Music is a companion. I’ve always been one to listen to music that compliments something else. For example, if I’m reading a book on jazz, I like to listen to jazz. If I’m reading Henry Mancini’s autobiography, I’m listening to his music. If it’s Christmas time, I’m listening to Christmas music. These examples don’t need explaining but there are other times when I am drawn to certain artists or types of music. In springtime, I like to listen to Sinatra. He died in the month of May and that year I dove into his catalogue, collected his music and listened to it. So now every spring I get into the mood for Sinatra. This is what I’ve often called “Seasonal Interest Syndrome” and this is greatly tied to memory, I suppose. Christmas songs, certainly, conjure up thoughts of Christmases past and that can enhance a song’s value. Also in the spring, I’m reminded of “Apartment Zero days”; the time in the early ’90’s when I lived on my own in a bachelor apartment that actually was designated “Apt. 0” and listened to a lot of oldies, Huey Lewis and the News and Hootie and the Blowfish. So, when springtime comes, that’s what I tend to gravitate to.
All this means that I have to be careful when I’m sharing these playlists. I mean, there may be many of you that have strong memories of that one autumn when all you listened to was Huey Lewis so me talking about how “Spring-y” Huey is doesn’t resonate with you. This is also the case with this winter playlist. But I think I can make a good case that these songs and albums fit well with those snowy two months after the glow of the holidays and Elvis Week has dimmed.
We start with a gentle song from perhaps the greatest pop music arranger to ever live, Nelson Riddle. Riddle, of course, is most well known for his work with Frank Sinatra but he did release albums under his own name. Nelson’s The Joy of Living album was released in 1959 and contains typically excellent work from Nelson. But here’s the thing: the wonderful cover art depicts a happy couple in winter garb and a snowy mountain scene. The album contains “June in January” but it also features “Indian Summer” so the music is not wintery, it’s the cover. This may have become winter music to me because when I first owned the record I just couldn’t see getting it out in the summer with a cover like that. So, I saved it for winter. I’ve chosen “It’s So Peaceful in the Country” because of the images the title can inspire.
The inclusion of the Jerry Vale and Mills Brothers numbers are obvious when you hear them. Jerry’s song tells of heartbreak; he had a date but she broke it so he drops the two theatre tickets and now they are “two purple shadows on the snow”. Good song. “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” needs to be here but I didn’t want a version that I have on a Christmas collection, like Dean Martin’s.
The André Previn and Tony Scotti songs are from the soundtrack to Valley of the Dolls which is one of my Top 25 favourite films and also a great winter movie. I think I’ve made a good case that the story of this film makes use of the season as a symbol and a metaphor. These songs bring the wonderful winter scenes in that movie to mind.
Two other great winter movies are Winter a-Go-Go and Ski Party. These teen films from the 1960’s take “the gang” to the slopes and they’ve come up with these three great songs. Perhaps the greatest of all winter movies is The Pink Panther which contains perhaps the finest “cocktail music” ever made courtesy of the master, Henry Mancini. The entire soundtrack – and particularly these three tracks – transport you directly to the ski resort town of Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Italian Alps. You are relaxing fireside and Hank lulls you into a state of gentle relaxed euphoria.
Next we have some fine singers offering songs that motivate the listener to seek cozy warmth, whether outside, dressed warmly and with that certain someone or by the fire, gazing dreamily at the dancing flames. Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Winter World of Love” does mention December but while we’re busy listening to Christmas music in December this is too perfect a title to omit. The Dean Martin and Johnny Mathis tracks come from wonderfully mellow albums, both with cover art depicting fireplaces. Dream With Dean contains his original recording of “Everybody Loves Somebody”, not the hit version. Johnny’s Open Fire, Two Guitars features legendary guitarists Al Caiola and Tony Mottola. You have to stand these covers up while listening to the records – the gentle sounds will do the rest.
The stunning music of Ennio Morricone should be listened to all year round. My SIS (see above) prompts me to watch westerns in the winter, however, and Quentin Tarantino’s epic The Hateful Eight is a western that takes place during a brutal winter storm. The whole score is great and won Morricone a long-overdue Oscar but I’ve gone with the three tracks that make reference to winter conditions. The John Wayne film North to Alaska doesn’t depict any snow but, hey, it’s Alaska which, by definition, means cold weather. I’ve added Johnny Horton’s theme song to the list. Another great winter movie is a film I’ve called “the rural Swingers“; Beautiful Girls (1996). The film takes place in February in the snowy town of Knight’s Ridge. The group of friends in the picture plow snow for a living, ice fish and generally deal with winter conditions. “Beautiful Girls”, by the unknown Pete Droge and the Sinners, takes me right to those snowy streets. I should really include “Lara’s Theme”. The epic film Doctor Zhivago takes place during the Russian Revolution. Featured in the film are many scenes of the direst Siberian winters which makes it a great film to watch in the winter. The thing about Maurice Jarré’s wonderful score, though, is that the pleasant theme he wrote for Julie Christie’s character very much has a life outside the film. I feel it’s worth adding, though, because of the song’s connection to the film’s depiction of ferocious winter conditions.
Here’s my winter playlist.
“It’s So Peaceful in the Country” — Nelson Riddle
“Two Purple Shadows” — Jerry Vale
“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” — the Mills Brothers
“Theme from Valley of the Dolls” and “Chance Meeting” — André Previn
“Come Live With Me” — Tony Scotti
“It Happened in Sun Valley” — Jo Stafford
“Winter a-Go-Go” — the Hondells
“Ski Party” – Frankie Avalon
“Paintin’ the Town” — Frankie Avalon and cast
“Royal Blue”, “Champagne and Quail” and “Cortina” — Henry Mancini
“Winter World of Love” — Engelbert Humperdinck
“Everybody Loves Somebody” and “I Don’t Know Why (I Just Do)” — Dean Martin
“An Open Fire” — Johnny Mathis
“Neve (Snow)” [three tracks] and “L’inferno bianco (White Hell)” [two tracks] — Ennio Morricone
“North to Alaska” — Johnny Horton
“Beautiful Girls” — Pete Droge and the Sinners
“Lara’s Theme” — Maurice Jarré