Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer or Bah Humbug?: “White Christmas”

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 look at one of the most popular and well known Christmas classics, “White Christmas.” The exact where and when it was written is disputed, but songwriter Irving Berlin upon composing it was quite confident in it’s quality, as he told his secretary that not only was it the best song he’s ever written, but the best song that anybody has ever written. So I guess quite confident is an understatement, eh? I wouldn’t put it as the best song ever written, but it’s certainly got a high spot on the list of greatest songs ever written. The melancholy mixed with hope in reminiscing in about Christmases of the past while having faith they come to fruition again makes for a song that’s instantly connectable for most listeners.

The first public performance of the song was on Christmas day 1941 by Bing Crosby on his radio show. What’s interesting is this song didn’t get the instant hit response Berlin expected. Crosby called it nothing special and when first released as part of the soundtrack for the movie Holiday Inn, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” became the instant hit instead (raise your hand if you know this song, but now put it down because you’re a liar). Eventually it did catch on though, a little over a year later, a large part in due to the backdrop of WWII happening, giving listeners a strong emotional connection to it. The song spent three separate times atop the United States charts and went on to be the name for the excellent Bing Crosby-starring 1954 movie White Christmas. Crosby would go on to be forever connected to this song as much as the writer Berlin, even though he downplayed his role in the success saying anyone could have sang it.

Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer

  • Bing Crosby

Obviously the Crosby version of this song gets a big cheer from me. Despite his humility towards the success of this song, he is a big part of what made this song so big because it fits him perfectly. The reverence and respect in his voice as he delivers the performance of this song brings the words of Berlin to life. Now I can’t say it’s my favorite because well I admit this is one of my favorite Christmas songs of all-time and there are several performances of this song I really enjoy. But Crosby should always be the starting point for this song.

This R&B/doo-wop group completely re-vamped this classic song and manage to make a unique version that in my opinion strongly challenges Crosby’s version (as of this writing it actually has over twice as many views as Crosby’s version). The mix of different range of voices and doo-wopping make for a decidedly more upbeat version of the song, yet it still feels quite respectful. The falsetto in the middle of the song is fantastic. Thank you Home Alone for letting me know this version of the song exists.

So here’s one that might shock you to see it’s inclusion on this side of the list. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: CeeLo’s Magic Moment is one of the best Christmas albums released in the past decade. It’s a great listen and his version of “White Christmas” makes the bold choice of adding horns, quite the contrast from Crosby. But it actually works as a swelling Christmas anthem that crescendos in the bridge quite well. I imagine this might be a divisive pick, but I stand by it.

You can never go wrong with Otis Redding! And this take on “White Christmas” is no different. If you want all the soul in your songs, listen to this one right now (and the Soul Christmas album).

Behind Bing Crosby, Andy Williams has the next best traditional take on this Yuletide staple. It’s hazy, dream-like feeling definitely puts you in mind of waltzing through a snow-covered woods, making for a great Christmas performance.

Bah Humbug!

My biggest issue with ‘Ol Blue Eyes performance of this song is it’s wait too serious. Sinatra’s voice sounds too solemn and quiet. Also his change from children to kiddies in the lyrics is annoying and unnecessary. The chorus in the bridge is weak too. This was a big miss from Sinatra.

Irving Berlin hated Elvis and did everything he could to get Elvis’ Christmas Album canceled because he found his interpretations of Christmas songs, particularly his own song “White Christmas,” to be disrespectful. While I generally enjoy Elvis’ Christmas Album, I’m in agreement with Berlin when it comes to this song. This is just awful, with the “soulful” affectations of Elvis’ voice sounding quite plastic in comparison to the likes of The Drifters and Otis Redding.

So Michael Bublé makes the bold choice of doing his version of the song in the same style as The Drifters. What a bad decision, as Bublé does not have the soulful voice to pull this off (the only artist I’ve ever heard successfully pull of a Drifters-style take on this song is Aaron Neville). Then he doubles down on the bad decision making and turns it into a duet with Shania Twain, whose voice does not go with his at all. Also this is not a duet song. It’s like the musical version of watching someone slowly fall down the stairs.

Johnny Mathis looked at Sinatra’s version of the song and decided to make it even more serious and duller sounding. I did not think it was possible to take such a great song and make it the excitement equivalent of paint drying. But yet this isn’t the worst…

How to completely bastardize a song 101! The production is stripped down to the point where it sounds like Perry is singing from the bottom of a well, yet she also adds in the annoying Aguilera ad libs that never add anything meaningful to a song. Oh and her vocal performance sounds off key. Listen to this if you dare, but then make sure to wash it down with one of the great versions of this songs I recommend above.


