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December 24, 2004

Holiday hits
Posted by Teresa at 12:25 PM * 208 comments

John Scalzi’s been running a participatory thread:

Your Christmas gift is the ability to expunge one highly annoying yet popular Christmas song from the history of the world. Which one is it?
His own choice is “Feliz Navidad.”

My reaction: I only get one? How about a couple of dozen? There’s a lot of Christmas music I’d be grateful to never hear again.

My theory about why there are so many wretchedly mediocre holiday-season recordings is that programmers have a lot of hours to fill between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a song that gets onto their playlists is a guaranteed annuity for whomever holds the rights. You get bad art when the people making it and selecting it are ignoring their own tastes, and focusing instead on what they think people whom they don’t know will like or expect. In doing that, you run the risk of producing something nobody actually likes, which describes most background Christmas music.

Then there are the songs one actively despises. For me, the top of the list has to be “Jingle Bell Rock.” I hated it the first time I heard it, when I was five or six, and time has not mellowed my feelings about it. Alas, it’s not a singularity. Here’s my deselection:

1. Jingle Bell Rock. Charmless melody, witless lyrics, and anyway I just plain hate it and always have.
2. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. See above. It’s in the #2 spot because I wasn’t forced to sing it for the Whittier Elementary School Christmas program.
3. The Cactus Christmas Tree. Never heard it? Lucky you.
4. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. Saccharine faux-naif cute-kid crap.
5. The Christmas Shoes. So vile it leaves me speechless. Read the lyrics for yourself.
6. Pa-rump-pa-bleeping-pum, need I say more.
7. Feliz Navidad. I don’t know. Maybe Jose Feliciano accidentally released the rehearsal version with the placeholder lyrics.
8. The Rebel Jesus, by Jackson Browne. Fatuous lyrics paired with the same tune Jackson Browne uses for everything.
9. All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth). Celebrating the joy of of childhood speech impediments. I hear Spike Jones did a funny version of this one, but I’ve never heard it.
10. Blue Christmas. Maudlin and dreary, an exercise in self-pity.
11. I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. Expresses the lugubrious wish that you be cursed with disastrous weather during the citrus harvest. I’ve never been able to see why a snowed-upon Christmas should be more real than a rainy one.
12. Sleigh Ride/Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!/Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland. Apparently sleighbells, fireplaces, and bad weather have an aphrodisiac effect on Northeasterners, who for some reason are then obliged to be archly coy about it. Non-despised recordings that confirm the aphrodisiac effects of snow include Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Christmas to Remember, and Blame It on the Mistletoe.
13. The Christmas Song. Cheap sentiment and false nostalgia, brought to you by crooning lounge lizards. How many of us actually miss sleigh bells, or roasting chestnuts on an open fire? And where do they get off calling it the Christmas song? The only good thing about this one is that kids get mixed up and sing “Jack Frost roasting on an open fire.”
14. Silver Bells. I live in a city. Do you live in a city? Have you ever heard these supposed bells? No? I haven’t either. So what the hell is this guy on about?
15. Jingle Bells. More sleighs, more snow, no romance. No one over ten should have to deal with this song.
16. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. Perky, shallow. If a year came in which nobody played it, would you notice?
17. The Apocryphal Acts of Saint Nicholas, including: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer/Up on the Housetop/Here Comes Santa Claus/Must Be Santa/Jolly Old St. Nicholas/If It Doesn’t Snow on Christmas/Little Sandy Sleighfoot/Frosty the Snowman. What becomes of novelty songs that cease to be novel? If they’re holiday-themed, they get played anyway. These are all the sort of thing adults think children ought to like. The catalogues of gender-stereotyped toys only enhance the effect.
18. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. Unless sung by Bruce Springsteen.
19. Santa Baby. Unless sung by Eartha Kitt.
20. O Christmas Tree. Nice tune. Somebody ought to write lyrics for it that don’t suck.

Holiday recordings I don’t loathe:

1. A bunch of stuff by Sidney Carter, John Tams, the Waverly Consort, Joculatores Uppsaliensis, the West Gallery Music Association, and others of their ilk, which I’m not going to list separately.
2. A Charlie Brown Christmas, by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. I’ll even put up with the bleeping Little Drummer Boy.
3. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Sarah McLachlan and Barenaked Ladies.
4. A Fairy Tale of New York, the Pogues with Kirsty McColl.
5. The St. Stephen’s Day Murders, by Elvis Costello. Chorus:
There’ll be laughter and tears over Tia Marias Mixed up with that drink made from girders
And it’s all we’ve got left as you draw your last breath
And it’s nice for the kids as you’ve finally got rid of them
In the St Stephen’s Day Murders.
6. Christmas in Hollis by Run-D.M.C. Not the sort of music I normally listen to, but lord knows it’s not coy. It is, however, the only holiday song I know of where Santa brings money for Christmas.
7. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. Patently insane. I’d hate it if it got played a lot.

What do I really like? Adeste Fideles. Joy to the World. Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Angels We Have Heard on High. Silent Night. Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending. Gaudete. O Holy Night. We Three Kings. The Coventry Carol. As Lately We Watched. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. Nowell Sing Nowell. Dona Nobis Pacem. You know—the usual.

Addendum: The only English lyrics to the “O Tannenbaum” tune I’ve ever liked were an unofficial version of “O Maryland My Maryland,” the MD state song. Oddly enough, this was sung to me by Rob Hansen, a Welshman living in London. I just now found a version of it online. Like “The St. Stephen’s Day Murders,” the rhymes and meter work just fine—if you get the accent right:
Oh Maryland

We’ve got some hills, we’ve got some trees,
We sing in four-part harmonies;
There’s shopping malls and city halls,
And cats and dogs and ponds with frogs;
But none of us has ever meant
To overthrow the government.
From Baltimore to Hagerstown,
Just take your car and drive around.

We’re near the nation’s capital,
But we are not stuck up at all,
So take a stand and shake the hand
Of every crab in Maryland.
We touch four states and several bays,
The highways mostly run both ways,
We hope you come and say hello
And maybe stop and spend some dough.

When I was ten my family
Moved here from West Virginia;
I went to school in Annapolis,
I studied Greek and calculus,
And now I live in Baltimore
And that’s what Maryland is for.
Oh Maryland, oh Maryland,
Oh Maryland, oh Maryland.

I have a dog whose name is Jack,
I threw a stick, he brought it back.
My sister had a cat, I think,
My mother had a kitchen sink.
My father was a decent man,
And we all lived in Maryland.
Oh Maryland, oh Maryland,
Oh Maryland, oh Maryland.

Our nights are dark, our days are fair,
We’re right next door to Delaware.
Our song before was full of gore
But we heard the Union won the war.
We’re sorry if we made you mad,
It was the only song we had.
Oh Maryland, oh Maryland,
Oh Maryland, oh Maryland.
Comments on Holiday hits:
#1 ::: Somewhat ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 05:30 PM:

Great. Now I have at least three of those as competing ear worms. Merry Xmas to you!

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 05:32 PM:

Have a holly jolly. I've got a patch for that I'll post to Particles.

#3 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 05:58 PM:

Steeleye Span did great versions of some Christmas music, too. I like their "Boar's Head Carol" even though it's not identifiably a Christmas carol; the Latin is a nice touch.

#4 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 05:59 PM:

Pthththththbt!

I have an irony-free love of Christmas music. Give me Helen Reddy, Johnny Mathis and Burl Ives. As long as it isn't a deliberate oddity, like something from Tiny Tim or Leonard Nimoy, I'm for it. Especially ... Winter Wonderland.

Go Frosty the Snowman!

I will admit that I don't recognize some of the titles on your hate list, though.

But I would eliminate "Grandma Got Run Over By a Raindeer."

Merry Christmas, Teresa. Much joy to you and yours, and thanks for all the terrific books.

#5 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 06:06 PM:

Well, I like Christmas music. Most of it, really, though I agree some versions are awfully sappy. But there are often nice versions of even the sappiest songs. Which is why I got into Rivka's Christmas Music Swap with a few of the otter fans, and was quite happy with the result. I was particularly pleased to have introduced Kate Schaefer to "I Want A Hippopatamus for Christmas" which was on one of the swap disks I got. Kate had never heard it before and I was mumbling along to the lyrics as we picked up after the Christmas tea. Kate eventually got a quizical sort of look and allowed as how she quite liked it. Possibly due to the reinforcement of having been watching the hippos at the zoo with Terry and Maia and Hal just the day before, I have been humming it periodically ever since.

I was also amused to find that of the folks in my swap, every single one put a version of "Gaudete" on their mix, though not one was the Steeleye Span version, and I don't think there was any duplication, either.

A few years ago I discovered that the lyric to "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" has two versions - the older (I presume) which goes "Some day soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow; until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow" which I hadn't previously heard, and the newer, which goes "hang a star upon the highest bough," instead. The difference was transformative. All the lyrics around the one line rearranged themselves in my head, and I realized that it's not a single-note, cheerful family-and-sentiment song at all, but rather animated by the loneliness of separation and the whole ethos of World War II. I like the song much better since finding that kernel of sadness playing against he plucky, contrived cheer of the rest of the lyric.

As for "The Little Drummer Boy," even the most godawful version makes me cry. Every. Single. Time. I cannot possibly sing it, because my voice breaks. You get to the passage that begins, "I am a poor boy, too," and I dissolve. It's something about the humiliation of poverty, and the gift of grace given to those who give the best they have despite being society's untouchables that gets me right where I live. I don't know of a song that catches the meaning of Christmas, in the Christian sense, better than that short verse. Your mileage will obviously vary.

#6 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 06:12 PM:

I'm pretty tolerant of bad Christmas music, but the one that really sets my teeth on edge is the barking dog version of Jingle Bells, which was featured in a particle and gave me an earworm. There's a special circle of hell filled with nippy little chihuahuas and pekes waiting for the folks responsible for that atrocity.

Did anybody else hear the Marketplace piece yesterday where they interviewed the guy who wrote The Waitresses' hit Christmas Wrapping? I actually like that song, but it was a real downer to discover the reason for the interview - it was released twenty years ago. Twenty (20) years. I suddenly feel old, and alarmingly in the bullseye demo for an NPR business program.

Oh well - happy holidays everyone! And do try to enjoy the Christmas music - it's much easier that way.

#7 ::: Stephen Sample ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 06:27 PM:

Re #20: do the German lyrics suck, in your opinion? I personally like them better than the standard English version, though it's still far from my favorite carol (or even my favorite German carol).

Of course, the same tune has several alternate lyrics, including Keep the Red Flag Flying--which is sappy in its own way, but really de-fangs the carol for me. Particularly in store muzak. I mean, you'd think a retail establishment wouldn't want to promote communism...

And then there's:

Oh woe is me,
Oh woe is me,
Oh once I had a hamster tree.
But it was eaten by a newt.
Now I have no more cuddly fruit.
Oh woe is me,
Oh woe is me,
Oh once I had a hamster tree.

On the recommendation side, I think most of my favorite carols are at least 144 years old. Personent Hodie, The holly and the ivy, Nova! Nova!, While shepherds watched their flocks by night, Ding! dong! merrily on high...yum.

Time to break out the Shorter New Oxford Book of Carols tomorrow, to make up for not being able to get home on time because of flight delays.

#8 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 06:30 PM:

The "muddle through somehow" lyrics of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" were the lyrics used in the movie _Meet Me in St. Louis._ I've always assumed that the sappier lyrics was what they used in the sheet music, but I don't know that.

It might be vaguely off-topic to point out that besides the German lyrics, there is at least one other set of lyrics to "O Christmas Tree." Maryland uses the tune for its state song. I don't know if it meets the criterion of not sucking though...

9 stanzas and IMHO, overblown
http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us/msa/mdmanual/01glance/html/symbols/lyricsco.html

#9 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 06:37 PM:

John-

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was written for Meet Me In St. Louis so I would have to think its lyrics are canonical. I haven't seen the film, but it's WW II vintage, so I would think a certain WW II sensibility would inform it, and the lyrics to the songs for it.

#10 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 06:42 PM:

We are not as afflicted as you people (or the British, or the Irish, according to the Other Anna) by Christmas Carols. Though all of us have had to perfom "Tu scendi dalle stelle" in our childhood, preferably lined up in front of the school's, er, crib?, being therefore scarred for life by it. Anna informs me that it may well be the oldest Christmas Carol, and S. Francis is credited with writing it (as well as with inventing the crib itself. He was this artsy type, S. Francis). Thankfully, I am spared the chore of intoning it here. It will take a long while for me to shake it, though. Ack.

goes away muttering: (Tension, apprehension and dissension have begun...)

#11 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 06:44 PM:

Since I'm googlin': here's a link to a 2001 NPR piece on James Taylor's version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Apparently the 'hang a shining star' line was added by/for Frank Sinatra's version, in the '50s. And apparently James Taylor agrees with me about the preferability of the original line. So much the better for James Taylor...

#12 ::: Toni ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 06:44 PM:

I don't hate any of them if played/heard only once. But OMG, the overwhelming repetition, on every radio station, store audio system, sappy made-for-tv movie, etc., ad nauseam, until my teeth grind and I want only to pull the plug that would stop all of it.

Bah, humbug.

#13 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 06:52 PM:

John Chu - I think that the German lyrics to O Christmas Tree / O Tannenbaum klingt besser, but IMHO they're still pretty silly.

Ulrika - I've actually been singing little chunks of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas to myself for the last several days. It's an earworm I can live with.

Anna - The Germans like their Christmas music, too. The German version of Silent Night always moves me more than the English - even before I could understand any of the German.

#14 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 06:54 PM:

I really really don't like Christmas music. To me the worst of all is Hark the Herald Angels, mostly because it is the toughest to get out of my head. I'd quite happily lose the whole lot of them. (And by the way have a Merry Christmas, those for whom it is an appropriate wish.)

#15 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 06:55 PM:

Oh, and Anna, I think manger or crèche are the English words you're looking for...

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 07:04 PM:

Or "nativity scene."

#17 ::: Dori ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 07:17 PM:

If you're in the mood for holiday music that doesn't suck and isn't something you've heard seven billion times before, check out Soma FM's Xmas in Frisco. Not for the easily dismayed, but it's great for putting me in my preferred version of the spirit of the season.

#18 ::: DonBoy ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 07:17 PM:

For those who haven't seen _Meet Me in St. Louis_, you should know that the context is that the family is planning to move from their beloved St. Louis home -- I should say is being moved by their father. Everyone else is unhappy, especially the youngest girl, played by Margaret O'Brien, who's around 10. Teenage sister Judy Garland sings the song while little sister sobs quietly. And then the little girl --

You know, it's on Turner Classic Movies at 10 (ET, at least) tonight (12/24). You should check it out.

#19 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 07:24 PM:

"Six White Boomers". Hands down, no further play. Oh, if only I could.

#20 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 08:06 PM:

I’ve never been able to see why a snowed-upon Christmas should be more real than a rainy one.

Because it is not in the South Pacific when the song was new.

#21 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 08:07 PM:

Once, many years ago, while looking for Catholic church at midnight one Christmas Eve in Texas, on the only radio station I could find the disk jockey had apparently stepped out for a cup of holiday cheer after putting on a tape of eighteen different versions of The Little Drummer Boy, back to back.

It was brutal.

So I came up with this:

Mary snarled at me,
Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum
"I had the kid asleep,"
Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum
"You woke him up, you creep,"
Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum
Rum-pa-pum-pum
Rum-pa-pum-pum
"You and your drum."

