Twelve Songs of Christmas
A ”Molto Groovy Christmas” with Carlo Poddighe

A ”Molto Groovy Christmas” with Carlo Poddighe

April 7, 2022
In 2014, Molto Groovy Christmas remade holiday favorites inspired by Italian and French movie soundtracks from the 1960s. Tracks also reference Esquivel, Jimmy Smith’s soul-jazz, and other out-there sounds, and the project as a whole is defined by unlikely, psychedelic textural juxtapositions over gently funky grooves. The album came with a mystery, though. The cover reads, “Roman Coppola and Alessandro Cassella presents,” but it’s not until you open the package that you discover who actually made the music. That task fell to Italian musician and producer Carlo Poddighe, who arranged the songs and played all the parts.
 
This week, Carlo Poddighe tells the story of the album and talks about the fun and the challenges that accompany having a studio full of the vintage gear needed for a project like this one. 
 
Molto Groovy Christmas isn’t on Spotify or Apple Music, but CDs and mp3s are available through Amazon and a few vinyl copies remain for sale at the album’s Bandcamp page
 
Poddighe talks about the influence of a number of Italian soundtrack composers including Ennio Morricone, the best known in the United States. A Morricone track is included, as is a track from the 1995 album Vampyros Lesbos Sexadelic Dance Party, a very psychedelic collection of soundtrack music that prompted renewed interest in European soundtrack music from mid-‘60s to the early ‘70s. 
If you haven’t already done so, please subscribe to Twelve Songs wherever you get your podcasts so that you don’t miss an episode.   
”Last Christmas” with Annie Zalenski

”Last Christmas” with Annie Zalenski

March 31, 2022
Twelve Songs returns to regular programming this week with writer Annie Zaleski joining me to talk about Wham!’s “Last Christmas” and our favorite versions of it. 
 
On Christmas Day last year, Zaleski told the song’s story at Salon.com, which is just one of the places where she has covered pop music and Christmas music over the years. She also wrote a book on Duran Duran’s Rio for the 33 1/3 series. 
 
The song has become a fascination of mine for a lot of reasons, one of which is that I’ve only really come around to it in the last few years. For a long time, I understood those who played Whamageddon online during the holiday season, but eventually the durability of the song and its stylish, bonkers, of the moment video won me over. 
 
Annie and I also talk about cover versions by Jimmy Eat World, Carly Rae Jepsen, Manic Street Preachers, and Lucy Dacus. The episode closes with one of my favorites from last year by Japanese noise rock band Boris. If it speaks to you, you can find it at Boris’ Bandcamp page. 
 
In the conversation, I mentioned the video for the version of "Last Christmas" by the Japanese rock band Chai, and Annie and I break down Wham!'s video
Highlights of the First 100 Episodes, Pt. 5

Highlights of the First 100 Episodes, Pt. 5

March 17, 2022

When I started to look back at the highlights of our first 100 episodes, I envisioned it taking an episode or two, but once I started, I couldn’t keep the number down that low. Here we are with the fifth and final installment, and I can easily envision another episode or two of interviews conducted before 2021. 

This week’s episode includes a few interviews that were special for me, including Steven Drozd of Flaming Lips, 11 Acorn Lane, guitar hero Steve Lukather, jazz vocalist Jacqui Naylor, ZE Records’ Michael Zilkha, Latin ska band Mento Buru, and singer Danny Boy and label exec John “JP” Payne of Death Row Records. There’s something special in each of these for me. Some were people I had really wanted to talk to, others were really good, provocative conversations, and in the case of the Death Row interview, it led to a story I wrote for The New York Times. 

Next week, I’ll get to work on the next 100 with a new conversation. If you haven’t already done so, please subscribe, like, follow, or do what you have to do with your podcast provider to get Twelve Songs in your podcast feed weekly. 

 

Looking Back at the First 100, Pt. 4

Looking Back at the First 100, Pt. 4

March 10, 2022

We're in the home stretch of the look back at highlights from the first 100 episodes of Twelve Songs, with this episode getting into interviews during the pandemic when COVID affected everybody's plans. Guitarist and producer Chas Justus from Lafayette, Louisiana talks about how COVID made his collection of Cajun French versions of Chrlstmas classics--Joyeux Noel, Bon Chrismeusse--possible.  

I really appreciated getting romantic pianist and composer Jim Brickman on the show because someone who has 10 albums of Christmas music has a more nuanced take on it than those who have only dipped their toes in the water. We talked in 2020 about how his Christmas music relates to the music he makes the rest of the year. 

