‘Tis (Almost) the Season

For me, it started on Halloween (or possibly the day before), when I walked into a Wal-Mart and saw employees decorating a large Christmas Tree right in front of a display filled with witches and pumpkins. I know it’s cliché to complain about Christmas starting earlier and earlier each year, but really?

Anyway, that’s not the reason for the post–or at least, not all of it. It’s just that since then, I’ve heard increasing amounts of Christmas music. The retail stores are the main places, but I’m always a little miffed at the radio stations that completely change formats for over a month in order to play Christmas music 24/7. I got out of the car for a meeting today while one version of “The Christmas Song” was playing, and re-entered the car not quite an hour later to hear another version of “The Christmas Song.” And neither one was the Nat King Cole version, the only version anyone ever needs to hear or play.

See, I’ve realized this season that I really like Christmas music, but I like it on my terms. For a week or two around this time, I crank up the Christmas playlist on my computer and listen to the particular songs and versions of songs that I really enjoy. Songs like these:
Auld Lang Syne: Basically the honorable mention spot, since I consider it a New Year’s song more than a Christmas one. But, hey, they sang it in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” so it must be part of the season, right? I don’t have a particular preferred recording, but I do change my cell phone ringtone over to this around New Year’s each year. And then around January 6th, people will ask me if my phone’s ringing, and I’ll say “no, that’s not my ringtone” a couple of times before I realize I haven’t changed it back yet. It’s a good song about renewal and friendship, I think, but I’ve never been quite clear on what the lyrics mean. I guess it’s kind of the “Louie Louie” of holiday songs.

Holly Jolly Christmas: Burl Ives and only Burl Ives, straight out of the snowman’s mouth. The Rankin-Bass “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is a classic, even if the whole thing comes out of crass commercialism. Then again, I have a soft spot in my heart for the He-Man/She-Ra Christmas Special:There are a lot of songs like this one (“Jingle Bell Rock” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” have obvious similarities), but I think “Holly Jolly Christmas” generally does a better job of conveying the fun and spirit of the season.

All I Want for Christmas is You: The Olivia Olson version, from “Love Actually,” not Mariah Carey. I have some shame. “Love Actually” has rapidly become one of my favorite Christmas films; it’s joined my “watch each year” pantheon alongside “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” “Scrooged,” and “Ghostbusters II,” the greatest Christmas movie of all time. As for the song, it’s catchy, it’s sweet, and it’s great to hear an eleven-year-old out-diva-ing Mariah.

Baby It’s Cold Outside: On my playlist, I have both the Johnny Mercer/Margaret Whiting version and a Louis Armstrong/Velma Middleton version, and each has distinct charms. The latter’s great for the live ad-libbing and innuendo, while the former is worth it just for the surprise in Whiting’s voice when she sings, “hey, what’s in this drink?” I like Christmas songs that are about the greatest gift of all: nookie. This may be the most festive song ever written about date rape. At least it’s not as dark as “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen: This one, however, is that dark. As far as I know, “Gentlemen” is the only mainstream Christmas carol to explicitly mention Satan. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the earlier carols, and it’s one of the few in a minor key. I don’t have a favorite particular recording, though I like the Barenaked Ladies/Sarah McLachlan version. I prefer versions that bring out the age of the song, though, versions that are deep-voiced as though sung between sips of hot cider from a flagon in a great hall. This is the Christmas carol that Vikings would have sung…if, you know, they were Christian.

The Night Santa Went Crazy: At either level of goriness, this song’s fantastic. And every time I hear “Mama I’m Comin’ Home” start, I hold out a little hope that it’s Weird Al instead of Ozzy.

Good King Wenceslas: It is damn hard to find a decent recording of this song online. I just spent half an hour and three dollars on iTunes, trying to find versions that didn’t kill the tune with high-pitched voices or slow tempos. The tempo for this one has to be pretty brisk, or the song just plods. I like the sound of it for much the same reason that I like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” but I really like the content of this one. Shock of shocks, it’s a Christmas song that’s actually about the much-vaunted Christmas spirit of helping those less fortunate. I can really get behind that.

