Music

Sleigh Ride

This beloved Christmas classic was written by light symphonic composer Leroy Anderson (1908-1975). As his widow Eleanor related in 2010:

Leroy conceived of Sleigh Ride one hot July day in 1946. He was digging trenches in an attempt to locate an abandoned pipe that might bring water to a dried-up well that served our small Connecticut cottage. He didn't find the pipe, but he came in saying he had the idea for a new composition. He thought he would begin it with rhythmic sleigh bells. So, he didn't find the pipe, but he found Sleigh Ride instead.

However, the work was not published until February, 1948. The Mitchell Parish lyrics appeared in 1950. A truly gifted musician, Anderson was also quite the linguist—fluent in English, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, German, French, Italian, and Portuguese.

In a December 24, 1995 piece, Hartford Courant music critic Steve Metcalf noted that: "Sleigh Ride almost certainly holds the distinction of having been recorded by a broader aesthetic range of performers than any other piece in the history of Western music."

Here is Metcalf's quick analysis of the work...

It is 162 bars long, and takes, under the written tempo marking ("allegro con ritmo") just under three minutes to perform, start to finish.

After an energetic intro, the song's jaunty main, or "A" theme, written in the key of B-flat major, is announced, and then repeated, in the customary way for pop tunes. The middle or "B" section modulates to the relatively distant key of D, and then to C, before the "A" section returns one more time.

Most popular songs would conclude at this point, but here Sleigh Ride slides into an entirely new "C" section. In the vocal version this is the section that begins, "There's a birthday party at the home of Farmer Gray..."

This musical idea, in the even more remote key of G major, was actually the original motif that had come to Anderson on those first sultry days in 1946. But he thought the idea wasn't strong enough to qualify at the "head" of the tune, and so it was remanded to this secondary role.

"C" leads back to "A" once again, but because we've heard this twice already, Anderson now dresses it in a jazzy, syncopated feel. One more trip to the "B" section, then a final truncated "A," and then a small coda.

And at the very end, there is an Andersonesque touch that even today, after 50 years, sometimes brings forth titters from audiences: the first trumpet stands and makes a horse-whinny sound, signifying the end of the ride.

Although some years "Silent Night" is performed more frequently than Sleigh Ride, the latter is without question the performance champ of copyrighted works each Christmas season. The best version is probably the one recorded by Anderson himself in 1950.

There's also this nearly flawless piano duet version.

A simpler time, my friends...

Our cheeks are nice and rosy
And comfy cozy are we
We're snuggled up together like two
Birds of a feather would be

Let's take the road before us
And sing a chorus or two
Come on, it's lovely weather
For a sleigh ride together with you


I Remember

Fans of progressive house sent this 2009 entry to the top spot on Billboard's Hot Dance Airplay Chart.  Written by Finn Bjarnson, Joel Zimmerman (Deadmau5) and Ryan Raddon (Kaskade), the song features a soaring "B" section (also known as "build-up") and a sexy, sweet vocal by Haley Gibby.

There have been any number of edits and mixes of the tune, but a ballad version released by Haley, from her 2010 album All This Love, takes it from progressive house...to your house.  It's sexy and sweet again—only more so, and with supernaturally perfect intonation.

The track is available for preview and purchase at her website.  Give it a spin!


Great new global warming video...You'll like it

Baby boomers are sure to remember the huge Monkees smash "I'm a Believer," written by Neil Diamond, that stayed at number one for an incredible seven weeks, starting at the end of 1966.

You can bet that global warming was not even a gleam in some Greenie's eye back then. After all, the first Earth Day would be nearly four years in the future, and a few years after that, they were talking about global cooling, not warming.

All of which brings us to the creative team at Minnesotans for Global Warming, and their new music video, that offers some updated lyrics to the Monkees' chestnut.

Check it out.


Dream (When You're Feeling Blue)

My latest Mike's Comment talks about this great song by Johnny Mercer, and focuses on the wonderful version by Susannah McCorkle.

Perhaps Susannah was able to nail it because she actually lived the spirit of the lyrics. The words portray someone who is at least temporarily depressed, trying to convince themselves that "Things never are as bad as they seem," and "Dream, and they might come true."

More than that, the lyrics imply putting on a happy face, to disguise turmoil underneath. Yet, the tone is anything but ironic. Rather, it really is hopeful.

Check out the complete article.


I.G.Y (International Geophysical Year) (What A Beautiful World) (1982)--Retrospective

Sometimes, when there is so much bad news, it helps to turn to music, and few songs are as upbeat as Donald Fagen's "I.G.Y."

The lead single from his bravura album "The Nightfly," this track continues Fagen's pop/jazz fusion vision, and the session players on it read like a who's who of LA heavies--along with NYC-based Valerie Simpson (of Ashford & Simpson). Contrary to what some critics said at the time, there is no cynicism here, the optimism is genuine, as Fagen was relating the way people felt during the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year.

To be sure, later events would permanently change the country's mood.

Check out my review.


Jo Stafford--R.I.P.

Music is surely part of the environment, and we lost one of the all-time great singers—who was never known to cop an attitude—last week.

Jo Stafford was especially loved by the World War II generation, and stayed active through the 1960s.  When asked why she had stopped singing, she replied, "For the same reason that Lana Turner doesn't pose in bathing suits anymore."

Stafford's hits included "I'll Be Seeing You,"  "Jambalaya,"  "Make Love to Me!," and the 1952 monster smash "You Belong To Me," that stayed at Billboard magazine's number one position for an incredible 12 weeks.

Gifted with a cool expressive tone, often described as honey-voiced, and perfect intonation, some critics described Stafford as using no vibrato, but that is incorrect.  She did use vibrato tastefully, but to a much lesser extent than singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, whose voices lacked Stafford's sweetness.

Much loved by soldiers during the War, she was nicknamed G.I. Jo.

Réquiem ætérnam dona ei Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat ei. Reuiéscat in pace. Amen.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.