Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer or Bah Humbug?: “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”

This feature is quite simple: I’m going to take a look at and categorize the different versions of a Christmas song into one of two categories. The good category is Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer, whether that be egg nog, hot chocolate, or whatever other holiday concoction you prefer (just be responsible of course). The bad category is Bah Humbug, named after the famous retort of Ebenezer Scrooge (the Disney version of it is the best, don’t @ me). The main point of this feature is to have some holiday fun! And maybe you’ll find a new version of a holiday classic to stick in your own playlist. Also please throw your own recommendations in the comments!

Today I’m going to take a look at “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” a beloved holiday classic that children everywhere especially enjoy in their joyous anticipation of the man in the big red suit coming to visit. The song was written in 1934 by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie. It was first performed on the radio show of Eddie Cantor in November of the same year. In Cantor’s original performance of the song he actually added additional lyrics to the song that encouraged people listening to be more charitable and help those in need since it was at the height of The Great Depression.

Despite the financial hardship of the country, listeners went crazy buying it, as over 30,000 records of it were sold in 24 hours (the equivalent of 4.5 million streams today). Over 200 artists have recorded their own version of it, although my first memory of the song is hearing it in the 1970 Rankin-Bass television show Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. Great show that I recommend!

Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer

  • Frank Sinatra

One of the more popular early recordings, being no surprise at all with Frank Sinatra. It’s also my favorite version of the song, as it’s classy, festive and features Sinatra at his best vocally. He adds a real liveliness to the performance with his version, as I think both young and old listeners can find something to enjoy about it. Plus the horns sound great.

It’s funny how I find Michael Bublé’s regular pop songs to be vanilla and boring, yet come Christmastime I thoroughly enjoy his takes on Christmas songs. Perhaps it’s his throwback style that is similar to the holiday standards people are used to that makes his version of this song so enjoyable for myself and others.

One of the simplest versions of the song you’ll hear, but quite effective nonetheless. Crosby’s stoic voice combined with the harmonies of The Andrews Sisters sound great together. It’s a jovial and bouncy performance I enjoy.

I love the opening to this song, as it sets the scene for the song perfectly. Then you get to the performance, which is fun and energetic. The secret sauce to this sounding so great is the thumping drums that drive the song. It’s refreshing in a world today filled with drum machines.

Of course I enjoy the queen of country music’s version of this yuletide classic. It’s Dolly! She delivers a fantastic performance as she usually does and there’s fiddles. Why wouldn’t I enjoy this?!

Bah Humbug!

This is the most popular version and also my most hated version. Perhaps it’s because I find Springstreen to be overrated. But also I find it hard to enjoy someone who sounds like they’re drunkenly screaming their way through the performance. It’s no more enjoyable to hear The Boss to put on this type of performance than the drunk at karaoke night at your local bar. It’s just so loud and annoying and by the end of the song I have a headache. As I’ve said on this blog before, popularity does not equate to quality.

Remember how I said in the previous version of this feature that the Jackson 5 are hit and miss with me in regards to their Christmas performances? Well this one is a miss. Just like Springsteen, a young Michael Jackson screams through this and it gets annoying fast. I guess it’s more understandable from a child, but no less forgiving on the ears.

I enjoy most of Carey’s versions of Christmas songs, but I find her cover of this song to be quite forgettable in comparison to her other Christmas performances. Her vocals are buried in the obnoxious production, which is too over the top for my liking. The lullaby-like introduction is also weird and off-putting.

No, no, no! This is so slick and doesn’t even feel like Christmas. Why must modern artists ruin Christmas songs so much? This version deservers a nice, big lump of coal!

Predictions for Country & American Roots Categories at the 2017 Grammy Awards

Grammy

This Sunday we celebrate the biggest music awards show of the years. I’m of course referring to the 59th Grammy Awards, set to air Sunday night at 8 pm ET on CBS. Many of the awards however are presented in the pre-show that’s live streamed online and information for this can found be found here. After hosting for five years, LL Cool J steps aside as host and The Late Late Show host James Corden takes over. Multiple country artists will be performing on the show, including Sturgill Simpson, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban (most likely new single “The Fighter”), Little Big Town (part of tribute to Bee Gees), Maren Morris (duet with Alicia Keys) and Kelsea Ballerini (duet with Lukas Graham). Now let’s get to the predictions! Keep in mind I’m not the best at this prediction game, but I feel like I do a little better each year. The award shows can be unpredictable. And be sure to make your own predictions in the comments.

