Category Archives: Songs

What’s Your Christmas Album?

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms

I grew up in central Iowa in the 1950s, a time when public schools performed Christian music like Away in the Manger and Silent Night. When choir directors heard me sing they quickly nominated me to be the narrator for our concerts. Since my family didn’t often go to church, I learned the story of baby Jesus’ birth by telling it to audiences of proud parents at school concerts.

My sense of Christmas music was further defined by what played on the radio in our living room. Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Burl Ives and others performed such pop music classics as I’ll Be Home for Christmas and White Christmas (many of the tunes having been written by Jews working in the pop music industry). I heard (but never came to like) novelty Christmas music by Alvin and the Chipmunks or songs like I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.

As a child, I had a silly running battle with one Christmas tune: Santa Claus is Coming to Town. I hated that song with fervor that is hard to understand. When I heard “so you better be good for goodness’ sake,” I was outraged because clearly “goodness” was not involved, just greed for Christmas presents. Why that affected me so deeply I will never know.

In the Grooms household my mother preferred the pop classics in a style she called “mood music.” Mood music (a forerunner of “new age” music) was atmospheric stuff meant to be played softly in the background. Her favorite, by far, was an album by Jackie Gleason (who was also a bandleader). Gleason’s Merry Christmas album was a light jazz treatment of Christmas music performed in a deeply nostalgic vein for people who liked to celebrate the day weeping wistfully in their eggnogs. The first big shock I experienced after getting married was learning that my bride considered my family’s Christmas music embarrassingly banal and beneath contempt.

In my first Christmas as a married man I was introduced to her Christmas music, which was all about choirs performing classic European religious Christian carols. Many of the tunes were created in medieval times. Her Christmas music was usually sung in vast cathedrals, so it had a lot of echo, and many songs featured the piercing purity of the sounds of boy sopranos. The audio highlight of Christmas for my wife was the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols performed each year at King’s College.

In short, her Christmas music could not have been more different from what I’d known as a kid. At first I was humiliated by her disgust for my old Christmas music, but I quickly embraced the beauty of the more traditional choral music my in-laws loved so much.

Still later, I acquired great fondness for Celtic music. Inevitably I began enjoying performances of Christmas music performed in that style by folk and Celtic musicians. At some point I had to add the music of the Charlie Brown Christmas show to my list of favorites.

It all becomes mixed together. I have known so many Christmases that my tastes are eclectic and inevitably mixed with memories, good and bad. I fell in love with one album during an extremely emotional Christmas, the worst of my life. George Winston’s December album became a classic in the winter when we discovered our old cat had cancer. My daughter’s last evening with him was spent holding him in her crib while the December album played over and over in the night.

To hear Christmas music now is to be reminded of earlier times, with all that was sweet and terrible about them. Like Scrooge, I am haunted by Ghosts from Christmas Past, and they come with a soundtrack.

What is your favorite Christmas music?

Good Year For Earworms

Today’s guest post is from Linda in St. Paul (West Side).

The Germans have a word for it – ohrwurm, which translates literally as earworm, that phenomenon of getting a song lodged in your head that plays over and over till it drives you to distraction. I fall victim on a regular basis. Often particular songs are triggered by everyday objects or activities, and this is never more true than when I’m working in a garden.

I can’t trim a rosebush without drifting into It’s Been a Good Year For the Roses. It’s usually the George Jones version, though it occasionally morphs briefly into Elvis Costello.

Tending a bittersweet vine is a sure way to conjure Big Head Todd and the Monsters. (“Bittersweet…more sweet than bitter…bitter than sweet…”)  If you don’t know it, you could look it up on YouTube. Consider yourself warned, though – it’s a sticky one, as difficult to dislodge as a ball of burdock seeds.

Buttercups invariably trigger All Shook Up. I explained this to a friend once and she told me I am lucky my mental jukebox goes to Elvis instead of The Foundations.

An especially virulent earworm is Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else But Me. I cannot even walk past an apple tree without suffering an acute attack.

And then sometimes my brain takes an odd detour and arrives at destination I’m at a loss to explain. I spend a couple of weeks in the summer pulling a vine known as hog peanut. To my knowledge, no one has ever written a song about hog peanut. The song that surfaces from my subconscious to fill the void is the bebop classic Salt Peanuts, with the lyrics adapted: “Hog peanut…hog peanut…” in an endless loop. Can you hear it?

Winter is fast approaching, and the garden earworms will sleep beneath the snow for a few months, to return in the spring. The only thing I have to say is…it’s been a good year for the roses.

