New Year’s Countdown, Saturday

T Minus 4

Just because it’s past Christmas doesn’t mean the themes go away. Today’s theme is famous duets, and this one is a rather sweet homemade one featuring the countdown return of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who first appeared singing with Lady Gaga on Day 2. This time, his duet partner is Zooey Deschanel, who was his costar in (500) Days of Summer which came out, if you can believe it, over a decade ago — next month marks the 11th anniversary of its release.

Here, they’re just hanging out as friends and I’m pretty sure that she recorded this on her phone, so it also brings us a full 180 away from the big budget professional aesthetic of his duet with Gaga which, after all, appeared on The Muppet Show back in 2013. Sit back and enjoy this little New Year’s ditty.

Instant nostalgia: start from the beginning, see the previous post, or read the next.

New Year’s Countdown, Friday

T-Minus 5

I know Christmas is over, but it’s Friday again and I happened to run across one more very interesting variation on All I Want for Christmas Is You. No fancy visuals with this one. It’s all about the words and music, with a mash-up of Mariah’s hit and another unlikely hit of another decade that fits it surprisingly well.

Watch from the beginning, see the previous post, or read the next.

New Year’s Countdown, Thursday

T Minus 6

Christmas is over, but doing this countdown has been so much fun that I decided to reset the clock to bring us into New Year’s and the first day of 2020, which is also the last year of the decade of the 2010s. A lot of people don’t get this and think that the 20s start in a week, but time doesn’t work that way. Otherwise, the day after December 31 would be January 0.

I think the confusion comes from how humans count their own ages. Yes, on the day someone turns 20, they are no longer a teen, but that’s because we start counting at zero, and on their first birthday they turn one. Decades, centuries, and millennia all start on the first day of year one and you have to have all of the digits, so it runs 1 all the way to (1)0.

But forget that for the moment. Happy Boxing Day, everyone! This is more celebrated in the British Commonwealth than the U.S., but in honor of this most British of holidays I bring you the most Irish of bands, Dropkick Murphys, with The Season’s Upon Us. The song may be a day late for Christmas, but it’s probably a more honest depiction of how a lot of you celebrated yesterday. Plus it continues the Christmas Countdown theme of Funny Thursday. Enjoy!

Watch from the beginning, see the previous post, or experience the next.

Christmas Countdown, Christmas Is Here!

Day 27

OK Go right to it. One of my favorite bands for oh so many reasons — start your education here — but they combine math and science and music and create amazing videos as well as give back to the community and they are (mostly) L.A. locals and I couldn’t admire them more if I tried. So, with no further ado, here is their way pre-fame Christmas wish for you all on this Christmas Day.

Check out the previous post, or start the countdown to 2020!

Christmas Countdown, Tuesday #4

Tuesdays theme is traditional Christmas Carols performed in non-conventional ways, and for this one I bring you the masters of non-conventional, 2Cellos, Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser, a Slovenian and Croatian cellist duo who met as teens in a master music class. Like so many before them, they learned to do things that their instruments weren’t supposed to do, and they came to prominence with their music video for Thunderstruck, which sets their performance style in a setting more appropriate to the Baroque era before blowing it apart.

The only way I can describe the performance in the video in the previous paragraph, and everything else they’ve ever done, is as super-charged. Sure, I think the staged video may have involved some faking it to pre-recorded tracks, but at the same time, the emotional connection between these two guys when they play together is a constant. It’s almost like they’re having sex in the most non-sexual way. And anyone who has ever played music in a group with other people will understand that.

The connection of music is primal, immediate, in the moment, all-powerful, and it transcends all weaker forms of communication that require words or symbols. Musical communication is pure thought, pure emotion, pure NOW. If you’re not a musician and don’t believe me, go find a drum circle and give it a try, then get back to me.

And, in case you’re wondering — yes, that dynamic between these two guys and their audience is still apparent in a live show, even if they have upgraded to electric cellos.

Note that it seems to be a rule that they play most of their shows with half the horse-hairs on their bows broken from the first moments.

See the previous post, or dive right into Christmas and one of my favorite bands.

Christmas Countdown, Monday #4

Day 25

Feliz lunes, y otra navidad española, esta vez con Natalia Jiménez. She is one of the first singers whose songs I started to learn to sing, both as a solo artist and with her group La Quinta Estación (or La 5ª estación, if we’re doing it properly), and she’s pretty amazing.