#22 ::: Mark Wise ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 08:26 PM:

Christmas and commerce do odd things to music. Yesterday, Crate & Barrel (why? don't ask) was playing a full-on, up-tempo symphony setting of "Hallelujah" from The Messiah ... without a chorus. I guess the store thought the lyrics were potentially offensive but the notes, well, they couldn't hurt anyone. Yeesh. In the fantasy world where I'm brave and think much faster, I would have sung along. Loudly.

"Jingle Bell Rock" and "Rockin' Around the Xmas Tree," amen and good riddance!

A song I'd actually like to hear more of is "Fa-who-for-ays" (?) in the original "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." It's a lovely melody, but it goes by too quickly.

#23 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 08:27 PM:

Hark! The hairy angel sings,
Four jacks beats the three wise kings,
Aces high with deuces wild --
See how high the chips are piled.
Now at last I've won my fame,
Christ is beat at His own game,
Hark, the hairy angels sing,
Christ is cleaned of everything.

========

Good King Wenesclaus looked out
On the Feast of Stephen
Snowball hit him on the snout
Made it all uneven
Brightly shone his conk that night
Though the pain was cruel
When the doctor came in sight
Riding on a mu-u-le.

========

We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
And the vikings are here.
We want most of your presents
We want most of your presents
We want most of your presents
And all of your beer.
Good tidings we bring
To you from the Thing!
Good tidings of Christmas,
And we'll be back next year.

============

We three kings of Orient are
One in a taxi, one in a car,
One on a scooter,
Blowing his hooter,
Following yonder star.

============

Dashing through the fray
With a double-bitted axe,
O'er the field we go
Giving out great whacks.
Sword on helmets ring
Making sparks so bright
O what fun to laugh and sing
A slaying song tonight

Bash a helm, smash a helm
Kill a man today,
Ain't it fun to profit
While we pillage, loot, and slay?

=============

Mav'rick the lonely cowboy
Had a very shiny gun,
And if you ever saw it
You would surely turn and run.
All of the other cowboys
Used to laugh and call him names,
They wouldn't let poor Mav'rick
Join in any poker games.
Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Sheriff came to say,
"Mav'rick with your gun so bright
Won't you shoot my wife tonight?"
Then all the other cowboys
Laughed and shouted out with glee,
"Mav'rick the lonely cowboy,
We'll hang you from the highest tree."

============

#24 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 08:27 PM:

1. Jingle Bell Rock.

If I only get one, then that's it. Even the mention of it sets my teeth on edge. I've been known to walk out of a shop playing it and buy whatever I was after somewhere else. How I loathe that vapid piece of crap!

#25 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 08:40 PM:

Christmas time is here, by golly!
Disapproval would be folly.
Deck the halls with hunks of holly,
Fill the cup and don't say when!

Kill the turkeys, ducks, and chickens,
Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens.
Even though the prospect sickens,
Brother, here we go again!

-- Tom Lehrer

For me, the siren call of the Great Old Ones, summoning my feeble brain into madness, is "Frosty the Snowman", followed closely by "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". This year, one of the local shopping malls seems to have a continuous loop of "Frosty". Bleaugh.

Overall, I don't mind religious carols, even though it isn't my religion. It's *somebody's*, which is worth something. Older is better -- the Christmas Revels have some wonderful stuff. They even have a listenable version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas". (It's what's called a "penalty". Everybody gets a certain set of verses to sing. If you sing a verse that isn't yours or if you miss one that you should be singing, you "pay the penalty", which is usually taking a drink or removing an article of clothing. Much fun.)

And then there's the one that *everybody* likes ....

#26 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 08:42 PM:

I don't know what it was, but in a store the other day, I heard some fabulous surf-guitar covers of Christmas music. I don't know how it would age, but the first hearing was good.

#27 ::: Mark Wise ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 08:45 PM:

Brave Combo couldn't resist the siren pull of the season. Their Xmas disc includes "O, Christmas Tree," "Feliz Navidad," "The Christmas Song," "Jingle Bells," and "The Little Drummer Boy."

http://brave.com/bo/discography/itschris.htm

Might be worth the purchase price just to see if they truly have power over darkness.

#28 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 08:50 PM:

I have loads of Christmas music that doesn't suck; hundreds of tracks, including quite a few popular songs.

I also appear to have "Happy Holidays, Love Barney."

#29 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 09:05 PM:

You'd erase Christmas songs?

That's nothing. I'd erase Christmas.

(But (a) I am the Grinch, and (b) Hogmanay is a much better festival anyway.)

Me, I'm spending Christmas Day working. Have a nice one.

#30 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 09:09 PM:

The lyrics to "O Maryland" made me laugh so much everyone else came in, so I sang it to them.

Most hated would be a tie between John Lennon's "And so this is Christmas and what have we done..." and that awful "Wish I was at home for Christmas" which contains the incomparable line "Mary Bradley waits at home in the nuclear fallout zone", which always makes me snarl yes, when the men are done with the house they give the poor girl leave to be burned in it.

My favourite is "In Dulce Jubilo" with "Joy to the world" coming a close second, oh, and "Ti a Fethlehem Dref", but only in Welsh.

I was thinking about Christmas carols and Christianity this afternoon while wrapping presents, and I think there are three phrases that really do the Christmas thing for me -- "The hopes and fears of all the years", "Sing all ye citizens" and "Deep astounding joy".

How could anyone prefer Frosty the Snowman to deep astounding joy?

#31 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 09:19 PM:

Alex C., I think that was probably The Ventures' Christmas Album. I've heard bits of it all season.

#32 ::: Tom S ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 09:37 PM:

The Little Drummer Boy, far and away. It's anoying to the point that just listening to it can bring on a form of repetitive-motion disease.

Jeepers; all those poor studio musicians now suffering from Carpal-Tunnel syndrome because they were assured recoring a few takes of that excrable tune was "no big deal."

I believe Leonard Nimoy or William Shatner recorded an Exmass tune, but I can't recall what it was -- and (in this case)that my recall fails me I count as a blessing of the season.

My all go well and be well for you and yours.

#33 ::: Rich Boye ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 09:57 PM:

No, the 'Christmas Shoes' deserves to be No. 1. It's treacly, manipulative and appalling.

Whoever recorded it should be defenestrated.

#34 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 10:12 PM:

Well, I'll know not to play "Jingle Bell Rock" on the piano next time we meet, but without it, we'd have no "Christmas at Ground Zero" by Weird Al, which simply fucking rules, that's all. Anyway, I have far more agreements than disagreements with your list, and I'll leave it at that, because this post exists for one purpose and one purpose only. Let me digress.

I love Spike Jones. The first record I ever owned was "Omnibust," given to me when I was stuck at home with the mumps at age 6. I played that album to death and beyond. I still have that irreplaceable vinyl, complete with horrid scratches made with pins (hey! I can play this record with a pin!) and skips I can still mimic, and a half-inch tear at the edge. I remember how hard Mom and I tried to order a new stereo copy in 1970 and 1971. I have the tape I made in Ill Manor, where I not only guided the tonearm with my fingers for take after take -- sometimes just to get a single revolution -- but also had to put up with the emanations of the spastic clicking noises and squawks from the taxi company down the alley and the inane drivel of CBs stopping at the traffic light outside my window and having to tell the world, "I'm stopped at this here traffic light!" They all came through on the tape, and Cathy cringed and I cursed and rewound and went through it all again. Yeah, I have that tape too. I got a better tape from Bud years later, but I still have that one. I love Lindley Armstrong Jones (d 1965), me.

LP reissues, I have a dozen or more, including his "serious" side. 78s -- I broke more in my hapless teens than most people have seen, but I now have a fair number of ten-inchers, including the 9-disk set Gordon Garb scored for me at a garage sale and moved around the country until Cathy finally hooked up with him and flew back home with them. I could go on. The point is, you stated that you haven't heard Spike's version of "All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)" or whichever way the parentheses go. And you think that might be okay.

No. It should be the first one on the pile to throw in the air when someone yells "PULL!"

Spike always had the best instrumentalists. Have you ever heard of a talented trumpet player named George Rock? Large fellow? He also did some vocals for Spike. He has this horrid, slidey, sideways lisping falsetto with a seasick lilt. Within seconds of him starting, you'll be wondering how much more you can take before you have to run outside and hurt a child. The recording should be banned, as should any audio and video recordings of Rock's other vocal extravaganzas. He was on Jones's TV show. Oh yes. "All I Want" should be extirpated and future generations warned against bringing it back, and it's not even the worst thing Rock did with Jones. That would be "Wanna Buy A Bunny?" I will say no more.

#35 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 10:22 PM:

My personal murder list is:
1) Jingle Bell rock - Is there anyone, anywhere, who actually likes this?
2) Jingle Bells (Sleigh Ride?)
3) Little Drummer Boy - although I heard an instrumental version of this once that I could bear.
4) White Christmas.
5) Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer - okay, and I like Teresa's collective term "The Apocryphal Acts of Saint Nicholas" for the whole shebang of other songs in this detestable set, none of which, still, are as bad as this one.

I have observed that there are 3 kinds of carols that tend, as a genre, not to suck as much - but also not to get played as much. Humour ain't it - much as I love bits like the Arrogant Worms, it's only a step from overplay along with the novelty songs, even when it's patently opposing the spirit of the season.
1) Religious music.
2) The Grinch and all its songs. because I'm a sucker and that (The 22 minute animation, that is - as far as I'm concerned, the full length movie doesn't exist. Only seen segments - won't see more.) is my one guaranteed sappy cry for the season.
3) Songs that were written about winter or with a reference to Christmas but which were never released as "Christmas music", and don't get played as such, or at least very rarely. Someone made me a mix of this, which includes, among other things, Tori Amos' Winter, Linda Ronstadt's Winter Light, Loreena McKennit's Full Circle, and Sarah MacLachlan's Full of Grace. And some stuff more directly related to Christmas - Shawn Colvin's version of "In the Bleak Midwinter", which is a similar point to The Little Drummer Boy without the drums or the pa rum pa pum pum, for instance - but the feeling you get, the mood and tone, is about the same as you'd get with a surprisingly good Christmas album, and none of those above songs fail to fit with the mood even when the connection seems tenuous.

Although, sadly, I'm still a sucker for the music of the Nutcracker, and very occsaionally (Every several years only) I watch the ballet for the dancing - the *story* as performed is saccharine at best.

I do have to defend the Christmas Song - the Blind Boys of Alabama actually did a good rendition of a song I'm otherwise tired of. (And managed to seriously damage "oh Come All Ye Faithful".)

I still vote Heather Dale's This Endris Night as the best Christmas album I have to date. She tried to stick mostly to very aged carols (It's mis-advertised as a medieval/renaissance Chrsitmas collection), but didn't stick to very aged instrumentation. And I do like the Carnival band collections - I'd heard Steeleye Span got one out, but I ahve not seen it in stores, so it will ahve to be *Next* year's Christmas album.

#36 ::: cyclopatra ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 10:26 PM:

When I used to sing, we did a ton of lousy holiday gigs (we're talking singing in supermarkets here, although one year we did get flown in to a gorgeous resort, and put up in their executive guest house, to provide their entertainment), and our repertoire included some nice Christmas songs that weren't too cheesy (along with, unfortunately, the cheesy ones). I'm still fond of "I Saw Three Ships", and another one we did as a round that I've unfortunately forgotten the name of.

On an entirely unrelated topic, the "Bad Food" link in Particles made me think of James Lileks' Gallery of Regrettable Food, which is just painful and hilarious at the same time.

#37 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 10:29 PM:

James D. Macdonald, I think I love you. Thank you for those :-)

(says one of the heathens who was DONE, DONE, DONE with the holiday season three days ago and is now very impatient with waiting for everyone else to stop being crazy.)

#38 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 10:39 PM:

Yes, someone likes Jingle Bell Rock. I'm the guilty one. The stations and stores play it every year in their endless bids to encourage me to support them. If they only knew how much I like and could be influenced by Comfortably Numb.

#39 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 10:43 PM:

KIP! Jump! In 30+ years of record collecting, I've NEVER seen a copy of Omnibust on sale before.

#40 ::: Michael Walsh ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 10:44 PM:

Here's the lyrics to the Maryland state song: http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us/msa/mdmanual/01glance/html/symbols/lyrics.html

As for why Rob Hansen knew "Oh Maryland" well... look at the link for the lyrics. Blame Avedon.

And my choice for one song to be erased? "Grandma got run over by the reindeer". Boil it in oil, boil it in lead.

#41 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 10:55 PM:

Many and many a year ago, in another world, I took a schoolbus into school and back; we weren't quite the very last stop, but close, and in fact had to walk a considerable distance to get to the start of the laneway, which was itself about half a kilometer long.

One fine day was the cold after freezing rain; great massive lots of freezing rain, two inches of smooth ice on the (gravel) roads, and quite an impressive cold, so that the ice was a hard, ringing thing, not slick even where the sun fell full on it.

Which is probably why, not very far from our stop, the schoolbus wound up in the -- deep! -- ditch, quite abruptly but from a low velocity, so that nothing was particularly wrong except for the extreme degree of stuckness involving in being past axle deep in snow with a hard crust of ice on it, and the snow resting on ditch water frozen clean through, there being nothing in any of the these materials able to provide significant friction.

Now, the next farm past ours was owned by Cow George Cooch. (Though it may have been spelt 'Couch'. It was a long time ago.) This is important because while he and Horse George Cooch were some sort of cousins, Horse George had gone into llama and emu breeding, and Cow George had semi-retired, with his son running the dairy farm and George being free to persue his fondness for draft horses, which he kept at that neighbouring farm.

(I've had a score of so of young heavy horses come pelting down a long hill toward me at a dead run. They just wanted to say hello but it gives one an appreciation for Henry V; you really *do* feel it in your feet.)

George's response to the ice was to bring a big flat working sleigh out with an eight horse hitch, and pull the bus out of the ditch *sideways*.

The horses were all very excited -- they got to really *pull* something -- and George was delighted -- 'a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse' was clearly something he'd been wanting so good an excuse to say loudly for a long time -- and we got home not particularly late.

The two things I best remember are the horses stepping together, and the ice spalling away from the cleats in their shoes -- the bare concrete walkway they passed over spalled just the same -- and the sound of the sleighbells, as the whole apparatus of sleigh and horses jogged up the hill.

I can't stand Jingle Bells all the same, but there was something real there, however dimly seen -- that was freedom of movement, or the exhilaration of speed, or both together, not so very long ago.

#42 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 11:12 PM:

The only Xmas songs I can listen to--excepting those done at St.John's or by some Cambridge Choir (or, in the case of "Three Ships," Roger McGuinn) are "Christmas in Hollis" and "Christmas Wrapping." (Basic assumption that such efforts--word used advisedly--as "Do They Know It's Xmas" and "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"--are never going to be canonical, even for the UUs. Which unfortunately also probably includes Melissa Etheridge's "Christmas in America.")

Of course, I learned five Xmas songs, including "I Want a Hippopotamus," from a 7-inch Three Stooges EP, so meing willing to defend "Jingle Bell Rock" would be easy--it would just come from an indefensible position.

However, if we're allowing limited-edition releases, I may play "North Pole Fats" for the next person who expresses an appreciation of The Residents and wishes they would do a Xmas album.

#43 ::: Tayefeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 11:23 PM:

Personally, I vastly prefer white Christmasses to gray/green ones. White Christmasses are bright, which is important for those of us who would much rather be hibernating than dealing with family.

I'm fond of most carols, though I have the habit of trying to find pagan words for most of them, purely to annoy my in-laws. (And to remind them that their religion stole Sun Return.)

#44 ::: Tim Frayser ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 11:38 PM:

The Elmer Fudd version of "Blue Christmas" never fails to crack me up.

