Your assignment is to listen to five famous holiday songs. These are mostly songs and singers that, in their time, became a significant part of American culture. In large part, the song and singer became famous because of each other, and so these versions became famous--not just the song, and not just the singer.
I want you to think about what makes a song and singer go beyond being famous to the point it becomes part of the larger culture. If you are uncomfortable with this assignment, please let me know and I will give you an alternative assignment to complete.
I have posted these songs on a private page on my personal website because I can embed them directly. On CompassNet I can only make them so you can download them and I think this will be easier for you.
1. Choose FIVE songs from the list below. Don’t just choose the first five. Look around a little and find some that look fun or at least interesting. Listen to the songs.
2. After you decide which song you like best, answer the two questions I asked (there are two questions below each song). You only need to answer the questions for the song you liked most. You will need to Google and think a little to answer these questions, but the answers are available.
3. Pick the song you personally liked least. I want you to explain why it might have become popular. Why might other people have liked it?
4. Once you have done the required five songs, you may do more for extra credit. There are two options for extra credit. One: you can answer the two questions for more of the songs you listened to. OR, there is an extra credit section below. Follow the directions. I will give you two points of extra credit for every additional two questions you answer, or each of the compare/contrast options you complete. The maximum you may earn in extra credit is ten points.
This assignment is due by January 6, 2016. Five songs should not be hard if you start right away and do a little each day. If you wait until the end, it will be hard. So please don't procrastinate. I estimate each song will take you about 10 minutes to listen and then answer the questions.
Have fun! I can think of far worse homework assignments.
"Believe" Josh Groban
This song is not yet a classic. It came from a movie that didn't do all that well. But, every year I feel like I hear it more and more. I think it might be becoming a classic. Listen to the music and think of the way it makes you feel. Question 1: What sort of emotions and images does it call up in your mind? Question 2: Do you think this song will ever become a classic, like "Frosty" or "Rudolph"? Why or why not? (Be specific.
"Blue Christmas" Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley was an enormously influential performer. Most young people in his era loved him. Many other people thought he was inspired by the devil. Today, some people still love him, others think he is incredibly tacky. Listen to this song and tell me what you think. Question 1: Do you like his voice? Why or why not? Question 2: What was the nickname people gave Elvis Presley?
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole is said to have had one of the smoothest voices ever. He has a famous daughter who you might have heard sing on the radio. Question 1: What presidents consulted with Nat King Cole? Question 2: What caused Cole's death?
"Frosty the Snowman" Jimmy Durante
If you've seen the cartoon version of Frosty the Snowman, you've heard Jimmy Durante sing this song. Durante was another popular performer in his day. He started out performing in vaudeville singing, dancing, and doing comedy. If you listen, though, you can tell he doesn't have the nicest, smoothest voice. Question 1: Who was the original artist to record this song? Question 2: What was Jimmy Durante's nickname and to what did it refer?
"The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" Andy Williams
At one time, Andy Williams received the largest contract a recording artist had ever earned before. He performed a song for a movie that became famous and became his theme song. Question 1: What was that song? Question 2: At which famous politician's funeral did Williams sing?
"Happy Xmas (War is Over)" John Lennon
Question 1: Explain what historical even this song is connected to? Question 2: Who else helped with the performing and possibly the writing of this song? Question 2: John Lennon belonged to a famous musical group. What is that group?
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" Judy Garland
You've probably seen Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. This song comes from another movie. Question 1: For what movie was this song written? Question 2: Explain how and why the lyrics have changed over the years.
"Holly Jolly Christmas" Burl Ives
If you've seen the TV version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer you've heard Burl Ives. He's the snowman character who narrates this song. Question1: What other songs did this songwriter write? Question 2: Why might it be a little surprising that he wrote so many famous Christmas songs?
