In December 1965 Frank Borman and Jim Lovell were far, far from Home.
They were astronauts – the crew of Gemini 7 orbiting The Earth on a 14 day mission.
Naturally as they looked down on their home Planet their thoughts turned to the upcoming Christmas celebrations.
So when they were asked by Mission Control if there was any music they wanted to hear their reply was unhesitating – ‘I’ll be home for Christmas’.
It’s the wish, the fondest hope, of every soldier who has soldiered in every war since Christmas was first celebrated.
Nothing makes the heart yearn for Home like the approach of Christmas.
Whether it’s your childhood Home or the Home you’ve made for yourself as an adult, Home attracts with a primordial power.
And, if you can’t make it Home in person because of a War or the tides of life then you can, you can, be Home – if only in your dreams.
I don’t know which version of Kim Gannon, Walter Kent and Buck Ram’s Song the Gemini 7 Crew listened to (probably the masterful Bing Crosby original) but the one I always turn to is by the enigmatic Leon Redbone.
Rarely for me I’m going to give you no disquisition on Leon except to say that you will be doing yourself a great favour if you invest in his records forthwith!
I’ll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the lovelight gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
I hope you make it home for Christmas wherever you may be today.
And if you just can’t make it Home I hope that the Home you find in your dreams is the one you have always been searching for.
There is a power beyond all analysis in the Christmas Carol – especially those which emerged from the folkloric tradition of England’s rural heartlands.
I could give you a learned analysis of, ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ noting it is numbered 514 in the Roud Folk Song Index and waxing lyrical on its symbolism and use of Christian iconography.
Somehow, as soon as Kate Rusty starts to sing all that appears superfluous.
For Kate is for my money the finest English Folk Singer since Sandy Denny and you would have to be made of stone not to be moved by the tender beauty of her voice.
Hearing her singing such a song I feel as if I had wandered from the snow into a Yorkshire Romanesque church.
Resting in a time worn pew, hunched against the draughts all around I am startled by the emerging sound of a rustic band straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel.
As the sound swells and soars to the rafters my eyes sting with tears as Kate in a voice at once wholly of the people and wholly unique brings all the moods and colours of the carol to blood beating life.
In Kate’s vocal you can feel in your heart and soul the rising of the sun and the quick running of the deer.
Oh such sweet singing in the choir!
The revelation of the mythical, mystical, significance of the landscape of the natural world is one of the glories of Folk Song.
Intertwined in Nature and our lives are the blossom, the Berry and the prickle of the thorn.
Even as we dance to the merry Organ we know (we know) that no life escapes bitter gall and no life needs not redemption.
Sinners need a Saviour.
Of all the trees that are in the wood the Holly bears the crown.
And, as loyal readers will know The Immortal Jukebox has a tradition of marking Christmas Tide with special Posts.
Songs of celebration and reflection from many genres and from artists famous and obscure.
This year for all our delight it’s a ‘Christmas Alphabet’ to follow up on the ‘Christmas Cornucopia’ and ‘Christmas Cracker’ series from 2016 and 2015 (if you haven’t read those yet start as soon as you’ve finished this!)
From today you can look forward to a Post every other day.
So, let’s start with C for the great Chuck Berry who died this year.
Now, as we all Chuck was a multi MVP, All Star and indeed a by acclamation inductee Hall of Fame Songwriter.
But that’s not all!
Chuck, when he put his diamond sharp mind to it was also a gifted and sensitive interpreter of other writers’ songs.
In the first flourish of his epochal years recording for Chess Records Chuck laid down two superb Christmas singles showcasing his skills as a guitarist and singer.
Let’s get our blood pumping and senses tingling with Chuck’s definitive take on Johnny Marks’ ‘Run Rudolph Run’
I like to clear a mighty big dancing space before I put this one on and I’d advise you to do the same if you don’t want your Christmas decorations to come crashing down around you!
Yup! Yup! Yup!
Chuck cracks the whip and boy don’t those reindeer speed like a Saber Jet through the firmament!
Johnny Marks was a Christmas Song specialist and I think we can allow that he had really got the hang of it when you consider that in addition to Run Run Rudolph he also wrote, ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’, ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’ and, ‘A Holly Jolly Christmas’.
What Chuck and the storied Chess Studio team brought to Run Run Rudolph was an irresistible brio that grips from the get go and doesn’t let up till the son of a gun hits the run off groove.
Just so you know you’re in good company going wild to Run Run Rudolph it was this song that Keith Richard chose to record for his first solo single in 1978 (and a lovely, extra loud, extra louche, job he made of it too).
Keith, surely, was the Boy Child who wanted a Rock ‘n’ Roll Record Guitar!
Chuck, being the fond of a greenback, canny operator that he was, took the arrangement they came up with here wholesale for his own, ‘Little Queenie’ when there would be no question about whose bank account the songwriting royalties would roll into!
Chuck has a powerful case for being the inventor of Rock ‘n’ Roll songwriting and Guitar style.
Yet, neither of these gifts came out of nowhere.
Chuck loved, understood and could integrate into his own sound The Blues, Swinging Jazz, Country Music and the Latin rhythms coming from South of the Rio Grande and from Cuba and the Islands.
So, when in 1947 he heard Charles Brown singing, ‘Merry Christmas Baby’ his ears must have pricked up as he thought, ‘Now that’s one I could do to show off my after midnight singing and guitar style’.
And so it proved.
You can settle back in your armchair for this one and maybe unstopper the Brandy Bottle.
Well, don’t that go down smoothly.
Chuck’s perfectly weighted vocal and hush don’t wake the baby guitar is perfectly complemented by Johnnie Johnson’s lyrical and lush piano.
One to listen to thrice before you move on!
Now a wonderful Transatlantic partnership between two maverick talents.
First, Ireland’s most successful cultural crusaders along with the manufacturers of Guinness – The Chieftains.
Joined here by the bohemian brilliance of Rickie Lee Jones.
The space they afford each other allows each to shine.
Rickie embodies the weary world and the thrill of hope even as The Chieftains evoke the bright shining stars and the glorious new Morn.
Together they make something really special and moving out of, ‘O Holy Night’