Tomorrow’s Top 40: Christmas Edition

In this edition of Tomorrow’s Top 40, I am going to take a look at some of the many new Christmas releases that are flooding the marketplace at the moment. With the tremendous success experienced by Mariah Carey a few decades ago with “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, the market for the next great original Holiday song is wide open. It seems to me that almost everyone who’s anyone has jumped into the Holiday music scene with a new album this season. For me, what sets a Holiday album apart is when an artist or band includes songs that go beyond the usual Christmas suspects heard ad nauseam in shopping malls, on our car radio, in restaurants and so on as November winds down and December gears up. So, with that in mind, here are ten new Holiday releases that are all hoping to be the one to put you in that festive mood. Enjoy.

Happiness (Is Christmas) by Kristin Chenoweth

Kristin Chenoweth is well known from her work on a variety of Broadway musicals such as Wicked. Needless to say, the lady can sing and has charm to boot. This Christmas album is filled with many original tunes that are sung with the dramatic flair of a seasoned professional singer who appears to be having the time of her life. I am not sure that there is a Carey-calibre hit on this album but that is ok. Happiness (Is Christmas) is packed with energy and sounds like a Broadway cast recording which should appeal to many listeners who are seeking something different from the usual Holiday fare like Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”. If you are a Kristin Chenoweth fan during the non-Holiday portion of the year, then you’ll be a fan of this album, too. Here is “Happiness (Is Christmas)?Christmas Time Is Here”. ***There is no lyrics video for this song as of yet.

The Season by Steve Perry

That Steve Perry, former lead singer of the 1980s rock band Journey, has one of the best sets of pipes of any male singer around, is a hill that I am willing to die on. So, imagine my delight when I found out that he had re-emerged onto the music scene with a new Christmas album entitled The Season. However, the press release that accompanied this album spoke of Perry’s yearning to sing some “timeless classics” which is a code for singing the usual Christmas fare. There are no new songs written by Mr. Perry on this album. Instead, we have a stripped down, jazzed up, smoking-jacket-by-the-fire style of singing by Perry of Holiday standards such as Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”. If you think that an album of Steve Perry channeling his best Michael Bublé is your cup of tea, then you will like this album. I predict that fans of the band Journey will not. Here is “Silver Bells”. ***The lyric video is here.

Happy Holidays by Billy Idol

It was Billy Idol’s 67th birthday yesterday (as I type these words). One of the things that I always liked about Billy Idol is that he never seemed to take himself too seriously on stage. He always seemed to be in on the joke and, as such, he was a great entertainer all throughout his career. This was especially true once the big hits dried up in the 80s and 90s and he became more of a nostalgia act. It takes a certain type of singer to successfully transition from stadium rocker to Vegas-style lounge act, but Billy Idol has managed to make it seem effortless. His hit music always had great sound quality. Part of the reason for this was because of his deep singing voice. The combination of a rich singing voice and his comfort with being a lounge singer means that Billy Idol, unlike Steve Perry above, seems perfectly suited to croon out the “timeless classic” Christmas songs that we all know. Happy Holidays is a great album to listen to, especially if you visualize him curling his upper lip into a sneer with each mention of Santa. Here is “White Christmas”. ***The lyrics video is here. This video makes me laugh.

A Very Backstreet Christmas by The Backstreet Boys

When I think of the boy band craze of the 1980s and 90s, I remember a lot of singing that featured harmonies and a lot of choreographed dancing. Even though I cannot see the members of the Backstreet Boys while listening to this album to know if they are dancing or not, the harmonies certainly remain and shine through. This may sound like an obvious statement to make, but even though these guys are singing “timeless classic” tunes that we all are familiar with, they are doing so in a way that makes this album sound just like any other Backstreet Boys album. This is the very first Christmas album that they have released in the thirty years that they have been singing as a group. But, believe me when I tell you that their style of singing makes each song on this album instantly recognizable as a Backstreet Boys song, even if they are covering a song like “Last Christmas”, for instance. If you are a Backstreet Boys fan then you will love A Very Backstreet Christmas. Here is their cover of “Last Christmas”. ***The lyrics video is here.

Everybody Knows It’s Christmas by Chris Isaak

Mr. “Wicked Games” himself, Chris Isaak delivers a Christmas album that features almost all original music. On the standards such as “O Holy Night”, one could easily mistake him for Elvis, such is the rich timbre of his voice. Many of the original tunes on this album were written by Isaak and strike more of a rockabilly tone. His entry into the Carey-calibre derby is a song entitled “Almost Christmas”, which takes us through an afternoon of frantic Christmas shopping on December 24th. This song is whimsical and will make you smile. I am sure it will become a popular new entry into the modern day Christmas seasonal canon for years to come. All in all, Chris Isaak has delivered an album that is fresh and filled with great energy and superb singing. Don’t wait until Christmas Eve to download this terrific Christmas album. Here is “Almost Christmas”. ***There is no lyrics video for this song yet.

