Friday, January 1, 2021

Top Posts Of 2020


We interrupt the Pandemic Holiday Song theme for our sixth annual listing of the most viewed posts of the prior year.

Through our (usually) two-week long themes, our international roster of writers address many different kinds of music, and bring different perspectives to their pieces. This year, not surprisingly, many of our themes were directly or indirectly related to the global pandemic and its effects.  In our top 11 (due to a tie), we have an instrumental piece from two guitar masters, a memorial for a respected musician, a reflection on eye surgery and Jackson Browne, a Blues Brothers cover, a discussion of a somewhat obscure British musician, a funky instrumental, an early synth-rock song, an intense R.E.M. mystery, a Led Zeppelin deep-ish track featuring a Brit-folk legend, a remembrance of three great New Orleans musicians, and a soul classic.

One thing that I've noticed from compiling this list for the past few years is how it is impossible to predict what posts will strike a nerve with our readers and appear on the list.  Some of my favorite contributions didn't come close to making the cut, and the popularity of the artist or song written about seems to have little correlation to popularity on this site.  For example, the top post this year is about a pretty obscure 1980s proggy instrumental, number 2 is an In Memoriam piece about a well-respected musician who is not a household name, and the third is about an old Jackson Browne song that remarkably was also in one of last year's top 10 posts (although the fact that I included a pathetic post-surgery picture of myself might have encouraged people to read it):

1.  Masks--I Advance Masked
2.  In Memoriam--Neal Casal
3.  No Thanks--Doctor My Eyes
4.  Non-Sense--Rubber Biscuit
5.  Hidden Places--Driving Somewhere
6.  Rocket/Space--Outa-Space
7.  Electricity--Are 'Friends' Electric?
8.  Musical Mysteries--What's The Frequency, Kenneth?
9.  War/Peace--The Battle of Evermore
10.  In Memoriam--Three New Orleans Icons
10.  Alone--Tired of Being Alone

Because so many of the most viewed posts are from early in the year, which makes sense, since they were available to view on the site for the longest, below are the top posts for each of our themes not represented in the total top 10:

Something With Twenty--Twenty Years Ago
Valentines--Cupid Come/My Bloody Valentine
Superstitions--Ubangi Stomp
Mayday/Danger--Help Me
Open/Close--A Selection of Great Albums that Start as Well as they Finish
Looking Forward--I'll Follow The Sun
Wait/Don't Wait--Desperados Waiting For A Train
Great--Not Great Men
Count/Counting--SCTV's Count Floyd
Mail--Take A Letter Maria
Lessons (3 way tie)--Musings of a Teacher, No Teacher No Method No Guru, Lessons in Love
Empty--Empty Baseball Park
Guitar Heroes--Robert "One Man" Johnson
Joe--Smokey Joe's Cave
Leftovers--(Lessons) Clarence White
Pandemic Holiday Songs--Why You've Been Gone So Long

Thanks so much for reading our work this year.  If you are interested in joining our staff, contact information can be found at the top right of the blog.

On a personal note, I'm now appearing on the blog under my real name, not as "J. David," an alias I used for various reasons when I started writing here back in late 2011.  A new year seemed like a good time for a change.

And we promise more great music and writing in 2021, including our annual In Memoriam theme, coming soon!!


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Pandemic Holiday Songs: Beggar's Banquet


Prodigal Son was at one time incorrectly credited to Jagger and Richards when in fact it belongs to Rev. Robert Wilkins

purchase [ Beggar's Banquet]

An article in the WaPo last week discussed the Puritans' three-decade ban on Christmas in the late 1600's. The researchers explained how late December celebrations in England at the time were more or less debauchery and certainly not very Christ-oriented. Beggars banquettting at the lords' manor for 12 days of revelry is exactly what the "12 Days of Christmas" song is about. And how it was only at this time of year that the fall harvest of grapes and barley were fermented for their proper consumption.

The "holiday season" is, of course, more than Christmas. As I noted last time around, this time of year includes myriad celebrations around the world. That got me thinking, because, while around the world we may not all celebrate Christmas (or Kwana or Hanukka), we pretty much all celebrate the new year. For many, the form of celebration is more an extended, good-riddance libation to the outgoing rather than embracing of the incoming.

And it got me thinking that SMM hasn't done a Glimmer Twins post in quite some time (and they *have* been called the carolling stones by some). 

Beggar's Banquet includes <Sympathy for the Devil> - just about an appropriate choice for debauchery at this time of year.

It's also the first publication of <Street Fighting Man>. (Now there's an anthem for 2020.)

But for me, as we look ahead or look back (according to our preferences) at this time of year, my Pandemic End of Year Holiday Song for this week is: No Expectations

So take me to the airport

and put me on a plane

I've got no expectations

to pass through here again


Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Pandemic Holiday Songs: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Judy Garland: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

I’ve reached my holiday song limit, having been listening for days to various traditional and nontraditional seasonal music, but this holiday music theme runs for a bit longer, and so here I am. 

There are a bunch of articles that I’ve seen recently arguing that “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is the perfect song for this year’s less-festive-than-usual holiday season. But that’s really only true if you focus on the original version of the song, originally sung by Judy Garland in the 1944 film, Meet Me in St. Louis, and not what is probably the most famous cover, by Frank Sinatra, who had the lyrics changed in 1957 to make the song more optimistic (although he did sing the original lyrics in a 1948 recording). 

In the movie, Garland’s character sings the song to her younger sister. The clip is above. 

Coming out during World War II, the song’s message hit home with soldiers and those on the home front who were missing soldiers, with lyrics about how everything will be better “next year.” The Sinatra version, following Ol’ Blue Eyes’ directive to “jolly it up,” declares that all the troubles are gone “from now on.” Where the original version pined for the time when “Someday soon we all will be together/If the fates allow,” and acknowledged that “Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow,” in Sinatra’s version, we’ve already been together through the years, and rather than muddling through, we are supposed to hang a shining star on the highest bough. 

There are other changes, and you can read more about them here, but the key thing is that Garland’s version recognizes that things are not great, but there’s hope for the future, while Sinatra’s celebrates how good the current situation is. And that’s why the original is a great pandemic song, while the later version might be better for 2021. By the way, the original original lyrics to the song were even bleaker—for example, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past,” which was rejected by Garland and director Vincente Minnelli, and replaced with the less creepy version that appeared in the movie. 

Not surprisingly, the jollied up version has been covered more often than the darker original, although Ella Fitzgerald remained true to the Garland version in her swinging1960 cover, as did Swedish sistes First Aid Kit in their folky recent cover. (I’m sure there are others that hew to the original, but the generally pretty accurate cover website SecondHandSongs lists nearly 1600 versions, and writing for this blog is just a hobby). For what it is worth, Garland sang a hybrid version to her children on a 1963 TV special, so she must not have been too offended by the change.