Note: I will not be doing a live blog this year. I will however be live tweeting it all on Twitter, where you can all of my live thoughts as the show unfolds. Just go to twitter.com/realcountryview to follow if you don’t have Twitter. I’ll also most likely be doing a recaps/reaction post.

Album of the Year

  • Adele – 25
  • Beyoncé – Lemonade 
  • Justin Bieber – Purpose 
  • Drake – Views
  • Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

What I Would Pick To Win: Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide To Earth of course. Just imagine the outcries afterwards of all the big names that got taken down by some guy from Kentucky who made an album for his son.

What I Predict Will Win: Beyoncé’s Lemonade is the clear favorite I think, with Adele being the closest competition. But with other big names in Drake and Bieber also here, the votes could easily split and lead to Sturgill pulling off an upset similar to Beck a few years ago. I’d be fine with Beyoncé and Adele winning if Sturgill doesn’t, as I enjoyed both of their albums.

Best New Artist

  • Maren Morris
  • The Chainsmokers
  • Chance The Rapper
  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Anderson .Paak

Who I Would Pick To Win: Anderson .Paak or Chance The Rapper, as both of their latest albums were awesome. But if I had to pick between these two, I would go with .Paak.

Who I Predict Will Win: Honestly I have no clue here. I could see any of these nominees winning, even Kelsea Ballerini because despite being a complete unknown outside of the country music bubble, Black River Entertainment continues to prove they have a lot of friends in high places. Morris is getting to duet with Alicia Keys and is quickly becoming a darling on the awards circuit. I’ll be content as long as Ballerini or The Chainsmokers don’t win.

Best Country Solo Performance 

  • Brandy Clark – “Love Can Go To Hell”
  • Miranda Lambert – “Vice”
  • Maren Morris – “My Church”
  • Carrie Underwood – “Church Bells”
  • Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color”

What I Would Pick To Win: Miranda Lambert’s “Vice” (Anything but Urban’s song, which is ironically exactly what I wrote here last year)

What I Predict Will Win: Maren Morris’ “My Church” due to as I said above Morris quickly become an awards circuit favorite and this single being extremely popular. The other favorite I would think is Underwood, as she’s been a favorite of the Grammys.

Best Country Duo/Group Performance

  • Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls”
  • Brothers Osborne – “21 Summer”
  • Kenny Chesney & P!nk – “Setting The World on Fire”
  • Dolly Parton & Pentatonix – “Jolene”
  • Chris Young & Cassadee Pope – “Think of You”

What I Would Pick To Win: Woof this category is rough. I guess I would go with “21 Summer.”

What I Predict Will Win: Dierks Bentley & Elle King’s “Different For Girls” because apparently people are okay with stereotypical bullshit and really think this is some deep song.

Best Country Song

  • Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color” (Clint Lagerberg, Hillary Lindsey & Steven Lee Olsen)
  • Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man” (Sean Douglas, Thomas Rhett & Joe Spargur)
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind” (Lori McKenna)
  • Maren Morris – “My Church” (Maren Morris & busbee)
  • Miranda Lambert – “Vice” (Miranda Lambert, Shane McAnally & Josh Osborne)

What I Would Pick To Win: Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” (Not Urban or Rhett)

What I Predict Will Win: Any of these have a great shot at winning I think. But I think they’ll go with “Humble and Kind” or “Vice.”

Best Country Album

  • Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town
  • Loretta Lynn – Full Circle
  • Maren Morris – Hero
  • Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth 
  • Keith Urban – Ripcord

What I Would Pick To Win: Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

What I Predict Will Win: A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is pretty much a lock here, with Simpson getting an overall Album of the Year nomination and a performance slot.

