CSOTD 12/31/20: Pacé, frieden, salud, shalom

Another December of the Christmas Song of the Day concludes today. I hope you have enjoyed the music I have selected and that it has made your season brighter.

My Christmas Song of the Day for December 31 asks the question, “Why can’t we have Christmas the whole year around?” To be honest, as much as I love the season, there are parts I wouldn’t want to see all year. But the good parts — absolutely!

“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is a traditional English carol dating from the 16th Century. It originates from the practice of wealthy people giving treats to wandering carolers on Christmas Eve, such as the figgy pudding that is mentioned in most versions of the lyrics. (By the way, “figgy pudding” only sometimes contains figs, and isn’t pudding in the United States or Canada sense; it’s a round dessert cake, usually containing dried fruits and alcohol, and can be delicious.) The song remains popular to this day, with many lyrical variations and arrangements from which to choose.

To close the year, I have chosen my own favorite arrangement of this traditional song.

In the early 1950s, the Weavers, a four-person collective of folk singers, were as popular as almost any vocal group in the country. Their first big hit, “Goodnight Irene,” a remake of a song composed by Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly), spent 13 weeks at #1 on the Billboard singles chart in 1950; it took more than 40 years for another song to match that chart-topping reign. At the end of 1951, they released an eight-song, 10-inch LP called “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” All the songs on the album were arranged by one Paul Campbell, which actually was a pseudonym for the four members of the group – Pete Seeger (1919-2014), Lee Hays (1914-1981), Ronnie Gilbert (1926-2015), and Fred Hellerman (1927-2016).

Within two years, however, the Weavers would be caught up in the anti-Communist hysteria of the era; in 1953, Decca Records cancelled their recording contract and deleted all their music from print. And though some of it would be reissued over the years, their excellent Christmas album would not reappear for 40 years, when it finally appeared in its entirety on a budget-priced CD.

In the interim, the “Paul Campbell” arrangement of the title song was recorded by several of the folk groups the Weavers influenced, as both the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary have included it on Christmas albums. Here is the rarely-heard original version that bemoans the fact that the Christmas spirit lasts for such a short time. Join in as the Weavers sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

(A version of this entry was my Facebook-only Christmas Song of the Day for December 25, 2014.)

CSOTD 12/30/20: Aren’t we all children?

By the Christmas season of 1968, few solo artists were more popular in the United States than Glen Campbell (1936-2017).

He had been around the music industry for a few years by then. Known as a virtuoso on guitar, Campbell briefly was a member of The Champs, though several years after their biggest hit, “Tequila.” After going solo, his first single, in 1961, was “Turn Around, Look at Me,” which years later (1968) became a big hit for the Vogues. He served as Brian Wilson’s stand-in on the Beach Boys’ December 1964-March 1965 tour. But his biggest role was with the band of Los Angeles session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew. Campbell appeared on hundreds of recordings by virtually everyone who recorded in L.A. in the 1960s.

Campbell finally began to have success as a solo artist in 1967. His version of John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind” became a multi-format hit and won three Grammy Awards. It was followed by Jimmy Webb’s classic song “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and, in 1968, his first #1 on any chart, the country chart-topper “I Wanna Live.” But Campbell’s biggest breakthrough wasn’t on the radio; it was on television. Hired as host of the 1968 summer replacement for the Smothers Brothers’ controversial comedy hour, the oddly-titled The Summer Brothers Smothers Show was a ratings bonanza, word choice intentional: It often beat reruns of NBC’s western Bonanza in the ratings, which rarely happened even with fresh programs against it.

In the fall of 1968, Campbell released what became his biggest hit to that time, “Wichita Lineman” (#1 country, #3 Hot 100). The album of the same name was an even bigger hit: It hit #1 on the charts twice, more or less bookending the Beatles’ self-titled two-record set generally known as The White Album. He also got word that his summer replacement TV show, now known as The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, was picked up for a January 1969 debut.

In the midst of all this, Campbell recorded and released a Christmas album, That Christmas Feeling. The now largely forgotten single from the album is my Christmas Song of the Day for December 30.

The album was one of the two most successful new Christmas LPs on 1968; the other was Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ Christmas Album. That Christmas Feeling was a steady seller for four years, until Campbell’s star began to fade in the early 1970s. All the tracks have been reissued over the years, but the actual album was not.

