Tag Archives: Ringo Starr

With a Little Help from My Friends

The recent shameful departure of my country on the Paris Agreement on global climate change is the dominant story in the news and the most pressing issue on my mind, but I just don’t have the energy (and that is not a pun) to restate the same facts about how we humans, and especially me and mine in America, are responsible for rapidly heating up this one habitable planet we have always known, and until the ignorance of greed consumed too many of us, has been a world we loved as well. I love it still, and the billions of humans and wildlife that live upon it, which is why I worry so much. In the interests of not wishing to belabor a point that needs to be repeated, but not so much to my audience who already understands its severity, and for the sake of not wishing to deviate from my original plan for this post, I will not personally cover (at least for this week) the Paris Agreement tackbacksies that my poorly-led nation idiotically enacted, however, my favorite late night host and his team have put together another fantastic segment this time covering just that:

Thank you, John. You make it easier to endure this madness, and though I’ve never met you, I feel like you could be a friend, which is precisely what we all need through hardships and celebrations, and as it happens, it was 50 years ago last week The Beatles taught the world to cherish friends, as well as to embrace the nature of change for the better and the mixing of culture and art in one of the grandest musical contributions of all time.

On May 26,1967 in England, and June 2 in America, the greatest band to ever play music released one the greatest records ever cut. The Beatles were already at the top of the musical world as they had been for a few years thanks to their tremendous popularity with young pop rock and roll fans. Yet the group felt tired of playing music for screaming girls and wanted to make some “serious music”. They stopped touring concerts to ease their exhaustion and focus on their music. Some people were pissed about this, but regardless of those frustrations from fans and the members of the band itself, all were rewarded with a masterpiece set into motion with about 11 seconds of orchestral warm-up and ambient crowd chatter eagerly awaiting a show that strikes out of the theater noise with drums and guitar that instantly grab our attention so that we are all ears when Paul McCartney starts singing in the fabulously fictitious Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Sgt. Pepper’s remains one of the most influential and unique albums of all time for a variety of reasons. It was pioneering, not just for rock and roll and pop music, but for all music, containing an assortment of instruments and musical styles that culminate in one of the most masterfully varied records, but one with a terrific flow, thanks in large part to the first time omission of the few seconds of silent space between songs. On Sgt. Pepper, Beatles producer George Martin was once again the man behind most of the technical effects that lend a certain feel to the album as a whole. The band had been experimenting with new sounds for their last few records, like Rubber Soul and Revolver, records that really allowed The Beatles to rise above the pure pop that many desired them to be. Sgt. Pepper’s was not the first instance of The Beatles breaking away from the mainstream – honestly, I’m not sure they ever were in the mainstream as much as they were paving the way for it – yet the discography of the band truly took off into an unforeseen level of the musical and cultural atmosphere with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles were essentially the first band to walk on the musical Moon. They had been approaching their desired destination with their previous work, but Sgt. Pepper’s was their Apollo program, and led them and many, many others to a new world of musical production.

One fascinating example of this is in the lively album cover that depicts a wealth of celebrities from many walks of life and eras. The Nerdwriter declares it to the “Holy Grail of album covers”, and he is not wrong as the artwork is multi-layered with meaning and references to the essence of the band and its members. He explains this in one of his excellent video essays:

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is revolutionary in many respects, but chief among its merits is the quality of its songs and their arrangement. Rolling Stone considers it to be the best album ever made, and while its influence is undeniable and a major reason for their favoring of it, the great music and lyrics that defined The Beatles better than anything else ever could are exceptional throughout the record.

Starting off with the opening I mentioned earlier, the titular “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” provides a terrific introduction both as a song and the theme of the journey we are about to take. It also provides a bookended finish with a short reprisal of “Sgt. Pepper’s” as the penultimate song of the record. It was Paul McCartney’s idea to make the album’s premise be a concert sang by a fictional band. This fit his and the band’s characteristic whimsy, but also allowed them to push the envelope a little further with the safety of being able to let any controversy fall back upon the fictitious group in place of the real one. Oh that wasn’t us; that was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club.

