It’s that time of year again! Just after last Christmas (no gag intended) Mrs. 17 Seconds and I tied the knot. Hailing from Indiana, she’s as big a fan of Christmas music as I am, and may well even be doing some guest posts on the blog.
Now, I’ve posted this before, but I figured, as it’s almost a tradition, that I would start my posts off with it again this year. I am sure there will be plenty of new tracks (to this blog, and indeed out this year) but here we go!
Yup, it’s that time of year again, and with a mere calendar month to go until the day itself, I give you Housewives On Prozac with ‘I Broke My Arm Christmas Shopping At The Mall.’
Housewives On Prozac are Martha Joy Rose, Kyleann Burtt, Donna Kelly, Jane Getter, and Susan Graham. Led by Joy Rose (check out her website here, she’s led a very impressive life) this track ‘I Broke My Arm Christmas Shopping At The Mall’ is one of my favourite Christmas (or should that be ‘anti-‘ Christmas?) songs. And the perfect way to start this series of posts.
The track is available to download from iTunes. Go and buy it!
I’m not religious – but I do enjoy a fair amount of what might be termed religious music. As well as choral works, singing Christmas carols is kinda fun, just as much musically part of Christmas to me as much of the music I have posted here over the last few weeks. And my absolute favourite Christmas carol of all is ‘Silent Night.’
There’s an article over on Wiki about how the song was first written and performed in Austria on Christmas Eve 1818, by a priest, Father Joseph Mohr, and Franz Xaver Gruber. Mohr had first written the words in 1816, which makes it 200 years old this year. (I idly wonder how much of the music I have featured on the blog over the last ten years will be listened to in 200 years’ time.) Written in German, the original version is Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht. According to Wiki, during the famous Christmas Day Truce in 1914, it was sung by both British and German troops simultaneously as it was one carol both sides knew.
It has been performed by many, many artists over the years. Sinead O’Connor, above, (who has apparently just turned fifty) recorded a version for the 1991 TV film The Ghosts Of Oxford Street.
The carol has reportedly been translated into over forty languages, and that includes Gaelic. Enya originally recorded a version in the late 1980s:
The quintessential Christmas record of the last twenty years is Low’s Christmas album. It could almost have been written with them in mind…
Meanwhile, Sufjan Stevens’ version is as ethereal as Low’s – but much more trippy…
Hmm, I didn’t intend to stop blogging for ten days, but went off on holiday, and was focused on that. Not least the fact that I saw my beloved Cure in both Manchester and London.
I have also been thinking about my end of year lists, both in terms of tracks (to be presented, as always as the Festive 50) and albums. Those will appear here shortly, but for now, on with the Christmas posts.
I have featured the Wedding Present many times here over the years, and rate them hugely as a band. That’s singer and Weddoes Mainman David Gedge who can be seen above. Their first contribution come from their 1992 single ‘No Christmas/Step Into Christmas.’ The story of this single and its place in Wedding Present history has been told many times so enjoy the music – can be found on the Hit Parade compilation.
In 2008, the year they topped the 17 Seconds Festive 50 chart with ‘The Trouble With Men’ the band released this gorgeous single.
And yes ‘Step Into Christmas’ is indeed the Elton John song. The Weddoes have done a number of great cover versions over the last thirty years, though it seems unfair to purely focus on these when David Gedge is such as amazing songwriter himself…but I give you this.
Given that she’s on target for her first UK no.1 album in nearly 30 years with Before The Dawn, and it is nearly December, it’s time to feature Kate Bush and her Christmas music.
‘December Will Be Magic Again’ was featured in her 1979 Christmas Special, and released as a standalone single the following year. As far as I can find, the only video for the song is this performance from the special, and no other promo was made.
In 1993, ‘Home For Christmas’ was a b-side to ‘Moments Of Pleasure’ taken from her then current album The Red Shoes.
The last decade has seen much more activity from Ms. Bush, including her Christmas-themed album 50 Words For Snow. You should have heard it already, but you can stream it below:
And just in case you haven’t heard it, from the new live album, her awesome new version of ‘And Dream Of Sheep’ (it’s not a Christmas track, but you can never have too much Kate Bush):
I have posted tonight’s music before, of course, but that shouldn’t be a sign that I don’t care. Rather: that I think it’s worth hearing again.
Siouxsie and the Banshees covered the traditional French Christmas carol ‘Il Est Né, Le Divin Enfant’ (trans: ‘ He Is Born, The Divine Child’ – read more on wiki) back in 1982. This video is from French TV, from when Robert Smith was in the band. The track was released as the b-side to the single ‘Melt!’ and can be found on the box set Downside Up.
