An Annotated Holiday Collection of People Defending “Same Old Lang Syne” From a Certain Internet Hack Who Thinks It Sucks
I have talked smack about Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” at four different websites over the years—not just here but at the original incarnation of this blog at Blogspot, for WNEW.com, and at Popdose. And at each stop along the way, Fogelfans have risen up to defend their man and his song. Here’s some of what they said:
Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how its done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves. —Brendan Behan (1923 – 1964)
I am impressed by your erudition, but if you’re so smart, how come you like this song?
Wow, where does one begin with such a statement? People don’t talk [in real life like they do in "Same Old Lang Syne"]? Of course not! Thats what sets music and songs apart from everyday conversation!
Music and songs: sometimes worse than regular people talking.
Hopefully your website matures musically beyond this person’s limited ear.
Hasn’t happened yet.
Try to appreciate things.
Mom, is that you?
As an English teacher, I had the frustrating task of teaching a play written by Shakespeare to highschool Freshman. . . . When they asked the inevitable question, “Why do we have to read this crap written by a dude who died 400 years ago?”‘ I would respond with the absolute fact: “He is the greatest writer in the English language.” . . . Reading all the Dan bashing reminds me of those students. . . . There is no possible way to force a love of Shakespeare on those who “just don’t get it”. There is no possible way to convince anyone who believes Dan is “wimpy” or writes “slush”. Wimpy voice? Have you listened to “Road Beneath My Wheels”? He can write and sing the Blues with the best blues artists. His voice is gravily and hard. Do you know that on an album he would play piano, electric guitar, does his own backup vocals, pipe organ, slide guitar, works the synthesizer, and harpsachord and much more. Your total lack of understanding the genious of Dan Fogelberg is in the same realm as 15 year olds’ ruiminating over “The Planet of Crap” Shakespeare dwells in. One last thought, I wouldn’t have taken the time to write this if it hadn’t pissed me off to the extent it did. Dan is not a Shakespeare. But you hate him because you fail to understand his genious.
Perhaps I can’t. But one thing I have going for me is that I can spell and punctuate better than a guy who teaches English.
i sooo totally agree, they must be krazy! this is one of the best ever, perfect for this time of yr and always look forward to hearing this. many can relate. bittersweet for sure (: too critical!
I’m a jerk with a blog. I can never be TOO critical.
Sorry, Mr. Bartlett, but you sound very dry and archaic. I suggest you take a crash course in Literature to smoothen your rough edges. This is not a police report on an incident. It is poetry at its best, with the finesse of a great musician adding even more grace to it. The use of linguistic tools like the metaphor and hyperbole is what distinguishes poetry from a clinical report, just as the creative inclusion of musical sub-themes and innuendo distinguishes the great musician from the amateur. I strongly suggest that you get yourself better informed on a subject before you post such preposterous junk online.
I am pretty sure many of those words don’t mean what you think they mean. All except “preposterous junk.”
Dan Fogelberg will be remembered for his eloquence. J.A. Bartlett, if remembered at all, will be known for his emptiness.
And his ability to hit the post on the radio. But apart from that, yeah, mostly just the emptiness.
This song is a very beautiful song on so many levels, and to call it the worst song is a travesty! Maybe your taste in different genres of music needs to be enlarged!
Not really. Adult-contemporary horseshit is one of my specialty genres.
Bartlett clearly suffers froms severe depression, and he probably doesn’t even know it.
Believe me, I know it. But I’m too depressed to care.
Hey Mr Bartlett, did something really bad happened to you while that song was playing? Can you to us what you consider as the best song ever written? With that we gauge your musical taste and of course depth.
It’s either “Sugar Sugar” or “Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth Cuz I’m Kissing You Goodbye.” How do you like me now?
I agree with the others. The Dan Fogelberg song Same Old Lang Syne is a classic song of wonderment. This song was masterfuly written by a talent unmatched by none.
OK, I give up. The talent it took to write “Same Old Lang Syne” really is unmatched by none.
Merry Christmas, Fogelfans. Now go away.
