Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas

Album of the Week, December 31, 2022

Every family has their holiday musical traditions. Many play the Vince Guaraldi A Charlie Brown Christmas album (we do, a lot). Some might play the Partridge Family Christmas album (we don’t, at all). But a tradition that Lisa and I discovered in the late 1990s, when it was reissued on CD, was Ella Fitzgerald’s first Christmas album.

I was thinking the other day about why jazz Christmas albums work so well. My conclusion: there’s a whole lot of Christmas songs that are really just Great American Songbook numbers, most of them from the same writers as those august luminaries. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”? Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, who also gave us “You Go to My Head.” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”? Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, of “The Trolley Song” (both from the musical Meet Me in St. Louis). “What Are You Doing New Years’ Eve?” is a Frank Loesser song, who also wrote “Slow Boat to China,” “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year,” and the songs for the Hans Christian Anderson musical, among many others. And that’s just picking three tracks from the first side of this album…

The 1960 recording session for Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas came at a propitious time in Ella’s career. As we noted in reviewing Ella and Duke at the Côte D’Azur, she was in the middle of recording her Song Book series, each release of which celebrated a particular composer of the Great American Songbook. In 1960, she had just released the George and Ira Gershwin volume the year before, which followed the Irving Berlin volume from 1958, the Duke Ellington volume in 1957, and both the Rodgers and Hart and Cole Porter volumes in 1956. Accordingly, the selection here features six numbers from Song Book composers (side 1 ends with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” by Bob Wells with Mel Tormé; on side 2, there’s also Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”). But there are also numbers from other sources, including Leroy Anderson’s great “Sleigh Ride,” Johnny Marks’ “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” (surely the most durable 20th century song based on a Montgomery Wards advertising mascot!), “Frosty the Snowman,” Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith’s “Winter Wonderland,” and even Count Basie’s “Good Morning Blues,” which here receives its definitive 20th century performance. (The 21st century crown for this number might go to Cécile McLorin Salvant with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.)

And then there’s “Jingle Bells.” It may be the oldest tune on the album, but Ella and arranger/conductor Frank DeVol give J. S. Pierpont’s most famous contribution a mighty workout. This is the one tune on the recording where Ella really lets fly with the jazz swing vocals she is most famous for, culminating with the absolutely bonkers declaration at the end, “I’m just crazy ‘bout horses!” Us too, Ella.

The arrangements throughout veer between relaxed and exuberant, swinging hard throughout, a characteristic shared by Ella’s songbook recordings. In fact, it’s not too much of a stretch to dub this a “missing” songbook recording, as it fits right in. It’s an absolute joy and one worth adding to your record collection.

Listen…

Robert Shaw Chorale, Joy to the World

Album of the Week, December 24, 2022

Last time we wrote about the Album of the Week, a little more than a week ago (so sue me!), we wrote about Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. There’s more than an indirect connection to this week’s Album of the Week from that recording; as I noted then, Waring gave Robert Shaw his first job, asking the newly minted graduate of Pomona College to assemble and train a glee club for him.

That was the first of a series of groups led by the young, charismatic musician, culminating in the 1990s in the Robert Shaw Festival Chorus, an invitational choir that assembled each summer for workshops with Shaw in France (and in which many choral musicians in my life, including John Liepold, Bruce Tammen, and Christine Goerke participated). But probably the best known of Shaw’s groups was the Robert Shaw Chorale, the artists behind today’s recording.

Shaw became legendary for his ability to take ordinary—especially amateur— musicians and get extraordinary performances from them. I recall him telling the Cathedral Choral Society when we sang under his direction, either in 1995 or 1999, that “choral music is like sex. Both are far too important to be left solely to professionals.” He meant that it was important to perform with skill but maybe more important to perform with sheer love of music.

That sheer love of music comes through in this recording. There aren’t elaborate arrangements or unusual repertoire on the album. Most of the tracks consist of a few verses of familiar hymns or carols; there are 25 different carols in just over 33 minutes represented here. And, while I don’t often commend albums for just listening, this is one that I wholeheartedly recommend putting on and just listening. Enjoy…

Side one, part 1:

Side 1, Part 2:

Side 2, Part 1:

Side 2, Part 2:

New mix: Exfiltration Radio: tinsel covered Christmas blues

“Cold War Christmas, 1960,” from Shorpy.com

It’s time for more Christmas craziness, so break out the eggnog, put up your feet, close that window that’s blowing open, and enjoy! Big range this time, with tracks from Yo La Tengo, Low and Jane Siberry joining the expected bits of old blues and funk.

