Friday, December 29, 2023

Wrapping Up 2023

Hello all!  It's time to wrap up 2023 here at Merry & Bright.  Covid Update:  Today is day 6 after first symptoms.  All symptoms are gone, I'm feeling fine, but still testing faintly positive on the test strip.  So, activity will be limited for one more day.  Protocol says that I can go out masked (since there's been no fever at all and symptoms are gone), so I'm going to hit a couple of record stores briefly today.  But that's about it.  Seeing "Godzilla Minus One" was on the agenda today, but I think I'll push that back until I test negative.

Family Christmas festivities are still scheduled for New Year's Day, so that'll be good.  The youngest daughter was at the Pop Tarts Bowl in Orlando yesterday (12/28).  We saw her on the broadcast a couple times.  And, being with the winning team, she got to help eat the edible mascot after the victory.  We're looking forward to her return to hear all about the trip.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by the blog this year - I appreciate your comments and reading the blog.

Special thanks to Laurie Cameron for delivering the best artist interview I've published.

Special thanks to Tim Neely for his lengthy interview.  I think the collector community really enjoyed Tim's insights and thoughts.

As always, thanks to the Brotherhood of Christmas Music: (INPO) Ernie, Rob, Brad, Greg, Hugh, Tim, Tim, Mitchell, and all the rest, many of whom I'm sure I am unintentionally omitting.

Lots of great music came to Merry & Bright this year.  If you haven't had a chance to scroll through the New Music Roundups, I hope you can take a few minutes and check them out.  Mango Island Sound is a great new friend of Merry & Bright; I can't wait to check out the catalog of Death Hags; Frida Hansen may take the prize for beautiful new voice this year; and so many more!

What will 2024 bring?  Hard to tell.  I love doing the artist interviews and profiles, so I imagine the mojo of the blog will continue to lean that direction.  I feel that I fill a bit of a gap there, amongst the top Christmas Music blogs.  New music features and roundups - yep, those will stay.  

Music Sharing:  I didn't have as many this year, and think that will continue to be a trend.  I'm going to stop buying vinyl "that I don't have" (like the Klokken Ringers, although it was pretty good) and instead only buy ones that really intrigue me (like Nora Aunor).  If the intriguing ones are sharable, I'll share.  After moving hundreds of records to the basement this week, I need to slow the acquiring and enjoy what I have.  Maybe I'll ship the excess to Ernie.  Nah, he's got them all already :-)

So, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy New Year, Happy and Safe Holiday of your personal choosing!   Be Great - Do Great Things - Be Nice To Others.   See you around!

Monday, December 25, 2023

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone!  I hope everyone's Christmas was joyful, safe, and happy :-)  Here at the Bingle house, my Covid symptoms are pretty much like a head cold.  Not too bad, ups and downs in sniffles and energy level.  I'll be house-bound for at least one more day, likely two.  Shades of 2020, we did a family Zoom call this afternoon for the holiday.  We hope that this is the last Zoom Christmas.

Take care everyone!

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Bah! Humbug.

Well, the plans were Christmas Eve brunch at my son's house, with all the siblings who could make it.  Then, back home for a while before 4:00 Christmas Eve mass, then home for the evening.  Christmas Day plans were a little altered anyway - casual late afternoon with the kids and granddaughter, stockings, soup 'n' sandwiches.  Then big family Christmas was planned for New Year's Day, since our youngest daughter is away, working as a nutrition intern at a college football bowl game in Orlando.

But - a positive Covid test this morning busted those plans all up.

I haven't had Covid since early January 2021, so this is round 2 for me.  Had a sore throat last night, and was more concerned that it might be strep, and I'd need to find a testing location and get an antibiotic on Christmas Eve.  But I did a Covid test first, and it was a big positive.  I have a slight sore throat, a little nasal congestion, and seem to be a bit more tired than usual, but that's it.  But, in the name of not spreading it around, plans today and probably tomorrow are scuttled.  

Oh well - the Christmas season was already extending by a week, so there's a silver (and gold) lining.  Now we just hope that no one else get it before New Year's Day.

So, Merry Christmas Eve everyone!  I'll be back with a couple other rambling posts before wrapping things up for the year.  I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday!

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Bells! Bells! Bells!

My final share for this season is a fine, joyful collection of well known Christmas carols by the Klokken Ringers.  I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day is a very nice album of 14 songs, leaning toward the spiritual rather than the secular.  Accompanied by organ, French horn, and flute, the arrangements are classic and the sound is very fitting for your Christmas spirit.

Please enjoy The Klokken Ringers I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day  download link

Friday, December 22, 2023

Christmas Time!

Whew.  After that last share, we need something to get back into the real Christmas spirit.  I think I've got just the ticket, Christmas Time, a compilation album from the Vocalion label featuring some of the biggest Country & Western stars of the day.  

Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells, Red Foley, Ernest Tubb, and Webb Pierce are featured on this record, along with some artists that aren't quite as well known - Elton Britt & The Pinetoppers, The Maddox Brothers and Rose, and Lonzo and Oscar.  All in all, this is a really good collection of vintage C&W Christmas recordings, all nicely and subtly arranged, none of the over-production that is so prevalent now.

The album closer "Jangle Bells" by Lonzo and Oscar, is especially refreshing.  A semi-novelty song to the tune of Jingle Bells, it's a bit of humor with a nice fiddle break.

Although this contains Bobby Helms' "Jingle Bell Rock", widely available on nearly every CD in your local thrift shop, I haven't excluded it from this record (I suspect other of these songs are too).  I figure everyone grabbing this album already has JBR in their collection.

Enjoy Christmas Time!

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Merry? Christmas?

Here on the longest night, the day on the calendar where we here in North America have the fewest hours of daylight and therefore the most hours of darkness, it seems fitting to share Born To Die.  My reaction when I saw this in the record store was "Well, that's cheery."  The opening song and title track reference suffering and shame.  "March of the Wisemen" certainly has a funereal dirge quality to it.  "I'm Goin' Home", sung by composer Ron Hamilton, speaks of being tired of what the Earth offers. 

If you're tired of Ho Ho Ho's and jingling bells, this may be your remedy.  While "Listen to the Christmas Bell" is more celebratory than the rest of the "Christmas Cantata", most of the chorale music, with three soloist numbers, is pretty much a downer.  Frank Garlock, President of the record label, says that Born To Die "contains some of the most beautiful Christmas music ever written".  He calls it "refreshing".  I'll let you be the judge.

This is Dread Pirate Ron's first full-length cantata.  I'm sure history shows whether he composed additional cantatas, but I didn't go look.

Eleven tracks.  Most of them reference Christmas.  

Enjoy?  Born To Die  download link

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Soul of Santa: Doing Good This Christmas Season

What could be better than a new album of amazing Christmas music?  Easy! When purchasing that album supports a charitable organization with abundant heart and overflowing soul, in their mission to ensure that everyone has a space in this world, regardless of disability.

The Soul of Santa "Do Good" Foundation is a Kansas City-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization striving to connect individuals with disabilities in our community to the resources they need to live a full, productive life.  