Many of my guests are indie musicians, in part because their music frequently lines up best with my aesthetics and ethics, but it's also important to me that we hear Christmas music as something people make today in a variety of forms and not simply nostalgia from our parents or grandparents' generations. Excerpts of conversations with retro soul artist Kelly Finnigan (who made the modern classic A Joyful Sound), Christian vocal group leader Ernie Haase, Jamie Hilsden of the Christmas punk band The Myrrhderers, and Amy Carlson of pop band Office Romance all come from that place, though the conversations are very different. 

I hope after hearing this show and the other retrospective shows in this series, you'll want to subscribe to Twelve Songs (if you haven't already), listen to back episodes, and tell your friends. I hope these looks back make it clear that conversations about Christmas music aren't necessarily about Christmas or to be set aside until that time of year. 

Looking Back at the First 100, Pt. 3

Looking Back at the First 100, Pt. 3

February 24, 2022

My look back at the highlights of The Twelve Songs of Christmas this week come from from a transitional period. I had good and very different conversations with musicians with very different careers, including the pop purists Hanson, the bluegrass crossover artist Rhonda Vincent, and indie rapper Mega Ran. 

This week's show includes excerpts from those conversations, along Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low, and Martin Lynds and Jen Gunderman of The Ornaments, a band of Nashville session players who at the time of the interview had played the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack for 14 years running. 

One note on this episode: I was surprised when I grabbed the file for the Rhonda Vincent interview that I found my voice distorted on it. It didn't sound like that when I produced the episode, but there's not much to do about that now. I tried to minimize how much of me you needed to hear in that excerpt, but you needed some of my fuzzy voice to give her answers context. 

If this is the first of your retrospective episodes, you can hear the first two here and here

If you haven't already done so, please do what you have to do to get Twelve Songs in your podcast feed. You can find us at Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPandora, and Spotify. During our post-Christmas break, we went live on the IHeartRadio platform, TuneInAudible, and Amazon's podcast platform. Now, you can ask Alexa and Siri to play the Twelve Songs of Christmas podcast and let them pop it up on your voice-controlled personal assistant. 

Here in New Orleans, it's Mardi Gras, so I'm taking the rest of this week and the start of next week to be part of my city. We'll meet again in two weeks.  

Looking Back at the First 100, Pt. 2

Looking Back at the First 100, Pt. 2

February 17, 2022

Last week, I started a look back at some of the highlights from the first 100 episodes of Twelve Songs of Christmas. This week, Scott McCaughey of The Minus 5 talks about his relationship to his Christmas songs when a stroke prevented him from playing them at their CD release show. Americana rocker JD McPherson talks about the inspiration for the songs on his modern Christmas classic, Socks, and Magic 101.9 program director Steve Suter takes us behind the scenes on the all-Christmas radio format. New Orleans singer Debbie Davis talks about what it's like to have a Christmas show that becomes a tradition, and songwriter Josh Rouse remembers Christmas music in Spain. 

In the episode, I mention a few stories I'd link to--my piece for Nola.com on the all-Christmas radio format, and my interview with Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet.

If you haven't already done so, please do what you have to do to get Twelve Songs in your podcast feed. You can find us at Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPandora, and Spotify. During our post-Christmas break, we went live on the IHeartRadio platform, TuneInAudible, and Amazon's podcast platform. Now, you can ask Alexa and Siri to play the Twelve Songs of Christmas podcast and let them pop it up on your voice-controlled personal assistant. 

Looking Back at the First 100, Pt. 1

Looking Back at the First 100, Pt. 1

February 10, 2022

The previous episode with singer Meryl Zimmerman was number 100, and now that I've made it that far, I think it's time to stop and help some of you catch up. I've had a lot of episodes I'm really happy with that have moments I'm glad I helped to get into the world. Some realizations probably came together for the first time when we talked.

The conversations shed light on creativity, musicality, business, and spirituality--aspects the pop music enterprise that are too often overlooked or treated with too much care. I'm interested in all of these things, and Christmas music is a great vehicle to get into those topics. 

You can hear all that in these excerpts from season one with guests Panorama Jazz Band, Robert Earl Keen, The Waitresses' Chris Butler and Mars Williams, PJ Morton, Pink Martini, and Lowland Hum. Originally, I thought I'd simply do one retrospective episode, but I realized pretty quickly that it would be three to four hours' long, or it would leave out too much to be satisfying for me. So I'll be back with more next week and likely the week after that.

Listening back is a little humbling, hearing some ratty production and a laid back intro affectation so extreme that I don't need to share any of that with you. You can't help but notice it though if you go back and check out the early episodes. 

