Threefer: New Year’s Tunes

January 3, 2021 by

Happy New Year! Several years back, I made a playlist of about 30 New Year’s songs. Nearly one-fifth of those songs are no longer on streaming. [A big advantage of owning physical media is that the songs are there to stay, but that’s a subject for another article]. In this Threefer, I recommend three of my favorite New Year’s songs – a standard, a duet, and a deep cut. While I love U2’s “New Year’s Day,” and there are plenty of fine versions of “Auld Lange Syne,” I wanted to spotlight a few that don’t get as much attention. Hope you enjoy these tunes as we put that awful year 2020 behind us.

Kacey Musgraves – “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”

Songwriter: Frank Loesser
Genre: Country
Release date: 2016

When the bells all ring and the horns all blow
And the couples that we know are fondly kissing
Will I be with you or will I be among the missing?

This lovely standard was written by Frank Loesser in 1947. While Loesser is known for penning tunes for musicals, such as Guys and Dolls, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” was not written for a particular film or musical. The song was first recorded by Margaret Whiting, and the doo-wop group The Orioles had a Top 10 R&B hit with it in 1949. In the seven decades since, it’s been recorded by numerous artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Andy Williams and Harry Connick Jr.

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” is associated with the holidays and has appeared on many Christmas albums. However, that was not Loesser’s intention, according to his daughter Susan. In her book A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life, she wrote: “It is early spring [in the song], the singer, madly in love, is making a (possibly rash) commitment far into the future. (Maybe it’s much too early in the game. Ah, but I thought I’d ask you just the same–What are you doing New Year’s, New Year’s Eve?) It always annoyed my father when the song was sung during the holidays.”

I decided to go with Kacey Musgrave’s version, from her Christmas LP, A Very Kacey Christmas. I love the slight country twang with the washes of steel guitar and also how it nods to the big band era with the clarinet solo. Musgraves turns in a great vocal, and she looks stunning in the music video, her sparkly red lipstick nearly stealing the show.

Otis Redding & Carla Thomas – “New Year’s Resolution”

Songwriters: Randle Catron, Willie Dean “Deanie” Parker and Mary Frierson
Genre: Soul
Release date: 1967

Oh, let’s try it again
Just you and me
And, baby, let’s see how happy honey, yeah
That we can be
And call it a new year’s resolution

In 1967, the late great soul singer Otis Redding released King & Queen, a joint album with Stax labelmate Carla Thomas. “New Year’s Resolution” is an overlooked deep cut from that excellent album. Otis takes the first verse and Carla the second. Both apologize to their lover, pleading to give them a second chance. Otis wants to turn over a new leaf, and Carla wants her lover to forget the changes she put him through. Classic Southern soul.

Judy Garland – “Happy New Year”

Songwriter: Gordon Jenkins
Genre: Traditional pop
Release date: 1957

The snow makes teardrops on my window
The wind blows memories through my hall
And I am all alone on New Year’s eve
The time I need you most of all

This somber tune was taken from Judy Garland’s underrated 1957 album Alone. One of Garland’s several exceptional 1950s records for Capitol, Alone was conducted and arranged by the great Gordon Jenkins, who was also behind some of Frank Sinatra’s great ballad records. “Happy New Year” was the only song on the album with Jenkins as the sole writer. For such a celebratory holiday, this one sure is a downer: At midnight they will all be singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’/But the sad ones sit alone before the fire and sip a glass of lonely wine.

“Happy New Year” also appeared on Jenkins’s 1962 album The Magic World of Gordon Jenkins and 1964’s I Live Alone. Those versions were done by a vocal group and both pale in comparison to Garland’s.

What’s your favorite New Year’s jam? Let us know in the comments!

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