New Year’s Countdown, December 31

Prince wrote this track in the 1980s, but became a New Year’s anthem, especially in the last few years of the century. Here it is for your enjoyment on this New Year’s Eve.

T Minus 1

Mariah Carey, who started this countdown and appeared throughout it, wasn’t the only one to write a perennial song that could be called their retirement plan. Somebody beat her to it by years, and that somebody was the late great artist forever known as Prince.

Even though it originally came out in the 1980s, you know the song, which is the title track from his album 1999. It seemed to get played every New Year’s ever in the last two decades of the 20th Century, and got played to death in December of 1998, then throughout all of 1999. It still makes regular New Year’s Eve comebacks, especially in years ending in 9.

Even nearly 40 years later and for all of its glorious 80s synth-pop sound, the song still holds up today, and I dare you to not find yourself moving to this one as you listen, whether it’s full-on choreography on your feet or a bit of a chair dance. Happy New Year — it’s already happened for some of you, of course — and here’s to the next year of the 2020s being better than the first two!

Check out the previous post or go back to the beginning.

New Year’s Countdown, December 30

With New Year’s Eve tomorrow, there’s still time for one last bit of holiday weirdness — Mariah Carey meets Radiohead.

T-Minus 2

I know Christmas is over but 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, or see the previous post.

New Year’s Countdown, December 29

Countdown to 2022, presenting the band Discordia with El día de los inocentes.

T Minus 4

Okay, it can be hard to continue a theme like «Navidad española» after Christmas is over, since that means “Spanish Christmas,” although in a lot of the Hispanic world, the Christmas season runs up until January 6, known as Epiphany in English but as El día de los Reyes Magos in Spanish — the day of the Three Wise Kings.

And yes, in no tradition do they actually visit Bethlehem (or Belén) on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. They may have even seen the sign about eight months before they set off on their journey. That’s right — Jesus was hardly a newborn infant when they showed up around the Winter Solstice and was probably actually born in the Spring, maybe in April. Well, relatively speaking. Since Passover (Last Supper, anyone?) also tended to be in April around the third decade of the second millennium, Jesus pulled the Shakespeare trick of being born and dying in the same month, although Shakespeare may have even managed to die on his birthday — no one knows that one for sure.

But that’s the long way ‘round of getting to the connection for this video. First, it’s in Spanish, although it’s not a Christmas carol. Second, it refers to another Hispanic tradition that was celebrated yesterday, December 28th, which is El día de los inocentes. This commemorates the day that Herod had all of the newborn males in Bethlehem killed, just to make sure that the new King of the Jews wouldn’t make it to adulthood and cause any trouble. In a lot of the Spanish-speaking world, though, the day is celebrated with pranks and jokes, a lot like April Fool’s in the English-speaking world.

This song is called El día de los inocentes and it’s by the band Discordia, a now-defunct band from Brazil, although here they sing in Spanish. Either that, or I suddenly understand Portuguese! There are no subtitles, so enjoy song for its melody if you don’t understand. If you do understand, then you’ll see why the title of the song is totally apt, and how even though the band split up almost a decade ago, what they sing about is still relevant, as much in Brazil as in the U.S.

See the previous post or read the next.

New Year’s Countdown, December 28

As the Countdown to 2022 continues, here’s a comedy number from the group Straight no Chaser.

T Minus 5

Sure, it’s after Christmas, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be the “It’s not Just Christmas” theme. I’ve covered Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and Diwali. Hell, even Festivus Now here’s a song that combines all of them, all of the Christmas carols, and provides a reminder of the annual madness we’ve all just survived.

I give you the group Straight No Chaser, which in some ways echoes another group seen here several times, Out of the Blue Oxford, performing both Santa Baby and All I Want for Christmas Is You. Both started as college a cappella groups, but the British version stayed with the university as an organization with an ever-evolving cast while the American version struck out on their own. As they describe their evolution, they went “from an undergraduate singing group at Indiana University to a beloved Atlantic Records act with a devoted international fanbase.”

Their first release was the holiday album Holiday Spirits from 2008. This song was the lead track from their 2009 holiday release Christmas Cheers.

Check out the previous post or the next, or start from the beginning.

New Year’s Countdown, December 27

New Year’s Countdown: Happy birthday Marlene Dietrich, who here serenades David Bowie with the song Just a Gigolo.

T Minus 5

On this day in 1901, Marlene Dietrich was born in Berlin and lived into her 90s, with a career that spanned from when she was 18 and performing in Berlin nightclubs to a long film career in Hollywood.

She was an icon, and made her last feature film in 1979, appearing opposite David Bowie, who was 32 at the time. Its American title is Just a Gigolo, and yes, that song does appear in the film and, although the film is set in post-WW I Berlin, the song is not anachronistic, since the story moves along far enough to have the Nazis starting to muck with things.

The original song, entitled Schöner Gigolo, armer Gigolo, took lyrics written in Austria in 1924 and set them to music in 1928. The English version was written in 1929. Incidentally, the original German-language version was a tango.

In this clip from the film — which was widely panned and which Bowie himself regretted making —Dietrich’s character sings it to Bowie’s after basically humiliating him in front of a roomful of fellow soldiers.

Incidentally, the film was supposed to be a black comedy. I’m guessing that people just didn’t get the joke.

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

New Year’s Countdown, December 26

Happy Boxing Day. As 2022 approaches, here’s Dropbick Murphy’s very Irish ode to the season.

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 2022, which is also the first year of the second decade of the 2000s. A lot of people don’t get this and think that the 20s started in 2020, but time doesn’t work that way. Otherwise, the day after December 31 would be January 0.

I think the confusion over when decades begin and end 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!

Merry Christmas with greetings from OK GO.

Christmas Day

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 2022!

Christmas Countdown, Friday #5

As we hit Christmas Eve, what more appropriate way to end it with Mariah Carey Friday and her original version of that famous Christmas song?

Day 29

This is the last Friday before Christmas as well as Christmas Eve, 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 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, Thursday #4

Christmas Countdown Thursday: Christmas is Funny, with a little SNL commercial parody bringing an assortment of imagined celebrity songs.

Day 28

Thursday’s theme is Funny Christmas, and while this one isn’t a Christmas carol per se, it’s kind of a meta take on the whole theme, as SNL imagines a whole series of celebrity Christmas songs that, honestly, aren’t all that far-fetched. This dates back to December of 2013, but it’s still relevant today, and seemed most appropriate for Christmas Eve.

It also might be where the inspiration for DMX actually doing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer actually came from.

Of course, SNL has had a long history of doing Christmas episodes and sketches, and this season marks their 44th, which is pretty remarkable if you think about it. Yes, it’s had its ups and downs over the years, but when it nails it with an amazing cast, it really nails it — and this is something that the show seems to manage to do at least around every Presidential election year.

We certainly saw it in the 2019 lead-up to 2020, and then it just exploded in 2020 — no mean feat considering that a lot of the season was performed remotely, with the cast in their own homes, but it still worked.

But… when they’re not doing politics, they’re nailing human foibles and pop culture, which the video below does. Their aforementioned Christmas sketches do, too, and if you’re interested, Refinery 29 has a list of the best of them.

Check out the previous post or see the next.

Christmas Countdown, Tuesday #4

Christmas Countdown Tuesday is traditional carols performed in unconventional ways. Here, 2Cellos has at Silent Night.

Day 26

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.

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