Donate to The Soul of Santa

The Soul of Santa describes their mission as "Our mission is to connect high-functioning individuals with disabilities from low-to-moderate income households to resources. Through personalized holistic workforce development plans, fundraising, community awareness and education, we will help empower them to experience the fullness of life."  The story of the foundation, all the good they do in the Kansas City community, and how to support them is on their website.

This has been a busy holiday season for The Soul of Santa.  They hosted a Christmas Tree Lighting at the historic 18th & Vine jazz district in Kansas City.  They produced a "Very Jazzy" Holiday Benefit Concert, featuring the incredible Lonnie McFadden, a true gentlemen and a gem of the Kansas City  music scene.  

Best of all, the organization pulled together some of the finest musicians around to produce "The Soul of Santa" Christmas album, 13 tracks of soul-stirring holiday tunes (available to purchase on Amazon and stream from the usual streaming sites).  Buying the album directly supports The Soul of Santa and their mission.  The album features "The Soul of Santa" by AriaCamille, "A Big Dawg Christmas" by Roblo Dastar, "Christmas Magic" by The Royal Chief, "Slidin on Christmas" by Xta-C, and many more!

At the Ali Center in Louisville, KY, one can purchase items in support of the center and their mission that state "Be Great - Do Great Things".  What The Soul of Santa does in our community is indeed Great.  Please consider supporting The Soul of Santa by purchasing the album or making a donation to them through their website.  Or volunteer!  There are many ways each of us can support their wonderful work.

Soul of Santa Executive Director Dennis Powell took some time out of his very busy Christmas season to answer a few questions about The Soul of Santa (the organization and the album).  Thank you Dennis!


Q&A with Dennis Powell, Executive Director, The Soul of Santa "Do Good" Foundation

Q: “The Soul of Santa” is a wonderful new album for this holiday season. How did the idea of producing a Christmas album to support the mission of The Soul of Santa “Do Good” Foundation come about?

A: Our founder, Tucker Lott, has written poetry for many years and he had the vision to create original music for Aria to sing with her angelic voice. We were able to connect with Grammy nominated super producer Jo Blaq who took this project to another level. After Aria passed it became even more important to give her music a grand release as a way to honor her. We knew that her voice would touch people once they heard it and it would also be a unique way for people to support our foundation. In talking with the team Shawn Edwards had the idea to create a compilation album in the vein of the “A Very Special Christmas” album series and we decided to expand the project to 12 songs as a play on the “12 Days of Christmas.”

Q: Can you tell us a little about the artists that appear on the album, and their connection to The Soul of Santa?

A: We cannot thank Jo Blaq, Roblo Dastar, The Royal Chief, Paula Saunders, Andrea Tribitt, XTA-C and Doris Donley enough for lending their talents to this project. Not only are these incredible artists but they are all from right here in Kansas City! They all believed in the mission of our foundation and nearly all of the songs were created just for our album. Jo Blaq has become family and is a staunch supporter ambassador for our foundation. We are eternally grateful for their support and ask that you give them a follow!

Q: How has the Kansas City community responded to the efforts of The Soul of Santa organization over the past few years, and are you seeing some excitement this year about the Christmas album?

A: The awareness of our organization is growing which has led to increased support. Many people have no idea how much work we are doing to truly embody our mission to “Do Good 365!” Our Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremonies centered on disability awareness were on a much grander scale in terms of production and sponsorship support and we saw increased participation as a result. We expect that the attendance at our fundraiser concert will grow as we continue to connect with the community. This has by far been our best year in terms of impact and it is only going to get better from here!

Q: There is a special story about one of the artists on the album, AriaCamille. Can you share her story and the connection to the album?

A: Aria was one of Tucker’s daughters and she is the inspiration for our foundation’s mission. Aria lived with epilepsy however she did not let that, or anything else, dampen her spirit. She was unable to complete chiropractic school due to epilepsy so she transitioned to becoming a school teacher for students with special needs. Unfortunately that career did not compensate her at the level she deserved and she needed some additional resources to experience the fullness of life. When we decided that we needed to narrow the focus of our foundation to a primary community of interest Aria championed helping people like her and thus our mission statement was formed. This album is a display not only of her tremendous talent but also her perseverance. We are determined to make sure the world knows about the special gift that was AriaCamille!

Q: Last question – what is your Christmas wish for the good people that The Soul of Santa “Do Good” Foundation serves?

A: Our vision is to create a world where no one ever feels forgotten or overlooked due to their disability. We strive to empower our Souldiers to experience the fullness of life not just on Christmas but 365 days a year! We have been able to help thousands of individuals and we hope that we can continue to be a resource for many years to come! Please consider supporting our efforts by signing up to volunteer, downloading our album, purchasing some merchandise or making a donation.

Q: Thank you so much for your time! To all of the good people at The Soul of Santa, I wish you a joyous holiday season!

A: Thank you for reaching out and we hope you have a wonderful holiday as well! You were one the first publications to reach out in support of our album and we cannot thank you enough. You are the first person to know that we will be releasing a special live album featuring some classics that we know you all will love! Merry Christmas!!!

Donate to The Soul of Santa

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Son of New Music Roundup

There was too much great new music for just one roundup, so here we go with another!  Bring on the Son of New Music Roundup (2023).

Negah Santos - "Christmas Time"

Negah Santos, percussion whiz from The Late Show Band, did a late season single drop, "Christmas Time".

Negah, composer, vocalist, and percussionist, is joined by Eduardo Mercuri, Joe Saylor, and MIchael Thurber on this happy little Christmas ditty.  

Negah Santos Bandcamp page


Ojay - "December Snow"

Ojay, hailing from Perth, Western Australia, has released a great new song this Christmas, "December Snow", which is quite intriguing since I'm quite certain that it never snows in Perth, WA in December.  Regardless, it's an excellent new song from a band that I'm going to check out in more depth once the holiday season is over.

I love they lyrics - referencing the Northern Lights and admitting "I've never seen a flake of snow in my life".  Check this one out folks.

From their bio: "Forming in 2018, Ojay brought their high energy, carefree attitude to the bored youth of suburban Western Australia".  Der Bingle likes this.

Ojay website

Ojay on FaceBook



Frida Hansen - "Yule" and "Jól"

Icelandic singer Frida Hansen brings us Yule, an album of eight traditional Christmas songs.  Per her EPK, "Fríða is an Icelandic singer/songwriter. She grew up with riding horses and training and playing with dogs - and all the time singing. She released her first few songs in the fall of 2020, but had been singing and writing songs from a young age." 

Frida Hansen

Frida is a bit mysterious, as info about her is a bit challenging to track down.  Beyond the mystery, though, is her beautiful voice.  Frida's performance of the Christmas standards, including "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!", "Silver Bells", and "Fum Fum Fum", tinged with her Icelandic accent, is sublime.  She and her pianist Stefan Thorlieffson also perform what I assume is an original composition, "Merry Christmas Everyone", a fine composition and worthy of its spot alongside an album of standards.