#45 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 11:56 PM:

My English grandmother was once at the church hall, with her children, when the vicar was playing a medley of Christmas songs on the piano. When he got to O Tannenbaum, she said in puzzlement "That's the tune to The People's Flag!"
I enjoy singing it quietly to muzak versions.
So raise the scarlet standard high / Beneath its shade we'll live and die / Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer / We'll keep the red flag flying here.

And I hate to admit it, but I too am moved by Little Drummer Boy, though not quite to tears. That is reserved for Two Little Boys, the Rolf Harris version. Thankfully that isn't played at Christmas, or I'd be a mess.


#46 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2004, 11:58 PM:

Oh, man -- $60? Is this not an auction? I don't see a time limit, just a "buy it now" price of sixty dollars. Cathy's asleep. I'll have to think about this.

Anyway. I like "Jingle Bells"; the modern version to hum or play on a keyboard, and the original, odd-sounding version to hear on the radio two times a year or so. As to Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride," I don't sit around and listen to anyone else do it, but I dearly love to play it on the piano. I love going around those corners and taking those notes with my fingers. And I like the sound it makes as my fingers dance. Meredith Willson's cornball tune doesn't bother me. Maybe I got to like it when we performed it in grade school -- familiarity tends to breed comfort in me. Some of my favorite music was actually drummed into me by my older sisters. Perhaps as part of a science experiment, I'm not sure. I'll put Silver Bells and The Christmas Song in this category. I hated Mel Torme at first. "White Christmas" is okay when Bing sings it, though I actually acquired a taste for it late in life, from Cathy.

"Let it Snow" is notable because I thought of doing a Star Trek:TNG filk on it called "Make It So." Fill in the details yourself. ("Make it so, Number One, Make it so." That's as much as I'll go.) Wow. Now that I look at this list, I can see I'm quite a sap. Heh. I ought to shut up!

Wait, here's what the Christmas Song section of my White Book (the vocal half of my traveling music) consists of: "Rise Up, Shepherd," "O Holy Night," and "The Birthday of a King." Oh, and "Jingle Bell Rock," all the way at the back of the book. I'm guessing I stuck it in there one Christmas, just to be ready, and left it in because one of its pages has the start of "Palisades Park" on it.

#47 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 12:16 AM:

Okay, I am a sloppy sentimentalist (I suspect Teresa knows this). I like most Christmas Carols (as opposed to Christmas songs) pretty well, particularly when they're instrumental. And I tend to favor the less popular ones, like "On This Day Earth Shall Ring" over "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." All of A Charlie Brown Christmas is sacred in our household, as is all the music from Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol," which we watched this evening before shoveling the young toward their rooms. (Actually, I'd get rid of "Winter Was Cold" from the score, but that's just me.)

However. I really hate "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," this despite the fact that both the kids have played Rudolph in preschool performances. Johnny Marks, who wrote the damned song, was married to one of my mother's best friends. And he was an unpleasant man who made a fortune from writing Christmas songs; every year with their Christmas card would come a new recording (a 45. God, I'm old) of "Rudolph." So I hate it. No negotiation.

I must add that, were I a sales clerk in one of those stores where they have tinny animatronic gadgets that play Christmas songs when a button is pushed, stationed near the checkout registers, I would be about ready to kill someone by this time of year.

#48 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 12:24 AM:

Don't forget Jethro Tull's kinda preachy "Christmas Song":

Once in royal david’s city stood a lonely cattle shed,
Where a mother held her baby.
You’d do well to remember the things he later said.
When you’re stuffing yourselves at the christmas parties,
You’ll just laugh when I tell you to take a running jump.
You’re missing the point I’m sure does not need making
That christmas spirit is not what you drink.

So how can you laugh when your own mother’s hungry,
And how can you smile when the reasons for smiling are wrong?
And if I just messed up your thoughtless pleasures,
Remember, if you wish, this is just a christmas song.

(hey! santa! pass us that bottle, will you? )

#49 ::: Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 12:31 AM:

I'm not fond of Rudolph and Jingle Bells, but I like most of those sappy old Christmas songs. I like the cozy imagery of chestnuts roasting on an open fire (I love that smell, I love chestnets, I love open fires....) and I love Nat King Cole's voice on the version we had at home.

I like the snow songs, too, mostly. Which is about as close as I get to snow most years, alas.

#50 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 12:40 AM:

Here's the best explanation I've seen for the different lyrics to "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," from NPR, in discussing James Taylor's then [2001] new Christmas album:

In the '50s, Sinatra had the line "Hang a shining star upon the highest bow" inserted in place of the darker, original line "Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow." Taylor, though, wanted to stay faithful to the Meet Me in St. Louis tone: "I always sort of thought of this song with these lyrics from the movie," he said. "And it resonates more with me this way, with the sort of sadder, more melancholy lyrics. I like it better."

As for songs to drop, my vote (or one of them) goes to "Holly Jolly Christmas." Followed by Sir Paul's inane "Wonderful Christmastime."

#51 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 12:56 AM:

I'm calling a special dispensation condition...being Jewish, I want to vape "I Have A Little Dreidel" (or Adam Sandler's insanity) so some people get exposed to good Chanukkah music. Ma'oz Tzur (Rock of Ages) or Light One Candle are what I'm fond of.

And Teresa: I like "Joy To The World" too, but I prefer Three Dog Night. *grin*

#52 ::: JerryN ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 12:57 AM:

Call me a sap, but I like a lot of the Tin Pan Alley Christmas songs, as well as the tradition carols and songs. It sort of depends on which version, though. The Roches' Christmas album has been one of my favorites for a long time. Then, of course, there's Ella Fitzgerald singing White Christmas and The Christmas Song, Dinah Washington singing Silent Night, etc. Oh, and Earl Scrugg's take on Jingle Bells is kind of amusing. Wilie Nelson doing Please Come Home For Christmas isn't half bad either.

Yeah, I'm a sap.

#53 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 01:20 AM:

Jim -- to go along with your list, here's the summary version of something I heard in a Music&Cultures distribution course:

We three kings of orient are
Tried to smoke a rubber cigar
It was loaded, and exploded -- Poof!
We two...
We one...
Silent night .....


Lightning: it's usually "forfeit", not "penalty". (I was in the early Revels and several of the predecessors, although not the Dustin Hoffman appearance....)

cyclopatra: as one still doing that, my sympathies.

wrt which, Teresa: imagine having to \rehearse/ "Sleigh Ride", or "Little Drummer Boy", or ... well enough to perform it! And I can't even grumble wholeheartedly, because here are enough people who will pay to hear that sort of thing that it subsidizes the orchestral concerts. And there's this only-half-bad version of "Jingle Bells" -- imagine treating it the way Lehrer treated "Clementine". OTOH, we do get to do the Parker/Shaw arrangements of some of the old favorites -- the first time I picked up the burgundy book and went through my Nth version of "Masters in This Hall" the hindbrain made growly approving noises, recognizing something it had heard when we were in small single digits. And the other chorus's theme was French, which was more interesting even if we again did the Ukrainian bell carol, which may the the most overexposed old\&/obscure piece in the repertory.

#54 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 02:04 AM:

If it's after 1741, I probably loathe it.

But even for Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, there are pallatives:

Incipit gestis Rudolphi rangifer tarandus

Hwæt, Hrodulf readnosa hrandeor --
Næfde þæt nieten unsciende næsðyrlas!
Glitenode and gladode godlice nosgrisele.
Ða hofberendas mid huscwordum hine gehefigodon;
Nolden þa geneatas Hrodulf næftig
To gomene hraniscum geador ætsomne.
Þa in Cristesmæsseæfne stormigum clommum,
Halga Claus þæt gemunde to him maðelode:
"Neahfreond nihteage nosubeorhtende!
Min hroden hrædwæn gelæd ðu, Hrodulf!"
Ða gelufodon hira laddeor þa lyftflogan --
Wæs glædnes and gliwdream; hornede sum gegieddode
"Hwæt, Hrodulf readnosa hrandeor,
Brad springð þin blæd: breme eart þu!"

Explicit

Philip Craig Chapman-Bell, via Catherine Ball.

#55 ::: Will Shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 02:52 AM:

"The Little Drummer Boy" rocks. I'm anteing Bing Crosby and David Bowie. What've you got?

I will grant that the classic version is hardly the best, and Bing and Dave's isn't either. Brave Combo's is nice, and I wish I could track down the one that I heard the other night that put a break in my voice.

There's a lot of story packed into a few lines. If I ever write anything half as good, I'll be proud.

It's also got a pretty good take on Christmas: Give what you've got. Now, you could argue that that's an artist's take on Christmas, because the adult Jesus seemed to think you should be giving your goods as well as your art. But the "poor boy" line makes it pretty clear that was about all that the kid had. Maybe he didn't give as much as the old woman at the temple with two mites, but he did pretty good.

Having said all that, I have to admit that I suspect the baby Jesus's smile meant he had gas. But I hope no one tells that to the drummer boy.

#56 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 03:26 AM:

Merry Christmas, Darling. As much as I love Karen Carpenter's voice, she couldn't save that one.

Hey, merry christmas, NHs

#57 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 03:31 AM:

Alex Cohen and Linkmeister: the surf rock Christmas music in question may have been the Ventures, but it might also have been The Blue Hawaiians' Christmas on Big Island. Merry Christmas!

#58 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 03:32 AM:

James, that Good King Wenceslas cries out to be used in a Mummer's Play.

We Three Kings is wonderful to sing if one gets the Myrrh verse -- even my 10 yr old niece knows that's the verse to grab! Can you tell I'm just back from a party that included singing classic carols?

A lot of these are really awful to listen to, but secretly very pleasant to sing, particularly with other amateurs -- how often do we really get to sing with others for our own enjoyment? Singing is a very different experience than listening.

#59 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 04:00 AM:

A Merry Christmas to you and to Patrick, Teresa. So suffused with the solstice spirit am I that I won't even complain you spelled my name wrong.

Now I'm off to put the big bird in the oven. We have Jordin and Mary Kay staying this year but the bird is the same size as when it's just me and Avedon. No point getting a turkey unless it lasts you a week, I always say.

#60 ::: cyclopatra ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 04:05 AM:

CHip: As much as I loathed the whole singing-by-the-frozen-meats thing, I miss it as well. Quitting smoking on New Year's, hopefully to have a halfway decent voice again in a year or so. I never intended to go pro, but I miss it desperately as a pastime.

#61 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 04:25 AM:

Jo: the line 'Wish I could be home for Christmas' is from Jona Lewie's Stop the Cavalry, which is definitely one of my favourite Christmas songs. Yes, the lyrics are kludgy, but the central image of cold wet soldiers through the centuries, away from home and loved ones, being ordered around by warm rich people for dubious purposes, is a good one.

Jim:

We Three Kings of Orient are, wearing knickers, tuppence a pair. How fantastic, no elastic, not very safe to wear. (star of wonder, star of light, sit on a box of dynamite, light the fuse and off we go, blast our way to Mexico).

This one encapsulates, in four lines, the whole of UK culture circa 1970: While shepherds washed their socks by night all watching ITV, the angel of the Lord came down and switched to BBC.

Marianne contributes: Little donkey, little donkey, we're sorry that you're dead, little donkey, little donkey, we've barbecued your head.

#62 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 05:56 AM:

some comments:
I don't know what Pa-rump-pa-bleeding-pump means, but it doesn't sound good.

All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth). i remember when i first heard it, i was so disappointed because i had always imagined it being sung by tom waits and being about having the shit kicked out of you by santa claus.


" I’ve never been able to see why a snowed-upon Christmas should be more real than a rainy one."
i forgive you.

"Sleigh Ride/Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!/Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland. Apparently sleighbells, fireplaces, and bad weather have an aphrodisiac effect on Northeasterners...."

i am looking out my window at the sunny day where all the snow from yesterday melted, and thinking this is the fault of global warming and blaming george bush. and i am not at all turned on, so right there we can see that your anti-snow philosophy is wrong and evil.

" Silver Bells. I live in a city. Do you live in a city? Have you ever heard these supposed bells? No? I haven’t either. So what the hell is this guy on about?"
the salvation army.

"It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. "
I love singing this when it's snowing in february.

"The Apocryphal Acts of Saint Nicholas" you seem to have forgotten grandma got run over by a reindeer.

"Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. Unless sung by Bruce Springsteen." the worst song he ever did.

#63 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 06:45 AM:

I'm going to have to go with Ulrika here. I'm a big fat sucker for "Little Drummer Boy."

Really, there are very few Christmas songs I can't stand, except for some of the novelties. Jingle Bells may be cliche', but every time I hear it it reminds me of driving home late at night from Maryland after celebrating Christmas with my grandmother, aunts, and uncles, singing carols to stay awake.

#64 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 07:07 AM:

I'm going to go with Ulrika here: Little Drummer Boy may be sappy and overplayed, but I'm a big damn sucker for it.

And Jingle Bells always reminds me of coming home from my aunt's house on Christmas Day, with the world dark and frosty outside, and my family singing Christmas carols to stay awake.

#65 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 07:12 AM:

Argh. My browser crashed, I came back to check that it hadn't posted, it wasn't there... damn you, internets!

#66 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 07:18 AM:

by the way, you'll have to excuse my grammar impaired commenting style, as the keyboard i have at home drops keys and tends to refuse capitalization.

#67 ::: Stephen Sample ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 07:29 AM:

Oh, and Jon H's mention of Jethro Tull's Christmas Song reminds me to put in a vote for Ewan McColl's Moving On Song (Go! Move! Shift!). And Christo ya Nacio is lovely as well. Need to add them both to my Christmas playlist...

#68 ::: Bjorn ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 07:33 AM:

I love them most of them. The major exeception is Little Drummer Boy.
The three best Christmas songs for me are O Holy Night as sung by Jussi Björling, Queen's Thank God It's Christmas and of course Fairytale of New York

#69 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 07:49 AM:

Most of my "must be killed" list has already been hit, with one exception. Some of my favorite Christamases growing up were in Germany in the late 60's' as I was a sucker for white Decembers and trips to Christkindlmarkt after growing up in Louisiana. The one exception to this was Heintje, an apparently 12 year old singer that could not be escaped, especially at Christmas in those years. This stuff is strictly fingernails across a blackboard to me, and I still have fantasies of skeet shooting at copies of Weinachten mit Heintje. In Hell, they play Kling, Glockchen, Kling over and over again.

On the positive side, I do favor the Wexford Carol, expecially when sung by Nanci Griffith, and Shawn Colvin's Holiday Songs and Lullabies is good too. Add some medieval music, Gabrielli, John Rutter, and John Tavener and stir.

#70 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 08:07 AM:

Whoa. Was just coming to this to note down that there was a documentary about a Christmas song that sounded pretty good, by The Pogues & the lamented Kirsty McColl on right now on SBS in Sydney when I noticed Teresa had already mentioned it as one she didn't mind. "Curses, foiled again!". Shane MacGowan's remaining teeth & voice are worth a study in themselves.
Can I bring y'all the news that it's been voted Best Christmas Song by certain British TV viewers this year? www.chartattack.com/damn/2004/12/1603.cfm

My small household is having a very quiet Christmas Day -- we neither have energy right now for a big splash -- and preparing to watch the start of the Sydney-Hobart race on Boxing Day. For weeks now the blades of the big maxi-yachts have been carving through Sydney Harbour and environs, enlivening my occasional ferry trips.

#71 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 08:14 AM:

Several years ago, there was a BBC Radio 1 DJ who played an album of novelty Christmas tunes every year. The one which sticks in my memory to this day was one called "Walking 'Round in Women's Underwear", sung to the tune of "Walking in a Winter Wonderland". Always brings a smile to my face when I hear "Winter Wonderland".

