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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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Padre Steve’s Favorite Story Songs

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I like songs that tell good stories. Unfortunately many of them are sad stories, which makes them somewhat different than sad love songs. Sad love songs generally don’t really have to have a story other than what Lieutenant Frank Drebin said in the Naked Gun: “It’s the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girls dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day.”

However these songs are about life, disappointment, tragedy as well as real events and people. Sometimes they deal with love, other times loss and sometimes real world events and people. Some are songs that appeal to simpler times, but all tell stories.

I think that songs that tell stories speak to us in ways that we might not otherwise expect. But then for me music is something that can reach my heart in ways that written words cannot. Most of these songs come out of the 1960s and 1970s, which I really think was the time where such songs were most influential and popular. There are others that I could list her but for now I will leave you with these.

Please enjoy them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Terry Jacks Seasons in the Sun http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhQ13geD2OA is an English adaptation of Jacque Brel’s song Le Moribond.

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Gordon Lightfoot The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0DqPSF2fyo is about the loss of the large bulk carrier SS Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior in 1975.

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Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCpsD0ZDfus is a song that speaks about a father who is too busy for his son as the son is growing up and finds that when he is old that his son has “grown up just like me.”

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Billy Joel Piano Man http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxEPV4kolz0 tells the story of a bar musician and is a fictionalized retelling of his life before he became famous. His song Goodnight Saigon http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJFmRA7ousE is an ode to the Vietnam Veterans that came out as the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial was being constructed.

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Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler’s The Ballad of the Green Beret http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34CXcgJURbg was written after Sadler recovered from wounds that he received in Vietnam.

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One song that has always gotten me is the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Mr Bojangles http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3YMyW0SqmU was written by Jerry Jeff Walker and recounted his meeting a street performer in a New Orleans jail.

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Elton John’s Candle in the Wind http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoOhnrjdYOc was written in honor of the late Marilyn Monroe.

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Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Alone Again http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_P-v1BVQn8 is a really sad and introspective song about a man who struggles with life.

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The Beatles Yesterday http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIc6AH_2TEs is about the break up of a relationship and was the first Beatles song that only one member sang, in this case Paul McCartney.

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Janis Joplin’s Me and Bobby McGee http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHkBv-AtKDA was written by Kris Kristofferson and recorded by others before it became a number one hit for Joplin after her death to a heroin overdose in 1970.

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Abba’s Fernando http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xv_-6XQyIq0 is a song of two veteran’s of the Mexican Revolution remembering their younger days in that conflict.

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I have always liked Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcrEqIpi6sg

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Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods Billy Don’t Be a Hero http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0lKmznjgfQ is an anti-war song that they recorded and released just before Paper Lace in the United States and deals with a love story set amid the Civil War.

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Paper Lace’s The Night Chicago Died http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryVh9BuwOs4 tells a fictional story of a police shoot out with the Al Capone gang.

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Cher’s Gypsies Tramps and Thieves http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOSZwEwl_1Q is the story of the daughter of a Gypsy family and her struggles to survive.

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Joan Baez’s The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnS9M03F-fA was originally written and recorded by Robbie Robinson and Levon Helm of The Band. It tells the story of a Confederate soldier in the closing days of the Civil War.

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Bobby Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDHpkYI5_FY is a Southern Gothic type song about suicide, grief, emotional separation and other tragedies set alongside the banal happenings of everyday life.

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Coven’s One Tin Soldier http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qswm7lHp7oY is another anti-war song but is a story about tow peoples and the desire of one people to attain the treasure held by the other, a treasure that was to be shared, that of peace on earth.

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Arlo Guthrie’s City of New Orleans http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfxoM6trtZE was written by Steve Goodman and is set on a nostalgic and bittersweet ride on the Illinois Central Railroad’s City of New Orleans. It was released in 1971 at a time when my family still road the railroads to cross the country and I can feel the emotion of those trips when I hear the song.

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Barry Manilow’s Copacabana http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oU8TAkl7Tbg is the story of a tragedy that unfolds in the lives of a singer named Lola and her bartender boyfriend Tony in a clash with a mafia don named Rico at the famed New York nightclub Copacabana. Unlike most of Manilow’s songs and for that matter most of these story songs, it is a Disco song.

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Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jj4nJ1YEAp4 became the epitome of a story song that spawned a number of movies.

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Olivia Newton-John’s Please Mister Please http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULJ3KrFwdbA is a song about a woman who cannot bear hearing a song that she associates with her lost love when people play it on the bar jukebox.

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Linda Ronstadt’s Blue Bayou http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58id5JIzFao is a sad song about a woman who has lost her love and is away from home longing to return.

The Eagles Lyin’ Eyes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nk1g6jJTsXY is one of a number of story songs by that super-group and is the story of a woman who has married a rich old man, but unfulfilled enters into an affair while lying to her husband about it.

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I think the way to end this list is with Tony Orlando and Dawn’s Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3ouKAhxZbQ

 

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