Christmas Music Blues

Who are those guys?

Who are those guys?

At the rate things are going, I am certain that before long no pop vocal interpretations of traditional Christmas music will be easily accessible on the radio. This is a cultural loss—it’s a large body of beautiful and evocative music—and someone should have, one would think, the obligation of preventing it. But I have no idea who.

I realized this when I felt myself getting nostalgic and sad as I listened to a series of “Christmas classics.” For one thing, they all reminded me of my parents, whose absence beginning in 2011 permanently kicked my enjoyment of the season in the groin. For another, all the artists were dead. Bing: dead. Frank: dead. Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Judy Garland, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, The Andrews Sisters, Perry Como, Elvis, John Denver–dead. Long dead, in most cases. Christmas has become a serenade of dead artists. Except for the narrow range of country music stars for those who enjoy “O Holy Night” with a twang, living pop artists don’t sing these songs. OK, Mariah Carey and Michael Buble. Not many others. Sirius-AM was desperate to find living artists that it has been playing the Seth McFarland Christmas album. Seth can sing, but I’m sorry, but it’s hard to enjoy “Silent Night” while picturing “The Family Guy.”

Current pop stars are, understandably, looking for new Christmas hits that will be identified with them, and those have always been hard to come by. Bing Crosby made annual recordings of terrible entries in the Christmas song market—I just heard a station play a few of them. Gene Autry too: many of his efforts were bombs, though I rather like this weird one:

Modern Christmas songs aren’t about Christmas anyway; they are about sex. Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby,” an ode to feminine gold-digging and sex for favors, has unfortunately become the template. The date-rapey “Baby, “It”s Cold Outside” also is dominating the playlist. The last bona fide Christmas hit that wasn’t about sex (or a joke, like “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”) was probably Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” It isn’t just “Silent Night” that is leaving the mainstream culture. “White Christmas” is on the way out too.

The massive effort to banish Christmas carols and even pop Christmas songs from the schools is also having its (desired) effect. I wonder how many millennials can sing even one verse of “O Come All Ye Faithful” or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”? Few of these are sung on the contemporary pop holiday albums. They will continue to fade, too: once there is no audience for Bing, Frank and Nat (Who are those people?), the only recorded renditions will be by opera singers (ARGGH! OPERA! RUUUUUUNNN!) or The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (ARGGH! CHURCH! RUUUUUUNNN!), and, for a while at least, country western singers, whose versions of the carols will convince at least half the population that those carols were never any good anyway.

Who has an obligation to stop this process? I don’t see anyone. Pop stars are obligated to make their audience happy. Radio stations are obligated to cater to modern tastes, not the tastes of their audience’s grandparents. Yes, Bing Crosby’s recording of “White Christmas “(1942) is still and forever the best-selling single in history, but that’s only because singles aren’t sold any more. Can you imagine a Christmas-themed song being a best-seller over a period of years now? Like Bing, Judy and Frank, we will never see that again. Or that America again.

We’re losing the music and the traditions they represented, as we lose the memories of the great artists who made the songs their own. What else important does that mean we’re losing? My son would say, I bet, “Nothing.” I’m not so sure of that.

Well, even though it makes me sad, I’ll be listening until my last “Merry Christmas!” to performances like these that once defined the season:

And I know Harry Belfonte isn’t dead ( just his good judgment)  but I’ll close with his Christmas classic, one of my all time favorites:

 

 

 

18 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Childhood and children, Popular Culture, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

18 responses to “Christmas Music Blues

  1. Steve-O-in-NJ

    PBS is the only potential place I can think of putting this stuff, regrettably.

  2. pennagain

    For a few minutes there, I thought my memory had gone completely. Since you were assuming your (ahem) more senior readers could recall better than millenials, I gave it a try: No trouble with “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”; went on into “O Come All Ye Faithful” and ran into a scary roadblock … after the eighth bar I started spouting gibberish, some kind of Native American war song? syllables of satan? What on earth was veh nee tay ah doh ray muss .? .. and thus it went, a few words of recognizable English, a few words of automatic recall of the language of the spheres. I gave up, hummed the tune to get it out of my head. Then, knowing you would for sure add some prime examples of your favorites I scrolled down low … and behold … der Bingle came to the rescue. That’s what happens when you live in a Catholic neighborhood but learn Hebrew instead of Latin.

