Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gifts & Wishes: I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus

Brenda Lee: I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus


It's been a long year - it's been a hard year. I've learned much about Abundance and its flip side Scarcity - holding on too tight causes lack... and generosity brings blessings...

I make a Holiday Mix CD each year and share copies with loved ones... and the thread continued with the songs I chose (or that chose me) - no clue as to how this one ended up in my Windows Media Player...

I don't know why... but I wouldn't have figured the late 50's/early-60's as a decade for charity - the lyrics of this Brenda Lee tune surprise and delight me each time I listen, as she tells us what she's going to do to Santa Claus, who seems not to be doing his job properly, and how she can help move the process along...

I missed some wonderful themes here on Star Maker Machine in the last few months - Brenda's lasso snapped me back to reality as well... realizing how fortunate I am to be surrounded by dear family, amazing friends and inspiring music...

Gifts & Wishes: An Apple, An Orange And A Little Stick Doll

stick doll

Jeannie & Jimmy Cheatham: An Apple, An Orange And A Little Stick Doll


My husband was reminiscing today about his father's tale of an early Christmas when his gift was a single orange. In comparison, Jeannie Cheatham's haul was relatively rich! Mostly, this jazzy song is about memories of long-gone Christmases and the simple, much-beloved gifts.

Gifts & Wishes: We Three Kings of Orient Are

Gregg Miner: We Three Kings of Orient Are


Of course the three kings are the original Christmas gift givers. But it seems odd that the three kings/wise men would travel all the way from the Far East and still get there in time to see the Baby Jesus while he was still a baby, until you realize that the term "the Orient" used to refer to what we now call the Mid-East. As the Europeans' knowledge of Asia expanded, so did the meaning of the word.

And so multi-instrumentalist Gregg Miner gives the song an appropriately Middle-Eastern feel, with the oboe, the Egyptian oud and the Turkish saz leading the way. Gregg released two wonderful instrumental Christmas albums that are essential for anyone with a fetish for unique instruments. His collection of mostly stringed instruments (from "The Miner Museum of Vintage, Exotic, and Just Plain Unusual Musical Instruments") is only surpassed by his ability to play them all. This is the guy I always wanted to be. And the beautiful booklets that accompanies the two CDs are pure instrument porn for someone like me.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Gifts & Wishes: Wassail Song

Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum: Wassail Song


Caroling is a nice part of the holiday season. There is a knock at your door, and when you open it, you are greeted by a cluster of people singing seasonal songs. Often, there are a few parents and a great many more children among the singers. Nothing could be sweeter and more innocent, yes? But the tradition of caroling comes from wassailing, an activity that was, at various times, banned by the church.

Wassailing was not an activity for children. Usually a group of men would take a wassailing bowl, fill it with either ale or mulled hard cider, and go door to door. In exchange for their songs of good wishes for the new year and a sip from their bowl, the wassailers expected a treat or sometimes a payment. If they did not get it, they would sometimes curse the house of the person who did not compensate them, or even vandalize their house. Another wassailing tradition is to visit an apple orchard, and ritually wake the trees. This is done by making as much noise as possible, and then making an offering to the trees by pouring some cider from the wassailing bowl on the base of each tree. This was done to insure a good apple harvest. You can find more information on the wassailing traditions here.

The Wassail Song performed by Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum is a variation on the familiar Gloucester Wassail. Lewis and Rozum perform the song with some older and less known lyrics, and the arrangement emphasizes that this is an old song. But, old though it may be, Lewis and Rozum make it sound fresh.

