“Blue Christmas” (Elvis Presley acoustic Christmas cover song)

By Jim Fusco:

Welcome, welcome to another edition of the Laptop Sessions in high definition!  Tonight, I bring you the second video from last week’s recording session.  This one is truly a classic off of one of my favorite all-time albums: Elvis Presley’s 1957 Christmas Album.

“Blue Christmas” is a song everyone knows.  And, I’m pretty sure that with tonight’s recording, that every single musician in the last 50 years has recorded a version of it.  I happen to do mine in Elvis’ style, but I love Brian Wilson’s version on the Beach Boys Christmas Album, too.  But, while Brian’s version is sad and melancholy, Elvis gives this song so much raw soul.  It’s his “uh-huh” singing at its best and is on my list of “perfect recordings”.  Those are the songs (like, for instance, the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows”) that couldn’t be any better- just the perfect blend of instrumentation, songwriting style, vocals, etc.

Of course, “Blue Christmas” was even recorded earlier than Elvis’s version- as early as 1948!  But, Elvis made it a rock song and that’s the version that everyone knows.

I got to use my colleague Noreen’s 12-string Gibson acoustic from 1967 on this one- what a great sound!  It was so much fun to play.  When you’re using that guitar in a room with good acoustics, you feel like you’re a one man band.  I’m loving this new setup.  And, this week’s video was much easier to edit- literally took just a minute until it was rendering.  It’s such a nice feeling to get something done right the first time.

On a personal note, things have never been busier.  Whether it’s decorating the house, going shopping, cooking, working, etc. I’m never just sitting and relaxing.  I have a feeling it’s going to be like this until after the New Year, but I tell ya- I need some more sleep!  I’m looking forward to a couple of work parties, a couple of get-togethers at the new house, and general Christmas cheer.

If you haven’t done it yet, head on over to WCJM Free Internet Radio at wcjm.com and click on the Moore Hits in the Morning radio in the center of the screen.  You’ll then be taken to all of our radio shows that you can listen to absolutely free- click on any of the numerous Christmas shows and get ready to laugh!  They’re really entertaining and I listen to each of them at least twice each Christmas season to get me in that yuletide mood.

Okay, off to bed now- make sure to keep checking back this week for more great articles and videos from the Only Music Blog- The Laptop Sessions!



“The Man With All the Toys” (Beach Boys Christmas cover song)

By MoU:

Back again for another edition of the Laptop Sessions, this time a first: with a band! Here with me are Chris Moore, Mike Fusco, and Cliff Huizenga- all members of the band Masters of the Universe (or MoU, as we call it). You can check out all of our original music on our website at http://jimfusco.com/albums.html!  There, you’ll find everything we’ve ever recorded.  And, it’s all free to listen to online before you buy.  I can personally guarantee that the original songs you hear on MoU’s website are top-notch.  There’s just something magical that happens when five creative people get together and make music.  It’s like when the Traveling Wilburys were formed.  They just all wanted to make music together and had a good time doing it.

Speaking of “good times”, you can clearly tell we’re having a ball singing “The Man With All The Toys”, originally played by the Beach Boys.  MoU did a great live version in concert last year, so we wanted to reprise that with this live acoustic version in my basement studio.  Cliff normally plays bass, but decided to provide only vocals for these sessions. But, you’ll hear his great bass playing abilities (plus Mike’s full drum set and guitar work) on MoU’s normal studio and live efforts.  One interesting thing is that the live version MoU did of “The Man with All the Toys” for our Christmas album was actually in the wrong key!  I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were actually singing the song a half-step higher than the Beach Boys did in 1964.  We rectified that problem for this music video.

I’ve said it a million times before, but the Beach Boys Christmas Album is one of my favorite albums (Christmas or otherwise) of all time.  It’s got such a great style and charm to it.  The members of the Beach Boys sound so young and happy- it’s just a great album if you want to put a smile on your face.  And, for the first side of the album, the Beach Boys themselves play all the instruments.  So, you get a really special sound.  The original songs, with the likes of “The Little Saint Nick” and “Santa’s Beard” have become hits, and “The Man With All The Toys” is no exception.  It’s such a short song- it wasn’t until about 40 years later when Brian Wilson re-recorded this song (I guess a self-cover song of sorts) for his solo Christmas album, “What I Really Want for Christmas”, that he extended the tune by adding a rocking instrumental break.  But, I’m happy with the sub-two minute original version, as well.  It’s a little slice of musical heaven.  Their voices were perfect on the vocal breaks and it’s really just a great holiday song.

I hope you enjoy tonight’s Beach Boys cover song and over the years, we’ll be bringing you many more Christmas songs here on the Laptop Sessions acoustic cover songs music video blog!