This is the final edition of this feature in 2019 (it will return next year!), so thank you for reading this and all of the other posts on Country Perspective this year. I hope you all have a safe and great holidays!

P.S. I will be making my end of the year 2019 posts and looking ahead to 2020 posts in the next couple weeks.

The Hodgepodge: The ACM Awards and iHeartRadio Awards Airing on the Same Night

ACMiHeart

On April 3rd, the 3rd annual iHeartRadio Awards will air on TBS, TNT, and TruTV. iHeartMedia has a foothold as one of the largest radio outlets in the nation, with stations all across the map. For country music in particular, iHeartMedia is home to The Bobby Bones Show – a show that has grown in popularity and notoriety within the country music circles. The iHeartRadio awards are just another award show, and another national spectacle including the iHeartRadio and iHeartCountry festivals. Those tuning into the iHeartRadio Awards will see an array of musical acts on TV including The Weeknd, Adele, Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor, Kendrick Lamar, and Ed Sheeran. But one issue with the audience draw comes with the country fans as the 51st Annual ACM Awards will air on CBS on the same night, starting at the same time.

Since 2008, the ACM awards have aired during the first week of April with the exception of 2009 and 2015. So the this year’s ACM award scheduling is pretty consistent with the recent history of the ceremonies. As for the iHeartRadio Awards, with TBS hosting the Men’s NCAA Final Four on April 2nd, there’s a huge potential audience draw for iHeartMedia to advertise the award show during the NCAA basketball semifinals, which last year drew an average audience of 18.9 million viewers between the two games.

It’s not as if the iHeartRadio awards will struggle for viewership as their musical lineup and nominees are the biggest names in pop, rock, and hip hop. At the same time, though, the country audience may not watch and nominees may not even be in LA since they’ll be in Las Vegas for the ACM awards. Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood, Sam Hunt, Zac Brown Band, Garth Brooks, Chris Janson, Brett Eldredge, and Thomas Rhett are all nominated for awards at both ceremonies. Also Carrie Underwood, Thomas Rhett, Luke Bryan, Brett Eldredge, and Sam Hunt are all scheduled to perform at the ACM Awards with Bryan also hosting, so those people will not even consider the iHeartRadio Awards an option. The only country acts nominated only for iHeartRadio awards are Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton. Losing a bulk of the country audience is only a small dent for the iHeartRadio Awards, but a loss that any respectable producer would hate to see.

It could just be a coincidence that the two award shows fell on the same day. The ACM Awards followed their established pattern and the iHeartRadio Awards looked to capitalize off an excellent advertising opportunity, and it just so happened that the selected date was the same. I don’t think it was an intentional decision by either party in an attempt to mess the other up. Regardless of the reason, it’s the iHeartRadio Awards that’ll suffer in the country genre. With a majority of the double nominated artists scheduled to perform at the ACMs, that almost guarantees a good chunk of the targeted country music audience will tune into CBS on April 3rd. Sure passionate Blake Shelton fans will probably opt out of the ACMs for a chance to catch Blake win an iHeartRadio award, but that’s a small percentage of viewership lost compared to those that iHeartRadio loses to the ACMs.

When looking at the media and advertising tactics, iHeartRadio stations have a leg up. Due to the fact that both awards are at the same time, the iHeartRadio stations obviously have a vested interest in solely promoting their award show instead of the ACMs. And TBS would be stupid to advertise a CBS broadcast and drive viewership away from TBS, so there’s a good chance that ACMs probably won’t get some Saturday night advertisement during the games. But ultimately, the trump card the ACMs have to play is the physical appearances from some of country’s biggest stars, and Katy Perry. The ACMs booked Katy Perry in a duet with Dolly Parton, if only as a semi-desperate attempt to poach potential viewership away from the iHeartRadio Awards.

As someone who’s studied media, I’m fascinated by this understated viewership war brewing between the two award shows. Attracting viewers by adding stars like Katy Perry or the lack of advertisement from the a large group of radio stations: they’re all very subtle actions. Neither company is addressing the issue, but you can bet they’re well aware of it and working behind the scenes to secure their viewers. Perhaps that’s why we had early announcements of winners of the New Artist categories. Chris Stapleton, Kelsea Ballerini, and Old Dominion were awarded Best New Artist in the Male, Female, and Group categories – an announcement that came 11 days early. The motivation for such a move could be to create buzz as early as humanly possible for anyone who hasn’t yet committed to watching the ACMs.

