Sunday, 3 January 2010

Something About Johnny Mathis

I'm never quite sure how to describe the kind of music taste my family, as in parents and sisters, have collectively – possibly because it's not collective at all. I'm not really sure where I get my interest in music from either, as there wasn't any indoctrination as a kid – I've got friends who were brought up being force-fed Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Who, for example. Not for me. Hence why I didn't start getting music until I was 16, I guess. And now, how does it relate to my family? Does it need to? I mean, I played my Mum “You Forgot It In People” once and she liked most of it (prize to anyone who correctly guesses which track she wasn't keen on), though she's more likely to put on Dido. At the same time, she's the same woman who got me listening to Joni Mitchell, and it's at this point I chastise myself for classifying that which doesn't need to be classified. Dad's easier, if it's awkward and unappealing jazz music you're after, he's your man. Beyond that I've got one sister into kinda alternative stuff and one not really at all.

Yet – and yes, this is because of Christmas – the song which I associate them collectively, is Johnny Mathis' “When A Child Is Born”. For some reason it's become this kind of tradition in our house that the old vinyl circle from the year it was Christmas number 1 (1976, for what it's worth), gets brought out for one day a year and spun and we all feel homely and all that. I'd never really wondered about it before, but for some reason this year I'm inspired to do a little bit of Internet reading around – mainly Wikipedia; I'm not that inspired – about it. So here goes.

The first thing, it's Johnny Mathis' only ever number 1 in this country. Not really surprising, is it, but I knew close to hee-haw about him – I didn't know, for example, that his version of “Misty”, as in “Play Misty For Me”, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame 43 years after it was recorded and released. That only got to number 12 in the UK (and in the US), so I'm confused as to why a cover of a song that the original was used in a fairly good Clint Eastwood thing got inducted into...whatever the hell hall of fame that is, but I'm getting off topic, so back to Wikipedia.

Johnny Mathis is gay – I'm hardly breaking world news here, but again, something I didn't know. Wikipedia seems to be suggesting he came out in 1982, which would've made him pushing fifty then, and he received death threats after some article he was featured in was published. 1982, folks. Although maybe it was Westboro Baptist-style nutters raging at someone whose most famous song makes multiple references to Christmas, Christianity and Jesus Christ in general.

Johnny Mathis could've competed in the 1956 Olympics, but was forced to choose between that and a music career. He chose a music career, and some other website suggested he was “giving up his dream”, but fuck, he had a hell of a music career; it's not like he really made a bad decision and fucked his life up forever, is it? Seems he was a pretty nifty high-jumper especially – I can't help wondering: if Dalton Grant had had a music career, you can bet his music wouldn't have stuck around as long as Johnny Mathis' has, though why I've turned this point into a completely unprovoked dig at Dalton Grant is anyone's guess.

I've hinted at it before, but what surprised me somewhat about “When A Child Is Born” is that there are no explicit references to Christmas. Presumably it was just a warm-hearted song with sufficient vague parallels that it fitted in a Christmas. Obviously 1976 was a warmer-hearted world than 2003, when Gary Jules' “Mad World” was actually a very fitting Christmas number one. I wish I lived in the 70s.

It was actually recorded as an instrumental two years previously by an Italian songwriter called Ciro Dammico. Now the existence of an instrumental version does ring a few bells (or is that just the Christmas-y feel?) because I'm fairly sure the song is backed by an instrumental version. I quite want to go and find out now – does that instrumental version exist? And if so, is it actually a re-recorded version, as a tiny little “fuck you, Italy” kind of thing, or is it actually Dammico's original? I hope it's the latter. That'd be nice.

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