Monday, December 15, 2014

The Last Christmas BATTLE OF THE BANDS for 2014






As much as I love Christmas music it seems inappropriate to play it after December 25th. Alright, I do play Christmas music in my home up until the first of January, but for the purpose of BATTLE OF THE BANDS, this will be the last Christmas BATTLE at Far Away Series. That does make me a little bit sad.

Today I’ve chosen a song that has melancholy overtones or should that be undertones. Either way this song was written as a poem at a very difficult time in the author’s life. He felt so much despair that, I think he was beginning to feel somewhat abandoned by God. Fortunately, he had a Spiritual Awakening of sorts. One of my favorite lines in this Carol is ‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep’.

So, how well do you know your Christmas Carol?  Any ideas what my song is today? Well, read on and you’ll know soon enough. First, let me give some ‘real’ (or maybe not so real) background from Wacky-Watchee.

A Christmas carol based on the 1863 poem "Christmas Bells" by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.[1] The song tells of the narrator's despair, upon hearing Christmas bells, that "hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men". The carol concludes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among men.

During the American Civil War, Longfellow's oldest son Charles Appleton Longfellow joined the Union cause as a soldier without his father's blessing. Longfellow was informed by a letter dated March 14, 1863, after Charles had left. "I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer," he wrote. "I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good".[2] Charles soon got an appointment as a lieutenant but, in November, he was severely wounded[3] in the Battle of New Hope Church (in Virginia) during the Mine Run Campaign. Coupled with the recent loss of his wife Frances, who died as a result of an accidental fire, Longfellow was inspired to write "Christmas Bells".

He first wrote the poem on Christmas Day in 1863.[4] "Christmas Bells" was first published in February 1865 in Our Young Folks, a juvenile magazine published by Ticknor and Fields.[5]
It was not until 1872 that the poem is known to have been set to music. The English organist, John Baptiste Calkin, used the poem in a processional accompanied with a melody he previously used as early as 1848.[3] The Calkin version of the carol was long the standard. Elvis Presley, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, MercyMe, Steven Curtis Chapman, Johnny Cash, and Jimmie Rodgers have recorded this version. Less commonly, the poem has also been set to the 1845 composition "Mainzer" by Joseph Mainzer. In 2011, Jack Gibbons, the British pianist and composer, set Longfellow’s poem to music in his role as artist-in-residence at Davis & Elkins College, and the first performance was given by the Davis & Elkins College choir on 4 December 2011.[6]

When I was growing up my parents sent me to the Methodist Church. This first version sung by Burl Ives is the traditional version we sang at Christmastime.

Here is Mr. Burl Ives with ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.


Next is a slightly different version by Casting Crowns.


Now I think you probably know what to do (vote for your favorite and tell me why) and how to do it (leave me a comment below). If you are hosting your own BATTLE (and are new to this little meme), please also tell me in the comment box, so I can be sure to visit your BATTLE.

Next, stop on over at the home space of TSMOTP STMCc Presents Battle of the Bands and see what he has posted for his BATTLE this time. Stephen will give you links to all the other regular participants. I encourage you to visit all of the BATTLES and cast a vote.

I’ll be back right before Christmas on December 21st to give you my vote and tell you the final tally in this BATTLE OF THE BANDS.

Thank you all for stopping by. I hope you’re enjoying your preparations for Christmas, ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’!

38 comments:

  1. Burl Ives' voice is so iconic, I thought for sure I would like that one best. However, I really like the contemporary take by Casting Crowns better.

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    1. Seems many of my voters were caught off guard in the same way.

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  2. Merry Christmas, FAE!

    Wonderful song -- I did not know the depths of the story behind it. I really enjoyed learning that!

    The Burl Ives version is the version I've heard all my life, and it is quite good. There's something about Christmas that makes the voice of Burl Ives sound better to me, for some reason. Maybe it's that Rudolph nostalgia.

    But I really, really enjoyed the Casting Crowns version. I was surprised I'd never heard it before, although I've heard a lot of the band's stuff.

    I'm giving the edge to Casting Crowns.

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    1. And, a very Merry Christmas to you Chris. I hope you enjoy this Holiday to it's fullest.

      Glad you liked learning about the song and this very different version by CC. I'm sure they appreciate your 'edge'.

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  3. Casting Crowns I never even heard of them, but wow they did a good version of it, just for the shock alone, they win.