Share your favorite (or least favorite) earworms.

Back In The Saddle Again

My friend Mike Pengra is very good at his jobs. He has several, but for the most part they all boil down to doing the same thing – Mike makes other people sound better.

As a producer, editor, music-picker and scheduler, Mike supports classical music programming at Minnesota Public Radio, and is the lone human behind the robot-powered rootsy music stream, Radio Heartland.

He’s also the drummer in a band called City Mouse.  In the music world, the rock band drummer is a character who is both essential and undervalued, so the role suits Mike well. He makes everything OK and distributes the credit elsewhere. Somehow people feel more competent when Mike’s around, and he’s too kind to reveal that it’s his doing, not theirs.

This is why everybody likes Mike.

Mike and I worked on Radio Heartland a few years back, and for a good stretch before that we were teammates on the weird three-legged stool that was the MPR Morning Show, Mike playing the silent partner like the multi-talented Silvester Vicic and the saintly Nora McGillivray before him.

Mike contacted me a few weeks ago and said a group of demanding baboons had made a bunch of music requests, and he wanted some help feeding tunes to them.

I don’t host radio shows anymore, but I was happy to oblige this time, knowing that as soon as I walked into Mike Pengra’s studio I’d become two times funnier and at least ten times smarter.

And believe it or not, that Mike Pengra magic still works.

You can listen for yourself to a Baboonish Request show today at noon, and again on Sunday evening at 7.

 

 

A Song After the Binge

Header photo via NASA Ice / James Yungel

The hits just keep coming in the climate change parade. Most recently a new NASA study predicted that an Antarctic ice shelf the size of Scotland could collapse by 2020.

Favorite quote from the Washington Post story:

“What might happen is that for a few years, we will have the detachment of big icebergs from this remaining ice shelf, and then at one point, one very very warm summer, when you have lots of melting of the surface, the whole thing will just give way, and will shatter into thousands of smaller icebergs,” says the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ala Khazendar, lead author of the new study.

My understanding:  While the ice shelf is already in the water and its collapse alone won’t appreciably lift global water levels, it will open up the way for melting land-based glaciers to flow more easily into the sea.

That’s not good.

The ice shelf in question is called Larsen B, which immediately reminded me of this song about the unpleasant after-effects of an unfortunate and ill-advised binge.

We’re melting the Larsen B
with every added degree.
As tall icebergs fall into the foam.
Liquefy snow.
The glaciers let go.
Well, the ice shelf broke up
Submerging my home.

I hope that our fins evolve
As quick as the ice dissolve.
Antarctica wants to flow
over my home!
Soaking the loam.
That is the point of this poem, yeah yeah.
When the ice shelf broke up,
submerging my home.

Like ice cubes to a drunk
we’re hypnotized by each chunk
a prize, Scotland-sized, floating away.
Sea levels rise
You can predict the demise.
The ice shelf broke up
Submerging my home.

Add some lyrics or describe a night drinking with your grandfather.

Song for a Blue Sunset

Header image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M University

Like everyone else, I’ve started my pro/con list for traveling to Mars.

Cons:

  • Forced long term travel.
  • Close quarters with near strangers.
  • No breathable air.
  • Certain death.

Pros:

  • Reduced gravity.
  • No mosquitoes.
  • Blue sunsets.

That last one was verified in striking fashion by the latest photo from Curiosity Rover – an image of a cobalt disc poised over the crisp outline of a mountain range that only happens to be Martian.

It immediately hit me that the first Earthlings to set up camp there would have the opportunity to write a batch of songs about topics that have long been over-explored back home with the distinct advantage of a fresh set of unique experiences.

A blue sunset, for instance.

Then, somewhat less immediately, it hit me that I could only think of three songs that were specifically about a sunset.

  1. Sunrise, Sunset, of course. But it’s a shared billing.
  2. Canadian Sunset is obvious, but it has as many words as Mars has Canadians.
  3. Red Sails in the Sunset comes to mind but it has too much longing for home to be an effective Martian anthem.

Fortunately, the Kinks took care of everything when they did this:

And the beauty part – the song is already about a pronounced distaste for crowds and a fondness for chilly evenings in close company with a special friend – and both are Mars journey prerequisites!

Although the “special friend” is an accessory you  will have to pack or make along the way.

As far as the song is concerned, all you have to do to Martianize it is substitute “What a blue” for “Waterloo”.

Done and done. Going to Mars may not be so difficult after all!

Recall a remarkable sunset.

