A Christmas Card For You

wonderful_470

Let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise. ~ Psalm 95:2

As I head to church today for the Christmas Eve service, I am filled with the anticipation of joy found in the celebration of the birth of The Prince Of Peace. The songs, the candlelight and the eternal message of hope is a perfect cap to each year and makes me reflect upon the greatest gift ever given to mankind. And also in remembrance that the greatest gifts we give each other is ourselves.

The Christmas Eve service is when Christmas becomes real for me and when the spirit of the season finally starts to rise in my heart. It is my “kickoff” to the holiday, usually followed by a Christmas Eve dinner with family and friends and then the celebration of Christmas morning. Oh yes, and one more thing: the annual viewing of Jimmy Stewart in “It’s A Wonderful Life” with my daughter, which typically occurs in the late hours after the dinner party and everyone else has retired for the night. Sometimes my wife and son will join in, but they usually fall asleep shortly after the gymnasium floor opens and the pool party begins.

And in the spirit of that classic movie, I wanted to write a “Christmas card” of thanks to those of you who follow this blog, as well as those who have just passed through and sampled a post or two. Since I don’t have all your addresses and I can’t send a real card, this will have to do!

God has blessed me with a passion for both music and writing, so this blog has truly been a labor of love for me this year and has fulfilled a long desire of mine to find a way to “mission” for Christ

I am looking forward to writing more posts for you in the coming year and hope to continue to spread God’s message as reflected in these classic tunes. And if there are any particular songs that you believe deserve the UTRS treatment, please feel free to comment and let me know. I’ll be glad to take your requests!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all from UTRS!

P.S. Here’s a brief snippet of “It’s A Wonderful Life” to get you in the Christmas spirit, too!

 

 

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The Admission’s Free

concert-ticket

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. ~ Luke 2:7

Welcome to my Christmas song
I’d like to thank you for the year
So I’m sending you this Christmas card
To say it’s nice to have you here
I’d like to sing about all the things
Your eyes and mind can see
So hop aboard the turntable
Oh step into Christmas with me

Yup, that’s right and we’ve all heard this story a million times. There was no friendly greeter hanging outside the inn on that December night, nobody with a welcoming wave. Just a door slammed tight and nowhere to turn for Mary, Joseph and their new baby boy.

As my pastor, the Reverend Bryant Wright often says; Jesus was welcomed to this earth with a “No Entry” sign and laid to rest in a tomb with a “No Exit” sign. How’s that for a bit of Christmas cheer?

Step into Christmas
Let’s join together
We can watch the snow fall forever and ever
Eat, drink and be merry
Come along with me
Step into Christmas
The admission’s free

There was no offer of food or drink on this first Christmas Day and certainly no free rooms. And though some translations of the verses describing the scene in Bethlehem seemed quite comfy; the soft swaddling clothes and the quaint little manger, the truth was far harsher. More likely, it was a dirty feeding trough and a smelly shed with a dirt floor and holes in the walls big enough for a cat to jump through.

Take care in all you do next year
And keep smiling through the days
If we can help to entertain you
Oh we will find the ways
So merry Christmas one and all
There’s no place I’d rather be
Than asking you if you’d oblige
Stepping into Christmas with me

But the good news is that the gift-giving began soon afterwards and rolls merrily on every year since. The wise men who came following the star were smart enough to come bearing earthly gifts fitting for a King. Little did they know that the real gift was coming to them from the heavenly realm. And this gift was freely given not only to those wise men, but to all mankind smart enough to seek Him.

Step into Christmas
Let’s join together
We can watch the snow fall forever and ever
Eat, drink and be merry
Come along with me
Step into Christmas
The admission’s free
Oh oh oh
La la la la

Elton John, while surely not a highly religious man (check out my earlier post  A Pauper To A Pawn) has demonstrated a strong reverence for God and Jesus nonetheless. Many of his early songs have significant spiritual references – though in fairness we must recognize the lyrical genius of Bernie Taupin in this regard – and at the end of his most successful year to date as a recording artist, he decided to produce a musical Christmas card for his fans.

Welcome to my Christmas song
I’d like to thank you for the year
So I’m sending you this Christmas card
To say it’s nice to have you here
I’d like to sing about all the things
Your eyes and mind can see
So hop aboard the turntable
Oh step into Christmas with me

“Step Into Christmas” was released in late November of 1973, on the heels of his albums, Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player (“Crocodile Rock”, “Daniel” and “Teacher, I Need You”) in January and then the landmark Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in October. And like the proverbial “cherry on top”, it quickly rose to #1 on the Billboard Christmas Singles chart.