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    1. OK, Pat - shock alone can dictate your vote.

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  4. VERY EXCELLENT 'BOTB' CHOICE, FAE!

    Good song that's not so well known, and two good but very different arrangements of it.

    Wow! It's been a long time, and 15 months of graveyard shi(f)ts have pretty much obliterated my mind. I can't remember much of anything anymore and I'm mentally exhausted about 98% of the time. (I only just start feeling half-human again when it's time for my series of graveyard shi(f)ts to begin all over again. Wish to God I had never accepted this job and just went into debt 15 months ago to make my move instead . It simply wasn't worth it.) And that's why I can't really remember for sure but...

    You did see my old buddy Marty playing the part of Charlie Longfellow in that Christmas special, didn't you? I think I may have loaned you my copy of the videocassette or DVD, and it was one segment of the show which showed how Henry Longfellow wrote the poem (song) right after Charlie returned home wounded from the war.

    If I had a way of showing that program on my blog, I probably would have thought to use this song myself in conjunction with a display of Marty's (R.I.P.) acting performance.

    Anyway... both versions were really nice, but I'm a traditionalist, AND I am a fan of Burl Ives' singing - the guy was actually really good at putting across the sentiment of a song (his acting talent probably played a role in that singing ability as well), so I gotta vote for Burl.

    Had you put Burl Ives up against Karen Carpenter with this song, I would have really had to struggle to decide where to cast my vote.

    One of my favorite of your BOTBs so far, FAE.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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    1. No, you never lent me that DVD,nor even told me about it. Funny thing about this BOTB. I felt inspired to use this song back in November, but kept trying out others because I really love this song and didn't want to hold it up to possible criticism. (It's not a happy type Christmas Carol, as many have stated.)
      Anyway...powers of persuasion that often work on me and my computer, simply would not let me move away from this song. I have loved it for along time (even knowing the background story). I love the hope and promise that it affords to each and every one of us (as does Christmas). Now, are you gonna send me that DVD, so I can see Marty in action someplace other than.... or what?

      I gave a passing thought to using Karen's version, but wanted something totally traditional, and what could be more traditional than Burl Ives at Christmas.

      Now, I think you would be pleased with the 'fine' BATTLE I have presented and quit with all the CHOP, CHOP, CHOP stuff you posted about me on your BOTB. I think you might also think about where this was coming from on my part. I know you're only teasing and I am not shaking in my any anything, but come on. I was meant to use this song, and I think you know it, else why would you call it 'one of your favorite of my BOTB so far'.

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  5. I going to have to go with Burl Ives, not because I like his rendition but because I absolutely love the melody. The second version just doesn't do it for me, doesn't give me the chills.

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    1. Well Bish, like I've said to other here (I'm working backwards in my replies) there is no wrong answer and if a particular version gives you chills. that's where you gotta vote.

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  6. And over here I'm the exact opposite of McCarthy. I hate traditional Christmas songs. For me they've just been beaten into the ground so badly I can't bear to hear them anymore. Casting Crowns was a breath of fresh air and a nice spin on the original, and for me it wins hands down.

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    1. I agree with you totally about CC,but sympathize with the fact that you feel that way about traditional Christmas songs in all of your 31 years. True that the over commercialization of Christmas with just about anything else sacred, gets on my nerves (it's a government plot, you know), I refuse to let that get to me and try to find joy and happiness in ALL of it. You know that shut the world out carp. Maybe I've just had more time to practice than you.

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  7. I fully expected my vote to go to Casting Crowns since I'm a fan of the band and don't care so much for the singing of Burl Ives. However the changing up of the melody by the Crowns was too disruptive to my brain--I might have to say it's a different song with the same lyrics. It's good and might grow on me eventually, but after 50 or so years of listening to the song sung ala Ives I've got to go with him. I do prefer the melody of that version.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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    1. 'Personal Preference", that's pretty much what BOTB is all about. I admit that I have always looked forward to singing this song (the traditional version) in church at Christmastime (yes, this heathen does try to go to church, any church, at Christmastime), but I also find that the CC version adds a different level of emotion to this very powerful song.

      I like both versions and do feel that there is no wrong vote here, so you're fully covered.