So, today’s post (on the first Sunday of Advent) is dedicated to Yoko Ono’s song ‘Listen, The Snow Is Falling.’
Yoko’s version can be found on re-issues of The Wedding Album, which she made with John Lennon. While some of her recorded work can be very hard to listen to, this is really rather beautiful. Interestingly, there is no wiki page for this song.
Perhaps the best-known cover version is by Galaxie 500, who featured it in their third album This Is Our Music, released in 1990.
Another version of the song, which I hadn’t heard until recently is by Thea Gilmore, taken from her 2009 album Strange Communion.
I have my Parents to thank for introducing me to Tom Lehrer, at the impressionable age of 7. I’m sure some people think that 7 is too young to understand satire, and they’re probably right, but this helped shape into the man I am today, so thanks Mum and Dad.
There are people better qualified than I to lead a discussion on who is the greatest American satirist…let’s just say Lehrer is one of them.
There’s a number of well-known Lehrer songs, I’ve always loved this.
So…there’s just one month to go until Christmas, and with my partner as an American having celebrated Thanksgiving (yes, she still celebrates it in Scotland), so it’s time to start the annual Christmas posts on the blog.
As is my (self-imposed) tradition, I will start with Housewives on Prozac and the evergreen ‘ I Broke My Arm Christmas Shopping At The Mall.’
Led by the legendary Martha Joy Rose -‘Woman, Mother, Human, Rocker, Educator, and Activist’, you can find out more about her and the band here.
Not to be confused with the band Housewives, obviously, you can buy the album I Broke My Arm Christmas Shopping At The Mall on iTunes, which is also worth it for the funny, if too true ‘Eat Your Damn Spaghetti.’
There’s been no shortage of artists doing Christmas albums in the last few years, but perhaps the best new one to appear post-Christmas by Low has GOT to be Tinsel and Lights by Tracey Thorn.
Released in 2012, the album features her takes on ‘Maybe This Christmas’ by Ron Sexsmith, Joni Mitchell’s ‘River,’ The White Stripes’ ‘In The Cold, Cold Night’ and a duet with Green Gartside of Scritti Politti on a cover of Low’s ‘Taking Down The Tree’ from that aforementioned Christmas album.
This is a Thorn original, and it’s gorgeous, setting the tone for what is a wonderful record, sung by one of the best singers Britain has ever produced.
There is also this video where she talks about the making of the album:
You can stream the whole album – but if you love Tracey Thorn and Christmas music, you really should have bought this album by now:
Benjamin Britten, one of the most significant English composers of the twentieth century.
It is one of my claims to fame that I did manage to see Jeff Buckley – just the once, at Glastonbury in 1995.
His version of Benjamin Britten’s ‘Corpus Christi Carol’ originally appeared on what was Buckley’s only complete studio album, 1994’s Grace. The version is post below comes from Meltdown in 1995, which was his last performance in the UK, and he died, tragically, in 1997.
Jeff Beck has also covered the track – which you can hear him perform in 2010 in Sweden:
According to Wiki:
‘Corpus Christi Carol is a Middle or Early Modern English hymn (or carol), first found by an apprentice grocer named Richard Hill in a manuscript written around 1504. The original writer of the carol remains anonymous. The earliest surviving record of the piece preserves only the lyrics and is untitled. It has survived in altered form in the folk tradition as the Christmas carol Down In Yon Forest.
The structure of the carol is six stanzas, each with rhyming couplets. The tense changes in the fourth stanza from past to present continuous.
One hypothesis about the meaning of the carol is that it is concerned with the legend of the Holy Grail. In Arthurian traditions of the Grail story, the Fisher King is the knight who is the Grail’s protector, and whose legs are perpetually wounded. When he is wounded his kingdom suffers and becomes a wasteland. This would explain the reference to “an orchard brown”.
One recent interpretation is that it was composed about the execution of Anne Boleyn, wife of Henry VIII, whose badge was a falcon.
Benjamin Britten used it in the fifth variation of A Boy was Born (Choral Variations For Mixed Voices), Opus 3, in 1933.
Singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley included his interpretation of Britten’s work on his debut 1994 album, Grace. About his version Buckley said, “The ‘Carol’ is a fairytale about a falcon who takes the beloved of the singer to an orchard. The singer goes looking for her and arrives at a chamber where his beloved lies next to a bleeding knight and a tomb with Christ’s body in it.”
English guitarist Jeff Beck performs his interpretation on his 2010 album, Emotion & Commotion. In the album liner notes, Beck states that Jeff Buckley inspired his cover of this piece: “When I heard Jeff Buckley’s album, the simplicity and the beauty of the way he sounded amazed me.”