The title track segues perfectly into what is probably the most popular song on the album, and is certainly one of the band’s best songs. I mean, I did name this post after it. After his alter ego Billy Shears’ introduction at the end of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, Ringo Starr begins to sing the classic “With a Little Help from My Friends”. This is one of my favorite songs for its joyful melody, harmonious vocals, and encouraging message that friendship is the key to enjoying life through the good and bad. Despite their differences and the trials each of them were going through at the time, it is clear that The Beatles worked so well, not just on this record, but throughout the years because they were friends. This song is the epitome of that love for one another. It’s all you need after all – wait, that’s the next record.

From the epitome of friendship we roll on to the epitome of psychedelia with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. There are many references to drug use on featured within the album, including an overt one in the previous song, but John Lennon always maintained that this song was based on a drawing his son made of a girl in his class named Lucy. As one radio host on the newly launched Sirius Beatles Channel said, Lennon never shied away from discussing drugs and did write “Cold Turkey” in his post-Beatles career, so even though the nouns in the title begin with the letters LSD, drugs did not inspire this song. However, that does not mean they did not influence this song, which they almost certainly did, although not just in the trippy description of Lucy’s land as the song (an album entire) serves as an allusion to the flower power movement that saw the cultures of East and West blending together like a tie-dye T-shirt. This is certainly apparent on the one song on the album John Lennon and Paul McCartney did not write, George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” which is driven by Harrison’s sitar and other Indian instruments.

The highlight of the album for many is the closing orchestration that is “A Day in the Life”. I say orchestration because Martin and The Beatles brought in an actual orchestral arrangement to play the unnerving transitions between the two wildly distinctive tones of the song. The reason for these drastically different pieces from Lennon and McCartney is simple as they began as two different songs. Lennon needed something to connect his song that was inspired by stories in a newspaper, and McCartney offered a separate song he had been working on and they sandwiched it in and spread the orchestra to make it more cohesive. The final piano note was actual multiple pianos played simultaneously and then stretched out by Martin in the sound mixing booth. The end result is a slightly disturbing note of finality to a slightly disturbing song that perfectly punctuates the album.

The album has a perfect transition from song to song which is all the more impressive given its great variation of styles. This could have been a magnificent failure for a lesser group, but as I’ve said before and will say again, The Beatles are the greatest band of all time and they managed to make a clash of genres and technical trials (Paul McCartney is credited with playing a “comb and tissue paper”) into their defining work… until next year’s release of their best album, but we can talk about that next year. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a massive success from the start and continued to establish The Beatles as the master musicians they were and deserve to be recognized as. I encourage you to listen to this and all their other albums. It’s easy to call The Beatles great, and not hard to recommend such a well loved band, but these guys are in another league. Remember when I said Sgt. Pepper’s was like The Beatles landing on the Moon? Well, their continued career took them across the universe to places other musicians can only dream of. That pun was absolutely intended, but also absolutely true. The Beatles are not my favorite band – anyone who’s read my previous posts knows that honor belongs to another British rock band – but I will defend until my dying breath that they are the best band because they are. No one is more varied, talented, and has such an extensive body of work that is as high quality as The Beatles’ discography. Also, they are my second favorite band, so it’s not like it’s hard for me to admire them, but it helps that they’re really, really good.

Thanks for reading, watching, and listening! Be sure to check out anything you can from The Beatles even if you’ve heard it all before. They certainly are worth listening to more than once. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please send them to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Be sure to revolve back here next week for more hopefully good news or fun topics. Whatever I write about, I promise I’ll throw in a joke or two.

I hope you have enjoyed the show,

Alex

This Guy Is Crying… No More!

Hi everyone! Today I’m talking about the greatest style of music there ever has been and the official recognition of some of it’s great contributing acts who are finally being given a hall pass to a place they all helped to build.

Like most people, my musical interests are not confined to just one genre, but nothing compares to that blues-based, guitar-filled music that is both ever-evolving with new influences from around the world and continuously hearkening back to its rustic roots in the American South. Haven’t a clue what I’m talking about? Well allow me to deliver you some News: “everywhere there’s music, real live music, bands with a million styles, but it’s still that same old rock and roll music that really really drives ’em wild.” The heart of rock and roll is still beating in Cleveland, and it will be pumping faster and harder there this Saturday, April 18th when Public Hall plays host once again to the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Anyone who ever finds him or herself in my home-away-from-hometown in northeast Ohio should visit the fascinating structure that is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum located on the shore of Lake Erie next door to the Great Lakes Science Center and the Factory of Sadness.

