I love Christmas.
I really do: the cold weather, the religious and pre-religious traditions, the Christmas trees, the lights on the houses, the early darkness each day, the way everyone seems a little friendlier and mellower (possibly related to the heavy drinking), and most of all, the music.
Hey, I know Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th, that somehow the early Christians managed to grab this ancient pagan celebration and make it their own. A magnificent scam, if you ask me, and I don’t hold it against them. It doesn’t take away from the fun and beauty of the music.
As usual, this year I am listening to a radio station here in L.A. (103.5 KOST-FM) that plays nothing but Christmas music 24 hours a day from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day, and I’ve also made my own compilation CD of Christmas music. The two pastimes have caused me to think about the type of Christmas music that I like, and the kind that makes me puke. Somewhat to my surprise, I find that I am a conservative Christmas music lover. Basically, I like the older, more traditional stuff — that which I’ve been hearing since I was about five years old. There are exceptions, naturally, and those are on my list below.
What makes me puke? Well, first of all, novelty songs. Please spare me “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” “Christmas At Ground Zero,” and the Mother of All Christmas Novelty Songs, “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” sung by that obnoxious little shit back in the 1950’s — sorry, I can’t remember his name, but all of his “S’s” were whistled. Christmas is too beautiful and special to be despoiled by this kind of crap.
High on the “Makes Me Puke” list would also be Burl Ives’ “Holly Jolly Christmas,” with it’s arbitrary refrain and dumbass two-four pickin’ (and, presumably, idiotic grinnin’). I will not kiss her once for you, Burl. Also kind of pukey: Hyper-religious Christmas songs, especially if sung in Latin, like “Adeste Fidelis.” Come on, Catholics — Saturnalia is for everyone!
Here’s my list of Christmas Songs That Don’t Make Me Puke, in no particular order:
- Silent Night – Almost any version. I like the story of how this song came about. A priest in a parish too poor to afford the usual magnificent church organ wrote it and played it on his guitar, a shocking act of insolence for his day.
- The Christmas Song – Mel Torme wrote it, and sang it serviceably well, but the knockout version is by the honey-voiced Nat King Cole. Suh-weet!
- Baby, It’s Cold Outside – What says Christmas more than Dean Martin hustling the object of his late-night desire to stay with him just a little longer? Don’t we all want to keep someone warm on these cold December nights?
- The Little Drummer Boy – This instant classic by The Harry Simeone Chorale reminds us that we needn’t give gifts of gold and silver to be appreciated. Even the ox and lamb kept time.
- Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland’s plaintive original rendering of this song from the 1944 movie “Meet Me In St. Louis” expresses all the heartbreak of all the unmet expectations of all my over-anticipated Christmases past.
- All I Want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey out-Spectors Phil on this BIG production number. It’s pure pop fluff, and it might not stay on the list for long, but Mariah manages to avoid her charcteristic note-torturing vocal style on this one, and she gets me boppin’ when I hear it these days.
- I’ll Be Home For Christmas – Lots of great recordings of this song of sweet longing, from Bing Crosby’s understated version to The Beach Boys’ thousand-part near-a capella rendition.
- Please Come Home For Christmas – The Eagles and Aaron Neville are the rock and soul opposite sides of this burnished Christmas coin, which itself is the flip side of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” How we pine for our missing loved ones at Christmas!
- White Christmas – The all-time Christmas classic. Bing Crosby, “…just like the ones I used to know.” Nuff said.
- Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee. This one and “Jingle Bell Rock” are the earliest rock Christmas songs I can think of, and they made it OK for generations of rockers to try their hands at a new holiday sound track. Thanks, Brenda (and Bobby Helms)!
- Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby Helms. See “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” above.
- Oh Holy Night – Al Green’s soaring, soulful vocal makes the sacred secular, and gives me chills. Testify, brother!
- Winter Wonderland – The song manages to be a Christmas song while making no reference to Christmas, and The Eurythmics’ Annie Lennox gives perhaps the single most original and powerful reinterpretation of any holiday tune.
- Sleigh Ride – The Carpenters. Holiday frivolity is the perfect theme for these lightweights, and almost any tune from their 1978 “Christmas Portrait” LP would do. I choose this one because, in addition to Karen’s warm and gorgeous voice you also get to hear some rare vocalizing (on the bridge) by her creepy brother Richard. (“It’ll be the perfect ending to a PER-fect day!”). You just know he told her she was too fat.
- There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays – I remember the Kraft Music Hall Christmas specials on TV in the early 1960’s. Black and white, prime time evidence that Christmas really was just around the corner. I was in love with half of the June Taylor dancers, and Perry Como could have been singing any old song while they were on screen.
- Blue Christmas – By The King, of course. We return one last time to the theme of loss and loneliness for the holidays. Don’t worry, Elvis – I’ll meet you at Martini’s for some holiday cheer, OK?
I feel a lot better now, as it looks like there are actually quite a few Christmas Songs That Don’t Make Me Puke. I know I’ve left out some really important ones, but I think I should stop now before I include every holiday tune ever written. As I said, I love me some Christmas music.
You must have some favorites. This is the time of year to give up being too hip, too aloof, too cool and Above It All. Feel free to break down, join in and get sappy with me.
As always, every one of you warms my heart at Christmas.