Flashback Friday is back! On a Sunday!
Freelance assignments overwhelmed me a bit this month, that’s why I’ve largely been absent from LGM. That’s the freelance life though, and hopefully January will still be abundant but a tad more manageable. But I couldn’t let the entire holiday season pass without writing up a bit about some famous American songs!
In honor of this 31st of December, I bring you the jazz (the Frankfurt School’s favorite genre) classic “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”. Written in 1947 by multi-award winning songwriter Frank Loesser, it was never intended to be a song for the holidays. According to the biography written by his daughter, the song was supposed to be sung in early spring.
The song is also another example of a Jewish songwriter’s work becoming iconic through collaboration with African American artists. The first to record the song was the doo-wop group The Orioles in 1949, but it is perhaps the 1960 recording from Ella Fitzerald on her eponymous Swinging Christmas album that is the most recognizable.
Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas may not have peaked on the charts when it was first released, but I dare you to remember a Christmas where you have not heard one or all of the songs. Rolling Stone listed among the 40 most essential Christmas albums of all time in 2013. A simple internet search will also show you just how many times the album has been re-released over the years, a testament to its popularity.
Almost anyone who has ever billed themselves on a New Year’s Eve has performed a version of this song and, to my ears, they’re all trying to sing it in the same way as Ella. There’s a bit of hope and sweetness in her song, as though she knows the object of her affection will say “yes”. That’s the sort of song you want to play at a party, not the sad, melancholic self-conscious longing that came with the original.
So who else has tried to replicate it?
King Curtis (1968)
This is an intense instrumental version featuring the saxophonist King Curtis. Its from the album Soul Christmas which also appears on the same Rolling Stone holiday album list as Ella’s Swinging Christmas. Whereas Ella is quite mellow, this one should be turned all the way up. There’s an energy to it that none of the others have.
Zooey Deschanel & Joseph Gordon-Levitt (2011)
A low-key video from the co-stars of 500 Days of Summer was released on the interwebs and thus a new hipster standard was born. Interestingly, the ukelele and the guitar make this the most unique out of many of the versions I’ve listened to. Its not a jazz rendition, its a romantic whimsical pop tune sung by two romantic whimsical personalities and you will overdose on romantic whimsy. The Head And The Heart released their own version one year later that delivers much the same mood, but with a piano.
As I said earlier, most of these versions sound practically identical and there’s almost no end to the list of vocalists who have given it a go. Even Family Guy creator (and annoying liberal frat boy celebrity) Seth MacFarlane has one, but sadly I’ve been unable to unearth one from Leonard Nimoy. *cry emoji cry emoji cry emoji* If you’re still on hunt, you can check out the YouTube playlist I created here.
So…what are you all doing New Year’s Eve?
(Psst…I’m eating dinner out with friends and then coming back home for midnight because London is very crowded and I am approximately 400 years old. I will also not be playing this song at midnight because my husband decided the 246th time was his limit)