The tunes:

  1. The Last Month Of The YearVera Hall Ward (Where Will You Be Christmas Day?)
  2. Getting Ready for Christmas DayPaul Simon (So Beautiful or So What)
  3. A Groovy Christmas and New Year (Kojo Donkoh)Houghas Sorowonko (A Groovy Christmas and New Year (Kojo Donkoh))
  4. It’s Christmas TimeYo La Tengo (Merry Christmas From Yo La Tengo)
  5. Christmas In Jail – Ain’t That A PainLeroy Carr (Where Will You Be Christmas Day?)
  6. When It’s Christmas Time on the RangeBob Wills (Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree II: The Eggnog Is Spiked)
  7. To Heck With Ole Santa ClausLoretta Lynn (Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree – A Vintage Holiday Mixtape)
  8. The Christmas BluesBob Dylan (Christmas In the Heart)
  9. Santa’s Got A Bag O’ SoulSoul Saints Orchestra (Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree II: The Eggnog Is Spiked)
  10. Merry Christmas BabyBootsy Collins (Christmas Is 4 Ever)
  11. Xmas Done Got FunkyJimmy Jules & Nuclear Soul System (Santa’s Funk & Soul Christmas Party Vol.1-3)
  12. Christmas on Riverside DriveAugust Darnell (A Christmas Record)
  13. Have Yourself a Merry Little ChristmasDread Zeppelin (Presents)
  14. Go Where I Send TheeFred Waring & The Pennsylvanians (The Sounds of Christmas)
  15. Some Hearts (at Christmas Time)Low (Some Hearts (at Christmas Time))
  16. Like a SnowmanTracey Thorn (Tinsel and Lights)
  17. Are You Burning, Little Candle?Jane Siberry (New York Trilogy III: Child (Music For The Christmas Season))
  18. SherburneAlabama Sacred Harp Singers (Where Will You Be Christmas Day?)
  19. Merry ChristmasA Festival of Village Carols, Grenoside (English Village Carols: Traditional Christmas Carolling from the Southern Pennines)

Christmas comes but once a year, but when it does, it brings good cheer.

Listen…

Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, The Sounds of Christmas

Album of the Week, December 17, 2022

I knew of Fred Waring before I heard his music. Popular radio (and later television) show. First employer of Robert Shaw, who put together and trained Waring’s Glee Club as a kid fresh out of Pomona College in 1938. Even, improbably, major contributor to 20th century cocktail culture, via the invention of the Waring Blendor, and indirectly to the development of the polio vaccine as Waring Blendors were used in the lab in the production of Jonas Salk’s vaccines.

But I had never heard Fred Waring. Then, somehow, I came across this album, a 1959 session for Capitol Records . Friend, I was not prepared. It comes on gangbusters, with a sound effects track of a train passing, bells ringing, carols singing, and probably barnyard animals too. There’s an immediate segue into a jolly rendition of “Ring Those Christmas Bells,” which I first sang with the Boston Pops years ago, not knowing its connection to this record.

And then? By all that’s holy, the carolers break into Alfred Burt’s “Caroling, Caroling.” I sang Alfred Burt’s carols as a high schooler in the church choir at Denbigh Presbyterian Church, but had never really heard them on record. This album gives a full Robert Shaw Chorale-style performance to the carol, and makes you believe that the carolers are just standing outside the window, thanks to some interesting studio magic.

An aside about that: If you insist on the purity of live recording without recording trickery, this is not the album for you. Here choirs of children are doused with reverb to simulate outdoor performance down an echoing street — or maybe at the other end of a church? Tracks are stitched together without a break, giving the impression of a television variety show that is being sped up for rebroadcast. And those bells and trains return from time to time to remind you of the artificiality of the whole thing. This is a record that revels in audio montages, recapitulations, and other reminders that you should really go out and get that television set like the Joneses down the street.