The iHeartRadio awards are meaningless and only a ploy by iHeartMedia to get increase profits; they don’t carry historical value like the ACMs do. That is why I would expect most, if not all of the double nominated acts to attend the ACMs in Vegas. The only way I would predict someone choosing iHeartRadio over the ACMs is either by a late performance addition or prior knowledge to winning an award.

Both shows will probably feature some rapping, most certainly feature pop music (you’re better off watching iHeartRadio if you want to see good rap and pop), and we’ll get some country music at the ACMs since Chris Stapleton will perform, and Tim McGraw will sing “Humble and Kind.” And at the end of the day, I’m sure both award shows will have large viewing numbers to report, at least enough to feel satisfied with the turnout. It’s not like it’s two country award shows battling for which superstar will appear on which. I just find this oversight interesting, as I’m fascinated by the little tactics producers are using to rope in the viewers on the fence.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • Margo Price‘s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter will be released tomorrow.
  • Parker Millsap‘s The Very Last Day also gets released tomorrow.
  • On April 1st, Robbie Fulks will release Upland Stories.
  • Hayes Carll will release Lovers & Leavers on April 8.
  • Jon Pardi announced that his second album, California Sunrise, on June 17th.
  • Brandy Clark‘s Big Day in a Small Town has been delayed until June 10.
  • Craig Campbell‘s new single is called “Outskirts of Heaven.”

Throwback Thursday Song

“Lightning” by Eric Church. From Church’s debut album, Sinners Like Me, Church wrote this 5 minute story song after watching The Green Mile. The song details a man’s final hours as he prepares to be executed for committing a murder. Acoustic with a faint steel guitar, it’s a vastly different song compared to his singles, but Church says this is the song that earned him his record deal. Personally, this was my favorite Eric Church song until I heard “Record Year.”

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Everybody Wants by The Struts. Hey this is Josh talking here! Derek was looking for a non-country suggestion this week and I will gladly provide it in the form of The Struts. They’re an English rock band out of Derby, Derbyshire and they just made their debut in the United States with the release of their album Everybody Wants. People overseas got this album two years ago, but we’re just getting it here. For those who enjoy late 70s and early 80s rock, you’ll enjoy these guys. They borrow from AC/DC in the lyrics department and in delivery from Queen. It’s very glitzy, gritty and in your face type of rock music. If you’re a fan of rock music, give them a look.

Tweet of the Week

That’s right. Shock jock DJ with a comedy singing act will make his Grand Ole Opry debut tomorrow, and I also don’t get why. Bobby Bones may be less country than Sam Hunt.

An Idiotic iTunes Review

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 2.48.07 PM

I decided to look at Old Dominion’s Meat and Candy in lieu of their recent ACM award and found this gem. “Go listen to George Straight if you don’t like this. In today’s society I guess they just can’t please everyone because they are idiots.” Now, with the double use of the pronoun “they,” I think one can reasonably infer that “they” refers to the same noun. In the first instance, I assume “they” refers to the subject of Old Dominion. And since no new subject was established in that sentence, then technically, I think the second use of “they” also refers to Old Dominion. In which case, yes, Old Dominion can’t please everyone because they are idiots.

The Hodgepodge: Why Your Favorite Independent Country Artist Will Probably Never Make It Big

Sturgillguitar

The meteoric rise of Sturgill Simpson has been discussed in-length recently. He went from railroad worker to indie country darling to major label artist over the course of the last five years. It’s unheard of to see an artist rise up the ranks so quickly. The obvious thing people will point out of course is his music is great and that was what catapulted him towards the top so quickly. While this is a nice quality to have as an artist, tell me how many untalented hacks make it the top of any music genre each year? Look at all of the bro country pretty boys that have risen out of nowhere to mainstream attention. Their music isn’t worth a damn and they “made it.” Look at the one-hit wonder crap that comes out in pop every year. The point is you don’t need to be talented to make it.

Now obviously having talent and making it are much better than making it and having no talent. You’ll have much more respect with the former. No, what many people don’t point out with Sturgill Simpson’s rise is the brilliant strategy of his team and their marketing efforts. Corporate country blogs like The Boot and Taste of Country are just now covering Simpson, but that was only after every independent country outlet was covering him. One of the first to cover Simpson was Trigger at Saving Country Music, who has covered him since Sturgill was in Sunday Valley. Trigger brought a good amount of eyes to Sturgill, including yours truly. So impressing independent country outlets is something that helped Sturgill.

