Posts Tagged ‘Sarah McLachlan’

Christmas Tunes From The Tire Store

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 24, 2009

For about five years in the mid-1960s, in the early weeks of each December, my dad would stop off at both the Goodyear and Firestone tire outlets here in St. Cloud. He’d gab a bit with the managers or owners of the two outlets, asking about their businesses, their families, their golf games and maybe their January plans for ice fishing. He might even ask about the tires he’d eventually need for his old 1952 Ford.

And then he’d pick up a LP from a display rack, pay for it and head back out into the cold, with that year’s album of Christmas music gathered in. Firestone’s series was called Your Christmas Favorites, and when Dad’s record collection came to me a few years ago, I found four volumes of that series, released between 1964 and 1967. Goodyear called its series The Great Songs of Christmas, and Dad gathered in five of those albums, Volumes Four through Eight. They aren’t dated, but I’d bet that the first one dates from 1963; my memory, which is generally pretty good, is giving me faint hints that we got the first Goodyear album a year before we began collecting the Firestone albums.

I may be off by a year or two, but a look at the various artists presented on the albums makes it clear that we’re talking clearly about performers who were utterly traditional; if there was a whiff of popularity, it was popularity that was firmly ensconced in the middle of the musical road. The first Firestone album we got featured performances by Broadway stars Gordon MacRae and Martha Wright, opera stars Franco Corelli and Roberta Peters, and the Columbia Boychoir. The next year’s record eased up a bit, featuring Julie Andrews and Vic Damone, but also presented performances by opera performers Dorothy Kirsten and James McCracken, as well as by a group called the Young Americans, which Wikipedia calls the “first show choir in America, mixing choreography with choral singing.” Sounds to me like an early version of Up With People.

A look at the two earliest Goodyear anthologies I have – and I think they’re from1963 and 1964 – show them to be similarly conservative and safe: Volume Four of The Great Songs of Christmas has performances from Mary Martin, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Robert Goulet, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Percy Faith, the Brothers Four, Mahalia Jackson, Isaac Stern, Doris Day, the New Christy Minstrels, Mitch Miller and his Group and André Previn. The next year, Volume Five featured Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra again, and added Andy Williams, Andre Kostelanetz, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Maurice Chevalier, operatic tenor Richard Tucker, the duo of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Dinah Shore, Diahann Carroll, Danny Kaye and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Two other Christmas records came to me when I got Dad’s collection: During those same years in the mid-1960s, RCA Victor issued its own series of Christmas records, and in 1964 and 1965, Dad and I stopped by the bookstore annex of Fandel’s Department Store – where one could also buy stereos, radios and televisions – and picked up the current year’s RCA holiday record. I won’t list all the names of the performers, but some of them were Chet Atkins, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, the Norman Luboff Choir, Perry Como, the Ames Brothers, John Gary and Mario Lanza. Like those on the Goodyear and Firestone series, the performers were traditional and safe.

And for years – from the mid-1960s through Dad’s last Christmas in 2002 – those records were the ones we heard during the Christmas season, and then, during the later years, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day during our celebrations at home on Kilian Boulevard. I don’t listen to them anymore, although I imagine I should take some time during the next year and create digital files from them, just for posterity. (And my sister might like that.)

I said yesterday, as I have in years before, that there are really only two songs connected with Christmas that I listen to these days. I shared one yesterday: Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” And today, I’ve got two covers of what is without doubt my favorite song of the season.

May your day and season be filled with peace, joy and love and whatever else you may need to be complete.

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by the Moody Blues from December [2003]

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by Sarah McLachlan from Wintersong [2006]

Turning The Corner

December 21, 2018

This piece first appeared here ten years ago tomorrow, and I think it’s been reposted at least once before. But it’s here today because it’s one of my favorite pieces from nearly twelve years of blogging. It’s been revised slightly.

We’re about to turn the corner.

Late this afternoon – at 4:23 p.m. – the sun will venture as far south in the sky as it goes, and it will begin to make the slow trek north toward spring and summer.