The single, “Christmas Is for Children,” was among the biggest new Christmas 45s in 1968, as it peaked at #7 on the Billboard Christmas chart. It was composed for Campbell by the ace songwriting team of Sammy Cahn (1913-1993) and Jimmy Van Heusen (1913-1990), who wrote some of Frank Sinatra’s most famous hits as a team, including “Love and Marriage,” “All the Way,” and “High Hopes”; Cahn, with Jules Styne, composed the Christmas classic “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” in 1945.

This pretty song also appeared on the Capitol two-record set from 1968, The Best of Christmas, which was available briefly on CD in 1991. Perhaps it was presumptuous to include a brand-new song on that compilation, but it fits in very well.

CSOTD 12/29/20: A puddle can’t hold me

Every once in a while, I hear a newer Christmas song that hits me in the heart. My Christmas Song of the Day for December 29 fits that bill.

Australian-born singer-songwriter Sia Furler (born 1975), who performs under her first name, released her first album in 1997. After years of marginal success, she planned to stop recording and only write for other artists. Then fate intervened: Producer David Guetta got ahold of a demo called “Titanium,” which Sia meant for, depending on who is telling the story, Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, or Mary J. Blige. Instead, Guetta kept Sia’s vocal from the demo without her knowledge, and all of a sudden, Sia had a big hit song as a featured artist, as the Guetta single peaked at #7 in 2012.

An even bigger breakthrough came in 2014 with her sixth album, 1000 Forms of Fear, and its amazing Top 10 hit single “Chandelier.” That song was when I first heard of Sia, and my goodness, what a song and what a voice! The tale of the stunning high and crushing low of an alcoholic binge gone wrong is one of my favorite singles of the entire decade of the 2010s. Sia wrote it first with either Beyoncé or Rihanna in mind, but she chose to keep it. She made the right decision. The music video, which features young dancer Maddie Ziegler instead of the increasingly publicity-shy singer, is epic in its own right; it has had more than two billion views on YouTube and more every day. Even though a 2016 single with Sean Paul, “Cheap Thrills,” hit #1, “Chandelier” is Sia’s greatest hit to these ears.

In 2017, Sia released Everyday Is Christmas, unusual in that every song on the standard CD or LP is an original. The first single, “Santa’s Coming for Us,” hit #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. A year later, another track from the album, “Candy Cane Lane,” was serviced to radio, and Target released an exclusive version of the CD with three bonus tracks, one of which was a cover of the 1957 Perry Como #1 hit “Round and Round,” which Target used in its holiday advertising in 2018.

A third song, “Snowman,” which back in 2017 had been the second single from the album, began receiving extra attention in 2020. First, Sia released a stop-motion animated video. Then came a viral challenge on the TikTok app, on which people tried to sing the entire chorus without taking a breath.

I finally heard “Snowman” on the radio for the first time earlier this month, and then again right before Christmas. There is a melancholy to “Snowman” that gets me all teary-eyed when I hear it now.

Sia co-wrote the song with frequent collaborator Greg Kurstin (born 1969). In it, she seems to compare her lover to a snowman, possibly one with emotional issues, yet she loves him anyway and is willing to go to the North Pole with him if it means the relationship will survive the “melting” from the tears. In its own way, “Snowman” hits closer to home than I thought it would.

Here is “Snowman” by Sia, my Christmas Song of the Day for December 29.

CSOTD 12/28/20: Merry gentle-Mann

When you think of Manfred Mann, the first thing that might come to mind is its #1 hit from 1964, “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.” Perhaps you might think of its late-1960s versions of Bob Dylan songs, such as “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo),” a top-10 hit in 1968. Or maybe your thoughts first go to the 1970s and 1980s group Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, which treated Bruce Springsteen’s debut album like a set of demos, as it recorded three songs from the album – “For You,” “Spirit in the Night,” and the #1 hit “Blinded by the Light.”

I doubt you think of Manfred Mann for its mellow instrumental Christmas music, which allows me to introduce my Christmas Song of the Day for December 28.

The band Manfred Mann was named for its founder and leader, Manfred Mann (born 1940), whose real name is Manfred Lubowitz. A keyboardist, his roots were in jazz. When he moved to England from South Africa in 1961, he wrote for a magazine called Jazz News using the named “Manfred Manne” (inspired by jazz drummer Shelly Manne) He soon would drop the E from the end of his pseudonym; when he met fellow keyboard player Mike Hugg in 1962, they formed the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers, which eventually expanded to five members and were renamed by their first record label as simply Manfred Mann. The jazz influence remained strong, especially early in the group’s career; two of its pre-“Do Wah Diddy Diddy” singles were released in the U.S. by the jazz-oriented Prestige label.

