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Same “Auld Lang Syne”? Try These Overlooked New Year’s Eve Songs

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If I asked you to name a Christmas carol, you could most likely create a lengthy list of favorites.  So I present another challenge: name a New Year’s Eve and/or Day song.  “Auld Lang Syne” may immediately come to mind, but can you think of any others?  For such an internationally celebrated holiday, few songs mark the occasion.  Carols reflect the excitement, wonder, and warmth of the holidays; why do songwriters overlook the jubilance and hope for a new year?

While “Auld Lang Syne” may be recognized as the ultimate New Year’s Eve tune, I become quite bored hearing it repeatedly on that special night.  Therefore, I present a playlist of well-known and more obscure tracks, representing various musical genres.  These songs are guaranteed to enliven any party, or accompany a small gathering at home.

Ella Fitzgerald“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” (1947):  This classic captures the romance of the holiday, as well as the ambivalence of asking someone out.  The narrator clearly fears rejection, singing that he/she may be “crazy to suppose” that the person will accept the invitation.  Written by noted composer Frank Loesser, the track has become a jazz standard, recorded by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Nat King Cole to Harry Connick, Jr. 

“It’s Just Another New Year’s Eve” (ca. 1977): On his album, Barry Manilow Live, Manilow discusses the backstory to the song.  He and collaborator Marty Panzer decided to write a New Year’s tune specifically for people who hate the holiday.  “Don’t look so sad/It’s not so bad, you know,” Manilow croons, expressing the dread some feel about having to celebrate excessively.  “It’s just another night/That’s all it is.”  Predominately featuring Manilow’s voice and piano, the song may reflect the melancholy aspects of New Year’s Eve, but it emphasizes hope. He states that the new year will be “just fine” and that “tonight’s another chance to start again.”  “It’s Just Another New Year’s Eve” may not inspire joy, but it nicely summarizes the mixed feelings surrounding the night.

“New Year’s Day” (1983): Included on U2’s landmark album, War, the song contains lyrics addressing not the holiday but rather the Polish Solidarity movement.  Still, the driving beat, The Edge’s haunting keyboards, and Adam Clayton’s memorable bass lines will please any rock fan at your New Year’s gathering.  The song also marks U2’s first UK hit single and their debut on the Billboard Hot 100 in America.

“1999” (1982): Yes, this Prince anthem does not paint a cheerful picture of the future.  In fact, it describes the apocalypse: “The sky was all purple/There were people running everywhere,” he sings, adding that “war is all around us” and the possibility exists that he (and presumably everyone) may die from bombings.  Despite this upsetting subject, Prince somehow manages to create an upbeat party song, urging people to party like they may die tomorrow.  All these years later, “1999” remains the ultimate party starter.

Dan Fogelberg“Same Old Lang Syne” (1981): The late Dan Fogelberg had a knack for writing highly personal lyrics, stressing these emotions with his gentle vocals.  Oddly, “Same Old Lang Syne” does not mention New Year’s Eve; instead, it details Fogelberg’s encounter with a past love on Christmas Eve.   Toward the end of the song, the “Auld Lang Syne” melody is weaved into the tune; this stresses the nostalgia pervading the lyrics.  While Fogelberg’s words may not evoke celebration, they do capture the romance of the season.

“Ding Dong, Ding Dong” (1974): George Harrison’s ode to New Year’s Day may not receive much airplay today, but it still sounds cheerful.  “Ring out the old/Ring in the new” he repeats, with 1950s-era rock and roll saxophone blaring throughout the song.  Harrison indulges in wordplay, with lyrics such as, “Yesterday/Today was tomorrow/And tomorrow/Today will be.”  True to form, however, he also includes some dark humor: “Ring out the false/Ring in the true.”  To emphasize this tone, his video shows him wearing the famous Beatles collarless suit and a costume suspiciously resembling his Sgt. Pepper uniform.  Alternating between those images and his 1974 look, the music clip lends new meaning to the “Ring out the old/Ring in the new” refrain.

“This Will Be Our Year” (1967): What a charming track by the Zombies, best The Zombiesknown for their 1964 hit, “Time of the Season.”  A sweet tale of true love, the song features a beautiful melody and trumpet straight out of “Penny Lane.”  “This will be our year/Took a long time to come,” lead singer Colin Blunstone repeats in the chorus.  His performance perfectly accentuates the optimism accompanying a new year, and the happiness at finding a lasting love.  While the track (from their album, Odessey and Oracle) was released during the height of psychedelia, its beautiful lyrics and upbeat instrumentation suggest innocence and a return to Brill Building-esque songwriting.

“Congratulations (Happy New Year)” (2010): Pink Martini’s holiday album, Joy to the World, displays the group’s penchant for defying categorization.  A mixture of jazz, classical, and world music, Pink Martini’s disc puts a decidedly international spin on Christmas classics.  This track is a Chinese New Year’s song from 1946, which features a delicate melody.  Incidentally, Pink Martini also covers “Auld Lang Syne,” but with words in English, French, and Arabic, all sung over Brazilian percussion. 

“Happy New Year” (1980): What’s a party without a little ABBA?  While not a dance-floor classic like “Dancing Queen,” it does showcase the group’s close harmonies.  Yet the lyrics are fairly downbeat: “Here we are, me and you/Feeling lost and feeling blue/It’s the end of the party,” they sing, “May we all have our hopes, our will to try/If we don’t we might as well lay down and die/You and I.”  The song also contains some dated words: “Who can say what we’ll find/What lies waiting down the line/In the end of eighty-nine,” they sing wistfully.  While not exactly the most cheerful New Year’s anthem, it should please ABBA fans.

The Eagles“Funky New Year” (1978): Recorded during The Long Run sessions, this Eagles rock/funk track was the B-side to their cover of Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home for Christmas.”  While the latter receives frequent radio airplay every year, “Funky New Year” became buried in obscurity.  This is a shame, as the track features a growling vocal by Don Henley and some stellar rhythm guitar.  Henley and Glenn Frey’s lyrics describe the after effects of a New Year’s bash: “Woke up this morning, I don’t know how/Last night I was a happy man,” but “Can’t remember when I ever felt worse/Nothing matters and everything hurts.”  “Funky New Year” serves as the perfect accompaniment for your New Year’s hangover.

“New Year’s Resolution” (1967): Take the Stax label, add Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, and you get pure magic.  “New Year’s Resolution” functions as a dialogue between a couple vowing to “turn over a new leaf” in the coming year.  Redding and Thomas’s passionate vocals convincingly portray a man and woman resolving to “make promises/That we can keep.”  Include this tune to inject some sexy Southern soul into your party.

While New Year’s Eve/Day songs may be difficult to find, wonderful ones do exist.  Search out these songs, as they will make any large or small party memorable.  At the very least, they should help you get into the holiday spirit and usher in the new year with style.  Have more suggestions for New Year’s tunes?  Include them in the comment section below.

“The Cutout Bin” will be on hiatus until January.  I thank you for reading my column and for your insightful comments—I learn a great deal from them all.  Have a great holiday season, and I look forward to uncovering more buried treasures with you in 2011.

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About Kit O'Toole

  • Karen Stoessel

    Great reflection of oldies for the new year! Of course…our boys are represented through George – Ding Dong…one of my all time favorites. Thanks Kit for another great article and helping to refresh my New Year’s Eve music search engine! Happy Holiday!

  • Thanks for commenting, Karen, and Happy Holidays to you!