  3. Wayne

    I’m afraid this is where we’re headed although I kind of like the song. From “Love, Actually”: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zigpra03oqw

  4. This inspired me to find somewhere to listen to such music. Fortunately, I was able to quickly find Pandora radio’s “Nat King Cole (Holiday)” station. The line up so far has been NKC “O little town of Bethlehem,” Sinatra’s “I’ll be home for Christmas,” and Bing’s “Winter Wonderland.” It might not be on a broadcast radio station, but it’s something.

  5. pennagain

    Try this one. a whole Mathis album. Start at 13:15 to avoid some pop duds and I think you’ll like the rest:

  6. The Lovely Lady Carolyn and I have both been leaving the TV on the “Music Choice: Sounds of the Seasons” channel where a LOT of the great old school Christmas music has been hidden away…
    (a good sound bar helps a lot)

    Not to mention country stars by name, but Martina McBride’s version of “O Holy night” sends shivers… Incredible range and not too much twang…

    Merry Christmas to all.

    • I second the Music Choice channel, sometimes they have a second channel late that carries all the pop versions. One entered one channel’s rotation this year that is so vapid, repetitive and poorly sung I want to weep. I understand that newer artists want to enter the pantheon of great and signature holiday songs. But they have to select/make better songs that are singable without a full band backup. For newer versions that are good, check out the a capella groups like ‘Straight No Chaser.’

  7. deery

    Pretty much every powerhouse (and wannabe powerhouse) female pop singer eventually attempts a pass at O Holy Night. Hitting that note exactly right on the “divine” is a temptation that some can’t pass up. Off the top of my head, I know that Kelly Clarkson, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Hudson, and Alicia Keyes have all released versions of the song (with varying degrees of success) in recent years. That one will definitely stay in the rotation for a while yet.

    • I noticed that, and you are right. It’s a phenomenal song. But a version by Jessica Simpson should be labelled as toxic waste. I don’t even want to think about that note coming out of her…

  8. Rich in CT

    If it makes you feel better, today at the middle school I work at, the high school choir came through the hallways singing the classics. I cannot remember which exactly – because my brain melted with joy – but I think at least Adeste Fidele was in there, and definitely the Christmas Canon…

  9. pennagain

    Enough originals and pop classics to take you to 2016, maybe not on radio, but whole albums very accessible on line: just google “Christmas albums on YouTube by … Frank, Bing, Dean, Tony, Perry, Judy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8u7Ed6PdSc for example – a variety of presentations, mood and melody), Tony, Andy, Elvis, Andrews Sisters (only singles but … “Christmas Island,” “Christmas Candles,” & +Bing; Doris has one, Kate Smith?, Ames Brothers single just for the slide show (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BElVj-Rq0SY; and even Doris. You can’t miss.

    Some have a few seconds of ad in front … and that’s it.

    My personal favorite: an unflourishing solo stylist who had a producer gutsy enough to eschew choruses and bells. Never happen; some traditions are just kitschy.

  10. As others have opined, it seems the future of “radio” is personalized – satellite, pandora, and eventually downloads into your personal brain chip. In the interim, here’s a couple from one who has been scandalously omitted from this thread:

  11. crendahl

    There is a glimmer of hope among the millenials. Check out Jordan Smith singing “Mary Did You Know”. I found it on Youtube.

  12. Great recent renditions? Jackie Evancho. The face and voice of an angel on Earth.

  13. As of noon today (Monday, 28 Nov), I ran a quick survey of songs played on our local “Christmas” station since the start of last Monday.

    95 songs played (though 161 if you separate them by Artist and Version of the song) for a total of 1,893 times.