Hey!  Good news!  If you prefer to hear Frida sing these in her native Icelandic, you're in luck!  She and Stefan also have an Icelandic version of the album, Jól.  It's utterly charming.  Both versions are streamable on Spotify.


Lorena Leigh - "Angels We Have Heard On High" 

Entering the holiday season with a danceable spirit, Lorena Leigh rings in holiday cheer with her latest single, “Angels We Have Heard On High.” In a dynamic fusion of catchy indie pop melodies and funky electronic rhythm, Lorena Leigh's interpretation of "Angels We Have Heard On High" entrances listeners with a vibrant journey that celebrates the joy and excitement of the holiday season.

Departing from the classic renditions, Leigh envisions a different scene where the shepherds react to the good news with unbridled jubilation, dancing, and hollering in the fields. "That's what I tried my best to create,” said Leigh. “Something a good shepherd could reeeeally break it down to in their worship and praise! That's my kind of Christmas.”


Save Ferris - "Xmas Blue"

Southern California ska heroes Save Ferris have dropped their first new original song since 2017, the holiday single “Xmas Blue”, a lonely Christmas tale of a heart longing for a loved one who is not there.

Save Ferris leader Monique Powell said, “I wrote the song about someone I knew that went through a hard divorce, and even two years later was still so obsessed with his ex-wife that it was borderline stalking."

Powell added, “I’m excited to give this present to fans as a warmup for what is to come in 2024 with all new music that I’ve been working on and is ready for release!”


D.L. Yancey II - "Christmas Eve" EP

Singer/Songwriter D. L. Yancey II aka DLY2, takes his spot on the holiday new music stage with a new 4-song EP Christmas Eve, featuring the single "Christmas Twist", along with "One Winter's Night", "I'll Be Home", and "Being With You".

Hear Christmas Eve on Spotify
Visit D.L. Yancey II on Facebook
DLY2 on Bandcamp


Death Hags - "Exit to Winter Planet"

So... a Major Award for those who persevered to the final entry in the Son of New Music Roundup.

Death Hags has released a new album for the season.  Exit to Winter Planet features seven new compositions.  Los Angeles musician/songwriter Lola G. aka DEATH HAGS has created a genre-bending world of noise pop, experimental electronic and bass-heavy cinematic soundscapes that fans have called “future sound of dystopian romance.” Death Hags has toured extensively in North America and Europe, playing festivals like SXSW and Pop Montreal. Her music has been featured in Electronic Sound Magazine and Bandcamp Daily as well as films by Christophe Honoré and Steven Soderbergh. She is currently living in the woods near New York, working on her seven-album project BIG GREY SUN.

Exit to Winter Planet is the latest holiday-themed release from Death Hags, following Frozen Santa and Supersonic Noel.  Visit Death Hags' Bandcamp page to see the entire discography.  Listen and enjoy.


Monday, December 18, 2023

Mango Island Sound "So Many Christmases Ago"

Every year, it seems, one of the songs that I receive from the many artists around the world and feature in the New Music Roundup connects with me in a way so that it deserves a feature post all its own.  "So Many Christmases Ago" by Mango Island Sound is that song this year.

"So Many Christmases Ago", written by Mark Pelczarski, sole permanent member of Mango Island Sound, is performed by Mark and his guest musicians. With its calypso-influenced sound and lyrics brimming with nostalgic memories, it will fill you with a gentle happiness, as if you're reminiscing about Christmases past while lazing in a hammock on a sunny tropical beach.  

Mark drew upon his own memories of Christmas growing up when writing "So Many Christmases Ago", and for those of us of just the right age his memories resonate with us like the beauty of a Strad in the hands of a virtuoso. 

It's not only the memories of the past that make "So Many Christmases Ago" such a wonderful song.  It's the recognition of time passing, which makes the memories more meaningful, and the connection of the past with the present and future.  Mark's lyrics:

Kids grow up so quickly go out on their own
Generations come and then they go
Grandkids scurry 'round us now as we once did
So many Christmases ago

hit home with me, as my own children are grown, my parents and aunts and uncles have passed, and we have welcomed our first grandchild into the family.  My Christmas memories are significant in the traditions we have and hope to pass along to the next generations, even as we create our own new traditions.

The song closes with my favorite lyrics of the year:

The years all blend together as we reminisce
Old photographs and stories bring delight
As long as we hold onto all these memories
We'll always be together Christmas night

I've had the privilege of getting to know Mark a bit this season through our e-mail chats back and forth about his music, our families, and the similarities we share in our respective lives on this ol' planet.  Mark is a fine dude, and he's the type of musician I love to support at Merry & Bright - making music for the love of music, reaching out personally to bloggers like me, and genuinely happy to have reached a new fan.  

Mark learned to play steel drums/steelpan over 30 years ago, and has worked and played with Jimmy Buffett and Dan Fogelberg, just to name a couple, over the years.  As Mango Island Sound, Mark has created some fantastic, groovy songs, including "Calypso is Good for the Soul", "Dance, Dance, Maybe", and "Conch and Circumstance".   All of Mango Island Sound's music is available through their website.

And Hey!  How about this!  Mark has put together a Mango Island Sound Tropical Christmas Playlist on Spotify which is, as Special Agent Dale Cooper might put it, a damned fine Christmas playlist.

Please check out Mango Island Sound on all the interwebs.  I think you'll dig it :-)

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Sunday Sonny

Today's share is my favorite of the season, although it's just a single, not an album.  I am very pleased to share Sonny Stitt's single of "Christmas Song", parts 1 and 2 on the A and B sides of the record.

Sonny Stitt emerged as a bebop saxman during the late 1940s.  Sonny was a contemporary of Charlie Parker, and early in his career was (unfairly, IMO) criticized as being a Bird copycat.  Sonny later transitioned away from alto sax to tenor (although he played both throughout his career), which quieted some of the critics.

Sonny Stitt was a prolific artist in the studio, recording from the late '40s through 1982, the year of his death.  Sonny's legacy is undergoing a bit of a resurrection, as this year we saw two significant Record Store Day releases, The Bubba's Sessions and Boppin' in Baltimore: Live at the Left Bank.

Sonny had an extraordinary tone, which comes through almost magically on this single. It is a gorgeous recording.  I have not been able to find a recording or release date for "The Christmas Song".  I believe it would have been an early 50's record, on the MET label. Perhaps the collector community will come through and share that info with us.

Please enjoy "Christmas Song" parts 1 and 2 by Sonny Stitt

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Sunday Share: Nora Aunor "Seasons Greetings"

I'm pretty excited to share this album.  I found this in a great record store in Manhattan KS recently (Sisters of Sound, if you happen to be in the Little Apple).  The guy in the record store said that Nora Aunor was pretty big time in the Philippines, her home country.  'Pretty big time' is an understatement.  Ms. Aunor is an actress and singer who has been performing since the 1960s, and is still active.  In 2023 she filmed Pieta, a drama-thriller movie.  She has received 17 FAMAS (Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences) nominations, winning Best Actress five times.

As a singer, Ms. Aunor has a long discography, from her 1968 debut album My Song of Love through her 2009 release Habang Panahon.  Season's Greetings, from 1973, is one of three holiday albums.  She is a beloved star in her home country.