Ah, well, can't avoid the family any longer... Have a merry one, and I hope next year is less sucky than this one.

#72 ::: Cat ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 08:15 AM:

I would eliminate 'Rocking around the Christmas tree', 'Jingle Bell Rock' and 'White Christmas'.

Oh, and I can't believe no one's mentioned yet 'Mistletoe and Wine' by Cliff Richard! I think it has to be my #1 choice.

I can bear pretty much all traditional carols (especially the pre-Victorian ones), but could do without Little Drummer Boy. And the best version of 'Twelve Days of Christmas' is the Frank Kelly one!

#73 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 08:17 AM:

For the last few years, the Christmas album that's gotten heaviest play here at Chez Baugh is Projekt Records' Excelsis: A Dark Noel. This is a set of mostly traditional Christmas standards covered by goth and ethereal bands, and it's got some great work on it - the performances are intelligent and respectful. I cut out a few tracks for my personal playlist, but not many, and the rest are a real delight.

#74 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 08:55 AM:

Patrick just put on some prime holiday music:

Inspiration, move me brightly
Light the song with sense and color
Hold away despair
More than this I will not ask
Faced with mysteries dark and vast
Statements just seem vain at last...
I'm too old to apologize for what I love.

Tayefeth, you can sing Meum est propositum in taberna mori to the tune of "Good King Wenceslas," and impress everyone who thinks songs sung in Latin must necessarily be religious.

Graydon, I believe you're the only person I know who has direct personal knowledge of horse-drawn sleighs. I can easily imagine that they're way cool, if your normal transportation is limited to carriages, farm carts, and the occasional ride in a railway car. It's just that when you're a kid living in the desert, you get tired of hearing about other people's bad weather. Also, I can well believe that you had white Christmases, and people in Wisconsin and Minnesota do the same; but New York is where all those songs got published, and do you know how often you see white Christmases here? I'm not sure I've seen more than one or two, and I've been here since 1984. Actually, I'm not sure I've seen any.

Kip, that sounds ... not quite priceless. As in, you'd pay money not to hear it. But it does sound like the appropriate arrangement for that song.

Jo:

I was thinking about Christmas carols and Christianity this afternoon while wrapping presents, and I think there are three phrases that really do the Christmas thing for me -- "The hopes and fears of all the years", "Sing all ye citizens" and "Deep astounding joy".

How could anyone prefer Frosty the Snowman to deep abounding joy?

No idea. I have no idea. How can they prefer "The Christmas Shoes" to "O Holy Night" or "Adam Lay Ybounden" or "Dona Nobis Pacem"?

I love your selection of lines there.

Lightning: "Deck Us All with Boston Charlie" has been ceremoniously posted to Particles; thank you. I resonate with your "Even though it isn't my religion, it's *somebody's*, which is worth something." I'd far rather hear someone else's religious music than tripe like "Jingle Bell Rock."

Charlie, you want to get rid of Christmas, spend the day working, and celebrate Hogmanay instead? Man, I knew you were living there, but I didn't realize you'd gone native.

Jim, those songs are fab. The only one I knew was "Mav'rick the Lonesome Cowboy," which we always sang as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Cowboy" -- all hail the oral tradition.

Clark, I can't parse that sentence. Best of the holiday season to you, too.

Dave Luckett, I can see how that would be loathsome, but what's a boomer?

Anna: When I Google on "Tu scendi dalle stelle," it tells me the music's by Alphonsus Liguori and the words are by Pio Nonno. That sounds scary. Is it the same song?

(Here Teresa fell asleep, and when she awoke, wandered off to bed without hitting "post".)

#75 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 09:29 AM:

Teresa: and you say Nat King Cole recorded "All I Want For Christmas (teeth)"? If anybody could save a song... well, I've said this: If he was alive, and he was the leader of a crazy nut cult, and he sang everything, I'd probably join.

Some here will have seen this already, so instead of quoting it I'll link to my own favorite snowman song, in the spirit of the season. Note: some stabbing.

And from the same Bag O Tricks (tm) but without so much bloodshed, my very own well-nigh interminable Canterbury Carol, keyed in an obsessed afternoon at the beginning of the year now crawling off to the Old Years' Home.

Sarah, I should add, opened and opened and opened this morning. Opened more than her total mass in presents. What a trooper -- she circled the tree looking for more when the last present was gone. She is the spirit of Christmas present.

Things ain't so bad.

#76 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 09:33 AM:

Well, I'd just like to say that many of these songs aren't bad if done well -- i.e. not in flat, rhythmically ironed, sappy arrangements. In particular "The Little Drummer Boy" works a lot better if accompanied by doumbeks and tambourines, with a percussion break before (or during) the third verse. (People always make this joke about me (this year I got the "Little Drummer Boy Award"), whenever I play in a Christmas concert, and I always pretend to be hearing it for the first time, and to find it wonderfully amusing.)

And the ORIGINAL version of "Sleigh Ride" isn't bad...it's an instrumental, and the lyrics were tacked on later. And boy does it show!

"Adeste Fideles" and "O Tannenbaum" and "Stille Nacht" should always be sung in the original languages, never in English. This improves them enormously, especially if you don't understand those languages...

By the way, "O Tannenbaum," like "Deck the Halls," never mentions Christmas at all (in the original -- I'm not responsible for lyrics written, rewritten, or mistranslated later), and I claim it as a Yule song. I'm told that "Good King You-Know-Who" was originally a French spring carol, which explains the lameness of the English lyrics -- which are also theologically appalling according to my Christian friends (blessing the poor will NOT, contrary to the song's lyrics, get a wealthy man into Heaven). I take their word for it.

Yesterday, I dove for the Mute button when JessiChristinAvril (I can't be bothered distinguishing) came on the TV singing "O Holy Night" -- which is not a carol, but a Christmas piece meant for a well-trained voice, which none of these bimbi has. BTW, Fred Kuhn wrote this:

O holy shit, the snow is softly falling;
This is a night to go straight home to bed.
Vitamin C, says Doctor Linus Pauling,
Is just the thing for that cold in your head.
A toke, a smoke, a friendly glass awaiting
Just one more block, just one more street to cross...
Fall on your knees,
Your rear, or just go sprawling,
O night supine
O night when ice was formed...
And also, the Roches Christmas album has some great stuff on it, including the only non-repellent version of "Frosty the Snowman" I've ever heard. A bunch of actual children sing the choruses, and the Roches themselves sing in thick NJ accents...it ends with
In your Easter bonnet,
With the ribbons on it,
You'll be the only snowman at the Easter Parade!

#77 ::: gesso ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 09:43 AM:

Having worked in a department store at Christmas, I can assure you that *all* songs, no matter how delightful, become nails-down-the-blackboard awful when sung by motion-sensitive animatronic snowmen or electronic cards. Especially when little kiddies think it's fun to jump up and down in front of the snowman or open the card repeatedly while parents/grandparents do the shopping...

The song on my Most Hated list is a variation on 'Jingle Bell Rock', only more frenetic, and with different lyrics, and thank God I can't find said lyrics on the internet. Maybe that means no one has officially recorded it, though it's managed to weasel its way into the local Christmas play...hmm, lessee, at least seven years running, despite having no redeeming features whatsoever. And every time I hear it, I want to run, or scream (or both), but instead end up just standing there cringing and waiting for the torture to cease.

"Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock,
Time is tickin' on that Christmas clock
Come on! It's Christmas time!..."
*shudder*

There are other songs on that list, including a Rolf Harris song that I just heard for the first time and would kill never to hear again. I'm with you, Dave - I don't care how un-Australian it is, I'm not singing a song about six white boomers... (Teresa - a "boomer" is a male kangaroo; females are called flyers).

My favourite Christmas song, on the other hand, is 'O Holy Night' as she is sung in my own head. Closest real-world version is Rickie Lee Jones and the Chieftains, even though Rickie sounds somewhat sloshed. There are worse ways to sound when singing Christmas songs :).

#78 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 10:14 AM:

To my intense chagrin, there's a rather large number of more modern songs to which I simply can't recall the original words. 'Walking 'round in women's underwear' - 'I'm dreaming of a (Bob) White Christmas'[0] - O Tannenbaum became 'Oh Tom the Toad' at some point during grade school.

There's a horrible trend in Christmas music this year that seems to involve covers of already trite and dreadful songs in genres that are seldom done well to begin with. If I was a suspicious sort, I might think that somebody with a sick sense of humour managed to slip the idea (along with the vodka martinis) to some impressionable recording executives.

As far as good Christmas music goes? The Anglican nine lesons and carols service (especially from Westminster) is astoundingly lovely - and listening to 'In the bleak midwinter' sung by the achingly pure voice of a boy treble into the high vaults is bone chilling.

[0] Bob White was the leader of the Canadian Auto Workers union, and rather fond of going on strike. The song includes lines like 'may your strikes be merry and bright'.

#79 ::: Lester Estremera ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 10:27 AM:

I tend to like any kind of Christmasy music. There are so many things to object to today in the world, the least of my worries is the proliferation of winter season songs generally meant to give us some holiday cheer.

#80 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 11:38 AM:

xopher: I recall a footnote to "Wenceslaus" saying the tune was originally "Tempus Adest Floream" (sic???), so calling it a Spring song is plausible.

#81 ::: Beth Meacham ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 11:52 AM:

I love all the old traditional carols, if sung by choirs. Hate the tin-pan-alley songs, which are always about commerce or false sentiment. Unless they're sung with heart and irony, a la Bruce.

But my favorite Christmas music is medieval. It's not Christmas for me without The Play of Herod. Which incidentally commemorates a part of the Christmas story that gets overlooked a lot.

#82 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 11:58 AM:

CHip: I looked it up on the net; apparently it's actually "Tempus Adest Floridum." Here are some lyrics:

Tempus adest floridum, surgent namque flores
Vernales in omnibus, imitantur mores
Hoc quod frigus laeserat, reparant calores
Cernimus hoc fieri, per multos labores.

Sunt prata plena floribus, iucunda aspectu
Ubi iuvat cernere, herbas cum delectu
Gramina et plantae hyeme quiescunt
Vernali in tempore virent et accrescunt.

Haec vobis pulchre monstrant Deum creatorem
Quem quoque nos credimus omnium factorem
O tempus ergo hilare, quo laetari libet
Renovato nam mundo, nos novari decet.

Terra ornatur floribus et multo decore
Nos honestis moribus et vero amore
Gaudeamus igitur tempore iucundo
Laudemusque Dominum pectoris ex fundo.

There's an English "translation" on the site, but it rhymes and scans, which makes me strongly doubt its accuracy. Any of you Latinists want to have a go at a meaning-accurate translation?

#83 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 12:18 PM:

Gesso wrote: I'm with you, Dave - I don't care how un-Australian it is, I'm not singing a song about six white boomers... (Teresa - a "boomer" is a male kangaroo; females are called flyers).

Hrm. My guesses were either "Baby boomer"-- and doing anything with six white ones would be problematic-- or "boomer" as in "submarine carrying nuclear missiles," which I figured was a tie-in to Christmas at Ground Zero.

#84 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 12:56 PM:

Teresa --

I can understand not wanting to hear about other people's bad weather, though thinking of snow as bad weather is going to take me a modicum of cognitive re-alignment. (No snow = drought in spring. It's the driving sleet and the freezing rain and the howling, life-stealing wind that are the bad weather; snow is a good thing, especially from the nineteenth century agrarian bias suitable to most of that era's carols.)

And, well, for me, Yuletide is about blood on the snow, faith in the return of the warm sun held in the chill darkness, and staying up all night to see if this night is the night the giants come, because the Wolf is loosed and all things have come in time to die.

Christmas music I especially and particularly like, well --

The Barra MacNeils' version of, Christmas Comes But Once a Year --


Home then to the laden table
handed fruits and pints of beer
whisky handed round in tumblers
Christmas comes but once a year!

Much in the character of a "we're not going to freeze in the dark" song.

(The Barra MacNeils do Auld Lang Syne, too, on the same "Christmas album", intelligibly, elegantly, and with the entire lyrics, but that isn't properly a Christmas song.)

Pretty much all of the Loreena McKennitt CD "To Drive the Cold Winter Away", which is traditional carols recorded in old churches, in a style quite unlike Ms. McKennitt's other music. (To the extent that there are old churches in Ontario, at the very least.) Particularly The King done as four (?) part harmony, and Good King Wensclas from "A Winter Garden", a short (five track) CD on a similar theme.

The Irish Descendants have a Christmas CD, called "The Gift"; it does have a version of "The Little Drummer Boy" on it, but it has also got a rendition of "The Wassail Song" that is much to my taste.

#85 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 01:05 PM:

Delete without mercy? Any Christmas song as done by Pat Boone or other bland treacle-meisters of the Fifties and Sixties.

The lyric that always runs through my head at this time of year is: "We wish you a merry Christmas/ And please buy our beer." Stan Freeburg? (May have got that name wrong. I've been online so long this morning, the brain is getting fried.) Some of the latest crop of TV ads outdo that one in blatant, shameless commerciality.

"Jingle Bell Rock" is acceptable when sung by The Christmas Jug Band, in a sloshed-sounding performance that includes the voice of Dan Hicks. Their most memorable CD title, incidentally, is "Mistletoe Jam" (while the cover art of "Uncorked" is priceless). As for "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)", it's the only less-than-delightful cut on the Turtle Island String Quartet's "By the Fireside" CD -- which includes flamboyantly melancholic (to these ears) Yiddish song "By the Fireside", some Praetorius, Tchaikovsky and Bach, and "Winter" from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" rearranged into fascinating modern instrumentals (e.g. "Texas Rain").

#86 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 01:21 PM:

Hark...

Reminds me... Many years ago, when I was a grad student, there was a Christmas-time competition in the grad student dorm-- come up with a pun on the title of a Christmas carol that involves the name of a fish. The two winning entries were 'Shark, The Herald Angels Sing' and 'Little Tuna Bethlehem".

#87 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 01:39 PM:

Sense translation -- It's the time of growth and flowers, everything is starting to bloom, praise God we got through winter!

#88 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 01:54 PM:

I'm listening very happily to Peter Paul and Mary's Carry It On box set. Good music for any time.

Kip, Sarah's not that big, she could easily get presents that outweigh her. Jill thinks I probably shouldn't have sent what I did, but I figure you're a musician and she might want to join in. Feel free to hide it if Jill's right.

#89 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 02:00 PM:

Thanks for the lovely story, by the way, Graydon.

#90 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 02:08 PM:

I. 10. Blue Christmas. Maudlin and dreary, an exercise in self-pity.

Even as sung by Porky Pig.

*****

II. Having worked for a number of years in retail (a small family-owned flea market stand), I loathe almost all Christmas music that gets airplay. Consequently, most of the religious stuff, and most of the noncanonical versions, are less objectionable.

What I really want, of course, is the original pagan lyrics to "The Holly and the Ivy" -- and some way to document their pre-Christian origins.

*****

III. The single worst aspect of Christmas music, though, is how many folks who claim to be Christian are incapable of singing it because they don't know the lyrics. Saturday Night Live's skit with Elliot Gould as the yeshiva coach receiving the basketball league championship trophy from St. Mickey's Knights of Columbus, none of whom can get past the first line or two while Gould keeps going like the Energizer Bunny, is the classic statement on the subject.

*****

Here's hoping Hanukkah Harry brought you all LOTS of nice sweaters and socks (and tucked your digital cameras, iPods, and other cool stuff safely inside!).

