I’m sitting in the front window of a coffee shop writing this post. I have a hot mocha and I’m watching the snow fall outside. Seems like a perfect week to compile a mix of Christmas music. I have a Christmas mix on my iPod with 167 songs totaling 8 ½ hours of music. I like Christmas jazz because you get fresh and interesting takes on some standards, but I often have trouble finding links to the versions I love. Also, nothing is quite as Christmasy as the classic versions.
With that in mind, today I’m posting a mix of my favorite old school Christmas songs (except for Diana Krall, but she kind of leans old school anyway). I thought I had posted a version of this mix another year, but I went through my records and it looks like I never have. I think I always run out of time Christmas weekend.
Many of these songs have been covered well multiple times, but these are my very favorite versions. I hope you like them.
- White Christmas – Bing Crosby
One story says that when Irving Berlin wrote this song, he told his secretary, “Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written — heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!” Bing nails this song and this particular arrangement is my favorite.
- Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer Mambo – Billy May
This was always my least favorite Christmas carol, but May’s 1958 version is hip and energetic, even now. This is a cleverly edited video, too.
- Baby It’s Cold Outside – Dean Martin
This is such a cute song and Martin is exactly the mischievous type to deliver it. Incidentally, there is a fantastic remix of this song on a great album called “Merry Mixmas” on which they regroove the classic vocal track. This is the original, though.
- The Christmas Blues – Dean Martin
Why not a double shot of Dean Martin? He never shied away from a double shot.
- Christmas Everyday – Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
Smokey’s voice is classic and the great Motown sound is wonderful. The best thing about this song, though, is I haven’t heard it 1000 times.
- The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole
EVERYONE has done this song. I think my version is out there on YouTube somewhere. No one has done it as beautifully as Nat King Cole, though. This arrangement is gorgeous and Cole’s voice is as warm and gentle as a down comforter.
- Christmas Time Is Here – Diana Krall
You should already have the original Vince Guaraldi version of this song. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is the best Christmas album ever made bar none. Krall’s version of this song is lovely, though.
- Christmas Waltz – Peggy Lee
A lot of people have covered this song too, but Peggy Lee’s 1960 version of this great Sammy Cahn tune makes me feel like a kid when I hear it.
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Lou Rawls
I love the way Rawls swings this song and every note the horns drop is gold.
- Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives
I know this isn’t a great song but, God help me, I still like it. I watched the claymation Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer every year as a kid and this is the closer.
- I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Frank Sinatra
Bing Crosby and Perry Como both had hits with this song first, but I like Frank’s version. The lyrics were written by Buck Ram when he was a homesick college student, but they came to symbolize the wishes of American soldiers in both World Wars.
- Jingle Bells – Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sistes
Here is another song I don’t often like to hear at Christmas, but this zippy version with Bing and the Andrews Sisters is so much fun.
- Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Vaughn Monroe
Monroe himself recorded this song multiple times, but this is his best rendition. It’s the one they usually use in movies, too (Die Hard, for example).
- Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth – Bing Crosby & David Bowie
Best. Christmas. Song. Evah. The “Peace On Earth” counterpoint was added for this TV special, which was recorded just a month before Bing’s death, because Bowie hates “Little Drummer Boy” and wanted to sing something else. The music starts about 1:45 in.
- The Holly She Bears a Berry – The Chieftains
This is from The Chieftains’ pretty good Christmas album, “The Bells of Dublin.” Traditional Irish music is kind of Christmasy anyway, in my opinion.
- Please Come Home for Christmas – Charles Brown
More blues for your Christmas mix. We’ve all had a sad Christmas or two and this one might make you feel better.
- Winter Wonderland – Lena Horne
Another standard that has been covered over and over. I like Lena Horne’s version, if we’re talking old school.
Enjoy this mix with – what else? – egg nog with nutmeg and a generous shot of rum. Have a great week and a Merry Christmas.
Back in May, I compiled a mix of Songs for the Dumped. Kind of a sad topic, but I thought it was a pretty good mix. I may return to the topic too because I only had to go through about half of my music to find those tracks. I probably have another mix that size waiting to be plucked from my collection. Today, however, I want to go in the opposite direction and bring you a collection of love songs for the start of your next relationship.
