I never know when the idea for a Hartbeat will drop onto my plate. For this Hartbeat, it dropped into a steaming bowl of pho.
On the day after the storm that dumped cement trucks full of snow on our heads, I was on the way to a news conference that would provide an update on the snow emergency in
St. Paul. Having left my lunch in the garage of Hartbeat World Headquarters (now serving as an auxiliary freezer), I stopped at one of the many excellent Asian restaurants on University Avenue in St. Paul. A sub-zero day called for a bowl of hot pho that would give me the foundation to cover a news event held in a public works garage as well as provide reserve energy to operate a camera for the Toys for Tots segment of early newscasts.
As I finished my egg roll and added a spoonful of chili garlic to my massive bowl of pho, I realized that an instrumental version of "We Three Kings" was playing in the restaurant. This mix of Vietnamese food and a traditional Christmas song gave me the idea to share some musical holiday nuggets with you.
It's Christmas time pretty baby and snow is on the ground
At Hartbeat World Headquarters we have a historic Pioneer CD changer loaded with over one hundred holiday CDs. Many genres of music are housed within the plastic walls of this CD player--country, gospel, rap, soul, rhythm and blues, classical, world music, folk, jazz, swing, rock, and even some that don't quite fit into a particular bin.
I enjoy the classic Christmas music. However, I can only hear "Sleigh Ride" and "Winter Wonderland" so many times. A good, original Christmas song goes a long way with the Hartbeat staff, so here are some favorite albums.
One can't go wrong with the 1957 Elvis Christmas Album. This recording has been reissued in different formats which seem to be getting better with additional songs. The King loved Christmas and you can tell he connected with each song during the sessions at Radio Recorders studio in Hollywood. This album has been repackaged several times and it keeps getting better. The traditional songs, "White Christmas" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" are great, but the real sparkling gems in the snow are "Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me" and "Santa Claus is Back in Town." This recording is a good start for any holiday music collection.
Bells will be ringing the glad, glad news
Los Angeles Bureau Chief, Lloyd McCloud, and I have been exchanging Christmas music favorites via facebook. One collection we agree is a must-have to represent rhythm and blues is Charles Brown's "Cool Christmas Blues." Not to be confused with "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (that has some good songs too), this album by the Texas born, blues singer/pianist contains his big hit, "Please Come Home for Christmas" and "Merry Christmas Baby" as well as nine other songs that make this a definitive blues/jazz/rhythm and blues holiday recording.
Lloyd McCloud, from his sunny California Hartbeat Bureau, recommends Aretha Franklin - "This Christmas," Ledisi - "It's Christmas," Will Dowing - "Christmas Love and You," Dianne Reeves - "Christmas Time is Here" and Luther Vandross - "This is Christmas." When Lloyd mentioned Luther Vandross, I have to get my evergreen branch in the water for Teddy Pendergrass's "This Christmas (I'd Rather Have Love)." The 1998 release has mostly traditional Christmas songs, but the title song is really good. With Teddy P. singing, "We Three Kings," it takes on new life.
Till Santa's gone, I just can't wait
Country artists all turn out a Christmas album or two during their careers, but there are a couple of standouts that get a lot of spins in the Hartbeat jingle bell juke box.
The majority of George Strait's 1986 release, "Merry Christmas Strait to You" consists of good versions of old favorites but the his non-traditional tunes are worth the price of this CD. "When It's Christmas Time in Texas, Merry Christmas Strait to You" and "For Christ's Sake It's Christmas" utilize elements of western swing and traditional country music themes. The most memorable song that keeps you listening to this collection is "There's a New Kid in Town."
Clint Black took a big risk in releasing a Christmas album in 1995 that contained ten songs that he either wrote or co-wrote. A Hartbeat family favorite is "Til Santa's Gone (Milk and Cookies)."
All I want for Christmas is a rock and roll electric guitar
The 1990 recording, "A Very Special Christmas," is a critical cornerstone in building a rock Christmas catalog. My favorite cut is "Christmas in Hollis" by Run D.M.C. How can you not like the lyric: "My name's D.M.C. with the mic in my hand and I'm chillin and coolin just like a snowman." All of the "Very Special Christmas" albums have high points, but the first one is my favorite.
The Musical Notes
"There's A New Kid in Town" was written by Don Cook, Curley Putnam and Keith Whitley. Curley Putman wrote many hit songs including: "Green Green Grass of Home", "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and "My Elusive Dreams." He also teamed up with Bobby Braddock to pen is what may consider the greatest country song of all time, "He Stopped Loving Her Today." The greatest song in country music can be a subject of great debate. Really the greatest song in any genre can spark long conversations with plenty of supporting evidence. For country, I break with many in the herd and cast my vote for "A Good Year for the Roses," sung by George Jones and written by Jerry Chesnut.
"Please Come Home for Christmas" was released as a single by Charles Brown in 1960. After nine seasons on the Christmas singles charts it hit number one in 1972. The Eagles did their own version of the song in 1978.
"Santa Claus is Back in Town" was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. They also wrote "Hound Dog" for Big Mama Thornton, which Elvis turned into a huge hit.
Hayden Nichols co-wrote "Better Man" and "Killing Time" with Clint Black. Shake Russell co-wrote, "Put Yourself in My Shoes" and "One More Payment" with Black. Russell and Nichols both teamed up with Clint Black to write, "Til' Santa's Gone (Milk and Cookies)."
"Run Run Rudolph" by Chuck Berry sounds a lot like "Little Queenie." Any fan of Chuck Berry knows that when a riff works for him, it keeps showing up in other songs. Bryan Adams does a good version of "Run Run Rudolph" on A Very Special Christmas.
What's Cooking on the Hartbeat Grill?
Hartbeat co-curator Vivian Hart, just purchased "If On a Winter's Night" by Sting. We will have to conduct extensive evaluations of this offering, but meanwhile, here is a list of some seasonal cds that will add spice to any Christmas playlist:
"Go Tell it On the Mountain:" The Blind Boys of Alabama
"A John Prine Christmas:" John Prine
"Have Yourself a Tractors Christmas:" The Tractors
"Ki ho'alu Christmas:" various Hawaiian slak key guitar artists
"The Jethro Tull Christmas Album:" Jethro Tull
"Johnny Cash Personal Christmas Collection:" Johnny Cash
"The Alligator Records Christmas Collection:" various blues artists
"Blue Yule:" various blues artists
"Low Christmas:" Low
"Christmas From the Heart:" Robert Robinson and Henry Wiens
"The Oak Ridge Boys Christmas:" The Oak Ridge Boys
"Motown Christmas:" Motown artists
"When My Heart Finds Christmas:" Harry Conick Jr.
If you want some more ideas for Christmas music, click here to check out the blog by my colleague Tim McNiff.
The Hartbeat goes on...
(Copyright 2010 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)