#91 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 03:15 PM:

P&T: If listening to Terrapin put you in the mood for more, here's a bit of the pure quill (suitable as a prelude to viewing the ROTK extended DVD).

There's also a good deal more, from the same source.

#92 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 04:08 PM:

I like most Christmas carols, even though I'm an agnostic. I prefer them in Latin or German however.

There's only one good version of "Mary's Boy Child" (Harry Belafonte's) and, sadly, about 40 really awful versions, including (I'm not kidding) a disco version.

If you aren't also sick of variants on "A Christmas Carol," see if you can dig up an LP of "The Stingiest Man in Town." It was done on TV in the '50s. One of the scariest versions of Scrooge you'll ever hear. Jacob Marley's "I Wear a Chain..." still gives me goosebumps.

#93 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 04:15 PM:

Marilee, the drums are in use right now. They have been a helpful prop in getting both of us doing the same thing -- I can play the piano while she plays the bongos, or she can play the piano while Cathy bongos, or other combinations.

When we did "Company" at CNU last year, I didn't have a lot to do during "The Little Things." The choreographer had me sitting cross-legged on the stage left platform, so I pretended to play bongos one night, and she arranged for me to get real ones, and even get some coaching from a percussionist. It is a wonderful, wonderful thing to be able to sit on stage and act like a doof with bongo drums in front of audiences. It's worth any number of hard rehearsals, and it's worth learning really tricky lyrics and tap dance steps. It was bongo-riffic.

#94 ::: lovesick alien ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 05:59 PM:

Well -- as usual, I am in the minority on this one [quelle surprise!]. My usual musical snobbishness seems to somehow disappear for a few days at this time of year, and almost all of your 20 are amongst my favorites.

Heh.

Xmas songs I DON'T want to hear: virtually anything recorded post-1970. Since so few contemporary artists are actually decent singers, I'd prefer NOT to hear them mangle or over-sing the standards.

I guess if there was only ONE song I didn't ever need to hear again, it would be "Have A Holly Jolly Christmas" -- or for that matter ANY Burl Ives - but that reflects more on my loathing of Ives than anything else.

I never get tired of Felix Navidad or Rockin' Round The Xmas Tree.

But thats' just me.

#95 ::: lovesick alien ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 06:04 PM:

I guess I should add that I would rather have my eyes poked out with sharp sticks than EVER listen to Sara McLachlan, The Bare-Naked Ladies or The Pogues -- so that should give you some idea of my predilections.

Oh and I also love all the hymns you reference, but I thought we were talking about songs -- as in non-sacred.

Nick in Florida

#96 ::: Steve Burnett ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 06:34 PM:

Kip, any time I'm looking for rare music I tend to hit http://www.gemm.com/ which I think of as sort of abebooks for music.
I searched for Omnibust for you, so if the ebay auction goes away, there's other copies. Like ebay, the dealers on gemm vary in reliability.

(Usual disclaimer: I use but don't gain any benefit from anyone else using gemm, not a dealer there, etc. etc.)

And Teresa, the Soma.fm "Xmas in Frisco" netradio channel that Dori recommended earlier just played "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas".

#97 ::: gesso ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 07:27 PM:

Stephan Zielinski wrote: Hrm. My guesses were either "Baby boomer"-- and doing anything with six white ones would be problematic-- or "boomer" as in "submarine carrying nuclear missiles," which I figured was a tie-in to Christmas at Ground Zero.

Yeah, out of context the "boomers" thing would give anyone problems. 'Six White Boomers' is about a little joey who's lost his mummy, and Santa comes to help him find her; the chorus hinges on the otherwise-commendable notion that in the Southern Hemisphere Santa's reindeer get a break and six white kangaroos pull the sleigh (commendable, that is, unless you start asking questions like "how do kangaroos fit into harnesses? Wouldn't all that jumping make a really jerky ride? And where did he get *one* white kangaroo, let alone six?" Or, of course, simply "Why?")

And yes, I will throttle anyone who starts singing it.

#98 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 07:30 PM:

Jeez, did Burl Ives burn down an orphanage or something?

#99 ::: Laurie Sefton ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 07:39 PM:

Alex--the "surf guitar" Christmas music is by Gary Hoey. He's done at least three CDs of Christmas music, and they all age quite nicely.

Christmas songs that drive me around the bend--anything by the Chipmunks. Those evoke a coyote respond--I'll gnaw off a limb to get out of the room.

And in the general annoyance category--anything that transposes 7th and minors into majors, usually by alleged singers whose publicity outstrips their ability.

I never want hear, ever again, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", from someone who can't figure out that it's supposed to have all those 7ths in there.

#100 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 07:39 PM:

Steve, I've gone ahead and moved on the LP -- but oh, my. Well, every day's an education, as they say.

My musical project this season is, surprisingly, not either of the Oxford books of Carols (of which the second has a good account of the "Wenceslaus" / spring carol business, and an English translation) but "Gems of the Universe," aka "Music for Everyone series, number 7." I'm playing my way through the book, pieces I've played a thousand times and pieces I've never gone all the way through before. I'm on something like page 79 out of 190, and having a fine time, even putting a name to a tune I've heard a gazillion times. "Gems" is a nice, basic collection of standards, put together recently enough to have "Frankie and Johnny" and songs from the early 20s represented. It has sections of everything, even Christmas songs, in not-quite-standard arrangements. It has my favorite versions of "Londonderry Air" and "Loch Lomond." The latter is one of my earliest tune memories. I'm sure I can remember hearing it before I was, um, trained.

Anyway, all is well within our walls today. Hoping you are the same; happy happy, joy joy!

#101 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 07:50 PM:

Feliz Navidad is at or near the top of my personal list of noise to exterminate. I loathe it, the beat reminds me of a whiny child, it's seems as repetitious as "My Sharonna" or whatever that piece of vile discrap was name--hmm, there are some similarities in the rhythm of the two "works," even.... the latter has at least Gone Away for at least a while. [But the Nostaglia for second half of the 20th century braindead lobotomized flatworm pop music seems to have no end in sight. Bleah.]

The good news about where I was working is that the store did NOT have Seasonal Songs playing all over the store. It did have endless loopings of promo AV in various parts of the store, over in the AV section since the start of December there was a repeating loop of video promos for Spiderman, Elf, Gone with the Wind, and one or two others which mercifully escape me at the moment. Over in other areas were TV/VCR units sent up with product promos. But there wasn't the barrage from overhead of Feliz Kill It NOW... Go out and DIE!" [The litany of Offensive Obnoxious Lyrics that were spontaneously generated in my brain in self-defense to resist the barrage in stores, I don't remember most of... the Star Chamber Slime in DC would not approve. But then, I consider them a menace to civilization and the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of the vasty majority of people in the world.)

#102 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 08:57 PM:

my nonna loved Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle, but she listened to a traditional choral version.

It was also apparently released by Sergio Franchi, Don Ho, the New Christy Minstrels, Tina & Nancy Sinatra and Ed Ames, all of which is really scary.

I usually hear it called O Bambino, though.

#103 ::: Thomas Nephew ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 10:15 PM:

I second Ulrika O'Brien on Drummer Boy and the effect "I am a poor boy too" has on me, her, and possibly others.

Feast of St. Stephen is another favorite; it's especially fun at Christmas parties with men and women dividing the lines between them. Bring me meat and bring me wine!

#104 ::: Pfusand ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 10:16 PM:

Ooooh yeah, Theresa, you've hit a good-to-go list there. Maybe excepting The Little Drummer Boy. (My brother was in our local boy's choir, so I'd heard their Christmas concert many times. The addition of The Little Drummer Boy to Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols was a welcome addition to me -- since it was the first time I'd ever heard it.)

I also like The Carol of the Bells (okay, so I'm nuts for rounds and fugues), and, since The Nutcracker is Christmas stuff, that means The Nutrocker is Christmas music, and I like that.

P.S. I too am glad that the six white boomers were not nuclear subs.

#105 ::: Thomas Nephew ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 10:26 PM:

That is, Good King Wenceslas.

#106 ::: Ingeborg Nordén ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 10:39 PM:

Most of the "kill 'em now" songs (especially the Santa novelties) have already been covered by other posters here. But being neither Christian nor Jewish, I tend to avoid the "religious" carols as much as possible. Other than the children's stuff and "Deck the Halls", people in my religion have very few carols they could sing without either feeling like hypocrites or redoing the lyrics entirely. (Not every pagan religion considers Yule a divine birthday, so swapping Mary and Jesus for "the Goddess" and "the sun-child" won't work for some of us.)

#107 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 10:41 PM:

Actually, there is far far more surf guitar xmas music than you could possibly imagine. And right now, on KFJC 89.7 FM, blasting a full 108 watts of power from the top of Black Mountain in Los Altos Hills, Uncle Al is standing in for Phil Dirt on the instrumental surf show. If you are within reach of the transmitter, or can connect to a netcast feed, I recommend listening in. Yes, I know. I pretty much agree with Teresa's take on Christmas music, but you can turn anything into a surf song, including stuff I wouldn't otherwise listen to. Tonight, Uncle Al is spreading it around -- in addition to the surf, he is playing cowboy western and Hawaiian style covers of xmas tunes. Some of them are quite good -- he just played a very atmospheric and evocative version of Little Town of, um, God Bless Ye Merry Ghostriders.

#108 ::: David Cake ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 11:32 PM:

My favourites include
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, my favourite version is by The Jackson Code, which keeps the lonely in.
the aforementioned Fairytale of New York
For keeping the mood up, there is always Christmas Card from Hooker in Minneapolis - Tom Waits
and, though I'd probably hate it if it somehow became popular, I quite like Jesus Christ Was Born Today by Big Star.

#109 ::: Cryptic Ned ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 12:20 AM:

I'm surprised none of the contrarians here has mentioned the fourth verse of "We Three Kings". I still remember it, because I had to sing it solo in a pageant:

"Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering doom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb"

The pageant director did notice that those words weren't exactly upbeat (I think his exact words were "Hmmm, that's not very upbeat"), but he didn't want to reorganize the whole thing after choosing the soloists and starting us on the road to memorization.

I'm also surprised nobody's mentioned "Up on the housetop, reindeer pause; down comes good ol' Santa Claus". I remember being part of a group of 100 kids singing that, none of whom knew what the lyrics meant. Equal numbers of us sang "ho ho ho, who wouldn't go" and "ho ho ho, who wouldn't know". Later, though, there was a good teacher who noticed an ambiguity and offered us extra credit if we could tell him the correct spelling of "pause/paws", since it could be either. Nobody got the credit, because in the sheet music it's listed as "reindeer paus' ". As if the E would require another syllable without that apostrophe there. How stupid.

What I hate is the songs that have fictional characters in them. "Farmer Grey"? "We'll pretend that he is Farmer Brown"? The ridiculous second verse of "Jingle Bells", also involving a malapropism that not a single person in the world has ever made? (upsot)

All the children's songs involving Billy and Susie? (when was the last girl born who was named Susie?) These songs aren't taken from a narrative musical; the details are completely made up out of thin air. By cynical New York City Jews, of course, but that's irrelevant. What's relevant is...how can anyone actually want to sing these lyrics with references to things that maybe 50 people in North America have experienced, and arbitrary fictional characters who don't exist outside the song? It's a sort of abstract nostalgia.

The only time I have ever heard "Must Be Santa" was at a dance/chorus class recital involving children from 4 to 16. The 4-year-olds sang (more like yelled) "Must Be Santa", while wandering around completely unrelated to each other, and it was literally horrifying. My dad and I bolted from the auditorium and came back in 15 minutes when the children were guaranteed to be at least 7.

#110 ::: Cryptic Ned ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 12:21 AM:

Actually, it looks like each of those songs was mentioned once. Oh well, I'm an idiot.

#111 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 12:24 AM:

"there is always Christmas Card from Hooker in Minneapolis"

I initially misread that as "Christmas Card Hooker."

#112 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 01:17 AM:

Tino Rossi's Petit Papa Noël. This is my very own personal nightmare before christmas. So dribbling with factice good will and spiritless joy it makes you want to puke.

On another notice, Peter Gabriel's soundtrack for The Last Temptation of Christ happens to be both topical and a very pleasant listen, if you happen to like that kind of music.

#113 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 02:12 AM:

So, while reading this thread I was cataloguing my commercial CD collection (the part of it not still in boxes, or at least that I could find to take out of boxes) and I came across something I must have won in a raffle (he writes, knowing that he'd never actually buy something like that): Elvis Presley's If Every Day Was Like Christmas. Don't worry, it's still safely sealed in the its plastic condom.

(The reason I specify "commercial CD" is that my taste would seem to be similar to Patrick's, and there are many hundreds of non-commercial CDs I own, plus about 2TB worth that I haven't gotten around to decompressing and burning yet. I'll catalog those too, one of these years.)

#114 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 02:40 AM:

I used to have a strong preference for traditional carols, but after producing my company's annual holiday CD (and recording a track for it) for many years, I've come to like most of the common Christmas songs if they're done creatively, or at least sincerely. Since everyone knows the songs, people feel free to come up with fairly extreme arrangements and approaches. "Jingle Bells," in particular, seems infinitely malleable; one guy did it four years in a row, with good results each time. I've done it twice myself.

Even the much-despised "Little Drummer Boy" was quite enjoyable as "Little Drum & Bass Boy" (performed in the electronic music style of the same name).

The ones I haven't learned to like are the counting songs ("Twelve Days" and "Children, Go Where I Send Thee", although I'll make an exception in the latter case for the Golden Gate Quartet version). They're just too monotonous.

The one that's theoretically common, but that I don't hear enough of, is "In The Bleak Midwinter."

The lyric that always runs through my head at this time of year is: "We wish you a merry Christmas/ And please buy our beer." Stan Freeburg?

Stan Freberg, Green Chri$tma$. A classic.

#115 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 03:17 AM:

For years, I found "Merry Little Christmas" to be both infuriating and dissonant. Then I watched "Meet Me in St. Louis," and was shocked to discover that the reason I hated the song so much was that it was always sung as a cheerful little thing, when in fact it was quite mournful. Like Ulrika, as soon as I had the context, it all went click click click, and fell into place. I still hate the sound of people singing it as if it were a joyful Xmas song, but now I know why.

Short of completely obliterating Xmas (my personal preference, but unkind to many of my friends), I'd murder Feliz Navidad and Jinglebell Rock. I'm on T's side for most of the others, except the ones I don't know.

As far as celebrating bad weather -- I have always found warm weather people's celebrations of Xmas to be peculiar. Christmas seems like such a quintessentially cold weather, cold winter holiday. All of the iconography and mythology seem to revolve around the concept of the dark of the year, the cold and dead landscape, and hope for the future. Sleighs, yule logs, evergreens, and candles in windows are all pieces of living in a world that can kill you with cold, and a time when you have serious cabin fever.

Ctein has a number of pictures of elaborate Xmas light set-ups in California. They're really quite beautiful. I don't like them. They make me feel upside down or something. I mean, there are green plants! Grass! Palm fucking trees! Cacti. Huh? Why on earth do you need candles in windows when being caught at night outdoors won't kill you? And then there are the Aussies, who go surfing on Xmas Day, so I'm told. Too weird for words. All of this is another good reason to expunge Xmas, as far as I'm concerned. Those of us that live in the frozen north could have iconography which meshes with our geography, and those who live in warmer climes can have the same. I mean, surfing for the high summer holiday makes perfect sense, but I'm kinda thinking that St. Nick isn't the right companion. We could still all give gifts. That's my favorite part.

