Well, its Christmas Eve 2020 here and while this year has been unique (and not in the good sense) the holidays helps anchor us to the traditions that make our lives meaningful and that can carry us through these challenging times. Yes the pandemic has altered Christmas as well, but it won’t stop me from posting some of my favorite Christmas songs! While there are many to choose from, here are five of my current favorites.
Eurythmics – Winter Wonderland
From the very first A Very Special Christmas benefit album from 1987 – I really love Annie Lennox’s vocals on this track, a very Eurythmics take on this classic. While the album was a mixed bag (imho) this was one of the standouts.
Fairytale of New York – The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl)
I’ve heard plenty of other versions of this song, but for me the original cannot be matched. There’s something about Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl’s vocals, and the Irish instrumentation that does it for me.
Pretenders – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Another standout from the A Very Special Christmas album – love Chrissie Hynde’s vocals on this.
Bruce Springsteen and the E. St. Band – Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Of course this Bruce holiday classic would make my list – probably one of most popular rock versions of a Christmas classic ever. There’s nothing like hearing this song live in concert (which I’ve been lucky to hear several times) and hear old Clarence’s HoHoHo. Really miss the Big Man. Here’s a live version from 1978.
Bob Dylan – Must be Santa
I discovered this Dylan cover a few years ago and its my new favorite. To be honest, the video makes it for me – Dylan in the white hat/Santa hat, the accordion player, the unexplained altercation and escape and the exchange of glances between Dylan and Santa. Looks to be a fantastically fun Christmas party!
Hearing wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!
I discovered this Dylan cover last year and decided it would be my new Christmas Eve blog tradition. Things have been very busy personally this past fall and so the blog has been on somewhat of a hiatus but we are hoping to change that in the new year.
I just just love this video with the party going on and Dylan popping up in a white wig and hat (what’s that about?) or Santa hat, ending up with Santa on the porch.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy holidays to everyone!
Ah, settling in for a nice evening with family and Christmas movies…
Wait, what’s that noise?!?
MUST BE SANTA!!
I’ve said before that one of the great things about doing a music blog is getting turned on to music I may not have heard of before – perfect example, Thom at The Immortal Jukebox posted a wonderful entry last night on Christmas (here), and included this video. I knew Dylan had done a Christmas album but had not checked it out. I have no idea why he is wearing a wig in the video, or what’s going on with the altercation and chase at the end of the video, but the look that Dylan and Santa exchange at the end is priceless. My new favorite Christmas song and video!
“Into each life some rain must fall” So said Longfellow
This past July was apparently the wettest on record for the DC/Baltimore area. This got me thinking about rain, and songs about rain. While everyone would agree that we need rain, most times its a bummer in that it ruins outdoor plans, keeps you inside, and is associated with a lack of sunshine. How is rain used in songs?
There are literally dozens if not hundreds of songs about rain. So this will be just a small sample of rain songs that I dig for one reason or another.
Sometimes the message is pretty straightforward – the songwriter doesn’t like rain. The Travis song ‘Why Does It Always Rain on Me‘ (off their 1999 album The Man Who was written by lead singer Fran Healy after traveling to Israel for winter holiday to get away from his rainy Scotland home. And what did it do during his holiday – rain! But Healy then also uses rain as a metaphor for a unsettled mental state:
‘Why does it always rain on me? Even when the sun is shining I can’t avoid the lightning’
I love how the violin perfectly captures the depressing message of the song.
One of my favorite bands, Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) had not one but two great songs about rain. First up, ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain‘ off their 1970 album Pendulum. Many people thought the song was about the Vietnam War or the loss of the idealism of the 60’s, but John Fogerty has said that in fact it was written about the creative tensions in the band and the imminent departure of his brother Tom even while the band was at the height of its commercial success. The lyrics capture this perfectly in the image of rain on a sunny day:
Have you ever seen the rain Comin’ down on a sunny day?
The second great song from CCR is ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’ off their 1970 album Cosmo’s Factory. Again, many interpreted the song to be about the Vietnam War, but Fogerty has said it was actually written after CCR played at Woodstock. After seeing the masses of fans singing and dancing despite being cold and muddy in the unrelenting rain, he went home and wrote the song.