In 1967, after a series of British hits with Paul Jones (born 1942) as lead singer, Manfred Mann left the British HMV label for the British Fontana label. The group’s former label then released an album of nothing but instrumentals entitled Soul of Mann. Most of the tracks had been issued previously on assorted singles and albums, but several had not. This album was not released in the United States during the group’s heyday.

Years later, in 1992, the EMI USA label released a CD filled with a wonderful assortment of rare and unreleased holiday cuts from the vaults that it called Legends of Christmas Past. One of the tracks chosen for inclusion was a short Manfred Mann instrumental from the LP that never came out in the States. Believe me, if your impression of Manfred Mann comes from the hits, you’ll never believe this is the same group – but it is! Here is their reverent version of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.”

(A version of this entry was my Facebook-only Christmas Song of the Day for December 28, 2014.)

CSOTD 12/27/20: Fantastic Child

To Americans, one of the most beautiful Christmas songs is “What Child Is This?” The lyrics were written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898), a British hymn writer. But its melody is much older: Its origin is a British folk song called “Greensleeves,” which was first published in 1580. Traditionally, it was said that “Greensleeves” was written by King Henry VIII, but musicologists now consider this unlikely based on the song’s format and style.

One of the cool things, though, is that if one calls the melody “Greensleeves” rather than “What Child Is This?”, it can be played all year around, even if most Americans don’t understand why. And if one plays it at Christmas, it immediately evokes the familiar carol, regardless of title. That may be why my Christmas Song of the Day for December 27 is often part of an orchestra’s holiday concert.

In classical music, a “fantasia” is sort of an improvisation, signifying freedom or absence of structure. The term was first found in German piano music of the 1500s and was also used to describe the melodies of lute players of the era. Later, Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven all wrote fantasias; the form — or perhaps, non-form, as they don’t follow a neat structure — continued well into the 20th century.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), one of the great classical composers of his era, composed “Fantasia on Greensleeves” for his 1928 opera Sir John in Love, which was inspired by Shakespeare’s play The Merry Wives of Windsor and set in the Elizabethan era. Premiered by an amateur company in 1929, Sir John in Love wasn’t put on by a professional opera company until 1946, and even today, it is rarely performed or recorded.

Throughout the opera, Vaughan Williams used English folk tunes to accentuate his libretto, which also drew from other writers of the era as well as from Shakespeare. In Act III, he incorporated “Greensleeves” with another folk tune, “Lovely Joan,” in what we might call a medley today.

Some credit for “Fantasia on Greensleeves” belongs to Ralph Greaves (1889-1966), who created the arrangement for strings and harp, with optional flute, with guidance from Vaughan Williams. This piece was written in 1934 and soon became far more popular than the opera from which it was drawn.

I first encountered “Fantasia on Greensleeves” on a classical Christmas CD compilation called Christmas Break: A Relaxing Classical Mix on the Telarc label. This disc contains the melody as performed in 1982 by the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin (born 1944). Because the familiar “Greensleeves”/ “What Child Is This?” melody doesn’t come in immediately, it caught me completely by surprise. Ever since, it had generated a reaction somewhere between goosebumps and tears when I hear it.

I couldn’t find that 1982 performance on YouTube, so instead, here’s Slatkin conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra for a similar 2001 recording on RCA Red Seal.

CSOTD 12/26/20: The promise of ages

As always, I don’t believe the Christmas season should end at the end of December 25. This year, for the first time, at least one local radio station agrees, because it plans to play holiday music through December 27.

Also as always, the Christmas Song of the Day will continue through December 31. It seems like a good compromise between the original Twelve Days of Christmas, which lasted until the January 6 Feast of the Epiphany, and today’s sensibilities, in which stores already have their Valentine’s Day stuff on display even before Santa has made his rounds.

I’ve chosen a gorgeous lesser-known carol as my Christmas Song of the Day for December 26. Thanks to copious notes made by the composer, we know exactly where and when he first encountered it.

