Still: The O'Jays knew it's all nothing without love.
By Bruce Robinson
When it comes to musical seasonal celebrations, New Year's gets short shrift. Christmas has round-the-clock radio formats dedicated to it for weeks at a time each year, but Father Time's annual appearance rates, at best, a few hours of build-up to a countdown that's over in mere seconds.
And then they play the Song.
Yeah, that one. Not only is "Auld Lang Syne" generally expected to do all the harmonic heavy lifting for New Year's Eve, but even before the Champagne goes flat, we've pretty much exhausted the musical highlights for the entire month. Sure, Stevie Wonder's got an upbeat birthday tune for Dr. King mid-month, and Merle Haggard anticipated "better times" in January in "If We Make It Through December," but really, is that the best we can do for the only month in the entire year that actually begins with a holiday?
There are, in fact, a handful of songs that speak quite specifically to New Year's and the traditions that attend the rollover of our 12-month cycle. An informal, and no doubt incomplete, survey of the available resources has identified the following:
U2, 'New Year's Day' Devoid of holiday sentiment, this anthemic tune from the band's early War album powerfully contrasts personal commitment ("I will be with you again") with an external world in which "nothing changes on New Year's Day."
'What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?' The closest thing to a contemporary New Year's song, this smooth Frank Loesser ballad was covered by Johnny Mathis, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson and Nat "King" Cole waaay back in the day, then got a soulful instrumental by saxman King Curtis in 1968. It was also covered by more recent artists as diverse as Diana Krall, Holly Near, Lee Ann Womack (and rendered vapid by Barry Man-I-Loathe, but we'll ignore that) and recently revived in these parts by the Christmas Jug Band.
Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, 'New Year's Resolution' Both singers were at the top of their game when they cut their only album together, which included this slow-burning ballad. A definitive performance that doubtless daunted others from attempting the tune.
The Zombies, 'This Will Be Our Year' This track from the Zombies' overlooked 1967 psychedelic pop masterpiece Odessy and Oracle is a wistful plea for better times in the year ahead. Who can't relate?
The Eagles, 'Funky New Year' The B-side to a quickie holiday single in 1978 ("Please Come Home for Christmas" was the flip), this Henley-Frey original ranks among the least interesting tunes they ever wrote. Sample lyric: "Woke up this morning, I don't know how / Last night I was a happy man but the way I feel right now / It's gonna be a . . ." Sure enough, they broke up in '79.
Graham Parker, 'New Year's Revolution' The feisty post-punk singer took his turn with a holiday EP in 1994, which featured this deservedly obscure call for "a New Year's revolution . . . of love." Hey, it fits the theme.
Spike Jones and His City Slickers, 'Happy New Year' Spike was a 1940s bandleader whose comedic ensemble favored break-neck tempos, whip-crack timing and a kaleidoscope of silly sound effects. In this holiday hoot, all of Jones' featured vocalists take a turn spoofing seasonal sentiments. Cut in 1942, it holds up surprisingly well 65 years later.
Lee Perry, 'Merry Christmas, Happy New Year' Reggae treatments of snow-filled Christmas songs are approaching cliché, but this sunny slice of all-inclusive holiday cheer is anything but. The upbeats chuck merrily along as featured singer Sandra Robinson repeats the title over ace producer Lee "Scratch" Perry's cheerfully bubbly backing track.
The O'Jays, 'Christmas Ain't Christmas, New Year's Ain't New Year's Without the One You Love' The title quotes the entire chorus, so there's no surprise to the bittersweetness of this holiday lament. The Gamble-Huff tune gets their full Philly Soul production, and the O'Jays were at their silky best on this 1969 track.
And that's pretty much it. Still, New Year's Eve easily trumps the next traditional holiday on the calendar just 32 days later, one that has its own movie but not its own song —Groundhog Day.
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