The other brilliant move by Sturgill was choosing Thirty Tigers as his “label.” He could have easily went to some minor label who would have forced him into their demands and wishes. As Sturgill said he was going to go into debt either way and at least the independent route and maintaining creative control with Thirty Tigers allowed him to do exactly what he wanted, when he wanted to. Most labels wouldn’t have allowed him to release an album in the fall of 2013 and then turn around in the spring of 2014 with another. By releasing music so quickly back-to-back he kept people interested him, including fans and country outlets.

One other great move on Sturgill’s part that helped him gain attention was touring all over the country and having interviews with countless news outlets. It seemed like everyday I was reading a new interview from him. Nothing about these interviews were fancy either. Sturgill was just himself and his honesty is a quality that’s endearing to many of his fans. So the combination of constant media coverage, brilliant marketing strategy and just damn good music is what helped propel Sturgill to where he is now. This is much easier said than done though. For every Sturgill Simpson, there are hundreds of artists dropping out of music every week.

I see so many people say, “Well if Sturgill can make it, [insert indy darling artist’s name here] can make it too!” Well I hate to tell you, but you’re probably wrong. “But indy darling makes better music!” So what? I just said above you don’t need talent to make it. “But if an artist makes great music, people will find it and listen to it.” Not necessarily. Your whole “Build it and they will come,” Field of Dreams logic doesn’t make sense here or really in most real life cases. I think better logic to apply here is the age-old quote: “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Not really. I’m sure there are plenty of great artists out there who made great music who have given up and moved on, just like Sturgill did at one point.

Mark at Spectrum Pulse, who reviews all genres of music, has brought this up numerous times concerning country music. He has said without a doubt country music artists are the worst when it comes to promotion and getting their name out to people. Many simply don’t do enough to be noticed or really anything to stand out. I myself see this everyday on Twitter. I get a few independent country artists following me hoping I follow back and write a nice, long post about how awesome their music is. Well here’s a news flash indy artists: I never do this. One because I don’t have the time and two I don’t owe you anything. If you want me to review your music and feature you on my site, reach out to me. There are plenty of independent artists that have and if I deem them appropriate for the site, I feature or review them.  And by reaching out I don’t mean requesting I copy and paste your bullshit PR piece. I don’t do that and don’t plan to ever do this. My job isn’t to promote artists. My job is to feature stuff my readers will be interested in and they certainly aren’t interested in PR fluff articles. If an artist makes great music, they definitely want to read about it.

Here’s the other common problem I see with independent, up and coming artists: no website. 99% of the time I will ignore an indy artist if they don’t have a website. Facebook pages and ReverbNation pages don’t cut it. An independent artist will never be taken seriously if they don’t have a website by news outlets like this or the fans. That being said a lot of independent artists don’t engage enough with social media. Now I know it can be a pain in the ass and many are so busy touring it’s hard to find time. I’ll just say this: fans appreciate being acknowledged. That’s really the other important aspect of Sturgill’s rise I almost forgot to mention. A dedicated, grass root of fans can definitely help you make it. Two big examples in mainstream country music are Brantley Gilbert and Chase Rice. Both have a very passionate fan base. When Jason Aldean started recording Gilbert’s music, I would see tons of comments from Gilbert fans crying how much better he is and that was what ultimately led me to find him. This goes back to engaging fans and making them passionate about artists and their music.

The point of this article isn’t to bash independent country artists. The point of it is to paint the reality of the situation. Sturgill Simpson is the exception, not the rule. It takes smart marketing and savvy deals (along with luck) to make it to the top. Also a lot of hard work, busting your ass on the road all year. There are a lot of artists that make great music that will never get heard because they don’t make the right decisions, don’t surround themselves with the right people and simply don’t catch enough breaks. The music business is cutthroat and harsh. Everyone can play, but only a few get heard.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Blackberry Smoke will release their new album Holding All The Roses next Tuesday. The southern fried, rock country group is releasing their first album in three years and it will be the first under new label Rounder Records. They were formerly with Southern Ground Records.
  • Love & Theft will also be releasing a new album, Whiskey On My Breath, next Tuesday. The lead single, “Whiskey on My Breath,” certainly impressed me and was different from anything ever released by the group before. Will the rest of the album be the same or is that song just an anomaly?
  • Dwight Yoakam just announced he will be releasing a new album titled Second Hand Heart, which will be released on April 14. The Bakersfield country artist was expected to release a new album this year and the announcement finally came. It will be the follow-up to this critically acclaimed 2013 album 3 Pears. I’m looking forward to hearing it.
  • Chris Stapleton will finally be releasing his debut album this year. It’s called Traveller and will come out on May 5. Fans have been waiting for years to hear the well-known songwriters’ first album. I could definitely see it being a dark horse candidate for album of the year.

