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This Is the Best Christmas Music Playlist of All Time

15 Dec
Photo credit: TSgt Suzanne M. Day/Creative Commons

Photo credit: TSgt Suzanne M. Day/Creative Commons

True story: If you want to know what the best Christmas music is, you should ask a Jewish person.

Why is that? Honestly, I really don’t know. Perhaps it has something to do with, as Sarah Spigelman Richter recently wrote on Mashable.com, a deep-seated sense of FOMO for “a culture that is in no way destined to be mine.” Feeling left out can be hard, so we appreciate the “Americanized, agnostic version of the Christmas season” that much more because it’s not really ours.

Or maybe that has nothing to do with it.

What I do know is that were it not for the Jews, we wouldn’t have some of the best Christmas songs of all time. “White Christmas,” anyone? “Silver Bells?” “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)?” Etc. Etc. All written by Jews. So clearly, we know our holiday tunes. Continue reading

These Songs Are in My Musical Time Capsule for 2014

17 Dec

2014 Time Capsule PlaylistEvery year, folks like DJ Earworm and Daniel Kim create mashups of the year’s most popular pop songs. The top 40 songs of 2014 include ones by Ariana Grande, Jason Derulo, Taylor Swift and Iggy Azalea, so it’d be easy to be dismissive and say there wasn’t much good music to listen to.

And yet, DJ Earworm and Daniel Kim’s 2014 mashups are still pretty awesome. Which proves, in one way or another, that when you listen to the right song in the right context, it can sound better than you remember.

Also, that we all have our own soundtrack, and like to listen to music in different ways. What sounds good to one person doesn’t to another. We all march to our own beat. Etc.

Plenty of music writers have already ranked what they think is the best/worst music of the year, and I have no intention of creating that kind of list. That said, as I look back on the past year, I’m finding that there was plenty of music I want to remember. Admittedly, not all of it was good (by my standards, anyway). But months or years from now, when I’m trying to put my head back in the place it was this year, playing these tracks will do the trick.

You won’t find any U2 here (free or not, I just didn’t dig their new album), but you will find multiple songs by folks like Bruce Springsteen, Jamie Cullum, and Pharrell Williams. You may even find a song from a Broadway show and a jazz instrumental track. (And two Megan Trainor songs, too; no judging.) That’s what I listened to this year. That was my soundtrack.

For your listening pleasure, here’s my musical time capsule for 2014, with some commentary on some of the tracks. Songs are listed (on the playlist and in this blog post) in no order other than a roughly chronological one. Enjoy! Continue reading

You Weren’t Supposed to Lose the Song in It

2 Jul

Begin Again movie posterThere’s a scene early in John Carney’s new movie Begin Again where the two main characters are discussing the concept of authenticity in the music business.

Gretta (Keira Knightley) suggests that Bob Dylan is an artist who stands up to her lofty standards. “That’s the most cultivated artist you could have thought of!” Dan (Mark Ruffalo) shoots back, arguing that Dylan’s image is totally manufactured, with a look that changes every decade.

So Gretta changes course and suggests Randy Newman is the most authentic artist of all time. Even Dan has to admit she’s right: Newman has never tried to be a star. He’s just done his own thing for years, without kowtowing to the audience.

The discussion underlines the differences between this latest release, and Carney’s last U.S.–released film, the instant classic Once. In that one, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova play two broken-hearted musicians who come together on the streets of Dublin and heal themselves through the power of music. It’s a subtle, sweet, small miracle of a film, one that features great songs (one of which won an Oscar for Best Original Song) and performances that are earnest, fragile, and heartfelt. It’s totally authentic. (Hell, Hansard and Irglova even fell in love while making it.)

If it ain’t broke, why fix it, right? No wonder Carney here tells a very similar music-heals-all story Continue reading

If My Year Had a Soundtrack, This Would Be It

23 Dec

John-Mayer-Paradise-ValleyEvery year has its share of ups and downs.

My 2013 was no exception.

There was hope, disappointment, fear, elation, relief, frustration, happiness, and much more. Sounds like a great movie.

Of course, like any movie, there’s a soundtrack. Here are the songs I was listening to this year, which, when listened to together, provide a pretty accurate representation of the emotional roller-coaster I was on in 2013. (For the record, no pun intended, I did the same thing last year.)

I invite you to relive the year with me — musically, anyway — if you choose. Continue reading

You’re Supposed to Be Singing

28 Jun

20-feet-from-stardom-posterWhen was the last time a movie made you want to stand up and cheer?

Like, legitimately want to stand up and cheer.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have to reset your clock after seeing 20 Feet from Stardom, an excellent new documentary about folks you’ve definitely heard, but likely have never heard of: backup singers like Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Táta Vega, Darlene Love, and Claudia Lennear.

These are people who’ve worked with the greatest legends in music — Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Bette Midler, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, Sting, Joe Cocker, Ray Charles, and so on — and yet never gained similar name recognition, even though the songs they’re featured on wouldn’t be half as good or half as memorable without their vocals. Continue reading

Every Superhero Needs His Theme Music

14 Jun

superman-headphonesWith the new Superman movie now in theaters, it’s time to dig out all those Superman-themed songs that we know and love.

You know the ones … “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” by the Spin Doctors, “Superman’s Song” by Crash Test Dummies, “Superman” by R.E.M., “Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down, etc. etc.

Want ’em all in one place? You’re in luck: To celebrate the release of Man of Steel, I’ve put together a Spotify playlist of Superman music. It includes the obvious candidates, plus one or two that reference Superman, and a few that were new to me but still worth including. Continue reading

Yes, I Hear the People Sing. Please Make Them Stop

19 Dec

les_miserables_french_posterI had a dream Les Miz would be … so much better than the movie it is.

Sorry to be a buzzkill, but despite all the hype that would lead you to believe the big-screen adaptation of the beloved musical Les Misérables is the best thing since sliced bread, the movie left me feeling lukewarm.

And I don’t say that lightly. Like so many others who grew up in New York, Les Misérables played a significant role during my formative years. I first saw it in 1987, in London, on a trip with my grandparents. I also saw the show on Broadway, and I heard songs like “On My Own” over and over in talent shows at summer camp and in school, and at other performances where young girls got up to sing.

So suffice it to say, I had a bit of history going into this one, and expectations were high.

Oh well.

Continue reading