Season's Greetings from Nora Aunor is a joy of an album.  What caught my attention was "I Don't Intend (To Spend Christmas Without You)", the rarely covered song best known by versions from Margot Guryan and Claudine Longet.  "Mister Santa", reminiscent of the Lennon Sisters, and "Christmas Don't Be Late" (a re-named Chipmunk Song) are also highlights, along with nine other Christmas standards.

A great album by a great artist!

Please enjoy Season's Greetings from Nora Aunor  download link

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Merry and Bright Interview with Tim Neely (part 2)

Part 2 of my exclusive interview with Tim Neely, Christmas Music Collector All-Star and author of the Goldmine Christmas Record Price Guide.


MB:  Ok, let’s get to some nuts and bolts, or should I say chestnuts and peppermint sticks, of Christmas music.  In 1997 your book, the Goldmine Christmas Record Price Guide, was published.  Even now, 25+ years later, it’s still an indispensable guide for the serious collector.  How did the Goldmine guide come about? 

TN: First, thanks for the compliment.

The Christmas Record Price Guide came about for two reasons. First, when I was hired at Krause Publications, the publisher of Goldmine in those days, I was brought onboard to put together a database that eventually became the source for the Goldmine Standard Catalog of American Records, a mammoth 1,200-plus-page price guide that finally hit the market in 1998. Second, to lead up to that event, I was given leeway to create books that would help beef up the database en route to the final goal. Christmas records were a strong interest of mine, and of course, a general guide to records would have to have some Christmas records in it. So why not a separate guide to Christmas music?

MB:  You should be very proud of the Guide.  I refer to it many times every year. 

TN: Thank you. It didn't sell very well, but those people who did buy it, such as you, treat it with great reverence. I haven't checked lately, but I once noticed that old price guides don't have much interest as collectibles in their own right. The exception was the Christmas Record Price Guide.

I've been asked many times by fans to do an updated version, but I don't know how viable it would be. When I worked at Krause, it was out of the question because of the poor sales of the first edition. It's now been more than 15 years since my last price guide of any kind and more than a quarter century since the Christmas guide came out. I find it surprising, but flattering, that there is still interest all these years later.

MB: And now, with the first edition of the Goldmine Guide behind you, you’ve continued to carry the Christmas music torch with your “Christmas Song of the Day”.  Every year since 2014, each day from December 1 through December 31 you share with us, via your website Tim Neely Stuff, a Christmas song that has some special meaning to you, including the story behind the song (that’s 279 songs so far, by the way).  Some of the stories are quite personal, which brings a deeper meaning to the song for us, your readers.  How is it that a particular song gets selected as one of your Christmas Songs of the Day?

TN: I have two primary considerations for each Christmas Song of the Day. First, does this song deserve greater attention from mainstream radio? And second, do I at least like it? Beyond that, if the song has an interesting story, that makes it better.

I always worry that some of the entries get way too personal. In real life, my past stays close to the vest until I can trust someone. But I'm usually more open and vulnerable when I write. Many Christmas songs remind me of early Christmases, lost loves, people who have passed away, and other things that don't always come up in conversation, and adding those impressions makes the story more meaningful to me. I'm glad at least some other people get something out of them.

MB:  I’ve been introduced to so many songs and artists through your annual CSotD lists (as a collector nerd, I have them all listed in a spreadsheet).  Sharing under-appreciated songs to our community is one of the very special things about being in the collector family.  Are there a couple standouts from that list of 279 songs that you’d like to mention?

TN: You're more organized with my Christmas Songs of the Day than I am! I sometimes have to search my old entries to make sure that I've not done a song in the past. All my old entries still exist, so newcomers to the CSotD can see what I've done previously. I'm thinking of making it easier to find past years' entries, if I can do so.

Since 2015, when I moved the feature to my blog rather than posting it only on Facebook, only a handful of my entries have made it to mainstream radio; it's more common that my choices used to be on the radio but have been shunted aside.

I could mention so many of the songs I've posted. Because you also asked what songs I think would work great on regular rotation on Christmas radio, I'll pick a couple that might not because of the emotions they may evoke.

In 2007, when she was merely an up-and-coming country singer and not yet a cultural phenomenon, Taylor Swift did an EP for Target, and one of the songs on it is the heartbreaking "Christmases When You Were Mine." A couple of the covers on the disc are in regular radio rotation, but not this one, a song she co-wrote. I was more than a year and a half past my first serious relationship, and it still made me cry the first time I heard it. The line "When you were putting up the lights this year, did you notice one less pair of hands?" really hit hard. I'd imagine that anyone who'd had a great Christmas with a now-gone romantic partner could relate.

In a similar vein is "The Heartache Can Wait" by Brandi Carlile, which I find devastating. She's desperately trying to avoid breaking up with a romantic partner during the Christmas season because she knows what would happen.

On a more cheery note, I've really come to like those songs in which, to paraphrase "Amazing Grace," Christmas is lost, but now it's found. Three of different types that immediately come to mind are "Santa Will Find You" by Mindy Smith, "Christmas Always Finds Me" by Ingrid Andress, and "When My Heart Finds Christmas" by Harry Connick, Jr. The last of those used to be played regularly on Christmas radio, but I realized how rarely I'd heard it in the past several years, so I wrote a CSotD entry on it in 2022. To me, it's the greatest Frank Sinatra Christmas song that Ol' Blue Eyes never recorded.

MB:  I’m often asked “What is your favorite Christmas song?”, and my answer usually includes five or six songs in rapid response.  But, I’ll pose that question to you:  Do you have a favorite Christmas song?  How about an album?

TN: I still have a soft spot, more than 50 years after I first heard it, for "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole. I didn't know what it was called when I was a kid; it was the "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" or "kids from one to 92" or the "many times, many ways" song. I think it says just about everything secular that makes Christmas wonderful. And with all the covers of the song, though none has surpassed Cole's several versions, none has been an embarrassment, either. There are some great covers.

As far as more sacred songs, there's something about "Silent Night" sung by candlelight in a Christmas service, especially on Christmas Eve, that still gets to me, whether in English or German or with wordless vocals or as an instrumental. It's popular in the Christmas-music community to be unkind to Mannheim Steamroller, but its version of "Stille Nacht," with just a voice or voices singing "ooh" instead of the words, is otherworldly. Few other songs make me feel how lonely a pre-dawn Christmas morning can be.

A more "contemporary," or post-1980s, song I love is "Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)" by Amy Grant. I happen to think that the 1990s were a golden decade for new Christmas songs, and this might be the most golden of all. I rarely hear it except on Christian stations, but when that piano intro comes on, I get goosebumps. And the part at the end of the second verse where a word is dropped each time is some great writing: "Help me be strong. Help me be. Help me."

Albums? That's even tougher. As I've written in my blog almost annually, I have a soft spot for the 1967 W.T. Grant compilation A Very Merry Christmas, mostly because it was the first "grown-up" album my parents let me play. But it also has some truly unusual selections that rarely have appeared on other Christmas albums, such as "The Star Carol" by Simon and Garfunkel and "Sweetest Dreams Be Thine" by Theodore Bikel.

