Tag Archives: Christmas

Behind the Christmas Music: The History of Rankin/Bass Animated Specials

11 Dec

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You know the holiday season has begun in earnest when you turn on the TV and one of the classic tunes from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman starts up. Years after their first broadcast in the 1960’s, these adorable “Animagic” creations are etched in our collective pop culture memory. Here’s a little bit about the history behind the stop-motion music, and why these movies still command our hearts at Christmastime.

Rankin/Bass enjoyed mild success as a production company when it began in 1960, but they didn’t hit their stride until they put together the stop-motion classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1964. This film, an adaptation of the popular holiday song by Johnny Marks, includes folk singer Burl Ives as the voice of a narrating snowman who does his best to support poor Rudolph through his trying adolescence. With cheerful, playful songs like “We’re a Couple of Misfits” and “We Are Santa’s Elves,” Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer became the longest-running Christmas special to ever air on television.

After Rudolph, Rankin/Bass enjoyed modest success with The Cricket on the Hearth, which is based on Charles Dickens’ Christmas book of the same name, and a Thanksgiving special titled Mouse on the Mayflower. But their next big success came in 1968 with The Little Drummer Boy, another adaptation of a popular Christmas carol. This special tells the story of a young boy who played his drum for the birth of Jesus when he had no other gift. The program’s lyrics were written by producer Jules Bass, and the Vienna Boys’ Choir sang the titular song. The Little Drummer Boy furthered the tradition of Christmas specials based around popular holiday songs.

 

\Frosty the Snowman came to TV audiences in 1969. This was the first use of traditional cel animation rather than stop-motion animation for a Rankin/Bass special, and for that it may have lost a bit of the Christmas cheer and sweetness. Singer and pianist Jimmy Durante voiced the narrator, who also sang the titular song. Frosty is also featured in many Rankin/Bass sequels, including 1976’s Frosty’s Winter Wonderland and the 1979 crossover with Rudolph, Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July.

 

In 1970, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town featured the voice of actor and dancer Fred Astaire as the narrator. This film rolled out a larger soundtrack of original music numbers than previous features. Robie Lester, a Grammy-nominated vocalist, voices Miss Jessica, the schoolteacher in a town that has banned Christmas cheer, and renowned voice actor Paul Frees gives life to the miserly Burgermeister Meisterburger. The story is told through songs like “The First Toymakers to the King” and “One Foot in Front of the Other,” all sung by the talented voice cast.

 

After these hits, Rankin/Bass produced a steady stream of holiday classics, such as The Year Without a Santa Claus and several sequels to the previous Christmas favorites. While the company stopped production in 1987, they still actively worked on making sure audiences enjoyed their holiday specials for years to come.

 

Even after being aired for over 50 years, these Rankin/Bass specials remain a hallmark of the Christmas season for viewers young and old. Their upbeat music, important messages, and beautiful animation are sure to enchant audiences for years to come. To see some of these Rankin/Bass specials, tune into ABC (details here), Netflix (which has Rudolph), or DTV streaming (info here) to get your Christmas fix.

 

Plus, all of these specials have produced soundtracks to spread the Christmas cheer whenever it’s needed – check YouTube, where free versions abound. Happy Holidays!

Merry Fitz.mas and Happy Caves

6 Dec
Fitz

Fitz

 “Twas the advent of Christmas,  And all through the land,  Not a creature was stirring,  but one festive band” – Fitz.mas

Fitz, a London-based collective of musicians led by Singer/Songwriter Sam Fitzpatrick, has brought new meaning to the Christmas advent calendar. Instead of a little pieces of candy, Fitz is providing listeners with a variety of song nuggets from popular Christmas movies. FOLLOW THE CALENDAR. The audio/visual tidbits are released every other day, with the other days of the month devoted to giving visual clues of the song that will be released next. It’s creative, different, and fun. It also just demonstrates the talent of Fitz.

Yes, Fitz is far more than an advent calendar. He is an uber-talented singer/songwriter with a penchant for sweet vocals and skillful acoustic melodies. His talent is only outweighed by his subtlety. Fitz’ music creeps up on you. It’s soft, even pastoral, and it is vast – a wide-open field of wonder and tenderness, like the bright green field depicted in the video for his song “Caves,” which was released back in October.

Fitz’ British Americana style – yes, I understand the contradiction in that sentiment – is that of a folk troubadour. The music is comfortable, low-key, and relaxing. But, at the same time, there is a vivacity in his tunes, a strength in his voice that calls out to listeners. Fitz understands how to mold a song, and he does so with wonderful precision.

The video of “Caves” tells the story of a young boy who leaves home to explore a verdant world. It is a true coming-of-age video, as the characters suggest. The boy in the video takes a picture of the “tallest tree” and then tosses it in a stream after he sees an even taller tree. In his exploration, he grows. It is a story of adventure and aging – with the universal color for growth, green, as a backdrop.

I want to provide you with one video from the advent calendar. Here is an enthusiastic, albeit self-deprecating version of “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”

Merry Fitz.mas!

Check out more about Fitz at the website, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube

For The Beginning of The Holiday Season

28 Nov

Santa took advantage of the great deals

Merry Christmas? Not quite. It certainly seems like it though. If it seems that Christmas is mentioned earlier and earlier every year, it is because it is. This is especially true this holiday season. Retailers just couldn’t unpack the holiday decorations fast enough. FINALLY (exhale) we all stuffed ourselves during Thanksgiving and the stores opened during the night for Black Friday discount sales. If you need any proof why retailers wanted Black Friday, the unofficial start of the holiday season, to come as fast as possible, the only statistic you need to peek at is $52.4 billion. That is how much money was spent this holiday weekend. Merry Christmas indeed to America’s struggling economy. Sustained consumer spending is good. It makes up around 70 percent of our economy. We need to go out there and spend our cash. I’m not advocating profligate spending, but hoarding cash only hurts the already hurting economy. This is why holiday shopping couldn’t come soon enough. Black Friday has passed and we have now progressed to Cyber Monday/Week (where discounted items are available online). So many deals. Man, I wish I played video games because I would totally buy a PS3 for $200. Maybe I will take advantage of some music deals.

Hey, I have a special Christmas-related Cyber Monday music post for you all tonight. To kick off the holiday season I want to share my favorite Christmas song with all of you festive readers. I really have my pick of the litter with Christmas songs. You know there are a lot of versions of Christmas songs when a radio station (106.7 on Long Island) can play Christmas music straight from the end of Thanksgiving to Christmas ad nauseum. It is my mother’s favorite station every holiday season.

“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” is an enduring classic; the zenith of novelty Christmas songs, in my opinion. It is zany, light-hearted (well not for Grandma) and downright humorous. It is a perfect Christmas joke. Everyone may be singing Jingle Bells and Silent Night, but I will be rocking out to the Randy Brooks written classic, made famous by Dr. Elmo and Patsy Trigg Shropshire in 1979.

So what is it about this song? Is it the country folk easiness of the melody, the allegiance to grandpa, or the witty lines “They should never give a license, To a man who drives a sleigh and plays with elves?” It is all of the elements I’d say. And all things considered, it is a Christmas sing-along for the whole family. But watch out grandma and don’t drink too much eggnog.

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