“To Play or Not to Play” – This Season: Holiday Music in Review
Holiday decorations seem to go up sooner every year, and Christmas tunes start playing right after Halloween. What gives? Do people enjoy the songs or just love to hate them because it is better to vent at the radio or a store PA system than their families? Wham’s “Last Christmas” appears on the most popular and most hated lists simultaneously, so how do you decide what a “good” holiday song is versus a “bad” one? PopVortez claims “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” by Mariah Carey, as the most popular holiday iTunes song. Who is creating these lists? And do they correlate with whoever’s been naughty or nice throughout the year?
In our holiday investigative journalism spirit, the Rogue Valley Messenger contacted local musicians to give input on their “to be played” or “I never want to hear them again” lists this season.
Ira Mazie of Fortune’s Folly, recently voted Best Band in Eugene Weekly’s Reader’s Poll, says he likes the Polyphonic Spree version of Happy Xmas (War is Over). “It is uplifting, inspirational, has beautiful harmonies and full orchestration and sleigh bells and snare parts are fun and empowering. The song moves me emotionally every time.” But he does not care for Silent Night which made him feel lonely and depressed, especially as a Jewish child.
On the other hand, Darcy Danielson, Production Music Coordinator for OSF says, “Two of the prettiest melody and lyric pairings are: ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ and ‘Lo How a Rose E’re Blooming.’” Duane Whitcomb of Creekside Strings agrees wholeheartedly with her first choice. But he will not fiddle with “Joy to the World” because it’s in a D scale. Musicians from the hip-hop and rap genres also weigh in on the seasonal fun. Masta X Kid, a hip-hop artist that performed recently in Medford at Johnny B’s says, “My favorite holiday song is Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time” because my toes get tingly and I make my cocoa marshmelloey when I listen to it, and my least favorite holiday song is ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town’ because it’s just weird and freakishly insane.”
Namid Wolf is in the middle of a full-on holiday song immersion. She is currently writing a rap song using “White Christmas” as the hook. She says, “My first taste of playing music was actually holiday music. I had a keyboard and a Christmas song book. I played ‘Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer’ and ‘Silent Night’ year-round, in Florida… I am actually writing a rap song with ‘White Christmas’ as the hook; it’s about how I have fought racism systemically since I was a small child and biting my tongue at the Christmas table as to not disturb the peace… but that’s a whole other topic.
Wolf is in uber holiday spirit stating, “I’m singing a medley of Christmas songs right now. All the way from ‘Santa Baby to Joy to the World.’ I can’t seem to just pick one because I want to sing all of them at the top of my lungs, door to door, starting today up until Christmas! Who wants to go caroling this year? As long as we don’t sing ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside…’. because I can’t tell if that first makes me want to slip into something more comfortable or put on my coat and run as fast as I can…” In fact, a Cleveland radio station just banned the tune entirely this year.
For other musicians, holiday songs are opportunities to reminisce. Jen Ambrose, a local blues and jazz singer, when asked what her most and least favorite songs are remarked: “I sift through early childhood memories of large, Sicilian holiday gatherings in upstate New York. The copious amounts of phenomenal food, my doting grandparents and the deliriously fun times playing in the snow with my sister and cousins bring to mind the Vince Guaraldi Trio and The Charlie Brown Christmas Songs, most notably, the Peanuts crew singing ‘Christmas Time is Here.’ Very magical. Any songs by Vince Guaraldi have that feel, but the early ‘me’ strongly identified with those young voices, singing in earnest to the backdrop of the jazz piano and smooth brushes swooshing over the drum – like snow falling against the windows on Christmas Eve night.”
But Ambrose does not love all seasonal songs even when they are performed by chart-toppers: “I would have to say that my least favorite holiday song of all time is: 12 Days of Christmas.’ Although this is an iconic holiday tune, it reminds me of a ‘Christmas song version of ‘99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.’ It is so repetitive that I find even Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters cannot make this song sound compelling. I did sing this song for our choir Holiday Concert during Middle School, but that was a very long time ago. Now, years later, I wish to apologize to that polite listening audience for what they must have endured, while patiently waiting for this song to finally end!”
And speaking of ending …how about we get to the music? Below are recommended songs for each of the twelve days of Christmas. The holiday song recap goes a little like this:
Holiday Favorites Playlist:
“Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney
“Christmas Time is Here” by Vince Guaraldi
“In the Bleak Midwinter” based on a poem by Christina Rossetti
“Santa Baby” sung by Eartha Kitt (check out Lindsey Sterling’s version)
“Let It Snow” by Captain Picard
“Happy Xmas (War is over)” by Polyphonic Spree
“Green Sleeves” (Instrumental version)
“That’s What I Want for Christmas” by Nancy Wilson
“Lo How a Rose E’re Blooming” performed by Sting or Mannheim Steamroller
“O Holy Night” written by Placide Cappeau
“Little Drummer Boy” performed by David Bowie and Bing Crosby
“White Christmas” by Irving Berlin
Holiday NO Playlist:
“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” by Tommie Connor
“Twelve Days of Christmas” (originally a chant not a song from England circa 1780)
“Baby It’s Cold Outside” by Frank Loesser
“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” by Randy Brooks
“Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Robert Lewis May
“Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts
“Santa Clause Is Coming to Town” by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie
“Frosty the Snowman” by Walter “Jack” Rollins and Steve Nelson
“Silent Night” (composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr)
“Text Me Merry Christmas” by Kristen Bell
“Dominic the Donkey” by Lou Monte
“Chipmunks Christmas Song” by Ross Bagdasarian Sr.