    Here’s the list and how many times they were played:

    Down on the list are some weird outliers involving the Magnum P.I. and Miami Vice soundtrack. I have no clue how those landed on the station’s playlist archive…but they were there, so I’ve included them.

    69 – Let It Snow Multiple Artists
    67 – Sleigh Ride Multiple Artists
    62 – Jingle Bell Rock Multiple Artists
    62 – Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree Multiple Artists
    58 – All I Want for Christmas Is You Multiple Artists
    55 – Please Come Home For Christmas Multiple Artists
    54 – Santa Claus Is Coming to Town Multiple Artists
    53 – It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year Multiple Artists
    49 – Do You Hear What I Hear? Multiple Artists
    48 – Christmas: Baby Please Come Home Multiple Artists
    47 – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Multiple Artists
    47 – I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus Multiple Artists
    47 – The Christmas Song Multiple Artists
    44 – Baby, It’s Cold Outside Multiple Artists
    42 – Last Christmas Multiple Artists
    41 – Feliz Navidad Jose Feliciano
    40 – Frosty the Snowman Multiple Artists
    40 – Happy Xmas: War Is Over John Lennon
    38 – Do They Know It’s Christmas? Band Aid

    Half the Songs sung are found in the top 19 of the list of 95. Two of those songs are overtly distasteful to Christmas sensibilities:

    The ever popular date-rape song “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and the equally popular “Last Christmas” or let-me-get-revenge-on-you-for-using-me-in-a-fling-by-irresponsibly-throwing-myself-at-another-fling, which apparently earns it’s Christmas creds by having the word “Christmas” mentioned in the song. Together, those make up 91 songs or (4.8% of the list).

    Another two are political messages, which is unfortunate because one of them is actually pleasant to listen to, the other is the unbearable cacophony entitled “Happy Xmas: War is Over” by John Lennon. The pleasant one, which I didn’t know was a political entreaty until recently, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” has the benefit of musical quality, then there’s John Lennon’s piece. The first, written as a plea for peace during the Cuban missile crisis, naive as such a plea was as though both players in that game were evil and just needed to ‘get along’, benefits from the fact that it was written by an actual war veteran, Noel Regney, who was compelled into the German army, subsequently deserted and assisted the French Resistance. His actual life experience lends him the first hand knowledge of what it meant to risk one’s life for others and therefore truly grok how serious war and fighting for a good cause was. “Do You Hear what I Hear” was produced by his real war experience combined with musical talent along with his wife’s musical talent. On the contrary, we have John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s monstrosity, which in a bid to make the song even worse, sprinkled in the sounds of children singing screaming in the background.

    The fun and catchy “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” may even be enough raise the hackles on some nerves, if one wants to bother going down that over-analytical rabbit hole. Either the song is, at worst, about a mom, disillusioned with her husband, getting some slap-and-tickle on the side with the guy who is supposed to encourage good behavior or at best, it’s about a mom and dad whose kinky ideas of cosplay can’t wait until they’ve gotten a baby-sitter. Ideally, we assume the latter option, but even then, the kid leaves the scene pretty much convinced that mom is harlot getting her debauch on with a symbol of innocence and purity. To top it all off the kid has no respect for his old man who the kid lowly esteems to merely laugh at his own cuckholding as opposed to beating the snot out of red-draped old lecher.

    In summary: “Last Christmas”, “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, “Happy Xmas: War is Over”, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and “Do You Hear What I… No wait. We’ll give “Do You Hear What I Hear” a pass and add “Do They Know It’s Christmas” to the list as a political message. So, of the 1893 singings of the 19 songs at the top of the list, 5 of them have no business being there and they comprise just over 11% of the total singing. Over 1/10th of the what we get to listen to is pure ethics rot…So far. I haven’t even addressed anything on the bottom half of the list.