Step into Christmas
Let’s join together
We can watch the snow fall forever and ever
Eat, drink and be merry
Come along with me
Step into Christmas
The admission’s free

A few interesting notes about “Step Into Christmas”:

  • It was written and recorded in just a few short hours on a Sunday morning in London’s Trident Studios.
  • The song appeared as a standalone single, on the Elton John’s Christmas Party lp and as a bonus track on the 1995 re-issue of Caribou and two different vocal versions of the song exist.
  • Elton and Bernie were big fans of legendary producer Phil Spector’ girl groups of the early 60’s and his famed “Wall Of Sound” recording technique. “Step Into Christmas” was intentionally produced by Gus Dudgeon – at Elton and Bernie’s request – to imitate that sound. Castanets included!

I’ve always loved the slow and stirring Christmas songs like the Eagles “Please Come Home For Christmas” and Bing’s “White Christmas”, but, like Elton and Bernie, I’m a big fan of the “girl group” Christmas stuff too.

So, take a minute out of the busy days leading up to the big day and step  into this uplifting Christmas card message from Elton, Dee, Davey and Nigel to help get you into the true Christmas spirit!

Sources for this post include:

 

What A Happy Sound

churchbells

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. – Luke 2:10

The snow’s coming down
I’m watching it fall
Watching the people around
Baby please come home

There are no memories of Christmas quite like those of your childhood. And it’s not just the gifts you receive, but the warm love of friends and family which seems to magnify in intensity as the celebration of the birth of Christ approaches. Yes, it’s relationships, not gifts, that are the true “reason for the season”.

The churchbells in town
They’re ringing a song
What a happy sound
Baby please come home

And yet for many, it’s the lack of those relationships that can make Christmas a time of great sadness. The loss of a loved one, separation from family due to distance apart – or worst of all – a relationship gone bad at the worst possible time.

They’re singing deck the halls
But it’s not like Christmas at all
I remember when you were here
All the fun we had last year

The desire to keep relationships intact through the holidays is so strong, in fact, that January is regularly called “Divorce Month” in legal circles. The thought of being alone during the holidays is so depressing that even those who are desperate to sever ties will hold out -ever hopefully -until January.

Pretty lights on the tree
I’m watching ’em shine
You should be here with me
Baby please come home

So, it’s easy to understand how the subject of being alone and separated from loved ones gets so much attention in secular Christmas songs. As a teenager of the 70’s, I grew up with the Eagles haunting “Bells will be ringing…the sad, sad news” singing in my ears every year. Their soulful rendition of the 1950 classic “Please Come Home For Christmas”, written by famed blues pianist Charles Brown, was a mournful reminder of the unique longing that comes with love lost at Christmastime.

If there was a way
I’d hold back these tears
But it’s Christmas day
Baby please come home

But there was another song, reaching a bit further back into my childhood Christmas memories, that first evoked this stirring emotion in my soul. The year was 1963 and I was just a youngster riding in my parent’s car when I first heard it. Darlene Love was a perennial background singer that finally saw her chance to shine…and shine she did. The legendary 60’s girl group producer, Phil Spector (Ronettes, The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx, The Beatles, Ramones) had originally intended the song for the Ronettes, but after having both audition the piece, he declared Darlene’s version the more emotive of the two.

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” became the quintessential “missing you at Christmas” song for me and set the bar for all those I heard afterwards. No sad Christmas song I ever heard – before or after – made you feel like this; not Elvis’ “Blue Christmas”, Mariah’s “All I Want For Christmas” or even Loretta’s “Christmas Without Daddy”. Right from the the opening, it just grabs you with that simple, lonesome plea, “Baby, please come home.”.

A few interesting tidbits about Darlene and the song:

  • In 2010, Rolling Stone ranked “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” as #1 on it’s Greatest Rock And Roll Christmas Songs list.
  • Darlene has performed the song live on David Letterman’s final show before Christmas every year since 1986. (She wasn’t able to perform in 2007, so Dave showed a rerun of her 2006 performance.)
  • During the original recording session, Phil Spector thought the song was so good that they should make a non-Christmas version for airplay at any time of year. He had Darlene record “Johnny (Baby Please Come Home)” which was finally released in 1977 as the B side to Darlene’s single “Lord, If You’re A Woman”.
  • Darlene didn’t really get credit she deserved for her biggest hit “He’s A Rebel” (it went to #1 on the charts); it was released as being performed by The Crystals. (Phil Spector’s manipulations again, I’d suppose.)