Pickin’ On Christmas by Davis Causey and Jay Smith

Pickin’ On Christmas is an instrumental Bluegrass Christmas album. For those of you who are not familiar with Davis Causey, he is a Bluegrass performer who has been making music for over sixty years! He was a session player extraordinaire for much of that time and over the course of his career has backed up a bevy of stars such as Marvin Gaye, Jackie Wilson, Bonnie Raitt and many more. The story behind this album is that it began two decades ago as a project that was never meant to be an album. Instead, Causey, along with his friend, Jay Smith, recorded these songs and created cds as gifts for their friends. Causey and Smith were good friends for many years, so when Smith passed away recently, Causey was asked how he would remember his friend. He answered by playing some of the tunes that they had recorded together. It was decided to make those informal gift cds into a polished professional record. The result is Pickin’ On Christmas. If you are fine with instrumental music then this album would be a great addition to your own collection of Holiday music. The musicianship on display is at a high level. Their take on these “timeless classics” is lovely and is done in a way that makes these familiar tunes uniquely their own. Excellent album. For what it is worth, it is my favourite album on this entire list. Here is “The Little Drummer Boy”. ***Remember, this is an instrumental album so there is no lyrics video for this song.

A Family Christmas by Andrea, Matteo and Virginia Bocelli

In order to appreciate what this album adds to the Holiday music canon, I want you to imagine what it must have been like to grow up in a family where your father is an internationally famous tenor. When I imagine this scenario in my mind, I see images of growing up in a home filled with music and warmth. If that is what you see then we will both enjoy this Bocelli Family Christmas album. Matteo Bocelli is Andrea’s son and Virginia Bocelli is his daughter. Needless to say, the musical apple has not fallen far from the tree. Both Matteo (who is twenty years old) and Virginia (who is entering her teens) possess beautiful singing voices, just like their father. There seems to be an easy rapport between them all as they sing their way through the “timeless classics”, and somehow they manage to cover familiar musical ground in a manner that demonstrates the affection that they have for one another. If you are a fan of Tenor-style singing, then this album is a must-have for your collection. The music is simply gorgeous. Here is “The Greatest Gift”. ***The lyrics video is here. ***Both videos are excellent. Well worth checking out.

Santa Baby by Alicia Keys

I have been an Alicia Keys fan right from the release of her very first single, “Falling”, way back in the 1990s. Over the course of her career, she has sold over 66 million records. Santa Baby is her very first album of Christmas music. Of all the performers seeking to replicate Mariah Carey’s success, Alicia Keys stands the best chance simply because her original Christmas song, “December Back 2 June”, sounds the most like a Mariah Carey song. It is soulful, jazzy, bluesy and filled with soaring moments that seem to thrill listeners. Not only does this song sound like a song that Mariah Carey could be singing, but Alicia Keys even followed Carey’s writing formula by creating the lyrics and recording the song in the middle of the summer, just as Mariah Carey did for her hit song. While it remains to be seen if “December Back 2 June” reaches the same dizzying heights that “All I Want For Christmas Is You” did back in the day, don’t be surprised if it does. This song strikes me as one that was written with being a hit in mind. If you give it a listen and like it then the rest of the album will sit well with you, too. Here is “December Back 2 June”. ***Lyrics version is here.

Louis Armstrong Wishes You a Cool Yule by Louis Armstrong

The music industry is known for many things but one of the most suspect ones is the “posthumous release”. Many artists sign contracts with record labels that promise the label x-number of albums during a certain period of time. However, real life being what it is, sometimes an artist dies before fulfilling their contractual obligations. When that happens, record labels will often insist on having the terms of the contract met, which is why after an artist dies we often see the release of “Greatest Hits” albums and/or albums that were recorded live somewhere. The downside of this for the artist is that the artist has no control over what is released in their name. As a result, sometimes a record label will release an album of outtakes, b-sides and rarities that the artists would never have released if they had been alive. So, I always view posthumous releases with a wary eye. With Louis Armstrong Wishes You a Cool Yule I needn’t have worried. This album is a collection of Holiday recordings from over the course of his career. It includes duets with Ella Fitzgerald and a spoken word rendition by Satchmo, himself, of “The Night Before Christmas”. In short, as posthumous releases go, Louis Armstrong Wishes You a Cool Yule defies convention and is actually wonderful in all regards. It would make an excellent soundtrack to a Holiday dinner I would imagine. Here is “Twas the Night Before Christmas” as read by Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. ***The lyrics version is here.