Angels We Have Heard on High: This is probably my favorite classic Christmas song, and not just because of its island rhythms. I think it’s also the most overtly religious song on my personal list. Let it never be said that my beliefs impede my ability to enjoy good music. I just all-around love this song; when I was a kid, it was one of two hymns I actually looked forward to singing in church (before you ask, I can’t remember the other one–though seeing one of my old church’s hymnals for less than a dollar on Amazon has me tempted to find out). Like “Good King Wenceslas,” a slow tempo simply kills this song, but I’m less picky with the pitch. Plus, it’s partially in Latin, so that’s cool too.

That’s my list; what’s yours?

13 Responses to ‘Tis (Almost) the Season

  1. Akusai says:

    “Love Actually” has rapidly become one of my favorite Christmas filmsIt’s actually the only romantic movie I like (as far as I can remember), and I like it a lot.I don’t really have any Christmas songs I like overly much. I spent most of my childhood being forced to listen to my mother’s copy of “A Dolly Parton Christmas,” so that kind of ruined most popular carols for me. “Let It Snow” isn’t bad, I suppose. I don’t think Dolly ever sang that. At least not on the album we owned.

  2. Doubting Tom says:

    That sounds…torturous.

  3. Jon says:

    3) Christmas Shoes2) Christmas Shoes1) Christmas Shoes

  4. It has been years since I heard Good King Wenceslas. The only times I’ve ever heard it were when I was a kid, and around Christmastime, if I was at my grandfather’s house, he would sing it for me.I really like that song.By the way, the reason Santa went crazy? People putting up their Christmas trees before Thanksgiving.I mean, seriously, the fucking cruise I just went on? We had Thanksgiving on it. It was decorated for Christmas. What the hell?

  5. Akusai says:

    That sounds…torturous.You have no idea.3) Christmas Shoes2) Christmas Shoes1) Christmas ShoesBecause, after all, Jesus is like a bouncer at Studio 54. “Not with those pumps, honey!”I forgot to mention the all-time classic: “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells.”

  6. Jimmy_Blue says:

    Don’t have a particulary long list of songs I go out of my way for – I work in retail, christmas music has been afflicting me for the last week. After an hour of the tripe they play, you would understand why retail staff can be surly this time of year!Anyway, youtube links to the ones I like:Happy Christmas (War is over)Last Chrismas – James Dean Bradfield acoustic version, awesome.

  7. Doubting Tom says:

    Jimmy_Blue: I knew I left something out. Hearing “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” again recently was one of the reasons I decided to write this post. That’s a great song–and a better attempt at a socially conscious Christmas song than, say, “Do They Know it’s Christmas?”Also, it’s a better solo Beatle Christmas song than “Wonderful Christmastime.”

  8. Jimmy_Blue says:

    I would have to rate ‘Do they know it’s christmas time’ as one of the worst socially conscious christmas songs ever, if not THE worst. All I can ever think when I hear it is:’Of course they don’t know its christmas you overpaid morons, do you even know what people you are singing about? I mean, it’s the second largest continent on the planet and only roughly 41% are christian. So, don’t the other 59% count because they don’t celebrate the birth of a probably fictional character in the way that self absorbed westerners do? Or did you in fact show up for the free publicity. I mean, how many of you other than Bono and Geldof actually still give a crap? And you know what, whilst you were begging for my money, how much of your millions did you shell out? What’s that? You turned up and sang for free. Well I could have done that if you’d asked. How about you give some money, it’s not like you really worked hard for it anyway. All you lot did was sing some stuff that was for the most part, in all honesty, a bit naff.’See, I even go on a bit in my internal monologues.

  9. Will Staples says:

    I love “White Christmas” just for Bing Crosby’s voice.I’m also mildly ashamed to admit that I like Cyndi Lauper’s various Christmas-themed output.

  10. Akusai says:

    Having wandered the mall and various stores in the last week, I have to say that other memories of Christmases past have been wakened from their frozen slumber. I too, much appreciate Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” as well as his “Silver Bells.”I also like “Merry Little Christmas,” because it was on a Sesame Street Christmas tape I had as a kid and I listened to it a lot. I think Ernie sang it. I enjoy “Let it Snow” for the same reason.

  11. Will Staples says:

    While we’re talking about the classics, I forgot to mention “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole.

  12. Akusai says:

    Oh yeah…I love that one, too.So I guess disregard my first comment. I just had to get into the Christmas spirit to forget the evils of Dolly Parton.

  13. Dunc says:

    The wikipedia page on Auld Lang Syne contains a good translation.What most people don’t know is that the tune commonly associated with the song is not the original tune. I much prefer the original myself, but it’s hard to find.

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