Thursday, December 24, 2015

Music Review: A Very Special Christmas

Once more we are at the point where profiling bands working to establish themselves on holidays when people are thinking of other things just seems unfair.

I have been thinking of Christmas music, and my love - possibly undeserved - for "Do They Know It's Christmas". That nearly led to a comparison of the various fundraiser songs from that era, but I ended up going in another direction. Maybe next year.

A Very Special Christmas started in 1987. Music producer Jimmy Iovine wanted to memorialize his father with a Christmas album. Vicki Iovine was a volunteer for Special Olympics, and she suggested them as the beneficiary. After that, all that was needed was a lot of musicians; they got enough participation for 15 tracks with no repeats.

I do remember it getting a fair amount of buzz. I thought the only songs that I really remembered clearly were "Christmas in Hollis" by Run-DMC, because that one got a release and video, and then "Gabriel's Message" by Sting, which he seems to have recorded in 1985.

In fact, I did remember the Stevie Nicks rendition of "Silent Night". I thought it was a trick of my imagination, conjuring up the most ridiculous and overdone version possible of a fairly simple song, but it was actually quite real.

Most of the album is not that bad. I rather like the Eurythmics version of "Winter Wonderland", and the Whitney Houston version of "Do You Hear What I Hear" is probably good, though my main reaction to hearing it was a sense of loss. I know she's been gone for a while, but it hit then.

Then they just kept doing it.

That's probably not surprising. nor is it surprising that it got worse. The second seems bloated, with 19 tracks, and more team-ups, but less of anything that stands out. You would think a duet between Frank Sinatra and Cyndi Lauper would really get your attention, but I did not find that to be the case. My favorite track was "Christmas All Over Again" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, but that was also the first track, so it was all downhill from there. By A Very Special Christmas 7 it was mainly Disney Channel stars, and my first thought was that it wasn't very special at all.

There is probably a greater correlation between the decline of popular music and MTV with the decline of the albums, but I don't want to read too much into it. Christmas songs are hard. They carry a lot of memories and traditions. Simply doing a regular take may not feel like enough, but trying to create an original take of someone else's song, while not impossible, seems to carry better odds of failure than success.

I'm reminded of a quote I read by Natalie Cole once. She talked about people doing these bizarre versions of "The Christmas Song" (strongly associated with her father, though not written by him). I can't find the exact quote, but it was something along the lines of "Just sing it pretty."

Listening to a lot of Christmas music this year, I find that the songs I have liked best are new ones. Instead of trying to make a song sound new, they actually make something new, and it's better.

Maybe that's some of my fondness for "Do They Know It's Christmas". It sounded new and it sounded good. Maybe that's why 2014 "Do They Know It's Christmas" can't sound as good. It's not horrible, it's just kind of a letdown.

Well, clearly these things happen. Tomorrow we will talk about something really creative.

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