Bob Dylan’s “Christmas in the Heart” (2009) – The Weekend Review

By Chris Moore:

Throughout Christmas in the Heart, Bob Dylan and his band are clearly enjoying themselves, embracing the timelessness of the Christmas music genre.  More specifically, Dylan and company are transporting themselves and their listeners back to a simpler time of deceptively simple songs and sentiments.

Still, not every nostalgia-inducing feature is practiced or purposeful.  For instance, that’s not static you hear on your compact disc or mp3 copy — that’s just Dylan’s voice.

Over the fifteen songs that comprise this new album, Dylan moves fluidly between the religious and the imaginative, from solemn, sacred hymns describing the birth of Jesus Christ to classic tunes about jolly old Saint Nicholas himself, Santa Claus.

Interestingly, this is the first time Dylan has included more than thirteen tracks on a studio release since 1970’s Self Portrait, the runner up being 1992’s Good As I Been To You, clocking in at thirteen tracks.  Granted, these are not the most positive comparisons in his considerable catalog, but fortunately, the comparisons end at the track count.

Christmas in the Heart is a unified collection of songs that are unlike anything Dylan has recorded before, and yet they somehow fit perfectly with the material he has released in the past decade or so.  Ever since the two albums of covers he released in 1992 and 1993, Dylan has seemingly been drawn to the sounds and styles of the past.  2001’s Love and Theft saw a wide variety of styles, and the songs on both Modern Times (2006) and this year’s Together Through Life have progressively relied on mid-20th century styles and arrangements.

In many ways, this is the most logical time for Dylan to contribute to the very American tradition of popular Christmas music.

Bob Dylan's "Christmas in the Heart" (2009)

Bob Dylan's "Christmas in the Heart" (2009)

I will admit that, upon a first listen, I was unimpressed.  Bob Dylan fanatic that I am, the deterioration of his voice initially alienated me and I felt distanced from these classic compositions, most of which I had heard before in at least one or more arrangements.

“The Christmas Blues” is perhaps the most Dylan-esque of the tracks, especially when considering the predominance of recent Dylan tunes with blues structures, the harmonica solo, and the more serious, even downtrodden tone.  In this song, his vocals are stretched and utilized to heartfelt effect.

As I listened a second and third time, the subtlety of these tracks began to set in.  The lead guitar in “Do You Hear What I Hear?” that more than adequately takes the place of the typical “answer” vocal components, the choral background singers with spot-on, traditional harmonies, and the variations in Dylan’s vocals — the rough edges in “Little Drummer Boy” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” the softened edges in “Christmas Island” — all contribute to what is largely a relaxing and entertaining record.

Is there a better description for a Christmas album?

What strikes me about Christmas in the Heart is the proof which it provides for the argument that this time of year is a special season, one which captivates the hearts and souls of men and women and inspires us to be better people.  Certainly, if Bob Dylan put this much effort into not only a holiday album, but also a specifically Christmas-themed release, then there must be something to be said about the power of music influenced by the Christmas spirit.

Dylan, known for turning around and surprising even his most loyal fanbase, has done it again.  It may not be as revolutionary as going electric, or as polarizing as songwriting from an explicitly born-again Christian perspective, but it is at least as dramatic a development in his career.  Rarely has Dylan prepared such well-known cover songs for a studio release, much less songs with such a concrete set of lyrics and straightforward message.

If nothing else, this album will provide some interesting fodder for the ongoing “Is he Christian?/Is he Jewish?” debate that continues to rage on…

For me, Christmas in the Heart is a clear reminder of the universal qualities of the Christmas spirit.  It is an album that further diversifies Dylan’s hand in American popular music, and likewise carries the torch for another generation to hear and appreciate a style that originated almost six decades ago.

All in all, Christmas in the Heart would make for a strong addition to any pop/rock music fan’s Christmas album collection.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (Band-Aid Christmas Song Cover)

By Jim Fusco:

Here again with another Laptop Session for Christmas! This song, originally made famous by the supergroup Band-Aid, has been a favorite of mine since I was little.

I got 4/5 of MoU together and we did this tune in Fusco-Moore Studios a couple days ago. We had a lot of fun with it- a bit too much fun, considering the subject matter of the song. Please note that we don’t take the subject of starvation in third-world countries lightly- we just had a lot of fun getting together and singing Christmas songs!

I hope you’ve enjoyed The Laptop Sessions’ tribute to Christmas over these past few weeks. I’m already looking forward to next year! I hope everyone gets what they’re hoping for this Christmas- and the Laptop Sessions will be back again in a couple days!

To hear MoU’s original music, visit http://jimfusco.com/albums.html. To hear my original music, visit http://jimfusco.com.