A change of plan today: this is a song for Andrew Behr, an old and beloved family friend, who passed away yesterday. A few years ago on a day when I needed cheering up I asked people on Facebook and Twitter to tell me the happiest song they knew, and Andrew picked Rosetta, by Alan Price and Georgie Fame, which I had never heard. It cheered me up then, and if you need it today I hope it does the same for you.
When I think of Andrew I think of him singing and playing the guitar, or sharing a joke with my dad. Here he is doing both.
Like me, you’ll be delighted to discover that of all the Beatles, the one who has recorded the largest number of Christmas songs is Ringo. Some of them are good, some of them are not, some of them are awesome, and then there’s this, which I think is actually the best version ever recorded – sorry, Bing and David – of the Little Drummer Boy, because it has SO MUCH DRUMMING. Like, imagine as much drumming as you can, and then double it, and that’s still not as much drumming as this song has. Make sure to listen all the way through, it would be a tragedy to miss the drum solos (yes, multiple), and the key changes (also multiple), and the bagpipes (just the one, although I suppose bagpipes by definition come in the plural).
Let’s start at the very beginning, as D:Ream once said. The thing is, you have to like the Beatles A LOT to enjoy their Christmas EPs, released every year between 1963 and 1969, because they are only really interesting anthropologically, and only then if you are a Beatles fan, although it is always cheering to remember how funny they were, at least while they were still all friends, which in 1963 they were. There isn’t a great deal to recommend this musically, though, which is why every time I have to share what is essentially five minutes of rambling with you, I am going to balance it out with an alternative that is either less Christmassy or less Beatles-y, but never both and always good. Welcome to advent 2016, which has to recommend it that by the time it ends it will nearly be 2017, and as Julie Andrews once said, things can only get better.
I have mixed feelings about this one, actually, because while I think it is heart-stoppingly beautiful, for most of us it’s one to admire, rather than to join in with. We had our usual family carols yesterday and attempted several numbers that I’d never heard before, or at least never paid attention to, and I realised anew that it is not possible to read music and words at the same time and get both right. So listening to this now is making me feel a bit anxious.
This is, of course, because it’s a twentieth-century carol – dating from around 1919 – and they’re often a little tricksier than their older relatives. Stick with it, though, for a cameo from a baritone whom you’ll recognise as our solo Balthazar back on December 12th. I wonder what he’s doing now?
We’ve had this one before, back when we were doing carols from around the world, but the version that has made it into the King’s College choir repertoire is less jolly, sweeter and quite spectacularly beautiful. Listen in particular to all the vocal parts which aren’t the tune, each of which does its own thing and meanders around something only vaguely connected to what everyone else is singing, and yet the whole thing together sounds perfect. If you are a choir looking for something to learn and sing this Christmas, learn and sing this (as long as you have some confident sopranos somewhere in the mix).
Otherwise known, I learn as the “Christmas Day Carol”, but as we all know, advent ends on December 24th and so this is as good a place for it as any in this year’s calendar. Do you think the nineteenth century was the golden age of Christmas carol composition? It certainly gave us some gooduns, this included. I especially like the arrangement of the second verse here, and the way it, like lots (but not all) of the best carols, swells into an impossibly triumphant-sounding climax. It kind of definitely does sound like the Son of God was just born on Earth!
Not the jolly, jaggedy Mike Oldfield rendering but the haunting, unaccompanied vocal version which is the first track on my folks’ possibly-older-than-me vinyl copy of Carols From King’s, and therefore the first official song of Christmas. This is also the record we always used to decorate the tree to, so In Dulce Jubilo will always, for me, be the sound of Dad nearly, but not quite, falling off a ladder in his endeavours to string the lights all the way to the very top of the (ten-foot, trimmed enough to just fit into the front room) tree.
As you know, I only rant here when it’s important. So you’ll understand how strongly I feel about this desecration of a song that every single one of us loves, whether we were initiated by Cohen, Buckley or Burke or someone else. It’s not that she sounds as though she has treacle in the back of her throat (although she does), it’s that she has enough disrespect for the song to sing:
But you don’t really care for music, dooooooo yooooooo
Rather than the actual lyric which is:
But you don’t really care for music, dooo yaaaaaaa
And then she sings “Hallelujah” in its normal pronunciation (rather than “halleluuuuuuujuuuuu”), so that the whole rhyme and the rhythm disappears, along with any sort of rawness or sadness or human emotion. I don’t and always won’t try to sound like an expert but good heavens, if you can’t sing it like you mean it, don’t sing it.
I would like to write about Pete Seeger, but MWB’s done it so eloquently and elegantly that I have nothing to add.
How to succeed as a musician? You play well but are modest about your talent. You sing strong without the need for any tuneless holler. You write about big things with words all folks can understand. You don’t avoid conclusions though you know some matters are contradictory at times. You respect what was, come to terms with what is and hold hope for the future. You love people even though sometimes they don’t seem worth much loving. You take all this and put it in your songs. You make the world a better place even though you’re gone. Thank you.
I’ve left it very late to make my Oscar predictions for this year, but since I will be staying up all night tomorrow blogging the ceremony for Mostly Film, I need to have a stake in the winners to keep me interested when energy levels start to flag. I scored a 50% hit rate last year, so beating that is the target for 2013. As always, I have seen fewer than half of the films in contention but I’m not going to let that stop me making wild assertions about them all. Let’s dive in!
Nominees: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
I tried to go and see Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty, but in the end my entire lack of interest in them both prevented me. I was warned off Les Misérables; I missed the free members’ screening of Beasts of the Southern Wild at the Ritzy and was too cross to go back and pay to see it, and the poster for Django Unchained made me feel so weary that I decided not to bother with the film. So I am uniquely unqualified to make a prediction this year, except that I have seen Lincoln and Argo, which I think are the main contenders. I didn’t love either of them and they both have bad endings, but Argo’s ending was worse, so I’m going for Lincoln (which also has a good ending, but as always with Spielberg, it’s not at the end of the film).
