Team Christine

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(Pictured: Christine, 1979.)

Celebrity deaths can inspire a number of different reactions. They range from “hmmm,” to curiosity (morbid or otherwise), to a straight-up punch in the gut.

Christine McVie’s death yesterday was a punch in the gut.

Many, many young men of the 70s and 80s were on Team Stevie, and why wouldn’t you be? Beautiful, mysterious, bewitching, a tempestuous siren, you’d have to be made of stone not to respond to her. But some young men of the 70s and 80s realized right from the jump that they were out of Stevie’s league, even at the long distance of fandom. And if those young men were fans of Fleetwood Mac, they—I—joined Team Christine.

But Christine McVie wasn’t a consolation prize. Nerds like me believed then—and still do—that hanging around with cool people would make us cool by association, and Christine McVie was cool. A cool look, cool instrument (I am a frustrated keyboard player), cool voice, and a laid-back manner that seemed to glide above whatever drama was going on in front of her keyboard rig. We know now, of course, that Christine was as much in the thick of the drama as any other member of Fleetwood Mac, the drugs and drinking, the romantic entanglements, the chaos surrounding the biggest band going at an especially wild time in music history. And when she left in 1998, she was exhausted by it.

I’m going to play a couple of Christine’s songs on my radio show Saturday night. One of them is going to be “Warm Ways,” a track from Fleetwood Mac that is everything great about her, languid and romantic singing, beautiful and ethereal keyboard textures. What the other one is going to be I haven’t decided yet. “Over My Head”? “You Make Loving Fun” (which she wrote during an extramarital affair with the band’s lighting guy, but told John McVie it was about her dog)? Go off the board for “Come a Little Bit Closer”? “I’d Rather Go Blind” from The Legendary Christine Perfect Album? The entire Legendary Christine Perfect Album?

You’ll have to tune in and find out.

This 2017 interview with Christine for Mojo is highly recommended. The interviewer, Andrew Male, is one of my favorite follows on Twitter.

I now find myself short of my usual word count. Instead of simply shutting up, I’m gonna post part of what I originally meant to post today. It’s on the flip.

The other day I heard “Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly” by the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble, and I realized that it is yet another one of those pieces of music I knew before I knew that I knew it.

The Philadelphia Orchestra, formed in 1900 and still in existence today, was practically the house band for the classical division of Columbia Records starting in the 1940s, recording just about every famous classical work. Its conductor from 1938 to 1980, Eugene Ormandy, was the most famous orchestra conductor in America not named Leonard Bernstein. Ormandy was not averse to letting his musicians enjoy a side hustle as long as he got a piece of the action, so in 1967, seven members of the orchestra recorded A Festival of Carols in Brass under the name of the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble.

The seven musicians—Gilbert Johnson, Seymour Rosenfeld, Mason Jones, Henry Charles Smith, Dee Stewart, Abe Torchinsky, and Peter Krill—were not individually billed on the album cover. And although the album could easily have been churned out to cash in, the players and arrangers took the time to create something that was actually interesting, and ended up timeless. Even considering that so much of the Christmas music Americans return to year after year comes from the 1960s, it’s a small surprise to learn that A Festival of Carols in Brass has remained in print for 55 years, from the age of vinyl to the era of downloads and streaming, even though it’s never been remastered, and it’s still issued with the same cover that was on it in 1967.

A Festival of Carols in Brass made Billboard‘s Christmas album chart in 1967 and 1968 but did not make a big splash on either one. But when you listen to “Deck the Halls” and the rest of the album, which you can do here, you realize that you have heard it all before: in commercials, in movies, in shopping malls, as part of radio holiday programming. It really is engraved in America’s Christmas DNA.

6 thoughts on “Team Christine

  1. It seemed to me like Christine McVie carved out her own distinctive Woman in Rock personality, which in her day probably meant active resistance to the handful of industry-preferred stereotypes (sexpot, witch, bad girl, naif, or brainy women’s-college type.)
    She seemed like the practical lady of some English manor — one who probably knew how to cure a horse of distemper when she wasn’t playing a mean Fender Rhodes.

