A Chicago Christmas by Rich Paschall
Halloween is passing and we all know what that means. Yup. Holidays. The whole kit and caboodle of gifts, trees, overspending, lights, huge electric bills. For those amongst us still young enough to have kids, it’s a minefield. For we older folks, it’s a bit less strenuous, but still hazardous to our mental health. The best part of it is the music. Okay, not all Christmas music is great, but some of it is pretty good and there’s more that — if we didn’t hear to much of it — would be great.
By a week from now, you will have probably heard a lot of Christmas music. It might be adding to the background noise at the mall — if you still have functional malls, that is. You may be hearing it in your car on the radio station. You could be streaming a Christmas music station on your computer or mobile device.
You may even have a few old albums to put on the turn table or CDs to drop into your “boom box” or stereo system. You might even have a flash card full of music you can plug into whatever device allows it.
Whatever the case, these tunes have been recycled for years, sometimes decades as Nat, Bing, Dean, Burl. Frank, Perry, Gene and Andy — even Judy and Elvis bring you their “classics.” If you know at least 8 last names of the ten just mentioned, you may have heard their tunes too often. We have listed our favorites of these in our top ten tunes of Christmas Past, Dead Artists Edition.
It seems like there are about 20 songs in heavy rotation on the Christmas stations with another 20 sprinkled in from time to time. A newer artist might break into the play list this year, but will he or she stay there for long? The pop hit by the millennial artist is likely to fade away as quickly as the current release of the iPhone. We always seem to go back to the same handful of tunes. Don’t you wish we could get some new holiday music?
Well, someone has brought along some new Christmas music. In fact they have seven new tunes, eight if you count the R&B and ballad versions of the same song. Chicago the band (not the city) has a new Christmas album. It is the third Christmas album released by the group. Chicago XXV: The Christmas Album was released in 1998 and had 14 tunes. It is one of my favorite holiday albums. The arrangements are unmistakably Chicago. It was re-edited and re-released by Rhino records in 2003 as What’s It Gonna Be, Santa, containing a total of 20 songs.
The next holiday album was Chicago XXXIII: O Christmas Three in 2011. Why O Christmas THREE? Perhaps because it is the 33rd album? Maybe because they considered the two previous releases of XXV as two Christmas albums? This time out they don’t just pass around the vocals to various band members, as usual. They also have some guest artists, Dolly Parton, Bebe Winans, and America (the band) to join them. Steve Cropper makes a guest appearance on guitar on the only original song, “Rockin’ and Rollin’ on Christmas Day.”
When producer and original band member Lee Loughnane (trumpet, vocals) asked band members earlier in the year if they had any original Christmas songs, he expected a contribution or two. Instead, he received more than they could use this time out. If you thought picking the songs was going to be difficult, arranging and recording was going to be more of a challenge. The band was on tour most of the year.
The group decided to use the same method to record this “studio” album as they did for the previous album, Chicago Now. They employed a mobile recording system they referred to as “The Rig.” This allowed them to rehearse and record on the go, utilizing hotel rooms, the tour bus and other stops. Not all band members needed to be present at the same time, either. Various tracks could be sent by web portal and mixed later. The band proved again they can use the latest technology to achieve what older bands are reluctant to try, which is record new albums.
Arranging and recording while continuing to perform means the guys are always working. If you think that the “rock with horns” sound just happens, then we will share a short “making of” video from the band’s YouTube channel. Note how, at one point, they are rehearsing and recording on the tour bus.
If you want to get the full dose of how it was done, you can watch Chicago Christmas (Making Of) here. This gives a much better insight into the collaborative effort. You see the guys together in a hotel room working out the harmonies and the parts for each. For a “band on the run,” it is the modern way to work.
Along with the seven new songs this time out, there is Sleigh Ride 2019, Here We Come A Caroling and Robert Lamm on a non-Christmas but very timely song, “What The World Needs Now Is Love.” You can add this new one to your play list:
You can find the CD on Amazon, or the band website, or you can download the album. Perhaps you do not want to pay for an album of songs you have not heard. It is not likely the Christmas stations will play them, so the band has a good idea for you. Just as they did for O Christmas Three, Chicago has posted all of the songs on their YouTube channel. You can hear the entire album here.
The band is making appearances to promote their new music. You might catch them in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (if they hold it this year) playing tunes along the parade route.