That’s good news for those of us who find the lack of sunlight during this season grim and gloomy. When the shortness of the days becomes truly noticeable in November, I find a melancholy surrounding me. My awareness of its source means that the melancholy need not be debilitating, but there is a touch of sadness that lingers.

Lingering, too, is just a hint of dread, a sensation that I think is a remnant passed down through generations from my Nordic and Germanic forebears. The science of our modern life tells us that the days of longer light will return, bringing us to springtime. In the dark forests of northern Europe a couple of thousand years ago, however, there was no such assurance, and as each day brought less light than the one before it, there must have been dread every year that this year would be the time when the light continued to diminish, leading eventually to permanent darkness leavened only by the faint stars and the pale moon.

We know that will not happen. The sun will reverse its course this afternoon, and after tonight’s full moon sets, tomorrow will bring slightly more daylight than we’ll get today. And the day after that will bring more than will tomorrow. Eventually, we will sit once more in a warm, bright evening with the sun lingering late, and the winter’s gloom will be, if not forgotten, at least set aside.

We’re about to turn the corner toward the light.

The solstice also marks the formal start of winter, of course, and I have many “winter” songs on the digital shelves. Here’s one that I sometimes like and sometimes don’t. It’s Sarah McLachlan’s take on Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For A Winter’s Night.” It’s on McLachlan’s 2006 album Wintersong.

‘Fill Me With Song . . .’

July 4, 2014

A little more than four years ago, I wrote, “Donovan’s sometimes wispy ballads occupied one extreme of the sonic landscape of the time, and taken one-by-one, they provided an airy counterpoint to the heavier sounds of the time. Any more than one at a time, and Donovan’s songs were a little too light for me, and they still are.”

Clearly, Donovan is not a favorite here. I’ve got a few of his albums on LP, but it’s instructive that I’ve never bought a CD of the Scottish performer’s work. So why in the world am I stretching a look at one Donovan tune over more than a week? Schedule, mostly. Due to garden duties, a baseball game, the Texas Gal’s travel schedule and some minor stuff, I’ve had less time this week than I would like to spend here in the EITW studios. But here we are on an Independence Day morning, all gathered around the campfire, so to speak, to listen to a few versions of “Wear Your Love Like Heaven.”

First, here’s Donovan’s original. A single release went to No. 23 in the Billboard Hot 100 during a seven-week run that bridged the end of 1967 and the beginning of 1968. The track showed up on two albums that were part of a confusing album release strategy in December 1967. The album Wear Your Love Like Heaven went to No. 60, the album For Little Ones went to No. 185, and A Gift From A Flower To A Garden, a box set combining those two albums, went to No. 19.

I don’t know that I remember the single from its 1967-68 chart days, but it’s not all that different from a lot of Donovan’s work: light and airy with some odd diction provoked by the melody (“Prussian blue” in the first verse is a good example), and a general world view of peaceful bliss. It’s not a song that I would have thought would inspire many covers. Well, except in the realm of easy listening. The song was recorded by the Johnny Arthey Orchestra for the 1969 album The Golden Songs Of Donovan, and David Rose (who hit No. 1 with “The Stripper” in 1962), recorded “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” for his 1970 album Happy Heart.

Another instrumental version I found was from saxophonist Steve Douglas, one of Phil Spector’s go-to players during the years of the Wall of Sound. Douglas recorded the song for his 1969 album Reflections In A Golden Horn. It’s a light and jazzy take on the tune, and if you want to call it easy listening, I won’t cringe. And, along with the Cal Tjader version posted here last Saturday, I know there are other instrumental versions out there. One that interests me but that I have not yet heard is the 1992 version by pianist Richard Dworsky.

All of this started last week with Peggy Lipton’s cover of the tune. Other singers took on the song, too. We shared Richie Havens’ 1969 version here earlier this week, and another cover that caught my ear was the quirky 1970 take on the tune by Eartha Kitt, who included the song on her album Sentimental Eartha.