#116 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 03:51 AM:

The Christmas song I most wanted to kill ever seems to have died a natural death. I can't even find it on Google. It was called 'Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere', involved clapping, and began with the lines "When it's Christmas down belowio, even though we don't have snowio, it's every bit as cheerio in the southern hemisphereio." I ask you.

On the other hand, the shamelessly culturally appropriative 'Orana' ('Welcome' in nobody knows *which* Aboriginal language - it's much like saying that 'Wilkommen' means 'Welcome' in a European language) always moves me for as long as I can suspend my disbelief. Which is longer than it would be if I was Aboriginal, I suspect.

#117 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 03:59 AM:

Vassilissa: 'Orana'? If it were 'ia orana', I'd say that was Tahitian, not Australian Aboriginal.

#118 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 05:02 AM:

I really like most Christmas music, including Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer, which is one of my very favorites. I really dislike that thing with the barking dogs, but this very year I bought from the iTunes store a recording of Carol of the Meows. It's Carol of the Bells with all the words replaced by meow. And I like it.

Hope everyone had a merry whatever with lots of love and light and food.

MKK

#119 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 08:01 AM:

Lydia, the really really good part is the sales afterwards. Bookstores here I come!

#120 ::: BethN ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 11:36 AM:

Most of the expungeable Xmas songs have already been mentioned -- for convenience, I'd just delete everything that's on regular rotation at a radio station that has adopted an "All Xmas Music All the Time" format. (The station that has the best morning traffic reports in CT has done that for a couple of years -- it can make a bad time of day almost unbearable.)

Nobody seems to have mentioned yet one of the Xmas songs that I really do like, though -- Bob Franke's "Straw Against the Chill".

"It was so long ago, but we remember still:
Star upon the snow, straw against the chill."

It has a beautiful melody, the lyrics are simple but eloquent, and I only hear it once or twice a year (on folkie radio shows) so it doesn't get stale for me.

#121 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 12:43 PM:

A couple of things I forgot to mention:

--What Tom said about the difference between listening and performing. "Silver Bells" and "Jingle Bell Rock" may be frightful tosh, but they're lots of fun to sing with about twenty other people when you have a few egg nogs under your belt. And that experience enables me to smile indulgently, rather than gnash my teeth, when I hear those songs at the mall.

--My favorite Christmas album ever is The New Possibility by John Fahey. Traditional carols played with exquisite simplicity.

--I'll cast another vote in favor of "Jesus Christ" by Big Star, especially the way the intro collides with the rest of the song.

#122 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 12:47 PM:

Must admit I quite like the Calista Flockhart version of Santa Baby. The Kylie one isn't particularly good, though.

#123 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 01:06 PM:

Well, a day late and a dollar short, but here goes. I'm fairly tolerant of a lot of bad holiday music mainly because it's usually only 3 minutes of suffering at most.

I recently started to subscribe to Rhapsody and can't imagine listening to music any other way. ten bucks a month gets me unlimited and legal music listening. Usually when I want some music for a party or whatever, I have to drive around to a bunch of different stores, and pay 10 bucks for one CD that might have two or three good songs on it. With Rhapsody I get to browse and listen to any song they have in their library (and its a pretty big library) for the ten bucks a month.

Anyway, we had xmas at our house this year, and here were some songs I put on my Rhapsody playlist for the day:


album: Holiday Dance Party: The Christmas remixes
track: The Christmas Song (TONAL Remix)
artist: Jimmy McGriff

album: same
track: I've got my love to keep me warm (STUHR remix)
artist: Kay Starr

funky, jazzy, with a classic mix. makes me imagine myself on guitar and my wife on vocals.

track: Baby, It's Cold Outside
Artist: Dean Martin

I like idea that Dean is slipping beauty a mickey

#124 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 02:30 PM:

Tim, there's a reason for counting songs: weak memories. cf. Donald Knuth, "On the Computational Complexity of Songs".

#125 ::: Ariella ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 05:50 PM:

Xopher, my translation makes for rather scratchy English, but here's a more literal version of Tempus Adest Floridus.

The time of blooming is come, for the flowers are growing.
Spring customs imitate them in all things
That which the cold has wounded, the warmth restores
We see this happen through many hardships.

There are meadows full of flowers, with a joyful appearance
Where with pleasure one delights to perceive greenery
Grasses and plants subdued by winter
Flourish and grow in springtime.

These beauties show you God the Creator
Whom we also believe to be the maker of all things.
Accordingly, O time of merriment, in which one may rejoice
Since the world is renewed, it is fitting that we ourselves be renewed.

The earth is decorated with flowers, and with much beauty
Therefore, let us ourselves rejoice in honest customs and true love in a happy time
And let us praise the Lord from the bottom of our heart.

The Maryland song reminds me that my college at university used to have own song, which was sung to the same tune. The lyrics were in Latin and Greek, and the only lines I can now remember go:

Nimium cervisi ebriat tyrones
Non oportet fieri vappas nebulones

which means something like:

Too much beer makes freshmen drunk
It is not proper to become useless wretches.

#126 ::: Maines ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 06:10 PM:

I'm in the sucker-for-sappy-Christmas-music camp. Just not the hideous versions on easy-listening radio stations (played in shops, salons, malls, waiting rooms) performed by pop singers who either lack the vocal skill for the songs they've chosen or feel the need to put their stamp on a song by making it barely recognizable. (Same syndrome as many pop singers doing the National Anthem at sporting events.) "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" sounds downright artful by comparison. (People don't seem to do covers of that one, for some reason . . .)

We go to church on Christmas Eve so we can belt carols without regard for our own vocal insufficiencies. This is a family tradition of long standing. My sister and I used to call around and find out what carols were planned at various local churches and then decide where to attend service. The church I went to last night listed the music schedule for all their Advent and Christmas services on the internet, bless them.

I got "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"--the real one, not the lame-ass movie one; songs and narration both--at the iTunes music store and have been playing it on my iPod, my laptop, and in my car all season. Just because Christmas Day is over, I don't plan to stop.

#127 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 06:36 PM:

Lydia wrote: "And then there are the Aussies, who go surfing on Xmas Day, I'm told."

Happens in Hawai'i, too. And for a long time my family had a Christmas Day tradition of jumping into the pool if the sun was shining.

#128 ::: Maggie ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 06:49 PM:

Good King Sauerkraut looked out/on his feets uneven... Thank you for posting "Deck Us All with Boston Charlie." It's been a family favorite in our house for years.

I'm very fond of Stan Rogers' "At Last, I'm Ready for Christmas," probably because the chorus continues with "...with nearly two hours to go."

And when it comes to banning carols, someone should make sure that whoever selects musak for airports should never, ever, ever include "Let It Snow." The damn thing was playing over the sound system as I got into Indianapolis Wednesday night.

#129 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 06:50 PM:

Seth,

I hesitate to disagree with Dr. Knuth, but that seems backward to me. Despite having heard "Twelve Days" a gazillion times, I have no idea which number goes with lords a-leaping, which with maids a-milking, etc., because it's purely arbitrary--there are no melodic or narrative clues.

There is one (non-Xmas) counting song I love, though: "Rehab" by Stew.

When she got out of rehab for the very first time, she was very, very, very optimistic...

#130 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 07:01 PM:

I have come to have a certain appreciation for bits and pieces of the Chuck Jones version of "Grinch," but I still feel like they made up too much irrelevant padding material when they made the cartoon.

Those goofy lyrics -- Oompa Loompican? -- filtered into a dream I once had, sort of. Some group I was connected with, in the dream, was putting on a production of OKLAHOMA which had been rewritten by Kurt Vonnegut. I read lyrics on the retyped, red-dittoed script I'd been handed, but the only ones I remember were "O fellee, fellay / O KARA KARU!" and I don't think they match any of Rodgers's tunes. Dunno what it means, but what a beautiful morning.

And we had 8 inches of snow today. White Boxing Day!

#131 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 07:02 PM:

I love The Little Drummer Boy as sung by Tori Amos. I heard it on the radio about 10-12 year's ago and it was the first time I'd ever heard her--or of her.

I also like The Christmas Rap by some girl group-haven't heard it for a few year's now (the station these songs were played on went to talk radio and I left never to return).

#132 ::: aboulic ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 07:55 PM:

My deep hatred of Little Drummer Boy stems partly from a row i had with my music teacher, aged 12.

She insisted we sing the final "pum" of each line as long as possible "par-rum pa-pa pummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm" holding the "mmmmmmmmmmmm"untill the last possible moment.

I repeatedly pointed out as forcefully as i could that the song was supposed to be emulating the sound of a drum, but she wouldn't listen. Have you ever heard a drum that went "pummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm"?

not that i'm still bitter sixeen years later, of course

#133 ::: Chris S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 08:19 PM:

One of my part-time employees made a fairly decent Christmas mix (she was trying to get around my ban on Xmas music before December 15th). It contained among other bits a song called "Kidnap the Santa Claus", from Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas. Made me laugh every time.

It also had a lovely "Gaudete".

#134 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 08:45 PM:

Ariella, thank you! The "scratchy English" version is just exactly what I was hoping for...and the first two verses sound damned Pagan to me, which makes me suspect that maybe the others were written later. 'Suspect' in the sense of "that's my story and I'm sticking to it," mostly, of course!

And I love your college song...first time I've heard a macaronic in TWO classical languages! (Well, except for the word 'homosexual', which Tom Stoppard pointed out is half Greek and half Latin -- and he went on to point out that "that sounds about right"!) I can't wait to sing it for my friend who studied both languages in high school. If you can dig out the rest of the words without too much trouble, I'd love to appall her with them! (The two lines you quote will do if it's any trouble to get more.)

aboulic, I don't know what you expect in terms of musical judgement, from a 12-year-old music teacher. (They shouldn't let people teach music until they're at LEAST 13, in my opinion.)

But seriously, that sure sounds stupid, even though there actually ARE drums whose decay lasts longer than a human breath; certainly not ones that a little drummer boy could have even carried, not that there were little drummer boys in Palestine in 4 BCE anyway.

#135 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 08:54 PM:

Oh, and: this morning I heard something that strangely ties this thread to the pastiche contest in the other one: it's from an album called "A Composers' Christmas," which is a collection of familiar Christmas songs as they might have been had they been written by various classical composers. The one they played was "We Three Kings of Orient Are" as composed by Chopin; the most beautiful version of that particular carol I have ever heard. I'm gonna buy that album if I can get it.

This was on Schikele Mix, a hilarious and informative program you should check out sometime. And yes, that's Peter Schikele, the "discoverer" of PDQ Bach. He's incredibly knowledgeable, remarkably free of musical prejudice (he opens every program by saying "all musics are created equal -- or as Duke Ellington once put it, 'if it sounds good, it IS good'."), and great at explaining things in a way that makes you a) laugh and b) remember. I never really understood the reason for instrument transposures prior to his discussion, for example.

#136 ::: James J Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 09:11 PM:

To whomever asked far above, Brave Combo's "It's Christmas, Man!" is a great album. They do a fine job of musically re-imagining holiday classics. "The Christmas Song" (ska) and "O Christmas Tree" (samba) are highlights.

I personally prefer exceptionally unique takes on old tropes, like Henry Rollins's reading of " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas," complete with circling choppers and police sirens in the urban background, or Beck's "Little Drum Machine Boy." And then there's the totally wonderful "Too Many Santas!" by the Bobs, which points out on the back cover that "No Reindeer Were Harmed in the Making of This Record."

But what I've really been enjoying this holiday season is "A Very Scary Solstice," by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society. Beautiful renditions of "Freddy the Red-Brained Migo," "Silent Night, Blasphemous Night," "The Shoggoth Song," "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Fish-Men" and "Do You Fear What I Fear?" filled me with enough joy to get through the shopping.

Merry Crimble, one and all!

#137 ::: Deborah Green ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 10:28 PM:

I’m still playing my Christmas tunes because for logistical reasons, I’m having my official Christmas dinner tomorrow.

On Christmas I went for a nice long walk near Lincoln Center and discovered to my delight that Tower Records was open. I rushed upstairs and picked up Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” because I was feeling nostalgic. Dad always played it on Christmas. When I got it home, I found I didn’t have the patience for anything except for “Christmas in Killarney” and “Mele Kalikimaka.”

Thankfully on a whim I picked up Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s Christmas album, too, and that suited me much better. My favorite is their rendition of “Mr. Heatmeister.” I’m also a fan of “Last Night I Went Out with Santa Claus.” I had plenty of fun music to dance to while I was making my unofficial dinner.

BTW, Chris S., "Kidnap the Santa Claus" song is called “Is Zat You Santa Claus?” which is also on the album.

#138 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 12:31 AM:

Xopher: and it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that certain je ne sais quoi.

Love me some Schickele mix.

#139 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 12:34 AM:

Ahhhhh! Christmas songs with kazoos!

#140 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 07:52 AM:

Ellen: I believe the song you're thinking of is "Christmas Rapping" by the Waitresses. One of my favorites; sweet without (to my ears) being utterly sappy.

#141 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 09:10 AM:

For the curious who are looking for some other Christmas-style songs, you might be interested in
Christmas Stars 2004: "702 ABC Sydney thought it would be a great move to have ... our listeners record some of their favourite songs ... The result is a wonderful and diverse album of Christmas Classics with an Aussie flavour." (On the abcshop site -- I haven't put a direct link to avoid possible commerciality)

BTW, the start of Six White Boomers explains what boomers are and what's happening in excruciating (if I may use that word at this time of year) detail.

Tracks:
The North Wind*
Silent Night
Carol Of The Birds
Australians Let Us Barbeque
Deck The Halls With Bits Of Wattle
The First Noel
Six White Boomers
Joy To The World
Santa Never Made It To Darwin+
Aussie Twelve Days Of Christmas
The Silver Stars Are In The Sky
Aussie Jingle Bells

*A ghastly big-band ballad gussied-up version of a classic plain choral carol.

+ Heart-string tugging about Cyclone Tracy demolishing Darwin on Christmas Eve 30 years back.

They've also been playing an Antipodean version of "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" (Steaks are sizzling on the barbecue) which, with a few emendations, I wouldn't mind at all. If they'd only play it, say, once or twice a week over December instead of 4 times a day. But that, as noted before, applies to almost anything.

#142 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 09:22 AM:

Quoth Cryptic Ned: and offered us extra credit if we could tell him the correct spelling of "pause/paws", since it could be either.

No, it couldn't. Reindeer have hooves. Sure, the toenails on a dog's paws "click click click" across linoleum, but to get sound penetration through a rooftop, you need hooves.

The Anonymous Four's On Yoolis Night is a nice one to put on if your family insists on music during dinner and you're going to beat the stereo to death with a pickle spear if you have to listen to bad lyrics for one more minute. And I don't have it anymore, so I don't know how it may have held up over the years, but I used to put Where's My Pony? on as a corrective to the radio crap.

#143 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 10:06 AM:

I rather like the Carol of the bells, you know:
Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells
All seem to say, throw cares away

I found a nice rant on it, which makes me want to listen to the original spring version, Shchedryk, that it mentions.

My favorite carol is probably "Simbang Gabi" (Midnight Mass) which has the a similar feel of voices imitating bells, but with a lot more bass and alto action going on. It's the one that goes:
Simbang gabi simula ng pasko
Sa puso ng lahing Pilipino

#144 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 10:11 AM:

I'm late to the party, having spent Christmas in the land of dial-up Internet, with lots of relatives who like to phone in holiday greetings.

