Not Just Any Other Day
Not Just Any Other Day
APPLE MUSIC (coming soon)
YOUTUBE (coming soon)
Christmas is not just any other day, this year especially.…
Every year since I first learned how to record songs to cassette, I’ve made a Christmas mixtape. Sometimes, it’s a mix of the songs, old and new, that I’ve listened to during the holidays. Sometimes, the mix is thematic, centered around the year or the season or the kind of party where I’d hope to hear this music.
Because 2020 has been such a long, difficult year, I planned to share a mix closer to the end of the year with all the new Christmas music released this holiday season. The idea sprung out of a conversation I had with a friend about grasping at things that would brighten our days, deliberately seeking the good things happening in the world, hunting for the happy moments we could rally around… if only for the length of a pop song. So, as I typically do, just after packing up the kids’ Halloween costumes (for those of you keeping score at home: 2020 was the year of Nefertiti, scary clowns and Scream masks), I searched for some new releases. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but this is a surprisingly packed year for new Christmas music. In just the first week of November, I’ve be able to compile 90 minutes of the gladdest tidings.
This year, I’ve found myself particularly taken with wistful songs, as this is likely to be a season of small celebrations, of nuclear families congregated around the warm glow of a Zoom conference. Ben Rector’s “Thanksgiving Song” has helped our little family to navigate how we might approach our Thanksgiving Day. I returned to my hometown at Thanksgiving in 2017, and in that time no line from any song rings truer than Rector’s realization that it’s “funny how this all looks different, but it feels the same / like how life never stops changing but some things never change.” I’m filled with that notion in equal measure every time I’m driving down Manchester and I pass new construction or a paint-peeled, decrepit crumble, often in the same quarter-mile.
Because I have needed extreme pick-me-ups this year, I signed up for a Philo subscription purely to watch the Hallmark Channel, and I recruited my wife and my two step-daughters to watch with me. It’s been both uplifting and galling — uplifting in that it’s nice to watch something where even though you know that the two people you meet in the first five minutes (after getting past the sweeping views of the New York City skyline and the quirky plot points laid out purely to get the Type A New Yorker to small town Saskatchewan) they do it so winningly, showing that kindness, hard work, determination and a little luck can lead to a happy ending; galling in that, as my wife points out every time, seemingly every episode includes some off-screen or earlier in life death (“Couldn’t the single mom just be divorced and not widowed?” She’ll say while gesturing towards the television). Alas, for the third year in a row, Gwen Stefani has added tracks to her solid 2017 holiday offering, and the Hallmark Channel chose “Here This Christmas” for its “Countdown To Christmas” theme song this year.
If I had to pick my theme song, it would definitely be Lee Dorsey’s “Everything I Do (Gonh Be Funky) From Now On,” but I’m guessing others would tell you Vulfpeck — that Wrecking Crew, Funk Brothers, Muscle Shoals, bouncy, bright 70s TV Theme song-inspired music — could very well score my walk through life. Their 2015 song “Christmas in LA” saw two releases in 2019: a live version recorded at Madison Square Garden and an instrumental version from Vulfpeck Keyboardist Woody Goss. I’ve included his instrumental version. As the album art would suggest, this interpretation of the song is very much inspired by The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s work for the Peanuts gang.
Other standouts so far this year include Andrew Bird’s Hark!, The Black Crowes’ 2005 take on Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa” (on Spotify for the first time this year) and “No Time to Be Sad,” the first single from Colemine Records’ Kelly Finnigan’s forthcoming A Joyful Sound, which, much like JD McPherson’s 2017 release Socks (and it’s 2019 update “Red Bows for a Blue Girl”), makes the case that Christmas music sounds best when it emulates rock ‘n roll’s earliest era.
In the denouement of the holidays, this always happens: I’ll hear a song and wish that I’d included it in my annual Christmas mix at which point I add it to a Spotify mix I call “Christmas Creep,” a nod to the pumpkin spicing of America’s fourth quarter (coming soon to a third quarter near you). So this year and forever after, I’ll share my Christmas music diaries with you. For you lucky Spotify fans, here are a few from years past: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013. Keep a close eye on 2020. I’ll be adding new tracks right up until we toast the new year.
I’ll leave you with all the past mixes that have appeared on this blog and a few words from Ben Rector.
“So fill your plate and fill your drink / put your dishes in the kitchen sink / and let the leftover year just wash away. / Cause we made it through, I do believe, the longest year in history….” Here’s to a better year in 2021!