Christmas Songs and The Christmas Song

‘Tis the season to be… hearing the same damn songs over and over again.

Fa la la la la, la la, la la.

I’ve written about my general dislike of December music before.

But whatever, if I have to listen to it, I might as well get a blog post out of it.

And trust me, I have to listen to it. It was bad enough when I just had a wife that liked it. At least she has the decency to listen to it in her car and when I’m out of the house. Now there’s a five-year old involved, and she has no such compunctions. I was able to put my foot down up until Thanksgiving, which blessedly was later than usual this year, but the month of December in my house has been a steady slog through one hundred variations on the same twelve songs.

Really, John Legend? You had to remake “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”? Because one full-of-himself warbler wasn’t enough? But to be fair, you might’ve outdone Lennon in one respect. I didn’t think it was possible to screech more over the top than Yoko Ono, but you’ve proven otherwise. Holy crap, Legend sings with more vibrato than an opera singer sitting on a vibrator during “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Speaking of former Beatles, someone remade Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” Not sure why that needed to happen.

One carol that needs to be remade is that stupid Frank Sinatra song. Because every time I hear him start “Whoopidy-doo, and dickory-dock, and don’t forget…” I feel like he needs to sing “to whip out your cock.” But he never does. And since he died twenty years ago, it’s probably never going to happen. But come on, there has to be some b-roll recording of it, right? In a vault next to the Trump pee tapes?

I just looked that Franks Sinatra song up and it’s called “The Christmas Song,” which seems to contain about as much effort as the lyrics. Or the singing.Frank Sinatra is a masterful singer. His cadence and his timbre can convey any emotion from love to sorrow to jubilation. To mailing it in, which he was clearly doing with this song. I don’t blame him, but the general “ah, go suck on a dick” is prevalent throughout.

That song, by the way, might be the worst fucking song in existence. I was going to say “the worse Christmas song” but “worst song in existence” pretty much covers that, right? At least half of the shittiest songs are December specials. That’s what you do when you know your song can’t rest on its own laurels. Throw in a reference to snow and it’ll play once a fucking hour every December for the rest of time.

And of course, let’s continue to rehash, one month out of every year, what did and did not constitute date rape in the 1940s. Say, what’s in this drink? Ask Bill Cosby.

But this year I’ve narrowed in on two specific Christmas songs. Or Christmas carols. I’m not sure about the distinction between those two designations, but whatever it is, “All I Want for Christmas is You” and “Last Christmas” are on the cusp of graduating from one to the other.

It’s hard for me to categorize these two because, in my mind, they are still too new to be Christmas classics. Of course, “too new” just means that they were released in my lifetime. If I can remember a time before Mariah Carey traipsed around in a skimpy Santa costume, and if I remember “Last Christmas” as just a minor follow-up to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” then these can’t be classics. Who cares if they came out 25 and 35 years ago, respectively. Classic rock stations shouldn’t be playing Guns n’ Roses, goddammit! And don’t get me started on all of the YouTube playlists that call 1980s music videos “Golden Oldies.”

Did the Boomers go through similar situation with all of the Beach Boys and Elvis tunes becoming standard Christmas fare as if they’d been around as long as “O Tannenbaum”? Even the aforementioned “Christmas Song” was recorded in 1957. Shit, Rudolph wasn’t even a character until Montgomery Wards needed an advertising ploy to compete with the Sears catalog during the Great Depression.

So fine, I’ll admit to my biases and acknowledge that maybe three or four decades is enough time to pass for a song to lose its novelty. In my daughter’s mind, there’s no difference between Elvis singing “Blue Christmas” and George Michael singing “Last Christmas.” Both were dead before she knew what was going on. She was about as old when George Michael died as I was when Elvis died. Is Bing Crosby still alive? Probably not.

But hey, Andrew Ridgeley is still alive! And it turns out he was playing on that song, too. I lost an argument about whether it was a Wham! song or a solo George Michael song. Turns out it was the former, so yay, Andrew Ridgeley!

But both of these  songs have problems that should prevent them from crossing over into proper carols.

Let’s start with Wham! I was predisposed to disliking Wham! in the eighties. After all, I was a hetero-normative kid growing up in the suburbs. And no, I’m not saying we knew George Michael was gay. How could anyone have known, what with the feathered hair and day-glo pink wristbands? But I didn’t know what homosexual or heterosexual were, even if “fag” was the pithy insult du jour. Or du decade.