People are still writing great love songs today, obviously, but to my mind nothing sets a romantic mood like old love songs. I’ve pulled together some 50s, 60s, and 70s R&B, a few 40s crooning tunes, and some newer stuff that borrows heavily from these traditions.
If you’ve ever seen As Good As It Gets with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, this mix is like Nicholson’s tape labeled “For Emergencies Only.” Use it with care.
- Satisfy My Soul – Paul Carrack
This was the only song I could pick to kick off the mix. Carrack’s wailing, heartfelt intro is perfect and the gentle percussion, plucking, and harmony vocals set a nice mood.
- Make It Good to Me – Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
The Kings lay down a nice groove for Jones to sing about love and longing. The arrangement is great, with oozy horns and sweet strings.
- Give It Everything – Al Green
The Reverend also got a spot on my Dumped mix. What can I say? The man sings straight to your heart. Love the horns, too, of course.
- Sure Hope You Mean It – Raphael Saadiq
The album this comes from was one of my very first posts when I started this blog. This Motown revival song has a wonderful vibe.
- I’ll Come Running Back to You – Sam Cooke
Cooke was great at crafting evocative songs like this one (remember ‘Chain Gang?’). This sweet love song is from 1957.
- At Last – Etta James
I have recommended this song before, but I simply can’t put together a mix like this without including one of the most beautiful, stirring love songs ever.
- I Only Have Eyes for You – The Flamingos
This 1934 song has been covered by Al Jolson, Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, Bette Midler, The Temptations, Jamie Cullum, Frank Sinatra, Carly Simon, Rod Stewart, and that’s not even half the list. The winner, though, is this unforgettable version by The Flamingos.
- Fool for You – Branford Marsalis & The Impressions
Curtis Mayfield’s original is great, but I really like the update Marsalis puts on this song. It’s got funky percussion and horns but the chorus still has beautiful piano and vocals.
- Groove Me – King Floyd
This song has a fun feel like the early days of a relationship, though he’s talking about marriage.
- Love Makes the World Go Round – Deon Jackson
It starts with light keyboards and almost whispered vocals, but horns and backing vocals dress up the great payoff pop hook at the chorus.
- People Gonna Talk – James Hunter
Like the Raphael Saadiq song above, this is a relatively new song with a throwback feel and, in fact, I wrote these two albums up on the same day.
- Old Fashioned Way – Ken Boothe
OK, so the lyrics are about heartbreak and loss, but it still fits the romantic mood, I think.
- Knock Me a Kiss – Louis Jordan
Jordan croons the goofy lyrics with the muted trumpet and brush snare behind him. It just can’t miss.
- Groovin’ – The Rascals
Another pretty simple song. Mostly harmonica, harmony vocals, tambourine, and a little piano but the lyrics are sunny and full of hope and promise.
- Your Precious Love – Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell produced several great duets, but this one is far and away my favorite.
- I Can’t Imagine – Aaron Neville
I’m not usually a big Neville Brothers fan, but I found this one on the Truth About Cats and Dogs soundtrack and it is undeniably a winner. Aaron’s sweet alto is well suited to this kind of couples skate ballad.
Enjoy on the couch with a glass of wine for each of you. White wine, I think. Have a great weekend.
I got a twofer out of my iPod the other day that inspired me to make this mix. Sometimes I’m sure the words just flow off the pen for musicians. I’ve read interviews with musicians who say certain songs were just a gift from their muse and appeared fully formed in their heads. In other cases, I think the music is there, but they may not have much to say. Or perhaps they’re in a goofy mood and the song concept involves nonsense lyrics. Either way the songs today all involve titles – and sometimes entire songs – that are gibberish. I’m not sure how well this will hold together as a mix, but the individual tracks are all on my iPod and I like ‘em.
- Gotta Jibboo – Phish
This is from one of my favorite Phish albums, “Farmhouse.” The whole disc is full of fun, accessible songs with great grooves. I love it when the guys work in some horns.
- Hoodoo Voodoo – Billy Bragg & Wilco
Crazy honky tonk music and lyrics that barely make sense. I think Woody Guthrie wrote these lyrics for his kids.
- Itche Koutche – Angelique Kidjo
OK, so I’m sure Itche Koutche means something in Kidjo’s native tongue – I’m assuming not “itchy coochie” – but I don’t know what it means and it’s a cool song with great horn and vocal work.