Nielsen is out with its annual report on the popularity of Christmas music on the radio. The station in your town that’s rotating the same 200 warhorses for another year is doing it by popular demand in its purest form. Many stations see audience numbers go through the roof every December. Your mileage may vary, though. I know a few people who detest Christmas music. As for me, I enjoy it, and at least once each December (and it’s been only once the last several years), I put my holiday library on shuffle and write about the first 10 songs that pop up. And here we go.
“Christmas in Jail”/The Youngsters. In 1956, the National Safety Council actually commended the Empire label for releasing this, an obscure Los Angeles vocal group’s B-side about the consequences of drinking and driving. I added “Christmas in Jail” to my library last year thanks to Any Major Dude With Half a Heart, which has posted many fine Christmas mixes over the years. The links are live right now, so go get ‘em.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem”/Aaron Neville. It’s been 20 years now since the release of Aaron Neville’s Soulful Christmas, which has been in the hot rotation at our house every year since. Neville’s “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is not one of the standout tracks on the album, but it’s pleasant.
“Silent Night”/Charlie Musselwhite. On which the great bluesman does it on the harp, and it’s one of the best versions here is.
“The Christmas Song”/Bobby Timmons. From the pianist’s 1964 album Holiday Soul, Timmons plays it straight for a while, then flies off into improvisation around the familiar chord changes, which is a great way to keep warhorses sounding fresh. Tip of the porkpie hat to bassist Butch Warren, proving how hard a guy can swing playing one note at a time.
“The Big Night”/The Tractors. A rockin’ good record from 2002 that ought to be more popular than it is. You want trivia, you got it: According to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), the Tractors liked to record in one take with one microphone.
“Christmas Time is Here”/Chicago. The production on Chicago XXV: The Christmas Album sounds 10 or 15 years out of date for a record released in 1998—what’s with all those drum machines?—and the lead vocalists, Bill Champlin, Jason Scheff, and/or Keith Howland, are simply trying too hard to be merry and bright. The album is better when it pops up a track at a time in shuffle mode—or if you go straight to “Christmas Time is Here,” from A Charlie Brown Christmas, which is largely spared the album’s worst tendencies.
“Greensleeves”/James Taylor. This is a from a bootleg of various live recordings Taylor made between 1969 and 1971, including appearances on The Mike Douglas Show, The Johnny Cash Show, and his own 1970 BBC special. Just as it is when you see him today, Taylor’s audience banter is quite charming on the BBC cuts; he refers to “Greensleeves” as a “little thing I wrote myself.” This is one boot you really ought to have. It’s fabulous. So go here while you still can.
“Ring Out Solstice Bells”/Jethro Tull. Ian Anderson’s music has always been steeped in the folk music of Olde England, and The Jethro Tull Christmas Album is, too. “Ring Out Solstice Bells” first appeared in 1977 on Songs From the Wood, but Tull had considered the season long before that, on “A Christmas Song” in 1968. Both were re-recorded for the album in 2003. Back in the 70s, “Ring Out Solstice Bells” was released with an animated video, which is here.
“I Want You With Me Christmas”/Roomful of Blues. The 1997 album Roomful of Christmas is a pretty raucous party record in general, but “I Want You With Me Christmas” is a slow-dance number originally recorded by soul crooner Jesse Belvin.
“Baby Its Cold Outside”/Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery. Sweet mama I am sick of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Every version of it sucks. It’s always sung today with faux-retro ironic detachment, and it’s more creepy than cute. This is probably the least offensive version there is (what with its being an instrumental and all), from Smith’s 1964 album Christmas Cookin’. As much as I love Smith, who’s the second-most-played artist in my laptop library, Christmas Cookin’ doesn’t rank too high on my list. Half the tracks are combo recordings (like “Baby It’s Cold Outside”), which are great, but on the other half, Smith plays with a full orchestra, which has never sounded right to me behind his mighty Hammond B3.
Since I am somewhat starved for time and inspiration this month, we will probably do this again before the 25th. Maybe. It could happen.
I haven’t done one of these listicle-type posts for a while, so let’s take a look at the Billboard chart from various early Decembers of the past and see what was sitting at #40, and what each can tell us about its time.
