My favorite Christmas songs on one CD, and a deep-dive into a Barry Manilow classic

Yes, on an actual CD that I burned years ago

INGLEWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Singer Barry Manilow performs during A Very Berry Christmas presented by KOST 103.5 at The Forum on December 20, 2017 in Inglewood, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
INGLEWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 20: Singer Barry Manilow performs during A Very Berry Christmas presented by KOST 103.5 at The Forum on December 20, 2017 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) (2017 Getty Images)

Did you know Barry Manilow did a swingin’ Vegas version of the song “My Favorite Things”?

Years ago in 2006, I sat at my Sony Vaio desktop computer and, thanks to iTunes and 99 cents a song, I assembled what I considered to be the all-time greatest Christmas playlist. Then I took a picture of my dog Sami in a Santa hat, printed it off as a CD jacket and burned like 10 copies for friends and family. Actual CDs with jewel cases and everything.

Here we are 14 years later and “Sami’s Christmas Hits” endures as an old-school throwback that comes out of the bin once a year to be enjoyed once more. I think I must have done something right as the DJ/curator because I hear from those same friends and family that they, too, fire up the CD player and start getting festive with Sami.

Sami's Christmas Hits (Jason Carr)

Which brings us back to Barry Manilow. Well, not quite yet, but we’re getting there.

My logic was simply this: What is the absolute best version of all the Christmas standards? Obviously, only Andy Williams’ version will do for “Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” And only Run-DMC could do “Christmas in Hollis.”

But in my travels I started finding some real gems. The Peanuts gang singing “Christmas Time Is Here” but set to a techno backbeat? Yes please. Bing Crosby performing “White Christmas” with a funky edit? Yep.

And now that brings us to Barry Flippin’ Manilow.

Now you might hear the title “My Favorite Things” and think of Julie Andrews or John Coltrane, but I wanted something a little more jazzy; the Coltrane version being a little too haunting. And boy does Barry’s version sizzle. It is so over-the-top Rat Pack/Cocktail/Lounge-centric it’s virtually a parody of itself.

The song starts out pretty standard, though it’s in an odd oom-POP-pop time signature and immediately announces itself as more uptempo than what you’re used to. Barry’s unmistakable voice comes in and there’s swingin’ bell-muted trumpets, a thick bass line and wah-wah trombones and you’re like, welp this is happening and I dig it. More!

Oh, you want more you say?

About 35 seconds into the song the orchestra begins to swell and that’s when you realize, uh oh, Barry’s got himself the full-on Sands casino bandstand and they are Just. Getting. Started. They’re wearing tuxes and the guy on triangle ting-tinging away has massive Swifty Lazar black-frame glasses and the guy on lead trombone is sweating profusely.

Honestly none of that is probably true but it’s the vibe, man.

At 48 seconds in Barry belts “when the dog bites, when the bee stings … .” We get our first horn blasts and it’s the kind of thing that makes you laugh. You’re like, how nuts is this arrangement of “My Favorite Things” going to get?!

Buckle up, Mister Man. Maybe even fire up the Alexa right now so we can finish this blog with musical accompaniment. Tell her, Alexa, play “My Favorite Things” by Barry Manilow. She knows it.

Exactly one minute after the song has started, something incredible happens.

Musically it’s like hearing someone turn into a werewolf.

Bongos! Soaring horns! Harps! More bongos! Where were the bongos before? Who cares! The tempo doubles and the guy on trombone looks like he’s going to die right on stage. The bass player’s hands are literally smoking from the friction. And then the curtain behind all of them suddenly whips open toward the wings and I kid you not (well maybe a little kidding) the Manilow Treasure Chest Dancers emerge covered in sparkling sequins and cleavage and headdresses that are literally geese with moonlight on their wings! Barry is whipping his mic cord around like a lion tamer and he is still Just. Getting. Started.

Hey I warned you this version is insane.

At 1:30 into it, MASSIVE horn blasts. The trombonist is dead. The bass player’s hands are balls of fire. Barry’s hair has turned green and red and tinsel is shooting out of his ears. Everyone sitting in the first three rows of the theater are melting like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

And then 30 seconds later, at the 2:05 mark, something even more fantastical happens.

This song turns into a waltz! Do you hear me?! A WALTZ!

And Barry is still Just. Getting. Started!

At the 2:08 mark he hits his big crescendo note and holds it for NINE SECONDS! The lyric is “ … and then I don’t feel so bad.” BM turns the word bad into something thermonuclear. It’s like that Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs becomes Leopold the famous conductor and causes the opera singer to collapse the building by holding the high note for so long.

And then suddenly it’s all over in a tight 2:22.

A few years back I interviewed Barry Manilow and I asked him about this particular song and arrangement. I think I completely shocked him. He became very animated and talked about how he couldn’t believe I had found it and that it was one of his favorite arrangements he had done. It was pretty clear it was a great memory for him. And I of course was geeking out.

I just wish I had asked him about his bass player’s hands bursting into flames. That was certainly one of my favorite things.

Read more from Jason: This is the music I love (apparently)


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