I'd agree with most of the proposed deletions,though for me, there's one redeeming feature to "Frosty the Snowman": it reminds me of a night in December 1998, standing on a corner in the Ginza district of Tokyo, looking at a forty-foot Christmas tree decorated entirely with inflatable bunny rabbits in a mouthless Hello Kitty style (1999 was the Year of the Rabbit, so everything was rabbit-themed), listening to "Frosty the Snowman" as sung by the Jackson Five. It really drove home what a weird fucking country Japan is.

(While there, I also heard a version of "Deck the Halls" that was straight out of A Christmas Story, and another with the most precisely enunciated "la"'s you'll ever hear, by someone who was absolutely determined not to let that happen.)

I did hear a novelty tune by Ben Folds (yes, that's probably redundant) the other day that was moderately amusing, once. It'd probably get old fast, but it at least had some life to it, unlike most of the canned stuff you hear on the radio.

For good Christmas songs, I'm pretty much in agreement with Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber: "Fairytale of New York" rules.

#145 ::: Alison ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 10:22 AM:

Can I just have one CD? Anything with meowing electronic cats or barking electronic dogs gets the boot. I hate that stupid CD.

Otherwise, bring it on. I love Christmas music and would play it year-round if it were socially acceptable. In fact, I have a CD of Newfoundland Christmas music that I do play year-round, but it doesn't really sound like Christmas music unless you listen very carefully.

#146 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 11:44 AM:

I feel that anyone who hates the hell out of the Little Drummer Boy should watch the West Wing episode "In Excelsis Deo" if they wish to see what it is that the rest of us see in it.

Also, the punk cover of Fairytale of New York by No Use for a Name is just about the awesomest thing ever.

#147 ::: Mary Tabasko ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 01:45 PM:

I can't say that the commercial, pop, and novelty tunes bother me that much, though I truly abhor, detest, and loathe "Mary's Boy Child". Ick. I'd not be honest if I didn't admit a certain fondness for "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." But for some reason, I just don't notice most of these popular seasonal songs.

The ones that really stick in my craw are the handful of religious songs that are inescapable. They're bad enough when done is serious churchy arrangements and even worse when done by pop singers.

TNH: What do I really like? Adeste Fideles. Joy to the World. Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Angels We Have Heard on High. Silent Night. Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending. Gaudete. O Holy Night. We Three Kings. The Coventry Carol. As Lately We Watched. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. Nowell Sing Nowell. Dona Nobis Pacem. You know—the usual.

Uh-oh. Half of these would be on my list of eradicable songs, though some of them I don't know ("Lo! He Comes") and some I do like ("Gaudete", "Dona Nobis Pacem", and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" (better in Latin, though)).

But the ones that fall into my canon of religious Christmas standards (what I refer to as "The 12 Songs of Christmas", tho' there are more than 12 offenders, including "Adeste Fidelis", "Joy to the World", "Hark! Etc", "Three Kings" and so on) could all be eliminated, at least in their common forms, without diminishing my holidays. This includes everything from overwrought organ-n-choir arrangements to vapid, sparkly, muzaky arrangments. Be gone, all of you!

Some of them can be improved by Latin (or non-English) lyrics, which at least reintroduces some interest into otherwise over-exposed chestnuts, and all are vastly improved by twisted and unexpected rearrangement.

If I get to pick only one song for consignment to oblivion, "Silent Night" wins hands down. It's marginally better auf Deutsch, but it's still a maudlin dirge to my ears.

If I have to hear these songs, I want to hear them radically reinterpreted. Brave Combo's It's Christmas, Man is terrific, although you also have to get Musical Varieties for their brilliant take on "O Holy Night" as a cha-cha. It's easily my favorite rendition of that song. And the Klezmonauts' "Oy To the World" is also indispensible. Klezmerizing these songs definitely adds new life.

For "serious" Christmas music, I have to reach back for pre-1800 music. Chant and plainsong. Old European carols, preferably ones you don't hear on the radio ad nauseam. Anonymous 4's several Chrismas albums (On Yoolis Night, A Star in the East (medieval Hungarian Christmas music!), Legends of St. Nicholas) are in heavy rotation, as are recordings by the Consorts Waverly and Baltimore, and assorted other early-music ensembles.

The arrangements don't have to be historically pure; the Mediaeval Baebes do a great version of "Adam Lay Ibounden" on Salva Nos, along with "Gaudete" and "Veni, Veni". But I want the old songs.

Lisa Spangenberg: If it's after 1741, I probably loathe it.

A good bet in my case, too. Although some of the American shape-note hymns, which often feature unusual harmonies and rhythms, are quite nice. Alas, many of these songs are familiar today in smoothed-out "respectable" Victorian rearragements. To which I say again: Ick.

But even for Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, there are pallatives:

Oh. My. God. That's wonderful. Thank you!

CHip: wrt which, Teresa: imagine having to \rehearse/ "Sleigh Ride", or "Little Drummer Boy", or ... well enough to perform it!

"Little Drummer Boy" is execrable, whether you're playing it or hearing it, but the original instrumental version of "Sleigh Ride" is a blast to play. We used to do this in my high-school Christmas concerts, and I always enjoyed rehearsing this one. The post-hoc lyrics are pointless and should be forgotten, but the instrumental is a hoot to participate in.

#148 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 03:48 PM:

Sure, the toenails on a dog's paws "click click click" across linoleum

Wow, until today I have always thought that lyric was "up on the housetop, quick quick quick". On a related note, could "reindeer pause" be a euphemism for them doing their business?

#149 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 03:49 PM:

If my enthusiasm for "Silent Night" flags, I can listen to Simon & Garfunkle's "Silent Night / 7 O'clock News" again.

#150 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 04:11 PM:

Mary Tabasko writes:
But the ones that fall into my canon of religious Christmas standards (what I refer to as "The 12 Songs of Christmas", tho' there are more than 12 offenders, including "Adeste Fidelis", "Joy to the World", "Hark! Etc", "Three Kings" and so on) could all be eliminated, at least in their common forms, without diminishing my holidays.

Adeste Fidelis as it's often sung is annoying - but there's an absolutely lovely descant that goes with it, which is well worth hearing - and Three Kings sung well, with interweaving voices, and different soloists is striking. They're unfortunately very easy to do as lothesome dirges.

#151 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 06:55 PM:

One of my fave buttons from years ago:

"Wanna play some reindeer games?"

#152 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 07:00 PM:

Aboulic, many drums are designed for duration of the note.

#153 ::: Magenta ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 07:11 PM:

My coven brother Steven has written a couple of songs which shows his feelings about the holiday and the songs, especially one on the disliked list. The second song tells you a little more about Berhta - Steve did his research.

Mother Berhta's Coming To Town
Oh, you'd better watch out, when winter comes nigh
don't you dare doubt, I'm telling you why
Mother Berhta's coming to town.

She carries a sack made out of a skin
She dumps the toys out and stuffs the kids in
Mother Berhta's coming to town

She rides on Nasher Skege, a goat whose back is strong.
Her beard is grey and scraggly and her tail is ten feet long.
With six or eight horns, a mustache or two
make no mistake, she's coming for you!
Mother Berhta's coming to town.

She knows with whom you're sleeping
She knows with whom you wake
She knows each thought you're thinking
So don't think, for Goddess' sake!

So when the winds howl way up in the sky
Listen as she and Skege pass by
Mother Berhta's coming to town!

Mother Berhta
to the traditional Russian tune “Sviaty Mikula”

Who is that, a-rattling at your window?
Who is that, a-shrieking down your flue?
Don’t you know her, her name is Mother Berhta;
She may bring a thing or two for you!
Don’t you know her, her name is Mother Berhta;
She may bring a thing or two for you!

She is called babushka and Befana,
Holle, Hulda, Gryla and the Grue;
But if you will call her Mother Berhta,
She may leave a thing or two for you!
Yes, if you will call her Mother Berhta,
She may leave a thing or two for you!

From her belt a severed head is dangling;
Whose it was is easy to infer.
Santa Claus had a date with Mother Berhta:
He sure learned a thing or two from her!
Santa once had a date with Mother Berhta;
He sure learned a thing or two from her!

In she flies on scruffy old Gnasher Skeggi;
He’s her goat, her son and boyfriend too. (Oy!)
Mother Berhta is really Old Witch Wonter,
She may bring a thing or two for you!
I am sure is you’ll call on Mother Berhta,
Mother B. may pay a call on you!

#154 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 07:59 PM:

Bruce Adelsohn,
Yes, that's it--Christmas Rap by the Waitresses. Thank you.

#155 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2004, 04:55 AM:

Xopher, if you want to get A Composer's Christmas, it's here.

#156 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2004, 06:00 AM:

Just thought I'd pass it on (there's no reason not to, is it ?) Chris Corner (from Sneaker Pimps)singing the french version of Silent Night.


Sorry...

#157 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2004, 06:23 AM:

Eric:

If it were 'ia orana', I'd say that was Tahitian, not Australian Aboriginal.

That's interesting - and quite possible. The composer I'm thinking of is William G James, who also wrote 'The silver stars are in the sky,' which Epacris mentioned above. I had a look in the Oxford Companion, but couldn't find any information beyond his being Australian to assure me that he'd know the difference between Tahitian and any Australian Aboriginal language.

Lydia: only some of us. Not even that many. The big tradition is a barbeque, and just as many people still suffer through the northern hemisphere roast, even in 30'C weather. I still remember that Christmas when we had guests over from England who wanted to experience a 'real Australian Christmas', on the beach, with prawns. It threw our whole (cold roast meat, salads and ice-cream pudding, indoors) tradition out.

#158 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2004, 12:48 PM:

Back from a couple of low-Internet journeys, and arriving late in the Christmas music discussion, I have two things to say. Both of which I've written before, elsewhere.

First, I recommend a wonderful set of essays by rock critic Tris McCall, in which he reviews fifty holiday songs. If this has already been pointed out in this thread, it's escaped me.

Next, I have long wondered why new holiday songs don't seem to get added to the canon of classics. Four years ago, I wrote up an account of this phenomenon and posted it to Usenet; the thread of replies may be read here.

To quote myself:

If I am right, why?

What happened to stop the widespread acceptance of new Christmas
songs? What stopped the formation of consensus on which songs are
classics-- as measured by criteria such as "played frequently on the
radio," "recorded by many famous artists on their Xmas albums," or
"appearing in many printed collections of Christmas songs?"

Certainly songwriters haven't stopped writing 'em. There must be
hundreds each year in Nashville alone.

Perhaps the Christmas standard is a victim of the earthquake in
American popular music triggered by the rise of rock'n'roll. If so,
the connection isn't clear to me.

I still don't have a good answer for these questions.

#159 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2004, 02:17 PM:

Bill Higgins - Beam Jockey:
The San Francisco Chronicle recently did an article explaining why the 'Christmas song' playlist has frozen, I'll see if I can dig it up

#160 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2004, 02:29 PM:

Here it is:
http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/editorial/outlook/2954965

#161 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2004, 02:52 PM:

Bill, thanks for the Tris McCall link. Great stuff. I have a couple of his albums (and recommend them), but had never read that essay.

#162 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2004, 04:43 PM:

Yes indeed. McCall's essay is excellent; thanks.

#163 ::: Douglas ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2004, 06:48 PM:

I too must confess to a weakness for Little Drummer Boy.. a guilty sentimental pleasure.

Jingle Bells isn't too offensive.. We spent the week before Christmas at YMCA of the Rockies, where they have sleigh rides with impressive great Clydesdales steaming and stamping. My 3yr-old boy loved it. I don't care for the song version his older brother taught him, "Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin lays an egg" etcetera.

thanks to all for the recommendations of Christmas music that doesn't hurt..
we had the Christmas Oratorio and carols from an English cathedral choir, in the rotation.

#164 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2004, 09:06 PM:

What happened to stop the widespread acceptance of new Christmas songs? What stopped the formation of consensus on which songs are classics-- as measured by criteria such as "played frequently on the radio," "recorded by many famous artists on their Xmas albums," or "appearing in many printed collections of Christmas songs?"

I tend to think that modern pop music has just moved in a direction where the artists who are taken seriously wouldn't be caught dead doing anything as uncritically sentimental as recording a straight Christmas song. Try to imagine, say, Bob Dylan, writing a new Christmas song.

There are some new versions of old songs, mostly by heart-on-sleeve guys like Bruce Springsteen or U2, but new Christmas songs on the pop side of things tend to be sort of bent. Think "Fairytale of New York" or "Father Christmas" by the Kinks.

On some level, it's sort of a shame that pop culture is in that sort of state. Then again, I find most Christmas songs to be kind of cloying, anyway, so I'm not too broken up about it.

#165 ::: regina ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2004, 09:45 PM:

Boy, am I late to the party or what? I am an inveterate collector of Xmas music, but I tend to medieval and/or new age. I hate pop Xmas music. My current favorite for the past two years has been "Winter Dreams" by R Carlos Nakai and William Eaton. Amazing. But I also enjoy Anonymous 4 and Medieval Babes as well as the Taverner Consort and Choir, Barry & Beth Hall ("A Feast of Songs"), Tingstad and Rumbel, Anne Dudley ("Ancient and Modern"), The Cambridge Singers, and Yolanda Kondonassis ("Dream Season") who has a wonderful touch w/ a harp. Chanticleer used to be a favorite, but I've over listened to them, same w/ the Dale Warland Singers' Xmas CDs(my former college choir professor).

I started my childhood listening to vinyl of the Mormon Tabernacle choir and Robert Shaw Chorale so I guess it was only logical.

My small choir has sung two arrangements that I've never heard another choir do and it is a real shame. "There is No Rose of Swych Virtu" and "This Endriss Night." Both are set in minor keys which changes the mood and import of both pieces, making them darker and more a harbinger. If anyone has a choir who would like to learn more, let me know and I will supply the authors.

regina

#166 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2004, 12:57 AM:

Ellen: You're welcome.

*****

*smacks head*

How is it, I ask myself, that I've read and reread this thread and not noticed that my uttermost favorite Christmas song hasn't been mentioned once?

Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon is a true story of what can happen when people let their best sides rule. And while I know the true ending of the story (which just goes to show you what you can expect from many if not most army officers), it's glossed over in the song -- putting the focus on the part worth working towards.

#167 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2004, 01:02 AM:

Which reminds me that I forgot to mention a favorite: Christmas In Prison by John Prine.

#168 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2004, 01:06 AM:

The Nutcracker must go. Ballet Hell for us theater working stiffs.

My father used to sing the following version of "O Tannenbaum":

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree
We'll chop off all your branches
Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree
We'll chop off all your branches
And cut them up for firewood
So maybe they will do some good
Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree
We'll chop off all your branches

He also taught us the first verse of "Silent Night" in Hungarian. And used to sing "A Visit from St. Nicholas" to the tune of "On Top of Old Smokey", with hillbilly accent of course.

#169 ::: Jeffrey D. Smith ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2004, 02:01 AM:

How did I miss this discussion? I somehow skipped right over it. I love Christmas music, sacred and secular. Not too much on the novelty stuff though. I could compile a list of favorites (starting with the Roches), but it's a little late now.

My wife remembers learning a song in high school Spanish that included a line about Mary washing Jesus's diapers, but hasn't seen it since and is curious as to what it was. Does anyone still left here know anything about that?

#170 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2004, 02:20 PM:

Amid all these parodies of Christmas songs, I recall a parody of "O Tannenbaum" in German that went something like:

O Papagei, o papagei,
Wie grün sind deine Federn!
Du grünst nicht nur ins Friedenzeit,
Auch wenn es Töpfe und Teller schneit.
O Papagei, o papagei,
Wie grün sind deine Federn!

And then of course there were Mad magazine's brilliant Christmas parodies from decades ago, my favorite being:

We three clods from Omaha are
Spending Christmas Eve in a car.
Driving, drinking, glasses clinking,
Who needs a lousy bar?