1981: “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World”/Ronnie Milsap. There’s no better poster child for the utter blandness of Top 40 music in the last days before MTV than country star Ronnie Milsap, who had hit with “It Was Almost Like a Song” in 1977. Beginning in 1980, he scored a string of generic pop crossovers, the biggest among them “Any Day Now,” “Smokey Mountain Rain” and “There’s No Getting Over Me.” (The best record he made during this period, “Why Don’t You Spend the Night,” didn’t get a sniff on the pop charts, although it was #1 country in 1980 and was glorious fun to play on the radio, with a tremendous intro and a long instrumental fadeout to jump on.) Bonus trivial fact: my first date with The Mrs. was supposed to be a Ronnie Milsap concert, a plan that fell through when I couldn’t get free tickets from the radio station. (Chart peak: #20, 1/16/82)
1972: “Superfly”/Curtis Mayfield. Growing up in a community populated by people of Swiss, German, and other northern European extractions did not keep me from developing a love of R&B fairly early on. I’d bought Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead” on a 45, and while I didn’t buy “Superfly,” I remember loving the way it sounded on the radio, starting out sparse and ominous, then steadily ramping up until the funk really kicked in. I doubt I knew either song was about the drug trade. Growing up in a community populated by people of Swiss, German, and other northern European extractions was pretty good insulation. (Chart peak: #8, 1/13/73)
1968: “1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero”/Bobby Russell. We have met Bobby Russell here before, best known for Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey” and “Little Green Apples,” recorded most successfully by soul singer O. C. Smith. One way to read his tales of suburban domesticity is as a reaction to the spiraling 60s—when the going got weird, Russell’s songs touted the virtues of family life. “1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero” isn’t as memorable as Russell’s higher-charting “Saturday Morning Confusion,” but it comes from the same place: celebrating regular guys doing regular things. (Chart peak: #36, 11/23/68)
1957: “Wun’erful, Wun’erful”/Stan Freberg. I am not sure you’ll think this is funny if you don’t remember The Lawrence Welk Show, and it does go on a bit too long in its full two-part version. But orchestra leader Billy May gets the sound of Welk’s music exactly right, and Freberg sounds plausibly like the bandleader. Welk was a longtime endorser of Wurlitzer accordions, and in the mid 50s, the company’s slogan was “Gee, Dad, it’s a Wurlitzer.” So I am guessing that for listeners in 1957, the funniest line of “Wun’erful, Wun’erful” might have been the one delivered by Freberg-as-Welk after a dancer accidentally steps on his accordion. I know it cracks me up. (Chart peak: #32, 11/18/57)
In the America of 40 years ago, the holiday season was not a festive one.
In October, the United States had aided Israel in the Yom Kippur War against Egypt and Syria, and as a result, OPEC countries slapped an embargo on oil shipments to us. By the holidays, officials right up to President Nixon were predicting hard times and requiring difficult choices. Lines formed at service stations, and “sorry no gas” signs appeared; eventually, Nixon requested that stations voluntarily close from Saturday night through Monday morning. The Senate came eight votes short of passing a law that would have instituted gas rationing, and the order had already been given to print the coupon books. Some schools extended Christmas vacation to save energy; in Massachusetts and Connecticut, kids stayed out for all of December and January. Christmas lights became an extravagance many communities and families could not afford. In January 1974, we went back on Daylight Saving Time and did not return to Standard Time again until the fall of 1975.
All of this was happening at a time when Nixon was beleaguered by Watergate—the fabled Saturday Night Massacre happened in October while the Middle East was at war, and while a full-blown Constitutional crisis was averted at that moment, impeachment resolutions were introduced in Congress and nobody could be sure what twists were ahead. Among some commentators, there was a sense of looming disaster—that something earth-shatteringly terrible was about to engulf the country. Nobody could predict what it would be, although in retrospect, what it was seems obvious, not some grand conflagration, but a transformation nonetheless: the end of America as we’d known it since the winning of World War II. By the end of the 70s, we lived in a different country.
