I know Christmas is over, and it’s only Thursday, 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.
T Minus 2
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.
T Minus 3
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 37 years ago, 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, and since this is one of those, and the 20th anniversary of the song year, expect to hear it a lot if you happen to go out tonight anywhere that music is playing in public.
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 last year of the 2010s being better than the last few!
Check out the previous post or go back to the beginning.
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 the day before yesterday anteayer, 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.
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.
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 2021, 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 a year ago, but time doesn’t work that way. Otherwise, the day after December 31 would be January 0.
Besides, after the giant dumpster fire that was 2020, do we really want to let it be part of the decade that could truly represent a new beginning.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 is 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.