Heard the singers playing, How we cheered for more. The crowd had rushed together, Trying to keep warm. Still the rain kept pouring, Falling on my ears. And I wonder, Still I wonder Who’ll stop the rain.
Another sub 3 minute classic from CCR!
Let’s shift to the pop world. A great example of rain as a metaphor for the complicated nature of emotional relationships is the Eurthymics song ‘Here Comes The Rain Again‘ from their 1984 album Touch. Dave Stewart has said that the melancholy mood of the song is due to “I’m playing a b-minor, but then I change it to put a b-natural in, and so it kind of feels like that minor is suspended, or major. So it’s kind of a weird course.” The song structure also repeatedly alternates between an A and B section with little variation, suggesting the monotony of continuous rain fall. The lyrics captured in Annie Lennox’s beautiful vocals describe a tension between the complicated emotions that can happen simultaneously in a troubled relationship: resignation,depression, longing, but still love and desire.
Here comes the rain again Raining in my head like a tragedy Tearing me apart like a new emotion Oh I want to breathe in the open wind I want to kiss like lovers do I want to dive into your ocean Is it raining with you
So baby talk to me Like lovers do
Let’s go back a bit. A great use of rain to speak to larger societal issues is the Bob Dylan classic ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ from his 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The song is written in the style of an old English folk ballad with a mother repeatedly asking her son questions, and he answering them in increasingly apocalyptic terms. The song is generally considered an anti-nuclear war ballad, although Dylan has said the rain imagery in it is not meant to be nuclear fallout, but “some sort of end that’s just gotta happen.”. The lyrics get increasingly dark, culminating in
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’ I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest Where the people are many and their hands are all empty Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison Where the executioner’s face is always well-hidden Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten Where black is the color, where none is the number….. And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall
Ok, let’s do one for the youngsters in the audience. Only Happy When It Rains by Garbage (off their self titled 1995 album). On the face of it, the lyrics are pretty bleak and depressing, veering towards being a bit over the top – but actually that was the intent. The song is actually a tongue in cheek poke at the general view at the time that grunge and alt rock bands only sang about depressing angst ridden subjects.
You know I love it when the news is bad Why it feels so good to feel so sad? I’m only happy when it rains
Pour your misery down Pour your misery down on me
Ok time to start wrapping this one up. There’s only one song about rain that I can imagine finishing this post with. Purple Rain by Prince. The title song off the soundtrack to his 1984 movie, and the song that launched him to pop super-stardom, was apparently inspired after Prince attended several Bob Seger concerts and noticed the huge response that slow songs like Night Moves and Mainstreet received. The meaning of its lyrics have been much debated – clearly its a love song, although Prince has been quoted as saying this about it:
When there’s blood in the sky – red and blue = purple.. purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/God guide you through the purple rain
Ok, now that we have cleared that up…. What’s interesting to me is that it is one of the few instances (at least for a song that was this popular) of rain not having a negative connotation, but rather a joyous, cleansing, ok, even spiritual feeling. Prince’s impassioned vocals, along with the equally brilliant guitar solo, take the song to another level. By the end of the song, you feel like you have taken a journey to a new better place where you can start anew, “bathing in the purple rain”. Even if you aren’t completely sure what purple rain is.
Ok that will do it for now. As I mentioned earlier, there are loads of songs about rain. These are only the ones that immediately came to mind. Perhaps I will do a follow up post some time looking at other examples.
Now it’s your turn! – what are some of your favorite songs about rain?
1953 So You Say Its Your Birthday! Patti Scialfa, American singer-songwriter. Scialfa came up in the Jersey shore scene, before joining Bruce Springsteen’s E St. Band for the Born in the USA tour. She has also done session work for the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards, and David Johansen (Buster Pointdexter), as well as released several solo works, including Rumble Doll, released in 1993. Oh, and she is married to Bruce Springsteen.
