Take a musical moment and relax, not only during the hectic Christmas preparations, but throughout the year
The Lady Publisher asked me to come up with a list of 8 tunes selected to help you take a musical moment and relax, not only during the hectic Christmas preparations, but throughout the year. This is a tall order, as you can appreciate, and the more so for me as I listen to an extremely wide variety of music. I’ve tried to present a selection of both slow and up-tempo songs, some of which you may already know, and others which you may well want to add to your playlist.
Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters – “Mele Kalikimaka”
Let’s face it: at the end of the day, this classic Christmas song from 1950 is nothing but a great, big chunk of cheese. It’s catchy, somewhat corny, and comes from a gentler and perhaps more optimistic era. It’s also undeniably bouncy and cheerful, and that should bring it to mind when you are trying to accomplish 20 different things during the holidays. So take a moment to pull up this tune as needed, and sing along with Bing and the Andrews Sisters. You’ll feel 100% better in just under 3 minutes.
Edvard Grieg – “Peace of the Woods”
This is an instance where the title of the song speaks for itself. Edvard Grieg was not only Norway’s greatest composer, he was also a much-admired pianist, and wrote dozens of short piano works such as this one. This particular piece dates from 1901, and is part of a larger, 7-movement composition of songs for piano called “Lyric Pieces.” At his vacation house in rural Troldhaugen, Grieg worked from a separate “composer’s hut,” which is situated on the edge of a lake surrounded by forests. In this work, he evokes dappled sunlight coming through a leafy canopy, perhaps inspired by a peaceful walk under his own trees.
Oscar Peterson – “I Could Have Danced All Night”
In this recording from 1958, the great Oscar Peterson and his trio swing softly along to one of the signature tunes from the perennially popular musical “My Fair Lady.” Despite the energetic nature of the title, the song never actually gets loud enough to dance to all night. Instead, the trio stays at the level of a quiet, amusing conversation, just right to tap your toes to.
Natalie Merchant – “Where I Go”
Natalie Merchant’s relaxed, unusually sunny track off her 1995 solo album “Tigerlily” demonstrates her abiding penchant for introspection, but with more of a positively nostalgic feel. She evokes the kind of place we likely all had in our childhood, where we went to get away from everything for a little while, in order to reflect and recharge. The song manages to be charmingly folksy, without crossing the line over into being twee.
Al Jarreau – Mornin’
It’s hard not to smile about a song in which the singer wishes a “Good Morning” to his bowl of Cheerios. This 1983 classic from R&B great Al Jarreau features his impressive vocal range, and the kind of happy, sunny music that will put a spring in your step. Pour yourself another cup of coffee, and watch the birds outside the kitchen window for a bit, before you head out to face whatever the day brings.
Little Big Town – Silver and Gold
If you love musicians who can sing without the aid of a computer, then you’ll appreciate the country quartet known as Little Big Town. Their close and interesting harmonies have brought them comparisons to Fleetwood Mac and Alabama, among others, whose influence they acknowledge in concert by covering the bands they listened to while growing up. In their own songs LBT have a modern Southern style which is a pleasure to listen to, whether the tune is loud and edgy, or quiet and thoughtful. In this breezy, hummable track off their 2014 album “Pain Killer,” the lyrics recognize that even if you get way, way down, you don’t have to stay there.
Bring it On Home To Me – Sam Cooke/Lou Rawls
Here we have a two-for-one suggestion, because you should check out these two different versions of this tune and decide which one you like better – personally, I love them both. While the subject matter of the song is about trying to patch up a breakup, it has a hopeful, upbeat feel suggesting that the singer will ultimately be successful in his efforts. The classic, original recording from 1962 by the great Sam Cooke features the then-relatively unknown (and uncredited) Lou Rawls singing harmony; Rawls himself went on to record his own, very different interpretation in 1970. While Cooke’s recording has the upbeat, classic Motown sound of that era, Rawls’ version starts off sounding like slow Blues, but switches tempo into full-on Soul, reminiscent of Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder.
Mañana Sol – La Màlaga
Being half Catalan, I have to make a plug for one of my favorite new bands from Barcelona, and for some time now this has been my go-to song for cheering myself up as needed. La Màlaga plays “rumba catalana,” a style of Latin pop that has been described as the child of Cuban salsa and Spanish flamenco; “Mañana Sol” is the title track off their 2013 debut album of the same name. If you speak Spanish, you’ll appreciate that the lyrics are about hanging in there – the sun will come out tomorrow, as it were. But even if you don’t understand the words, you’ll appreciate the underlying message, which is that you’ll feel better if you get up and shake what your mama gave you.