I also love A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, as it is called these days. That pretty much speaks for itself, though there's a misconception that it was a noble flop when it was first released. In reality, it was pretty successful in 1963, but it did go out of print from about 1967 to 1972, which added to its mystique. Overall, the year 1963 was an unusually strong year for both new and reissued Christmas music. Perhaps a blog entry is in order to flesh this out some more.

A single-artist Christmas album that never gets old is A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. I didn't even know this album existed until 1990. It's so omnipresent today that it can be hard to believe that, for quite a long time, the only easy way to hear the music was to watch the TV show once a year.

MB:  If you could pick one or two unheralded Christmas songs that no one in the general public has heard and get them into the top 10 Christmas song radio rotations, what would they be?

TN: Just one or two? If you insist … (smile)

Let me start with one I first heard on a hyper-local radio station some years ago. It was so obscure that I couldn't Shazam it, nor could I find the lyrics online, when I first heard it. I ended up emailing the radio station, and they told me what the song was. I then discovered that I had it in my collection! It's "Your Christmas Day" by Laura Allan – another great new Christmas song from the 1990s. I just love the lines "And though the road be long and winding / There's a Christmas star a-shining / And the angel's gonna help you find your Christmas day." It's a very optimistic song.

The other one is one of the many Christmas songs without which the season in England would be incomplete, but Americans don't know at all – "Driving Home for Christmas" by Chris Rea. Most people who go somewhere for Christmas drive there, and Rea sings of the anticipation and the memories, and of the other drivers around him who are also driving home for Christmas. If I were programming a holiday radio station, I'd immediately find a place for this. I think American audiences would love it.

OK, here's a third, if you'll indulge me. The alt-rock band Better Than Ezra was basically a one-hit wonder with their 1995 Top 40 hit "Good." But before they vanished, they put out a wonderful non-album cut called "Merry Christmas Eve," which is like "The Christmas Song" for the 1990s, because it mentions so many things that make the holiday great. And it even mentions "a midnight Mass for a birthday" in its lyrics. I've heard it on the radio only a handful of times since the first time I heard it around 1997, but I love it, and I think radio would, too.

MB:  Do you have a ‘holy grail’ of Christmas records you want for your collection?  At a screening of “Jingle Bell Rocks” a few years ago, I asked that question to Mitchell Kezin, and his response at that time was one of Jimmy McGriff’s albums (since found and acquired).  Is there anything on your list?

TN: I stopped actively buying "vintage" Christmas music once I lost track of what I owned and what I didn't. But if I ever decided to come out of retirement, so to speak, a couple albums I don't own and have never owned that I'd like to get are both the mono and stereo original 1965 editions of A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. They were expensive 20 years ago and are probably even more expensive now, despite almost annual reissues (though I don't think it's ever been reissued in mono).

On CD: When I moved to Virginia in 2013, a good portion of my CD collection never made it onto the moving truck. Though most of the missing albums and singles were non-Christmas, I did lose a couple hundred Christmas CDs. To this day, I haven't completely assessed what was lost, but I know I have several holes in what used to be complete runs of several series, including the True Value Hardware Happy Holidays series and the Hallmark series (the Sheryl Crow and James Taylor discs, at least, are missing). So I'd want to re-obtain those.

As for discs I never had, I remember getting outbid on eBay on a promo copy of the Kimberley Locke Christmas CD back when it was released, and I've never encountered another one.

On 45: The full-volume mix of "Gaudete" by Steeleye Span. It's on the original British 45, and it's not that rare over there, but it has eluded my grasp. The song was released twice in the U.S. on 45, but I don't know if either one contains the British single mix or was lifted from the album, which fades in, peaks in volume halfway through, then gradually fades out. Unless someone here in the States has one, it would cost me more in postage than the record is worth.

I'd also like the Beatles' Christmas 45 box set from a few years back; I was broke when that came out, and of course it's now out of print and very expensive. I'd love to hear those in decent sound. I've had a bootleg LP with muddy sound since 1980 or so.

And there's one more 45: "Blue Christmas" by Seymour Swine and the Squeelers (sic) on the Swine Productions label. This is the famous "Porky Pig" version recorded by a DJ in, I think, Charlotte, N.C. in the 1980s. I first heard it on a mix CD someone sent me in the 1990s, but I've since learned that it was edited and sped up, so I want the real McCoy.

MB:  What type of Christmas songs do you not care for?  Is there a particular music genre or songwriting style that just doesn’t jingle your bells?

TN: I have a very high tolerance for Christmas music of virtually all genres and virtually all aspects of the holiday season. The songs or versions I don't like tend to be on a case-by-case basis.

MB:  A final question for you Tim, and it’s a bit philosophical.  What are the qualities of your love of Christmas music that you would share with everyone if you could?

TN: Wow. What I love about Christmas music is the seemingly endless ways that songwriters and singers express their love of the season. You'd think that, by now, everything that could possibly be said about almost every aspect of the holiday has been said. But every year, I find something new, different, and interesting. And that's what is so great about it to me.

And as a format, there is none more diverse. Sure, all the songs are about this time of the year, but there is no other format where Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, and Bing Crosby rest comfortably with Gwen Stefani, Blake Shelton, John Legend, and Taylor Swift, who fit in with Mannheim Steamroller, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Bruce Springsteen, and the Pretenders, who can be joined by the Beach Boys, the Ronettes, Donny Hathaway, and Vince Guaraldi. (And that's merely scratching the surface.) If you're lucky, you might hear every one of those artists in the same hour!

MB:  Tim, once again, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with Merry & Bright.  I hope for many more years of Tim Neely’s Christmas Song of the Day, and I wish you a very happy and safe holiday season!

TN: Thank you so much!


See Tim's Christmas Song of the Day at Tim Neely Stuff

Monday, December 4, 2023

New Music Roundup!

Hi folks!  It's once again time for the annual New Music Roundup.  So, giddyap - here we go!


The Gleeman - "I Love Christmastime"

Singer songwriter The Gleeman has announced a Christmas single release, ‘I Love Christmastime’ to keep the focus of the world’s eye on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the impact it continues to have on the children of the war-torn country. The single is raising awareness for the charity War Child.

Music has historically been known to bring togetherness in times of displacement and conflict. In the past, Christmas songs such as "Christmas 1914" by Mike Harding and Paul McCartney’s ‘Pipes of Peace’, all delivered a Christmas sentiment and poignant message. Music is a constant source of comfort for many, a safe place of escapism in a turbulent world. Christmas for Ukrainians, despite their devastating war-torn environment, is still an essential and important date for them to celebrate, particularly for children. This year for the first time in its history, Ukraine will celebrate Christmas day on the 25th of December.

War Child received the track a few months ago and loved the song, which has been written from the perspective of a child, as The Gleeman crafts lyrics remembering the joys and magic of the Christmases gone-by. A gifted musician and storyteller, The Gleeman with the support of War Child was motivated to release the single to keep the plight of children in Kyiv and Ukraine at the front of people’s minds.