If you haven't already done so, please do what you have to do to get Twelve Songs in your podcast feed. You can find us at Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPandora, and Spotify. During our post-Christmas break, we went live on the IHeartRadio platform, TuneInAudible, and Amazon's podcast platform. Now, you can ask Alexa and Siri to play the Twelve Songs of Christmas podcast and let them pop it up on your voice-controlled personal assistant. 

 

Meryl Zimmerman

Meryl Zimmerman

January 27, 2022

This is the 100th episode of The Twelve Songs of Christmas, and I’m spending it with New Orleans' jazz vocalist Meryl Zimmerman. In late November 2022, she released her second album, A Very Meryl Christmas, so we talked about it as a business proposition and chewed on the uncommon song choices she made for it. Some standards are there, but so are some less common choices. As you’ll see, the more familiar ideas are dressed up in uncommon arrangements that take them into interesting places. Her bossa nova version of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” was compelling enough to make me seriously consider an episode focused on versions of that song to fit in the week after Christmas. It didn’t happen, but maybe next year. 

In this episode, we talk about her cover of Louis Armstrong’s “Zat You, Santa Claus?” and I mention how Buster Poindexter’s version helped me see the song Meryl’s way. Here’s that version. 

On this episode, I also draw attention to Attention K-Mart Shoppers, and online archive of digitized albums of background music played in the 1960s and ‘70s in Kresge and K-Mart stores. I’m fascinated by the Christmas albums, of course, but there’s a lot to hear there. 

After this episode, I’m going to take a week off the start the next hundred episodes with a look back at the best of the first seasons. That will take more listening and editing than I can manage in a week, but I’ll be back with that in two weeks.  

If you haven't already done so, please do what you have to do to get Twelve Songs in your podcast feed. You can find us at Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPandora, and Spotify.  During our post-Christmas break, we went live on the IHeartRadio platform, TuneIn, Audible, and Amazon's podcast platform. Now, you can ask Alexa and Siri to play the Twelve Songs of Christmas podcast and let them pop it up on your voice-controlled personal assistant. 

Nochebuena with Patricia Vonne

Nochebuena with Patricia Vonne

January 20, 2022

One sidebar in the last few years of 12 Songs has been the role of COVID in the creation of Christmas music. Some artists recorded Christmas albums to remind themselves that they were musicians during the pandemic shutdown of 2020. Some were able to get musicians who would otherwise be unavailable because COVID forced them off the road, and others had specific circumstances related to COVID that led to their Christmas albums. 

San Antonio-based roots rocker Patricia Vonne falls into the latter category. In this week’s episode, she tells the story of what prompted her to record My Favorite Holiday, and how she got an army of musical friends including Rubén Blades, Alex Ruiz, David Grissom, Rosie Flores, Stephen Ferrone, Carmine Rojas and more to participate.
 
I love Vonne’s energy and positivity in this conversation. She never stops selling, but that makes sense. Her story is a working artist’s story, and she lives from gig to gig and album to album. That’s a perspective that’s easy to overlook in the show biz world that many Christmas albums live in. 
 
This week’s episode also takes a quick look at the last Christmas-related hit of 2021, “Christmas Tree” by V of K-pop stars BTS. I argue that it’s not really a Christmas song and pay more attention to an earlier, truer Christmas song from BTS, “Christmas Day” by Jimin and Jungkook. 
 
If you haven't already done so, please do what you have to do to get Twelve Songs in your podcast feed. You can find us at Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPandora, and Spotify.  During our post-Christmas break, we went live on the IHeartRadio platform and Amazon's podcast platform. Now, you can ask Alexa and Siri to play the Twelve Songs of Christmas podcast and let them pop it up on your voice-controlled personal assistant. 
A Latin Music Christmas with Arthur Hanlon

A Latin Music Christmas with Arthur Hanlon

January 13, 2022

How does a white guy from Detroit end up playing Latin music? Pianist Arthur Hanlon, one of the stars of the HBOMax concert film Piano Y Mujer, talks about that and his relationship to Motown in this week's conversation. We talk about the EP he released before Christmas, A Holiday Christmas Piano, and the roles Facebook and COVID played in making it happen. Along the way, we also talk about earlier Christmas releases and how Christmas music fits into Hanlon's big picture. 

This week, we also look at one of the bigger songs of the 2021 holiday season, "Merry Christmas" by Ed Sheeran and Elton John, and the song that beat them to become number one on the British pop charts at Christmas.

During our post-Christmas break, we went live on the IHeartRadio platform and Amazon's podcast platform. Now, you can ask Alexa and Siri to play the Twelve Songs of Christmas podcast and let them pop it up on your voice-controlled personal assistant. 

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