Christmas music is to music
what wine coolers are to alcohol.
Writer Jim Dees originally published this article in Oxford Town (December 17, 2009), the weekly free entertainment guide of of the Oxford, Mississippi newspaper, The Oxford Eagle. In conclusion he wrote, "Special thanks to hipchristmas.com for their incredible array of Christmas tunes." You are very welcome, Jim. For posterity's sake, I have posted your droll and insightful musings online!
We're havin' a Reggae Christmas - down in Jamaica
We'll be havin' a good time too - oooo
Hey mon - we're havin' a Reggae Christmas
Merry Christmas and a Reggae New Year to you.
- Bryan Adams & Jim Vallance, "Reggae Christmas" (1984)
While sitting in the waiting area of the car repair place on a recent afternoon, idly flipping through Golf Digest (back when Tiger still wore pants), the tranquility was shattered by the Muzak coming from the ceiling speaker: "Jingle Bells." A glance over to the wall calendar revealed a buxom blonde in bikini and boots astride a Harley Davidson and below her picture the date: Oct 29. Oy. Shouldn't there be some sort of reverse statute of limitations on this? Shouldn't there be a ban on Christmas music until at least, say, after Thanksgiving? Haven't we earned that much "peace on earth?"
Apparently not; though it wasn't always so. My dear departed dad, gone to that great insurance agency in the sky, once remarked that in his childhood, in the dark Depression days of the late 1920s, there were no Christmas carols.
"We had "Silent Night" and "Jingle Bells" and that was about it," he recalled. No chestnuts roasting over an open fire, no red-nosed reindeer, no halls to be decked with holly. No fa-la-la-la? Sounds wonderful doesn't it? Sure, they had Mandel's Messiah, but that doesn't lend itself to caroling. In the years since, our culture has been blanketed with a paralyzing array of substandard fizzle that is on heavy rotation ad nauseum until Dec 26. As an old pal once observed, "Christmas music is to music what wine coolers are to alcohol." So true. Most Christmas tunes are cheap, tart, imitations of real music; all bells and whistles and jingle jangle meant to go down easily without a second thought or true meaning, let alone connoting the Savior.
In the 1960s, the Goodyear and Firestone Tire Companies (through Columbia Records) released a series of Christmas LPs that featured a lineup of easy listening Idols: Robert Goulet, Julie Andrews, Mitch Miller, 101 Strings and of course, Mr. Chestnuts Roasting himself, Mel Torme. The music was so syrupy it could raise your blood sugar. I remember my mother collecting these albums, and during the season, playing them on our old sofa-sized stereo, 10 platters at a time.
One record would finish and another would plunk down and the old fuzzy needle would mechanically reset itself. After the 34th Jack Jones version of "Frosty the Snowman," the sounds all ran together, becoming one continuous, over-produced glop of sterile orchestration and kitchsy sentiment. How did we go from the birth of Christ to tire company dreck?
Somewhere along the way, things changed. Elvis released "Blue Christmas." R&B artists such as Charles Brown and Amos Milburn came out with stacks of soulful Christmas tunes. However, for every cool Yule tune, there is the abominable ("Jingle Bells" by the Singing Dogs, anyone?) Nowadays, Christmas music has become delightfully varied. (See Snoop Dogg's "Night Before Christmas," complete with percolating bong water.) Indeed, the Internet reveals sprawling genres of Christmas music, a genre within a genre. Reggae ("Natty and Nice"), punk ("I Want an Alien for Christmas"), country ("Santa Has a Mullet"), even sexual 'Horny Christmas' ("Back Door Santa," "I've Got a Present for Santa").
Perhaps it's curious there isn't a sub-genre of Thanksgiving songs or Easter tunes. Halloween and Valentine's Day are represented but no season so brings out the weird and wonderful as Christmas. A Bob Dylan Christmas album? You bet, but you'll need a hit off Snoop's pipe and some high-octane eggnog to sit through it.
It was Christmas in prison and the food was real good,
we had turkey and pistols carved out of wood.
And I dream of her always even when I don't dream,
her name's on my tongue and her blood's in my stream.
- John Prine, "Christmas in Prison" (1973)
Bing Crosby was Mr. Christmas and seemed like a swell guy (if you weren't kin to him, according to biographers). His version of "White Christmas" is one of the most popular songs of all time. And yet, for all der Bingle's cool croon, the song and sentiment have no resonance for Mississippians. I personally don't know a single person who can remember when it snowed on Christmas in our state. We've come close over the years (pre-Al Gore), but in my small sphere of experience, the song is pure science fiction.
So just what is the best Christmas song? What is the worst? After much research (applying ample Snoop and eggnog), I can say the best Christmas song of all time is Robert Earl Keen's, "Merry Christmas From the Family." Aretha's "Joy to the World" and Ray Charles' "What Child is This?" are luminescent, honorable mentions. I think Jesus would dance to both. And the worst Christmas song of all time is... (little drummer boy drum roll)... "What Can You Give a Wookie for Christmas When He Already Has a Comb?" from the Star Wars Christmas album. Strictly interplanetary ashes and switches for that one. In the meantime, I'll take Ray, Prine and, yes, even Bryan Adams.
Ho, ho, ho, y'all.
© 2009 by Jim Dees and The Oxford Eagle
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