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    2. Ya know I said 'any church' there and would like to clarify. I'm sure you could figure it out, but I'm also sure someone would call me out on it. I fully adore and worship my Lord and King, Jesus Christ, but I have a hard time calling myself a Christian. My experience just seems to be that so many so called Christians, do NOT truly follow or try to emulate the life and teachings of Christ. I would rather be counted as a heathen really trying to find my way than one of 'those' people.

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  8. I went into this expecting to like Burl Ives better, but I liked the CC arrangement a little better.

    By the way....the Christmas celebration actually starts on December 25th. I don't think it is only a Catholic thing to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6.

    When those three Orient kings saw the star on December 24, they missed their flight to Bethlehem and opted to go by camel instead, which took a few days.

    That's why our family always left lights, tree etc up until after January 6th.

    So I think you could do a Christmas BOTB on 1/1 and it would not be the same as wearing white after Labor Day.

    LC

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    1. YIKES! I haven't heard anyone mention that 'white after Labor Day think since my mother passed away; a long time ago.

      I was raised 'half Catholic' (don't ask) so I'm very aware of celebrating Epiphany and after spending three years in the Caribbean where 'Three Kings Day' (Epiphany) is almost bigger than Christmas (strange because they are not predominately Catholic -at least on STX, where I lived), I hear ya. All the same, I tend to leave my Christmas Tree and other decorations up well into January, but that may just be because I can never find the time to get to things, I do cut the Christmas music off by January 1.

      I better get on with thanking you for your vote and stop with the run on sentences and thoughts. You know me. I can get carried away with the slightest suggestion.

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  9. Excellent battle - can you make it any tougher?
    I can certainly understand if Casting Crowns take the win! Such a wonderfully dramatic change up with tune and lyrics. Today's modern worship has a tendency to be about the music rather then the sentiment. I thoroughly enjoyed this version.
    yet, my vote goes to Burl Ives.
    Even today, with it's simplistic instrumentation, and over-stretch vocal, he hits home. It is as relevant today as the year he recorded it. I hear that singularity of voice - like a desperate cry - urging us to rethink what we're doing on earth. It's a gut thing with this one.

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    1. Thanks Dixie. I do try to present to very different versions on BOTB and yet two that are interesting and good (sometimes I fail miserable and those who comment, tell me when I do-think some of the 'disco' versions).

      Bothof these versions are good, IMO, and so there is no wrong vote here. This is a powerful song and I think both Burl and CC managed to convey a lot of emotion.

      I agree about the 'gut thing'. This is a song that reverberated with me on a visceral level. One one hand it's a bit uncomfortable, but on the other I love it. Go figure.

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    2. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. something I hate that was a typo, cause I know better. TWO not TO

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  10. Loved Burl and all those tinkling bells; but the Crowns' version has a tabernacle sound that I love for Christmas songs. I'll give my vote to The Casting Crowns. Both were very good though.

    I liked the news headlines that Burl's video displayed. Really enhanced the mood of the song. This is a depressing song, not what a person would expect for a "carol." But, the depression of the lyrics is evident.

    Hope your Christmas isn't depressing FAE :) Is there snow up there yet? The rain has sure been a blessing here in the foothills.

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    1. Absolutely no plans for depression at Christmas here. I'm having a good, but hectic time preparing and planning on a GREAT Christmas (family coming to visit). I left my snow vs. rain comment at your blog, so I won't go into that here.

      This is very different for a Christmas Carol, but I think they did a fine job of Creating a mood for Longfellows poem. I had to go back and actually watch the video in the BI version to see what you were talking about. Those headlines sure were appropriate for the song and considering Burl recorded this in '65, he had a lot to work with.

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  11. As a traditionalist (I tend to vote that way... I think), I fully expected to pick the Burl Ives version. I've heard it many times, and I think the message of it got lost for me. This is not a pretty carol. Yes, it is a pretty carol, but it's a struggle. Reading the story of how/why Longfellow wrote these lyrics... I know it was a struggle for him. He was struggling to find his joy. Loss does that to you.

    So, I find that Casting Crowns did a better job of making this song feel like a struggle. I appreciate that they took the traditional arrangement and made it something very different, as well as very beautiful. So, with a touch of surprise, I find myself voting for Casting Crowns.

    Good battle FAE!

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    1. The CC version is new and different and it's human nature to fear the new and different, hence most people tend to vote for what they are used to (traditional). Bu that's doesn't seem to be the case here. I guess that's a testiment to what a fine job CC did with this song.