"I'll Be Home for Christmas" The Carpenters
Karen Carpenter's low, mellow voice was often heard during the 1970s. She and her brother formed a singing group and achieved some success. Question 1: What was tragic about her life? Question 2: Does knowing about her life and death make this song have any more impact?
"I Want a Hippopotamus" for Christmas Gayla Peevey
This isn't really a classic, but it's strange enough that it's probably worth hearing. Question 1: How old was this artist when she recorded the song? Question 2: What else did she sing?
"The Little Drummer Boy" Harry Simeone Chorale
This song tells a story. Question 1: In a few short sentences, summarize the story. Question 2. Is this a happy or sad story? Why?
"Mary's Boy Child" Harry Belafonte
This song is one of a very few famous Christmas songs written and performed by African-American artists. The composer who wrote it was a distinguished musician who also had some other careers. Question 1: What other things did the composer do besides composing music? Question 2: Harry Belafonte, who performed the song, was famous for what style of music?
"Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" Brenda Lee
Question 1: How old was Brenda Lee when she recorded this song? Question 2: Based on her voice, does that surprise you or not (explain)?
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" Gene Autry
Question 1: The story for Rudolph came about in an unusual way. What inspired it? Question 2: Tell me how. Gene Autry had a career doing what?
"Santa Claus is Coming to Town" Frank Sinatra
Question 1: Frank Sinatra was known by several nicknames. Tell me one of them. Question 2: What are some of the songs for which he was famous?
"We Need a Little Christmas" Angela Lansbury
Angela Lansbury has been a star on Broadway, in movies, and on TV. Most people your age have not seen her, but your parents/grandparent probably saw her on TV in Murder, She Wrote. Her most famous role may have been Mrs. Potts, the teapot in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Question 1: What other famous musical did the composer of this song write? Question 2: From this recording, why do you think Angela Lansbury was such a big star?
"White Christmas" Bing Crosby
Possibly one of the most famous Christmas songs ever, this is also one of the most complete pairings of a song and singer ever. The two are almost inseparable. This song became popular during the Word War II era. Question 1: Why do you think it connected to people then? Question 2: Why is it perhaps a bit unexpected that the composer wrote one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time?
"Winter Wonderland" Doris Day
This is a famous song and a famous singer, however, they were not famous together. Doris Day was one of the most popular movie actresses of her day. In fact, she remains the top female box-office movie star of all time. During the 1950s and early 60s, she was known for her squeaky clean personality and characters. When attitudes changed in the late 60s and 70s, she became less popular. This version is not famous as some of the others on the list, but Doris Day was such a big star that it's worth listening to. Question 1: This version is much slower than most versions. Do you like it? Dislike it? Why? Question 2: What kind of images does this song bring to your mind, both because of the words and the tempo?
"You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" Thurl Ravenscroft
The speaking voice of the Grinch was done by Boris Karloff, a Hollywood horror movie actor. However, he did not do the singing. Question 1: Tell me who sang the songs for the Grinch. This song has some wonderful images, for example, "You have garlic in your soul." Question 2: In your opinion, what is the best image used here to describe the Grinch's mean nature? Note: Listen to this whole thing. There are bits of dialogue between the singing.
Extra Credit Only: Compare and Contrast
Note: For these songs, you need only answer the questions below, you do not need to do all the questions I listed above. You may do as many of these as you like. You may also do more than four songs above for extra credit.
Angels We Have Heard on High
Following are two versions of the same Christmas carol sung by the same group, but they are very different. Listen carefully to each version. Question 1: Describe differences in the song in each version. How are they different? Question 2: Which do you like better, and why?
Go Tell it on the Mountain
Two versions of the same song by very different groups. One is a choir, the other is a soloist. Listen carefully to each version. Question 1: Describe differences in the song in each version. How are they different? Question 2: Which do you like better, and why?
This is a familiar song, but it is sung here in two ways that might be a bit unfamiliar. Question 1: Describe differences in the song in each version. How are they different? Question 2: Which do you like better, and why?