    38 – Step into Christmas Elton John
    37 – Medley: Happy Holidays/The Holiday Season Andy Williams
    36 – A Holly Jolly Christmas Burl Ives
    36 – Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Multiple Artists
    35 – Blue Christmas Elvis Presley
    33 – Winter Wonderland Multiple Artists
    32 – Home For the Holidays Multiple Artists
    31 – Christmas Canon Trans-Siberian Orchestra
    30 – Mary, Did You Know? Multiple Artists
    28 – White Christmas Multiple Artists
    27 – Christmas Eve, Sarajevo 12-24 Trans-Siberian Orchestra
    25 – Santa Baby Multiple Artists
    23 – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing Carrie Underwood
    23 – We Need a Little Christmas Multiple Artists
    22 – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen Barenaked Ladies
    22 – Merry Christmas Baby Multiple Artists
    21 – Little St. Nick The Beach Boys
    21 – The Little Drummer Boy Bob Seger
    21 – This Christmas Donny Hathaway
    20 – Celebrate Me Home Kenny Loggins
    20 – It’s Beginning to Look alot like Christmas Multiple Artists
    20 – Same Old Lang Syne Dan Fogelberg
    20 – Wonderful Christmastime Paul McCartney
    19 – Here Comes Santa Claus Multiple Artists
    19 – Jingle Bells Multiple Artists
    18 – What Christmas Means to Me Stevie Wonder
    18 – Ring Christmas Bells aka Carol of the Bells Multiple Artists
    17 – Mary’s Boy Child Boney M
    17 – Run Rudolph Run Chuck Berry
    15 – Merry Christmas Darling Carpenters
    15 – Pretty Paper Multiple Artists
    13 – Mistletoe and Holly Frank Sinatra
    13 – Up on the Housetop Gene Autry
    11 – Deck the Halls Multiple Artists
    11 – I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm Dean Martin
    10 – I’ll Be Home for Christmas Multiple Artists
    10 – The Man With All the Toys The Beach Boys
    9 – Linus and Lucy Vince Guaraldi
    9 – Silver Bells Multiple Artists
    7 – Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth David Bowie & Bing Crosby
    5 – Christmas Time Is Here Vince Guaraldi
    5 – The Christmas Waltz Frank Sinatra
    5 – Wizards in Winter Trans-Siberian Orchestra
    4 – Hallelujah Pentatonix
    3 – A Baby Changes Everything Faith Hill
    3 – Calypso Noel Johnny Mathis
    3 – Caroling, Caroling Nat King Cole
    3 – Holly Jolly Christmas Michael Buble
    3 – It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way Jim Croce
    3 – Magnum, P.I. Mike Post
    3 – My Grown Up Christmas List Kelly Clarkson
    3 – Run Run Rudolph Luke Bryan
    3 – You Make It Feel Like Christmas Neil Diamond
    2 – Christmas Is Just Around the Corner Marry Manilow
    2 – Feels Like Christmas Straight No Chaser
    2 – I Believe in Father Christmas Greg Lake
    2 – I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day Bing Crosby
    2 – It Must Have Been the Mistletoe Barbara Mandrell
    2 – Medley: Jolly Old St. Nicholas & Little Drummer Boy Ray Conniff
    2 – Santa Bring My Baby Back Elvis Presley
    2 – Someday at Christmas Stevie Wonder
    2 – Where Are You Christmas? Faith Hill
    1 – A Marshmallow World Dean Martin
    1 – A’ Soalin’ Peter, Paul and Mary
    1 – Camouflage and Christmas Lights Rodney Carrington
    1 – Chipmunk Song Canned Heat
    1 – Christmas Is Here To Stay Bing Crosby
    1 – Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer Disney, Elmo & Patsy
    1 – I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas Gayla Peevey
    1 – Marshmallow World Darlene Love
    1 – Mele Kalikimaka Jimmy Buffett
    1 – Miami Vice Theme Jan Hammer
    1 – O Come All Ye Faithful Nat King Cole
    1 – Snoopy’s Christmas The Royal Guardsmen
    1 – Teddi’s Song: When Christmas Comes John Mellencamp
    1 – That’s Christmas to Me Pentatonix

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