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Padre Steve’s Easy Listening Classic Christmas

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“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church; the Jews called it ‘Hanukkah’ and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ or (to the atheists) ‘Look out for the wall!” Dave Barry 

I love Christmas music of all types and I have a somewhat sick sense of humor that appreciates Dave Barry’s humor. Over the past few days I have been going through some classic Christmas season songs from the Rock, R & B and Country Western genres. Tonight is a popular but not talked about feature of songs that might be best called “easy listening.” They encompass a period from the 1950s through early 1980s and include recordings from some of the most popular artists of the last half century.

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What I find interesting about Christmas in the United States is that it is not just for Christians. In fact some of the most popular Christmas tunes have been written or performed by men and women who are Jewish, Agnostic or sometimes even avowed Atheists.  Actually that is part of the magic of the Christmas holidays in this country. I have many friends who span the spectrum of religious diversity in the United States. Various forms of Christians from the most Orthodox, Conservative and Fundamental to the most ecumenical, progressive or liberal. I also have friendships with Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, followers of Native American religions, as well as Atheists, Agnostics and Free Thinkers.

However despite their religious or philosophical differences most of my friends have a respect for others. Generally, be they Christians or not they want to be kind to others and enjoy the Christmas holiday season regardless of if they believe in the distinctive Christian understanding of the Incarnation.  I think that is commendable because that doesn’t happen in most of the world. In some places some Christians are happy with killing other Christians at Christmas for reasons of dogma, race or tribe.

These songs the implicitly Christian ones as well as the more festive and less than religious  traditional are sung by a wide variety of artists. Many are legendary for their accomplishments.

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Here Barbara Streisand sings Ave Maria http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wFtXvt8TOQ

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But not all Christmas songs are religious in nature. Many speak of human relationships. Barry Manilow wrote and performed Because it’s Christmas http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHRi6nAZZWE ,Mel Torme, nicknamed “the Velvet Fog” sang Christmas Time is Here  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phHwxK064RM, the Carpenters recorded and performed Merry Christmas Darling http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nR34VJ7HWqU while Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gourmet did Hurry Home for Christmas http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nR34VJ7HWqU, and Bing Crosby did the playful Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian Christmas Song) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEvGKUXW0iI.

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But then some are and because of the theological message of Christmas cannot be otherwise. Julie Andrews version of O Come All Ye Faithful  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdJ6ZdHaFvg, Jim Neighbors http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQKPIplA8Gc and Andy Williams both performed Do You Hear What I Hear? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Em0P9zb3a3k all epitomize that part of the music of the season.

Some singers, in fact many were able to perform religious and non-religious Christmas songs. Vicki Carr sang It Came Upon a Midnight Clear http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yd4qLxVv_9I and I Still Believe in Christmas  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFsel3waJkM.

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Judy Garland sang a memorable version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g4lY8Y3eoo in the movie Meet Me In St Louis. The song has been recorded by many others including Helen Reddy  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXKQYXiXBqA and Billy Joel, an avowed Atheist who has recorded a number of Christmas or Christmas themed songs including his version of this same song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4LQmQompMs 

Engelbert Humperdinck sang Star of Bethlehem http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBLOJce1EvY and the Ray Conniff Singers performed a version of the Carol of the Bells http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQBpmaIRaiU . Sammy Davis Jr recorded Christmas All Over the World http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CW8WyWkV-Gk and Carly Simon did Christmas is Almost Here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0fG9d3y99c

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Of the more implicitly Christian hymns recored Judy Collins performed Joy to the World http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_JyZUnMzDQ while Johnny Mathis performed What Child is This? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwNb3RQYIAQ and Anne Murray who I have always loved to hear, sang O Come All Ye Faithful http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oUAnGcT–A while James Taylor performed the spiritual Go Tell it on the Mountain http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifEUn1AxDYo.

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Other songs that speak of the more human and universal aspects of missing loved ones at Christmas include Roberta Flack’s The 25th of Last December http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwuscC7VowY Michael Buble did Christmas, Baby Please Come Home http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIOFMmkrfmo and Joni Mitchell who performed the haunting River http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCwlEnuXYsE. Robert Goulet sang The Christmas I Spend With You http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fko2GVOPbXI Carole King did Love for Christmas http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jgsQKJwcdQ

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Perhaps the most famous and popular easy listening Christmas song is Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, which he performed in the movie of the same name http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Yg5g_Xl-uU Many others have sung this classic including Tony Bennett who teamed up to sing it in concert with Placido Domingo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jd0QQmXKAqY . The song is the most popular Christmas song ever written and has been recorded by thousands of artists.

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I think the irony behind White Christmas which makes it such a unique part of the American Christmas story is that it was written by Irving Berlin a Jewish immigrant from Russia. The song is not religious at all, but an almost sorrowful longing for bygone days. The fact that it was released just over two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor made it even more poignant.  Honestly I can’t think of any country where the most popular Christmas song of all time would be written by someone who was not a Christian. I don’t about you but that is something that makes me thankful to be an American. Now if we American Christians could only accord others the same respect and appreciation.