But I had an older sister, and she though George Michael was dreamy. So did some of the girls in my grade, because that’s a thing fourth graders do. I had a major crush on the girl from Goonies. Although, oddly enough, not the hot cheerleader one, but the androgynously nerdy one. But still, if George Michael was gonna make the girls swoon, then I might as well throw him in with Andy Gibb and Sean Cassidy. To quote Frank Sinatra when he heard the Beatles, “Mice make women scream, too.”

No wait a second, that wasn’t Frank Sinatra talking about the Beatles. That was some older generation dude talking about Frank Sinatra. What comes around goes around, I suppose. Still, I bet no critic anywhere knew Sinatra had such brilliant witticisms as “Coming down the chimney down” up his sleeve.

What does that even mean? Is it like an escalator, where there’s an up chimney and a down chimney? Or is “down” such a powerful indicator that it must be repeated? Did somebody ask a question in between that has since been lost? “He’ll be coming down the chimney.” “Where?” “Down.” Although chances are, that person would be asking about chimney, not down. But whatever. Whoppidy-doo and suck on my cock.

The biggest problem with “Last Christmas” is that it isn’t really a Christmas song. Yes, it presumably takes place at Christmas, but there’s nothing to distinguish it. If he sang “Last Arbor Day, I gave you my heart, but the very next day, you gave it away,” would it change the basic feel of the song? As opposed to Sinatra, where hanging up a sock for Fourth of July just means you’re doing laundry.

“Last Christmas” is the song equivalent of Die Hard. And yes, I know this is the biggest debate that is not a debate Next week, is a hot dog a sandwich?

When asked, I come firmly down on the side of “Die Hard” being a Christmas movie. But it’s kind of disingenuous. What I really mean is that I’d like to mix “Die Hard” in with the normal drivel of Christmas movies. I can only see Santa save a troubled marriage or a rude guy learning the real meaning of Christmas so many times before I need me some Hans Gruber falling from Nakatomi Plaza.

In reality, “Die Hard” is a movie that takes place at Christmas, but it isn’t a country movie. If you wanted to bust it out in June, nobody would look at you sideways. As opposed to, say, “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” which can only be watched after Thanksgiving. The same can be said for “Last Christmas.” It’s a song about a bitter jilted love that just happened to take place last Christmas. It should not become a permanent fixture.

To say nothing of the fact that George Michael died on Christmas day, so it feels kinda creepy to hear him tell us that, on a previous Christmas, he gave us his heart. Am I to assume he was an organ donor?

The same gripe doesn’t apply to “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

Again, I was predisposed to dislike this song. I was a hetero-normative college student in 1994. My musical diet was a steady supply of “MTV’s Alternative Nation” mixed in with the occasional classic rock. Mariah Carey? Are you fucking kidding me? She might as well have been Celine Dion.

That being said, when that video came on MTV or VH-1, the four dudes I lived with might grumble a fair amount, but we never turned the channel. If Amy Grant or Joan Osborne came on, we couldn’t switch to ESPN fast enough. But Mariah Carey? Somebody would say, “Not again,” and then we’d all sit there in silence, staring at the screen. We might or might not have then excused ourselves to the privacy of our separate rooms.

Because, in case you missed the subtle undertone there, Mariah Carey is attractive. But that wasn’t enough to get us to stay on the channel. Heck, Amy Grant is cute, but that doesn’t make me want to convert to born-againism. And if any other Mariah Carey video came on, not that I can remember any other Mariah Carey songs, we wouldn’t be watching. But holy crap, “All I Want for Christmas is You” is a whole ‘nother level of hormones. Bear in mind this was before every Halloween costume went “sexy,” so “Sexy Santa Snowgirl” was profound for this twenty year-old.

Even if she would only show one side of her face.

My biggest problem with this song has nothing to do with the beat or the lyrics. It’s totally a Christmas tune. It’s about getting presents and making lists and even mentions Santa Claus and snow. Check, check, and check. My main problem is that, if it becomes a Christmas standard, then everyone’s going to start covering it. They’re going to sing it door-to-door. And Mariah Carey’s voice can be matched by maybe three human beings on the planet.

