Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Singers of the Season's Songs

It's 10 days until Christmas, about a week until Winter Solstice, and my head is full of Christmas confetti thoughts and song lyrics. For example, Bob Dylan didn't record his Christmas album until he was well into his 60's. To my knowledge, Janis Joplin never recorded a Christmas album. If she had lived longer, would she have recorded one? What would it have sounded like?

"'rocking around the Christmas tree"
"'rocking around the Christmas tree"
Photo by J. Harrington

Having recently played Melissa Etheridge's Christmas album, I suspect Janis might have had a similar take on the songs of the season. It would have been interesting and entertaining if we could have had that pleasure. At the folkie end of the spectrum, Joan Baez recorded almost entirely traditional material on her Noel album. She included "Christmas in Washington" on Dark Chords on a Big Guitar. Judy Collins has both all on a wintry night and Christmas with Judy Collins, with the same fourteen songs on both, plus two others on "Christmas." Joni Mitchell doesn't seem to have a Christmas album but her song River has the lyrics "it's coming on Christmas" and captures what for too many are the melancholy feelings that are triggered by the season.

One of my earliest favorite Christmas albums was recorded by Elvis Presley, the eponymous Elvis' Christmas Album, which is included in RollingStone magazine's The 25 Greatest Christmas Albums of All Time. Their list includes a number of albums I wouldn't give house room to, plus quite a few that are on my list. Maybe that's why Santa has to check his lists twice.

I Hear America Singing

By Walt Whitman 

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

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