At the holidays in 1973, I was in the eighth grade. As I have mentioned before, 1973 is a relative blank in my head compared to the other years of the 1970s. It takes some effort now to remember things like the names of my teachers and my closest friends. There’s a shadowy memory of trouble between my parents, although I’ve never asked them about it. And I was 13 years old, with all the complications that being 13 will cause in anybody. As best I can recollect, the energy crisis did not have a grave effect on my family. If we put up fewer Christmas lights that year, I don’t recall it. I don’t remember us having trouble getting gasoline, either, or the gas shortage affecting our travel requirements much. My father kept tanks of regular and diesel on the farm for his tractors, his truck, and the family car; the only concession he made to the energy crisis was to put locks on the tanks after we heard that people were stealing gas from farmers at night.
Even the record charts, which are usually like a calendar that tells me where I was and what was happening, fail to anchor me in time. I was still buying singles in 1973, and I am almost embarrassed to admit the three from the Billboard chart dated December 1, 1973, that I would eventually buy: “Let Me Be There” by Olivia Newton-John, “Sister Mary Elephant” by Cheech & Chong, and “Love’s Theme” by the Love Unlimited Orchestra. As I look at the list now, I see only a handful of songs I can legitimately claim to love, including “Photograph” by Ringo, “The Love I Lost” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, “Rockin’ Roll Baby” by the Stylistics, and “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder. Some I admire more than love: “Just You ‘N’ Me” by Chicago, “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight, “Hello It’s Me” by Todd Rundgren. A few I actively dislike: “Top of the World” by the Carpenters, which was #1 on 12/1/73, “The Most Beautiful Girl” by Charlie Rich, which would eventually get to #1, and “Paper Roses” by Marie Osmond. But vast stretches of the chart leave me feeling nothing one way or the other, a condition that lasts for the next several months of charts.
As America plunged headlong into an uncertain future at the end of 1973, the songs it preferred on the way into the abyss were distinctly tepid. If our country really was experiencing the birth pangs of a new order, its musical artists—at least its most popular ones—were neither raging against the coming changes nor sharpening our perceptions of them. They were anesthetizing us against the pain.
It’s a wonder anybody remembers.
On December 6, 2005, I wrote about A Charlie Brown Christmas at my first blog, the Daily Aneurysm. Although I’ve linked to the post a few times over the years, I’ve never reposted it. Since the show is back on ABC tonight, here it is, edited somewhat.
In the middle of the 1960s, many people perceived that Christmas was under attack by the annual frenzy of commercialism—our national obsession with shopping and decorations that threatened to swamp the true meaning of the season. Charles Schulz, Bill Melendez, and Lee Mendelson were three of those people, and so in 1965 they produced A Charlie Brown Christmas in response—a quiet little television special that found everyman/outsider Charlie Brown searching for that true meaning, and finding it, thanks to his friend Linus. Since then, the program has become the quintessential holiday TV special.
Nowadays, we’re used to entertainment ostensibly aimed at children that contains content adults can enjoy, too—think of the in-jokes that pepper animated theatrical films and shows on the Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon. Years ago, such programs were rare. So when CBS executives first saw A Charlie Brown Christmas, it wasn’t what they were expecting, and they didn’t like it. Not enough jokes, no laugh track, too slow-moving, too religious. It can be argued that the program isn’t really a kids’ show at all—but whatever it was, network executives saw it as that most deadly of things, then and now: a thoughtful television program. But they put it on anyway, and despite their doubts, it was a hit. Pre-empting Gilligan’s Island on December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas was the second-highest rated program of the week, and TV critics adored it. Eventually, it won an Emmy and a Peabody Award.
Another reason CBS objected to the show at first involved its contemporary jazz soundtrack, which was radically different from the norm for kids’ TV. Even before I knew the first thing about jazz, I knew that I loved the soundtrack of A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s a mix of traditional carols and original pieces, on which Vince Guaraldi’s piano runs the spectrum from contemplative and cool to energetic and joyful. But give some love, too, to Jerry Granelli, whose percussion work is mostly done with brushes that give the album the distinctive feel of falling snow throughout, and to bassist Fred Marshall, whose stuttering solo on “Christmas Time Is Here” and delicate swing on “O Tannenbaum” are highlights. . . .
