I don’t think I think about Alexander O’Neal often enough.
The reason my series of reasons to be cheerful stopped after part 1 is that my optimistic notion that we might all be able to come out the other side of this unscathed and life go back to normal came crashing to the ground when Bob, who was the kindest, silliest, most generous and funniest man you could ever hope to meet, died last week in hospital after contracting COVID-19. Today when his immediate family said goodbye to him the rest of us could only be there in spirit, although there will, I’m sure, be a chance to get together to remember him once this is all over.
In the meantime it helps to remember what I read somewhere after someone else I loved died, which is that grief is just love with nowhere to go. It’s only because so many people loved Bob that so many people are devastated by the news, and there is some comfort in that; in how much joy he brought to so many people, from the family and friends he loved so dearly to the kids he coached at football to the schoolmates he’d been going to Selhurst Park with since the 1950s to the angst-ridden teens he teased so expertly when we came home and filled his house with incense and cigarettes and noise. We were all lucky to have him.
(If you knew Bob, or just want to help, his family are raising money for NHS Charities Together in his memory.)
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.
And here’s your less festive alternative:
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.