Dustin Douglas & The Electric Gentlemen - "Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You"

Looks like Dustin Douglas & The Electric Gentlemen (DDEG) may just make it on to Santa’s “nice list,” after all. The critically-acclaimed blues-infused rock band presents their rendition of one of their favorite holiday songs “Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You” (Billy Squier, 1981)

“’Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You’ has always been one of my favorite Christmas tunes,” said Frontman/Lead Guitarist/Singer-Songwriter Dustin Douglas. “Something about the bluesy verses and Squier’s unmistakable voice makes me smile. I always knew someday I’d record this track.”

And that he did. However, in true fashion, the group – which is rounded out by Drummer Tommy Smallcomb and Bassist Matt “The Dane” Gabriel – didn’t simply cover the iconic holiday song. They re-invented it. Recorded at Eight Days A Week Studio in Northumberland, PA, DDEG’s version boldly boasts the band’s signature swagger, big guitars, infectious rhythms, and sexy grooves with Douglas’ distinct bluesy, vocal delivery, honoring Squier's original vibe … while making it their own.

Dustin Douglas Music


Mikalyn "Sweet the Snow Falls"

Canadian musician Mikalyn's heartfelt emotional rendition of a beautiful holiday song about the magic of the outdoors in the Winter, written by promising new Canadian songwriter Greg Weinerek.


Chris Daily  Seasonal Sounds

“Seasonal Sounds & Traditional Songs” is a mix of classic R&B and retrorock with indie lo-fi vibes and an ear towards the holiday season. Also featured on the track "When Otis Redding Sang (Merry Christmas Baby) Remix" is soul singer songwriter Erica Michelle.

"Seasonal Sounds" on Bandcamp

The Static Dive "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"

As we enter the holiday season with wars on multiple shores, The Static Dive (musician and writer, Bob Smith) delivers a bossa nova-infused indie-pop interpretation of John Lennon's holiday classic. With its chill vibe, a touch of melancholy, and a unique jazz combo arrangement, the song is a smooth take on an iconic call for peace that is more relevant today than ever before.

Note from Der Bingle:  "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" is a Christmas song that is sacred to me - there are very few versions that I like.  The Static Dive's passes muster - well done!


Mango Island Sound "So Many Christmases Ago"

"So Many Christmases Ago" is family song about memories of Christmas Eve as a child, Christmas morning as a young parent, then Christmas night as a grandparent, and ends with "as long as we hold on to all these memories, we'll always be together Christmas night." It's in a traditional Christmas
style and builds to a subtle, slow calypso beat with steel drum accompaniment.


Corvair "Long Way Around the Sea"  

Portland-based band Corvair is pleased to release their latest Christmas song, a cover of Low’s “The Long Way Around the Sea.” This is the fourth Christmas song the band has released in four years. They are currently working on a Christmas EP for 2024.

Singer and guitarist Brian Naubert says of the decision to cover the song, “Low’s Christmas album, which was released in 1999, is one of my favorite holiday albums of all time. I’ve always been very interested in Christmas music, including making my own, but their record completely redefined for me what the genre could be. It’s so profound, there’s not one saccharine moment.”

Singer Heather Larimer says of the song, “I’ve been making Christmas music since my first band, Eux Autres. And I usually like to try to push the subject matter a bit dark. For instance, the first one I co-wrote (“Another Christmas at Home”) was about a dive bar in Omaha. But this year, it felt right to cover a Low song, one that is written deep inside the original Christmas Story. Even just the phrase ‘take the long way around the sea,’ with all of its sustained open vowels, is very poignant. It cracks your heart open to sing it.”


Amanda Fagan "Snowfall"

Amanda Fagan, San Diego singer/songwriter who last graced the pages of Merry & Bright in 2021, is back with a new single for the 2023 Christmas season.  "Snowfall" is another original song from the talented Amanda.


Deneice Pearson "Santa Claus is Coming"  

Continuing a celebration of 40 years in the industry Brit Award winner, Grammy nominee, and lead singer of iconic pop group, FIVE STAR, Deniece Pearson announces news of her first ever Christmas single, ‘Santa Claus is Coming.’ Out 1st December.

It’s a Caribbean Christmas for Deniece as she presents her original Christmas song ‘Santa Claus is Coming’. Celebrating the true meaning of Christmas and also the fun side of the season, the reggae-flavoured ‘Santa Claus is Coming’ is an uplifting, joyful sing-along with pitch perfect harmonies and an infectious groove – a modern-day Christmas song with all the hallmarks of a keeper.


Ashley Brandenburg "Winter Magic"

Get ready to feel the holiday spirit with Ashley Brandenburg's newest release, "Winter Magic." This festive tune seamlessly combines nostalgic elements with singer/songwriter pop sounds, creating a truly enchanting experience. With its catchy chorus and heartwarming lyrics, "Winter Magic" celebrates the joy and wonder of the season. Ashley's soulful voice and musical talents shine through in this uplifting track, reminding listeners of the magic that can be found in the simplest of moments. So, grab a cup of hot cocoa, cozy up by the fire, and let "Winter Magic" transport you to a world of holiday cheer. Don't forget to share it with your friends and family to spread the joy this season!


Kevin Scott Hall & Judy Pancoast "Christmastime in Maine"

From the duo of Kevin Scott Hall and Judy Pancoast comes "Christmastime in Maine", capturing the qualities and spirit of the holidays in the Pine Tree State from two born and raised Mainers.  "Christmastime in Maine" is produced by award-winning roots artist Grant Malloy Smith, and is available at all the usual streaming platforms.

Kevin Scott Hall website
Judy Pancoast website

Sunday, December 3, 2023

New Music: Cliff Beach "Christmas Day Funk"

Cliff Beach's 2021 album "Merry Christmas, Happy New Year" was one of the most fun and enjoyable Christmas music albums of the year.  Now, Cliff is back with a new single "Christmas Day Funk".

"Christmas Day Funk" is a great, high energy, funky Christmas tune.  The thing I love most about Cliff's music is that it seems you can hear him smiling as he sings.  There's just a pure, happy, joyful spirit from the soul that comes through.  I dig it.

Check out the video for "Christmas Day Funk", head to Spotify and add it to your holiday playlists, and be sure to follow Cliff Beach Music on Facebook.  All the links are below.

Extra!  Extra!  Want to hear from the man himself?  Good friend Ken Kessler, proprietor of Sounds of Christmas, connected with Cliff for a new Podcast episode.  Head on over to the Sounds of Christmas podcasts and listen to Ken and Cliff talk about "Christmas Day Funk" and what's up for a 'Big 2024'.

"Christmas Day Funk" on Spotify

Cliff Beach Music

Friday, December 1, 2023

Merry and Bright Interview with Tim Neely (part 1)

Tim Neely is well known in the world of Christmas Music collecting.  And, "well known" is an understatement to the hard core Christmas music collector community.  Tim is the author of the indispensable Goldmine Christmas Record Price Guide, published in 1997 and still highly sought after by collectors 26 years later.

