Christmas/Holiday Cheer: John Rutter

I met Martha in January 95 when I accepted an invitation from my physics colleague to attend a Wednesday night choir practice at the church I’d been attending for a while.  It was a set-up of sorts–he was definitely attempting to play matchmaker–but his intuition sure turned out to be dead on!  Almost twenty-three years later, she and I are still giving it a go in the alto and bass sections (respectively, of course).

One of the greatest joys to arise from all these years of singing has been performing Christmas music by British composer John Rutter. Here are two of my favorites of his. We’ll be doing “What Sweeter Music,” accompanied by a string quartet, on Sunday. “Christmas Lullaby” is one we’ve sung maybe three times over the years.


Sixty Minute Tape, Song 15: Wall of Voodoo, “Mexican Radio”

Late in 2016, I posted on Facebook about the contents of a mix tape I put together sometime in early 92.  It’s the only sixty-minute tape of its kind in my collection.  I’ll be re-upping modified versions of those sixteen posts over the coming weeks.

One day sometime in 84 when my friends and I were watching MTV in our student center, this video came on and was followed by the Call’s “The Walls Came Down.”  That may well be my pick for the greatest one-two punch the channel played in its heyday.  I can’t help but notice how young Stan Ridgway and company look here.  This is a great, great song.


American Top 40 PastBlast Redux, 7/12/86: Moody Blues, “Your Wildest Dreams”

Before I started this blog, I posted about songs from old AT40s on Facebook, January-July 2017. I’ll be moving them here over time. This entry has been edited somewhat from the original.

The Moody Blues made a bit of history in this countdown, joining a short list of acts to hit the top 10 with singles in the 60s, 70s and 80s. What’s more, they had only three top 10 songs in total: “Go Now” went to #10 in 65, “Nights in White Satin” made it to #2 in 72, and this one is at its peak of #9 here. Haven’t researched to figure out how many others were in this club, but I know it includes the Stones, the Beach Boys, the Kinks, and the unlikely Ben E. King (who had only one Top 40 hit in each of the 70s and 80s).

I enjoyed this video back in the day, with its evocation of the late 60s British (music) scene and its fitting you-can’t-go back ending. Also: congrats to the Moodies on their election to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! There’s plenty of their stuff that I enjoy, particularly Long Distance Voyager.

Christmas/Holiday Cheer: Darlene Love

Last week, I mentioned that the Ronettes’ version of “Sleigh Ride” is among my favorites for this time of year.  I’m pretty high on the Christmas music of Darlene Love, also courtesy of Phil Spector and the Wall of Sound.  Her version of “Christmas (Please Come Home)” would rank near the very top of my list; “Marshmallow World” is mighty fine, too.


Sixty Minute Tape, Song 14: Robert Ellis Orrall and Carlene Carter, “I Couldn’t Say No”

Late in 2016, I posted on Facebook about the contents of a mix tape I put together sometime in early 92.  It’s the only sixty-minute tape of its kind in my collection.  I’ll be re-upping modified versions of those sixteen posts over the coming weeks.

I heard this duet on WLAP-FM a number of times toward the end of my freshman year in college and immediately loved it (still do).  While I did get the Orrall EP that featured it somewhere along the way, I was glad the song eventually showed up on one of Barry Scott’s Lost 45s CDs.  It reached #32 in May 83.

Both Orrall and Carter had success in country music later on.  He had a couple of modest hits in the 90s but mostly prospered as a songwriter.  Carlene was married to Nick Lowe (she’s featured prominently in the “Cruel to Be Kind” video) for a number of years and tried her luck in the pop field prior to 83.  Eventually she chose to embrace her legacy as June’s daughter.  I picked up her country breakthrough I Fell in Love when it came out in 90, in part because I knew of her from today’s song; it’s a great disk.  I got the chance to meet and chat briefly with her after a show in Lexington 3.5 years ago.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 12/20/86: Timbuk3, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”

Two memories from December of my first winter break while in grad school:

1) It was probably on this date that some of my college friends and I gathered at James’s apartment on Lafayette Ave in Lexington for a six-month reunion.  We were keeping up with each other’s news to some extent via letter, but didn’t want to miss an opportunity to have face-to-face conversations.  While I imagine current music wasn’t discussed in all that much depth, I do remember the oddity that is today’s song coming up at one point; it’s one spot shy of its #19 peak here.

(Somewhere along the way, I think I heard Timbuk3 described as “a man, a woman, and their boombox,” which sounds right to me.  They only had this one hit, though a follow-up single, “Life is Hard,” got decent airplay on WPGU in the first months of 87.)

2) One of the last two shows of 86–not sure which–was almost certainly the last time I heard Casey during his original AT40 run.  It was in our living room in Florence; I was hanging out with the Christmas tree.  I didn’t listen long, catching just a few songs in the 30s (it’s one of the few times in my life I’ve heard “For Tonight” by Nancy Martinez).  I wasn’t thinking then about how big a part the show had occupied in my life—kinda wish now I’d soaked in it a little longer that evening.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 12/13/75: C. W. McCall, “Convoy”

For Christmas 1975, Amy and I received a portable tape recorder. It came with a 10-minute (!) blank cassette, and Dad, posing as Santa, used it to record a brief message of Christmas wishes to the two of us.  It doesn’t surprise me that I still have the cassette, although I believe that we long ago recorded over my father’s “Ho, ho, ho.”