At least the professionals are aware of this. You’ll note that, unlike a song like “Yesterday,” where the goal of most covers is to be as faithful to the original as possible, covers of “All I Want for Christmas” try to change as much as possible. Speed it up, slow it down, change the key. Whatever you do, don’t lead the listeners to expect the vocal riffs at the end. Even Idina Menzel, one of the three aforementioned human beings who might be able to go toe-to-toe, or tonsil-to-tonsil, with Mariah Carey, makes sure nobody’s going to mistake her version for the original. She puts her vocal riffs at the beginning and turns it into a rockabilly beat with an understated spoken-word ending.

It’s the amateurs who don’t show the song its proper respect. And if it ever enters the standard rotation of “Silver Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” then it shall be woe unto thine ears and a pox upon the house of Carey.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Who in their right mind would try attempt such a thing? But you will only ask that if you’ve never been to karaoke night. Because Steve Perry is another one of those once-in-a-generation voices, but that doesn’t stop millions of drunks from belting “Don’t Stop Believin'” out of their asses on a nightly basis.

The same goes for Mariah Carey. We have a neighborhood gathering every December at our local park. It’s dubbed as a food bank donation and caroling, except the people that organize it only show up for about three songs, then they grab all the food and run, presumably with a tax deduction to make the angels weep. They bring a portable microphone/speaker set and encourage the kids to sing into it. They hand out lyric sheets that the grown-ups politely refuse because who the fuck doesn’t know the words to “Jingle Bells,” but then they sing some made-up bullshit third verse that nobody knows about Fannie Bright or Fannie Flagg or Maggie May. And we all mumble through them like it’s the Apostle’s Creed and then belt out the chorus like we were just reserving our voice for the good part.

Anyway, when they were packing up, the lady running things sang another couple songs through the microphone. One of them was “All I Want for Christmas is You.” It was a karaoke version, something which shouldn’t exist for the sake of all mankind. C’mon California, you can ban freelance journalism but not karaoke versions of songs that should never be sung in a karaoke bar? It would go much farther in protecting our collective health than banning second-hand smoke.

Anyway, she was an above average singer, so for most of the song it wasn’t bad. Grooving, fun. Some people hummed or sang along to the approachable parts of the catchy song. But then the end approached and I looked at the singer, wondering if she was going to try for it or take advantage of the escape valve. After all, she could sing the final “yoooooooouuuuuuu” an octave lower and it fits perfectly fine. Our ears and the additional years tacked onto the end of my life would thank her.

But when I looked at her, it was obvious she wasn’t takin’ no bullshit lower octave. She sucked in her breath, raising the mic above her, and lifting her head toward the heavens in both arrogance and apology. She was preparing to tear down the walls of Jericho. Bang the eardrum loudly, Joshua!

It’s that moment in a football game when the place-kick holder stands up and you realize, holy crap, they’re going for an all-or-nothing fake kick. You see the defenders already past the offensive line and, as you become precognitive. You can see the entire crash-and-burn before it starts to unfold, even if the scrawny punter doesn’t see the linebacker bearing down on him.

This lady never saw the three-hundred pound gorilla of Mariah Carey’s eight-octave range.

Have you ever seen that South Park where John Stamos’s brother couldn’t quite hit the high note in “Loving You”?

Do do do do do-doo. Uuuhhhhhhhhhh.

So yeah, I have some problems with these two songs becoming December regulars. Because, as curmudgeony as I am about Christmas songs in general, and as little inclined as I was to listen when these two came out, I actually like them. And I’d like to keep it that way.

Nobody ever remade “Jingle Bell Rock” or “Little Saint Nick.” Nor does anyone bust these out when they’re going door-to-door.Not everything can be a Rudolph or a Frosty or an “Away in the Manger.” Although really, amateurs shouldn’t be singing that last one, either.

Let’s put “Last Christmas” and “All I Want for Christmas is You” into that same genre of less-is-more.

But somebody, please anybody!, needs to remake “The Christmas Song.”

And put in the real lyrics!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

[…] of the problems of growing older. When I wrote about “All I Want for Christmas is You” last week, I didn’t have to look up what year it came out, because I was in college. I can remember who […]

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