The Strange Holiday Mix, 2017

This is my idea of an annual tradition: a collection of the holiday-related songs I can stand to have on heavy rotation over the next month or so. As opposed to the traditional playlist of earworms that even the programmers at Muzak must be embarrassed to let loose on the world.

But regardless of your musical tastes, and whatever you are celebrating this time of year, enjoy!

  1. Strangest Christmas Yet – Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers
  2. Christmas Coming Home (feat. Lennon & Maisy) – Nashville Cast
  3. To Christmas! (The Drinking Song) – Straight No Chaser
  4. Christmas Is the Time – Katharine McPhee
  5. Naughty Naughty Children (Better Start Actin’ Nice) – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
  6. Santa Claus Is Comin’ (In A Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train) – The Tractors
  7. Warmer in the Winter (feat. Trombone Shorty) – Lindsey Stirling
  8. Santa Stole Thanksgiving – Jimmy Buffett
  9. Feels Like Christmas (feat. Jana Kramer) – Straight No Chaser
  10. Santa Claus, Santa Claus – Dennis Turner
  11. California Christmastime – Rachel Bloom, Vincent Rodriguez III, and the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Cast (the video)
  12. Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’ – Bill Kirchen & Austin de Lone
  13. They Don’t Make Them Like That Anymore – Great Lake Swimmers
  14. Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me) – Davina & The Vagabonds
  15. Santa, My First Love – Swear And Shake
  16. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy – Lindsey Stirling
  17. Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy – The Tractors
  18. Baby Don’t Leave Me (All Alone on Christmas) – Echosmith
  19. Schedryk – Pink Martini
  20. The Way-Too-Early Christmas Song – Paul and Storm

I Could Be Wrong

Randy Newman has release a new collection of his songs, the first in almost a decade, and it is wonderful. The first “album” I’ve bought in many years.

He recently performed four of the tracks for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert and it’s a great showcase of Newman’s talent as both a song writer and performer.

Although the song “Putin” is the one that seems to be getting lots of attention, my favorite, both in this performance and the album, is “It’s a Jungle Out There”. Newman has taken his fun, character-appropriate theme from the TV show “Monk” and turned it into an also fun but very satirical reflection on the paranoia (possibly justified) of modern life.

I could be wrong now… but I don’t think so.

3-2-1 For 1-8-17

Three readings worth your time this week.

End of year retrospectives can be tedious and, in the case of 2016, rather depressing. However, Planet Lab’s review of their favorite satellite imagery from the past year is beautiful and the pictures tell some interesting stories. (about 5 minutes)

dana boyd, who has made a career of trying to understand teenagers (and who really does spell her name with no caps), asks Did Media Literacy Backfire? in a recent essay. I disagree with about half of her analysis, especially concerning her implication that we must empathize with people who willfully choose to remain ignorant, but she does make some good points. The piece is worth a read. (about 10 minutes)

I often wonder how many of the education reformers who love standardized tests could actually pass one of them. After all, most of the knowledge and skills students are asked to recall are not required in adult life. But you know these exams are really out of touch when a writer is unable to answer the questions based on her poems. Her analysis is amusing, in a weird sorta way: “Texas, please know, this was not the author’s purpose in writing this poem.” (about 10 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

The BBC World Service has a new podcast about 50 things that made the modern economy. Sounds dull but it’s actually a wonderful series of short stories about technologies we take for granted that have had a big impact on our lives. It’s not necessary to listen in order so try out the series with their episode on the iPhone, which is actually about how government research has found its way into almost every part of every smartphone. (8:58)

Speaking of the economy, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been bouncing close to the 20,000 mark this week. And, according to the folks at Planet Money, that so-called “milestone” is completely meaningless. In this segment, they explain in simple language why “The Dow” offers little or no information about how the American economy is doing, and why you can and should ignore all the breathless reporting on that number. (17:40)

One video to watch when you have time

Considering their huge audience, you may have already seen this latest video from OK Go. But on the off chance you haven’t, enjoy not only a good song but also the amazing extreme slow motion effects that accompany it. The group has always had a wonderfully geeky (not to mention messy) visual style, so if you like this, explore YouTube to find more of it. And check out the making-off video to understand the complexity of those four minutes. (4:12)

The Strange Holiday Mix 2016 – Best of Edition

I’ve been posting this list for more than 10 years, but this year we seem to have a major shortage of original, interesting, and/or weird holiday songs. Even The Killers, instead of a new, oddball holiday song, dropped a compilation of their past Christmas singles (adding one cover of a holiday classic).

So in that spirit, here is a short list of the best holiday-themed stuff in my music collection, now in heavy rotation for the season. Enjoy.

  1. Christmas is Interesting – Jonathan Coulton
  2. Elf’s Lament – Barenaked Ladies (With Michael Buble)
  3. Christmas in L.A. – The Killers
  4. You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch – Thurl Ravenscroft
  5. I Want an Alien for Christmas – Fountains of Wayne
  6. Merry Christmas from the Family – Robert Keen Earl
  7. Can I Interest You In Hannukah? – Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart1
  8. Father Christmas – The Kinks
  9. Ain’t No Chimneys In the Projects – Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings2
  10. Yuleman Vs. The Anti-Claus – The Bobs
  11. Snow Globe Christmas – Pink Martini
  12. The Christians and The Pagans – Dar Williams
  13. The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball – The Killers
  14. Come Darkness, Come Light – Mary Chapin Carpenter
  15. Alternate Christmas In Heaven Song – Monty Python
  16. Light One Candle – Peter, Paul & Mary
  17. Fifty Kilowatt Tree – The Bobs
  18. A Great Big Sled – The Killers
  19. Oklahoma Christmas – Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison
  20. Another Christmas Song – Stephen Colbert
  21. The Man in the Santa Suit – Fountains of Wayne
  22. Getting Ready For Christmas Day – Paul Simon
  23. Fruitcake – The Superions

And not really a holiday song, but still one that seems appropriate for some this time of year:

Atheists Don’t Have No Songs – Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers

3-2-1 For 11-20-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

National Geographic says our national parks are changing, due to a warming climate and other factors, and looks at how our management of those wilderness areas must also change. As you might expect from Nat Geo, the photographs that accompany the article are wonderful. (17:00)

If you want to learn something about virtual reality, The Guardian offers their complete guide to the topic. It’s a pretty good overview of the current platforms, with a short list of currently available software for each (mostly games, of course). But don’t count on this article being accurate for very long since the field is moving fast. (20:00)

Way too much has been written about the election results and I’ve been avoiding as much of it as possible. However, this intelligent essay by Baratunde Thurston is worth your time. Empathy is indeed a two-way process. (12:00)

Two videos to watch when you have a few minutes.

In a small Virginia town, about 90 minutes from here, the Library of Congress is using a Cold War-era nuclear shelter to protect and restore the world’s film history. Even the crappy stuff. This short video checks in with the man responsible for dealing with the very oldest stuff, films printed on fragile and very combustible nitrate. (3:09)

When times are tough, people sing the blues. And who better to sing the blues than a white British actor. Seriously though, Hugh Laurie does an excellent job, on piano as well as singing, with the New Orleans classic St. James Infirmary. The late, great Allen Toussaint leading a band of outstanding jazz musicians completes a near perfect package. (7:00)

One audio track for your commute.

Who do you trust and does it make a difference? In a recent episode of Freakonomics, they look at the concept of societal trust and ask what can be done to reverse the decidedly downward trend in the US and UK. Did you know that “societies where people trust one another are healthier and wealthier”? (27:42)