Thursday, December 6, 2012


It's the biggest holiday fraud perpetrated on the American public since Ryan Seacrest started hosting "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve." Actually, since before. I'm talking about phony Christmas songs. That is, the songs sung exclusively at this time of year, but have nothing to do with the holiday. "Winter Wonderland," for example. Nothing about Christmas; in fact, it's a tale worthy of The Twilight Zone: a couple, apparently driven mad from being lost in a blizzard, who believe a snowman has performed a marriage ceremony for them. 

"Hi. We wrote 'Let it Snow!
Let it Snow! Let it Snow!' Now give us our
goddamn royalties, you ASCAP bastards!"
Or the song with the title that sounds like a spoiled brat who's angry that school isn't cancelled for the day,  "Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!" In it, the man is trying to guilt-trip the object of his lust by insisting that the weather is too inclement for him to go outside, and that he must stay until a break in the precipitation. "I've brought some corn for popping" -- Yeah, we know what corn you'd like to pop! I tried that routine on more than one woman in my life, and all I got was a 101-degree fever from walking home without proper footwear. Certainly not a Christmas sentiment I've ever heard of. 
The insidious gateway to drug abuse.

And of course, "Jingle Bells." That's not even the original title -- it was written in 1857 as "One Horse Open Sleigh." So it's doubly phony. If that's not enough, get this -- the composer, James Pierpoint, considered it a Thanksgiving song. And, frankly, Thanksgiving must have had a different meaning in those days. Because when you consider the key lyrics -- "Dashing through the snow...laughing all the way" -- what you have instead is an open tribute to cocaine.  Check out the final, rarely-sung verse:

Now the ground is white
Go it while you're young,
Take the girls tonight
and sing this sleighing song;
Just get a bobtailed sleigh
Two forty as his speed
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack! you'll take the lead.

"Ground is white" -- a mountain of cocaine. "Go it while you're young" -- introducing drugs to teenagers. "Two forty as his speed" -- a slang for a particular kind of amphetamine. "And crack! You'll take the lead" -- do I have to explain that?

And even if you think I'm suffering from cocaine paranoia, you must agree that the problem with Christmas songs is that all the good ones have already been written. Check out the record collection at your next holiday party. It's the same damn track listing on every album.  By the time you get to the ninth version of "I'll be Home for Christmas," you'll be yearning to spend the holiday alone at a Motel 6 somewhere outside Poughkeepsie.

Thank God George felt the need to print the lyrics
on the record sleeve.
Even the post-break-up Beatles had a go of it. John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)." Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime." George Harrison tried to get in on the action with the New Year's themed "Ding Dong! Ding Dong!" (which sounds about as good as you'd expect with a title like that). But the first two are so inexorably linked to the original versions -- as are "White Christmas" (Bing Crosby) and "The Christmas Song" (Nat King Cole) -- that remakes only make you wish you were listening to those instead (if you're not sick of them as well).

And still songwriters are trying to crack the market. Well, not songwriters in the Irving Berlin tradition, but those cynical music committees, often from Sweden for some reason, that churn out contemporary Top 40 hits like blood sausage. You've heard them over the PA system at your favorite grocery store. Interchangeable pop tarts known by the first names mewling about "presents" and "kisses" and "miss you." They make sure to drop the word "Christmas" in the first line -- otherwise you'll confuse it with the rest of the crap on the radio -- and they usually throw in some sleigh bells in the rhythm section. These particular recordings are successful only in that they're cold as Christmas in Reykjavik, and the present you feel like giving these singers is a box of hand grenades that look like ornaments.

Over time, even more tunes that have nothing to do with the holiday are being included in Christmas albums. It started with "My Favorite Things," and now include "Baby It's Cold Outside" and "If I Were a Bell." Rod Stewart threw in "When You Wish Upon a Star." It's as if just evoking some tenuous connection -- "star" as in "Bethlehem"? -- has become the rule. Now, "Magical Mystery Tour" always makes me think of Christmas because that was when I received the album -- but that doesn't make it a Christmas song!
Nor does this 45 sleeve make "Please Please Me" a Christmas song, either.
And yet... there is something heartwarming when former pop rebels release holiday albums. For instance, the new release James Taylor at Christmas. The hippie-turned-crooner offers all the holiday standards you know and love, including "The Christmas Song," "Here Comes Santa Claus"... and "Here Comes the Sun." 

"Here Comes the Sun"? Get out the tinsel, kids -- it must be Christmas!
If we've got to hear "Jingle Bells" again, it might as well be sung by Ricky Nelson:

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