- A Minha Menina – Band of Bees
I’m not sure what language he’s singing in, but it sounds cohesive enough to be actual words, not scat. Still, it sounds a little silly and I love the Bees.
- Boo-Wah Boo-Wah – Cab Calloway
The great Hi De Ho Man himself. What a brilliant bandleader. This one is as much fun as any of his songs with some great big band jazz.
- Mahna Mahna – Cake
Maybe this version isn’t as funny as Jim Henson’s original, but it’s a brilliant choice for a cover and they have a lot of fun with it.
- Chamchu – Cornershop
I’m pretty sure this means something in Hindi or Punjabi, but the way it is used in the song makes it seem a little nonsensical, so here it is. I was tickled that Cornershop came back with another album and particularly that it was this good.
- Ya Ya Ya (Looking for My Baby) – The Detroit Cobras
She’s going to find her man and drag him back to town by the balls. I have to say I hope she doesn’t find the poor sap.
- Oo La La – Edie Brickell
Yes, Brickell continued writing music after 1988 and she’s still a talented songwriter and musician.
- Bow Wow – The Fiery Furnaces
The Furnaces’ music is hard to describe. It’s catchy and it grows on you.
- Doo Uap, Doo Uap, Doo Uap – Gabin
What a great choice for an old jazz standard to regroove. They do a nice job with it too, layering the vocals and samples.
- Wah-Wah – George Harrison
George wrote this while the Beatles were still together, but didn’t release it until “All Things Must Pass.” 4 out of 5 Internet commenters agree that this song is about fighting with Paul.
- Fa Fa – Guster
I just realized I’ve never written up this great album, but I’m going to next week. “You’re always saying something you swear you’ll never say again. Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa. Never be the same again.”
- Izzy Izzy Ahh – Missy Elliott
Misdemeanor and Timbaland are like peanut butter and jelly: they’re both good doing their own thing, but together they are more than the sum of their parts.
- Ma Meeshka Mow Skwoz – Mr. Bungle
This is the weirdest song on this mix. Maybe the weirdest song on my iPod. I can’t even explain why I have it. Something this strange and creative just reaches me. This sample barely scratches the surface of this song’s many distinct parts. You can hear a somewhat different demo version here, but be aware of the profanity in this version.
- Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) – Otis Redding
The King of Soul died in a plane crash at just 26 years of age. You hear the expressiveness of his voice in a track like this one and you realize what a loss it was.
- Uh, Zoom Zip – Soul Coughing
I freaking LOVE Soul Coughing, so even though this isn’t my favorite of theirs, it gives me another chance to spread the word.
- Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day – Stevie Wonder
No longer Little Stevie Wonder, we get a little Motown from Stevie Wonder, the man, in 1968.
- Zwing Ting – The Streamers
Bending strings and horns, heavily sampled vocals, and a cool beat make this chillout track interesting to the ear.
Enjoy with a Tim’s Ridiculous Concoction (beer, ice cream, vanilla, and tomato juice), or something else that makes no sense whatsoever. Have a great weekend.
Today’s mix is a collection of covers. Now, when I listen to a cover, I have just one rule: Do something new with the song. Don’t just do it again the same way the original artist did it. If you’re not going to reinterpret the song, save it for your live shows. I might enjoy it then.
I have many dozens of covers on my iPod. This week, I went through the first half of the alphabet (by song title) and picked out some of my favorites. This means that in the coming weeks you can expect to hear a Covers Volume II mix with titles from N – Z.
The bad news is that apparently many of these are more obscure than I thought. I had a lot of trouble finding these tracks and very few of them are available for download from Amazon, Artist Direct, or iTunes. I put them here to make you aware of them. I have linked to full songs or snippets from a variety of sources. I’m sure the resourceful listener who likes a song will be able to find a copy of it somewhere.
- Can’t Find My Way Home – Alana Davis (Blind Faith)
Dozens of artists have covered this great tune. I really like Alana Davis’ version. The instrumentation isn’t wildly different, but her smoky voice and beautiful harmonies give this a fresh feel.
- Bertha – Los Lobos (Grateful Dead)
These guys have been doing this song for years. In fact, I saw them perform it a week ago in Beaver Creek, CO. They have a good feel for the song and it works well with their style.