Tax Day Tripper

Today is tax day, the day when every disc jockey who has control over the playlist is required to spin “Taxman” by the Beatles.

And by “every disc jockey who has control over the playlist” I mean about a half dozen people, worldwide.

“Taxman” is a great song, of course. And it’s the only song about taxes that’s even remotely fun.  Admittedly, the competition is thin in this category because I can’t think of another song on the subject.

Among poets, love is so much more popular, topic-wise!

This is a rage-of-emotion problem.  Taxes and love can both give you the deep blue notes – frustration and longing, blending into misery and finally, despair.  It’s in the realm of exhilarating highs that love really has it all over taxes.

Probably the only thing taxation offers that comes anywhere close to the giddy delight of love is the sudden discovery of a great, rock-solid deduction.

That, and the refund, of course.

Although an accountant might tell you a tax refund is the same thing as forgiveness when it comes to love – a  welcome turn of events but something you would have been better off avoiding in the first place.

Clearly, though, the Beatles could have done more.  The world would have hardly missed it if a few of those love songs had been re-directed into tax deduction ballads.

Perhaps they didn’t look closely enough at the fine print.

Got a deduction. For taking my family out.
Got a deduction. It’s legal, there isn’t a doubt, though.
It was our vacation. I was working too!
That isn’t so wrong! For a scout. A real boy scout!

Business deductions. It’s all about the intent.
Business deductions. Airfare, beach bungalow rent.
It was a big meeting! Talked about the job.
I had to be there! That’s allowed. And I’m so proud!

Of course I claimed it – it’s a Jacuzzi!
Ask my doctor. He made me.
He wrote a prescription – a therapy tub.
An hour of soaking, then I scrub.

That’s what my deductions are.
Not entirely bizarre.
Stretching truth but not too far.
And it helps my asthma.

I’m also claiming an Olympic pool.
Ask my doctor. He’s no fool.
I need the workout. It’s good for my back.
So why don’t you cut me some slack?

That’s what my deductions are.
Not entirely bizarre.
Stretching truth but not too far.
Avoidance miasma!
(Please don’t audit me!)

You can deduct the cost of feeding Sparky.
It is allowed, though most are not aware.

Business.
That’s the pet deduction secret.
He’s an asset, not your pal. Whoa oh, oh

Setters.
Pomeranian or Spitz.
If it’s business then it fits.
That’s what dodgers do.
Ooooh!

Income.
Make sure Sparky has an income.
If he can be taught to sell, whoah oh, that’s

Better.
Put him on the staff today.
On his break time you can play.
Sparky and Old Blue.
Ooooh!

Ask my accountant to confirm it’s true.
His partner is a Shih Tzu!

What makes you sing?

Jockeying for Position

Today’s post comes from Minnesota’s 9th District Congressman, Rep. Loomis Beechly, representing all the water surface area in the state.

Greetings, Constituents!

Usually I am obsessed with currying your favor, but please do me this one thing for me.

Stop asking if I support Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency.

It’s too early to commit to any candidate. The reason for this is simple – as your Congressman my job is to find the one person who will be the best president for the 9th District, and then suck up to them without reservation.

But until candidates start to outline their positions on all the lake-related issues that face us, like algae, Asian carp, weedy buffers, jet skis mufflers, dock set-up rules, and a comprehensive global bait policy, there’s just no way for me to judge them.

Republicans have it easy. Partisanship makes some responses automatic, and they already know where they stand on the Ready-for-Hillary question.

For everyone else it’s still just a game at this point, with fun pastimes like trying to guess what slogan Clinton will use (“Nicer Than She Seems”, “Why Not This Time?”, “Probably The Last Chance To Do This”, etc.), and what strategies could possibly work as a way to build enthusiasm among those who are not already on board.

I do have a campaign song nomination, although I realize it will never fly because the payoff line is not only a negative proposition, it takes too long to unfold and it doesn’t have enough energy to accompany the obligatory pre-rally fireworks.

But it is clever, undeniably true, and it speaks to one key point that robs Hillary Clinton of political momentum.

Oh, well. Campaign songs usually aren’t good, or true. But at least we can hope.

I once suggested to my staff that we use Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as a campaign theme song because it is universally accepted as great music, but skeptics on my staff pointed out it would not only drain the rally support budget, it would make my remarks following the 2-hour performance seem unimportant and unnecessary.

Which would be an accurate assessment! But not very productive, campaign-wise.

Honestly,
Your Congressman,
Loomis Beechly

If you ran for office, what would you choose as your campaign song?