Saturday, December 12, 2009

"It's Been Done."

There is a great story that is told regarding the late, great Judy Garland. Everyone remembers Judy most prominently from her legendary portrayal of Dorothy Gale in the classic movie, "The Wizard of Oz." In it, Judy performed the haunting ballad, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," instantly making it an enormous hit. The tune immediately became Judy's signature song. She was asked to perform "Rainbow" every time she appeared on radio programs, in her concerts, and even in the living rooms of homes where she was an invited guest.

Judy's daughter, Liza Minnelli, inherited her mother's awesome singing ability and quickly became an outright star on her own. Several years after Judy's death, Liza was performing her act to a standing-room-only crowd when an admirer in the audience yelled up to her, "Do 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow!'" The audience broke into thunderous, encouraging applause, pleading with the singer to perform her mother's signature song. The story goes that Liza waited patiently for the clapping and cheering to subside, paused, and looked down at the floor. Then she brought the microphone to her lips and uttered three words: "It's been done."

Say what you want about Ms. Minnelli, she's had her struggles with drug abuse, and no one would covet her husband-choosing skills, but the lady's got some class. I've heard that she's been asked to sing that song countless times by audiences all over the world. She always responds with those three words. It would be so easy for her to make a quick buck doing exactly the opposite, recording "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" along with her mother's other hits, labeling it a "Tribute Album" and watching as the cash flowed in. But Liza, wisely in my opinion, decided that the greatest tribute she could pay her mother was to let Judy Garland's work stand on it's own. Judy's version is simple, beautiful, and perfect. It needs no improvement. It's been done.

I think about Liza's words every time Christmas rolls around and we see another pop star and/or former American Idol contestant produce their own Christmas album. Don't get me wrong, I think it's fantastic, and I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from contributing to overall holiday merriness. But instead of writing new, crisp Christmas songs for their own generation, I find that the majority of them simply (and lazily, in my opinion) record the old standards like "Jingle Bells," "White Christmas," and "The Christmas Song." Most of them don't even attempt to make a snappy new arrangement. It sounds like they've picked-up the sheet music, performed it like everyone else over the last fifty years, and called it a day. I've always wondered, do they actually believe their version is somehow different, or for that matter, better than all of those before them?

So, with that in mind, I hope you'll indulge me as I shoot-out the following open letter to every single new performer in the recording industry. This just really needs to be said...

Dear Every Single New Performer in the Recording Industry:

First off, congratulations!! You've made it to the big time! Good for you! This means you've obviously started making plans for your first Christmas album. How exciting for you!! On behalf of everyone in the real world who will be listening to your Christmas recordings, whether over our own stereos or out of the speakers of the food court at the mall, may I offer a few suggestions? Let's start with the "Don't List," shall we?

DON'T record "White Christmas." I know the idea is tempting, it's such a perfect, beautiful song. It's actually my favorite Christmas song of all time, which is why I must insist that you avoid it. It was written in 1940 by Irving Berlin and was made famous when Bing Crosby sang it in the movie, "Holiday Inn." You may not know Bing Crosby, he was a horrific father and husband, but an absolutely awesome, ridiculously talented, velvet-voiced crooner. He recorded "White Christmas" on archaic equipment that was just a tiny bit more advanced than a soup can with a string on the end -- and it's still far, far better than anyone's version since. So, if you happen to hear Bing's recording and get the urge to attempt to outdo his "voice of butter," stop. Just stop. "It's been done."

DON'T record "The Christmas Song." I know, I know, it's so PERFECT. It's practically TEXTBOOK "First Christmas Album" must-record for a new artist. But don't. Have you ever heard Nat King Cole's version of this song? It's pretty breathtaking. Nat's natural phrasing ability and unique vocal quality make it impossible for anyone to try to match. "A Christmas Song" was actually written by another great singer, Mel Torme. Mel's unfortunately passed away, but I bet if you were to ask him today to record his timeless, classic song, his exact words would be the following: "It's been done." Nat is King. His version rules. Period.

DON'T record "Merry Christmas, Darling." This is pretty much a no-brainer, since the rich, deep voice of Karen Carpenter could never be duplicated, nor it's quality surpassed by any human being on the planet. Actually, maybe you could find inspiration in Karen's singing of this song. She and her brother are a great example of people who created their OWN Christmas classic. Richard wrote the song, she recorded it, and the world now wants to hear only their sweet, clear version. Why? Oh, you know! Say it with me, "It's been done!" Yes!!

OK, so, that wasn't too bad, right? Here's the good news: there is a whole PLETHORA of songs that haven't yet been taken! So, if you don't posses the drive and/or talent to write and perform your own, original Christmas songs, feel free to "knock yourself out" with the following "DO List:"

Rocking Around the Christmas Tree
Jingle Bells
Jingle Bell Rock
Sleigh Ride
Winter Wonderland
Let it Snow
And all of the others!!!

I'm sure that YOUR version of these songs won't be ANYTHING like those of the hundreds of teen sensations that have recorded them before you. Yours, unlike ALL of theirs, will be unique and SPECIAL!!

Well, that's all I had to say. I know you value the advice of an opinionated, middle-aged, former actress who never got anywhere CLOSE to achieving the level of show-biz success that you're enjoying. There's no need to thank me! If I can be any further help, please don't hesitate to ask! I'd love to chat sometime about your ass-crack revealing pants and your make up that makes you look like a whore, but that's for another time!!

Good luck, go get 'em, and...

Thanks for Reading!!!


JenTaft said...

Personally, I think Jingle Bells been taken by Brian Setzer who does a seriously rocking version on his Christmas Album.

I thouht the Polar Express CD added a lot to the Christmas Song repetoire.

Right on about Bing and Nat. They are in a class by themselves.

Anonymous said...

you said, better than i ever could, what we all want to say. The music industry, and mind you it is an industry, pumps these things out with no regard for anything more than the all mighty dollar. I believe in capatalism, and i understand the drive, but my god, as a society we could do a little better with what we choose to buy.

Anonymous said...

Joan, do you ever get tired of hearing me say "You Rock!"? Huh? Do ya?! Well, let me just say, once again and for the record, you do.

Right on, about the Christmas songs that should be left alone. Maybe, just maybe, there's someone out there who could knock my socks of with their "White Christmas" but he'd also have to be curing cancer, levitating, and mastering Windows Vista all at the same time.

Phyllis. Beauty in prose. 'Nuff said.

Sandy Claus (and Jack). You've inspired my next post but it may take a week or so to get it together.

BTW - I finally realized (thanks to Mike of course) who your writing reminds me of -- the incomparable Irma Beck. I hope you take that as the incredibly high, almost worshipful, way in which I intended it. :)

XO - Stasha

Anonymous said...

Irma Bombeck! Jeezus. What a horrible proofreader. Why do I bother?


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