Nightline Playlist: Josh Groban

From smooth crooning to African rhythms, Groban shares his favorite songs.


Dec. 21, 2007— -- Daytime talk show queen Oprah Winfrey is not only giving her blessing to Barack Obama, she's also giving support to singer Josh Groban.

In her recent "Favorite Things" show Winfrey named Groban's Christmas album, "Noel" as one of her favorite things of 2007. But besides being on Winfrey's list, "Noel" is making news of it's own: it is now the biggest selling CD of 2007. It has surpassed "High School Musical" and beaten Elvis Presley's long-standing record for having the longest-running Christmas CD at number one.

One of Groban's most famous songs is his cover of Brian Kennedy's "Raise Me Up."

"Raise me up has been a big hit for me, that's one that I don't think I'll ever be able to go on stage without singing in America at least," Groban said. "I think it's one of those songs that has a lyric that is so meaningful yet so open to interpretation."

Groban was born in Los Angeles in February 1981. Although his parents weren't in the music business, Groban remembers them playing soulful pop and rock music around the house.

"I kind of had an addiction to cheerios when I was four or five and I've got these home movies of my mom saying 'sing a song and I'll give you some cheerios' and that was my first paycheck as a kid was a handful of cheerios," Groban said.

As a boy, Groban expressed himself musically by learning to play both the drums and the piano.

In the 7th grade, Groban performed his first music solo when a teacher noticed him in the back of the choir and invited him on stage to sing. In 12th grade he played the tailor's son in the school's production of "Fiddler on the Roof."

As a teenager, Groban attended the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan majoring in musical theatre. When he was 17, a vocal coach introduced Groban to Grammy-award-winning producer David Foster and soon thereafter he had his first record deal with Warner Brothers Records.

After just a year attending Carnegie Mellon University, Groban left to pursue his career in music.

At the 1999 Grammy awards, Groban began to step into the spotlight. Foster asked Groban to rehearse a duet on stage with Celine Dion in the absence of Andrea Bocelli.

Then, in the 2001 season finale of Ally McBeal, Groban performed the song "You're Still You" which became a fan favorite. Groban was so popular that producers of the hit show asked Groban to return the following season to reprise the role.

A huge fan of musical theater, and Steven Sondhiem music in particular, Groban named his dog Sweeney after the Sondheim musical "Sweeney Todd."

Groban's latest effort, "Noel" is a Foster collaboration that spices up Christmas classics with new and interesting arrangements. "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" is transformed by adding a gospel choir and breaking down the rhythm.

And which songs transform Groban? His influences span from Mel Torme to Alicia Keys.

"Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes," Paul Simon (featuring LadySmith Black Mambaza)

When he was 9 years old, Groban remembers his father bringing home a cassette tape of Paul Simon's "Graceland."

"One of my favorite songs is 'Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.' I put it on and I probably listened to it 10 times that night. It really is one of the first things that showed me that there is nothing wrong with crossing lines and crossing genres. The musical cross pollination of these sounds was accepted and I had always been drawn to Paul Simon. I always loved him even when I was younger but hearing him combine this kind of folk with these African rhythms and these African voices … something happened, a light bulb went off and I realized that the musical world was limitless," Groban said.

"Sledgehammer," Peter Gabriel

"Peter Gabriel was one another person that I listened to that really was an explorer when it came to sounds and other things that he did," Groban said.

"Sledgehammer was a great one, that's a real rhythmic one, I loved the horns that came in at the beginning. I thought it was really amazing how it grabbed your attention. And he just, his production skills, the way he incorporated rhythm into his pop songs was different from all the other songs that were coming out at the time that had just your straightforward beat -- it just sounded different," Groban said.

"Brick," Ben Folds Five

Groban said he was plagued with heartbreak in high school.

"I got crushes like every five seconds," Groban said. "I was falling in love right and left."

"Ben Folds Five, I love Ben Fold -- I think he's an amazing writer and he's got so many great melancholy relationship songs. 'Brick' is one that is just awesome. The lyrics are so … 'she's a brick and I'm drowning slowly.' It's just kind of about being weighted down by something that you know is wrong and it's a really good song."

Groban belives music "is one of those things that we all turn to ... going through the hell that was high school, you know that kind of gets you through it."

And a good break-up song?

"What's a really good heartbreak song? 'Everybody Hurts,' R.E.M. -- anything by R.E.M. is great, even if it's a happy song of theirs it's just great for heartbreak. I would play that and weep in my car," Groban said, laughing.

"No One," Alicia Keys

Although Groban admits he doesn't listen to much pop radio, he does enjoy Rhianna's "Umbrella" and Alicia Keys' "No One."

"I think what's great about Alicia Keys is that she obviously has the chops, she has classical training her voice is unreal but she is very careful about how she uses those chops. There isn't one note or one key, there isn't one that she plays that isn't for a reason," Groban said.

"The great thing about 'No One' is that it is a really brilliantly simple song melody-wise and production-wise. Melody-wise she's got this electric tuba thing in it and the message is fantastic. She's one of those people that can write songs and she makes it look easy, seemingly simple. As a songwriter when you hear her songs you say, 'Oh, man, how can I or any one else think of that,' but that's Alicia. She writes things that you listen to and you go that's how I feel."

"The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)," Mel Torme

"I've always grown up loving 'The Christmas Song,' you know 'Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.' When I first heard Mel Torme sing it when I was young it just was like the ultimate croon, the ultimate smooth really puts-you-in-the-spirirt kind of song. It's like a stiff drink, it burns real easy and it's so much fun to sing ... that's a song that you can just sit and enjoy and it was probably the first Christmas song that I was enamored with when I was really young," Groban said.

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