A more recent version of the song that I have not yet spent the coin to hear is from the group My Morning Jacket, which recorded “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” for the 2002 album Gift From a Garden to a Flower: A Tribute to Donovan. Beyond that, the most recent version that I enjoy is the cover that Sarah McLachlan recorded for her 1991 album Solace. As for versions I don’t enjoy (but others might), an Italian group called Edible Woman, about which I know nothing, has a lumbering, thrumming, heavy version of the tune posted this year on YouTube, which presumably is available somewhere for those who want to hear it again.

Dinner’s On Me!

March 29, 2012

How about a five-course meal?

“Cheese & Crackers” by Rosco Gordon is our appetizer. This disjointed, stop-and-start track from 1956 came to me on the two-CD set The Legendary Story of Sun Records, and I admit it’s confused me. At points it sounds like classic rock ’n’ roll, at other moments I hear rockabilly (and neither of those would be startling for Sun Records in 1956) and then I hear something else. A hint of what that is might come from a comment on Gordon by Bryan Thomas at All-Music Guide:

Rosco Gordon was best known for being one of the progenitors of a slightly shambolic, loping style of piano shuffle called “Rosco’s Rhythm.” The basic elements of this sound were further developed after Jamaican musicians got a hold of 45s Gordon recorded in the early ’50s – which were not available to Jamaicans until 1959 – and created ska, which took its name for the sound of this particular shuffle as it sounded being played on an electric guitar (ska-ska-ska).

“Soup For One” by Chic is the soup course. It’s a fairly straightforward serving from the R&B/disco group that producers and musicians Bernard Edwards and Nile Rogers loosed on the world in the late 1970s. While not nearly as propulsive as “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” or “Le Freak” from their early days, “Soup For One” glides nicely across the floor. The 1982 release – the title song from the movie Soup For One – went to No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100 (No. 14 on the R&B chart), the last charting single for the group.

“Poke Salad Annie” by Little Milton is the salad course for those who prefer greens. It’s a fine cover of the Tony Joe White swamp song from Little Milton’s 1994 album, I’m A Gambler. There’d been a time when Little Milton was a pretty regular presence on the charts, with thirteen records in or near the Hot 100 between 1965 and 1972 and twenty-one records on the R&B chart between 1962 and 1976. Even when the hits dried up, though, Little Milton kept on working, releasing twenty-three more albums from 1981 until 2005, when he passed on at the age of 70. And no, I don’t know why Little Milton (or whoever made the decision) spelled the song “Poke Salad Annie” instead of the original title of “Polk Salad Annie.” Makes no difference; Little Milton kills it.

“Memphis Women & Chicken” by T. Graham Brown is our main course. I mentioned Brown’s version of the Dan Penn song a couple of years ago, when I wrote about all the songs I have that mention Memphis in their titles. Greasy, juicy and a little bit sly, this track from Brown’s 1998 album Wine Into Water is a tasty main dish for this musical dinner. I’ve only heard a little bit of Brown’s work – one full CD and a few other tracks – but his name is high on my list of artists to listen to further.

“Chocolate Cake” by Crowded House is one of our two dessert choices. Even though it’s snarky and surreal, this track from 1991’s Woodface nevertheless has that Crowded House sound to it, a glossy finish that the Finn brothers lay on most everything I’ve ever heard from them. The pop culture references date the song considerably, placing it in a post-Soviet and pre-9/11 niche, which makes its ironic shadings seem like more of a pose than anything thoughtful. Or maybe the record was itself an ironic comment on post-Soviet irony. And then again, it might have been just a record.

“Ice Cream” by Sarah McLachlan is our alternate dessert. What better way to close out dinner than with a light, jazzy and sweet love song? “Your love is better than ice cream . . . It’s a long way down to the place where we started from,” McLachlan sings. “Your love is better than chocolate.” That’s pretty damned good, and with this sweet tune from 1993’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, our meal is over. I’ll take care of the bill.

Recalling A Drive Home

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 24, 2008

I was living in Columbia, Missouri, in late December 1990, teaching at a women’s college. Finals were over, I’d turned in the grades for my three courses, and I was preparing a drive the next day back to Minnesota, to spend the holidays with my family.