Gifts & Wishes: Santa Baby


Eartha Kitt: Santa Baby


This song is about as far as one can get from the sentiment expressed in The Gift of the Magi. This Christmas classic, released in 1954 and played everywhere ad nauseum this time of year, revels in that 50's sexual innuendo that started creeping into the popular music of the time. It's mixed with a healthy dose of conspicuous consumption. All very tongue-in-cheek, though---we hope. I thought Santa was happily married to Mrs. Claus (does she even have a first name?) Eartha makes a little side-trip down the chimney sound pretty good, though. That is, provided that Santa delivers the goods.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gifts & Wishes: The Gift of the Magi

Darryl Purpose: The Gift of the Magi


One of my favorite Christmas stories is O Henry’s The Gift of the Magi. So, when this week’s theme was announced, I was hoping that someone had made a song out of it. That someone was Darryl Purpose, and he does a great job with it. If you don’t know the story, I’ll let him tell it. I will only say that giving a gift should always be an act of love, and sometimes love involves sacrifice.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gifts & Wishes: All I Want For Christmas Is A Beatle

Dora Bryan: All I Want For Christmas Is A Beatle


A totally sixties love song penned and sung by Brit stage actress Dora Bryan, who at 39 sounds so eager to cash in on Beatle-mania she doesn't seem to care that her song a) is a bit over-orchestrated for the teen set, and b) states no preference as to which Beatle Santa brings, which, as anyone who has even read a book about the sixties can tell you, was a social gaffe of the highest order. It's got a sort of naive charm, though - something light for the holidays, if nothing else.

Bryan's short single is notable for being the first novelty record about the Beatles - it was actually released in '63, before the band had even released their first single on American shores - but it certainly wouldn't be the last. In fact, Marsh and Propes' book Merry Christmas Baby notes several more holiday tunes along these lines, including "Ringo Bells" by the Three Blonde Mice, "Christmas with the Beatles" by Judy and the Duets, "I Want A Beatle For Christmas" by Becky Lee Beck and "I Want the Beatles for Christmas" by Jackie and Jill.

I've heard Becky Lee Beck's '64 original, and found it a bit like Annette Funicello taking on The Munster's Theme - trust me, this isn't worth passing along even for the novelty, though you can check it out on YouTube if you have two minutes of your life you never want back. But I'd love to hear that last one; bonus points to anyone who can find it to share.

Gifts & Wishes: Gift X-Change

Calexico: Gift X-Change


The best Christmas gift, according to Calexico (and, really, common-sense), is love – and that’s one present you can give yourself.

Depression and Christmas don’t always go together well. This 2000 track addresses somebody who is not in a happy frame of mind. The might be trying to bounce back from some sort of trauma of rejection, or perhaps suffers from some form of depression. “The spirit is broken, the path is overrun; you can’t move forward and now nothing gets done. I hope you find some inner peace along the way... What would it take to hear you say the gift you give is love.”

The track was recorded for a charity album, titled It’s Cool Cool Christmas, for The Big Issue in Britain, which produces magazines which homeless people sell on the streets to create an income. The album, now out of print and something of a collector’s item, also features the likes of Saint Etienne, Teenage Fanclub, Snow Patrol, Belle & Sebastian, Eels, Flaming Lips and El Vez (with his great version of Feliz Navidad).

The Big Issue project also operates in South Africa, Ireland, Australia, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Namibia, Kenya and Malawi.

The Winter Months -> Gifts & Wishes: 25th December

Everything But The Girl: 25th December


DJ and producer Ben Watt - once the male half of British alt-pop group Everything But The Girl, along with his life-partner Tracey Thorn, who he finally married last year after 28 years together, and more often than not the author of the EBTG catalog, though only rarely the primary vocalist, as he is in this gentle holiday tune - has a knack for an almost narcissistic self-reflection, especially in looking back wistfully on life. Here, his wishes for the holidays revolve around the unattainable: a second chance, a revisited childhood, and time, always time, and it's a pretty potent mix.

25th December isn't truly a holiday tune, with Christmas relevant predominantly as a focal point and setting for his nostalgia. But the way the song presents the desire for another chance at Christmas past provides an apt, albeit unusually abstract, introduction to our next week's theme, which will see us posting songs that relate to the desires of the season, from presents to presence.