Comment Of The Day: “Christmas Music Blues”

christmas-hero-h

In addition to honoring his Comment of the Day, I also have to thank texagg04 for his timely comment to last year’s lament here, “Christmas Blues,” about the state of Christmas music as presented by the media. Christmas and holiday music is a useful, if depressing, window into the state of U.S. culture, and if he hasn’t written this commentary, I would have had to. Unfortunately, the tex’s list is res ipsa loquitur, and what it speaks of isn’t good. Christmas, the most ethical of holidays, has been substantially stripped of its ethical foundations by pop culture.

Here is texaggo4’s Comment of the Day on the post “Christmas Music Blues.” For added perspective, you may also want to revue last year’s post, On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide.

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

***

I’m back. I have to add that I am glad tex decided to give a pass to “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

Here is an excerpt from a nostalgic Christmas show I wrote for The American Century Theater back in 2007, presented in the style of the old TV Christmas specials:

In 1962, Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne were husband and wife, and also a songwriting team that often bemoaned the lack of any spiritual content in popular Christmas songs. It was in October, during the frightening thirteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis when the world stood on the brink of nuclear annihilation, that Regney, who usually wrote the music for their songs, was suddenly inspired to write the lyrics of a new Christmas song. For the first time in their collaboration, Gloria composed the music.

The song was recorded that year, but the following Christmas season, Bing Crosby sang it live for the TV audience of “The Hollywood Palace.” The recording of his performance became a best-seller…Crosby’s last hit Christmas record, and also the last popular Christmas song to have a religious theme.

It was, and remains, a prayer for peace.

Here is Bing’s rendition of the song on “The Hollywood Palace.” There have been many excellent covers of the song since 1963, but Bing knocked it out of the park.

45 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, History, Humor and Satire, Popular Culture, U.S. Society

45 responses to “Comment Of The Day: “Christmas Music Blues”

  1. Eternal optometrist

    My crim law professor played “baby, it’s cold outside” at the start of our Class discussion on rape.

  2. Patrice

    Jack, thank you (and tex) for this and earlier posts about Christmas music. It drives me CRAZY that all you hear on the radio in this area is mostly the really awful Christmas stuff. Then, on Christmas Day (maybe MAYBE also Christmas Eve) you get the good stuff on NPR Classical, then POOF! Next day it’s like Christmas never happened. Liturgically (which I know doesn’t mean much on this list), the current season is Advent, not Christmas. It’s technically “not done” to be singing/hearing Christmas songs right now, but unfortunately there are few Advent songs/hymns to be had in popular culture, and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel would get tiresome fast. Christmas season begins with Christmas Eve and ends, usually, a few weeks later with the Baptism of Jesus. But I’d even settle for Christmas being honored just through Epiphany, which is earlier, so that we can get those Kings in. I despair when I see Christmas trees on the curb on 12/26. Of course, if you’ve had them up since Thanksgiving, they’d be pretty dry by then.

    OK, rant #1 over. Rant #2 — I am shocked at how many songs/carols on tex’s list were sung not by the original artist but by some pop diva or rock star. Hark the Herald Angels sung by Carrie Underwood? Yeesh. But Amy Grant’s is worse. Holly Jolly Christmas sung by Michael Buble? Burl Ives is rolling over in his grave. Mary’s Boy Child sung by Boney M????? Who the heck IS that???!!! PLEASE!!!

    • “I am shocked at how many songs/carols on tex’s list were sung not by the original artist but by some pop diva or rock star. “

      But the flip side is that one of Jack’s laments from last year is that SO FEW current artists were picking up the Christmas mantle and singing the classics… I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing for modern singers to sing the classics. Shoot, as I was listening through the list to make sure that none of the songs were unique but with identical titles, I prepared myself for what I assumed would be a cringe-worthy rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” by Barenaked Ladies. It was actually really enjoyable.

      I think what is really lamentable, is not that we don’t get to hear the classics sung by the golden oldies, but that no new artists are coming out with NEW Christmas material in any substantial quantity. Though it is still nice to hear the classics by the classics.

      • Neil Dorr

        Or, perhaps, the “classics” suck (in that they don’t conform to modern pop sensibilities and thus people don’t care).

      • texagg04 wrote, “I prepared myself for what I assumed would be a cringe-worthy rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” by Barenaked Ladies. It was actually really enjoyable.”