Beside the Museum is an Ohio Historical Marker that tells of how disc jockey Alan Freed used the term “rock and roll” to describe the music he played on his midnight radio show “The Moondog House” which was named after this instrumental composition called “Moondog Symphony” by Louis T. Hardin a.k.a. “Moondog”. The original Moondog eventually sued Freed for infringement and was awarded $6000 on the condition that Freed got to keep the name Moondog. (To any basketball fans who have ever wondered why the Cleveland Cavaliers have a mascot that is a dog called Moondog instead of just a musketeer, there you have it.)

Thanks to the coining of the term “rock and roll” by a Cleveland DJ, and hosting the first large rock and roll concert (Freed’s Moondog Coronation Ball), as well as the numerous concerts put on there by the top acts in rock throughout the decades, the city is renowned as being a major hub of rock and roll music and is often referred to as “The Rock and Roll Capital of the World”.

Of course, that rock and roll music we love so much is universal and blares loudly and proudly all around the world. Many cities and areas have contributed significantly to the growth of the grand genre and its many sub-genres through artists, local culture, recording studios and their producers, and the overall sound of their specific town. Some of the hallmark American rock cities are named in the Huey Lewis and the News song “The Heart of Rock and Roll” I included an excerpt of earlier, such as New York, Los Angeles (which are the other two sites of the Rock Hall Induction Ceremony), and Detroit, Seattle, and San Francisco, as well as other significant contributors like Memphis and Chicago. We can’t forget international locations either, especially the likes of Liverpool and London across the pond in the UK. Yet today I want to begin by focusing on Austin, Texas and a man and his band which will finally receive their excessively overdue acknowledgement from the Rock Hall.

When I first decided to start this blog eight months ago, I had a few ideas for posts I knew I wanted to write, including this one. The theme was drastically different then than it is now as I had some strong words for the Hall of Fame committee. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came into existence on April 20, 1983 (yep, on 4/20) and the museum was opened on September 1, 1995. The official rules and criteria for being placed on the induction ballot to get into the Hall of Fame can be found here at the Rock Hall’s website, but the short answer of how to get in is:

1.) It must be at least 25 years since the release of your first album

2.) You must be an influence and a significant contributor to rock and roll music

Aaaaand that’s it. There’s not too much more than that. It really becomes pretty obvious over the minimum 25 year time span who is a mainstay in terms of style and popularity, and what effect they had on the music industry. Some artists are obvious shoo-ins, like Nirvana last year. They were the biggest name on the ballot in their first year on it and were rightfully voted in immediately. Similarly, Green Day was voted into this most recent class on their first year on the ballot. However, not always do artists get admitted on their first try. Sometimes it takes a few years to make the cut. And maybe, it’ll take seven years for you to be welcomed in when you should have been eagerly anticipated since the formation of the Rock Hall Foundation which you preceded. That is what happened to Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band Double Trouble. They formed in 1978 and released their first album, Texas Flood, in 1983, so for the last seven years I’ve been pitching the same fit in vain until finally, finally, SRV got his just desserts. Saturday will see him honored along with other deserving acts, and today will have me weeping with joy instead of sorrow.

In case you don’t know who Stevie Ray Vaughan is or haven’t heard much of his music, allow me to fill you in a bit. Stevie Ray Vaughan, often referred to simply as SRV, is nothing short of one of the greatest guitarists to ever live. With masterful skill on his Stratocaster, SRV was the driving force of the blues revival in the 1980s. He was a wizard on guitar on par with the best. Clapton, Page, Beck (as in Jeff), SRV could play right alongside them all. He even played a Hendrix song as well as Jimi (“Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”) and made a longer and better version of another (“Little Wing”)!

Here are some more of the essentials from SRV:

“Pride and Joy” – This most well known song of Vaughan’s is about his wife Lenny.

“Tightrope” – Juxtapositions abound in this rocking jam about a man struggling to stay upright in a madcap world.

“The Sky is Crying” – A wailing electric blues guitar pours out notes like a rain cloud.

“Crossfire” – Things ain’t the way they used to be in the world.

“Cold Shot” – Things ain’t the way they used to be with our love.

“Texas Flood” – a cover of bluesman Larry Davis’ song of the same name, it is regarded as one of the great modern blues songs.

