Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky.

Sometimes, southern Wisconsin really reminds me of the Pacific Northwest.

It’s been one week since we’ve had even a glimpse of the sun. That lone jellyfish cloud in a sea of blue sky last Thursday was the last time I spotted any sort of bright glowing orb (Christmas lights and lava lamps notwithstanding). Not only that, but a steady rain fell all day yesterday. Driving home, my wipers beating furiously to keep up with the deluge while dusk deepened and I strained to make out the road markings, I had two thoughts:

  1. This is just like living in Vancouver, WA.
  2. I really should have worked from home today.

In the brief 3.5 months we’ve lived here, there have been a whole bunch of rainy and/or gloomy days. Way more than we ever had in South Dakota. Luckily, Tara and I like that. After three years of drought conditions in Rapid City, it’s a welcome novelty.

Overnight, that rain turned to snow, and we woke up to this.

Nothing major; just a few inches of heavy, wet snow. That I did not have to drive in, because today was a WFH day for me. By the way, if you’re astute, you’ll notice I still have South Dakota license plates on my car. Not by choice (even though I love my vanity plates and will miss them when they’re gone!); the process to obtain plates when you don’t outright own your vehicle in WI is maddeningly slow because the DMV requires a title transfer, and that process takes some serious hoops-jumping. Ironically, I received my Wisconsin registration in the mail last week – complete with license plate number – but the actual plates are mailed separately, and that could take up to four weeks.

We’ll probably be living in Pennsylvania by then, since we keep heading east.

Not only has the sun been absent for a week now, but it might be a long time until we’re this warm again…and it barely reached 32º today. Check this out.

Looks like we’re headed straight for the deep purple. Not to be confused with this Deep Purple…

Might be more than just dreaming about a white Christmas this year. Fingers crossed!

Speaking of, I’ve been listening to lots of Christmas music lately. Some people love jingle jams, others loathe ’em. I’m the guy who plays Christmas music in July. With that in mind, I thought I’d share my Top 10 favorite Christmas songs. And yes, who sings the song matters more than the song itself. Well, in most cases.

  1. Christmas Wrapping” – The Waitresses. Very nontraditional. Very dated (“most of ’81 passed along those lines”). But very catchy and fun. Exactly what you’d expect from an ’80s new wave band. Love the bass line, love the sax, love the clever lyrics. I know all the words by heart and always crank this one up. You can’t do that with “Frosty the Snowman.”
  2. I Believe in Father Christmas” – Greg Lake. This one’s more melancholy. On the surface, it sounds inspiring (“I wish you a hopeful Christmas/I wish you a brave new year”), but then that last line hits you like a brick: “Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell/The Christmas we get we deserve.” Them’s some pearls of wisdom, and I can relate: positive attitude = positive life.
  3. Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” – Bing Crosby & David Bowie. Two legends from different eras teamed up for a once-in-a-lifetime duet and turned a well-known classic into something completely original thanks to that deconstructed arrangement. Pah-rum-pum-pum-YUM.
  4. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” – Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. It’s The Boss, for crying out loud. I like the rock ‘n roll arrangement, and that Clarence Clemons sax riff is infectious. The first time we saw Bruce in concert was November, 2012, and he and the band ripped into this one with gusto (Jake Clemons filled in on sax quite capably for his late uncle). Is it a little corny? Sure. But that just adds to the charm.
  5. Christmas Time is Here” – Vince Guaraldi Trio. I’m a huge Peanuts fan, and of all the Charlie Brown specials, the Christmas one is the special-est. Quiet and jazzy, with simple lyrics that evoke all kinds of nostalgia for me.
  6. Christmas Vacation” – Mavis Staples. What can I say? I am Clark Griswold. Of course I love this one. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation kicks off the season for us every year; it’s both the first (and last) holiday movie we watch, because really, once a year just isn’t enough. Don’t agree with me? Eat my rubber! Burn dust!
  7. O Holy Night” – Michael Crawford. I’m not a religious person at all, but Michael Crawford (best known as the Phantom of the Opera) absolutely kills this one. When he hits that high note at 4:16 and holds it for a full eight seconds, my goose bumps have goose bumps. Simply gorgeous, powerful, and awe-inspiring. I dare you to name a better version.
  8. Blue Christmas” – Elvis Presley. They don’t call him The King for nothin’. That voice is velvety, and the doo-wop backup singers give this timeless classic some soul. The lyrics might be mournful, but Elvis’ singing and the upbeat tempo turn this song into pure joy.
  9. Smoke On The Water” – Deep Purple. Oops. Not a Christmas song. My mind’s still on the weather map. Can’t deny that guitar riff though.
  10. Holly Jolly Christmas” – Burl Ives. I love the Rankin/Bass stop-animation holiday movies, and Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer is my favorite. This song always reminds me of the film. It’s a snappy little ditty brimming with good cheer.

