Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Music

I've spent a lot of time in airports this week—in fact, I'm sitting in one now, waiting for a flight from Boston to Washington, D.C. It's December 17, so sitting in a U.S. airport means listening to Christmas music.

Not to get all bah-humbuggy, but I strongly dislike Christmas music—especially modern Christmas music (with a couple of exceptions). The older stuff—that is, the religious stuff—I often find appealing for its genuineness of feeling (even if I may not share the feeling), and some of it is just beautiful music. I've always liked the melody of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," for instance.

But the children's songs annoy. Sorry, Rudolf and Frosty—your songs should just not be sung by adults, especially adults who find a way to sing the songs with "emotion." It makes me cringe. (Jack Johnson, I'm talking to you.)

Further, I think it's time for artists to stop writing and recording new holiday songs unless they can truly bring something new and interesting to the genre. I mean, I just heard Gloria Estefan singing some nonsense about putting her love on layaway for Christmas ... or something. (I can't bring myself to look it up, the asininity of the lyrics bothered me so.) Songs like these annoy me because they so often sound like, instead of songs that truly celebrate a feeling about the season, crass attempts to hit a Christmas-song jackpot, a la Maria Carey.

I recently heard Carey interviewed, and the reporter said that the singer's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is the number-one song in the universe and has earned Carey $100 billion ... or something. (I don't feel like looking that up either, but the song is huge.) So, of course, Carey has recorded some more Christmas music (new album out now!), hoping to repeat her success—her and everyone else.

The worst, for me, are Christmas songs that try to "rock." The progenitor of this subgenre, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," is perhaps the very worst—an insult both to Christmas and to rockin'. Cyndi Lauper's calypso version of the song casts a pall over the artist's entire body of work. (And I adore Lauper!)

They're awful. These songs are true enemies of Christmas—cheapening it with bogus sentiment and asinine rhymes. Just sing the standards, singers! We like the standards. (Except you, Chris Cornell. If you go near "Ave Maria" ever again, there will be consequences.)

To end this post on a positive note, I will discuss a few exceptions to my proposed ban on Christmas music from the modern era:

Many original songs written during or near World War II are moving (to me) for their genuine longing for home—in fact, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" is probably my favorite Christmas song. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" isn't bad, either (when Judy Garland sings it—but in any recording after 1970, I can swear I hear the singer struggle with the line "Make the Yule-tide gay.")

Vince Guaraldi's music is great—then again, when it comes to Christmas music, it's usually the lyrics that are the primary problem.

I like "Santa Baby" (Eartha Kitt's version) and "Hard Candy Christmas" (Dolly Parton's recorded version) for their sterling kitsch qualities.

And I have one indefensible modern song to add to this list of Christmas songs I like: Wham's "Last Christmas."

I know. I know! I already said it was indefensible.

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