        That is because the Barenaked Ladies are terrific musicians. Go see them in concert when you get a chance. The band members switch instruments during their sets. The guitarists play piano/keys, drums, etc. Very talented group of players. Their lyrics are clever, too, even beyond “The Big Bang Theory” theme song. It doesn’t hurt that they are Canadian, home to my favorite band of all time – Rush!

        jvb

        • “my favorite band of all time – Rush!”

          Just another clue of the fallen nature and man and the doctrine of Original Sin.

          We can’t be perfect. This is just one of your flaws.

    • Rich in CT

      Mary’s Boy Child sung by Boney M?????

      Look this one up. You will be pleasantly surprised!

  3. “I have to add that I am glad tex decided to give a pass to “Do You Hear What I Hear?””

    I didn’t mean to be so hard on Do You Hear What I Hear, but I wanted to contrast it against John Lennon’s crap work, and they both had political origins. I wanted to demonstrate that a Christmas song CAN have political inspiration and STILL be good Christmas song, but should be viewed with an ounce of suspicion, since alot of the political songs are pure drivel. Like John Lennon’s.

    I really do like “Do You Hear What I Hear”. It was late and my compositional skills were fatigued as I tried to piece together the literary technique…

    I need some rationalizations.

    • I agree with your sentiments/thoughts, especially regarding Lennon’s “Happy Christmas: War is Over” nonsense. He foisted Yoko Ono on the world by giving her undeserved credit and credibility. (I committed a mortal pop-cultural sin by openly declaring my disdain for Lennon’s “Imagine”, as a response to someone’s posting it after one of the Paris attacks on Facebook. I have always hated that song.)

      jvb

  4. Neil Dorr

    I’m confused — because a song has a poor ethical message it somehow reflects things about the culture who created it or enjoys it? I guess.

    Another way of looking at it would be that people hear enough religious themed Christmas songs in church and elsewhere that, when they listen to pop radio, would rather hear fun jovial numbers that create a nostalgia for the past. “Silent Night” just doesn’t cut it.

    Which Christmas songs are better? “Good King Wenceslas” (an homage to an inept ruler who was assassinated in a coup)? “O Come Emmanuel” (a song which borrows lines from the Book of Isaiah and talks about the coming of a conquering king who will destroy the unbelievers?) “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”? (about a spoiled child demanding an impractical gift and threatening tantrums if she doesn’t? — I’m sure its a Trump favorite)

    Finally, considering “Baby, it’s Cold Outside” is a work of fiction (no one was sexually assaulted in the writing of this song), the suggestion that it indicates anything other than what Frank Lesser was able to imagine at the time strikes me as silly. Otherwise, someone should really look into whether Bobby Darin might have been a serial killer (I know he didn’t actually write “Mack the Knife”

    -Neil

    • Isaac

      Oh boy, I want to play this game!

      The 4th of July is a celebration of an evil empire that slaughtered the Native Americans and enslaved the world.
      Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are tools of the patriarchy to enforce the status quo in which women are barefoot and pregnant, and to shame those who choose not to destroy the environment by having kids.
      The entire Christmas season is just a capitalist homage to ugly, naked consumerism.
      Santa Claus is a home invader with discriminatory hiring practices.
      Martin Luther King Day is a celebration of a serial adulterer and hypocrite who broke the law and did time in jail.
      Luke Skywalker murdered countless people and should not be considered a hero by children.
      Fidel Castro was a great leader who really improved the healthcare and education in Cuba (sorry, someone really used that one.)

      Am I doing it right? I don’t feel that I’m capturing the ridiculousness.

  5. Spartan

    Maybe I am just in a good mood around the holidays, but I always interpreted “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” as the mom kissing her husband who was dressed up as Santa Claus, but the little boy didn’t realize it was his dad.

    I also — and remember, crazy feminazi here — always thought that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was a private joke between two people who obviously are sleeping together. I acknowledge, however, that I am alone among my female friends with this interpretation.

    • “but I always interpreted “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” as the mom kissing her husband who was dressed up as Santa Claus, but the little boy didn’t realize it was his dad.”

      I actually explained that as well…

      • Spartan

        Yes, you did but in a sinister way. The kid in the song sounds pretty young — maybe 5? It’s hard to believe he would be traumatized by the incident.