  2. Mitch Winder

    Not many know this, and the only reason I know it is because my ex-wife worked for him in Dodgeville, and I also heard the stories first-hand, but former Madison mayor, and former Iowa County judge, Bill Dyke’s wife (also named Christine) was a studio musician for part of her life. Her specialty was background vocals. Amongst her collection of work was logging many uncredited hours on a couple of different Fleetwood Mac albums (Including Rumors.) and developed a close friendship with McVie. Including her spending time here in south-central WI over the years.

    When she left the band and returned to the UK in the late ‘90s, the story goes that she’d developed severe anxiety over flying. So Christine Dyke would travel each year to visit McVie, usually spending a couple of weeks there each summer. In the late 2000s Mrs. Dyke’s health began to fail her, and she was forced to stay home. But I do know that the two remained in regular contact. There was also talk of McVie conquering her anxiety, and possibly coming for a visit at some point.

    I ended up getting a divorce in 2010, and unfortunately Judge Dyke was no longer in my circle of friends at that point. So that’s about as far as the stories up until that point can take me. Thank you, Christine McVie, for the music. Rest In Peace.

  3. Guy K

    Can I make a request? How ’bout “Sugar Daddy,” an overlooked but flat-out banger from Fleetwood Mac’s 1976 white album. It’s never received enough airplay (any?) to wear out its welcome.

  4. Gary Omaha

    Proper attention was paid to Ms. McVie’s talent and success…as it should be. But I’d like to make a few comments about “the flip side” of your piece.

    I’ve always had a warm feeling for holiday music. I’ve often enjoyed brass music. So your putting them together was particularly fun for me, thanks!

    I was one of those who schlepped all the holiday albums up the stairs to play about this time of each year, and then after the holidays schlepped them back to the basement to store until next year (at more than one station). Brass instrumentals could also be used for production beds. (Insert “those were the good old days”? You decide.)

  5. Wesley

    This tribute to and these memories of Christine McVie are all deserved and great. However, jb, I’ve got to give you credit for sending me down an aural rabbit hole listening to the A Festival of Carols in Brass album. A delightful and arresting seasonal soundtrack indeed.

  6. Tim M

    Commenting here on your Philadelphia Brass Ensemble paragraphs: Ormandy was, indeed, the most famous conductor in America not named Bernstein, and was King of the Classical Music Empire until Andre Previn/London Symphony Orchestra sort of displaced him. Oh, and Abe Torchinsky, tubist with the Phil. Brass Ensemble, was a tuba icon of mine.

    In my first commercial radio gig, centuries ago at a Class B FM station, I was drafted into service to host the Sunday night classical music show (9PM to 12M) when the original host, who was a local high school band director, took a new job in a distant city. The station’s PD said, “hey, you know how to pronounce Tchaikovsky and stuff – you’re doing the classical show starting this weekend.”

    I soon discovered that Columbia would send me anything I checked off in their radio station classical music supply catalog, and was promptly inundated with Ormandy/Philadelphia LP’s. RCA followed suit, sending me the entire Previn/LSO catalog and tons of other classical recordings. I would imagine that back then (1970) the demand for radio station copies of classical music albums was pretty low.

    One other thing: within a few weeks, I convinced the PD to let me “voice track” the show, which he agreed to immediately since I was being paid overtime to do the Sunday night classical show. Every week I’d leave the albums and a huge stack of carts with my intros/outros in the studio for the Sunday night board-op, a conscientious broadcast major at the local university. He jockied tapes of the John Doremus Show (syndicated on 7-inch reel tape from Chicago) from 6 to 9 and then jockied my classical show, punching the carts and rolling the albums at the appropriate time. Little did I know that it was probably among the earliest “live-assist” shows on radio.

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