Luckily, I managed to spend most of the month of December away from malls and pop radio, and so avoided an attack of bah-humbuggery. But I would still vote to expunge "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer". That's the sort of thing that is funny once. And un fortunately, it's played a lot more often than once.

#171 ::: amber ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2004, 02:49 PM:

Have you never heard Nat King Cole sing 'O, Tannenbaum' in German?

#172 ::: Richard ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2004, 04:28 PM:

You haven't lived until you've heard Bahamanian bluesman Joseph Spence's version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

#173 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2004, 06:43 PM:

I feel that anyone who hates the hell out of the Little Drummer Boy should watch the West Wing episode "In Excelsis Deo" if they wish to see what it is that the rest of us see in it.

Yes, exactly. Good call.

#174 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2004, 06:57 PM:

Kip-

So, how do you feel about The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T?

#175 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2004, 11:25 PM:

Oops! Late, late!

The Christmas song that has *not* come up on anyone's throw-it-out list is _The Chipmunk Song_.
Its only redeeming social value is that I smile every time I hear it.

Happy, happy.

#176 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2004, 12:40 AM:

The Chipmunk Song?

You mean the one that starts:

Chipmunks roasting on an open fire
A-1 dripping from their toes....

#177 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2004, 02:04 AM:

And then of course there were Mad magazine's brilliant Christmas parodies from decades ago,

It hangs down from our chandelier
We have no idea what it does...

#178 ::: Cassandra ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2004, 07:01 AM:

Jingle Bells is a much better song once you add the other verses, which involve couples who do too much gazing into one anothers' eyes getting their comeuppance:

A day or two ago
I thought I'd take a ride
and soon miss Fanny Bright
was seated by my side.

The horse was lean and lank
misfortune seemed his lot
he got into a drifting bank
and then we got upsot.

#179 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2004, 04:16 PM:

Richard says You haven't lived until you've heard Bahamanian bluesman Joseph Spence's version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

OTOH, you haven't died until you've heard whoever-it-was trying to do a \sultry/ version of "Sleigh Ride" (at least I think it was sultry -- most people who slur their words that badly don't get recorded...).

#180 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2004, 04:56 PM:

Ariella, I've found your college song! It's on page 8 here.

(That's a "view as HTML" from Google.)

#181 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2004, 11:55 AM:

The article Bob Oldendorf linked to also explains a lot about the music business in general. "Hit songs" in the UK (which doesn't have as fragmented a chart system), only sell a few tens of thousands. I'd expect similar sales in the US, even with more people, because of more fragments.

All the scrabbling of the record inustry looks like desparation. Except for a few big names, long established, they just can't get the numbers buying a record.

And maybe similar effects are why genre fiction such as SF gets into the big best-seller lists. But I haven't dug out any figures. Some of the old niche markets, some of the fragments, are getting big enough to show.

#182 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2004, 04:01 PM:

David, on "niche" markets, see The Long Tail, passim. I think this phenomenon of a list of "things to play around christmas" is a temporary thing, engendered by the technical limitations of radio.

For myself, could I nominate Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer?

#183 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2004, 05:27 PM:

I can't believe that 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' hasn't been selected for deletion. While the purpose was worthwhile, the blatant Western/Christian-centrism was painful. I was kind of surprised to hear Bono singing, 'So tonight thank God it's them instead of you' again, in the 20th anniversary version. What a horrible thing to say! Believe me, if I was talking to God, I wouldn't be thanking him for visiting starvation (and tsunamis) on other people instead of me.

#184 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2004, 05:29 PM:

As far as misunderstood tunes go -- "Feliz Navidad" and "Jingle Bell Rock" are simple and repetitious because they are dance tunes. You shouldn't hear them in the same context as a carol, or a ballad, or whatever you call those strange modern Christmas songs.

And I adore them for what they are.

The old, rousing, swooping, full of hope and promise the child is born and a new day is dawning carols are probably the best. But there are a few of the modern songs which fill other purposes.

I always hated "The Little Drummer Boy" until I heard it sung right -- by Linda Ronstadt? or Emmy Lou Harris? or Doll Parton? Or somebody else with a high clear voice who sang it a little faster than usual, a little less sentimentally, more like a real song, and then it sounded like a real song, and I've had more tolerance for the other versions since.

Yeah, and I'll second that about "Silver Bells" --I'm sure the bells are the Salvation Army ringers.

But my favorite Christmas song that's not a carol is Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas from the Family." The lyrics are here: but they are not so excellent when you read them as they are when you listen to Robert Earl Keen sing them.

#185 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2004, 05:34 PM:

And one more thing. Christmas weather? I'm with Teresa. I've had this conversation with Graydon before, too.

The best Christmas is a high-up, clear blue day with puffy white rained-out clouds, after a good storm, with a brisk chill wind and maybe a few sprinkles of sun shower.

Winter is green, winter is wet, winter is slimy and alive and growing. Baby radish and mustard leaves covering the ground. Coyote bush blooming white and fluffy and soft. Winter is the winter birds that come, the monarch butterflies (alas none this year, and I wonder if they'll ever return?), the whale migrations. Bright persimmons and lemons on the branches.

Christmas is the birth of the child and the return of the light. Lethal weather is not necessary. And it's really good for surfing -- high waves and warmer water.

That's Christmas. At least here. Santa Claus comes in on a surfboard sometimes.

#186 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2004, 05:43 PM:

As Ulrika mentions above, I organized a Christmas CD mix exchange this year. It was marvelous; I have tons of new favorites - El Duende's version of "Gaudete," Sixpence None The Richer's "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear," Oxford Camerata's "Riu, Riu Chiu," Kathleen Battle doing "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" with the Harlem Boys' Choir...

Most of the playlists included in the exchange can be seen here.

#187 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2004, 06:39 PM:

Manassas is a railroad town, so Santa always comes on the train (VRE this year).

#188 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2004, 07:35 PM:

As a Winnipegger, though I loathe the song, I do very fervently desire (and have always been granted, though sometimes by a closer margin than you'd think) a white Christmas. Trust me, once all the grass and plants are dead, you WANT a decent layer of snow covering the remains, and in Manitoba, there is no option of "Citrus harvest" or "green and growing". It's stark dry yellow-grey in the most blatant display of deadness around, or serene white pocked with squirrel and rabbit tracks. (Okay, and ucky sand colour all around the main streets. But yes, even that is better than the dead land beneath.)

Also, strictly speaking, the snow makes an insulating blanket that makes it more likely the small animals and the seeds will survive to spring, as well as - as other have noted - providing the spring soak. It's usually warmer under there than it is exposed to the wind - this is the whole explanation for survival shelters and Inuit dwellings made of snow.

If I lived in another country or another part of this one, I might be more open to non-snowy Christmas. I don't, so I'm not.

Though I could have used *less* white for New Year's -- We just had a good storm blow down. In the course of one day, the back porch and driveway ended up about a foot deep -- at the shallow points. Not a horrible quantity of snow over the course of a couple of weeks or a month. But in a single day, it becomes that rare game "Find the car".


I also have to speak out in defense of Silent Night. It's one of a certain class of songs - along with Amazing Grace - which are absolutely superb if done right, but which I have never (yet) heard a recorded version that actually does it right. (On Amazing Grace, Tori Amos comes close).

Silent Night is easy to turn into a dirge, and all to many performances of it are either dirge-like or full of unnecessary overblownness, but the words and melody as written could be and should be tenderness and joy. If she could get past her penchant for infusing songs with melancholia (and she certainly has before), I think June Tabor could do Silent Night as it should be done. Or Emma Hardelin of Garmarna and Triakel. Shawn Colvin gives it a good shot and misses by the narrowest margin of any recorded version in my hearing.

#189 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2005, 06:46 AM:

debcha: What a horrible thing to say! Believe me, if I was talking to God, I wouldn't be thanking him for visiting starvation (and tsunamis) on other people instead of me.

The song is indeed awful for many reasons, but the line you're talking about was meant to be ironic and sarcastic.

#190 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2005, 01:36 PM:

My favorite Christmas song this year is Rockapella's version of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch": http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B00004WJDN/qid=1104863724/sr=1-12/ref=sr_1_12/102-8470682-8203301?v=glance&s=music.

#191 ::: Mortaine ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2005, 03:32 PM:

I have to agree with Ulrika on The Little Drummer Boy, which makes me cry (but then, so does the Star Spangled Banner, because I am a Big Sap). This year, I found a great recording, done by the Ultimate Drummer Boy of Them All: Ringo Starr.

Yes. Ringo Starr singing The Little Drummer Boy (and soloing, of course) will make you not cry, but certainly enjoy the song, at least a little bit.

#192 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2005, 07:55 PM:

Didn't read this thread until to-day.

By coincidence, I stashed away my Christmas CDs last night.

I didn't *have* Christmas CDs until this year, when I bought six (count 'em, six) discs of generic Xmas music at the Dollar Tree. Only one had vocals (not bad, but kind of old fashioned); most were full of hidously sappy, sweetened instrumental versions of the classics.

But I found myself playing two tracks several times: A fairly clean version of Silent Night played on guitar and harp (?), and nice lively rendition of Good King Wenceslas.

* * *

I spent the night of December 23rd sleeping on the floor of the Cincinatti airport. Trying to sleep; lots of crying babies and a TV set blaring CNN all night. I realize, reading this thread, that it could have been worse. They could have been playing Christmas music all night.

#193 ::: Lee Battersby ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2005, 05:05 PM:

I thoroughly recommend three songs for blasting away Christmas diabetes, all of which get a good airing at our place:

The delightfully cynical 'A Christmas Carol' by Tom Lehrer, containing such lines as "God bless ye Merry merchants, may ye make the yuletide pay."

They Might Be Giants' 'Santa's Beard' in which the narrator's best friend keeps dressing up as Sants so he can have it away with the narrator's wife

Lastly, Australian band Mental As Anything's Christmas Ditty 'Apocalypso'. Santa watching the end of the world. Black black black, and funny as hell.

#194 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2005, 11:20 PM:

Not quite on topic, but I've just heard Tom Waits and the Blind Boys of Alabama singing "Go Tell it on a Mountain" in a way that made me want to weep with joy. Peter Paul and Mary it was not!

#195 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2005, 11:05 AM:

Ulrika, I see I never answered your question about The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, so here goes. It has a lot of interesting stuff in it. I like individual scenes. The scenes it works hardest on are the ones that didn't make it for me.

I like best the elevator scene. The deep chanting from the bug-eyed hooded operator is strangely effective. Some of the chase scenes have real Seussy goodness in 'em. The bit about two men with one beard is interesting in that it's one of the good Doc's recurring motifs from the earliest days (Hejji, his short-lived Sunday comic, for instance). On the other hand, the instrument faking is so screamingly bad as to pull me right out of the movie and into the critic's chair. The kid's performance wasn't anything great, and the sympathetic adult was sort of a stiff.

The worst thing is, it was a waste of Hans Conried. He deserved better. And it's hard for me to accept the premise of the ee-vil piano teacher, being the son of a good one. Not to mention the stereotyped librarian stuff -- sheer mental laziness at work. I like the expression "very atomic," but most of the scene it's in is a fizzle.

I sympathize with that one kid who sits and cries in the scene where they're messing up the giant piano. Bunch of jerks. The triumph of philistinism. Go home, plant yourselves in front of the TV and watch football if you want, but don't crap on my instrument.

I'm sure there are other things in there that I will enjoy if I see it again, but I've had it on tape for close to twenty years, and seldom have the impulse to check it for creeping entertainment. Life's too short, blah blah blah. I'll spend the time re-watching Forbidden Zone.

I like the sets, mostly. One of my other favorite moments is the directional sign that just shrugs.

Well, that's as much thinking as I can do now. There goes the metaphoric whistle. Back to work.

[ps: My pristine copy of OMNIBUST came the other day. It was worth it.]

#196 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2005, 11:47 AM:

This NPR web page has the Bing Crosby version of "White Christmas" as an audio file.

I personally find it comforting that many of the greatest secular Christian holiday songs ("White Christmas" and "Easter Parade" etc.) were written by people of the Jewish persuasion. That is a partial proof of the melting Pot theory. It also allows me to enjoy Christmas Music more than I otherwise would, notwithstanding all the fine comments in this thread.

See:

Still Dreaming of a 'White Christmas'
A Look Back at the Biggest Pop Song of All Time

Morning Edition, November 21, 2002

In January 1940, Irving Berlin, the most popular songwriter in America, raced into his office and asked his musical secretary to take down a new song. "Not only is it the best song I ever wrote, it's the best song anybody ever wrote," he said. His "White Christmas" was a seasonal, secular hymn that has lasted over half a century.

"Today, we can hardly imagine Christmas without secular Christmas tunes, but really they weren't part of popular music culture until Irving Berlin wrote 'White Christmas'," says Jody Rosen, author of the new book, White Christmas: The Story of an American Song.

Though it has been recorded hundreds of times, the version most people remember is the classic by Bing Crosby. It was first featured in the 1942 film Holiday Inn and later in the 1954 movie White Christmas.

As to bad but successful Xmas Music, my whole family adored Love Actually (2003), which opens with the drugged-out cynical "Bad Grand-dad of Rock" recording a blatant Xmas xploitation song, which becomes a huge hit. LOL.


#197 ::: Spam deleted ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2005, 06:13 AM:

Spam from 165.21.154.16

#199 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2005, 10:04 AM:

Release the hounds!

#200 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2005, 10:11 AM:

Who let the dogs out? [/predictable]

#201 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2005, 10:30 AM:

I never noticed before that 'maddog' is 'goddam' spelled backwards.

Coincidence? Perhaps.

#202 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2005, 01:49 AM:

That should be I scorn you. Plural, y'know.

#203 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2005, 01:35 PM:

Xopher & David Goldfarb:

I never noticed before that 'I scorn you' is
'O, U is Corny' anagrammatically.

Coincidence? Perhaps.

"Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.... The $80 Billion supplemental budget request will follow." [G.W.Bush, channeling Shakespeare]

#204 ::: Dorathea Harlowe ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2005, 09:12 AM:

There are simply no words to describe being held captive in the office environment with the same 10 Christmas songs playing over and over and over and over.....

#205 ::: Sally ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 11:42 AM:

Two new versions of old Christmas fare I discovered last year that DON'T suck or bore you to tears:
"Blue Christmas" by Porky the Pig
(make that "B-uh-b-uh-blooo Christmas")
"Go Tell It On The Mountain" by Tonic Sol Fa
(4-5 guys sing a cappella like you've never heard it)

If anyone's interested in these musical gems, let me know. I don't have a website, but I'll find the links for you!

#206 ::: Sally ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 12:02 PM:

Some clever "adult" Christmas tunes you should sample (if your sense of humor is a bit twisted, like mine...):
"Holy S--t, It's Christmas"
"WHY Granny Got Run Over by That Reindeer"
"Who Put the D--k on the Snowman?"

#207 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 06:34 AM:

Kip W:

Stanley Kramer would never show his film classes The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T because it was too painful. His deal with Columbia was that they couldn't touch his films after he delivered them unless the gross was under X amount for two weeks. When Harry Cohn walked out of the screening Kramer heard him say "The bastard has finally made a film we can't release." Cohn then dumped it in a couple of cities for two weeks with no advertising of any kind, and after it did no business cut out over half an hour of material--stuff bringing the father further into the story as I remember, and a lot of connective detail for the sequences.

#208 ::: CZEdwards sees possible spam ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2011, 10:24 AM:

Possible spam @ 209... Marketing for personal music devices?

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