A Neil Diamond Christmas by Neil Diamond

Our tenth and final Christmas album under review is A Neil Diamond Christmas by the man, himself, Neil Diamond. Over the course of his career, Neil Diamond has released four albums of Christmas music. This latest album cherry picks from those four albums to create an album that is not quite a “Greatest Hits” album but one that purports to be Neil’s favourite songs from those four albums. Needless to say, the music is very orchestral, soaring often on the strength of Diamond’s rich voice. In the same way that the Backstreet Boys Christmas album still sounded like a Backstreet Boys album even though they were covering familiar holiday songs, Neil Diamond’s Christmas album sounds like a Neil Diamond album, too. If you are a fan of the man, then you will enjoy this album of his favourite Christmas classics. Here is “The Christmas Song” from this album. ***There is no lyrics version for this song.

I hope that you enjoyed this post and that you were able to find something from this list that might find its way into your home during the holiday season. If not, then I know that there is no shortage of “timeless classics” playing everywhere you go. One way or another, may your holidays be filled with joy and love and, of course, with good music, too.

***As an editorial note, this is the final Tomorrow’s Top 40 post for 2022. For the next few Thursdays, I am going to use this space to talk about the stories behind some of those very same “timeless classic” songs that make up the soundtrack to our holidays. See you all then. Take care. Thanks for tuning in and reading my words. I appreciate your presence here on my blog. Bye for now. Happy Holidays.

The links to the official websites for Kristin Chenoweth, Steve Perry, Billy Idol, the Backstreet Boys, Davis Causey, Alicia Keys, Chris Isaak, Andrea Bocelli, Louis Armstrong and Neil Diamond can be found by clicking on their names above.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Honourable Mention Song #7: La Vie En Rose by Edith Piaf (as Covered by Louis Armstrong) and (as Nominated by Deb Wilton) (KTOM)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Honourable Mention Song #7: La Vie En Rose by Edith Piaf, (as Covered by Louis Armstrong) and (as Nominated by Deb Wilton).

“La Vie En Rose” is a French song that was written during WWII during the German occupation of France. It translates, quite literally, to “the Pink Life” or, more accurately, to viewing life through rose-coloured glasses or having a positive outlook on things. “La Vie En Rose” was written by a lady named Edith Piaf, who is known in France as “The Little Sparrow” because she stood less that five feet tall. Edith lived a colourful life; living, in and out of brothels and bordellos in her youth. As a very young girl, the beautiful nature of her voice brought her to the attention of important people in the musical community and thus, she began singing in public while still a teenager. Over time, she began to gain fame across France. But, just as her fame was about to spread across borders and around the world, the Second World War broke out and France was quickly conquered by Germany and Piaf found herself, along with all French citizens, living under Nazi rule. During the time of occupation, Piaf regularly performed for German officers and agreed to go on singing tours in Germany which, in the eyes of many, made her a collaborator and a traitor. However, unbeknownst to all but a select few, Piaf was actually working for the French Resistance. By taking advantage of her access to high ranking German officers, Piaf was able to relay many important pieces of information to Resistance fighters. As well, she often toured prisoner of war camps and always insisted on posing for “celebrity photos” with inmates. What the Germans didn’t know was that Piaf was turning those photos over to the Resistance who, in turn, were using the inmate’s image to make new official papers for them use if they were able to escape from captivity. The final thing Piaf did to buoy the spirits of those under Nazi rule was to write the song, “La Vie En Rose”. This song is a beautiful, haunting, lilting song that speaks of a life filled with Joy and Happiness. It was a song that was sung all throughout France by ordinary citizens, all of whom were living a nightmarish existence and all of whom who were praying for better days to come. “La Vie En Rose” filled a much needed void in French life by becoming an anthem of Hope at a time when things looked their darkest. After the War was over and the Nazis were vanquished, Edith Piaf was celebrated for her role as a singer and as an agent provocateur.

