Category Archives: Christmas Song of the Day 2015

CSOTD 12/31/2015: Auld in the family

Another December, and another calendar year, has come to an end. And so will my Christmas Song of the Day feature for 2015.  There is no shortage of holiday songs that time, and radio, forgot or never knew, and as long as that is true, God willing and the creeks don’t rise, I’ll write about them. Who knows, perhaps I’ll get a chance to play some of them on the radio myself to help end their obscurity.

My Christmas Song of the Day for December 31 isn’t from Christmas per se, but it’s very closely associated with New Year’s Eve. It’s a beautiful version of that Robert Burns classic “Auld Lang Syne.”

Kate Taylor (born 1949) comes from a musical family that most famously includes her older brother James Taylor.  Helped in part by the success of her sibling, she signed a recording deal and made an album for the Cotillion label, Sister Kate, in 1971. Later in the 1970s, she made two albums for Columbia, which by then was also James’ label; during that time, she had her only charting single, a remake of “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss).” After her 1979 LP failed to catch fire, Kate took a two-decade break from the industry, though she would continue to perform sporadically.

On New Year’s Eve in 1998, she and her late husband, Charles Witham, were scheduled to perform a small show on Martha’s Vineyard. As part of the show, Kate planned to perform “Auld Lang Syne,” but she wanted to sing more than the one familiar verse. After looking at the archaic language of the original poem, she and Witham decided to write new words that were true to the spirit of Burns’ original, but were in more modern English.  The song was well received, and Kate decided to record it. Big brother James helped with a musical arrangement and a gorgeous harmony vocal, and the CD single was released in the latter part of 1999 with all proceeds going to the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

Three years later, the same version of “Auld Lang Syne” was issued on Kate’s first full-length album since 1979, Beautiful Road. Ring out the old year and bring in the new with Kate Taylor’s heartfelt rendition of the traditional Scottish song.



CSOTD 12/30/2015: The heartache can wait

At this point in my life, I am 99 and 44/100 percent sure that I will never again be in a romantic relationship.  I know that stranger things have happened, but when I state this, I am not being a cynic, but a realist.

My last one ended in August 2013. Making it even worse is that, right up until the last day we were together, she said she still loved me. But she simply couldn’t live with me anymore. She had spent years chasing me before I finally came around, and then, after we’d spent three years together, she decided she was better off without me after all.

If she’d had her way, our relationship would have ended even sooner – on December 8, 2012, to be exact. Somehow, I used my feeble powers of persuasion not to end things that day. The thought of breaking up right before Christmas, yet deciding to stick it out at least through the holiday season, brought to mind the song I’ve chosen as my Christmas Song of the Day for December 30.

I first heard of Brandi Carlile in 2007, when I heard her amazing recording of “The Story” from her album of the same name. I don’t remember if I first heard it on the radio or elsewhere, but my goodness, that song has stuck with me ever since. If I’m in the right (or wrong) mood, “The Story” will make me cry like a baby, because it hits too close to home.

For Christmas in 2007, as was often the case when I lived in Wisconsin, I spent the immediate holiday season at my mother’s house in suburban Minneapolis. In those days, Cities 97, which used to be a great radio station by commercial FM standards, aired a program it called The 24 Hours of Christmas from 6 p.m. Christmas Eve to 6 p.m. Christmas Day. It was diverse and unique, and many songs that have stuck with me over the past decade or so were ones I first heard during those hours. I’d have the radio on as I fell asleep, and I’d have a piece of paper and writing utensil nearby; any time I heard a song new to me that I liked, I’d jot down enough lyrics to try to google them the next time I had the chance.

One song I heard in 2007 was a beautiful, cello-and-piano-driven ballad with a lyric that sounded like “silver bells and open fires,” which was about all I managed to make out in my groggy state. The day after Christmas, I went to the local public library with my list of scrawled lyrics, and I found the song in question.

Carlile had released it as a digital download roughly three days before Christmas that year, and it somehow ended up on Cities 97 that quickly! As I basically stay away from music that is not available on physical media, I didn’t grab it for the collection. Fortunately, the next year (2008), Carlile’s song was released on CD as part of a benefit Christmas collection called The Hotel Cafe Presents Winter Songs, an assortment of seasonal songs all performed by women. I think it’s still the only hard-copy source for today’s song.

Carlile sings of a relationship that is deteriorating, but she wants to delay the inevitable in hopes that they can at least have one more memorable Christmas together before the coming breakup. As the title of the song eloquently puts it, “The Heartache Can Wait.”

CSOTD 12/29/2015: Christmas for the birds

We are in the midst of the traditional 12 Days of Christmas, which used to start on December 25 and continue until January 6. This celebration, of course, inspired a song that we all know.  That same song also has inspired countless parodies. My Christmas Song of the Day for December 29 is one of the least known, but one of the funniest.

Alexander “Sascha” Burland (born 1927) made his name writing jingles for radio and television ads. In 1959, he and a friend, Don Elliott, capitalized on the fad for fictional groups of rodents with squeaky voices by creating The Nutty Squirrels; they promptly had a top 20 single called “Uh! Oh! Part 2.” Unlike the pop-oriented Chpmunks, the Nutty Squirrels were rooted in jazz. They also made it to television before Alvin, Theodore and Simon, but The Nutty Squirrels Present, which aired in 1960-61, was not a success.

As happens with most novelties, the Nutty Squirrels soon became dated. Burland went back to his mostly behind-the-scenes work; he was the credited composer on the T-Bones’ 1966 Top 10 single “No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In),” which originated as an Alka-Seltzer jingle.

In between, Burland, with help from The Skipjack Choir and Mason Adams, recorded one of the great lost Christmas novelty records.

Imagine that you are the conductor of a small choir that is in the midst of singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Now imagine that one of the choir members starts receiving the gifts in the song from her overeager boyfriend. The various birds get loose, interfere with the singers and the instruments, and chaos ensues. Finally, as the choir is finally trying to run down the entire list of gifts, the exasperated director shouts the line that became the title of this parody – “The chickens are in the chimes!”

Released in 1963 as a 45 on the RCA Victor label, it’s never been released on CD as far as I know, but people in the Christmas-music community love to share the song because it’s both rare and unusual.

Cluck along with “The Chickens Are In the Chimes!”

CSOTD 12/28/2015: Hope and joy and peace

My Christmas Song of the Day for December 28 is one of the best new holiday tunes of the millennium. It has become de rigueur for country music stations to work this into their rotations during the Christmas season, but I’d like to see pop stations do the same. Both the performance and the sentiment fit in nicely.

Alan Jackson first hit the country charts late in 1989. Since then, he has had 26 #1 singles in Billboard, a few of which also made the top 40 on the pop charts. His most famous songs are probably “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” “Chattahoochee” and the song he wrote immediately after 9/11, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).” His 2003 duet with Jimmy Buffett, “It’s Five o’Clock Somewhere,” made the pop Top 20.

Early on, Jackson started recording Christmas music. He had a one-off single, “I Only Want You for Christmas,” in 1991, and a year later, he contributed “A Holly Jolly Christmas” to Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. A full Christmas album, Honky Tonk Christmas, followed in 1993. Most of the songs on that CD were more contemporary, including several new ones.

For his 2002 Christmas CD, Jackson planned to record nothing but some of the more traditional holiday songs. But he couldn’t help himself; he composed one new song to appear amid such time-honored fare as “White Christmas” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Though brand-new at the time, it fits in well with the standards, and is starting to become a standard in its own right.

Here is the title song of Alan Jackson’s 2002 holiday album, “Let It Be Christmas.”

CSOTD 12/27/2015: He has heard our cry

Some of the songs I’ve chosen as my Christmas Song of the Day are those I’ve found by listening to contemporary Christian radio during the season. My Christmas Song of the Day for December 27 is yet another one.

During the Christmas season of 2012, the Stevens Point/Wausau, Wisconsin radio market had no commercial radio station that switched to a seasonal music format for the holidays. It might have been the largest market in the U.S. that could make such a claim that year. The one that had been doing so since at least 1997 changed formats to contemporary hit radio and didn’t feel it was appropriate to switch; no other station in the area picked up the slack. Instead, the only local source for Christmas music on the radio was one of the religious stations. They promoted the fact pretty heavily; part of their hope was that people who came for the Christmas music would stick around for the message after the season as well.

That year, in addition to some of the more familiar secular Christmas songs, I heard a lot of versions of carols performed by artists in the contemporary Christian field. I also got to hear many songs I still have never heard on more traditional Christmas radio. This is one of them.

Today’s song starts out softly; my first impression was that it reminded me of “In My Arms,” the 2007-08 pop crossover hit by Plumb. Then harmony vocals join, and it builds to a soaring chorus of praise. That would have been enough, but then, three minutes and 15 seconds into the song, it bursts into an almost manic celebration with drummers, channeling Ravel’s Bolero, proclaiming the great event. Just as suddenly, it goes quiet again and slowly diminishes to its end. I’d never heard a Christmas song quite like it in my life. And I had to find out what it was.