- Baker Street – Foo Fighters (Gerry Rafferty)
At some point, the Foo’s version of this song became available on The Colour and the Shape. I don’t know when that was, since it’s not on the version I bought. Anyway, new shoes for an old song with screaming guitar taking the place of the wailing sax.
- Big Log – Viktor Krauss (Robert Plant)
This is what I’m talking about when I say reinterpret the song. What a brilliant job they did. This one features Allison Krauss on vocals a few years before she and Robert Plant collaborated on Raising Sand.
- Border Song – Eric Clapton (Elton John)
This is on the Two Rooms Tribute to Elton John. Eric swings this one more than Elton did.
- Dear Prudence – Jerry Garcia Band (The Beatles)
I couldn’t find a link to the studio version of this that I have from All Good Things. This is a live version, which is also beautiful.
- Deuce – Lenny Kravitz (Kiss)
I like Lenny’s take on this, from the Kiss tribute album, Kiss My Ass. There’s more going on with the guitars and the harmonica adds a lot.
- Ain’t Too Proud to Beg – Ben Harper (The Temptations)
This isn’t exactly a cover, since the Funk Brothers are the band again, but Ben Harper’s great vocal work is even more soulful that the original.
- Five O’Clock World – The Proclaimers (The Vogues)
I’ve always liked this 60s hit, and I’ve always like the Proclaimers, so I was delighted when they decided to cover this.
- Getting Better – Gomez (The Beatles)
A lot of people cover The Beatles badly. These guys really did a nice job with this one. It’s pretty close to the original in some ways, but the thing I like best about it is when they land on the groove at the end, they don’t just end the song as The Beatles did. They noodle around with it for a few minutes.
- Knowing Me Knowing You – The Lemonheads (Abba)
The funny thing is, I never liked the original by Abba. It wasn’t until I heard Evan Dando singing it that I realized it’s a pretty good song.
- Last Train to Clarksville – Cassandra Wilson (The Monkees)
Brilliant. She completely transforms the song into a slick jazz number.
- Lay Lady Lay – Magnet feat. Gemma Hayes (Bob Dylan)
I’ve heard this pretty song about 1000 times. I’m always happy to hear this fresh take when it comes up on my iPod.
- Love My Way – Grant Lee Buffalo (Psychedelic Furs)
Another case where I like the cover more than the original. Grant Lee Phillips’ mournful voice and melancholy interpretation make this song sound deeper than the Furs did.
- After Midnight – J. J. Cale (Eric Clapton)
So, is it a cover if you wrote the song, gave it to someone else who made it famous, and then recorded it yourself 20 years later?
Here’s some cover art, for anyone wanting to burn an actual disc.
I hope you enjoy the mix. Have a great weekend.
There are a lot of great artists doing vital work in styles that have — shall we say — passed the peak of their popularity. But old does not mean tired.
The first one I have for you today is R&B artist James Hunter out of Essex in England.
His 2006 release People Gonna Talk pulled down a Grammy nomination for a Best Traditional Blues Album of the Year, but it’s closer to Otis Redding than Howlin’ Wolf. The entire album is full of sweet, smooth songs of good love and bad. Sparse drum and guitar work and Van Morrison-esque saxophones arrangements decorate this beautiful album that even has a few danceable tracks. Fully ten songs from this disc made their way onto my iPod. I recommend you run out and pick this entire disc up. As a bonus, you will get the clever cartoon illustrations in the CD that James Hunter himself did.
If, however, you just want to get a few tracks from iTunes, here are four suitable for candlelight and a bottle of wine on the couch.
- People Gonna Talk
- I’ll Walk Away
- Watch & Chain
You can find his website here.
Today’s other artist is Raphael Saadiq. He will absolutely knock you out with his take on the Motown sound. He’s not imitating old artists; he lives here. He’s a veteran of Tony! Toni! Toné and Lucy Pearl, and collaborations with literally dozens of superstars, but don’t miss his 2008 release The Way I See It. The sincerity of the songwriting and the spirited vocal performance mixed with modern production values make this disc very listenable and even inspiring.
Four tracks you want on your iPod are
- Sure Hope You Mean It (Stop reading this blog and go buy this track right now… then come back.)
- 100 Yard Dash (You will look sexy dancing to this song.)
- Staying in Love
- Sometimes (Put this on when you’re feeling low. It works.)
His website streams samples from the disc and links to places to buy the tracks.