Eyes Full Of Tinsel And Fire

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He who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him: Hebrews 11:6

They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the Virgin birth

Regular UTRS readers know that I always feature a (classic rock) Christmas song each December. And this year, it seems, I’ve been dedicating far too many of my posts to our rock icons that have passed away. I guess it is inevitable, given the fact that most of our idols that rocked the 1960’s and ’70’s are coming to a certain age.

This year saw David Bowie, Leon Russell, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Paul Kantner, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard (he’s not rock, but he’s a bona fide classic), Keith Emerson, and now Keith’s bandmate, Greg Lake, (among many others) leaving this world and going on to their reward with our Father in Heaven.

And, as the Righteous Brothers sang back in ’74, now more than ever; “If there’s a rock n roll Heaven, you know they got a hell of a band.”.

I remember one Christmas morning
A winters light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas Tree smell
And eyes full of tinsel and fire

But it also reminds me of what we all should be seeking in this world. Especially at this time of year, with all the craziness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping and the rush to fill our lives with material things. It’s that which I pray for every day and should be the most important gift we all can share; our relationships with one another. And God granted us the greatest gift of all that first Christmas morning; our relationship with our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.

They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a Silent Night
And they told me a fairy story
‘Till I believed in the Israelite

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Greg Lake met Robert Fripp at guitar lessons back in the early ’60’s and when Fripp decided to form King Crimson, he invited Greg to join the band. The band’s lyricist was a fellow named Peter Sinfield and this turned out to be a very fortuitous mixture of players and personalities. King Crimson had a few hits, most notably “In The Court Of The Crimson King” which peaked at #80 on the U.S. charts, and helped to usher in the sounds of what was being called “progressive rock”.

And I believed in Father Christmas
And I looked to the sky with excited eyes
‘Till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise

But Greg’s real success began when he left King Crimson to form a new band that included keyboardist Keith Emerson (whom he met when Emerson’s band, The Nice, was the opening act for King Crimson’s tour supporting Court Of The Crimson King) along with drummer, Carl Palmer (Atomic Rooster).

ELP was widely known for it’s deeply progressive sound and elaborate and lengthy stage shows. ELP scored seven gold albums and singles like “Lucky Man”. “In The Beginning”, “Jerusalem” and “Fanfare For The Common Man”.

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear

In 1975, Greg took time off from ELP to record a solo single “I Believe In Father Christmas”. Many people misinterpreted the song, calling it atheist and anti-Christmas and religion. That was far from the truth. As Greg himself noted in a 2011 interview with Uncut magazine: “For me as a child, it was the visual image of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. It was the symbol of generosity and feeling good and all those things. And that’s what I think Christmas is all about.”

A few fun facts about the song include:

  • ELP rarely released singles but this solo effort from Greg Lake went to #2 on both the U.S. and U.K. charts.
  • Greg collaborated with (guess who) Pete Sinfield on the lyrics for the song. Pete said that “Some of it was based on an actual thing in my life when I was eight-years-old, and came downstairs to see this wonderful Christmas tree that my mother had done. I was that little boy.”.
  • In 2008 a cover by U2 was made available exclusively to subscribers of an online Aids charity magazine Red(Wire).
  • The music video was filmed in Israel, on the deserts of the Sinai Peninsula and actual Bedouins were the audience. They were scheduled to begin taping at 11:00 am and at 10:45 there were still no Bedouins were in sight. Greg was getting nervous, but the security guards assured him they would arrive. As Greg remembered: “Eventually they turned up. Most beautiful looking people: pearl white teeth, these dark oak suntans, incredible looking people. We sat round and they filmed them, I played the guitar and they listened happily. It was an amazing thing.”

Somehow I just can’t help thinking about the symbolism of the Bedouins, walking the hot sands, seeking a meeting with their “Father Christmas”, just as the shepherds and wise men before them had done.

This has always been one of my favorite classic rock Christmas songs and I hope you’ll enjoy this vintage, MTV era video.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

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Hang A Shining Star

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When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. ~ Matthew 2:10

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight

Have you ever seen something that made your heart leap with joy? Maybe, it was a loved one returning from a long trip. Perhaps the first time you saw your child. Or maybe, for a returning soldier, the sight of his or her family awaiting in the airport.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
From now on, our troubles will be miles away

And when you see such a sight, your everyday troubles do just seem to fade away, don’t they? Because, at that moment, we are struck with something beyond ourselves. We realize what’s truly important.

Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more

Yup, these are the blessings most dear to us; the gatherings of family and friends during the holidays. They take us back; to where we’re from, where we’ve been and to where we really long to be.

Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
So hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

The real magic and meaning of Christmas happened at night, when a star could lead the way. And so it goes, even to this day. All of us are seekers, searching in vain for something that’s right there in front of us, shining brightly. It’s funny that so many of us only see it at Christmas.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
From now on, our troubles will be miles away

The original recording of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” was brought to us by the incomparable Judy Garland in the 1944 musical, Meet Me  In St. Louis. But this version by Chrissy Hynde and the  Pretenders has always been one of my Christmas faves.  It was featured on the very first A Very Special Christmas album in 1987, a series which now has 16 volumes and has been going – and growing – strong for 28 years.

averyspecialxmascover

Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more

This first issue was dedicated to raise funds for the Special Olympics and shipped over 4.5 million copies in the U.S. alone.  According to the AVSC website the series has netted over $116 million in proceeds to the Special Olympics to date, fostering programs for special athletes in 10 countries around the world.

Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
So hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

So, while you are decorating your home or tree this year, please remember the real shining Star of it all, the greatest gift ever given to mankind; our Lord Jesus. And that His greatest blessings to us are the relationships that we have with friends and family. And I hope all will gather near and dear to us again this year, to enjoy the holidays once more.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

A Christmas Card For You

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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!

 

 

The Admission’s Free

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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

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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