Throwback Thursday Song

 

The Highwaymen – “Highwayman.” The Highwaymen was the greatest assembling of country music under one group ever. We will probably never have a country group with so much talent ever again. I only wish we could have heard more music from The Highwaymen. I would love to see a group of country artists try to form another supergroup. The possibilities with this are endless.

My Non-Country Thought of the Week

This past week the Super Bowl took place and one of the most talked about aspects every year with this game is the halftime performance. This year the main performer was Katy Perry, who was also joined by Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliott. I thought it was an entertaining performance. I saw a lot of people though complain about it being a terrible performance music wise. Well here’s my rebuttal to that: What were you expecting? Katy Perry isn’t known for her great vocals. She’s an entertainer first and a musician second. I mean I can see if you expect this with past performers like The Who and the Rolling Stones. But with Katy Perry? How can you be so naive? This was all about flash, not substance. Adjust your Super Bowl halftime performance expectations based on the performer each year.

Tweet of the Week

Rita Ballou of Rawhide & Velvet is one of my favorite country follows on Twitter. And here she speaks the truth about certain country outlets I mentioned above just now covering Mr. Simpson.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Aldean Face Palm

This is a review left under Jason Aldean’s Old Boots, New Dirt album. I don’t even know what is trying to be conveyed here.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments! 

Photo Credit: sturgillsimpson.com

Review – Kacey Musgraves’ “The Trailer Song”

When I first came across Kacey Musgraves last year, I didn’t even bother paying attention. I thought she was just another pop country female artist that wasn’t worth my time. But I was an idiot for doing this. I later found out she was arguably the best artist in mainstream country music and certainly one of the best female artists across the entire genre. I bought Same Trailer, Different Park and enjoyed it thoroughly. While a lot of her songs have some polarizing political messages in them, I love her no-holds barred, sassy attitude. It’s needed when female country artists are so underrepresented on the radio today, something Musgraves is quite aware of. She’s had a whirlwind experience over the last year, as she’s burst onto the scene with Same Trailer, Different Park. It netted her four Grammy nominations and she won two for Best Country Song and Best Country Album. She also won the ACM Award for Album of the Year. Now she’s released her latest single, “The Trailer Song.”

Musgraves has been playing this song at her shows for a while and for some reason was kept off of Same Trailer, Different Park. I don’t understand the reasoning behind this decision, but maybe she wanted to save it for her new album coming out. She debuted it nationally last week on The Tonight Show and was met with positivity from country fans. Musgravess sassy attitude is front and center in “The Trailer Song.” It’s about living next to a nosy, judgmental neighbor and how she should basically just mind her own damn business. I think we can all relate to this. The attitude of this song is established right off the bat with the first line: “Say you’re watching the birds out the window/Well I got a bird you can watch.” Funny and poignant! This is like Musgrave’s “Follow Your Arrow” meeting Pistol Annies’ “Hush Hush” and throwing in even more attitude.

The song is very well-written, balancing the right amount of contempt and humor showed towards the judgmental neighbor. By the end of the song Musgraves just tells the neighbor right off with the line, “Go back to your trailer, you nosy bitch.” The instrumentation in the song is perfect. This is probably the most country song Musgraves had made yet in terms of the instruments used. Many were fearful pop would start to creep into her songs after it was announced she was touring with Katy Perry for select dates this summer. But this should dispel any thoughts of this. Keep in mind she’s also touring with Willie Nelson and Allison Krauss & Union Station. Musgraves has said Krauss is one of her career role models and she appears to be good friend with Katy Perry. So things are going pretty well for Musgraves.

Pretty good first single off what should be a great upcoming album. “The Trailer Song” is another great song from a female country artist. I hope Musgraves, Lee Ann Womack, Sunny Sweeney, Ashley Morgan, Brandy Clark and other great female artists continue making great music and try to bust up the bro country bonanza on country music radio.

Grade: 9/10