A one-hour listen to the all day Christmas music on my local radio station has taught me something. There are a lot of lame Christmas songs out there. Aside from the fact that the station runs through the same 50 songs on a loop 24/7, many of them are just unbearably cheesy or even offensive.
For instance, just yesterday I was listening to the Band Aid song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” which was written and performed as a fundraiser to stamp out world hunger. There’s one verse, though, that has always bugged me. After describing the terrible plight of many people in the world, the song admonishes us, “Well, tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.” What kind of Christmas message is that?
For years women have been complaining about the veiled date rape message of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”: “Say, what’s in this drink?” To be sure, that and many songs that find their way into the all day Christmas song marathons were written in a pre feminist era. Still, it’s cringeworthy in this day and age to hear a man plying a woman with drinks and pressuring her to stay overnight. (I must confess, though, that I like the rendition of “Baby” sung by Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel in Elf.)
There are some incredibly tacky and inane holiday songs out there, such as “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” and the annoyingly lisped old charmer “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.” And then there’s the plain schmaltz: “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and the interminable “Feliz Navidad,” the song that really put Jose Feliciano on the map. Feliciano, who had been booed and catcalled for his rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at a World Series game (Atlantic, Dec. 16, 2015), reasoned that if he inserted the English language line “I Wanna Wish You a Merry Christmas” into his song, the radio stations would have to play it. Unfortunately, he was right.
I know some people love these songs. Some of it, I suspect, is nostalgia. How else to explain why anyone would listen to Jimmy Durante rasp out “Frosty, the Snowman”? And it’s easier to do a remake of a popular song from the 40s or 50s than to come up with new music and lyrics. Hence, the 80 millionth version of such gems as “Santa Baby” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”
My objection to these radio station playlists is that they miss so much classic and great holiday music. All the beautiful carols I learned as a child: “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” “Away in a Manger,” “O Holy Night,” “Silent Night” and on and on. These kinds of songs get little playing time. There are some hauntingly lovely songs such as “The Coventry Carol” and “Breath of Heaven” that speak to the dark beauty of the Christmas story. And even more contemporary Christmas songs, such as Amy Grant’s nostalgic, “Tennessee Christmas,” never seem to make their way onto the air.
If stations playing holiday music 24/7 during the season really put their minds to it, they could play a list of songs with virtually no repeats all day long. Maybe then I’d enjoy some of the fun but currently overplayed hits like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”
Still, there are some holiday classics that, for me, never get old. Nat King Cole’s silky smooth “A Christmas Song” comes to mind. I guess I’ll spend the Christmas season listening to my own holiday song collection in the comfort of my home.
What are your favorite songs of the season?