Blitch Bango

Modern Christmas Classics In Various Styles Song Notes

Rather than post a "true meaning of Christmas" philosophy (which can easily be found in many a Christmas related movie for those of you who might not have your own), I think my intent was to capture that spirit in these songs. The goal was to approach these songs with the ideas I would normally use when writing/recording my own material: make the songs energetic, enthusiastic, intelligent, interesting, and offer the listener, as well as myself, somewhat of a creative or musical challenge. Beyond these basic concepts, I wanted the songs to have a positive feeling. I sometimes find it difficult to put a strong positive spin on my own songs (especially lyrics) without them sounding hokey, preachy, or insincere. Finally, I wanted the songs to represent the ideas of the season I find important: enjoyable, uplifting, and just plain fun. The process of making this project has been all of these things.

The list below contains specific notes for each of the songs on the recording. They are arranged pretty much in the order that the songs were recorded.

"Jingle Bells" - I can't recall if the original intent was to end up with a Neptunian space-age mutation of this popular Christmas song. I think it evolved that way after adding the bell sounds. But then again, the bass line suggests "Jingle Bells"...hmmm... Anyway, I think it exists as the result of doing some monkeying with the more futuristic and angelic sounds of my synthesizer. An alternate version was attempted which followed the real chord changes and melody of "Jingle Bells" using similar instrumentation as is in this version. However, it didn't really sound right to me in the early stages of arrangement, and lacked the inspiration of this, the original. So, I stuck with the original. For me, it conjures up the image of a first big-flake snowfall at midnight.

"Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" - This song was the result of some more monkeying with my synth, this time focusing on the more (pardon the pigeonhole) "world" sounds. Somehow, to me the marriage of sitars and this children's classic was obvious (just picture Santa belly-dancing). I think I had made the decision to record a full Christmas music project around the time the arrangement was being completed.

"Winter Wonderland" - This song has always reminded me of shopping for some reason. I think that's why this song has a "Bacharach meets Guaraldi while shopping in New York in 1965" feel. Of all the songs in the collection, I think this one ended up being closest to my original vision. And if I had to pick a favorite, it'd be this one. But then, I've always liked this song.

"Holly Jolly Christmas" - I've never understood why there haven't been as many remakes of this Christmas song as there are of others. Maybe other musicians think there's little room for improvement over Burl Ives' version. But to me, this song begged to be more energetic. It needed to rock. Side note: I originally downloaded the chord progression for this song from the Internet, but when I tried to play that and fit the vocal, something was awry. A quick comparison to Burl's version indicated the chord changes were horribly complicated, I suspect overworked by some keyboard jockey into a "Kenny G in a cheap polyester suit restaurant jazz turned muzak" thing. Now, I have nothing against jazzy arrangements, but jeez, show a little respect and a lot more restraint. The chord progression I used was modeled from an Ives' preferred set, with just a touch of my own mutations.

"What Child Is This" - This song is "one that got away"...the final version ended up being completely different than what I envisioned. My intent was to perform a more classical rendition sensitive to the religious nature of the song. But, as the basic tracks were recorded the song took off in a western (as in "Country and...") direction. I suppose I owe that to my Waylon Willie alter ego. Anyway, once that folky C&W feel was established, I just went with it.

"Blue Christmas" - Another "one that got away." The original vision was an upbeat, Jamaican influenced, but bluesy number. I envisioned the song's protagonist in some tropical climate surrounded by all the things that sum up fun, yet still "blue" because of a lack of close camaraderie. Little did I know at the time that upbeat reggae and blues are almost mutually exclusive. The completed song was almost the opposite of my intent, with the tone lacking sincerity, almost mocking and sarcastic. And I think this works even better. Side note: like "Holly Jolly Christmas" the chord progression was researched on the web, and the retrieved information was nearly unworkable. However, in this case, one of the chord changes actually fit well for this version, so I kept it, with the rest of the chord structure modeled after a Ringo Starr recording.

"Frosty the Snowman" - I had originally thought of doing this as a straight blues to exaggerate the darker nature of this song, but attempts at it proved to be boring. So, I thought of trying a more psychedelic, Birds-y, jangly number. It ended up being more of an uptempo Lou Reed groove, so I elaborated on that, especially since it evokes the sense of urgency a melting snowman must feel. Instead of a solo, I thought a poetry reading might be more interesting in the musical break. How appropriate that the poem I stumbled across has some of the dark elements I desired, is about winter, and penned by a "Frosty".

