Today marks the 124nd anniversary of the birth of the great Irving Berlin. One of history’s great tunesmiths, Berlin wrote more than hundreds of songs, 19 musicals and the scores of 18 movies over the course of his lengthy career.
But our greatest pleasure is giving exposure to lesser known artists—bands, singers, and instrumentalists with whom only the true buff is familiar.
Among those less known here in the United States, except among the cognoscenti, are such British band leaders as Ray Noble, Jack Payne, Henry Hall, and Carroll Gibbons, who was American but gained his fame in England. Each of these artists can be heard here on Cladrite Radio, and those interested in learning more about them now can turn to the BBC’s Radio 2.
Air personality Brian Matthew hosts a program called “The Bands The Mattered,” which each week explores the life and career of a pair of orchestra leaders. Payne and Hall were featured in Week 1, but, unfortunately, the BBC only streams each show for a week. But you’ve still got a few days to access the archive of this week’s show, which focuses on Noble and Gibbons.
We only just learned about this program, and we’re not at all happy to have missed the first episode of this season (not to mention all of the episodes of a previous season, too), but we’ll be listening going forward, and we thought you might want to, as well.
From its familiar opening lyrics—Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose, yuletide carols being sung by a choir, and folks dressed up like Eskimos—The Christmas Song celebrates an idyllic holiday season, but let’s face it, for many, the holidays carry with them a tinge of melancholy—especially in difficult times like these—and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas openly acknowledges the bluer side of the yuletide.
In the lyrics as we know them, that melancholy is leavened by a certain “keep-your-chin-up sticktuitiveness,” but it wasn’t always so.
The first set of lyrics Martin delivered, which I found in this very informative 2007 Entertainment Weekly story by Chris Willman, were downright maudlin, intended to fit the mood of Garland’s character, who, at the point in the picture at which she sings the song, is upset that her father is moving the family from her beloved St. Louis to New York City.
The story has it that director Minnelli and Garland urged Martin to come up with something just a bit less gloomy, and he agreed, soon delivering a second set of lyrics, the ones Garland sings to young sister Margaret O’Brien in the movie.
Then, in 1957, Frank Sinatra, who was recording a Christmas album called A Jolly Christmas, asked Martin to kick the the Christmas cheer up yet another notch. He specifically asked the composer to revisit the line in the final verse about “muddling through,” and that’s how we came to have the line about hanging a shining star upon the highest bough in yet a third set of lyrics to the song.
Most folks are familiar with versions two and three—Linda Ronstadt melds the two sets of lyrics in her recording of the song—if not with the original gloomy lyrics.
But did you know Martin wrote a fourth set of lyrics? In 2001, the composer, then 86 years old, wrote an overtly religious set of lyrics to the song, entitled Have Yourself a Blessed Little Christmas.
Listen: Judy Garland—Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Listen: Frank Sinatra—Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
We love autumn more than any other season, and it’s not even close. We love it so much that we wrote an essay about it a while back that we hope you’ll find amusing (you may even have heard us present it on NPR’s All Things Considered some years ago):
See You in September
Another Labor Day has come and gone, and once again, I spent the last week of summer gritting my teeth as op-ed columnists and on-air commentators bemoan the passing of another summer. At times like this I feel like a Unitarian enduring a fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist sermon: Though I may concur with certain of the preacher’s points, I can’t help but feel that he’s overstating his case.
For, unless you’re at the beach or poolside—and let’s face it, at any given time, what percentage of us are?—summer is surely the most overrated annual event this side of New Year’s Eve. The joys of the season are largely mythical. For many the word “summer” conjures images of sun, sand, and surf, of long, lazy days spent idling in a hammock, of cookouts, pool parties, and miniature golf. All of which admittedly sounds delightful, but whose docket is so clear? Unless you’re under the age of 16 or make your living as a teacher, your boss, like mine, probably expects you at the office 8 hours a day, five days a week—even in June, July, and August—and would consider “But—it’s summer!” an unacceptable explanation of a prolonged absence.
No, that vision of summer is largely a pipe dream but I’m happy to remind you of some of the season’s attributes that are not: searingly hot vinyl carseats, clothes that stick to one’s damp skin, and yard work. This last is reason enough to resent the onset of summer, and is perhaps the primary motivation for my immigration, all those years ago, from the suburbs of Oklahoma City to the island of Manhattan. Not that this concrete jungle is any kind of summer paradise: It’s hot, hazy, and humid. But at least it doesn’t need mowing.
But in autumn! Ah, autumn is a grand time in Gotham: The city is imbued with the sort of glow usually seen only in the work of a master cinematographer. The haze dissipates, there’s a nip in the air, and the island’s energy, once sapped by the summer heat, returns with a flourish, like a leggy supermodel just back from the Hamptons.
It’s been suggested to me on more than one occasion—and by members of more than one gender—that summer’s tribulations are worth enduring if only for the expanses of skin that are bared for our pleasure: Even this, I submit, is a mixed blessing, at best. Let’s face it, it’s a relatively rare human being who possesses a midriff or a set of gams worthy of display. Most of us look far better in a sweater and slacks than we ever would in a cut-off T-shirt and bikini briefs. The good Lord has blessed us each with a perfectly good imagination: Pray let us give each other occasion to exercise it.
Perhaps the biggest trial summer presents us is olfactory in nature. Yes, there are pleasant smells associated with the season: the sweet scent of a perfectly ripe peach, the alluring aroma of steaks on the grill, the wafting delights of honeysuckle in the air. But summer is decidedly unkind to many of nature’s creatures. Late some August afternoon, stand close and take a good of whiff of your dog, your eight-year-old, or your next-door neighbor. Chances are, all three are in dire need of a good scrubbing and none is likely to undertake it on his own.
So decry the passing of summer if you must, but be aware that the sentiment is not unversal, that there are others like me whose hearts are set aloft by the delights of autumn—by shopping for new school clothes, sampling the season’s first pumpkin pie, or indulging in a long stroll on a chill night with just a hint of woodsmoke in the air. And we fall-o-philes will no longer remain silent. We will loudly celebrate our seasonal preferences with energy, enthusiasm, and pride—autumnal pride!
We know it’s not quite autumn yet—not according to the calendar, anyway—but just as Labor Day is by viewed by so many summer lovers as the unofficial end of their favorite season, for us fall-o-philes, it’s the unofficial beginning of autumn. So we’re celebrating by adding a slew of autumn-themed tunes to the Cladrite Radio playlist. Keep listening—you’ll notice them over the coming days and weeks.
And just to whet your appetite, we’ve included two of our favorites below, along with some delightful lyrics that capture our mood.