Nominees: Bradley Cooper, Daniel Day-Lewis, Hugh Jackman, Joaquin Phoenix, Denzel Washington
We don’t need to debate this, do we? Of course it will be Daniel Day-Lewis.
I think this is a wide-open category this year, and the best-known name on the list, Naomi Watts, is probably the least likely to take it. I’d love them to give it to Emmanuelle Riva on what will be her 86th birthday, especially as the prize will be presented by last year’s best actor, Jean Dujardin, but I have a sneaking feeling that it will go to Jessica Chastain.
Nominees: Alan Arkin, Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones, Christoph Waltz
I am still not really sure why PSH is nominated in this category rather than for Best Actor, when he has nearly as much to do in The Master as Joaquin Phoenix. It’s a mesmerising performance and I’d love him to win, but Tommy Lee Jones pretty much steals the show in Lincoln, and gets the film’s big emotional scene to boot, and I think the Academy will give him the gong.
Nominees: Amy Adams, Sally Field, Anne Hathaway, Helen Hunt, Jacki Weaver
This should absolutely one hundred per cent be nailed on for Amy Adams, who ties The Master together in a way that is both understated and spectacular, but for reasons which escape me, unless it is because she bravely shaved her head for the role (that is probably the reason, in fact) this one is certainly going to Anne Hathaway.
Nominees: Michael Haneke, Benh Zeitlin, Ang Lee, Steven Spielberg, David O. Russell
Again, I haven’t seen enough of the films to make a properly educated guess, but the further away I get from it the more impressed I am by Lincoln (if you ignore the ending), and I think Spielberg should get this one.
Animated Feature Film
Nominees: Brave, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Wreck-It Ralph
I’d love them to give this to Wreck-It Ralph, but I feel like it’s too straightforwardly fun to win, so I think they’ll give it to Brave.
Nominees: Adam and Dog, Fresh Guacamole, Head Over Heels, Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”, Paperman
This is one of the categories in which I traditionally close my eyes and stab a finger at the screen, but this year the knowledgeable folk over at Mostly Film have previewed the short film categories, so I can steal their prediction of Paperman.
Nominees: Anna Karenina, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall
I can’t see this going to anything other than Life of Pi.
Nominees: Anna Karenina, Les Misérables, Lincoln, Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman
I think this is between Les Mis and Anna Karenina, but since The Glums has chances elsewhere I’m going to plump for Anna Karenina.
Nominees: 5 Broken Cameras, The Gatekeepers, How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War, Searching for Sugar Man
Yeah, I haven’t seen any of these, so I’ll go with the bookies and predict a win for Searching for Sugar Man.
Nominees: Inocente, Kings Point, Mondays at Racine, Open Heart, Redemption
…and I haven’t even heard of any of these, so I’ll do the same again and go for Open Heart.
Nominees: Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
This is a tough one! I think Lincoln is beautifully put together, except for that flabby ending, but I think they’re going to want to give Argo a prize, and this seems a likely contender.
Foreign Language Film
Nominees: Amour, Kon-Tiki, No, A Royal Affair, War Witch
With Amour also nominated in the Best Picture category, logically it can’t lose in this one.
Nominees: Hitchcock, The Hobbit, Les Misérables
That’s a weird little group of movies to be nominated in the same category, isn’t it? I think they’ll give it to The Hobbit.
Nominees: Anna Karenina, Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall
Can they give Original Score and Original Song to different films? Apart from the theme song Skyfall is kind of boring, musically, so I’m going for Life of Pi.
Nominees: Before My Time from Chasing Ice, Everybody Needs a Friend from Ted, Pi’s Lullaby from Life of Pi, Skyfall from Skyfall, Suddenly from Les Misérables
It’s gotta be Skyfall, doesn’t it? <Spends rest of evening singing Skyfall>
Nominees: Anna Karenina, The Hobbit, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln
Earlier this year I had to get someone to explain the difference between Cinematography and Production Design to me. I think I understand what they both are now, and if I’m right then I think this might go to Les Misérables.
Live Action Short
Nominees: Asad, Buzkashi Boys, Curfew, Death of a Shadow, Henry
Following Mostly Film’s lead once more, I’ll go with Buzkashi Boys.
Nominees: Argo, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Skyfall, Zero Dark Thirty
I still don’t know the difference between sound editing and sound mixing – perhaps finding out will be my mission ahead of the 2014 Oscars. Zero Dark Thirty has the shortest odds, which sounds good to me.
Nominees: Argo, Les Misérables, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Skyfall
On the basis that it will win for something other than the song, Skyfall.
Nominees: The Hobbit, Life of Pi, Marvel’s The Avengers, Prometheus, Snow White and the Huntsman
I’d like this to go to Snow White and the Huntsman, because when someone you know has their work nominated for an Oscar you can’t help hoping they win, but I think they’ll give this to Life of Pi.
Nominees: Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook
Because it has more talking in it than the others, and because it has two good jokes and some great Hollywood-set scenes, I think this will go to Argo.
Nominees: Amour, Django Unchained, Flight, Moonrise Kingdom, Zero Dark Thirty
If they want to give each of the films nominated in Best Picture a nod, the obvious candidate for this one is Django Unchained. I haven’t seen it, but I get the impression it’s that same film Quentin Tarantino always makes, in which case it’s as good a choice as any.
So there you have it. Join me and my fellow hardy bloggers over at Mostly Film from around 11pm tomorrow for live updates from the red carpet and beyond. Now excuse me while I go and store up some sleep.