So, as you enjoy the Christmas and New Year’s holidays this year, please be mindful of the fact that, for some, this can truly be the coldest time of year. But as Darlene said at a recent show in San Francisco: “A barricade is nothing but something you have to get over. Once you get over it, the joy on the other side is very fulfilling.”

Check out U2’s great live cover here:

The Darlene Love original:

My sources for this post include:

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_%28Baby_Please_Come_Home%29

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darlene_Love

Some Way To Prove

walkonwater

Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” – Matthew 14:31

Well if I could walk on water
And if I could find some way to prove
If I could walk on water would you believe in me
My love is so true

Trust, faith, belief…and the ever present Doubting Thomas. We all know how hard it is to maintain these traits given the nature of the human condition. The big problem, I believe, lies in the marked difference between what we see everyday in life versus what we want – or don’t want – to believe.

Well I’m no angel, now, I’ll admit
I made a few bad moves I should regret
I hurt you once or so you said
Just one more chance is all you get

Yes it’s the constant failings, both our fellow man’s and our own, that shake our faith. None of us are angels, that’s for sure. I get challenged on my faith by others at times. This is because most of them define faith as “belief without proof”. Or as a senseless belief in something – or someone – despite the existing evidence. When actually, quite the opposite is true.

Didn’t mean to do you wrong again
Worse things have been done by better men
Baby, baby, don’t, don’t treat me this way
I know, yes, I’ve got to pay now, I’m still paying

I’ll admit it’s hard, very hard, to keep your faith at times. After all, if what we see and experience on a daily basis from those around us (and even ourselves) is reality, it can seem almost ludicrous to maintain certain beliefs in the face of it all. And so it is these things that we “see” that rule our feelings and emotions. But as my grandpa once told me: “Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see.”.

Well if I could walk on water
And if I could find some way to prove
If I could walk on water would you believe in me, my love is true

And the truth is that haters are going to hate and doubters are going to doubt. Walking on water, multiplying fish, raising the dead or splitting the sea…it won’t matter to some. They just don’t want to believe.

All along, I told you lies
To err is human, forgive is divine
Don’t be a fool, don’t settle the score
Cause I can’t take it no more, I can’t take it

Eddie Money – born Edward Mahoney – is surely a keen study in keeping the faith. Eddie was born to a large Irish Catholic family in Brooklyn, New York, laced with Irish cops – his grandfather, dad and brother were all NYPD.  In the late 60’s, Eddie was following the family path towards a career as a police officer himself – he was actually a NYPD cadet – while honing his chops as a local area rocker.

His love of music reigned supreme however, and soon Eddie wound up splitting for Berkley, California. He cut his teeth on the local club circuit until legendary promoter Bill Graham, took notice. He wound up getting a deal with Columbia Records and the rest was history. His breakout debut Eddie Money spawned two Top 40 hits in 1977; “Baby Hold On” and “Two Tickets To Paradise” along with the his Top 1oo cover of the Smokey Robinson penned “You Really Got A Hold On Me”.

Well, if I could walk on water (if I could)
Is that what I’m gonna have to do
If I could walk on water would be you believe in me, my love is so true

Eddie’s meteoric rise to success continued through the early 80’s with MTV fueled hits like “Shakin” and “Think I’m In Love”, but the hits started to dry up as drug addiction problems began to take hold of his life. He went four years without a charting single, but his record label, Columbia, remained faithful and helped to get him back on track. In 1986, Eddie resurfaced on a duet with the legendary Ronnie Spector on “Take Me Home Tonight” and triumphed once again with “Walk On Water” in 1988.

Do I have to walk, walk, walk on water for you
Hey baby, baby, there’s a little time, let’s spend it together
We’ll get over what we left behind, there’s our future together
Yeah, well let’s stay together

A few interesting notes about Eddie:

  • The Ronettes biggest hit “Be My Baby” is featured as part of the background to “Take Me Home Tonight”
  • Eddie’s last charting single was “I’ll Get By” which reached #21 in 1992
  • Eddie and his song “Two Tickets To Paradise” were featured in a GEICO insurance commercial

And isn’t it ironic, especially at this time of year, when it seems that the whole world is taking time to celebrate the birth of Christ – as we have for over 2,000 years  – that people still find it hard to keep their faith?

So, when the world seems hell bent on beating you down and your faith starts to slide, just remember that there is always a reason to believe.

Listen to Eddie here:

References:

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Money