Back in 1966, Simon & Garfunkel, the legendary American recording artists and songwriters, recorded their version of the timeless classic ‘Silent Night’. This Christmas Classic sold over ten million copies for Bing Crosby back in 1935 but has its origins back in 1816 when Father Joseph Mohr, an assistant priest in Mariapfarr Austria, wrote his German poem called ‘Stille Nacht’. Two years later as the priest of St.Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg, on Christmas Eve, he asked organist Franz Gruber to compose a melody for his poem and the guitar accompaniment he wrote, because recent flooding had damaged the church organ, is a beautiful, poignant evocation where folk song meets poetry. The purity of the melody and the holy words of the poem combine to give us something of hymn like quality that will forever be the simple peace of Christmas that we all yearn for.
Simon and Garfunkel wanted to take this traditional hymn like song and bring it up to date and so what they did, as they recorded the version for the iconic ‘Parsly, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’ album, was to sing the song in perfect two-part harmony but bleed in the sound of a news announcer bringing news of the day. That news was actually scripted and read by Charlie O’Donnell, a radio DJ who later found fame as host on many US TV game shows, and covered topics which painted the summer of ’66. These included the death of Lenny Bruce in Hollywood, a march in Cicero, Illinois by Martin Luther King Jr., the indictment of Richard Speck for nine murders and allusions to the war in Vietnam. The merging of radical 60’s style with the beautiful hymn like singing of Simon & Garfunkel is haunting and poignant, especially all these years later.
Jump forward to 2019 and indie artist Phoebe Bridgers along with Fiona Apple and Matt Berninger updated the classic ‘7 O’clock News/Silent Night’ only this time the headlines are pulled straight from 2019, with mentions of the abortion debate, sexting and the Trump White House. Apple harmonizes with Bridgers on the ‘Silent Night’ portions, while Berninger plays the role of “the newscaster”.
As with Simon & Garfunkel’s version, the contrast is stark and clear; it’s hard to maintain a still and magical sense of the togetherness of Christmas when the reality of life keeps sticking it’s nose into the proceedings. Or maybe, it’s an ode to the fact that peace and calm can bring us to the light at the end of the tunnel, however traumatic or filled with obstacles the path may be. The way this song is digested is very personal to the listener.
Now in 2021, twenty years after she made her stage debut at a Farm Aid benefit gala at the Royal Albert Hall garnering praise from HRH Prince Charles, Riva Taylor is releasing her version of this iconic take on a Christmas Classic. The acapella rendition of Silent Night will be released today. This time the news headlines come from the year’s top stories and are read by BBC/ITV presenter Yiolander Koppall.
“I’ve waited for the right moment to re-create this concept in my own way. I felt this year was the year with so much news, change globally, and questions being raised about the future of our planet. We wonder what the new normal looks like as we continue to navigate life in the midst of a pandemic.
The festive period and looking into a brand-new year has always felt like a moment for celebration as much as it has, a time for reflection. I hope the song leaves the listener feeling a sense of that, as well as happiness and hope that this time of year brings.”
To accompany the release, Riva will also package up Silent Night as an NFT (non-fungible token).
“I’m fascinated by the evolution of this space. I held my album launch in the metaverse and have already released a few NFT’s in 2021 to accompany my releases, says Riva. “My prediction for 2022 is that we will see more artists exploring creative ways to interact with fans and sell their music through platforms such as Opensea.”
Non Fungible Tokens are very much a thing of the future and to understand them we first have to understand the difference between fungible and non fungible. Fungible means Items or assets that are considered identical. They are directly interchangeable like-for-like, and generally divisible at least to some degree. Whereas non fungible means Items or assets with unique identities. They cannot be interchanged equally or divided. Value and ownership experience of different non-fungible items can vary greatly depending on individual properties. In fact, non-fungible simply means unique. The token acts as a digital certificate of ownership for whatever the creator, in this case a musician, decides to put up for sale. This can be anything from a single traditional album, to a bundle including extras such as gig tickets and exclusive bonus tracks.
Riva Taylor is always exploring new ways to create music and connect with her fans. This is just a step in that direction. Always a huge believer in collaboration, the NFT helps make the music fan the quintessential collaborator as they join their favourite artist on their journey and can directly support their art and creativity. For this I applaud her, and for this beautiful take on a wonderful version of a Christmas Classic I thank her.