I don’t mean to sound Grinchy. There are some truly magnificent choral performances on this album; in addition to “Caroling, Caroling,” other Alfred Burt compositions include “O Hearken Ye,” “The Star Carol,” “Jesu Parvule,” and “Bright, Bright the Holly Berries.” There’s a spine-tingling alto solo on “I Wonder as I Wander” and a gospel rave-up on “Go Where I Send Thee” that has me shouting along. Unfortunately the latter is preceded by one of the rare missteps on the album, an otherwise vocally impeccable performance of “Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow” that is performed in dialect.

But overall the album wraps you in a kind of woozy mid-century cocoon woven of equal parts sincerity, joy, and made-for-radio sonic joy. And isn’t that what some kinds of Christmas music are all about, Charlie Brown?

You can hear the album here:

Alfred Deller, Carols & Motets for the Nativity of Medieval and Tudor England

Album of the Week, December 3, 2022

We shift gears this week to start a short series on Christmas records. This’ll go some different places, but if you’re just with me for jazz, hang in there—we’ll get to some holiday jazz recordings during the series. Today, though, takes us to a very different place—almost to a beginning.

Living in the Boston area in the early 21st century, it’s hard to believe that there was a time when no one was really performing early music. But that was exactly the situation as recently as 80 years ago. It took the work of today’s featured artist, alongside other like-minded English musicians, to change that. Alfred Deller’s and the Deller Consort not only brought countertenor performance out of the English choral tradition and back onto concert stages, he also brought about a serious revival of early music repertoire and helped launch the careers of other like-minded singers and musicians, including Rogers Covey-Crump and David Elliott of the Hilliard Ensemble, and singers Mark Deller (his son), Robert Tear and Maurice Bevan; the latter three appear on this album.

Deller’s countertenor voice doesn’t sound exceptional today, if you’re familiar with the work of the Hilliard Ensemble or other early music ensembles, but it must have been shocking at the time. I like the anecdote quoted in his Wikipedia article:

Michael Chance tells the story that once, a French woman, upon hearing Deller sing, exclaimed “Monsieur, vous êtes eunuque”—to which Deller replied, “I think you mean ‘unique’, Madam.”

But how is the record? I think it’s fair to say that the performance is an acquired taste. The instrumentation of Musica Antiqua—here under the direction of the great René Clemencic—is heavy on period instruments, with plenty of crumhorn, recorder, positive organ and bells, and maybe even a sackbut or two lurking around the edges. The instrumental numbers are accordingly unusual in timbre to modern ears; both the “Carol with Burden” and the “Angelus ad Virginem” had me checking my watch a few times.

The vocal music is why one listens to this record. And while some of the performance practices are unusual by current “early music” standards—there’s nary a straight tone to be found, and most of the works are sung in modern English rather than the Middle English that would be more authentic—the quality of the singing is still uniformly high. The “Nova, Nova” which can be heard in Middle English on the Boston Camerata’s Sing We Noel is performed in modern English here but with fully appropriate enthusiasm. Fifteenth century composer Richard Pygott’s ten-minute-long “Quid Petis O Fili” engages the listener throughout.

And a number of the songs approach definitive performances. “Hail, Mary, Full of Grace” and the medieval carol “Edi Beo Thu Hevene Quene” (here sung in modern English as “Blessed, Be Thou Heavenly Queen”) are both tenderly and sensitively performed. The “In Die Nativitas” is sung with more vigor, but comes across with a little less balance. Of the more sturdy numbers, “Nowell, Nowell: Out of Your Sleep” is perhaps more successful. But the standout is “There is no Rose of Such Virtue,” sung with a great amount of rubato and delicacy. It single-handedly vaults this record to my annual Christmas list, and I hope you’ll find it on yours as well.

You can listen to the record here:

Exfiltration Radio: Off Kilter Christmas

It’s still Christmas, technically, until the Feast of Epiphany on January 6. That’s what I keep telling Lisa when she asks when I’m taking down the Christmas tree, and that’s what I’m telling you when I post this new Exfiltration Radio playlist of slightly askew Christmas (and Hanukkah) tunes and a few spoken word bits. Hope you find something in it to help ease back into the daily routine.

