My Go-To Tunes: Remembering George

As a teenager, I loved the pop group Wham! Their posters served as wallpaper in my bedroom. Their songs were the soundtrack to my life. I had to buy another copy of the Make it Big cassette, even though I had the record, because the first tape broke. And when CDs came on the market, I bought it on CD too. My best friend Stephanie had the VCR tape of Wham! in China. We watched it so often I can still quote sections of it verbatim. We knew all the dances from the music videos, and performed them in our living rooms when the songs came on the radio. I performed George Michael’s parts and sang while Stephanie took over Andrew Ridgeley’s moves.

When Wham! broke up, Stephanie and I cried. We were 13 and brokenhearted. It was the end of the world as we knew it. George and Andy were moving on to other ventures. We were devastated. Our moms shook their heads. My dad muttered something like, “Boy crazy girls,” while making a face showing his lack of understanding. Clearly this was the worst thing that could happen in a young girl’s life!

Thirty years later, Stephanie and I were devastated once again when we learned of George Michael’s death on Christmas 2016. We sat on the phone that night in stunned disbelief while listening to “Last Christmas” on repeat and reminiscing about our teenage antics.

This past Christmas, Stephanie and I went to the movies together for the first time in more than twenty years. It took George to get us back there. We went to see Last Christmas, the film inspired by George’s song of the same name. That’s right – the woman who mostly shuns romantic comedies willingly sat through an hour and a half of saccharine schmaltz with her best friend because of George Micheal and Wham! It’s far from the most illogical thing I’ve ever done because of a boy. And the popcorn was AMAZING!

Since watching the movie, I’ve been listening to George’s music while driving. I’ve rediscovered songs I always loved but haven’t heard recently. This morning the song “Praying for Time” came on as I took the exit for my job. I sat listening, really listening, to the lyrics and realized this song is just as timely now as it was when it was first released on Listen Without Prejudice in 1990. If you haven’t listened to it recently, and even if you have, give it another listen. I was particularly struck by the bridge, which seems appropriate in today’s political climate.

And it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much, much too late
Well, maybe we should all be praying for time

Praying for Time

Lyrics and Music by George Michael

These are the days of the open hand
They will not be the last
Look around now
These are the days of the beggars and the choosers
This is the year of the hungry man
Whose place is in the past
Hand in hand with ignorance
And legitimate excuses
The rich declare themselves poor
And most of us are not sure
If we have too much
But we’ll take our chances
‘Cause God’s stopped keeping score
I guess somewhere along the way
He must have let us all out to play
Turned his back and all God’s children
Crept out the back door
And it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much, much too late
Well, maybe we should all be praying for time
These are the days of the empty hand
Oh, you hold on to what you can
And charity is a coat you wear twice a year
This is the year of the guilty man
Your television takes a stand
And you find that what was over there is over here
So you scream from behind your door
Say, “What’s mine is mine and not yours”
I may have too much but I’ll take my chances
‘Cause God’s stopped keeping score
And you cling to the things they sold you
Did you cover your eyes when they told you
That he can’t come back
‘Cause he has no children to come back for
It’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time
A live version, recorded at the Royal Albert Hall, London on the Symphonica Tour, is also worth watching in my opinion.

My Go-To Tunes – Christmas Volume 3

I started this post last year a few days before my father died. It was originally scheduled to post the day after his death. That obviously didn’t happen! I forgot I had it hidden in my drafts until I started searching for something else. Since it was already mostly done, I decided to check the links and share it with all of you. In case you missed volumes 1 and 2 of My Go-To-Tunes Christmas edition, you can find them by clicking on the following links:

My Go-To Tunes – Christmas Volume 1

My Go-To Tunes – Christmas Volume 2

Once again, I share these tunes in no particular order. For “classic” songs not performed by the songwriter, I have indicated the artist.

Carol of the Bells – George Winston

This Ukrainian carol, composed by Mykola Leontovych with lyrics by Peter J. Wilhousky, is based on a Ukrainian folk chant. It has been recorded by artists in every genre – jazz, rock, a capella. I have always loved George Winston’s album December and this version makes me think of trying to play my own version on the piano. I sounded NOTHING like this!

Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney

This is another one of those songs which is on my annual list because of the video. When I was a teenager, watching music videos with my best friend Stephanie, this song would get regular play in the month of December. I am sure our parents did not appreciate our singing the chorus at 1 AM in the living room, but it was such a singable tune!

Angels We Have Heard On High – the Gardiner Sisters

There are so many versions of this melodic song. I chose this one because one of my favorite Christmas traditions as a child was singing carols with my sisters. We would harmonize at church, in the car on the drive to Noni’s house, or at home around the piano.

This carol is based on a French tune and is inspired by the Gospel of Luke, when angels come to announce the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. This carol is also the reason many high school choir singers learn  to pronounce “in Excelsis Deo.”