Best American Roots Performance 

  • The Avett Brothers – “Ain’t No Man”
  • Blind Boys of Alabama – “Mother’s Children Have a Hard Time”
  • Rhiannon Giddens – “Factory Girl”
  • Sarah Jarosz – “House of Mercy”
  • Lori McKenna – “Wreck You”

What I Would Pick To Win: Rhiannon Giddens – “Factory Girl”

What I Predict Will Win: The Avett Brothers – “Ain’t No Man”

Best American Roots Song

  • Robbie Fulks – “Alabama at Night” (Robbie Fulks)
  • Jack White – “City Lights” (Jack White)
  • Roddie Romero And The Hub City All-Stars – “Gulfstream” (Eric Adcock & Roddie Romero)
  • The Time Jumpers – “Kid Sister” (Vince Gill)
  • Lori McKenna – “Wreck You” (Lori McKenna & Felix McTeigue)

What I Would Pick To Win: Lori McKenna – “Wreck You”

What I Predict Will Win: Jack White – “City Lights”

Best Americana Album

  • The Avett Brothers – True Sadness 
  • William Bell – This Is Where I Live
  • Kris Kristofferson – The Cedar Creek Sessions
  • Lori McKenna – The Bird & The Rifle
  • The Time Jumpers – Kid Sister

What I Would Pick To Win: Lori McKenna – The Bird & The Rifle

What I Predict Will Win: William Bell – This Is Where I Live

Review – Kane Brown’s “Used To Love You Sober”

Kane Brown Used To Love You Sober

Sometimes in life you hope that if you ignore something enough, it’ll just go away and you won’t have to ever address it. But then it continues to hang around and keep rearing its ugly head. Finally you realize you have to address the problem. This is the case with Kane Brown. Just like Sam Hunt before him, I was hoping he would just be a one-hit wonder or ideally a no-hit wonder before fading off into the sunset. While Brown has yet to score a major hit at radio, it’s looking inevitable. So now I have to talk about the self-proclaimed “Justin Bieber of country music,” which by the way is one of the worst self-descriptions I’ve ever heard. Brown has had a “meteoric rise” over the past year by going viral on Facebook and streaming services. It comes off as a whole rags-to-riches story. At least that’s what Brown wants you to think. The real story is Brown and his manager Jay Frank used a giant shell game to manufacture his rise and parlay it into a major label deal with Sony Music Nashville. Basically Brown found holes in the system, exploited them fully and convinced a bunch of executives he’s a rising, marketable talent. Now with major label backing, Brown is set to add further to the destruction of country radio with his current single, “Used To Love You Sober.”

After listening to this song, I can see why he calls himself the Justin Bieber of country music. Brown’s basically ripping off Bieber’s style, as he goes for the same brooding, pseudo dark vibe that Bieber has been using in his recent singles. Brown is trying to paint himself as this sensitive badass, which I’m sure the more gullible female listeners will eat right up. Really he’s just another con-man exploiting the current popularity of country music because he knows if he went to the pop genre he would be forever irrelevant. But on Music Row ripping off other genres is their go to business plan. Brown’s voice isn’t completely terrible like Tucker Beathard or Sam Hunt, as he isn’t unlistenable like Beathard nor always flat like Hunt. But one thing he shares with Hunt is a complete lack of charisma. Brown’s voice completely bores me. The song itself is about a man coping with his woman leaving him by drinking away his pain. This isn’t a bad theme, but the instrumentation and Brown’s vocals do not match up with it. The lyrics make the song sound sad, yet Brown shows no emotion in his voice to express this (hence why he bores me) and the instrumentation has a standard pop sound. It’s a very thrown together song that does nothing to connect with the listener.

Overall “Used To Love You Sober” is at best a very ho-hum, boring song that belongs more in pop than country. At worst it’s a terrible attempt at appearing to be sensitive and emotional, when really it’s just another douche anthem that Sam Hunt has championed at country radio over the last year or so. I’m sure fans of Affliction and Ed Hardy t-shirts will disagree with me though. The one surprising conclusion I’ve come to about Kane Brown is that he isn’t definitively the worst artist at country radio, which is pretty sad considering Brown is a boy band reject from The X-Factor. The only way this isn’t a hit at country radio this summer is if the major country radio companies go under beforehand (possible) or if radio decides to embrace the Stapleton wave (doubtful). Either way, “Used To Love You Sober” is a bad song that could be worse, but not much worse.

Grade: 2/10