For those who didn’t notice (or are engaged in being contrarian), Christmas is Sunday.
I can’t believe you didn’t notice, because the media has inundated us with reminders of Christmas for months — literally, in the case of radio stations that started playing all-Christmas music around Halloween. During that time, those radio stations lose my listenership, because all-Christmas music is appropriately starting around today and lasting through Christmas.
Part of the reason for my assertion is that there really isn’t that much good Christmas music. In fact, the subset of good Christmas music, whether religious or secular, is a very small part of the total amount of Christmas music. (Examples of that very small subset can be seen in this space tomorrow.)
Back in 2002, the Music Choice channel analyzed every British number one Christmas song from the previous three decades to identify reasons for their success. The common criteria included sleigh bells, singing children, church bells and references to love. The “perfect” Christmas hit, they concluded, was …
That would be Britain’s idea of a “perfect” Christmas hit, because it did not make Mediaguide’s list of this country’s top 100 Christmas songs of all time. That’s OK, though, because only 20 of those songs on Mediaguide’s list would make my list of top Christmas songs or performances.
My definition of bad Christmas music is unfortunately like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of pornography: he knows it when he sees it, and I know it when I hear it. (Unlike my definition of bad music, which is at least partly objective.) This abomination will make a Scrooge or a Grinch out of anyone:
Part of my disdain for most Christmas music is a disconnect between song and performer. Gloria Estefan is a great talent, but she’s Cuban and from Miami, so having her sing “Let It Snow” is a non sequitur. And if you don’t like the act when it performs anything else (say, Celine Dion), why listen to its Christmas work (say, Dion’s “The Christmas Song”) I am not a fan of “The Little Drummer Boy,” so when Bob Seger gravels his way through it, it’s time to select something else.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Duane Dudek believes the aforementioned advent (get it?) of all-Christmas radio programming has actually hurt the cause of Christmas music:
In 1994 Bill Clinton was president, the Dow Jones average reached a record 3,900 points and Mariah Carey was 24 and released the album “Merry Christmas,” which has since sold more than 15 million copies and is believed to be the bestselling Christmas album in the world.
Today the single from that album, “All I Want for Christmas,” is radio’s 12th-most played holiday song, according to data collected between Oct. 1 and Dec. 12 by Mediaguide, which measures song and advertising radio airplay.
It is the last new song to enter the list, behind 11th-ranked “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley. …
Carey’s song originally was released “just as the all-holiday format started to take hold” on radio, and is “the newest of the now (holiday) standards,” Sean Ross, executive editor for Radio-Info.com, wrote in an email.
It signaled an “end of the era” when radio was used to introduce new holiday songs, he said.
Ross said holiday songs “used to be between-the-albums knockoffs for major artists.”
Today they are intended to keep “a ‘no longer on the radio’ or ‘never on the radio’ artist on the radar. The goal is to sell albums, not singles, and to maximize your chances with radio, which won’t play many new holiday songs but might play a new version of a standard.”
The media goes far beyond Christmas music, of course. I was one year old when my favorite Christmas-themed TV show premiered (which has to be preceded by something long-time TV viewers will recognize):
“The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” is simply brilliant from beginning to end. Dr. Seuss wrote it, of course. It was directed by Chuck Jones of the Looney Tunes works of art. Boris Karloff narrates. And Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice of Tony the Tiger, sings the most recognizable song:
It is no accident that “Grinch,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the “Frosty the Snowman” cartoon and the stop-motion-animation “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” show up on the TV schedule every year. All of those were 1960s creations, and yet they were better done than anything comparable today. (If you want to get a politician mad at you, call him the Burgermeister Meisterburger to his face.)
Other Christmas media I avoid like the plague is the Christmas-themed episode of your favorite TV series. The most famous was for a show that I was not allowed to watch in its late ’60s iteration:
The worst … well, it may be the worst two hours in the history of communication:
The advent of VCRs and DVD players allowed people to stockpile their favorite Christmas movies. The two favorites around here are …
“A Christmas Story,” based on Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, is the funniest thing Darren McGavin ever did, and a movie former children and parents can relate to, for such scenes as saying something you shouldn’t say in front of your parents:
You can tell McGavin was having the time of his life playing the father, veering between studied ironic underreaction (“You look like a deranged Easter bunny”), unusual enthusiasms (his “frah-GEE-lay” leg lamp), and his never-ending expletives-deleted battles with his house’s furnace and the neighborhood stray dogs. When the aforementioned dogs swipe the Christmas turkey, the father does what all fathers must do in times of crisis — use his brain to devise a solution, such as finding the only restaurant that would possibly be open on Christmas Day.
Another reality of parenting is demonstrated in “Christmas Vacation.” Clark Griswold seeks the perfect Christmas for his family — a blot-out-the-sun Christmas tree (what happened to the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, by the way?), having both sides of the family over for Christmas dinner, and the announcement of the swimming pool paid for by his Christmas bonus. And, of course, everything goes horribly wrong.
Both movies demonstrate a parental reality as well — certain occasions are best handled when either drinking or hung over. That includes when the following presents are opened: