Tag Archives: 2008

CSOTD 12/26/16: Still opening those toys

Once again, I am continuing my Christmas Song of the Day feature until the end of December. As I’ve said before, in the olden days, Christmas was the start of the 12 Days of Christmas and not the end, and one of my pet peeves with radio stations that play holiday music is that they cut it off abruptly at the end of December 25, if not before.

The Christmas Song of the Day for December 26 is a tribute to all the parents out there for whom wrapping presents, then waking up before the break of dawn to watch the kids open them, was only the start of the battle.

I don’t have any children and (probably) never will. But I’ve been a visitor at several of my sisters’ homes for various Christmases when their children were younger. I’ve seen first-hand the struggles of opening those desired toys, which often come hermetically sealed in the most ridiculous molded plastic packages ever devised by man.

One of the many joys I found when I was exploring my CD collection this year was the album O Holy Night by Sara Groves, a contemporary Christian singer. Recorded in 2008, O Holy Night is filled with unexpected pleasures, including great versions of seldom covered songs like “A Cradle in Bethlehem”; traditional lyrics set to new melodies, such as her version of the title song; and some excellent originals. “Toy Packaging,” a short ditty worthy of Dr. Demento, is one of the latter.

In the song, Groves bemoans how difficult it is to extricate those doggone toys from that awful plastic. As Christmas morning dissolves into Christmas night, she resorts to more and more extreme measures (if you haven’t heard the song, I won’t spoil it; the first time I heard it, I literally laughed out loud). And even then, it’s hard to say if it worked.

Here’s the wonderfully whimsical, yet all-too-true, song about “Toy Packaging.”

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 inevitable breakup. As the title of the song eloquently puts it, “The Heartache Can Wait.”

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 12/5/2015: It hit me

One of the most infamous and notorious Phil Spector-produced singles inspired the title of a majestic and beautiful single, my Christmas Song of the Day for December 5.

In 1962, the Crystals were on a streak of two consecutive Top 20 singles on Phil Spector’s then-new Philles Records label, “There’s No Other (Like My Baby)” and “Uptown.”  For their third single, Spector gave them a song composed by Gerry Goffin and Carole King called “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss),” inspired by the way Little Eva (of “The Loco-Motion” fame and the couple’s babysitter) was treated by her then-boyfriend. Though Billboard magazine called it “a serious ballad with a telling message” in its July 21, 1962 review of the single, it was much too serious for radio to play. The song didn’t chart, and today, the 45 of the song is hard to find. Even today, it’s a disturbing listen.

But that ugly song title inspired something wonderful. In 2008, a Scottish group called Glasvegas released a Christmas extended-play single (in the U.S., it was promotional only) with an assortment of songs, both seasonal and otherwise. The title song was “A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like a Kiss),” in which the singer feels depressed, alone and hopeless – until he feels a snowflake, and all of a sudden, he’s alive and OK after all. After he spends time musing about the minor miracle, about three minutes and 10 seconds into the song, the instrumental motif explodes, as if a significant snowfall has begun. It gets me every time I hear this song.

Other than snow, the song mentions nothing else associated with the holiday season, but it’s appeared on a couple of more inspired Christmas compilations in recent years. The message is a good one, too: Even if it feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, a simple yet profound act of nature can lift that weight, even if for a little while.

Here’s Glasvegas’ 2008 Christmas song, “A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like a Kiss).