Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Great Christmas Music Project, Part 3: New York songs make the season magical

I’m declaring the giant Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center to be the official National Christmas Tree.

I know there’s one near the White House. It’s not an impressive tree.

But the majestic pine raising between 30 Rock and the skating rink is spectacular, and a New York holiday icon.

For the first time since we moved to Michigan, I was able to see the Rockefeller Center tree. It was on the back of a truck when I arrived early in the morning, and I watched crews set it in place later in the afternoon. What a thrill.

New York Christmases are special, and require special holiday songs. We’re continuing with the Great Christmas Music Project, where we assemble an iTunes playlist of the very best versions of each holiday song.

Our next section focuses on songs about Christmas in New York, or mention Christmas in New York, or was inspired by Christmas in New York.

Bonus points if you get a sense that the writer was actually in New York at some point, and not just reading a laundry list of New York landmarks. Don’t get me wrong, we love those, too.

This is part 3 of the project, and we’ll pick up where we left off, with the best version of traditional carols and chestnuts.

59) “New York Christmas” by Rob Thomas

Recorded to assist the Sidewalk Angels charity, this rocker became an instant classic. When Rob sings about gathering “around the big tree,” we know what he means.

60) “Skating With My Baby” by Orrin Hatch

That would be Sen. Orrin Hatch – of Utah. I know. I don’t get it either, other than to say that even people in Utah know Christmas in New York is extra special. The protagonist and his baby are skating in Rockefeller Center, of course, with all the appropriate references.

61) “Listen, the Snow is Falling” by Yoko Ono

A lot of people are going to stop dead in their tracks when they see Yoko’s name there. But this song – the B-side of “Happy X-mas (War is Over)” is beautiful, and even mentions the Empire State Building.

62)  “It’s a Big Country” by Davitt Sigerson

One of my all-time favorites. Sigerson lives in New York and seems to have recorded this as an audio Christmas card to his family, which is spread out across the country – Oklahoma, Los Angeles, Montana and Virginia all get mentioned.

“Got a niece down in Virginia. Hard to picture how she’s grown. It’s your uncle calling, angel. Can you put your momma on the phone?”

He ends with, “It’s a big country. Merry Christmas everybody. Just a word from me and Ann to say ‘We’re fine.’”

I get weepy. We’re spread out, too.

This is from an odd record. “A Christmas Record” is also known as the “The ZE Christmas Record” is a collection of the former ZE labels artists, and it’s not a very Christmasy bunch. But this is where I first was introduced to “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses.

And it also has our next song.

63) “Christmas on Riverside Drive” by August Darnell

The rest of the CD is hit or miss – and the misses really, really miss. But this was the only place to find “Christmas Wrapping” at first, and still seems to be the only place to get “It’s a Big Country,” which is essential to me.

64) “Xmas in New York” by the Rosebuds

I discovered this song only recently, like, this week, thanks to Stubby. I love it already. It’s kind of jazzy.

65) “Christmas in New York” by Annie Hecht

I discovered this one this year, too. It has a Broadway show quality to it.

66) “Christmas in Hollis” by Run-DMC

That’s right; Queens gets a Christmas song, too. Now it’s hard to tell whether Santa really did drop his wallet in the snow or the guys mugged him. Either way, Santa gets his “cold hundreds and Gs” back and we get a fun rap Christmas song – yet another from the classic first “Very Special Christmas” album.

67) “Christmas in New York” by the Christmas in New York Company

These are all different songs with the same title, just so you know. This is a production about Christmas in New York that is being performed in London. This proves that even people in the UK want to go to New York at Christmastime.

68) “Christmas in NYC” by Claudia Mikail

I've never heard of Claudia Mikail, but this is a perky song that name drops all the landmarks.

69) “Christmas in Manhattan” by 5 Chinese Brothers

Well, they’re not Chinese and they’re not brothers. Maybe they were inspired by the 1938 book. But this is a nice folksy song.

70) “NYC (On Christmas Eve)” by Matt Dawson

I confess I had not heard of Matt until I picked up this song. ITunes is great for uncovering these treasures.

71) “Christmas in New York” by Lou Christie

You know Lou from his 1966 hit “Lightning Strikes” and his ultra-high voice.

72) “Christmas in New York” by Joe Horowitz

An acoustic sing-along. “It’s Christmas in New York, where the people all over the world come home to us.”

73) “New York is a Christmas Kind of Town” by Marah

“Every subway stop is a jingle bell hop, every taxi cab is a sleigh.” That’s kind of cool.

74) “Silver Bells” by Relient K

OK, New York isn’t mention anywhere in the lyrics. But the composer said it is based on the silver bells ringing from the Salvation Army’s sidewalk Santas.