There were also a few longer blank tapes to do with as we pleased.  We took the recorder with us that day to the annual gathering at my grandparents’ farm.  Amy, my cousin Alan (who’s about six months younger than my sister), and I spent part of that afternoon upstairs, making up brief skits and committing them to tape.  I wish I still had a copy of us acting so silly that day.

But it wasn’t long, hours or days at the most, before I stuck the recorder in front of a radio to capture some of the tunes of the day, probably from WSAI.  That tape is also long lost, but this weird memory of mine still remembers a couple of the songs on it.  One was “Bennie and the Jets,” and I know that it led directly in to one of our favorites at that moment, “Convoy,” which is debuting at #29, all the way up from #82 (and yes, it went all the way to the top).

I don’t know that I memorized all of C. W. McCall’s patter, but I still know most of it—phrases such as “them smokies was thick as bugs on a bumper,” “we tore up all of our swindle sheets,” “them hogs is gettin’ in-tense up here,” and perhaps best of all, “eleven long-haired friends of Jesus in a chartreuse Microbus,” were just plain fun for an 11-year old to grab on to and spit back out.  I’ll claim I was too young to really understand the disrespect for law enforcement and antipathy to perceived over-regulation on display here.  The CB-inspired novelty music craze of that period is probably just more 70s schlock in the end, but I can’t dissociate it from relatively care-free winter days and fun times hanging with my sister.

Christmas/Holiday Cheer: Michael Bublé, “Cold December Night”

It’s evolved into a tradition at our house to add one new Christmas music CD to our collection each year.  When I’m on top of things, I order something in time to arrive by Thanksgiving, so that we can enjoy it in its season.  Not every one is an immediate winner—the jury’s still out on this year’s selection, Lauren Daigle—but more often than not, we’re pretty pleased.

Five or six years ago, we picked up Michael Bublé’s Christmas, which has gone into regular rotation.  I’ve not listened to any of his other stuff, but I’m pretty impressed by his pure, smooth tone.  The arrangements are decent and there are some nice duets/collaborations.  Plus, we got the bonus track version from Target!

Like many albums of its kind, Christmas contains one original composition, and it’s one of my favorites on the disk.  “Cold December Night” tells a tale of being in love during the holidays and the concurrent hope for reciprocation.  Even though Martha and I met in January and were already thinking about shopping for a ring by the time our first Christmas together rolled around, this song somehow makes me think of those heady days in 95 when she and I realized where we were headed.

Sixty Minute Tape, Song 13: House of Schock, “Middle of Nowhere”

Late in 2016, I posted on Facebook about the contents of a mix tape I put together sometime in early 92.  It’s the only sixty-minute tape of its kind in my collection.  I’ll be re-upping modified versions of those sixteen posts over the coming weeks.

The Go-Go’s hit the scene during my senior year in high school.  Their debut album Beauty and the Beat is an outstanding pop record, and I loved “Vacation,” the title track of the follow-up.  They broke up in 85 but have had temporary reunions every once in a while since, including a farewell tour last year.

I don’t know what Kathy Valentine did musically after they split, but the other four did have varying degrees of success in their post-Go-Go worlds.  Belinda Carlisle (several albums, four top 10s) and Jane Wiedlin (a few albums, one top 10) both pursued solo careers.  Charlotte Caffey was part of a trio called the Graces (one album, a minor hit single).  And Gina Schock formed her own group, House of Schock (Ellen DeGeneres’ brother Vance was in the band).  They released one self-titled album in 1988 that went (maybe oddly fittingly?) nowhere, but it did contain this single, an absolute gem which caught my fancy a couple of years later.

SotD: Smithereens, “Behind the Wall of Sleep”

The first four albums the Smithereens issued fit snugly into my grad school years at Illinois. Especially for You came out in March 86 but “Blood and Roses” didn’t hit my radar until I was in Champaign. Their first major label disk, Blow Up, was released right after Greg and I became roommates for my final year; Greg quickly purchased it and I recall listening to it several times that fall. Their heavy power-pop singles were very much a part of my soundtrack for those years, since I regularly listened to WPGU.  They enjoyed a couple of minor Top 40 hits but mega-success eluded them.  Even so, they’d managed to stay together and kept recording over the years.

I’m sorry to learn of the death yesterday of Pat DiNizio, their lead singer.  I certainly wish his family and friends peace.

My friend Warren has a great appreciation for the Smithereens’ music and had become Facebook friends with Mr. DiNizio some time back.  I knew he’d be writing about this as well; here’s his offering.  About a year ago, he and I had a brief discussion about our favorite Smithereens tracks. This, the second single from Especially for You, was an easy choice for me.