In October of 1966, the folk-rock duo Simon & Garfunkel released a song called “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night.” It was the final track on their third album, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.” As the two men’s voices melded in harmony over the Christmas carol “Silent Night,” a stern anchorman’s voice read off news about many of the dark events of the 1960s, from the escalating Vietnam War to the death of comedian Lenny Bruce. The song was a stark mix of the sublime and the disturbing, and it’s a track that Greenville’s Joshua Jones has been drawn to for years.
Jones, an Upstate musician who appeared on American Idol in 2007 and led a band called The Jones Machine, seemingly had a conversation about the song every year with his Jones Machine keyboard player, Andy Welchel.
“Every time it would get close to Christmastime, we’d sit and chat about rerecording the song with someone reading current news,” Jones says. “But every time we thought about it, it was like a week before Christmas and we wouldn’t have time to do it.”
But last year, Welchel and Jones resolved not to let the idea go by again, and they set reminders on their phones for three months before Christmas.
“When that reminder went off, I immediately thought we should do a recording and a video,” says Jones, whose lifelong love of film dovetails with his interest in music. “And instead of just us singing ‘Silent Night’ and having us read the news, what if I got someone with a notable radio voice to read the news, and for the singing I could get some of the best musicians in Greenville together?”
And thus Jones’ version of “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” was born. The vocal track for the song features a long list of notable Upstate music names, including Lesley Swift from Little Lesley & The Bloodshots, Robert Gowan from Wasted Wine, Lisa Stubbs from Mourning Dove, and 20 or so more singers. Recording live over Welchel’s piano track, the all-star choir gathered last Saturday morning at the Triune Mercy Center in Greenville and laid their performance down in three takes.
The beauty of the massed voices mixes in sobering fashion with voiceover actor John Oliver (not the “Last Week Tonight” host), who intones a series of stories about the mass shootings and tragedies that have plagued the nation in 2017. The song was mixed over the weekend and released this morning.
Jones still sounds a bit surprised that he was able to bring it all together, especially after a snowstorm last Friday night took some of the scheduled participants out of the picture.
“I reached out to every name I could think of, and they all said yes,” he says. “But a couple of the people like Darby Wilcox and Kelly Jo got snowed in in North Carolina. I wanted it to be Greenville’s music scene singing in unity in the midst of a sad and troubled world. I wanted it to be a Christmas gift to the people of Greenville.”