I could go on, in fact as I listen to different artists and songs I can think of many more that could be mentioned. The fact that all cannot be mentioned, including some that may be actually better than some on this list points to the amazing diversity of Christmas and the holiday season in the United States.

So with that I will say good night and until tomorrow my friends,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Give Love for Christmas: More of Padre Steve’s R & B Christmas Favorites

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Yesterday I reposted an article from last year about my R & B Christmas favorites. As I listened to each song again I decided to look at some other songs from this genre. It is really fascinating because I am familiar with a lot of them performed in a multitude of musical genres but also because of the diversity represented in this collection.

Some of the songs are traditional carols while others are more secular sung by artists across the style, racial and religious spectrum. In the United States one thing that it is not uncommon to see people who are not Christians singing or recording what are most usually categorized as Christian Christmas carols.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s article the Rhythm and Blues genre has its roots in the heritage of the African American experience and it includes some forms of Jazz.  These songs like yesterday’s span the spectrum of R & B. Some are songs that come directly from the experience of African Americans while others are traditional carols as well as secular Christmas and holiday songs.

So here we go into the second set of my R & B Christmas favorites from some of the greats.

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We’ll begin with guitarist John Lee Hooker and his classic Blues For Christmas http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuNf0kqf-HU

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The Godfather of Soul, James Brown has a good number of Christmas song out. Here are a Soulful Christmas http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcQJj7d18eA and Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBW3fc15iVg

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The girl group the Emotions have a haunting song that rings true to a lot of people’s experience, What do the Lonely Do at Christmas?   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OBKkmXgXJU

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The O’Jays “I can Hardly Wait for Christmas”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAYXXf-XyNc sums up much of how we anticipate Christmas throughout the year.

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The Temptations’ tremendous vocals on this very original interpretation of Silent Night  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfgNR_aiSTg are amazing.

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Now we go to two versions of Merry Christmas Baby by Otis Redding http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEyV8gnC4aQ  and Ray Charles  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAPvi9Oe29A

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Ray Charles and Dione Warwick performed this duet of It’s Cold Outside http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmWvR-kdnCo at the Grammy Awards but a version I like better is Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton. The only problem with this one is that we don’t actually see the two performers playing off of each other because it had to be fun http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZBFk-Y-4Jo

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Lou Rawls rendition of Silver Bells http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ll_VVOcjaFs is always a nice listen.  While Isaac Hayes wrote, produced and recorded Mistletoe and Me  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJ_qbUwzyLo  in 1969.

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Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul is always amazing. Here are her versions of the classic Spiritual, Go Tell it On the Mountain from which she then segues into O Christmas Tree  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-HHh-pSkiA and her rendition of O Holy Night  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbzCqZRjugc

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R & B legend Patti LaBelle displays her vocals on this for the most part a cappella performance of O Holy Night   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6NeBp8YJY0

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Marvin Gaye’s “I Want to Come Home for Christmas”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6rpnKZR02o is a song that those who can’t be home for Christmas, in this case that of a Vietnam Prisoner of War set in 1972. It is a song that anyone who has served in a combat zone at Christmas can understand.

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No R & B Christmas would be complete without Stevie Wonder and That’s What Christmas Means to Me  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgigrz8nU7A 

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But for a song that I think speaks of the human meaning of the season; something that anyone, of any faith or simply anyone who just want’s to be a good human being can understand it is The Jackson 5’s Give Love on Christmas Day”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUc20MmFeAs. I like it because love is something that any of us can give to someone else if we want.

People making lists

Hiding special gifts

Taking time to be kind to one and all

It’s that time of year

When good friends are dear

And you wish you could give more

Than just presents from a store

Why don’t you give love on Christmas day

Oh, even the man who has everything

Would be so happy if you would bring

Him love on Christmas day

No greater gift is there than love

People you don’t know

Smile and nod hello

Everywhere there’s an air of Christmas joy

It’s that once a year

When the world’s sincere

And you’d like to find a way

To show the things that words can’t say.

Why don’t you give love on Christmas day

Oh, the man on the street and the couple upstairs

Who need to know there’s someone who cares

Give love on Christmas day.

No greater gift is there than love

What the world needs is love

Yes, the world needs your love.

Why don’t you give love on Christmas day

Every little child on Santa’s knee

Has room for your love underneath his tree

Give love on Christmas day

No greater gift is there than love

What the world needs is love

Yes, the world needs your love.

Give love, oh give love on Christmas day

Every Tom, Dick, and Harry, every Susie too

Needs love every bit as much as you

Give love on Christmas day

So with that message I wish you the best in these next few days leading up to Christmas. Until tomorrow my friends…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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