Saturday, December 7, 2019

An unexpected gem

Whilst driving around earlier, one of the local Christmas music stations played a version of one of my all-time faves: The Little Drummer Boy. I recognized the singer's voice almost immediately; it was Bob Seger. Now, I never much liked him, so naturally I immediately shifted my hand toward the station-selector button to flee elsewhere. But I dunno, somehow I just...didn't. I got this feeling of, meh, give it a listen, might be okay.

I'm sure CF lifers all know by now how I feel about most modern versions of the Christmas classics, which can be summed up thusly: don't screw around with them. As I complained just last year:

Sorry, but I do NOT want to hear John Cougar Mellonhead groaning about working-class Christmas in Indiana. Nor am I interested in having Springsteen bellow at me about how Santa Claus is coming to New Jersey. When it comes to Christmas music, I want Mel Torme. I want Nat King Cole. I want Sinatra and Dino. I want Der Bingle. God help me, I want Andy Williams.

I sure don't want Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, or Peabo Bryson doing that warbling-wandering contemporary-R&B singer thing of meandering all over the scale in contempt of the actual damned melody, trying to "make it their own," along the lines of those gut-curdling sportsball Star Spangled Banner butcherings we're all way too familiar with by now. JUST SING THE DAMNED SONG ALREADY, DAMMIT. It ain't "your own," and it ain't ever gonna be. Christmas music belongs to everyone, and if you can't just leave a beloved traditional Christmas classic alone and sing it more or less straight, then write one of your own and sing it any damned way you like.

That said, though, there are instances of modern-era artists jazzing up a classic which yield some good results, mostly because the remake is done tastefully, artfully, and respectfully rather than as an exercise in self-indulgence by an artist bereft of the faintest clue as to how the thing might properly be done.

All that most definitely still holds for me, and it looks like it always will. So you might easily imagine that, never having been a Seger fan, the expectation of having to endure yet another rock 'n' roll savaging of a beloved song straight off my Top Ten Holiday Favorites list was pretty high. I didn't know if it would approach the godawful-atrocious Mannheim Steamroller's putrid Carol Of The Bells. But I do know I don't want the kind of angry-sounding, aggressive assault on domestic harmony that Steamroller shitpile represents. "Intimidated" or "agitated" aren't appropriate emotional responses to Christmas music; headbanging is right the hell out. Happy, peaceful, and joyous are the order of the day here. The Manger had no mosh pit, to the best of my knowledge.

Bob was never really THAT hard a rocker, so I maybe couldn't say I feared the worst. But I was...uhh, concerned, with around a 70 percent chance of pop-up irritation in the forecast.

But LO! To my surprise and delight, ol' Bob sang the hell out of it. No pounding drums, no screeching heavy-metal guitar solos, no "artistic license" or "creative interpretation." He and his Silver Bullet band played things arrow-straight, with respect and sincerity. Seger's voice was just perfect, too. Drummer Boy can be kind of a tough row for lesser singers to hoe; there's a lot of range there to ride, but Bob transitioned smoothly from low-register to high without hesitation or whimper. He left his signature sandpapery growl at home for this one as well, even in spots that as confirmed a skeptic as I am might have forgiven him for falling back into if only out of sheer habit. He sang it clearly, tastefully, and with authority. Compared with the many other Christmas-music travesties skulking around out there in pop-radio Toyland, it was refreshing indeed.

In sum, I was blindsided by a thoroughly enjoyable A-plus performance I never saw coming, from a performer I wouldn't have thought capable of or much interested in it: a sweet ride down a lovely road, with a damned capable driver at the wheel. Hell, if you'd tried to tell me about it I wouldn't have believed you. But this old dog has learned a newfound respect for Bob Seger. Now I'm wondering if he has a whole album of Christmas stuff floating around out there somewhere that I never knew about. Might just have to look into that, I think.


Jeff said...

Mike, Bob Seger has some very good soft rock and country crossover music if you aren’t into rock that much. He sang a duet with patty loveless years back that was amazing.

ligneus said...

I agree on the Mariah Carey stuff, but see if you like this one by Megan Enos, I'd be interested to know.

ELittle said...

Hi Francis, I agree completely with your assessment of Mr. Seger's vocal abilities. As a singer of some local repute, when he first started the song I thought he was going to have a hard time later on, with the higher notes and the continued diaphragm push for increases in intensity. But he brought it off very well! I also will be looking online for some other recordings. Merry Christmas to you and yours and KAG! Everett R Littlefield

Mike Hendrix said...

Actually, Jeff, that's probably the main reason I never did like him much. Back when Seger first made his nut in the 70s, I was all about the hard rock from that era: AC/DC, Deep Purple, Ted Nugent. Seger was just too middle of the road for my teenage taste, and left me kinda cold and uninterested. Then the Ramones came along, and that pretty much sealed the deal for good.