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The Ultimate Christmas Playlist

Today is the day after Thanksgiving here in the United States of America. You’re officially allowed to start listening to holiday music now. To get you started, I compiled a playlist of what I consider to be 100 of the best Christmas songs. Okay, 98 songs, a stand-up routine and a skit. It’s a mix of standards, versions of standards with which you may not be familiar, and obscure but delightful tunes.

Enjoy!

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In Memoriam: 2016

Per the email I received from Spotify in mid-December, my most-streamed track of 2016 was Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” While that is a great song, I don’t recall playing it more than once or twice this year. However, I did spend hours listening to music by those taken from us by the Grim Reaper. I’m not the only person to feel incredible sadness at the seemingly non-stop loss of great talents, which started on New Year’s Day when we heard the report that Natalie Cole died the day before.

With this playlist I want to celebrate the contributions these folks made to our lives and our culture. If I missed someone, forgive me. There were a lot of folks to remember.

Before we get to the Spotify playlist, videos from two whose music is not on Spotify.

Thank you for enriching my life:
David Bowie
George Michael
Glenn Frey (of Eagles)
Gene Wilder
Leonard Cohen
Muhammad Ali (nee Cassius Clay)
Maurice White (of Earth, Wind and Fire)
Florence Henderson
Merle Haggard
Carrie Fisher (actress best known for Star Wars)
Debbie Reynolds
Paul Kantner (of Jefferson Airplane)
Signe Toly Anderson (of Jefferson Airplane)
Sir George Martin (record producer best known for his work with The Beatles)
Attrell “Prince Be” Cordes (of P.M. Dawn)
Garry Marshall (television/film director/producer/writer, creator of Happy Days)
Pete Burns (of Dead or Alive)
Billy Paul
Natalie Cole
Garry Shandling
Sharon Jones
Alan Vega (of Suicide)
Don Ciccone (of The Four Seasons)
Alan Rickman
Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer)
Greg Lake (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer)
Steven Young (of M/A/R/R/S)
Joan Marie Johnson (of The Dixie Cups)
Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor (of A Tribe Called Quest)
Prince Buster
Bernie Worrell (of Parliament)
Bobby Vee
Gary Paxton (of The Hollywood Argyles)
Rick Parfitt (of Status Quo)
Mack Rice (songwriter whose credits include “Respect Yourself”)
Milt Okun (record producer best known for his work with John Denver)
Marni Nixon (singer/actress best known for dubbing the singing voices of Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady)
Rod Temperton (of Heatwave)
Leon Russell
John Chelew (record producer best known for his work with John Hiatt)
Lonnie Mack
Gogi Grant
Jim Lowe
Sonny James
Nicholas Caldwell (of The Whispers)
Kitty Kallen
Mose Allison
Black
Otis Clay
Bobby Hutcherson
Joe Dowell
Trisco Pearson (of Force MDs)
Gayle McCormick (of Smith)
Gary Loizzo (of American Breed)
Leon Haywood
Paul Upton (of The Spiral Starecase)
Carlo Mastrangelo (of The Belmonts)
Fred Tomlinson (co-writer of “Lumberjack Song”)
Steve Young
Alexis Arquette
Dan Hicks
John D. Loudermilk
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Christina Grimmie
Alan Thicke

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Throwback Thursday – 1975

It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
You gotta get out while you’re young

New Jersey does not have an official state song. There have been attempts to adopt one since at least 1939, when the state’s Board of Education held a contest to find a suitable number. They named Samuel F. Monroe’s “The New Jersey Loyalty Song” as the contest’s winner, but it was not good enough to be the official state song.

In 1972, the state legislature proposed that Joseph “Red” Mascara’s “I’m from New Jersey” be the state’s song, but Governor William Cahill vetoed the measure, stating succinctly about the song “It stinks.”

In March of 1980, radio d.j. Carol Miller started a petition to have “Born to Run,” written and recorded by New Jersey’s favorite son, Bruce Springsteen, be named the state song. Three state assemblypersons drafted a resolution declaring “Born to Run” “as the unofficial *rock* theme of our State’s youth.” I’m confused to as to how an official resolution can name an “unofficial” theme, just as the state’s senate was confused as to how a song that includes the lyrics that open this post expresses pride in where one’s from. The bid died.
The song also includes these lyrics that tickle my friend Audrey so: Someday, girl, I don’t know when, we’re gonna get to that place where we really wanna go.