Naturally, I was driving at the time and, in those pre-Shazam days, I was unprepared; I had nothing to write with, or on!  My only hope was to try to remember some key lines beyond the obvious “Hallelujah!” I did hear it again, and I was more ready that time.

I found out that it was recorded by a trio of sisters known as BarlowGirl. Rebecca, Alyssa and Lauren Barlow, who first performed as a group at a non-denominational church in a suburb of Chicago, were discovered at an industry seminar for unsigned bands in 2002. All three both sang and played instruments – Rebecca on guitar, Alyssa on bass and keyboards, and Lauren on drums. From the time their first album was released in 2004,  they became one of the biggest groups in contemporary Christian music. They made their last album in 2009, and announced in 2012 that they were breaking up the band. For the most part, they seem to have stayed out of the public eye since then.

In time for the 2008 Christmas season, BarlowGirl released the CD Home for Christmas. One of the songs on that album, co-written by the three members of the band with Alyssa singing lead, is the song I heard on the radio for the first time in 2012. Their epic re-statement of the saga and importance of Christ’s birth is called “Hallelujah (Light Has Come),” and here it is.

CSOTD 12/26/2015: Lost on E Street

I don’t believe that the Christmas season should end on December 25. Unfortunately, radio stations do, as on December 26, most of those that switched to a holiday format drag out the same old stuff they were playing in early to mid November. Well, I grew up at a time when the 12 Days of Christmas began, not ended, on Christmas Day.  I will continue to post songs of holiday cheer until December 31, as sort of a compromise between today’s here-today, gone-tomorrow attitude and the traditional end of the Christmas season on January 6.

My Christmas Song of the Day for December 26 is Darlene Love’s other great holiday song, one that receives a fraction of the attention given to her undeniable classic, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

Lyrically, it mentions some of the sights of the holidays in New York, and it also name-drops “Baby Please Come Home,” which it stylistically resembles. But if that were all, it might not have been as great as it became.

An all-star cast helped Love on her 1992 single “All Alone on Christmas,” which was one of the featured tracks in the film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. “Miami Steve” Van Zandt wrote the song, and he assembled a stellar group of musicians to help approximate Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” production technique.  The recording included pretty much the entire E Street Band, which was then on hiatus from Bruce Springsteen: Van Zandt, Danny Federici, Garry Tallent, Max Weinberg, Clarence Clemons, and even Springsteen’s wife Patti Scialfa. The Miami Horns, a regular fixture of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes albums, also joined in.

“All Alone on Christmas” was one of two singles released from the Home Alone 2 soundtrack in 1992. (The other was Alan Jackson’s version of “A Holly Jolly Christmas.”)  I remember it getting a lot of airplay during that holiday season, even more than the songs from the Special Olympics benefit CD A Very Special Christmas 2, which came out the same year. It got to #83 on the Hot 100 charts; in 1992, that was still a respectable performance for a Christmas song.

Because there was no 45 in the United States, only a cassette single, I bought the full Home Alone 2 CD just to get Darlene Love’s awesome song. And here it is, for your day-after enjoyment.


CSOTD 12/25/2015: It’s Latin to me

Merry Christmas to all my readers! I hope that my choices for Christmas Song of the Day have made your holiday season better in some way.

For December 25, I’ve decided to go back to a song that, at the absolute latest, was written in the late 16th century, as that was its first known publication. Its liturgical themes indicate that the melody may date from the medieval period. Even more amazing is that a version of this ancient song made the top 20 of the British charts in 1974, even though it was sung a cappella and entirely in Latin.

“Gaudete,” which means “rejoice,” first appeared in print in the songbook Piae cantiones (Pious songs) in 1582. The refrain – “Gaudete, gaudete, Christus est natus ex Maria virgine. Gaudete!”  – translates to “Rejoice, rejoice, Christ is born from the virgin Mary. Rejoice!” The verses also mention grace, Ezekiel, salvation and praise. “Gaudete”is every bit as joyful as the event it celebrates.

Over the years, “Gaudete” has become part of the standard repertoire of groups that specialize in madrigal and Renaissance music. Much of that popularity can be traced to a British folk revival group, Steeleye Span.