John Jacob Niles (1892-1980) made his name by collecting folk songs from the lower Appalachian Mountain range. Many of the songs had been shared through oral tradition, and Niles took the time to write many of them down, thus allowing us to enjoy them today.

On July 16, 1933, Niles was in Murphy, North Carolina, located in the far southwest corner of the state. He was attending a revival meeting by a family of traveling ministers who had been declared vagrants and were ordered to leave town. At one point, a girl named Annie Morgan, a daughter of the lead preacher, sang the first three lines of what became “I Wonder As I Wander.” Niles later wrote of the experience, “At twenty-five cents a performance, I tried to get her to sing all the song. After eight tries, all of which are carefully recorded in my notes, I had only three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material—and a magnificent idea.”

Based on that fragment, Niles wrote two more verses and added a fourth line to what became the first verse. Unlike some of the songs he collected, Niles protected “I Wonder As I Wander” by copyright and vigorously fought to retain it, by legal action if necessary.

After completing the song, Niles first performed it on December 19, 1933 at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C., and published it in the volume Schirmer’s American Folk-Song Series, Set 14, Songs of the Hill-Folk in 1934.

I don’t know whether it was the first commercial recording of the song, but Niles released a version, labeled as “I Wonder As I Wander Out Under the Sky,” as part of an album of four 78s, Early American Ballads, on the Victor Red Seal label in November 1939. (Other sources say 1938, but this date comes from an RCA Victor record catalog published in 1942.) This was reissued on LP as part of John Jacob Niles Sings American Folk Songs on the Camden label in 1955.

There are many worthy versions, both vocal and instrumental, of “I Wonder As I Wander.” For today, I have chosen the rendition by perhaps America’s greatest gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972), from the album Sweet Little Jesus Boy, released in 1955, the same year Niles’ 1939 recording was reissued.

CSOTD 12/25/20: A Son is given

Merry Christmas! I hope the season has been good to you, however you celebrate it and whatever your traditions.

My Christmas Song of the Day for December 25 is pretty well-known, I think. But, unless a local classical music radio station is playing some holiday music, I doubt it’s been on the radio in years.

One of the joys of the season during my adult years has been Messiah, the oratorio by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). That said, perhaps it’s more appropriate as a spring or Easter tradition, because the story goes far beyond the prophesies of Isaiah and the Annunciation to the shepherds, which comprise what is generally known as Part I of the three-part work. Part II covers Christ’s Passion and ends with the famous “Hallelujah” chorus. Finally, Part III covers the Resurrection and glorification of Christ, ending with “Worthy Is the Lamb” and the majestic “Amen.”

The first time I tried to take in the entire Messiah was when I was a teenager. I started to watch a performance on PBS by an orchestra and chorus that I can’t recall right now, and at that age, I wasn’t ready. That would change as time went on. But even now, it’s much more fun to participate than to watch or listen to Messiah in its entirety.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been part of Messiah, either in near whole (one of the many traditions in performance is to skip various solos and choruses, especially in Parts II and III) or in part. I don’t know if it’s still the case, but my high-school alma mater, Souderton Area High School, always ended its Christmas concert with “Hallelujah” and invited any alumni in attendance onstage to join the current students. Messiah got me back into singing in 1997 after a long hiatus, when I saw a notice in a local newspaper that the Waupaca (WI) Community Choir and Orchestra was performing it that spring. I’ve had some great experiences with the work, including singing the great baritone solo “Behold, I tell you a mystery”/ “The trumpet shall sound” at a Christmas Eve service in 2007 and singing “Hallelujah” on Easter with a small choir at a UCC in Savage, Minnesota several years later.

Of all the choruses in Messiah, the most appropriate for today is “For Unto Us a Child Is Born.”

Famously, and under a tight deadline, Handel set his music to the libretto, compiled from various Bible verses and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer by Charles Jennens (1700-1773), in only 24 days in 1741. He would continually revise and update Messiah until his death, often based on the range and abilities of the soloists and the budget of the production, thus there is no One True Messiah. Over the centuries, trends in performance have changed, from small chamber ensembles to mighty orchestras and choirs and back again. Regardless, Messiah remains among the most popular works in the Western canon.

