Other people’s songs: Do you hear what I hear?

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: ‘tis the season to dust off the Christmas in the Heart album and give it its annual listen. The next few entries in the series will therefore concentrate on this album, don’t worry normal service will be resumed in the new year!

The first song we are going to look at will be Do You Hear What I Hear?

Wikipedia tells us this “is a song written in October 1962, with lyrics by Noël Regney and music by Gloria Shayne. The pair, married at the time, wrote it as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Regney had been invited by a record producer to write a Christmas song, but he was hesitant due to the commercialism of Christmas. It has sold tens of millions of copies and has been covered by hundreds of artists.”

Regney said in a 1985 interview in The New York,  “I wrote it as a clear and plaintive plea for peace at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, in October 1962.”

The song was originally recorded by the Harry Simeone Chorale, in 1962,

Bing Crosby made the song into a hit when he recorded his version of it on October 21, 1963.

Here is Bob’s version

Now a version from 2016 by American country a cappella group Home Free

Comments from Tony:

As you’ll know if you are a regular reader, Aaron selects the recordings and send the videos and his comments to me.    Then I try and add my comments – writing them only for as long as the recording lasts, in order to stop me getting into some sort of deep theoretical musical analysis.

And for the opening two recordings here I was on the verge of hiding under my desk, wondering if I could find a way to say anything positive.   I find those opening songs horribly over the top with no redeeming features whatsoever.   The song may have been written about the Cuban crisis, but to me it so deeply imbued with sentimentalism that I can’t relate to it.

So my opening thought is that it is interesting that the composer of Masters of War should choose to record it.  I don’t mean that as a criticism, but just what it says – it is interesting.

Of course it doesn’t help that I am an atheist who would love to see the separation of church and state in my country (the UK), and on listening to the first two versions of the song that thought dominated.

But I loved Dylan’s version, which I doubt that I have heard more than a couple of times before, simply because I have chosen not to play the songs.  It’s the croak in the voice I think that transforms it.  And the lead guitar between the verses marks it out.

Yet I still find it hard to appreciate Bob singing “mighty king” without any sense of irony, just as I find the awful modulation by jerking the key up a tone so very, very un-Dylan.  That is awfully hackneyed.   But ok, overall the recording is interesting.

However, everything was rescued by Home Free.   I was helped by the fact this was the last of the versions of the song, and I guess I was used to the lyrics and knew what to expect.  But more than that, this version is inventive… just take the way the lead singer holds back on “what I hear” on occasion.  This, the rhythm, the harmonies… everything just makes the song beautiful as a piece of music so that I forget that it has become a piece of propaganda.

Of course to Christians, it is the truth rather than propaganda, and I’ve no problem with that at all.   My only request is that people like me who do not believe in any religion get the same rights as people who do, in my country.   But none of that stops me enjoying this last track, no more than my atheism stops me from enjoying the giving of presents to each other with my children and grandchildren at Christmas.

Put another way: it’s complicated.

Previously in this series…

  1. Other people’s songs. How Dylan covers the work of other composers
  2. Other People’s songs: Bob and others perform “Froggie went a courtin”
  3. Other people’s songs: They killed him
  4. Other people’s songs: Frankie & Albert
  5. Other people’s songs: Tomorrow Night where the music is always everything
  6. Other people’s songs: from Stack a Lee to Stagger Lee and Hugh Laurie
  7. Other people’s songs: Love Henry
  8. Other people’s songs: Rank Stranger To Me
  9. Other people’s songs: Man of Constant Sorrow
  10. Other people’s songs: Satisfied Mind
  11. Other people’s songs: See that my grave is kept clean
  12. Other people’s songs: Precious moments and some extras
  13. Other people’s songs: You go to my head
  14. Other people’s songs: What’ll I do?
  15. Other people’s songs: Copper Kettle
  16. Other people’s songs: Belle Isle
  17. Other people’s songs: Fixing to Die
  18. Other people’s songs: When did you leave heaven?
  19. Other people’s songs: Sally Sue Brown
  20. Other people’s songs: Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
  21. Other people’s songs: Step it up and Go
  22. Other people’s songs: Canadee-I-O
  23. Other people’s songs: Arthur McBride
  24. Other people’s songs: Little Sadie
  25. Other people’s songs: Blue Moon, and North London Forever
  26. Other people’s songs: Hard times come again no more
  27. Other people’s songs: You’re no good
  28. Other people’s songs: Lone Pilgrim (and more Crooked Still)
  29. Other people’s songs: Blood in my eyes
  30. Other people’s songs: I forgot more than you’ll ever know
  31.  Other people’s songs: Let’s stick (or maybe work) together.
  32. Other people’s songs: Highway 51
  33. Other people’s songs: Jim Jones
  34. Other people’s songs: Let’s stick (or maybe work) together.
  35. Other people’s songs: Jim Jones
  36. Other people’s songs: Highway 51 Blues
  37. Other people’s songs: Freight Train Blues


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