Oh, that place!

By the way, I got out of New Jersey when I was 24.

This week’s Throwback Thursday playlist spotlights some of the best tunes from 1975, kicking off with what is unofficially New Jersey’s unofficial state song, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”


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Throwback Thursday – 1971

At the end of the 1960s, Marvin Gaye was a huge star, having had more than two dozen top 40 hits before 1970. However, the singer was having a crisis of conscience, wanting to sing about the ills of the world he saw around him as opposed to perform nothing but love songs.

Inspired by the horrific stories told to him by his brother of what he witnessed serving three years in Viet Nam, Gaye, who hadn’t a hand in writing most of his hits up to this point, added lyrics to an unreleased song written by Obie Benson of the Four Tops and Al Cleveland.

He presented the song to Motown head Berry Gordy, who supposedly called it “the worst thing I ever heard in my life.” Gaye’s response? “Basically, I said ‘Put it out or I’ll never record for you again.’ That was my ace in the hole, and I had to play it.”

“What’s Going On” became the fastest-selling single in the history of Motown Records. Rolling Stone magazine has since placed it at #4 on their ranking of the greatest songs of all-time.

This week’s Throwback Thursday playlist consists of twenty hits from 1971, kicking off with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”


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The Song Retains The Name

Winston + Bobby Brown
Today is Bobby Brown’s 46th birthday. A former member of New Edition, Brown had his first solo hit in 1988 with “Don’t Be Cruel,” which reached #8 on the Hot 100. Though it shares its title with an Elvis Presley #1 hit from 1956, Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” is not a remake.

That brings us to today’s playlist, which I call The Song Retains the Name. It consists of different songs with the same title. I initially planned to include twenty such songs, but more kept springing to mind. Before I knew it, I passed 100 entries. There are plenty more, so I decided to open this up to my reader(s). If you have songs that share titles you’d like to add, feel free to do so.

(NOTES: I included The Jacksons’ “This Place Hotel” because when it was released in 1980 its title was “Heartbreak Hotel.” Thought he didn’t have to, Michael Jackson, the song’s writer, later changed its name to “This Place Hotel” to avoid confusion with the Elvis Presley song “Heartbreak Hotel.” Whitney Houston didn’t feel the need to make the same Hotel accommodation.

Also, though it is listed on Spotify as “The Best of My Love,” the Eagles track does not have a “The” on the 45 or the band’s On the Border album.)

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An Atheist Jew’s Guide To Christmas Music, Part 1

Raised Jewish, I celebrated Hanukkah. For several years, my family also celebrated Christmas. We didn’t go to midnight mass, we didn’t drink egg nog, we didn’t throw a special type of log in the fireplace. (By the way, I have no idea what makes a Yule log yuley). We put tinsel and candy canes on a large potted plant my mother had in the den and bought each other small but practical gifts. For example, when I was 11 for Christmas my parents got me a salt shaker. The Christmas celebrations stopped after I innocently told Grandpa Mordechai about them. My parents were so angry with me they took away my salt shaker.

Though I no longer celebrate Christmas, I still have a major jones for Christmas music. I own many more Christmas records than any atheist Jew probably should. We’re talking in the hundreds.

I eschew Christmas classics performed by well-known middle-of-the-road acts such as Celine Dion, Michael Bublé, Kenny G (sell-out Jew), Neil Diamond (sell-out Jew) or Barbra Streisand (sell-out Jew). Frank Sinatra shows up only in a duet with Cyndi Lauper and Bing Crosby shows up only in his duet with David Bowie.

Including the Crosby/Bowie version, I have 15 renditions of “The Little Drummer Boy” in my iPod, by a diverse list of artists including Johnny Cash, The Temptations, Joan Jett, Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop and RuPaul.

I have ten versions of “Winter Wonderland,” and that’s not counting the cross-dressing parody “Walkin’ Round in Women’s Underwear,” not performed by RuPaul.

I have “Christmas in Hollis,” “Christmas in Harlem,” “Christmas in Washington,” “Christmastime in the LBC,” “Christmas in the City,” “Christmas in Heaven,” “Christmastime in Hell” and “Christmas at the Zoo.”