Sleigh Ride – Boston Pops

If you’re going to listen to this song, you have to listen to it played by the Boston Pops! After all, it was written just for them by Leroy Anderson. Granted, it was written in the middle of a heatwave in August, 1946. However, the orchestration perfectly creates the illusion of a carriage being pulled through snow. And it has some really fun percussion parts, plus that trumpet glissando whinny at the end! I couldn’t find a video of Arthur Fiedler conducting the Pops, but John Williams isn’t a bad substitute.

Believe – Josh Groban

I was so excited when Josh released his Christmas album, Noel, because I have always said he has a voice made for holiday songs. This Grammy-winning song (Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media, 2006) was written by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri and appeared in the film The Polar Express. I love the message of finding lost magic on Christmas day. How would Christmas be different if we all believed in magic, even just for one day?

Santa Clause is Coming to Town – Fred Astaire

I loved this movie as a child. It had everything in it – Santa Clause, a love story, an evil villain (the Burgermeister), good music and a penguin! Remember Topper the penguin?

Who am I kidding? I still love this movie. I watch it every year. If you haven’t watched it yet, I encourage you to do so. After you finish reading this post.

The best part of the movie is this last bit at the end. When the postman, Special Delivery or S.D. Kluger, voiced by Fred Astaire, explains Santa’s true meaning, it makes me feel hopeful. Santa takes some of our unhappiness away, and “if we all learned to give of ourselves, our talents, our hearts, maybe there really would be peace on earth.”

I’ll be Home for Christmas – Bing Crosby

Bing recorded this song, which was written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent, in 1943. The song is written from the perspective of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II. Until I was away from home as an exchange student in Australia for the Christmas of 1990, I never appreciated the melancholy of the song. That year my father sent me a Christmas card – one of only two cards he would ever mail me in his life. His message, though brief, has stayed with me for many years.

“Although we may not be together for this holiday, we will always be in each others hearts and dreams.”

George and Andrew – The Boy Least Likely

I found this song last year. If you have read my prior Christmas music posts, you know I loved Wham! My teenage bedroom was plastered with posters of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley. So, when I found this video from 2010 I laughed and laughed. If you have never seen a Wham! music video, you may not appreciate how clever this is. Go to YouTube and watch “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” or “Last Christmas” to get the full effect.

Just a few weeks after my discovery of this pop gem, George Michael died on Christmas day. George’s music is a huge part of the soundtrack of my life, especially every Christmas when Wham! makes a return to the radio. I like having a fun reason to smile about George this Christmas.

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas – Gayle Peevey

Gayle Peevey recorded this song in 1953 when she was 10. I don’t know if there are any recordings of me when I was 10, but I guarantee if there are, nobody will be singing along to them 70 years later! Each year when I hear this song for the first time, I laugh remembering the time my niece and I acted it out using Strawberry Shortcake figurines. She probably doesn’t even remember it, but I clearly remember her using my stuffed puppy dog as the hippo. It’s just one of those songs that makes me happy. And some years, I need all the happy I can get.

The 12 Days of Christmas – Straight No Chaser

I know, you’ve read this entire list and you’ve been wondering when I’ll get around to including Straight No Chaser. Wait no more – here you go. We’ve already established I love a cappella groups. If the group includes many handsome men who also happen to be great singers? Bonus!

I’ve been a fan of SNC since this video clip originally went viral back in 2008. I’m one of those fans who goes to their concerts and waits in line for photos and autographs. There are at least 15 SNC videos on my phone, but for this post I selected the original video from 1998 – the one that started it all.

Merry Christmas one and all. May your holiday be filled with joy and peace.

My Go-To Tunes Christmas Edition

I live my life with music. I particularly love Christmas and holiday music. I know some who don’t wait until December to listen to Christmas carols (yes Susan, I’m talking about you), but Thanksgiving has to be over before I start listening.

Christmas music evokes memories, causes laughter and tears, and makes me want to bake cookies. This time of year, there is an abundance of amazing music – and some awful crap we thankfully only have to endure for about a month until next year when it returns. As one of my gifts to you this holiday season, I share (in no particular order) my go-to tunes, Christmas edition. I have done my best to search YouTube for videos so you can hear the songs too if you wish. For “classic” songs not performed by the songwriter, I have indicated the artist.

Star of Wonder – The Roches

I first heard this song when the assistant director of Campus Ministry at college suggested my friends and I should sing it at our annual festival of carols. I sang the bottom part, which is still the part I sing whenever I hear it. Ten years ago my sister Sandy and I went to see The Roches and this song was one of the highlights of the show. “I am just a lowly shepherd…why do you appear to me?” We are all lowly individuals, who seek purpose. What is it we are meant to do? Why would the Divine bother to appear to us? Yet, every day we are able to witness Divine beauty if we open our eyes to the world around us. It’s visible in the sunrise, a flower’s symmetry, a perfect snowflake, a twinkling star. I hope I never lose that wonder.

You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch – Dr. Seuss & Albert Hague, performed by Thurl Ravenscroft

How can you go wrong with Dr. Seuss?! I love this book, this film, and this message. “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” It’s easy to get caught up in the consumerism, the materialism, the rush and stress of needing to “do it all.” Take a moment to remember there is more to this season. And laugh a little.

