Christmas may be a time for returning home to see family and friends, but not all of us pine for snow-covered hills in the country.
This is one of those works of art that, for me at least, seems to open some magical door to another time and place, and another culture. The enthusiastic swing of the music, the warm and welcoming voice of Ella Fitzgerald, the images portrayed by the lyrics – all of these make me want to – and briefly feel like I can – step through that door and spend an afternoon in this long-gone world so different from the one I inhabit.
Music, music everywhere,
Happiness is in the air.
Not a soul has got a care:
Holiday in Harlem.
Up and down the avenue,
You see faces old and new,
With a smile that welcomes you,
’Cause it’s holiday in Harlem.
Dizzy, dumb, and wise.
My oh my, when they get high,
There’s danger in their eyes.
Not a soul is feelin’ blue,
Up and down the avenue,
With a smile that welcomes you:
Holiday in Harlem.
I’m not sure why this song has been anthologized so infrequently, and rarely if ever covered. I love the lyrics, especially when Ella sings about “sophisticated ladies, dizzy, dumb and wise.” (Then again, I can’t really think of any modern singer who could pull this off the way Ella could.)
I found this recording on a wonderful compilation called Edward Hopper and the Music of New York that was put together for an exhibition of this artist’s work a few years back. The track is available on Apple Music, as part of both Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald anthologies. I urge you to seek it out.
Appreciation written by: Herb Bowie
Date Posted: Sunday December 10, 2017
Phil Spector released his magnum opus in the 1963 holiday season. Titled A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, it’s hard to overstate the extent of Spector’s ambition and accomplishment on this album. Understand that this was just before the Beatles conquered American airwaves, and came at a point when Spector was being condemned by old-guard members of the entertainment industry as a “sharpie poisoning American culture.” It was also a time when the industry was dominated by singles, and long-playing albums were often filled with hastily-recorded second-rate material.
Date Posted: Saturday December 9, 2017
To Read More: christmas-baby-please-come-home.html
Date Posted: Friday December 8, 2017
To Read More: please-come-home-for-christmas.html
It seems to me that the eternal promise of Christmas is to restore for us a certain unbroken wholeness. This wholeness can take on many appearances, but this song certainly nails one of them for me: a feeling of returning to a family home, isolated from our usual cares, but still connected to something larger than ourselves.
Date Posted: Thursday December 7, 2017
To Read More: christmas-time-back-home.html
This song was originally recorded in 1947 by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, featuring Charles Brown on piano and vocals. The original recording was a hit on the Rhythm and Blues charts, and the song has been recorded by many blues and R&B artists down through the years. The lyrics recount the happy tale of a man feeling appreciative of his wife/girlfriend on Christmas morning, after opening his many presents.
Date Posted: Wednesday December 6, 2017
To Read More: merry-christmas-baby.html
Much like Jackson Browne’s “The Rebel Jesus,” this Christmas song from The Kinks is also focused on the needs of the poor. And although the children in this tale seem to come more from the Oliver Twist/Artful Dodger tradition than from “The Christmas Carol,” Dickens would still recognize their predicament and their motivations.
Date Posted: Tuesday December 5, 2017
To Read More: father-christmas.html
Jackson Browne’s Christmas song is everything one might hope for from a singer-songwriter whose career has combined political activism with a deeply personal romanticism.
Date Posted: Monday December 4, 2017
To Read More: the-rebel-jesus.html
Author C. S. Lewis once said: “Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors.” Lewis was talking about his sense of obligation to books and their creators, but I have long felt a similar debt owed to songwriters. Oh yes, I’ve learned a lot from books, but many of the songs that I love can teach me something new – about the world, about other people, about what it means to be human – in the space of two to five minutes. Without them, as Lewis went on to say, I would truly inhabit a “tiny world” that would feel like a prison to me.
Date Posted: Friday August 18, 2017
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