I have Christmas songs by most of my favorite artists of all-time, including The Beatles, Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Stevie Wonder, R.E.M., Elvis Presley, The White Stripes, Kanye West, Ike and Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, and Radiohead.

Some Christmas songs aren’t Christmas songs at all. “Frosty the Snowman,” “Let It Snow Let it Snow Let It Snow” and “Winter Wonderland” don’t mention the baby Jesus or Santa Claus or presents or a bullied reindeer with a skin ailment.

Some of the Christmas songs I have are a bit odd. “I Found the Brains of Santa Claus,” a smooth jazz version of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” C3PO and R2D2 singing “Sleigh Ride.” I have Liberace reciting “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” though his version doesn’t hold a candle to Aretha Franklin’s version, in which the Queen of Soul took a few liberties with the words: “A bundle of gifts he had and what did I get? / As I squealed, opening the package, the same old shit!” Her lyrics are downright Disneyesque compared to Snoop Dogg’s reading of the famous poem. If you’re interested, Google the lyrics because I’m not going to print them here.

I have John Denver singing “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas).” Verse one opens with a couplet for the arithmetically-challenged: “Just last year when I was only seven / Now I’m almost eight you can see.” Santa needs to bring John some flashcards. The next two lines create a holiday image that is less Norman Rockwell and more John Waters: “You came home at quarter past eleven / And fell down underneath the Christmas tree.” Someone needs to get him to a 12-step group. He can attend a meeting with the title character of Fishbone’s “Slick Nick, You Devil You,” who came down the chimney with a keg of brew and spilled Jack Daniels all over the drapes.

I have Sarah Silverman singing “Give the Jew Girl Toys,” in which she taunts Santa by singing “You have a list / Well, Schindler did to / Liam Neeson played him / Tim Allen played you.”

Then there’s the classic “Fairtytale of New York” by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, which evokes the holiday spirit with the line “You scumbag, you maggot / You cheap lousy faggot,” something yelled at me every year by those Salvation Army Santas.

Better still is “Macarena Christmas.” I LOVE “Macarena” and I’m betting you do to though you probably won’t admit it. “Macarena Christmas” celebrates the birth of our lord and savior Baby Macarena by taking the chorus from the hit single and uncleverly inserting it repeatedly into a medley of Christmas songs, so it goes “Joy to the world, the Lord has come / Da le a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena, Que tu cuerpo es pa darle alegria y cosa Buena / Da le a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena / Eeeeeh, Macarena – ay / Jingle bells jingle bells jingle all the way.” Sound effects of what sounds like an infant with the hiccups are thrown in. It makes no sense, y me gusta mucho.

My favorite holiday album and one of the greatest all-time albums period is Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You, featuring tracks he produced for The Ronettes, The Crystals, Darlene Love and Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans. Every cut on it is classic and can be enjoyed by the whole family, except Grandpa Mordechai.

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Happy Hanukkah!

Tonight is the first of the eight nights of Hanukkah, so I thought I’d treat my readers to a Hanukkah playlist, with the hope that you’re not tired of all the Hanukkah music played on the radio and in stores this time of year.

I wanted to start with Beck’s “Little Drum Machine Boy,” which tells the little-known story of the Robot Funk, who does the blessing over the menorah candles, and the Hanukkah Pimp. Unfortunately, this holiday classic is not on Spotify.

As I couldn’t use the Beck song, I decided to kick off with the classic “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” as performed by the cast of South Park. Unfortunately, this holiday classic is not on Spotify.

Does Spotify have “Hanukkah Rocks” by Gefilte Joe & the Fish? No? Okay, then. Clearly Spotify is taking sides in the War On Hanukkah.

Suffice to say I have enough Hanukkah songs for each night of the holiday, save the last five.

Running out of Hanukkah-specific tunes, I turn to holiday fare associated with that other big holiday that’s coming up. Many of these songs are considered Christmas classics; however, they don’t mention Jesus or Santa, so for our purposes they now will be considered Hanukkah classics.

With those songs in the mix, our playlist clocks in at just over a half hour. Sigh. I’m adding in Thanksgiving tunes. Enjoy your holidays!

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