      There is a melancholy presence to 'I Heard the Bells' and when you know the background to the poem and it's time frame (Civil War) that stands to reason, but it's also a song of great hope and promise. A great reminder of what Christmas is all about. I'm working backwards on my replies so go see my comment to Birgit.

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  12. Both good, grew up with Burl... annnnnnd I vote for Casting Crowns. I like what Robin said about making it sound like a struggle. The extra emotion wins.

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    1. CC did put a whole lot of emotion into their version. Got you down as another vote their way.

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  13. I feel like they are 2 totally different songs since the 2nd version really went to town with the melody that I would never have recognized it as the same song that Burl Ives sung. For that reason and to have more of the Christmas spirit I choose Burl Ives. It feels Christmassy to me even though it is sad. The 2nd version is very powerful but could be played at Easter for me. The feelings are there and the message is clear but not Christmas to me

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    1. Thanks Birgit for your vote. I appreciate you mentioning the Easter thing. It reminded me of something.

      A few years back, I was up late Christmas Eve wrapping presents. I had TV at the time and was watching some Christmas program where their were depicting the Christmas Story in Bethlehem (my favorite), but they went further and played out the entire story of Jesus Christs life on earth. For a few minutes I was angry. I hate to see depictions of the Cruxifiction. I hate that reminder of what the people did to our Savior. But at the end a part f the narration reminded us that The Christ Child was God's gift to us and everything about His life and death was Christs gift to us. I really needed that at the time and have never forgotten it. Easter and Christmas are all a part of the same package and it is THE most precious gift.

      Thanks for that little reminder. I've been so busy lately that I need things like that to get be back on track and remembering what all of this Joyousness is about.

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  14. Good Battle, Far Away Yeux!

    I like Burl Ives. I only hear him at Christmas, but I hear him every year as many do. I fully expected to vote B. I. here, however, Counting Crows... er... Casting Crowns won me over. It does indeed seem like a different song to me, and one that I like better!

    I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

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    1. And you my Bon Homme, have a very wonderful Christmas also.

      CC version of 'I Heard the Bells' is very different from what most of us are used to, but it has a real haunting quality. Somehow I believe that HWL would approve.

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  15. Hey, I'm totally with you on the Christmas music. I'll be listening to it until the decorations come down after the first of the year. I just Christmas music! Anywho, I'm normally a traditionalist when it comes to classic Christmas carols, but I discovered or should say rediscovered CC this season and have fallen in love with THIS rendition of I've Heard the Bells on Christmas. The contemporary arrangement speaks to my heart with more passion. That being said, I guess you know who I'm voting for right? Yep, give my vote to Casting Crowns. Excellent #BOTB choice! Have yourself the merriest Christmas yet!

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    1. The CC version may not be what we're used to but it does tug at your heartstrings, the way these words were meant to.

      Have yourself a very merry little Christmas too.

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  16. I couldn't connect at all with the Casting Crowns' version of this. It sounded too "contemporary Christian" and overproduced. Burl Ives' version was what the song needed. He gets my vote.

    John Holton
    The Sound Of One Hand Typing

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    1. I'll admit that the Casting Crows version is different.

      Got you down as a vote for that big man, with a big and traditional voice, who has a name as large as the Redwoods.

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  17. I liked both but I think the more traditional style of Burl Ives gets my vote. My very favorite version of this song was done by Johnny Cash. Powerful.

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    1. Thanks LD. I've not heard the Cash version. I'll have to go look it up on YouTube.

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  18. Before I go back and reply to each of your comments let me apologize for taking so long. I hate it when BOTB falls on a Monday. Mondays are really hectic for me and this one was a real doosey.

    The good side of this bad Monday was I had my third call back interview for a job at the new Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. The interviewer actually offered to put my application in for two openings other than what I was applying for, so I think maybe they will REALLY offer me a job doing something. Now how cool will that be. Just think of all the BOTB fodder a job at the Hard Rock could offer.

    OK, now onto your individual replies.

    Oops! one more thing. I want to thank each and everyone of you for being so loyal and coming around to vote on my BOTB. Life has gotten away from me these last six months or so and about all I have time to blog is BOTB. I appreciate your comments and hope you're all having fun with this this venture.

    Please everyone have a very Merry Christmas and the most wonderful New Year!

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  19. Great selection for the Holidays!

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