, this is the definitive version of this holiday classic.

Mannheim Steamroller – “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” – (1988)

A Fresh Aire Christmas has sold over 3.5 million copies since it was released in 1988. Mannheim Steamroller – and Chip Davis and Jackson Berkey (the two men behind the band) – is a group mostly known for its New Age take on Christmas classics. They have other albums as well, but Christmas is what they’re known for. Hark! The Heralds Angels Sing is a Christmas standard. The carol dates back to the early 1700s when it was originally written by Charles Wesley. But the music was slow and kind of dark… so 100 years later Felix Mendelssohn wrote a more upbeat version and Mannheim Steamroller have updated it a little more.

Bing Crosby – “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” – (1943)

Here’s a classic. It was written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent and first recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943. It peaked at #3 on the Hot 100 in 1943. What I love about it is the wartime message within the song if you listen to it and think about what it must’ve meant to people in the mid-1940s who were trying to celebrate Christmas while their family members were freezing in Europe on fighting for their lives on some faraway island in the south Pacific. It’s a wonderful song from a time when life was both simpler and more complicated.

Amy Grant – “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” – (1992)

Amy Grant, whose career began in Christian music eventually found herself atop the Adult Contemporary scene in the early-1990s. In 1992, she released this Christmas album, Home for Christmas. Strangely, this song was actually a #1 hit on the very popular Christian Radio-Adult Contemporary chart. It’s an original, written by Grant and songwriter Chris Eaton. This album was massively successful, selling over 2.5 million copies as of December 2012. Oh, and yes, I completely realize how strange it is to follow a Godsmack song with a Christian Christmas hit from Amy Grant. But we’re into Christmas music season at least through Christmas.

Godsmack – “Going Down” – (1997)

Why do rock bands always have stupid names? I liked Godsmack back when it was really cool to like Godsmack, but as I look back, all I think is “Man, what a stupid name for a band… way to try and be hard.” They have some pretty decent rock songs, but I don’t count this among them. So why is it here and why do I have it? Wel, 1: this week is kind of a burn until I can get to Christmas music on Friday and 2: this song was featured on the very popular Mission: Impossible II soundtrack. Originally, it was released on the band’s independent debut album All Wound Up. It would later come out on their 2000 album Awake.

Hall & Oates – “Out of Touch” – (1984)

“Out of Touch” is one of Hall & Oates’ best songs from the 1980s. It’s also one of the most New Wave-y songs that they ever recorded. It was the last #1 hit they had on the Hot 100. The opening lyrics “Shake it up…” always grab me and hook me into the song – and so does the hook of what sounds an awful lot like bells (but could be a synthesizer or something). I like the video – Daryl Hall has some serious dance moves (although the leopard-print suit is a bit much… but hey, it was 1984.).

George Michael – “Waiting For That Day” – (1990)

This song is sometimes subtitled “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – and that’s because it sounds similar to the Rolling Stones song of the same name. George Michael wrote this song independently and later realized how similar it sounded, so he gave Mick Jagger and Keith Richards credit (presumably to avoid a lawsuit). Amazingly, this was George Michael’s first single to not make it into the top 10 in the U.S. – it only reached #27.

Def Leppard – “Foolin’” – (1983)

Do you like hair bands? It was a (short-lived) phase I went through a couple years ago. For the most part they’ve never been too appealing to me but I will admit that Def Leppard is one of the biggest bands to come out of the 80s. This is a hard rock song known for its stuttering chorus “F-f-f-foolin'” and the well-sung line “Is anybody out there?” This song hit #28 on the Hot 100, making it the third-biggest hit from Pyromania.

Adam Sandler feat. Rob Schneider & The Drei-Dells – “The Chanukah Song Part III” – (2002)

Chanukah was early this year, so here – in our first post for December 2013 – is the final (or at least, the most recent) version of Adam Sandler’s Chanukah Songs. Adam Sandler performed it live on the opening of an SNL episode near the end of 2002 with Rob Schneider singing a verse and the children’s choir The Drei-Dells providing background vocals. It’s the normal run-down of Jewish (or part-Jewish) celebrities, the best of them being “Tom Arnold converted to Judaism, but you guys can have him back.”