"We Wish You A Merry Christmas" - when I examined the chord progression of this song, and played it for the first time, it reminded me of a "California Sun/Surfin' Bird" surf-type song. Enough said. I found several versions of the lyric, and stuck with a rhyming version for the verse ("Good tidings..."). Of course, the "figgy" chorus made its way in also...

"Silver Bells" - This is an example of a song arranging itself. I just started monkeying with different ways of playing the chords, and came up with the basic structure. The rest of the arrangement was largely built off of that. I had toyed with adding a vocal part, but couldn't get into the lyrics, and decided the music stood on its own well enough.

"Do You Hear What I Hear" - What is on this recording is the third incarnation of this song. It started out as a vocal with acoustic guitars and atmospheric vibes, then became an instrumental with an acoustic playing the melody. Unhappy with both of these versions, I stripped away all but the vibes and melody guitar, sped the song up by 20%, and added the jazzy guitar, bass, and drums, and the airy piano. Now I feel better.

"Let It Snow" - While still in nightclub jazz mode from the previous song, this song sort of arranged itself after the bongo and rhythm guitar parts were recorded. The arrangement was somewhat inspired by a recent viewing of Bell, Book, and Candle.

"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" - This song turned out to be 180 degrees different than what it started as. Originally, I had an idea to keep this song slow, akin to the opening 4 bars, with two guitars trading notes, and adding instruments, building off of that. But, as sometimes happens, the song was going nowhere. I got the idea to make the song more soulful after hearing a Sly Stone song on the radio (I can't remember which one). I stripped away all but the first four bars of the trade-off guitars, and the vocal. Because the tempo of the main body of the song was more than 1.5 times the original tempo, the vocal part was "time shrunk," that is, when the tempo was changed, my recording software compressed the vocal part (without changing pitch) resulting in the "choppy" sounding vocal. I intended to use this only as a guide vocal, and re-record it later, but I found something charming about it and decided to leave it (warbling, choppiness, and off-pitch elements included). The rest of the song grew out of the drum part. I experimented with a few less manic guitar parts, after laying down some scratch tracks, but decided to re-record the guitar parts being faithful to the scratches. I'm told the music is reminiscent of the feeling one has during the final few hours of Christmas shopping on December 24th.

"Little Drummer Boy" - Another 180 degree turn. My sick sense of humor directed me to do "Little Drummer Boy" with, not only no drums, but abstracted even further, no percussive instruments of any kind (anything drum related, or striking instruments such as piano). The song started out with a droning synth sound, and the layered, airy guitars similar to what was done in "Silent Night." The 180-degree turn started when I added a rough guitar. A basic drum track followed. Then another, and another. From an original idea of "Little Drummer Boy" with no percussive instruments whatsoever, grew 6 drum tracks. All the elements of the original idea are gone.

"Silent Night" - I still wanted to do a song with the airy guitars and Eno-ish feel I had originally intended for "Little Drummer Boy." The concept works much better here.

"It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year" - The challenge for me here was to do this song, with its myriad of chords and changes, and make it my own. It's still faithful to the original, but I think the vibe part adds the "me" to it. Another of my Christmas favorites. I guess I'm just a sucker for chord changes like these.

"Sleigh Ride" - Another in the "interesting chord changes" department, and this was more of a vocal challenge than anything. I wanted to include it, as it is one of my favorite Christmas songs, and, again, contains chord changes I find interesting. Originally, it started as a straight rock number, but I didn't really like the overall sound (and I felt that it was sounding too much like some of the other songs). So, I revamped it with the tabla and bongo tracks, and the rest of the instruments followed that. This song was started before O Christmas Tree and Rudolph, but ended up being the last song finished.

"O Christmas Tree" - I was looking for another up-tempo song to add to offset some of the slower pieces. This song just came to mind, and the rhythm just fell into place once I started playing the chords. Interesting note: when researching the lyric to this one, I came across several versions (actually, every version I found was unique, with few common lyrics). The version presented here is a distillation of a couple others, with a few of my own changes. Ahhh, the beauty of using music in the public domain!

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" - The idea for this one just popped into my head at the last minute. I don't know what made me do this in a "late sixties English rock festival" style, but I think the result is pretty hilarious.

Thanks for listening.

B. Mathis