Because Handel wrote so quickly, he adapted melodies from earlier writings to his new oratorio. The melody of “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” was originally part of his Italian operatic duet “No, di voi non vo’ fidarmi,” which he composed in July 1741, several months before Messiah. But the melody worked beautifully with the declaration from Isaiah (chapter 9, verse 6):

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

I can’t remember the first version of “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” I heard. But I’ve had the famous 1959 recording of Messiah by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir conducted by Richard Condie in my collection for decades, so that is the version I present as my Christmas Song of the Day for Christmas Day.

CSOTD 12/24/20: Peace during wartime

Exactly 106 years ago today — Christmas Eve of 1914 — an extraordinary event in human history took place, one that has been repeated on a smaller scale at times in the years since, but never quite like on that incredible December 24.

On that day, and continuing at least into Christmas Day itself, opposing troops in Europe during World War I stopped fighting and unofficially declared what has become known as the Christmas Truce. Approximately 100,000 soldiers are believed to have taken part in one way or another, making it the largest such ceasefire in the history of modern warfare.

By this time in the so-called Great War, the opposing sides had reached a stalemate and had dug a series of trenches that went across Western Europe from the North Sea almost to Switzerland. In many cases, these trenches were close enough to one another that enemy troops could see each other clearly and, in some cases, talk normally across the lines. Fraternization was not uncommon in areas of relative peace, and there were recorded instances of, for example, German and French soldiers exchanging newspapers and even a German sergeant checking on the well-being of British soldiers.

By the time Christmas arrived, there had been calls for peace from various parties, including the Pope, all of which were officially ignored. But that didn’t stop the men in the trenches from taking matters into their own hands.

German soldiers started the Christmas Truce by decorating their trenches and singing Christmas carols. Not long after that, some brave souls began leaving their trenches and entering the “no-man’s land” between opposing forces. British soldiers soon joined them, exchanging small gifts such as cigarettes, alcohol, and souvenirs such as buttons and hats. They soon became bolder, singing well-known carols together and, according to several reports, engaging in impromptu soccer games.

Though most of the participants in the Christmas Truce were on the German-British front, reports emerged that German and French troops, German and Belgian troops, and farther east, Austrian and Russian troops had engaged in friendly activities on Christmas Day as well.

The first outside reports of the Christmas Truce came not in any newspaper from the combatants’ home nations, but in the New York Times on December 31, 1914. After that, British newspapers were filled with first-hand accounts of the extraordinary events that spread throughout Europe on those two magical days. Alas, only the occasional similar truce would happen in future years, for higher-ups put the kibosh on such activity.

Several songs have been written about the Christmas Truce over the years, and others have been inspired by it (including “Snoopy’s Christmas” by the Royal Guardsmen, in which the Red Baron invites Snoopy for a friendly holiday toast). But the one that stands above the others for me was written and recorded in 1984 by a folk singer from Wausau, Wisconsin named John McCutcheon (born 1952). He created a first-person account of the Christmas Truce as told by fictional British soldier Francis Tolliver, who was an eyewitness to the extraordinary events and, by the time he returned to Britain, was forever changed.

In the early days of Christmas music radio, stations had time to play songs like this. I remember after I first heard it, I put it on a mixtape for a DJ friend who had to work a live shift on Christmas Day and wanted some songs she could play that were not the usual. I put this song on the tape, she played it, and she later told me that she cried when she first heard it. You might want to keep a tissue nearby just in case as you listen to my Christmas Song of the Day for December 24, “Christmas in the Trenches” by John McCutcheon.

(A version of this entry was my Facebook-only Christmas Song of the Day for December 24, 2014.)

CSOTD 12/23/20: For you and for me

I first encountered the music of John Prine (1946-2020) in an unusual way.

A nearby record-store chain, the long-gone Listening Booth, occasionally put together “grab bags” of assorted promo 45s, the vast majority of which were non-hits, and sold these bags, which contained 10 singles, for $1. In 1974, I got a bag that contained a promo sampler from Atlantic Records called Something for Nothing. It featured four songs by up-and-coming artists on the label, one of which was Daryl Hall & John Oates. But the song that most captured my attention, and that of my siblings, was “Dear Abby” from Prine’s LP Sweet Revenge. In this funny, yet also meaningful, song, Prine created vignettes that were more and more outrageous, but each scenario was answered with the same advice, part of which was “You are what you are and you ain’t what you ain’t,” which is a pretty good philosophy when you get down to it.