There are, of course, a million versions of this song. I like the Relient K version best. It’s got a pop rock feel to it, and bells, of course.

75) “NYC Christmas (1983 Demo#1)” by Nick Vallelonga

It’s a nice soft song with gentle acoustic guitars and bells, and a list of all the appropriate landmarks. He’s been to the city.

76) “Christmas in New York” by Shilelagh Law

The Irish folk band is billed as “New York’s Thirstiest,” and this song came after the September 11 attacks. I get a little weepy when it talks about the police and firefighters. Actually, I get a little weepy at a lot of Christmas songs. You may have noticed. My cousin Mike, a proud Irish New York police officer, sent me this song. I love it. Thanks, Mike!

77) “Christmas in New York” by Joe

Allmusic.com describes Joe as a “Georgia Cassanova” who mixes classic soul with hip-hop beats and gospel. That sounds about right!

78) “New York Christmas” by The Kings of Christmas

These guys sound like mid-career Chicago, and they mix in lyrics from “New York, New York (On the Town.)” It’s a heck of a town!

79) “New York City Christmas” by The Cover Girls

The urban dance-pop girl band shows Christmas can have a beat!

80) “New York in Wintertime” by Kara DioGuardi & Jason Reeves

81) “Brooklyn Sleigh Ride” by The Red Elephant

I found both of these on an iTunes release called “Gift Wrapped, Vol. II: Snowed In”  The collection is all over the place, but I ended up liking a surprising number of the songs – and it gets points for having two New York-themed songs.  These are both nice acoustic alt-rock songs.

82) “Christmas in the City” by Mary J. Blige and Angie Martinez

Not really much of a song here. It’s pretty much just a beat and Mary and Angie free-styling. At least I think they’re free-styling. I hope they are, because if they actually put time into these lyrics and wrote them down, I’m not real impressed.

83) “We Three Kings of Orient Are” by Miles Davis, Larry Carlton, David Sanborn and Paul Shaffer

OK, it’s not a New York song per se, but it’s from the “Scrooged” soundtrack and the movie is set in New York. The joke here is that these very famous and highly skilled musicians are street players. Bill Murray walks by and says something like “Oh look at this! Rip off the tourists, why don’t ya. Take some lessons!”
This one actually does sound like they got in the studio, jammed for a couple minutes and called it a day. 

And it still works.

Closing in on 100 songs on our best versions Christmas Project, and we’re not done yet!

Don't miss Part 1 and Part 2, and don't forget to share your thoughts in the comments. Any I missing anything?


Mike said...

Your welcome. Glad you like “Christmas in New York” by Shilelagh Law! I get weepy too!


Stubby said...

You got most of the highlights. Love the Cover Girls tune, love Lou Christie, Christmas in Hollis is essential and did you know August Darnell is Kid Creole of Kid Creole & The Coconuts?

Two you missed:
All Alone At Christmas/Darlene Love--from, I think, the second Home Alone movie, very much the same energy as her Spector Xmas classic (with just a touch of E-Street Band flavor) and it definitely talks about the Rockefeller Center Tree

Christmas Here/Wednesday Week--one of my absolutely favorite unknown or forgotten Christmas songs of the 80s. I found the song on the original Midnight X-Mess compilation, which was one of the more fascinating Christmas records around for Xmas Music collectors prior to A Very Special Christmas opening the floodgates in '87.

The chorus goes like this:
How I wish I were in New York City
Christmas here could never beeeee like thaaaaaat...ahahat.

You can listen to it, here, on YouTube. You're gonna love it.

Stubby said...

Oooh. Ooh Ooh. Just remembered. Its not Christmas in New York without Johnny Maestro and The Brooklyn Bridge. "Christmas Serenade" is the tune and, although it doesn't mention New York by name, its Johnny Maestro. So you know its New York.

Thanks for indulging me playing along, by the way. I'm having more fun than I've had in a long time.

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Stubby, you are AWESOME!!! I've downloaded Darlene Love and Johnny Maestro! And the search is on for Midnight Christmas Mess. Not an easy one to find, that one!

Stubby said...

For what it's worth, Wednesday Week's "Greatest Hits" collection, "What We Had" is about $8.50 on Amazon (under $2 used).
They didn't really have any hits of course. And "Christmas Here" isn't on the mp3 version.

But, if you send your email to info@stubbyschristmas.com, I might be able to shoot you an mp3.

Favorite Key said...

Thanks so much for including my song, "Christmas in NYC," on your playlist. Glad you enjoyed it! You might like my song "New Year's in Manhattan," too. Gonna listen to the rest of your collection. Keep the music playing! :)
--Claudia Mikail

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Thank you, Claudia! I like your song, and I'll look for the New Year's song!