  1. Did You Spend Christmas Day In Jail? (excerpt)Rev. J.M. Gates (Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree – A Vintage Holiday Mixtape)
  2. The Toy Trumpet – Arthur Fiedler;Al HirtBoston Pops/Arthur Fiedler (Pops Christmas Party)
  3. Ring Those Christmas BellsFred Waring & The Pennsylvanians (The Sounds of Christmas)
  4. Good Morning Blues (feat. Cécile Mclorin Salvant)Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis (Big Band Holidays)
  5. Please Come Home For ChristmasLittle Johnny Taylor (It’s Christmas Time Again)
  6. I’m Your Christmas Friend, Don’t Be HungryJames Brown (Hey America)
  7. Who Took The Merry Out Of ChristmasThe Staple Singers (It’s Christmas Time Again)
  8. Deck the HallsR.E.M. (Gift Wrapped – 20 Songs That Keep On Giving!)
  9. I Hate ChristmasOscar (Sesame Street: Merry Christmas from Sesame Street)
  10. The Little Drum Machine BoyBeck (Just Say Noel)
  11. Come on! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!Sufjan Stevens (Songs For Christmas)
  12. Do You Hear What I Hear?Chaka Khan (Do You Hear What I Hear? – Single)
  13. NutmegStephen Colbert & John Legend (A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!)
  14. Sleigh RideDread Zeppelin (Presents)
  15. Big BulbsSharon Jones and the Dap-Kings (It’s a Holiday Soul Party)
  16. Silent NightBootsy Collins (Christmas Is 4 Ever)
  17. Don’t Shoot Me SantaThe Killers (Don’t Shoot Me Santa – Single)
  18. Christmas IslandBob Dylan (Christmas In the Heart)
  19. Fan Club Christmas Record – 1964 (excerpt)The Beatles (Fan Club Christmas Records)
  20. Christmas GreetingOrson Welles (Vintage Christmas)

Obsolete Media pt. 3, in which Christmas comes early

Yes indeed! The mystery DATs were the master recordings from the 7pm and 9:30pm performances of the Virginia Glee Club 57th Annual Christmas Concert! Notable as the Glee Club’s first Christmas performances with conductor Bruce Tammen, the unedited tapes include the full range of a Glee Club Christmas, including audience carols, the eternal struggle between the Four Calling Birds and Three French Hens during the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” solo performances by Jayson Throckmorton, Craig Fennell, Eric Buechner and Bill Bennett, and some seriously moving renditions of favorites like the Gretchaninoff “Nunc Dimittis” and the Biebl Ave Maria. To say nothing of riveting announcements by Glee Club president Drew Cogswell.

I’m going to try to make the whole concert available somehow, but for now here’s a teaser: Club’s performance of the Marvin V. Curtis arrangement of “Go Tell It On the Mountain” from the 7pm show. Enjoy!

Merry Christmas from 1953

1953-12-vs-10

1953-12-vs-11

Part of the 1953 Virginia Spectator Christmas issue (previous posts here and here) was a set of mildly off-color Christmas woodcuts showing the life of the Baron Soppenscotten, who appears to have had a good deal in common with the students at UVa during the period. This is definitely the most elaborate art published on the theme in any UVa magazine I’ve seen. And what is Christmas, after all, without a little gluttony and drunkenness? (I know: it’s Christmas.)

“… or, I saw Donner Kissing Santa Claus”

1953_vs_donner

I first wrote about the questionable treasures and pseudo-carols locked within the December 1953 “Misplaced Mistletoe” issue of the Virginia Spectator back in June, but with Christmas only a few days away it seems high time to revisit the book. Having gotten the clean carols out of the way early, here’s one of the more questionable numbers, “Sexual Misbehavior of a Female Reindeer, or I Saw Donner Kissing Santa Claus.”

…Enjoy?

I saw Donner kissing Santa Claus
It was really Mommy dressed to kill
Dear Mother looked so queer
In the costume of a deer,
With furry antlers from her front
A tail from out her rear!
Then I saw Donner licking Santa’s paws,
Mommy’s eyes just never had that look.
It wasn’t mother, costume-clad,
‘Twas Donner deer seducing Dad!
Doctor Kinsey, where in hell’s that book?

“Go tell it on the mountain”

I’ve been writing about Christmas carols and songs embedded in a Boston Pops arrangement called “Songs from the Hill Folk” that ends the first half of this year’s Holiday Pops program. Unlike the other songs in the medley, the final one, “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” was not collected (or written) by John Jacob Niles, but it was collected—by the first African American folk song collector, John Wesley Work, Jr. (And probably partly written by him too; it’s hard to tell with these things.)

Work was born after the Civil War in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated from Fisk University. He did post graduate work at Harvard and the University of Chicago, but in between returned to Fisk as a professor. In 1907 he published New Jubilee Songs and Folk Songs of the American Negro, which contained the first publication of “Go, Tell It On the Mountain.” 

He was also active with the Fisk Jubilee Singers and other singing groups, leading a concert tour through the south. Some credit the Jubilee Singers’ at-first-reluctant embrace of public performance of spirituals (which were then thought to be a shameful product of slavery) with the financial survival of the university. 

The song’s text has proved elastic over the years, as some of these alternate verses illustrate:

When I was a seeker

I sought both night and day.

I ask de Lord to help me,

An’ He show me de way.

He made me a watchman

Upon the city wall,

An’ if I am a Christian

I am the least of all.

But it has been Work’s stanzas, based on the Christmas story in Luke, that have proven the most resilient. 

Except during the Civil Rights era. Then, protesters replaced “Jesus Christ is born” in the song’s chorus with “Let my people go,” and added entirely new verses to the song, such as “Who’s that yonder dressed in red?/Let my people go/Must be the children Bob Moses led/Let my people go.” So the song that once helped to save Fisk University, that historic center of African American culture, was pressed into service to help save the whole race from segregation and racism. 

“Kentucky Wassail”

As I’ve written about other Christmas songs featured by the Boston Pops this month, I at first left off “Kentucky Wassail” because there didn’t seem to be as much to say about it. But on reflection it’s worthy of a note in its own right.

Like “Jesus, Jesus, rest your head” and “The Seven Joys of Mary,” “Kentucky Wassail” was collected by Appalachian singer-songwriter and folk collector John Jacob Niles (his performance is here on Spotify). Folk songs vary from region to region and tend to drift in melody and lyric, but even so, as Hymns and Carols of Christmas notes, there are points of resemblance to the “Somerset Wassail” and the “Gloucestershire Wassail.”

The family resemblance is likely due to the nature of the wassail song. It wasn’t performed in parlors or churches, but was sung out in the cold by revelers visiting from house to house. While wassailing may have originated as a pagan rite of propitiation to encourage the apple trees to bear fruit for cider (no, seriously!), its more well known use was by villagers while making their “luck visits.” The verse in the Kentucky Wassail about the “good man, good wife, are you within… think of us singing in the muck and mire” has its roots in a song from Jacobean England that might have been heard by Shakespeare: “Good master and mistress,/While you’re sitting by the fire,/Pray think of us poor children,/Who are wandering in the mire.”

The tradition of the luck visit was part of the overall English tradition of the Christmas misrule, in which the poorer villagers went to the houses of the wealthy to drink them a toast from the wassail-bowl and wish them good health with the expectation of a tip. The well-wishing is the linguistic origin of “wassail,” from the Old English wæs (þu) hæl (“be you healthy or whole”). But woe betide the wealthy gentleman who did not give generously to the wassailers! Hymns and Carols notes:

“the practice of wassailing has degenerated into nothing short of armed home invasions. The banning of Christmas altogether in both England and the American colonies by the Puritans and Pilgrims were, in small part, a reaction to these and other excesses (certainly larger theological issues were at work which led to the English Civil War)… In the early 1800s in New York, prominent citizens were very concerned about such practices (which also featured such actions as gunfire, drunkenness, sexual licentiousness, excessive gambling, and riots…). It was their desire to take Christmas off the streets and into the homes. The evolution of Christmas practices in those years was a direct result. One change was from ‘wassailing’ (and a wassail bowl containing alcoholic beverages) to ‘caroling’ (which was more likely rewarded with hot chocolate, cookies, and the like).”

The important question: what was it like? Apparently the earliest wassails were spiced hard cider, but over time ale-based and wine-based varieties evolved. I like this version from Alton Brown which uses ale, apples, spices, and some eggs for body, and also this “lambswool” variant.