        I do hate the song though — it goes in the rubbish pile with All I Want for Christmas and the freakin’ Chipmunks song.

  6. Spartan

    One of my favorite Christmas songs is “This Little Babe” although you will never hear it on mainstream radio. I learned to sing it in my public high school — which charmingly did not believe in separation of church and state — the vast majority of our holiday songs were religious in nature. The song is basically a shout in 4 part harmony — it’s pretty terrifying, but awesome.

    https://www.flashlyrics.com/lyrics/benjamin-britten/this-little-babe-23

  7. I think part of the problem is newer writers/composers who want to make their mark AND be hip or relevant after the rise of rock. They’re so busy lecturing what THEY think should be important to me that they’ve lost the holiday itself. Nagging never brings goodwill, Several songs are saved from terrible lyrics by the music and mood. (I like some versions of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’, despite the lyrics) For me only five of those top nineteen avoid the modern overlays on the holiday. I switch to channels that stick to older songs as some songs trigger auto change.

  8. dragin_dragon

    One of my favorites is “Little Drummer Boy”, in part because I can no longer hear the lyrics. I can hear and feel the beat, however, as with many other songs. But I like that one a lot.

    • Somebody needs to explain this song to me. Why would a drummer boy be at the birth of Jesus? What is less appropriate than playing a drum, at night, around a sleeping baby? And we all know that baby smiles are gas.

      I actually measure my holiday success by how often I have to hear the Harry Simeone Choir sing that one—the fewer the better.

      • “Why would a drummer boy be at the birth of Jesus?”

        The Magi, whom this imagined drummer boy accompanied, didn’t arrive for the birth of Jesus. They arrived anytime from a few days or weeks to a few *years* after the birth. Though for context indicated by the lyrics of this song, we’ll settle for a few days.

        “What is less appropriate than playing a drum, at night, around a sleeping baby?”

        The song doesn’t indicate anything about the time of day or the state of consciousness of Jesus at the time. These are assumptions.

      • Or as the cartoon “Fowl Comics” puts it:

        “I don’t know who wrote that song, but only a sociopath would think ‘Oh, you walked through a desert and gave birth in a filthy manger next to a bunch of camels? I bet what you need right now is a small child on a percussion instrument!’ Know what’s a better gift? Anything. It’s a shame there was no ‘Little Hand Sanitizer Boy’. I bet they woulda love to seen him.”

  9. dragin_dragon

    Actually, being honest, I can hear the lyrics, but can’t understand them. Making it loud enough for me to understand becomes painful for others, and the volume makes them hard to understand as well.

  10. Patrice

    “Christmas comes this time each year.” Worst Christmas lyrics EVER.

  11. Isaac

    I had no idea about the politics or story behind “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and I grew up always enjoying the Bing Crosby version. I always assumed it was a much older song. Thanks for the education!

  12. After going back and reviewing, now 4,566 individual singings of the songs (as of the end of 4 December), not much has changed in the rankings. Some have gone up and some down in terms of frequency played.

    Happy Xmas (War is Over) by John Lennon is out of the top Half of songs played by total quantity.

    On a sad note, “Do You Hear What I Hear” fell 5 places and is now below the Christmas Date-Rape song.

    • One reason for the latter, I think, is that Baby, it’s Cold” has a lot of cute, entertaining renditions. I can’t listen to Dean Martin’s version without smiling, and his delivery is always tongue-in-cheek…he just doesn’t seem like a rapist. “Do You Hear?” has the problem of too many awful versions. It’s a four-square song with some majesty, and riffs and embellishments just spoil it. But if you sing it straight, all that comes through is, “Boy, Bing does this so much better.”

  13. Patrice

    Today I heard 2 Christmas songs sung by Air Supply (!!) and one by Karla Bonoff. Geez, I haven’t thought of her in decades. Her song wasn’t too bad. Air Supply? Not so much.

    I also heard recently Nat King Cole’s rendition of O Come, All Ye Faithful, I love Nat King Cole, but when he started singing in Latin, I knew what was coming — “venite adore-MOOSE.” No wonder I have so much trouble getting my choir to sing it correctly.

  14. Patrice

    God help me — Kelly Clarkson “singing” O Holy Night without consonants!

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