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This post is for my sister, Nel. Our Christmas Song.
Instead of buying The Mamas & The Papas 1966 album IF YOU CAN BELIEVE YOUR EYES AND EARS (the one with Monday Monday and California Dreamin'), we opted for their second album, also released in 1966, the self-titled THE MAMAS & THE PAPAS. We got it, seems to me, in late summer and, upon first listening, thought that the song Dancing Bear sounded like a Christmas song. No matter the lyrics or the time of year it was played, it always did.....and always will.....seem a Christmas song to us. A couple years ago when I mixed a compilation of favorite holiday music, I included Dancing Bear because it wouldn't have been complete without it.
Here's a portion of one review of the album, and Dancing Bear:
....... Granted, the second album sort of goes over everybody's head, usually. People know 'California Dreamin' and 'Monday Monday' and then people who know more than other people also know 'Creeque Alley' and this self-titled thing falls in between and gets lost. (Not to mention badly confused with the vice versa titling of their so-so 1968 album).......
....... The emphasis, I think, was different: the emphasis was on taking the band's main specialty - sophisticated vocal harmonies - and taking it as far as it could possibly go. Maybe Pet Sounds was an influence, too, but did they really need an extra shove to take their art to the top? Methinks not. Naturally, then, the more sophisticated you get, the less "immediately commercial" are your results. Besides, both of the hits, well, particularly 'California Dreamin', had this anthemic quality to them, while The Mamas & The Papas is a set that radiates pure pop: classy, gracious, and resplendent, but hardly too meaningful or insightful. Some might call it a triumph of form over substance - but who cares? Who should care? This is pop!.......
....... There is (sic) also a couple of weird, unpredictable song models on here that aren't necessarily great but are certainly worth a raised eye (or two if you're not a Cyclops). 'Dancing Bear' is a mystical folksy shuffle preceded by a long, melancholic intro of interweaving flute/recorder/bassoon patterns, mostly sung by Doherty in a gentle falsetto, and, strangely enough, reminding me of Simon's 'El Condor Pasa', even if that one wouldn't have been released until four years later. Well, melodically it's probably closer to Donovan, but some of the chords, along with the penchant for pipes and the deep, "spiritual" production, are so striking that I couldn't bring myself to not mentioning it.
A chimney sweep, a gypsy, and a dancing bear are iconic images all. Presented in that mystical folksy shuffle makes for a more enchanted vision than sugar plums dancing in my head, most definitely. I love this song.
- The shot I took of this reclusive Sun Bear waiting out the rain at the Oregon Zoo last September has for me the same haunting feeling to it as the song.
- For a redrawn version of the 1937 Terrytoon cartoon The Dancing Bear (I was surprised to find such a thing) click here.
- Read more about Gypsy peoples here, or just a little bit below:
The Gypsy peoples originate from Sind region now in Pakistan. Their Rom language is close to the older forms of Indian languages. The three tribes of Rom, Sinti, and Kale probably left India after a succession of campaigns in Sind through the C11, initially spending time in Armenia and Persia, then moving into the Byzantine Empire after the Seljuk Turk attacks on Armenia. Within the Byzantine Empire they dispersed into the Balkans reaching Wallachia (1385) and Moldavia (1370) ahead of this area falling to the Ottoman Turks. Other groups also moved through India to Gujarat and south of Delhi. Gypsy populations can still be found along all these migration routes.
Finally, because having your chimney cleaned should be a regularly-scheduled home maintenance task a visit to the National Chimney Sweep Guild website may be interesting and even entertaining (they have videos there featuring the winners of the contest titled I love being a chimney sweep because....) Evidentally, the group is intent upon "breaking stereotypes about the industry." When you're up against the likes of gypsies and dancing bears it's no wonder.