I spent many a long weekend over at my good friend Dominic’s house growing up. His father was a huge Cole fan, party due to their shared Chicago heritage, and played his records often of the stereo system. Back then, when I was into top 40, or Van Halen, or punk, it was easy to slam that music and make fun of it, especially hearing stuff like “Mexico Joe, the Boogie-Woogie Caballero”. Days later, though, I would find that songs like “Orange Colored Sky”, “Sweet Lorraine”, and "Paper Moon" had wormed their way into my brain and that….I sort of enjoyed it.
Sometime in college, I gave in and bought the double CD set “The Nat King Cole Story”. I can’t say it was (or is) in heavy rotation, but when I decided to play it, often on still evenings out on the porch or something, the effect was magical, pulling me right back to my friend’s house with the kerosene heater on in the playroom, casually talking with his Dad or playing a role playing game (insert nerd joke here). I also pleasantly found out that it was a great secret weapon to surprise and impress the ladies: “Oh, sure, I like Nine Inch Nails like everyone else too, but sometimes, I just have to relax with something different, old soul that I am. Can I get you a brandy?” (It's amazing what "I Love You for Sentimental Reasons" can do. Remember that, kids.)And lest we forget, maybe the signature holiday song of all time.
And really, there is not better mood setting music to me than these pre-rock era singers. They represent a style and classiness that you rarely find in music any longer, and damn, did they dress smoothly. That’s why Dave Chappelle’s goof on gentle Nat Cole wasn’t (snicker) funny (snort) at all (BWAA!)
|Nat King Cole Christmas|
Now, having said that, this song begins with two of my least favorite parts about crooner music of that time: the sweeping orchestral flourishes and overbearing backup choruses. I cringe a bit on this song for the first 13 seconds until Cole begins to sing, and that mellow vocal always hits me. Picture pouring melted butter on a feather pillow, and that’s Cole’s voice. His phrasing, tone, timber, even his enunciation, create just a singular beautiful instrument that’s immediately distinctive and original.
The lyrics aren’t really worth going over; it’s complete, stereotypical romantic sap that your grandparents fell in love to (boy’s girl has gone cold, he doesn’t know why, he wants to know so he can make it right). But again, Cole to me isn’t about the intent or purpose of the song, it’s about the mood and the idea of what that music can do. Nat King Cole could read the starting lineup for the 2009 Florida Gators and I would probably listen, spellbound. He was that awesome.