On the suggestion of group member Bob Johnson, who had heard the song at a service of folk carols, Steeleye Span  recorded “Gaudete” for their 1972 album Below the Salt. Their British record label, Chrysalis, released it as a single that fall. The label thought that the other side of the single, a version of the better-known carol “The Holly and the Ivy,” was more likely to be a hit, as it released a special promo 45 with that song on both sides. Initially, the single failed, but it was reissued two years later, and the unorthodox “Gaudete” got to #14 on the UK charts. It remains a Christmas favorite in England.

In the United States, Chrysalis also released “Gaudete” as a single twice, in 1972 and 1974, but it generated no interest.

On the LP, the song slowly fades in, hits peak volume at its halfway point, and just as slowly fades out. The British 45 stays at constant volume throughout. Here is that single version. Rejoice!



CSOTD 12/24/2015: Sleep well

My Christmas Song of the Day for December 24, Christmas Eve, is a spoken-word recording except for two lines or so. As far as I can tell, it hasn’t been officially reissued since 1972, yet many children and adults of the era remember it fondly.

The year 1966 marked two milestones for actor Cary Grant (1902-1986), and they were not unrelated. First, he became a father for the first and only time at age 62, as his fourth wife, Dyan Cannon, gave birth to their daughter Jennifer. Second, in order to spend more time with her, Grant retired from motion pictures after completing his last feature, Walk, Don’t Run. He never would return to the screen, but in 1967, Grant made his first and only 45 rpm record.

Singer Peggy Lee teamed with Cy Coleman to write “Christmas Lullaby” specifically for Grant on the occasion of Jennifer’s first birthday. Using his acting skill, he gave it a tender reading, and he even sang a couple lines. During the holiday season of 1967, it spent two weeks in the lower part of Billboard‘s special Christmas chart and then mostly vanished. In 1969, it was included on the W.T. Grant compilation A Very Merry Christmas, Volume 3, but because “Christmas Lullaby” had only been issued as a monaural single, it was in rechanneled stereo on the LP. Three years later, it appeared on the album Joyous Christmas Volume 6, produced for the Beneficial Finance System. And that seems to be it.

Listen as Cary Grant pays tribute to his young daughter in “Christmas Lullaby.”

CSOTD 12/23/2015: The cradle will rock

Today, all you need to do is turn the radio to a Christmas station and you’ll hear something from Nat King Cole’s 1960 album The Magic of Christmas – or, to be more accurate, the 1963 reissue called The Christmas Song. The title song of the ’63 version is an undeniable classic, and almost all the other 13 songs are in semi-regular rotation. But one song from this LP is ignored, and to me, it’s a great mystery why. My Christmas Song of the Day for December 23 is that odd one out – “A Cradle in Bethlehem.”

The song seems to have spent a long time in limbo. It was composed by Larry Stock, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame best known as co-writer of “Blueberry Hill,” and Alfred Bryan, another Hall of Famer whose most famous song is probably “Peg o’ My Heart”; though it was copyrighted in 1952, I can’t find any recording of “A Cradle in Bethlehem” before Cole’s 1960 version. Bryan had died in 1958, thus would never know that the song would end up on the biggest-selling Christmas album recorded in the 1960s.

Cole recorded The Magic of Christmas on three consecutive days in July 1960. “A Cradle in Bethlehem” was one of five songs recorded on July 7, the last of the three sessions. It is a beautiful rendition; perhaps because it was the only “new” song on the album, it has been lost in the shuffle.

CSOTD 12/22/2015: Short but sweet

Since at least World War II, a regular theme of Christmas songs is the desire for home. Sometimes, it’s the singer with that longing, such as in “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays”; other times, the singer wants someone else to come home, as in “Please Come Home for Christmas” or “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” My Christmas Song of the Day for December 22 falls in the second category.

In England, Kate Bush (born 1958) is a phenomenon. Of her 11 albums, 10 of them have made the top five; she is the only female artist to have top-five albums in five decades. She also has had four top-10 singles. In the United States, it’s a different story: She’s had only one Top 40 single, “Running Up That Hill,” which got to #30 in 1986, and her most successful album, 1993’s The Red Shoes, peaked at #28.

The first American CD single from that 1993 album, “Rubberband Girl,” contained a short but pretty holiday song called “Home for Christmas.” I found this song on Christmas Super Hits, a diverse 4-CD set released by Sony Music in 2010 that, at least at one time, was only available at F.Y.E. music stores. (That is the only place I remember seeing it, anyway.) Other than on the original CD single, this compilation might be its only U.S. release. So enjoy this relatively rare Christmas song with me.