This is just a sampling of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s work with Double Trouble. He had many more great songs with that band, and also had memorable work with other artists, most notably David Bowie who heard him at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982 and enlisted him to play guitar on songs like “China Girl”, “Modern Love”, “Let’s Dance”, and the “Let’s Dance” alternate track of  “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”. That last one may strike you as a weird title, but if you saw Inglorious Basterds you’ve heard the original version of it. Of course, you’ve heard it if you saw 1982’s remake of Cat People that it was written for, but I’m guessing less people today have caught that one (it’s not about people who really like cats – actually, I guess it kinda is… I remember it more for the song and being one of the first movies I ever saw boobs in).

Unfortunately, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s wait to get onto the ballot was as long as his all too short career. Only seven years into his national prominence with Double Trouble, it all came to a literal crashing halt after an East Troy, Wisconsin concert with Eric Clapton. The helicopter Vaughan boarded after the show flew off course into a hill. Vaughan and Clapton’s bodyguard, assistant manager, and agent all died in the wreck. Vaughan was 35.

Whether ironic or intended, he’ll be placed into the Rock Hall 25 years after his death. Joining SRV in the 2015 class are seven other musical artists/groups. None are surprising additions and all are deserving, but there is one other who should have been in already. I’ll get to her, but first, here’s a list of the class of 2015 with a link to a well known song of theirs in each name:

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band – Formed in Chicago in 1963, they helped mix and match Chicago blues and electric blues and that style of music that you enjoyed hearing in The Blues Brothers with jazz and rock. I don’t know them as well as the other inductees, but considering they were comprised of members who had formerly worked with the likes of blues legends such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, it seems their induction was a long time coming also.

The “5” Royales – The “early influence” group for this class, The “5” Royales helped to kick off the rock era by drawing upon gospel, R&B, and doo wop. Many of their songs have been covered by artists like Ray Charles, James Brown, and Mick Jagger.

Green Day – The inclusion that will make Nineties kids feel old! If you grew up in the 1990s you heard a lot of Green Day and that was never a problem with me except at graduations when you inevitably heard “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” which is not a bad song the first 5000 times you hear it. Green Day was a lighter take on punk, but still challenged authority, especially President George W. Bush whom they did not like very much, to put it mildly. Their album American Idiot and the rock opera based off of it drew a considerable degree of inspiration from Mr. Bush. Green Day is one of the few acts inducted this year who are still performing, and they probably will be until they are swallowed up by sludge on Lake Springfield.

Lou Reed – Lou Reed is already in the Rock Hall with the Velvet Underground, the excellent and highly influential band he founded with John Cale in the early 1960s. Reed was the primary creative force in the band and it showed when he left to go solo in 1972. He had a long list of famous hits like “Perfect Day”, “Walk on the Wild Side”, and “Sweet Jane”. He was actually in Cleveland a few years ago to receive a liver transplant at the Cleveland Clinic. Too little, too late to make up for years of drinking and drugs it would seem; Reed died in 2013. Next week I’ll discuss more songs, including my favorite from Reed.

Ringo Starr – Like Reed, Ringo is being inducted into the Hall of Fame a second time, but the band he first got in with did a hell of a lot better commercially than Reed’s. While Ringo still receives a lot of crap for bringing up the rear of The Beatles, he is an excellent drummer and a jovial and amusing personality. Nevertheless, his post-Beatles career has undoubtedly been helped by him being one of the lads from Liverpool, and I’m sure that also factored into the Hall of Fame committee’s decision to bring him back in as a solo artist to join his three Beatles buddies who have all been inducted in as solo performers already. Even so, if you’ve ever seen a Beatles movie then you know Saturday should be fun because Ringo is the star when the cameras roll. It’ll also be nice to see him and McCartney hanging out again.

Bill Withers – Oh yeah! Sing it Bill! Withers hit it big with his melancholy song about how depressing life is when his baby isn’t there, but he has more that “Ain’t No Sunshine”. The soulful singer also has famous tracks like “Lean on Me” and “Just the Two of Us” and is still performing today!