Tim is an active member of the online Christmas music collector community, contributing tidbits of recording history to many discussions.  Deeper knowledge about the history of Christmas music recordings may not exist (although Stubby might make it a tight race).  

Each year since 2014 Tim has graced us with a "Christmas Song of the Day" during the month of December, sharing with his readers a song that has some special meaning to him.  We learn all about the song, and why he selected it, which may be a very personal, moving story.  I've been introduced to many new artists and songs from Tim, BarlowGirl, Laura Allen, and Nightbirde being three that come to mind.  You can follow along Tim's CSOTD at his website, Tim Neely Stuff.

Several months ago I asked Tim if he would mind doing an interview with Merry & Bright, to talk about all things Christmas music.  Tim enthusiastically agreed, unaware of just how many questions would be coming his way.  Trooper that he his, Tim sent back extraordinarily thoughtful answers to all my questions.

I am very, very grateful for Tim's time.  He is a music lover, collector, historian, and gentleman with truly fascinating insights into Christmas music, past and present.  So, here on December 1, coinciding with Tim's debut Christmas Song of the Day, I am very proud to present Part 1 of my interview with Tim Neely.  Stay tuned to Merry & Bright for Part 2.


Merry & Bright Interview with Tim Neely part 1

Merry & Bright:  Tim, thank you for spending this time with Merry & Bright.  As such a highly respected member of the Christmas music collector community, I think my readers will really enjoy hearing your thoughts about Christmas music and related topics.

Tim Neely: Thank you for thinking of me and asking me.

MB:  I’d like to start by learning a little more about you.  My personal earliest memory of Christmas music is a Bing Crosby album that my parents had (“Songs of Christmas”, Decca DL 34461,  with Bing and Katherine Crosby wrapping presents on the front cover and Bing advertising for La-Z-Boy on the back).  I played that record year round in my early childhood, and I still have it in my collection today, over 50 years later.  What is one of your earliest memories of Christmas music?

TN: Just one? I must have been a Christmas music fan from my pre-kindergarten years, because I vaguely remember watching three classic Christmas TV specials, if not the year they first aired, then not long thereafter – Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas! With help from my dad, I made a reel-to-reel tape recording of Rudolph off the television one year, but about a third of the way through, the sound became distorted.

I also remember looking forward to the Christmas season at church, because they'd pull out Christmas songs to sing as part of the service, such as "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and "Angels We Have Heard on High."

Another early memory is that my parents bought me a songbook of Christmas music when I was quite young, and I used it so much that it eventually fell apart. I did a search for it not too many years ago, and I found that it was called Christmas Carols and was published by Whitman in 1964. (Earlier editions were printed many times dating back to 1938!) It has a great cover, with singers standing around what looks like an old-time organ. It would be neat to have that 1964 songbook again.

Finally, during the Christmas season of 1967, my parents bought an LP at W.T. Grant, which used to be a five-and-dime department store chain. Grants was where we went to visit Santa, probably because it was the closest place to do so from home. Anyway, they bought an album called A Very Merry Christmas. That album was the first "grown-up" record that my dad let me play on his big-people stereo. That is where it all began. I've had other copies of that album in the years since, but I still have that record that my folks bought in 1967, complete with my handwriting on the back cover.

MB:  How did you become a collector of Christmas music?  To paraphrase Malcolm Gladwell, was there a ‘tipping point’ after which your collecting mojo really took off?  Or was it a gradual thing, where one day you suddenly realized you had built up quite a collection?

TN: It was definitely a gradual thing. I consider the start of my record collecting as March 1973, though there had always been records around the house. It wasn't a focus of the collection for many years, but when (especially) 45s of Christmas songs showed up, I got them. I had "The Chipmunk Song" by the Chipmunks early on, as well as Gene Autry's "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and Jimmy Boyd's "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," because an early focus of my 45 collection was songs that hit #1 in Billboard.

Some others I recall adding to my collection early on were an early-1960s pressing of "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole; the 45 EP with "Blue Christmas" by Elvis Presley on it; and "The Man with All the Toys" by the Beach Boys.

The Christmas part of my collection started to grow in the mid- to late-1980s, to the point where by 1990, I made Christmas mix tapes for my mom's Christmas parties for her friends from work. By that time, I had dozens of holiday albums and hundreds of 45s. By the early 1990s, I began to collect Christmas CDs; I also started to collect various-artists series of albums. I got all eight volumes of A Very Merry Christmas from Grants and most of the Firestone and Goodyear volumes. Finally, I worked on collecting the True Value Hardware Happy Holidays series. By 1997, I had enough Christmas albums that I segregated them from the rest of my collection. So it was definitely a gradual progression.

MB:  Can you estimate the size of your collection?  How many LPs, singles, CDs?  We’ll exclude downloaded digital music from the count.

TN: At one time, I had over 10,000 Christmas records, including 45s and LPs, and I think I still do. I have an entire wall filled with Christmas CDs, including both full-length and singles; I estimate that I have 4,000 CDs.

MB:  I’ve often thought about what will happen to the collections that our colleagues in the community own.  My collection is pretty large, but it pales in comparison to some of the true A-Listers like Rob Martinez, Ernie Haynes, and Tim Sewell.  Where will your collection wind up a few decades down the road?  And what would you like to see happen to the collections from our peers?  I hate the thought of a giant truck backing up to the loading dock at the local thrift store with pallets of Christmas records from a collector.

TN: It's not something I've thought about very much, unfortunately.

MB:  I’ve wondered about the utility and feasibility of an International Christmas Music Museum and Research Center, as a place for these collections to live on in perpetuity.  Maybe someone out there knows of a rich patron to provide the startup funding.

TN: Or perhaps, one can find a major research university with a great already existing music-history department to host such a collection. A large financial donation or endowment would help, which alas is beyond my meager means. But if that school already has some infrastructure, adding a Christmas-music component would simply require storage space and commitment.

MB:  What are your general thoughts about the Christmas music collector community?  What role do you think the blogs, message boards, and sharing of out-of-print vinyl (lovingly transferred to digital) have had on the world of Christmas music?

TN: I love it! Any time you discover other people with the same specific interest, it's a godsend. All the talk by bloggers and enthusiasts has been a positive thing, because I think it shows that reissues of rare Christmas music, especially by niche labels, can be commercially viable.

MB:  Let’s talk about the evolution of music media, a topic not exclusive to Christmas music, but one very important to us as collectors. We’ve seen the distribution of music transition from vinyl to CDs to digital downloads to streaming (I left out 8-tracks and cassettes, but I suppose we can give them a nod as well).  Now vinyl is “in” again, and achieving significant sales, with more and more new and re-releases every year.  What are your thoughts about the evolution of the media, and the resurrection of vinyl?

TN: It makes me glad I got off the acquisition treadmill a few years ago! By the 1990s, every new Christmas album was on CD, and many were still on cassette, but almost none were on vinyl. With all the LP reissues of the past 10 years, I'd be doing the opposite of what many music buyers did in the early 1990s. In other words, I'd be replacing my discs with records, rather than the other way around. But there's no way I could ever afford to do so today.