OK, I showed you mine…now show me yours!

59 thoughts on “Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky.

  1. I have the entire Charlie Brown Christmas/Vince Guaraldi album that I play incessantly between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That and the Barenaked Ladies/Sarah McLachlan rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Fab stuff! We got hit by the white stuff, too. I actually thought of you yesterday because it looked like it was going to be much worse where you are, but apparently not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” almost made my list! I guess if I bumped Deep Purple, it would have been on there. Either way, great tune…I love it. And I also spin that Vince Guaraldi soundtrack vinyl incessantly this time of year.

      Like

  2. I also would add something from charlie brown, but what? It’s like trying to pick the best song off of dark side of the moon! So instead of smoke on the water which is like the die hard of Christmas movies might I propose the grinch? A classic! Excellent list!!! I kept saying “yep” for each one!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you! I’ve needed something new ever since my kid grew up and *sob* moved away. You’ve got fresh ones here for me. I love Herb Alpert’s Christmas album, and I always listen to David Sedaris reading his Santa Land Diaries where he sings (under duress) a Christmas song in the style of Ella Fitzgerald. I laugh every time and feel less alone as a Scrooge with that one.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh geesh. I’ve committed a jazz sin: it’s Billie Holiday he imitates while being forced to sing a Christmas song dressed as an elf. I wanted to set the record straight there.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. My all-time favorite is Dominick the Donkey, and here’s why. I grew up listening to this every Christmas season at my Italian grandfather’s house. We went to his house for lunch on Sundays, and the Sunday after Thanksgiving was always cookie day. My mom and aunt would man (woman?) the pizzelle press and the spritz gun, and my sister, cousin, and I would shuttle the decorations down from the attic and set them up, all while the sweet sounds of Lou Monte played on vinyl. I also love The Twelve Days of Christmas by John Denver and the Muppets, and Christmas Don’t be Late by Alvin and the Chipmunks because Grandpa had those, too! And anything off the Time-Life Treasury of Christmas, because we had those cassettes at home.
    Some other choices not mentioned yet:
    – Twas the Night Before Christmas by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians
    – Little Drummer Boy by the Harry Simeone Chorale but it may or may not be ousted soon by Pentatonix.
    – Mary Did You Know by Pentatonix. Hauntingly beautiful
    – O Holy Night by NSYNC (a cappella) or Josh Groban

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally get the nostalgia factor for Dominick the Donkey. I’ve never heard it myself, but those sound like some great memories you have. The Harry Simeone Chorale’s version of “Little Drummer Boy” is pretty much the definitive one in my opinion!

      Like

  5. Charlie Brown Christmas music rules the day at our house as well. I am so happy to see Elvis’ Blue Christmas here. My wife and I’s favorite Elvis x-mas song. I think Burl Ives’ Holly Jolly Christmas plays every hour on the hour on the local stations playing x-mas music 24/7, and it is an absolute classic just like Rudolph. Great list.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The Waitresses! One of my favs. Others on my playlist: “The Night Before Christmas” by Carly Simon, Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” “The Best Gift” by Streisand, “Last Christmas” by Wham!, various versions of “Grown-Up Christmas List,”(sometimes Amy Grant feels insipid, while Kelly Clarkson lacks nuance and just yells, but I love the lyrics: “everyone should have a friend/ and right would always win…), “Little Drummer Boy” by King & Country, “Ave Maria” by Kathleen Battle, and my God, man, you cannot leave out Mariah.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That King & Country version of “Little Drummer Boy” is wicked good! They really take the ‘drummer’ part to heart. Also, hard to go wrong with “Last Christmas.” Jimmy Eats World has a pretty good take on it, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Love the moving joke about your license plates. But more than that, the way you write about music is downright lyrical. I had to listen to that Michael Crawford O Holy Night – and you’re right, goosebumps on goosebumps. Beautiful list, so well written and with links to the recordings. What a gift! Thanks, Mark!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The instrumental version of Sleigh Ride played by every band from elementary to college plus semi-pro adult groups that my three kids have ever belonged to in their lifetime. I really have a love/hate relationship with that song but it always evokes wonderful memories of them and every winter concert I had to sit through. I also enjoy anyone who does a robust version of Carol of the Bells.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Not to be confused with this Deep Purple… That cracks me up because it reminds me of my pic of the JJ wall and me saying, Not to be confused with the Pink Floyd album, The Wall.

