So Beautiful or So What – Paul Simon’s 12th solo album (and his first release since 2006) hit the streets and ether last week. Critics are calling it his best album since The Rhythm of the Saints (1990), if not Graceland (1986). And it all starts out with “Getting Ready for Christmas Day,” a song that works well outside the conventions of your usual Christmas song. As The Telegraph reminds us, the song is overwhelmingly secular, even a tad political:
I got a nephew in Iraq
It’s his third time back
But it’s ending up the way it began
With the luck of a beginner
He’ll be eating turkey dinner
On some mountain top in Pakistan.
And it’s written by someone outside the Christian faith, though that never stopped Neil Diamond, Barbara Streisand or Carole King from knocking out a Christmas tune. If there is a spiritual element, it perhaps comes down to this: Quite catchily, the song’s chorus builds around excerpts from a 1941 sermon by the Rev. J.M. Gates, an influential preacher who became the most recorded Gospel singer before World War II. Get more on Gates and his sampled sermon here.
Today, we’re offering three videos that accompany this song. First, a splendid animation featured above. Next, the officially released video. And finally a live performance recorded on The Colbert Report late last year.
I have a brown-label Okeh 78 of two J. M. Gates sermons from the 1930’s, “Women Spend Too Much Money” and “Pay Your Furniture Man.”