Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Musical Advent Calendar

"Mary's Boy Child" /
The Springfields

Instead of a glitter-spangled scene with doors for every day of December, how about a daily treat from my iTunes holiday playlist?

So who are the Springfields?  I could say they were England's answer to Peter, Paul and Mary, except they didn't stay together long enough to become that much of a folk institution.  But listen when the female singer takes off in the second verse -- sound familiar?

Yes, that's Dusty Springfield herself (born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien), singing with her brother Tom (born Dionysius O'Brien), who would later write the hit song "Georgy Girl" for the Seekers. The Springfields only played together from 1961 to 1963, but they did have one big hit -- "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" in 1962 -- before Dusty split off to launch her blockbuster solo career.

This is from their 1962 Christmas EP Christmas with the Springfields.  Listeners at the time would have recognized it as a 1957 Harry Belafonte #1 hit single. The Springfields slightly tone down the calypso rhythm, but it still dances along. And while it tells the traditional Christmas story, shepherds and angels and star and all, it's filtered through a bit of an island sensibility ("so the Holy Bible say..." "by and by they find a little nook . . . "). The humble birth is more important than the glory here, though Dusty's powerful contralto throws in an entire heavenly host for good measure.

Poking around the internet, I was delighted to find this rare track -- and amazed to find a YouTube video of it as well.  I felt so certain that Dusty Springfield, with her Roman Catholic convent school upbringing, must have a Christmas song around somewhere, and here it is.  I love that it's not a holiday romance pop song, not a jokey Santa cartoon, but something celebrating the actual Nativity.  That refrain -- "Now man will live forever more / Because of Christmas Day" -- well, that's the most important thing about Christmas.  God bless you, Dusty.

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