I have an embarrassingly large CD and record collection – spread across two flats (not both mine, in case you were wondering) and occupying everything from shelves to suitcases. Courtesy of YouTube, I thought I’d share some of the choice items – particularly some of the less well known ones.  Think of it as a slowly evolving, digital mixtape...

There’ll be a new song most days (at least that’s the plan) so keep checking back and please post your comments and suggestions as well.

This is one of my favourite Christmas songs – not least because of the little lyrical sting in the tail.  Dianne Reeves’ arrangement and performance further undercut any excess sentiment.

I can’t tell you much about the songwriting team of Walter Kent, Kim Gannon and possibly (see below) Buck Ram.  A cursory glance at Wikipedia reveals that Kent wrote the music for The White Cliffs of Dover and Gannon was the man behind the Perry Como hit A Dreamer’s Holiday – and, much more excitingly, the deathless The Gentleman Needs A Shave (here’s Marion Hutton with Glenn Miller – you know you want to).

Ram it seems may, or may not, have contributed to I’ll Be Home For Christmas (see here for the whole controversy) but he should care – he wrote The Great Pretender and, according to Wikipedia, was one of BMI's top five songwriters (air play) over its first 50 years, alongside Paul Simon, Kris Kristofferson, Jimmy Webb, and Paul McCartney.

Whatever the song's provenance, it’s a cracker (see what I did there...?)

 

OK, so this one’s kind of inevitable.

I like to think of it as Mel’s pension (or now, I guess, James’ trust fund). Mel Tormé and Bob Wells composed the most performed Christmas song (I always believe everything BMI tells me) in 1945.  Then along came Nat King Cole a year later and the rest is history.

Nat and Mel both had several goes at it over the years – as did just about everybody else.  It’s getting another airing this Christmas care of Dame Shirley and three bellowing toffs.  Do seek out Mel’s single version (available on the CD reissue of That’s All) where he sings the rather lovely verse.

Here’s the matchless Rebecca Parris with her take on it.  I don’t have the CD to hand so I can’t tell you if the lovely bass solo comes courtesy of John Lockwood or Peter Kontrimas – perhaps someone can enlighten us?

 

OK, I think we can surrender to the Christmas song now.

Santa Claus is Coming (or Comin’ depending on who you ask) To Town has been a hit more than half a dozen times since it was published in 1934 – for, amongst others, Bing and The Andrews Sisters, The Four Seasons, Jackson Five, Carpenters, Bruce Springsteen – and Bjorn Again. If that doesn’t show durability, I don’t know what does.

It’s written by my favouritely named songwriting team of J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie who, as well as being splendidly monikered, also wrote the unspeakably gorgeous You Go To My Head.

As an antidote to Christmas excess, here is Kenny Rankin’s lovely, stripped down version.  Check back for more Christmas fare over the next few days.

 

I think the first time I saw Peggy Lee was on a 1981 TV special called Peggy Lee Entertains.  I can remember looking for something to listen to in Our Price Records and not being able to find anything except a couple of compilations and two Polydor albums, Live in London and Peggy.  In retrospect, they weren’t the obvious place to start but I loved them at the time and still do.  Both have just been glossily reissued by Universal with bonuses including that very same TV special.

With this release, Lee’s album discography is now more or less complete on CD so, to celebrate, here’s a track from that first LP I bought.  Her original 1952 recording of Lover, in an arrangement conceived by Lee herself and realized by Gordon Jenkins, is a classic.  She had to fight to record it (more here for those of you who enjoy a scholarly article) but the results were a major vindication of her instincts.  This 1977 remake isn’t quite in the same league but it’s huge fun – not least because of Lee’s palpable joy at revisiting he earlier triumph.

Peggy was sandwiched between Mirrors (depending on your view, an artistic triumph or a tiresome curio) and Close Enough For Love (which includes a disco version of Just One Of Those Things that should be avoided at all costs).  After that 1978 recording, Lee’s albums become something of a mixed pleasure since her voice deteriorated so much in the ten years between Close Enough.. and its belated 1988 follow up Miss Peggy Lee Sings The Blues.  Peggy is perhaps the most ‘traditional’ sounding of her 70s studio recordings (despite including tracks associated with Peter Allen, 10cc and Neil Sedaka alongside the standards and Lee’s own compositions) and perhaps holds up all the better for that.  The original version included synths on a couple of tracks which have been removed for the reissue - while highly informative notes by the sessions’ producer, the late Ken Barnes, have been added.  Well worth checking out if you want to hear Peg in her late prime.