Even though A Charlie Brown Christmas was, and is, subversively anti-commercial, it needed sponsors to get on the air. Coca-Cola originally commissioned it, and its first broadcast contained two Coca-Cola product placements. When you watch it now, there’s a scene at the beginning in which Snoopy tosses Linus off the skating rink. You see the toss but not the landing because originally, Linus crashed into a Coca-Cola sign. After the first broadcast in 1965, the scene was edited out, as was the message at the end, “Merry Christmas from your local Coca-Cola bottler,” so as not to scare away other potential sponsors—such as Dolly Madison snack cakes, which sponsored the program throughout most of the 70s and 80s. . . .
Perhaps its fitting that A Charlie Brown Christmas airs tonight, in the wake of our ludicrous Black Friday frenzy. Here in 2013, commerce has swamped the holiday again, and in ways Charles Schulz, Lee Melendez, and Bill Mendelson could not have imagined. So A Charlie Brown Christmas is a valuable corrective no matter which way you swing. You can find meaning in it whether you’re a religious person to whom the story of Jesus is important, or a thoroughly secular person who enjoys Christmas for its cultural touchstones and the opportunity it gives us to celebrate and honor our loved ones.
For much more on the show, the music, and other Peanuts animated specials, you can’t do better than Scott McGuire’s Peanuts Animation and Video Page. If by some unfortunate miracle you have never heard the soundtrack of A Charlie Brown Christmas, the whole thing is here.
(Happy Thanksgiving to all amongst the readership. Given that this post is about leftovers, it’s seasonally appropriate.)
Writers often start things they don’t finish. And they take things that they thought were finished, tear them down, and build something new out of the parts. A good example involves something Eric Clapton worked up with Bonnie Bramlett while he was touring with Delaney and Bonnie. When “She Rides” was finished, however, Clapton and Bramlett decided that the backing track deserved better. So Clapton wrote new lyrics and recorded them over the existing track. The new song, “Let it Rain,” appeared on Clapton’s self-titled debut album in 1970. “She Rides” disappeared into the record company vault until 2006, when it was included on an expanded edition of Eric Clapton.
Here’s another: the magnificent “piano coda” that makes up the last half of “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos is one of the most beautiful pieces of music in rock. It was written by Dominos drummer Jim Gordon as a separate piece, and Eric Clapton was never supposed to hear it. He told a journalist that Gordon would sneak back into the studio when the band’s sessions were done, poaching time to make his own album. When Clapton heard Gordon’s piano piece, he said he’d continue to let Gordon use the studio on the band’s time if he could have that song as the ending for “Layla.” But that’s not the end of the story.
I have several Derek and the Dominos bootlegs in my collection, including a set called Into the Mystic: the Layla Sessions and More, which features alternates, jams, and other audio ephemera recorded about the time the band was making Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The Internet is not very forthcoming with the provenance of the stuff. About all we know is that some of it was recorded during the formal sessions for Layla during the summer of 1970, some was recorded at other sessions in Miami (where Layla was recorded), some at Clapton’s house, some at Olympic Studios in London, and some heaven only knows where. Some of it is specifically dated to the spring of 1971, but much of it is undated. A few of the tracks got an official release on the 20th anniversary edition of Layla, and some appear in a different form on later Clapton projects; others don’t even have titles.
Tucked away on one of the six discs that make up Into the Mystic is a completed version of Jim Gordon’s song, the one that became the coda of “Layla.” “Time” is sung by an uncredited vocal group, none of whom sound like either Eric Clapton or Bobby Whitlock, with a very busy vocal arrangement that threatens to swamp the song entirely. It has little guitar at all that I can hear, but there’s a string section and some lovely piano. Clapton told the reporter he didn’t think Gordon ever finished his solo project, but I suspect “Time” might be a remnant of it. Although it’s billed to Derek & the Dominos thanks to its inclusion on Into the Mystic, it doesn’t sound like them at all. If you know anything more about it, help a brother out.
BTW, Jim Gordon’s story has one of the saddest endings in all of rock history. A student of the great drummer Hal Blaine, Gordon played on dozens of famous sessions from the early 60s to the late 70s, after which he became incapacitated by mental illness. In 1983, the voices in his head told him to murder his mother, which he did. Under California law at the time, he wasn’t permitted an insanity defense, and he remains in jail to this day. He was denied parole this past spring.