(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.
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.