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – You know this hard-rockin’ guitarist/singer; she loves rock n roll, doesn’t give a damn about her bad reputation, and is your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb! She’s also another “it’s about damn time” nominee considering she first broke onto the musical scene in 1975 when she co-founded The Runaways. She would go on to a solo career before forming The Blackhearts who were rightfully known as Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Joan Jett is deservedly called a “Queen of Rock” and is considered to be one of the greatest guitarists. As she’s finally been nominated (with her second band The Blackhearts) I guess someone at the Rock Hall listened to Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic at last year’s induction concert. (Damn, Dave Grohl was banging the fuck out of that drum set. Hopefully he’ll bring some more of that energy to this Saturday’s ceremony.)

Joan Jett has had some great hits over the years, including:

“I Love Rock and Roll” – A cover of the original song by The Arrows.

“I Hate Myself For Loving You”

“Bad Reputation”

“Crimson and Clover” – A much louder cover of the Tommy James and the Shondells original.

“Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)”

“Cherry Bomb” – My favorite from her career with The Runaways. Just makes you want to save the galaxy, doesn’t it?

You’ll notice that her music videos were also eye-catching and have many tough-look close-ups of the badass bitch herself.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the 2015 Class of Inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While it’s refreshing to see Stevie Ray Vaughan and Joan Jett have finally made it in, there are still some artists out there who should be in who aren’t. I was shocked to find that Deep Purple is not in the Rock Hall. There must be some serious smoke on the water on the north coast to keep them out. Also surprising is the lack of Bad Company, The Bangles, The Buzzcocks, The Cure, Dire Straits, Dr. Dre, Roy Harper, Iron Maiden, The James Gang, Huey Lewis and the News, Steve Miller Band, The Runaways, Soundgarden, Steppenwolf, Styx, Tears for Fears, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, The Violent Femmes, Joe Walsh, X, Yes, Warren Zevon, and The Zombies. I’m not suggesting that I believe that all of these acts are deserving to be inducted, or that I’m even a fan of them all, only that I am surprised to not see them included already.

For me, one of the most deserving names that has so far been omitted is Ted Nugent. Beginning as The Amboy Dukes in the late 1960s, the Detroit band would become Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, before transitioning completely to being Ted Nugent’s band. Nugent and company have made serious and lasting contributions to rock, especially heavy metal and occasionally prog rock. Yet, they remain on the outside looking in. To that I offer this:

“Journey to the Center of the Mind”

Do you want to get into the Rock Hall? Cause that’s how you get into the Rock Hall! Unless of course you also happen to be a radical gun-nut who comes across as very unstable and hates how Fox News isn’t harsh enough on Obama and the Democratic Party as a whole. Yes, Ted Nugent’s a wackadoodle, but God damn it, not just anybody can play guitar like that. So what if his political views are on the opposite end of the spectrum of the voting members of the Rock Hall? He has displayed an exemplary talent over the course of his career and he’s still got it today. His energy is incredible; just listen to some of his live albums. My favorite of his is a live cut of this bad boy:

“Great White Buffalo”

Is Ted Nugent intolerant? Certainly. Is he crazy? Unquestionably. Should he be in the Rock Hall? You’re goddamn right, Bob. He fits the criteria and influenced the genre and other artists over many years. He’s a psychopath, but so are sooooo many others rockers and famous musicians. Whenever a Michael Jackson song starts playing do we condemn him for being a pedophile? No. The man made Thriller. Thriller! Being an unbelievable talent doesn’t forgive him for what he did outside of his music, nor should it do so for Nugent, but the Rock Hall was made to focus on the music and not the livelihood of the men and women who made it. They love the hell out of the insulting refusal letter they got from the Sex Pistols, why refuse a deserving musician who actually wants to be there?

Look for some bands and artists to be inducted in the future, especially Pearl Jam who are eligible for the first time for 2017 and should be at the top of that class. Also potential future inductees are: Beck, The Black Crowes, The Black Keys, Daft Punk, Eminem, Fatboy Slim, The Foo Fighters, Moby, Oasis, Radiohead, Weezer, Amy Winehouse, and The White Stripes, especially Jack White, who might be the most deserving artist for induction not yet in the Rock Hall.

Thanks for reading! If you’re hoping to see the Induction Ceremony on Saturday and you haven’t already shelled out thousands for a ticket…uuuuuh, hope you have HBO and get to watch the edited broadcast a few months later. Don’t worry, clips will make it online – hell, the whole thing undoubtedly will, and it usually is only good when they shut up about how great everyone is and just play (and show how great they are). Send any questions, comments, or future post requests to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Be sure to rock back here next week for more rock and roll, this time with a mellower flavor.