Anyway, I thought Prine was going to be big, but he never had a hit single, and not until late in his life did his albums start to sell in large enough numbers to chart high (I don’t think he ever had a gold or platinum album in his lifetime). Instead, he wrote many songs that others did later. It’s hard to say what his most famous song is; perhaps it’s “Angel from Montgomery,” which has been recorded by dozens of artists. He also co-wrote, with Steve Goodman, the country & western semi-parody “You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” a 1975 country hit for David Allan Coe. Prine was hailed as a great songwriter by singers as diverse as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Roger Waters (formerly of Pink Floyd). In 2019, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2020, mere weeks before he died of complications from COVID-19, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

My Christmas Song of the Day for December 23 is another Prine gem I found in a most unusual way.

In 1994, Prine released A John Prine Christmas, a relatively short (eight songs, 32 minutes) album on his own Oh Boy label. A couple songs were covers, a third was a live version of an older song, and a fourth was a narration of Christmas memories. But one of the originals was “Silent Night All Day Long.” Co-written with Bobby Whitlock (born 1948), who was best known as a member of the short-lived (1970-71) band Derek and the Dominos, each verse is a vignette of Christmas, wistful but not sad. But the chorus comes back to a happy couple who was asked by the angel on top of the tree to sing a song, so they chose “Silent Night,” which isn’t a bad song to sing over and over again.

Before Prine finally recorded it, the song had been around for years, possibly since 1985, the year Alabama’s first Christmas album came out. He fleshed out the story of “Silent Night All Day Long” before a rare 1992 live performance of the song:

“It was about the middle of July one year, and word got around the [Music] Row [in Nashville] that Alabama was making a Christmas record, so everybody was trying to write a Christmas song in July so they could make money by Christmas. So me and Whitlock, we went down to one of those year-around Christmas stores, and we bought an ornament for each one of us, and we took ’em back over to Brown’s [a Nashville diner in business since 1927 not far from Music Row] and got a couple beers and a burger and sat the ornaments there and looked at ’em and made up this song here.”

Whitlock more succinctly commented on a YouTube video, “John and I wrote this on a full moon lit night in June.”

I found this song on a CD compiled by the short-lived (1994-98) magazine New Country. Each edition of the monthly contained a CD with songs from artists it profiled, and the issue closest to Christmas in 1994 was an all-holiday compilation. One of the songs on that disc was “Silent Night All Day Long.” I want to share that with you today.

CSOTD 12/22/20: Making merry

When I first heard my Christmas Song of the Day for December 22, I was in my car, no more than a mile from home. I remember it was late afternoon, and there was a fair amount of traffic. The song was so relentlessly catchy that I hoped I could slow down or stop so I could Shazam it. I think I got a red light eventually, because I was able to get it.

That was five years ago now, when the song was new. But both it, and the group responsible, seem to have gone on hiatus.

In 2014, two hit songwriters, Sam Hollander and Kevin Griffin, the latter formerly of the band Better Than Ezra, were in the midst of a songwriting session when, out of the blue, they began to discuss holiday music. They had an idea of reviving the charity supergroup; coincidentally, 2014 was the 30th anniversary of the original Band Aid, which raised millions to benefit world hunger charities, especially in Africa.

As well-connected composers, Hollander and Griffin had many friends in the industry, and their idea eventually coalesced into a group called Band Of Merrymakers. Among the many singers and artists who took part in the project were Christina Perri, Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray, Natasha Bedingfield, Lisa Loeb, Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum, Dan Wilson of Semisonic, Michael Fitzpatrick of Fitz & The Tantrums, duo Alex & Sierra, and David Hodges of Evanescence. In 2015, they came together and released an 11-song CD called Welcome to Our Christmas Party. In listening to many of the tracks on this collection, it sounds as if they were having a grand old time.

The song I heard on the radio that afternoon in December 2015 was “Must Be Christmas,” written by Hollander and Griffin and accompanied by what sounds like a cast of dozens. The featured artists include the aforementioned Kelley, Fitzpatrick, and Griffin, plus Tyler Glenn of Neon Trees, Nick Hexum of 311, Smallpools, The Mowglis, and 3oh!3.

The album sold OK but not great. In 2016, it was re-released digitally with one new track. One more single came out in 2018 from what was supposed to be their second album, but I can’t find any evidence the full-length release ever came out. Neither Band Of Merrymakers’ website nor its Facebook page have been updated since.

In the meantime, enjoy the song I first caught in traffic in 2015, “Must Be Christmas.”