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.