O Holy Night – performed by Kings College Choir

Did you know this song was written by a French composer based on a poem by a wine merchant? You don’t need to be a Christian to appreciate the harmonic structure of this gem. I think this is one of those carols best performed by a choir, probably because the version I grew up listening to was recorded by a male choir. My mother once told me this is one of her favorite carols, so I think of her when I hear it.

Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth – performed by David Bowie & Bing Crosby

Everyone, no matter how small or how poor, has something to offer someone else. The Little Drummer Boy had nothing of value to offer, but he did have his drum. He did not walk away, he did the one thing he could – he played his drum. “I played my best for him…Then he smiled at me…Me and my drum.” Often we feel we have nothing to give, but each of us has a unique ability we can offer to someone else. This song reminds me there is always something I can do, and it doesn’t have to be big or fancy. It just has to be genuine, from the heart, and given without expectation of anything in return.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – performed by Judy Garland

This song, written by Ralph Blane with lyrics by Hugh Martin, was not always one of joyful anticipation. The original lyrics were more fatalistic. “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, It may be your last.” Judy Garland asked Martin to change them for the musical “Meet Me In St. Louis.” Others have further changed the lyrics over the years, but I like Judy’s version best. If you have never seen this movie, what is wrong with you? It is on my list of best movie musicals ever made, and has some wonderful songs, including “The Trolley Song” (which won an Academy Award), “The Boy Next Door,” and of course the title song. Go watch it. As soon as you finish reading this post.

Mary, Did You Know? – performed by Pentatonix

Written by Buddy Greene with lyrics by Mark Lowry, this song is receiving a great deal of exposure this year courtesy of an amazing version by Pentatonix. Those of us who have performed in a cappella groups (and hopefully those of you who haven’t) can appreciate the challenge of making it look easy. Trust me, it’s not. I like this song because it looks at Mary, and I feel her story is worth some attention. I am not, and will never be, a mother. I can only imagine what it is like to have hopes and dreams for your infant, wondering what the future will bring for this bundle who is still dependent on you for everything. Even if you don’t believe the biblical story of Christ and his birth, perhaps you can relate to Mary as a woman and a mother, holding her newborn baby not knowing all of the events to come. Maybe she did know this baby would change the course of history. Or maybe she just knew he was a precious gift sleeping in her arms who would need to be fed and changed soon. Either way, Mary had to raise her son and let him face his own destiny like every mother. I appreciate the strength required for this.

Still, Still, Still – performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra

I go back and forth between this song and “Silent Night” as the perfect lullaby carol. This one is Austrian, the other is German. Both have lovely harmonic structure. In the end I picked this one because I live in a part of the world where Christmas is celebrated in winter, and the image of falling snow makes me think of home. I chose this video not for religious reasons, but because my friend Becca is a violinist with the orchestra and I saw her face in the clip as I was searching YouTube. If you ever find yourself in Salt Lake City, and have the chance to go listen to the choir and orchestra, please go. It is one of my favorite memories of an amazing trip to Utah nine years ago.

Last Christmas – Wham!

This song is all about the video and my best friend Stephanie. We LOVED Wham! That’s right – all die hard fans know the band name had an exclamation point. Our bedroom walls were covered with posters. We had calendars, books, and pins. Stephanie had the VCR tapes – both Wham! The Video and Wham! Foreign Skies (about their tour in China). We watched those tapes almost every weekend, memorizing the dance steps and acting out the videos in our living rooms. “Last Christmas” takes me back to being 12, laughing with my best friend, without any cares beyond what we would wear to the dance on Friday night. Each year, it’s a race between us as to who will hear this song on the radio first and call the other one. Both of us own the song in multiple formats. It doesn’t matter. Wham! on the radio is what matters. And we both agree this song is best in the original format, and should never, EVER, be recorded again by anyone else.

Some Children See Him – performed by James Taylor

Written by Alfred Burt with lyrics by Whila Hutson, this gem has been recorded by many but I love this version, arranged by Dave Grusin. You may not think you know of Alfred Burt. I learned about him in high school when our choir sang some of the Alfred Burt Carols for our Christmas concert. The Nat King Cole recording of “Caroling, Caroling?” That’s an Alfred Burt song. But I like this one because it reminds us we all see the Divine in our image. Black, white, bronzed and brown, almond eyed – all are loved and all are precious. After all, …tis love that’s born tonight!

December – Kenny Loggins

Five years ago, I may have selected “Celebrate Me Home” as my favorite Kenny Loggins holiday song but then I found this one. For many, the holidays are a mixture of heartache and happiness and this song expresses both. In 2011, my family spent the Christmas holiday at my sister Mary Jane’s bedside in a local Hospice. I drove home every night sobbing to this song. “Only in December, are hearts so full, or feel more alone.” Mary Jane loved Christmas, and now when I sing the final words I sing them as a promise to her. “I still believe in magic. I still believe in miracles. I still believe in Christmas. I still believe in love.”

How about you? I know I’ve left plenty off my list. Add your favorites below!