Along those same lines, I know of a Christmas music collector who has at least 40 (!!) vinyl variations of Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas with different colors of records and styles of covers. At one time, that album was impossible to find! I remember buying the 1988 reissue version at a store that was clearing out its records in 1990, and I had no idea it existed at all. Now, it's reissued so frequently that it's darn near impossible to keep track, or keep up.

MB:  Let’s do a quick focus on digital music – “physical” versions – MP3, WAV, FLAC, etc. – as well as streaming.  I have a huge collection of digital music stored away on hard drives and internet services, but I personally lose track of them, and strongly prefer my CDs and records.  And I am not yet a convert to streaming.  I will stream some music each season, but it’s a very small part of my listening.  How has digital and streaming music affected the way you listen to Christmas music? 

TN: Frankly, not much at all. I mostly find it annoying! Going all the way back to Kimberley Locke's 2005 version of "Up on the Housetop," and possibly earlier, record labels started with digital-only Christmas music. When that song was popular, the only way to find that song was if you were fortunate enough to find one of the promo-only CDs containing it – unless you believed in ITunes, where you could buy the song as a digital download. Two years later, she did an entire Christmas album, but it was only available digitally; hard copies were promo-only.

I downloaded a few one-offs over the years, but only if they were free. One I'm glad I got was "Fa La La" by Jim Brickman featuring Olivia Jade Archbold, because Brickman made a WAV (lossless) version available on his website the year it was sent to radio (2011), and ever since, I don't think it's been on a hard copy.

To this day, I keep a keen eye for those increasingly rare new Christmas compilations in hopes of finding songs I've heard in recent years but despair of ever owning because they aren't on CD or record.

MB:  Over the years, have you seen peaks and valleys in the popularity of Christmas music?  To me, although this may be completely a personal experience bias, it seems like the first Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album kicked off a bit of a resurgence in Christmas music popularity.  And, then when the first “A Very Special Christmas” was released, that seemed to contribute to another boost.  If you have seen peaks, what do you think were the triggers that led to the bumps in popularity?  Certain songs or albums?  Other influences?

TN: I could write an entire essay, or even a book, on this subject. But the short answer is yes, I have seen peaks and valleys in the popularity of Christmas music. I'd argue that Christmas music, combining both the streaming and playlist-based phenomenon and the sales of physical media, has never been more popular than it is today! Admittedly, the CDs are far less numerous today than 15-20 years ago, but they're still out there. And I really miss the store-brand CDs from such places as Starbucks, Kohl's, Hallmark Gold Crown, and True Value Hardware. New records, of course, are much more available today. But it's with radio and streaming where Christmas music is bigger than ever.

I'd say the lowest point in Christmas music in the United States was probably the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. Few artists were recording new Christmas LPs; most new releases hitting the market were novelties (numerous "Christmas Disco" albums, for example). And it was considered "uncool" to make Christmas records by the most popular artists of the day, though the Eagles had a hit with their version of "Please Come Home for Christmas" in 1978. In the UK, things were a bit different because of the national obsession with the Christmas #1 hit, which started in earnest in 1973 and remains a thing to this day.

Another contributor to a lull in Christmas-music popularity was Billboard's decision in 1963 to segregate Christmas music, both singles and albums, from its main singles and albums charts. Because of that, we don't really know how big the holiday hits from 1963-73 really were, unless one has access to Cash Box, which never disqualified Christmas music from its charts.

You mentioned the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album. It was released in 1984, and it actually made the main Billboard Top 200 album chart the year it came out, peaking at #110. But it didn't really take off until people started buying compact discs later in the 80s. And yes, A Very Special Christmas (1987) made it cool for American pop-rock artists to make at least the occasional Christmas song again.

MB:  The fairly recent history of Christmas music radio is quite interesting in itself.  I think that for many, many years commercial radio stations would work a few Christmas songs into their playlists during the season, and a very few would make the seasonal switch to all Christmas music in December.  (Side anecdote:  another early memory of mine is a Wichita KS radio station playing “Jingle Bells” by The Singing Dogs every morning during the season.)  A few years ago it seems we had an eruption in the number of stations switching to an all-Christmas format, and also there were races to see who could do it first.  In my market (Kansas City), Christmas radio has normalized, and there are only one or two that switch to all Christmas.  What are your thoughts about the history of Christmas radio, the huge upsurge, and where we are now?

TN: When I was growing up, the local sunup-to-sundown AM station used to play what it called a "Christmas Caravan of Music" starting a couple days before Christmas. It was strictly easy-listening fare; each segment was sponsored by a local business, and all may have been pre-recorded so the station announcers could have time off for the holiday. In the 1970s, the Philadelphia stations would incorporate maybe one Christmas song an hour into the format up until Christmas Eve, when they would play 24 hours of non-stop holiday music on a loop.

The first station I remember adapting an all-Christmas format for longer than a week was in Baltimore, Maryland, in November and December of, I think, 1989. It did so as a stunt, as it was going to change its format on January 1 of the new year. My recollection is that the station's ratings saw a significant improvement during those two months, and a seed was planted.

I think it was Fred Allen who once said, "Imitation is the sincerest form of television," and that's even more true on the radio. The first time I heard a station where I lived go all-holiday during the Christmas season was in 1997.

Not many years later, probably in 2003, I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, visiting family during Halloween weekend. As I was driving in the area, two adult-contemporary stations switched to Christmas music within a couple hours of each other. People were getting ready for trick-or-treating to the sounds of Santa! They did this for one reason: In any given market, the first station to switch to Christmas music gets the highest ratings from Thanksgiving to December 25, regardless how early the change.

During the years I lived in central Wisconsin, at least one commercial station switched every year except 2012. That year, the usual all-Christmas station had changed formats to contemporary hit radio (top 40) and didn't convert, and no other commercial station took its place. Instead, the only station in the market that played all-Christmas was a non-commercial Christian station, and its usual minuscule ratings improved significantly.

Many people complain about so-called "Christmas creep" and about the onslaught of holiday songs, but those who aren't complaining, and many who are, are listening. Year after year, radio ratings prove it.

In my market of Lynchburg-Roanoke, Va., one commercial station switches to all-holiday gradually, starting usually with the Delilah show in early November and then on weekends before going completely all-Christmas the weekend before Thanksgiving. Three Christian stations also switch to Christmas music, but they wait until after Thanksgiving.

MB:  Now, for a leading question, what do you think of the quality of the playlists of commercial radio stations that switch to Christmas music?  And, how about the playlists of the satellite radio stations?

TN: I don't listen to satellite radio, so I can't comment on that.

As for the usual playlists on commercial radio, I know that, if I were a program director for a Christmas radio station, I would do things differently.

Some songs get played over and over again because, frankly, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without them. But I would play the chestnuts less frequently – perhaps four times a day instead of 10 or 12.

I'd also incorporate more lesser-known songs, both old and new, that still convey the spirit of the holiday. One of the more annoying trends in Christmas radio the past five or so years is to simply add more different versions of the same few dozen famous songs, but by more current artists. How many versions of these songs do we really need to hear?


Tim Neely Interview with Merry & Bright part 2 coming soon!