Rock on and off and any which way you can,

Alex

P.S. Congratulations to my cousin Josh, who, after years of receiving hands-on-hips sighs from many of our family members expressing a desire for him to stop fishing his way across the country and get his life together, won the 2015 National Bass Anglers Association (not to be confused with the lesser-known National Basketball Association) National Championship on Kentucky Lake! I applaud his passion and unceasing tenacity, and I also thank him for giving me a chance to forever say that I know someone who “got lucky in Kentucky”.

Crap, It’s Christmas Again

Ready or not, here it comes. The ever encroaching celebration of Jesus’ birthday that is the true date of the savior of all (Christian) mankind and has nothing whatsoever to do with being placed on the date of a Roman winter festival that celebrated the sun god, and of course, all of the traditions we celebrate on Christmas today stem from Jesus’ direct teachings and are not at all an assimilation of other cultures rituals in an attempt to convert pagans to God’s Almighty Word. Whatever your feelings on the matter, Christmas is the most celebrated and commercial holiday in the United States and much of the world. It is a day that has grown to become an entire “season” of joyful anticipation of fun-filled time spent with family and friends where we learn to enjoy giving as much as receiving, and good, tasty, food that is sometimes literally sitting in pools of delicious fat awaits us with tantalizing smells and flavors. It is a time for warmth in the midst of cold weather, where we festoon our homes and businesses in bright colors, and the beer is stronger and more spice-filled! Everyone has a smile on their face as they sneeze and spread the flu and cold viruses by pushing through their sicknesses to get those last precious hours they are allotted by the yearly budget. Growing up in a temperate clime where the change of seasons is a beautiful thing to observe, and school breaks for 2-4 weeks, I have always loved everything Christmas has to offer enough to even tolerate sitting through a Christmas Eve mass as a growing agnostic and following it with almost 24 straight hours with my horrendously Polish family whose speech rivals a sonicboom in volume. Yet there is one thing that spoils it all and makes me sick of Christmas before December even begins: mother fucking Christmas music.

We’ve got many ways to listen to our own preferred music these days, but those of us driving cars older than many of today’s chart toppers don’t have access to much beyond the good, old fashioned radio. That same device is playing in the offices of many a workplace and shopping center, so chances are if you go outside of your house between now and Christmas you’ll hear some of the season’s signature songs. All eight of them.

Okay, there’s many more than that, but there can be no denying that only a select portion of all Christmas music ever made is what gets wide radio playtime. And those stations that switch over completely from their usual programming to full-on Christmas usually play the same cluster again and again and again and again and again. Sometimes they’ll mix in different versions as there are plenty, but you stand a very good chance of hearing the same song, even the same version, two, three, maybe more times a day on the same station. There are a few reasons for this. One is that there is an established set of songs that, like many other things related to Christmastime, are considered traditions, and traditions were meant to be done and overdone time and again. This is why hundreds of people have recorded versions of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. Another reason is that songs outside of that specific set of traditional songs or those that aren’t deemed “family-friendly” (and admittedly, some aren’t) don’t get played, so they stick with the safe-bet, proven classics and nothing else. But there is a greater reason as to why you get the same festive fanfare time after time, and it’s one that I’ll get to right after I vent about Christmas songs I hate and praise those that I like.

Where does one begin in an assessment of music? Why not with the greatest band of all time? The Beatles were so important in increasing the popularity of rock and roll and for changing the formula of not only that genre but every genre of music forever. They made some of the greatest songs and albums ever listened to on this earth. Their Christmas stuff however, eh, not so great. Obviously, their best music was made when the fab four were playing as one, but each made at least one original Christmas song in their careers after their break-up, and none really resound today as good classics, yet that hasn’t stopped two of them from getting way too much radio playtime.

If you’re not aware, today is the 34th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, and while I love almost all of his musical work, I’m gonna kick him while he’s down about one song that I don’t particularly care for. I know I’m not the only one who groans at the opening whispers and notes of Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)“. You know, that depressing Xmas tune that begins with the bland then accusatory lines, “So this is Christmas / And what have you done?” Who are you to judge me, John Lennon? Okay, technically it’s a song by The Plastic Ono Band, Lennon’s post-Beatles group named after his wife/Beatles-break-up-scapegoat that he powered to unfortunate notice. Inspirational dreamer that Lennon was, even he wasn’t daft enough to believe the lines, “War is over / If you want it”, was he? Sadly all it takes is one crazy person to push the button or pull the trigger. I’m going to give Yoko credit for those lines.