    I’m glad you and Tara like that sort of weather. I’m glad I escaped cold weather and lack of sunlight. It did damage to my psyche.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, okay. I thought you insulting me was weird, since that’s not normally your thing. (I have Sensei for that.) Like maybe you were implying I did drugs or something?
        Anyhow, yeah. It became apparent my last year in OH when my coworker observed that in the wintertime, I didn’t talk until after lunch. Also, I noticed that when the sun went down early, I wanted to just go to sleep like a bird with a blanket thrown over the cage. When spring came, I was a totally different person, cheerful again. That SAD thing definitely seemed to apply to me. I even notice it a little on overcast days out here. I never wanted to become a Californian, (I still shudder at this strange reality) but it does seem to be where I belong.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. In the PNW, lots of people buy mood lamps to deal with SAD. I know it can be a very real thing for some folks. Fortunately, cold and snow make me giddy. lol. I know: I’m an oddball. No wonder I couldn’t wait to flee California!

        (I do love your oranges though.)

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Everyone has more snow than us! It’s December 16th and I still have green grass… in Maine. No global warming my ass, we’re usually buried in it by now.
    As for Christmas music I can’t say I’m a big fan. For some reason a lot of them make me cry and that’s not the type of holiday joy I need.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s surprising how many sad Christmas songs are out there. Pretty sure I blogged about that once. I almost added “Christmas Canon” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra to the list, but it just sounds SO mournful and sad. Even the children’s choir can’t save that one from sounding moribund.

      I don’t know if I’ve ever used “moribund” in a sentence before…

      Anyhow. Sure hope you get some snow soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. The Waitresses are a hometown favorite, of course! I’m not a Xmas music person, but I do love the Peanuts song and get to hear Middle Child play it on the piano all season long. My faves are Do They Know It’s Christmas and anything from the Barenaked for the Holidays album.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was real close to adding either “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” or “Jingle Bells” from the Barenaked for the Holidays album. I love them both! And I did not know The Waitresses were local-to-you.

      Like

      1. I found three by them! I Won’t Be Home For Christmas, Not Another Christmas Song, and Happy Holidays, You Bastard. Don’t play that last one around your elders. Yikes.

        Like

  12. Having never visited the Pacific Northwest, I like this comparison. I’ll keep this in mind the next time I’m in the area. I’ve always wanted to visit the Pacific Northwest, but Wisconsin is a lot closer.

    So, I mentioned in a previous blog post that I don’t usually like traditional Christmas music for reasons I won’t go into here, but your list is great,  especially numbers 1, 2, 5, and 6. Aspenglow by John Denver is one of my favorite Christmas songs.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. All great choices…christmas wrapping has been a staple since i first heard it on the radio in ’82 and pretty much memorized it. All around these tunes zip along like “fire in the sky” !

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I never paid attention to the lyrics of the Greg Lake Christmas song before, AND, I always thought that was either a Beatles or John Lennon song. LOL

    Sorry but Celine Dion’s version of O Holy Night is the best ever, especially since I got to hear her sing it live and in person. Chills for days.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I knew you’d produce a great selection Mark 🙂 As for O Holy Night, you know my view! Michael Crawford veers a little too close to choir boy for me to favour it over Pavarotti’s version.

    Burl Ives is a voice I haven’t heard in years. This took me on a journey into childhood when I remember having a cassette of Christmas songs that someone had recorded for us which included one by by Tennessee Ernie Ford. I went hunting for it and found “Some Children See Him” which fits the bill.

    Carol of the Bells is one of my favourites – sung by a choir – ideally in the original Ukrainian, which is most apt at the moment.

    Like

  16. I absolutely love all your song choices (well, notsomuch Deep Purple); you have great taste!

    I really enjoy hearing the one from The Grinch, too; it reminds me of my childhood.

    But I’m also kind of obsessed with Kacey Musgraves and her Christmas music.

    Like

  17. Ok, Michael Crawford’s version of O Holy Night is now my 2nd favorite version; 1st place still belongs to New Song. New Song’s version always turns me into a teary-eyed mess. My favorite Christmas albums are 1) Repeat the Sounding Joy by Phillips, Craig, and Dean. This album features non-traditional arrangements of some traditional songs and I’ve always loved how well these guys harmonize. 2) The Christmas Shoes by New Song (Yes, *those* Christmas shoes.) This album features my favorite versions of O Holy Night, Rocking Around the Christmas Tree, and You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch. It also features a song, Christmas Carol, that I love. 3) A Christmas Together by John Denver and the Muppets. There is not a song on this album that isn’t worth listening too countless times. John Denver always made singing seem so effortless.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s