So, Christmas Day is fast approaching. If you’re celebrating it, how’s it going with the gift shopping? I think I’m all set regarding gifts; all that’s left is the wrapping and the fretting about how my nieces will like them… or to be more precise, how my sisters will like them. I mean, I’m sure my nieces will be cool with what I’m giving them, as they are every year; it’s just that my sisters are harder to impress (the oldest of my two sisters especially, who can deliver a pretty dirty look when she’s not impressed).
But enough about the gifts of the season. This post is devoted to the sounds of the season. Yep, I’m talking about all that holiday music that either brings joy to your heart or makes your ears bleed. Or both. It’s quite common for every department store, mall, or even supermarket to play almost non-stop music related to the holidays, virtually all of it being overdone or well-worn renditions of Christmas carols your grandparents grew up listening to.
It’s not just the stores that go for the holiday sounds: For at least the last decade and a half, if not much longer, almost every town sees at least one radio station “blow up” their playlist around Thanksgiving, if not sooner, and play those same ol’ well-worn holiday
ear worms nuggets their consultants believe will draw listeners like moths to a flame. And the radio industry being what it is, there’s usually not a lot of variety in the holiday playlist from station to station and city to city. These days, there aren’t a lot of Andy Travises out there who’d let their on-air talent go freeform and play whatever piques their interests. (*sigh* If only every terrestrial radio station were as enjoyable as WKRP.)
But, still, the listeners eat it up. There’s no two ways around it, Christmas carols are comfort food to the ear. And if it does sooth the listener for just a little while and make them think happy thoughts (and buy a gift or two, or several) then it’s done it’s job. Indeed, while in the dentist’s waiting room this afternoon for my semiannual checkup, the PA system was tuned into a traditional Christmas music channel from satellite radio — a move definitely intended to be seasonal and allow the patients to not be too nervous about getting their teeth cleaned/drilled/pulled/whatever.
To be honest, listening to non-stop Christmas carols during the season can sometimes drive me downright bonkers. The less carols I have to listen to in a row, the better. That’s not to say I hate every Christmas carol. Far from it, in fact. To cite one specific song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has such melancholic lyrics that have literally made me pull the car over and weep (that’s the truth). And a whole album of Christmas carols my mom had when I was a kid, all performed by a children’s choir, had me mesmerized by its haunting beauty.
But there are a few oh-so-worn-to-the-groove carols that make me want to change the station. Perhaps it’s not so much the quality of the song so much as it is the repetition of it. As I noted above, those who consult or choose which songs to play, during the holidays or otherwise, tend to go with safer options, the ones they think listeners/shoppers will enjoy… and maybe get them into the Christmas spirit. One actual example I heard about this morning concerned the Wham! holiday diddy “Last Christmas,” which one Austrian DJ played 24 times in a row, all in the belief that people weren’t in “the Christmas spirit.” At least the DJ’s 4-year-old daughter got him to stop (smart kid).
So, here are a few Christmas perennials that fall into my “ugh” category; you may like them, and sometimes I do as well (it depends on which version is being played and how often it’s being played), but still…
“Santa Baby” My ears have caught the Eartha Kitt original a couple of times (it’s purrrfectly suited for Catwoman), and most any singer can have real fun with the lyrics. However, it’s the nature of entitlement in those very lyrics that gets me. Even Ms. Kitt herself would admit to this later in her life — it’s better to be a good girl than a “good” girl in order to earn that coat, yacht, ring, luxury car, etc. from Santa (the Jolly Ol’ Elf isn’t a sugar daddy, you know).
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” For me, not only is it all that repetitive recital of the gifts that gnaws on me, it’s the annual news story about how much all of that crap will cost you at Christmastime. (Speaking of repetitiveness, Bob & Doug McKenzie cut most of it out in their parody of the song. Smart move.) By the way, which 12 days are they talking about anyway?
“Jingle Bells” Sacrilegious, I know, but whenever I hear this song, I can’t help but think of this one version I came across on the radio; I want to think it was by Barbara Streisand, but don’t quote me on that. (** UPDATE ** It was from Babs; here’s the proof.) For some odd reason, the tempo on that version kept alternating from slow to fast on the second verse, not to mention the chorus sounded too hip to take seriously. When you think of it, however, “Jingle Bells” is not specifically a Christmas song. There’s nothing about gift giving or a baby in a manger. It’s all about riding in a horse-drawn sleigh. The only thing that makes it a holiday song is it’s setting in cold weather. Speaking of which…
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” This song has nothing directly to do with Christmas either. In fact, when you scrutinize the lyrics, it may have suggestions to… uh, one person putting another in a compromising — and non-consensual — situation. (“What’s in this drink?” indeed.) Casey Wilson and Scott Aukerman just did a Funny or Die video that really takes this song and its sexual assault overtones to the woodshed. Seriously, check it out (or try this link) and you’ll find yourself going “EWWW!” over the lyrics.
“The Christmas Song” aka “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” aka “How Many Holiday Cliches Can You Count?” Yes, it’s been done beautifully by many artists over the years (most famously by Nat King Cole), but at least “Santa Baby,” “Jingle Bells,” and most of the rest have plots to it. I do have to admit, though, that it does get one into the holiday mood. Oh, and this is the type of Christmas carol that really needs a performer doing it the right away. When I first heard this song as a kid, it was only a snippet during one of those “special TV offer” ads from the ’70s for a Christmas song compilation album. I don’t recall the name of the singer who did that song on the album (it wasn’t Nat King Cole, that was for sure), but he sounded like one of those sleazy lounge lizards playing the piano at some New York dive: All schmooze, no meaningful sincerity at all.
“Wonderful Christmastime” Three words: Downright creepy synthesizer. And to think the guy who originally did this song is one of the greatest songwriters ever to put pen to paper (one word: “Yesterday”).
“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” Three more words: Death at Christmastime?! Seriously?!
Okay, if you want to verbally knock some sense into me and defend these songs, go right ahead and do so in the comment section below. But if you’re one to spread joy during a season that needs it, feel free to recommend a song or two you can’t bear to miss; you know, the type of holiday carol that moves you the same way “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” does for me. Thanks, and hope you’re enjoying the season. Seriously.