I was slowly pulling things together for that Wednesday drive: a box of gifts, a suitcase or two, a box of supplies for the trip. At noon on that Tuesday, I turned the radio on at lunchtime. As I ate a sandwich, I heard a report from Kansas City – one hundred and twenty miles west of Columbia – that the temperature had fallen into the mid-twenties and a freezing rain was coating the streets and highways. The system, said the weatherman, was moving east at a good clip.

I glanced outside: sunshine and an unseasonably warm temperature in the mid-sixties.

A little concerned, I pulled out the phone book and looked up the number for the Missouri State Patrol’s travel information line.

“Hi,” I said to the man who answered. “I’m leaving Columbia for Minnesota tomorrow morning –”

“No, you’re not,” he said.

“What?”

“You won’t be leaving Columbia for anywhere tomorrow morning,” he said. “There’s a nasty patch of freezing rain coming through in about three to four hours. You can leave this afternoon, or you can maybe get out of town Thursday, but I can guarantee you that if you don’t leave Columbia very soon today, you’re not going anywhere tomorrow.”

Startled, I asked what he recommended.

“If you can, leave town in the next couple of hours, and – lemme look at the map – yeah, drive north of Des Moines, Iowa. North of there, the precipitation should be snow, and you can drive in it. South of there, it’s freezing rain, and you don’t wanna be on the road in that.”

I thanked him and hung up. And I accelerated my rate of preparations. Luckily, I’d made lists of what I needed to take (an act of organization quite out of character for me). I pulled those things together, called the fellow who lived in an upstairs apartment to tell him he’d need to begin caring for my cats a day earlier than planned, and I loaded the car. I headed north out of Columbia about an hour after my conversation with the state patrol.

The rain coming in from the west met me about three hours later, while I was still a ways south of Des Moines. I carefully drove on for another two hours, until I was well north of the snow line, then stopped for the night at a small-town motel. In the morning, I cleared five or so inches of snow from the car and headed on, making my way further north. Between the falling snow, the snow already packed down on the freeway and the clog of Twin Cities traffic, it was a long and tense day of driving until I got into St. Cloud late that afternoon. But I was home.

Now, eighteen years since I headed out of town early, the Texas Gal and I are home, too, where we belong, and we’ll share a quiet evening tonight and a happy day together tomorrow. I hope that – wherever it might be – that’s where you all are this Christmas Eve: Home.

An original and a cover version
I wrote earlier in the week that there are only two holiday songs I continue to enjoy. I posted “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” last Saturday. Today, I’ll post two versions of the other holiday song I still enjoy: a 2006 cover by Sarah McLachlan of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” and the original version from 1970, credited to John & Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir.

Sarah McLachlan – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” [2006, from Wintersong]

John & Yoko et. al – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” [Apple 1842, 1971]

‘And So This Is Christmas . . .’

May 28, 2011

Originally posted December 25, 2007

Well, the holiday is here, and we’re headed out of town to have dinner at my sister’s house. It’s about an hour away, and we’re scheduled to be there mid-morning, so I’m just going to post a cover version this early Christmas morning and leave things be there.

The cover version for this week is Sarah McLachlan’s take on John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” released a year ago as the first track on McLachlan’s Wintersong CD. I’ve long thought that McLachlan has one of the most arresting and beautiful voices I’ve ever heard, and it’s a joy to hear her take on one of my favorite songs of the season.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a Baker’s Dozen from a year not yet selected. I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and hope you all get to spend it with those you love!

Sarah McLachlan – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” [2006]

Sarah McLachlan & ‘Wintersong’

May 25, 2011

Originally posted December 6, 2007

I thought we’d stay with the winter theme for one more day, so here’s a video of Sarah McLachlan performing the title tune of her 2006 album Wintersong. The track was the lone original song of the album, with some of the other tracks being traditional Christmas carols – “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Silent Night” and so on – and some of the selections being more contemporary, like Joni Mitchell’s “River,” from Mitchell’s 1971 Blue.