1966, Bob Dylan is seriously injured in a motorcycle accident near Woodstock NY, suffering broken neck vertebra. The accident came weeks after the release of Blonde on Blonde, the third of three classic albums over 18 months that changed rock and roll forever (the other two being Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited). Dylan went into seclusion for a year, re-emerging in 1967 to record what would become The Basement Tapes. Some mystery has surrounded the accident. For more see this story.
1968 The Beatles begin recording Hey Jude, a song written by Paul McCartney about John Lennon’s son Julian.
Sources: This Day in Music.com, Wikipedia, Ultimate Classic Rock.com
1958 So You Say Its Your Birthday: Thurston Moore, American singer and guitarist with the noise rock band Sonic Youth. Moore is known for his innovative guitar techniques, including unorthodox guitar tunings and guitar preparing techniques.
1960 ‘Only the Lonely,’ RoyOrbison’s first hit, reachs No.2 on the US singles chart. The song had been offered to both The Everly Brothers and Elvis Presley, who both turned it down, so Orbison recorded it himself. The clip below is from the classic A Black and White Night concert – see if you can spot all the music legends in Roy’s backing band.
1965 Bob Dylan headlines the The Newport Folk Festival and plays a plugged in set with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band that includes his new song ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’ Reaction was mixed with some folk music fans outraged while others in the audience cheered. One writer noted that he had “electrified one half of his audience, and electrocuted the other”. The moment signifies Dylan’s movement away from folk and toward more rock influences.
1980AC/DC release Back In Black, their tribute Bon Scott, their former lead singer who had died in February of 1980. Brian Johnson stepped into the lead vocalist role, and the album went on to become the second highest selling album of all time.
Sources: This Day in Music.com, Wikipedia, HistoryPod.com
On this day in 2009, Bob Dylan was picked up by a local Long Branch police officer responding to calls of a suspicious person wondering the area. I’ll let the local paper, the Star-Ledger pick it up from there:
Rock legend Bob Dylan was treated like a complete unknown by police in a New Jersey shore community when a resident called to report someone wandering around the neighborhood.
Dylan was in Long Branch, about a two-hour drive south of New York City, on July 23 as part of a tour with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp that was to play at a baseball stadium in nearby Lakewood.
A 24-year-old police officer apparently was unaware of who Dylan is and asked him for identification, Long Branch business administrator Howard Woolley said Friday.
“I don’t think she was familiar with his entire body of work,” Woolley said.
The incident began at 5 p.m. when a resident said a man was wandering around a low-income, predominantly minority neighborhood several blocks from the oceanfront looking at houses.
The police officer drove up to Dylan, who was wearing a blue jacket, and asked him his name. According to Woolley, the following exchange ensued:
“What is your name, sir?” the officer asked.
“Bob Dylan,” Dylan said.
“OK, what are you doing here?” the officer asked.
“I’m on tour,” the singer replied.
A second officer, also in his 20s, responded to assist the first officer. He, too, apparently was unfamiliar with Dylan, Woolley said.
The officers asked Dylan for identification. The singer of such classics as “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” said that he didn’t have any ID with him, that he was just walking around looking at houses to pass some time before that night’s show.
The officers asked Dylan, 68, to accompany them back to the Ocean Place Resort and Spa, where the performers were staying. Once there, tour staff vouched for Dylan.
The officers thanked him for his cooperation.
“He couldn’t have been any nicer to them,” Woolley added.
How did it feel? A Dylan publicist did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Friday.
So what was going on? From checking other accounts, it seems that although the officers had heard of Bob Dylan before, they didn’t recognize him in person, and may have been suspicious that it was actually him (and who can blame them – who would expect that the Bob Dylan would be wandering the neighborhood, in the rain, peering into empty houses, 45 minutes from the concert site.) Imagine the officer’s surprise when they pulled up to the hotel!
There has been some speculation that Dylan was checking out the local haunts of another legend, Bruce Springsteen, who lived in the area back in the day and had played in Long Branch. Apparently Dylan had done something similar when he played in Toronto some years earlier, wandering around Neil Young’s old haunts.
So what was he up to? Channeling inspiration from other rock legends? Being the ultimate fan stalker? We will never know.