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The Bright New Year

Surfing through 20 or 30 pages of New Year’s Eve songs on YouTube is a depressing experience. The go-to song, of course, is “Auld Lang Syne.” It’s based on a poem by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. It’s tremendous because it is a nice tune and it’s possible to sing it once a year for your whole life and have no clue as to what it means:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

Here’s Readers Digest’s take on the song. It’s quite interesting.

The other important song for this holiday is “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” which was written by Frank Loesser. It gives a good hint of the theme underlying all the others: Angst, fear of being left out/lonely/inadequate/isolated/disconsolate/unhappy. It’s all set against a backdrop of forced gaiety and the inescapable reality that time is inexorably passing.

I think the fact that there are few great New Year’s Eve songs is very understandable: It really is a bummer of a holiday that people don’t really like. Everyone feels that everybody else is having a better time. The thought is that things aren’t going so well now and, by the way, it’s a year later and things aren’t likely to get much better.

Which brings us to the great Bert Jansch and the wistful “The Bright New Year.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t find video of him playing it. It’s very short and succeeds, I believe, because it embraces the desolation of the New Year’s experience.

In any case, I wish everybody a happy and healthy New Year.

(Homepage Photo: Chris Barber)

Here’s What’s Here

The Daily Music Break explores every genre of music, from hip hop to opera. It's simple: Boundaries are dumb. It's all good. Here is more about the site and here is our index:

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

--Radiohead to ZZ Top (R to Z)

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.

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The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.