It’s all good though because I’m more of a Paul man myself and it’s not like he had a bad Christmas song like – oh… yeah, that’s right. I tried my damnedest to forget “Wonderful Christmastime“, the seasonal song filled with a bad synthesizer score and stupid simplicity. There’s good minimalism, and then there’s crap like this. Sir Paul is forgiven by me especially for putting on the most memorable concert I’ve ever seen in July 2013. It was the best thing to happen for me in Indianapolis until this past weekend.

George Harrison also had a fairly successful career that included a Christmas album after the Beatles broke up. His original holiday song “Ding Dong, Ding Dong” is more of a New Year’s song and is definitely the best by a Beatle yet with a video that is classic wacky George to accompany it. Does this mean it’s a good song? No. Catchy yes, enjoyable every December-January, uhhh, not tremendously.

As expected, Ringo Starr followed suit with his own abomination, “I Wanna Be Santa Claus“. Do you really want to be Santa Claus, or are you just saying it because your friends made original Christmas songs?

The one thing that is to the credit of each of the Beatles’ songs is that they are original. Some Christmas classics are just fine, like Bing Crosby’s oft-covered  “White Christmas” (just make sure your university doesn’t draw upon that as a theme for a winter formal dance bearing the name “I’m Dreaming of a White Cleveland” without realizing the potential reaction from the student body), and even the more recent yet still established “Last Christmas” by Wham!, a more modern romantic narrative that has been covered a few times itself, including recently by Taylor Swift. (What! Taylor Swift chose to cover a song about a break-up? What a departure from her usual subject matter!) Nevertheless, other songs have some issues with aging. Radio stations have kept alive many older (and to their credit, often original) versions of songs that probably should have been left to die out in peace. Some just suck when you hear them millions of times though. Gayla Peevy’s been asking for a hippopotamus for Christmas for the last six decades and I don’t think she’s getting one anytime soon. While we’re on the subject of animals involved in Christmas songs let simply say, fuck those chipmunks and that goddamn donkey. And if I have to hear Andy Williams one more fucking time – and we all will at least a dozen or so times this week probably – I’m going to scream. Thankfully, not all updated versions of songs are bad. While it probably is going to help along little Billy’s nightmares and therefore won’t make it onto most family stations, I love Alice Cooper’s version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” aka “Santa Claws is Coming to Town“. Gotta love how it accentuates the inherent creepiness of lyrics like “He sees you when you’re sleeping / He knows when you’re awake” with Cooper’s special freaky flare.

Now I’m sure some of you are like, “Whoa! Alex! I like some of those songs you don’t!” and your tastes are probably different with some songs that I like as well. For example, I really enjoy Bruce Springsteen’s rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (which is much more in line with the traditional lyrics than Alice Cooper’s) but I know a few people who aren’t crazy about The Boss talking to his band before they jam out. But c’mon, it’s funny to hear him lose his composure and laugh at the Santa laughter done by one of his bandmates.

In terms of more serious sounding songs you gotta love “Thank God It’s Christmas” from Queen, sung by the best rock vocalist to ever live. Where’s this on the radio?

Some good dark-humored original Christmas songs do get played, albeit sparingly, including The Kinks’ “Father Christmas” and Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody“. Then there are those artists who live for Christmas humor in their music, such as Bob Rivers, who usually misses for me, but “The Twelve Pains of Christmas” is pretty good. “Now why the hell are they blinking!” If you liked that then you’ll probably also like Red Peters’ “Holy Shit, It’s Christmas“. But nobody outdoes the master of harmonious humor, even on Christmas. Weird Al Yankovic has two holiday gems in “The Night Santa Went Crazy” and “Christmas at Ground Zero“.

Those are certainly original or original takes on Christmas songs, but if you’re pining for some real Christmas music then all I’ve got to say is man, this is Christmas music!

Now not every original song is going to endure as a classic. Take The Youngsters song for sobriety “Christmas in Jail“. Drink responsibly this Christmas folks.

Thank goodness for my favorite Christmas song, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You“. Yes, it really is my favorite, and no, it’s not for the video. I think I have female parts somewhere inside me.

As you can hear, not all Christmas songs are bad, including some covers of old classics, but that’s not really the issue here. It’s become an American tradition for musical artists to make a Christmas album when he/she/they come to a certain level of recognition. This is the only reason Bob Dylan actually made one; he felt obligated to do so. Barbara Streisand made a few, and she’s Jewish! Christmas itself is a much more secular holiday than it once was, and despite Jon Stewart’s joking wish for Hanukkah to overtake it as the most popular December holiday, Christmas will always reign supreme this time of year. I recognize that fact and am totally okay with it. I also realize that musical artists will continue to cut Christmas albums and make new versions of old songs. As long as they throw in some new compositions I guess I can live with it.

However, I cannot abide the trend of playing such music out of the confines of the Christmas season. I get that that’s an arbitrary mark, but it is starting earlier and earlier each year and I’ve had enough. Christmas is always going to be on December 25th, so why does our eagerness to get to that date have to be before October 31st now? No joke, I heard Christmas songs being played on the radio during the week before Halloween. Sure, stores want to sell Christmas stuff as soon and often as they can because we’ll buy it as soon as it’s shelved with a price tag, but that’s a separate world from the airwaves. If people want to fight over marked down items at an ungodly hour the day after Thanksgiving that’s fine, and you can start playing Christmas music for them then to pump them up or soothe the throbbing pain in their foreheads from where somebody smacked them with a picture frame.

This once may have been how things worked, but it isn’t anymore. Well, the shopping scuffles are more prevalent than ever, but now the shopping season for Christmas starts prior to Thanksgiving and is causing most big retail stores (way to stay cool Costco!) to open up on the holiday that is meant for spending time with family, eating too much delectably fattening food, and watching the Detroit Lions lose (wait, they won this year?! Wow! Thanks Jay Cutler!). In many respects, it’s a rehearsal dinner for Christmas, but a separate holiday. Christmas can’t even keep out of Thanksgiving’s business from the shopping side of things, and it’s been jumping in with the music too. Herewith lies the big problem I alluded to earlier: Christmas is a chance for radio stations to be lazy and just play a loop of the same songs that lasts a few hours. You cut in some commercials and traffic and weather reports and you’re good to go with as minimal effort/staff as possible. If you’re running a radio station and have this option it’s tempting to stretch it out as long as you can. Who’s going to stop you if you want to play continuous Christmas music before the start of fall? No one! MWAHAHAHAHA!

But that’s just the point. Radio stations have to hold themselves accountable for their material – well, unless they get crazy enough for the FCC to step in, but I’m looking at things in a much more tame way for this. Just because you can do a thing doesn’t necessarily mean you should, and I think that holds true with making the choice between the super easy phone-it-in approach of a long, yet stale family-friendly, multi-month Christmas playlist on repeat versus the still quite manageable mix-it-up-a-little approach of more than just the same old same old cluster of songs (which can still be family-friendly) for just a month: post-Thanksgiving to Christmas (New Year’s if you must). You can do it, American radio stations both local and national! I still believe in you and say you’re not in so deep. You can and must become less Christmas obsessed for the sake of the holiday and our sanity. Regarding the need to bring back the usual listening for a while longer and not fall into the easy and too early ways you’ve exhibited lately, I say this to you American radio,

If you, if you could return, don’t let it burn, don’t let it fade.

I’m sure I’m not being rude, but it’s just your attitude,
It’s tearing me apart, It’s ruining everything.

I swore, I swore I would be true, and honey, so did you.

Okay, that’s not from a song from this season, but Cranberries are a Christmas staple. Too much of America and Western Society is driven by money, and I know you radio stations all are too, but you can come back from this quagmire of Capitalistic Christmasness. In fact, I need you to! Don’t ruin Christmas before Halloween; that’s not your job (it’s the job of Christmas in July). Your job is to bring us new music and good classics, not so-called classics that only achieve the status because of strong association with the season that dominates the cultural landscape for a time. You did this once, and you can do it again. Be true, American Radio, be true.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve got a question, comment, or a general beef with Christmas songs let me hear about it at monotrememadness@gmail.com. I hope you’re not sick of Christmas yet because I’m going to talk about it again next week, this time about what to watch during this holly jolly season.

Stay Frosty, my friends,

Alex