“The Seven Joys of Mary”

I continue to make my way through the carols in “Songs from the Hill Folk,” a medley in this year’s Boston Pops program (see my write-up about Jesus, Jesus, rest your head from a few days ago). If “Jesus, Jesus” found John Jacob Niles conflating the roles of song collector and songwriter—as he also famously did with “I Wonder as I Wander”—then “The Seven Joys of Mary” finds him more firmly in song collector territory.

I’ve written before about English ballads and ballad collectors, and “Seven Joys” (also called the “Seven Blessings of Mary”) is one of those. The tune that Niles found in Cherokee County, North Carolina in 1933 is quite unlike other tunes for the song, but hews closely to the traditions of the “number song.” There were many earlier known versions, including “The Ferste Joye, As I 3ou Telle” from the fifteenth century in England. Later versions included the African American teaching song “Sister Mary’s Twelve Blessings” (published in the Tuskegee Institute Collection in 1883).

Coming back to “The Ferste Joye,” I note two facts with some delight. The first is that it (and its fellow fifteenth century variant “The Ferste Joye as I Zu Telle” are both full-on Middle English carols. The second is that the Hymns and Carols of Christmas site, from which I drew some of this research, recommends using the Junicode font for optimal viewing of the text. That font is created by none other than University of Virginia professor Peter S. Baker, who taught me Old English, and helped me read through Beowulf, more than twenty years ago.

Jesus, Jesus, rest your head

The Boston Pops is performing a medley of Appalachian Christmas carols this year. Called “Songs from the Hill Folk,” it includes the predictable (“I Wonder as I Wander”), the unexpected (“Kentucky Wassail”), and the in-between—namely “Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head.”

Though I’ve heard performances of this song over the years in the classical idiom, and sung more than a few of them, I never realized that the original was “collected” by folklorist John Jacob Niles. I put “collected” in quotes because the sources I’ve seen for the work put two dates of collection, 1912-1913 and 1932-1934. The implication is that the song was collected multiple times, or more likely, that it was put together from multiple collected songs that were originally separate.

Indeed, the chorus and verse seem as though they are two different songs, with the first two lines of the verse sounding as though they would be at home in the Southern Harmony and the chorus coming from somewhere else entirely. In fact, biographer Ron Pen notes that Niles collected “Jesus, Jesus, rest your head/You has got a corn shuck bed” with his mother—that it was in fact his first ever collected song—and a 1906 notebook sketch shows words and music for the chorus separate from the verse. Another source notes that Niles often based original songs on fragments of melody or lyric collected from traditional sources, which increased the songs’ acceptance among folk enthusiasts but greatly complicated the problem of establishing authorship when the songs became hits later.

More surprising is the location of one of its early performances, in 1912. Apparently Niles, like other musicians of the era, accepted a paying musical gig at a house of ill repute, and on Christmas morning 1912 performed ten songs a cappella including “Jesus, Jesus” for the madame and her “girls”!

It seems appropriate that this beautiful carol should have a complicated origin. Like “Jesus, Jesus,” Christmas combines the folk and the artistic, the tender and the rough, and the complex figure of John Jacob Niles is a perfect synthesizer for it.

We need a little Christmas

If ever there were a year where we needed a little Christmas, this is it. This song’s appearance on this year’s Holiday Pops got me thinking about my relation to it and curious about its origin.

My family’s normal ambient music ran from classical to easy listening. Though my mom had a few Simon and Garfunkel records in the basement, they weren’t in the rotation; instead you were more likely to hear Neil Diamond (via that one cassette that we had) or something classical on the LP. But in the car it was easy listening, and at Christmas we had the stack of favorite records that got played over and over again. Julie Andrews, the Boston Camerata, the Muppets with John Denver. And Percy Faith.

I didn’t really realize that Percy Faith was a pioneer of easy listening; I just thought this was what music sounded like in the 60s. That bouncy string section; the female singers who sounded as though they were about to break into a dance number.

I finally looked up the original song. Turns out it comes from Mame and was originally performed by Angela Lansbury. Who knew? But it explains something of the damn-the-torpedoes flavor of the lyric, that desperation behind the brassy melody and sense of top-hat-waving that seems to lurk in the background of most performances of the song.