Tag Archives: A cappella

CSOTD 12/7/20: LOL, it’s Xmas (insert emoji here)

When I was going through my old Facebook posts to retrieve my 2014 Christmas Songs of the Day to use on this blog in the future, I came upon a still extant post from my late sister, Sue Turchick, from December 2, 2014: “Tim Neely, how about this one for your Christmas review? :)”

I saw it back then, but it didn’t fit in to what I was doing then, as the song was brand-new. I now wish I had returned to it earlier, because, on the second anniversary of her passing, her suggestion is my Christmas Song of the Day for December 7.

I just love the story behind the a cappella phenomenon known as Straight No Chaser. Formed at Indiana University in Bloomington in 1996 by ten men, the group took its name from a famous Thelonious Monk composition. After the original group graduated in 1999, other men took their place; Straight No Chaser continued to be the name of an IU singing group until 2013, when it changed its name to Another Round.

Why did the university group change its name? Because fate intervened.

In April 2006, to commemorate an on-campus reunion of the original group, a member of the first Straight No Chaser posted a video of its December 7, 1998 performance of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” on YouTube. The arrangement had been circulating among glee clubs for years, but the SNC rendition added a couple extra touches to make it unique: a short excerpt of “The Dreidel Song” and a longer extrapolation of Toto’s “Africa.” The video was meant as a memory inducer for members of the group and their friends, but instead, the thing went viral, garnering millions of views. One of those who saw the video was an executive at Atlantic Records, who offered to sign the original group. After deliberation — by now, the men were in their early 30s and many were married and had successful careers outside music — Straight No Chaser decided to reunite. Their 2008 album, Holiday Spirits, was one of the most successful new Christmas albums of that season.

In the years since, Straight No Chaser, with various personnel changes, continues to record and tour. Their 2020 album Social Christmasing is their fifth holiday album (four full-length, one EP).

Straight No Chaser’s project in 2013 was called Under the Influence, for which they recorded with some of their favorite solo artists. As part of that, they recorded a Holiday Edition EP, released that fall, which included a version of “Wonderful Christmastime” with none other than Paul McCartney! A year later, SNC made a bonus track that, as far as I know, has not appeared on any of the group’s albums.

“Text Me Merry Christmas,” a modern tale of love that was fun in 2014 and still works today, was written by frequent collaborators Adam Schlesinger (1967-2020) and David Javerbaum (born 1971). The beguiling guest female vocalist is Kristen Bell (born 1980), a singer and actress who in 2014 was fresh off her role as the voice of Anna in the Disney mega-hit movie Frozen. Her male counterpart in the song is SNC singer Michael Luginbill.

I was reminded of this song when, over the Thanksgiving holiday, it was part of a Spotify Straight No Chaser playlist that my niece played. And it made me think of my sister. Even now, I’ll do something creative or otherwise, and I’ll ask myself, “I wonder what Sue would think,” and then I have to remind myself that she’ll never know.


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!