The song “La Vie En Rose” captured the imagination of people beyond the borders of France, as well. As a result, there was a stampede of well known singers who all raced to cover this song. In fact, in 1947 alone, “La Vie En Rose” charted twelve different times, by twelve different singers; ranging from unknown singers getting their big break, all the way to musical titans such as Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. Even Edith Piaf charted in America with her new, updated version of “La Vie En Rose” that was now in English, as well as French. That so many singers all laid claim to this song caused me to have to reach out to my friend, Deb Wilton for clarification, when it came time for me to do the research for this post. I asked her whose music she heard in her head when she listened to this song. She replied that the Louis Armstrong version was her favourite so, I will continue with our story by talking a bit about Armstrong and his connection to this glorious song. I will, also, soon discuss why Deb nominated this song, too. It is quite the story.

Louis Armstrong is one of the giants of Jazz in America. He was born in New Orleans and was lovingly called “Satchmo” for most of his career. Like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and later, Little Richard, Louis Armstrong was a black musician who found favour with white audiences. Armstrong’s concerts were generally a multi-racial affair, which was noteworthy for the times because usually the races didn’t mix that often in public venues. But, Louis Armstrong’s exuberant personality and his repertoire of songs made him a fan favourite regardless of colour. But, having said this, Armstrong was a black man in a country where that could be a problem so, racism was something well known, even to someone as famous as Satchmo. Thus, when he heard the joyous strains of “La Vie En Rose”, its’ hopeful message resonated within his heart, too. In Armstrong’s skilled hands, “La Vie En Rose” was given a Jazzy, bluesy, almost soulful adaptation that retained all of the original beauty of the song but made it one that sounded uniquely like an Armstrong composition, too. Louis Armstrong’s cover of “La Vie En Rose” became one of his biggest hits and signature tunes throughout the rest of his career.

This brings us back to my friend, Deb Wilton. Deb is someone who has made a difference in the lives of me and my family members (and many others, for that matter). Professionally, Deb works as an Educational Assistant in schools. In her role, she helps students in need of additional assistance to navigate their way through their school day. It takes a lot of patience and kindness and compassion to do what Deb and other EAs do each day. Over the course of her career, Deb has worked alongside by wife, Keri, when she was a classroom teacher and Deb has worked alongside me, when I was still a classroom teacher. *(I wrote about how she helped me to gain a better understanding of a very special Christmas song in a post from this countdown that you can read here). In her family life, Deb, her husband, Larry and her two daughters, Rose and Jules, have an “open door” policy whereby they will welcome in the lonely and the friendly, alike, in good times and in down times, too. They are all very generous in spirit and in deed. In fact, Deb’s daughter, Rose, has successfully organized a project called, “The Rose Quest”, whose aim is to deliver toiletries, socks and other assorted items to people who find themselves on the margins of society. By placing a small kit of wellness items in the hands of those who often have nothing, Rose and her family and friends bring hope in a time of darkness, if even for just that short period of time. The impact of letting people feel seen and valued cannot be underestimated. That’s what Rose does, along with her entire family. In many ways, the essence of the spirit behind the song, “La Vie En Rose” runs through the veins of Deb and all her family members. It is a mantra that they have taken to their hearts and have put into action in ways that make a positive difference. So, to Deb Wilton, “La Vie En Rose” is not just a piece of music, it is a piece of her heart as well. Thus, you can imagine the scene a few years ago when, after years of scraping and saving, Deb and her family got to go on a “trip of a lifetime” to England and then, a day or so in Paris, France. It was while in France that Deb’s daughter, Jules, took out her phone and found the Louis Armstrong version of “La Vie En Rose” and played it for her Mom, with the Eiffel Tower in the background. I am sure that there were hugs and smiles and tears and, maybe even, a dance, as the words to “La Vie En Rose” filled the air in Paris that day.

Such is the power of music to heal and to inspire and to move hearts and shape minds. “La Vie En Rose” is such a song.

Thank you, Deb, for nominating such a wonderful piece of music. Thank you, as well, for trusting me with such a treasured family story. Finally, thanks for all of your stories shared and comments given throughout the course of this musical countdown. It helped make this journey better.

So, without further delay, I will post the original Edith Piaf version of this song, along with the cover version by Louis Armstrong that Deb so adores. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “La Vie En Rose” by Edith Piaf, can be found here.

The link to the official website of “The Little Sparrow”, Edith Piaf, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “La Vie En Rose”, as covered by Louis Armstrong, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Louis Armstrong, can be found here.

The link to the official website for the organization run by Deb’s daughter, Rose, called, “The Rose Quest” can be found on Facebook. Simply search for “The Rose Quest” and you can find the page dedicated to this important project. Please feel free to check it out. If you wish to contribute to it in any way, I know Rose and her family would be most appreciative.

The link to the video for the trailer about Edith Piaf’s life called, “La Vie En Rose”, can be found here.