Appreciations by Title

Title Body
Apollo 11 - 2019 film

No matter what your age or orientation (political or otherwise), it's hard to gainsay the significance of humankind's first trip through space to set foot on a celestial body other than our birth planet.

Of course fictional space flight has become so common, in books and video, that sitting down for two hours to watch a documentary about a real trip that took place half a century ago might seem like a somewhat pedestrian enterprise.

Ah, but don't be fooled.

Auld Lang Syne Although this isn't strictly a Christmas song, its use in the closing scene of It's A Wonderful Life qualifies it as one in my book. And, in any case, it expresses a wonderful sentiment entirely appropriate to the holidays.
Boogie Woogie Santa Claus R&B singer Mabel Scott recorded this little number in 1948, and it's been making its way onto stylish Christmas compilations ever since. The song was written by Leon René, who also penned “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” and “Rockin' Robin”.
Building a Case for the Detective Story

Over the many years since the receipt of my Bachelor's degree in English from the University of Michigan, I have probably spent more rewarding hours reading detective stories than any other form of fiction. Such reliance on a particular genre is often viewed as a marked deficiency in taste and erudition, so I'd like to take a few minutes to defend my predilection.

Let me start with an observation from Raymond Chandler, one of the recognized masters of the form.

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

Phil Spector released his magnum opus in the 1963 holiday season. Titled A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, it's hard to overstate the extent of Spector's ambition and accomplishment on this album.

Christmas Bells On Christmas day in 1863 American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “Christmas Bells.” Longfellow's words from this poem have been set to music by a number of different composers and performers, starting as early as 1872. There are a number of contemporary recordings based on this poem, but the one with which I am particularly taken is a rather obscure track by John Gorka. The music here is Gorka's, and doesn't seem to share anything with other musical renditions of the poem. Gorka dropped three of the stanzas, including those most directly referencing the Civil War, leaving him with four verses for his song.
Christmas Favorites from The Practical Utopian

The Christmas season is one of my favorite times of year, and I've acquired a huge collection of holiday music over the years, so I thought I would share my thoughts about a few of my favorites with all of you. So here are 20 of my favorite holiday tracks. I've tried to select as wide a variety of songs as possible, mixing different artists and styles.

Christmas Must Be Tonight

I've always loved this Christmas song from The Band.

There's nothing terribly fancy or ambitious about it. Robbie Robertson just recounts the story of Christmas, of the birth of Jesus, in a series of familiar scenes, using simple and straightforward language.

Come down to the manger, see the little stranger,
Wrapped in swaddling clothes, the prince of peace.
Wheels start turning, torches start burning,
And the old wise men journey from the East.

Christmas Night in Harlem

As long as we're enjoying a “Holiday in Harlem” with Ella, we may as well stick around a little longer for a “Christmas Night in Harlem” with Louis Armstrong.

Every gal struttin' with her beau
Through the streets covered white with snow,
Happy smiles everywhere you go:
It's Christmas night in Harlem.

Christmas Song by Dave Matthews Like Robbie Robertson and The Band, Dave Matthews seeks here to craft a retelling of the story of Jesus that might cause us to look at this old tale from a fresh perspective, and consider anew its core meaning. This retelling is a bit more ambitious than Robertson's. Like Jackson Browne, Matthews is not an avowed Christian, and yet he finds deep meaning in this story.
Christmas Time Back Home - Song by The Country Gentlemen It seems to me that the eternal promise of Christmas is to restore for us a certain unbroken wholeness. This wholeness can take on many appearances, but this song certainly nails one of them for me: a feeling of returning to a family home, isolated from our usual cares, but still connected to something larger than ourselves.
Christmas Time's A-Coming

This is a bluegrass song written by Bell Labs engineer and bluegrass fiddler Benjamin “Tex” Logan, and first recorded by Bill Monroe in 1951.

This song has a similar theme to “Christmas Time Back Home”, but has a very different feel to it. Whereas “Christmas Time Back Home” is full of yearning, this song always seems to me to be full of sheer joy.

Father Christmas - Song by The Kinks Much like Jackson Browne's “The Rebel Jesus,” this Christmas song from The Kinks is also focused on the needs of the poor. And although the children in this tale seem to come more from the Oliver Twist/Artful Dodger tradition than from “The Christmas Carol,” Dickens would still recognize their predicament and their motivations.
Fruitcakes I've always considered “Fruitcakes” to be Jimmy Buffet's masterwork. The musical backing is infectious, swaying and danceable, and the background vocals add depth. The words are cleverly crafted, and perfectly suited to Buffett's conversational, wisecracking delivery.

The history of Leonard Cohen's song “Hallelujah” is a fascinating one. Cohen's songs had never really been embraced by the masses, and his first recording of “Hallelujah” in the early eighties was part of an album so lacking in obvious commercial appeal that the president of CBS Records responded to it by saying: “What is this? This isn't pop music. We're not releasing it. This is a disaster.”

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas This is a favorite yuletide tune that has been recorded by almost everyone at least once. Note that the lyrics have varied quite a bit since the song's original composition. Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, the song was introduced in the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis, as performed by Judy Garland.
Holiday in Harlem

Christmas may be a time for returning home to see family and friends, but not all of us pine for snow-covered hills in the country.

In this song, written by Chick Webb, and sung by Ella Fitzgerald, the singer reveals to us the joys of spending the Christmas season in Harlem, circa 1937.

Merry Christmas Baby This song was originally recorded in 1947 by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers, featuring Charles Brown on piano and vocals. The original recording was a hit on the Rhythm and Blues charts, and the song has been recorded by many blues and R&B artists down through the years. The lyrics recount the happy tale of a man feeling appreciative of his wife/girlfriend on Christmas morning, after opening his many presents.
My Favorite Things Some might protest that “My Favorite Things” is not, strictly speaking, a Christmas song. After all, there is no mention of Christmas, and that “holiday” word appears nowhere in the lyrics. However, those points notwithstanding, it has been included on many a Christmas album, and it's easy to see why: with references to packages, sleigh bells, snowflakes and winters – as well as the overall theme of “my favorite things” – it's easy to sneak it into any holiday playlist.
Paul Thorn and his 800 Pound Jesus I'd been aware of Paul Thorn for some time, but didn't really become a fan until I saw him live last summer at The Ark in Ann Arbor. I've been listening to Thorn's recordings regularly since then, and can now bear witness to a great catalog that stands up to deep and repeated listening.