"A Hazy Shade of Winter" by Paul Simon

Piano AR guidance for “A Hazy Shade of Winter”

NPR’s Jenna Strucko speaks of the album “Bookends” as “reuniting with an old friend I didn't know that I had.” Some categorize maestro Paul Simon’s song as the “missing link between Motown and punk rock,” with lyrics “acutely conscious of time passing.” Still others (curiously) consider the track a suitable replacement for a great Hanukkah theme. It’s clear “A Hazy Shade of Winter” is a timeless classic with deep and varied importance to many.

Written by Simon, and sung together with his friend and longtime collaborator Art Garfunkel, the song was released as a single in 1966 and included on the 1968 “Bookends” album, their fourth studio collection together. It rose to number 13 on the Billboard charts. Years later, in 1987, the song would be repurposed as a cover by the band, The Bangles, as part of the soundtrack for Marek Kanievska's film, “Less Than Zero.” The cover version reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 list.

The original Simon and Garfunkel track featured drummer Hal Blaine, a seemingly omnipresent drum kit player of the sixties largely known for his collaborations with Phil Spector in the producer’s session band, The Wrecking Crew. In addition to Simon and Garfunkel, Blaine performed on recordings with Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin and The Supremes, The Beach Boys, Barbra Streisand, Leonard Cohen, The Ronettes, Roy Orbison, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sonny and Cher, and Steely Dan, and would help establish a drumming style that informed and influenced drummers for decades to come.

“When I was growing up, I played along to the radio, so I played along to Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, the Association and the Byrds, and I was really playing along to Hal Blaine,” recalled Rush drummer Neil Peart in 2011.

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by George Harrison

The seventh track on the eponymous “White Album” and the b-side release of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” marked his emergence as an elite songwriter and has been hailed by fans and critics alike as among the best Beatles songs of all time. In addition to the celebrated hard rock version, an acoustic outtake was released on the 1996 Anthology with Paul McCartney playing harmonium, and later on the Love compilation with George Martin’s final string arrangement for the group.

"The Girl from Ipanema" by Antônio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes and Norman Gimbel

Perhaps bossa nova’s most popular song is “The Girl from Ipanema” (or “Garota de Ipanema”). The music was composed by Tom Jobim and the lyrics were written by Vinicius de Moraes in 1962. Norman Gimbel wrote the lyrics of the English version. It was recorded in 1964 by Jobim with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, vocalist and guitarist João Gilberto, and vocalist Astrud Gilberto. The “Getz/Giberto” album has the duet of João’s Portuguese and Astrud’s English versions. However, the song’s single release contains only the latter. The album was a worldwide success earning multiple Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year in 1965.

"Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

The “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” was composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky as part of his ballet, “The Nutcracker.” It was premiered at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1892. It had only modest success at first, but has since become deeply woven into the fabric of music and dance, in addition to appearances in animation, video games, and a host of other media. The New York City Ballet produced George Balanchine’s staged reinterpretation in 1954 and has done so for every Christmas season since, to houses packed particularly with parents bringing their children to see the grand two-hour spectacle.