In case you’re wondering, my favorites of hers are Creo en mi and El sol no regresa, which also has one of those amazing one-shot videos. Here, she performs the old classic Blanca Navidad, or White Christmas, and this is a pretty amazing example of how to translate the idea of lyrics while keeping the rhythm and not relying on being absolutely literal.

Watch the previous video or see the next.

Christmas Countdown, Sunday #4

Day 24

Welcome to Sunday and our theme: “It’s Not Just Christmas.” In tonight’s installment, we flashback to a very famous Adam Sandler SNL bit that continued to grow — his Chanukah Song, this one performed live in Chicago, back when he was still doing that sort of thing.

And I totally didn’t plan it that this theme would align so that this post comes on the first day of Chanukah, 24 Kislev, 5780 — also known as December 22, 2019. Really, I didn’t!

See the previous post or the next one.

Christmas Countdown, Saturday #4

Day 23

For this weeks “Famous Duets” theme, we have a return of the song Baby It’s Cold Outside, this time as it originally appeared in the 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter, and if the date-rapey aspects aren’t obvious in the lyrics, they sure are in the choreography and performances. It’s also interesting to see the entirely different tone taken depending on whether the Wolf is a man or a woman. The man feels that the woman owes it to him. Meanwhile, the implication the other way around is that the man is a fool for refusing the woman’s advances. (Indeed, the male Mouse is the only one to actually walk out the door, but then walk right back in, and is also the only one who winds up on the bottom at the end.)

Regarding the “Famous Duets” involved, some names people may know now and some maybe not, but this clip features Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams, and then Betty Garrett and Red Skelton. You might know one of them as the not-Benedict Cumberbatch Khan. Esther and Red were A-listers in their days, while Betty wound up comfortably in character actor territory. At this point, Skelton had a well-established career as a radio star — consider him the equivalent of a YouTube influencer of the era. Everybody knew who he was, even if they weren’t used to seeing him in the medium of film.

Meanwhile, Williams had been recruited from a career as an Olympic swimmer, and then was groomed and trained to be an actress while making a name for herself as a pin-up model — a career path that is still common today.

This was one of Montalbán’s earlier films after establishing himself as a star in Mexican cinema, and it was his second with Williams. Think Gael Garcia Bernal or, to go a bit further back, Antonio Banderas, although he was Spanish, not Mexican.

Finally, Garret had managed to get noticed on Broadway while an understudy gig for Ethel Merman put her on stage for a whole week, and she wound up in Hollywood as a contract player for MGM, which put her in this musical not long after she arrived in town. Eventually, she wound up in television, where she’s probably better known from numerous series, including 70s and 80s biggies like All in the Family, Laverne & Shirley, Murder She Wrote, and The Golden Girls.

Check out the previous post or the next one.

Christmas Countdown, Friday #4

Day 22

This is the last Friday before Christmas, and the fourth and last video on this theme — All I Want for Christmas Is You. It’s only fitting, after all the covers, that we bring it into the station with the diva herself, Mariah Carey. She released it just over 25 years ago, right before Halloween 1994, and it was the lead single from her fourth studio album and first holiday album, Merry Christmas.

She’s also covered her own song several times, including for her second holiday album in 2010, Merry Christmas II You, and again in 2011 as a duet with Justin Bieber for his holiday album Under the Mistletoe. And countless other people have recorded it in the ensuing two and a half decades as well.

Like I originally described it, you can think of the song as “Mariah Carey’s Retirement Plan.” I’ll have another famous artist’s retirement plan song coming up soon although, sadly, they never made it to retirement. And there may be one more surprise in the works when it comes to All I Want for Christmas Is You.

Check out the my favorite cover of this song, the previous post, the next post, or the first post on this theme and in this series.

Christmas Countdown Bonus!

The Boys in Blue Are Back

The latest Christmas Charity single from Out of the Blue Oxford dropped today, so I couldn’t not share it as a bonus track on the countdown, since they’ve been featured before not once but twice. This time around, it’s an unabashedly gay and over-the-top medley of tunes from Disney’s Frozen.

Bonus bonus! Three years ago to the day, they dropped this one, which becomes more joyously gay by the second with the nice conceit of a pretentious director trying to rein them in. Ah, for oh-so-innocent days of late 2016 again!

Meanwhile, please visit their page and donate to Helen & Douglas House and/or buy the charity single that this video is plugging to benefit the same group. And drop a tip in my jar if you’re so inclined. It is the giving season, after all. You’ll be glad you did.

Watch the Christmas Countdown from the beginning!