Christmas Music: the great debate

The other day I made a mix cd of my top holiday tunes and have been listening to it pretty much non-stop. I’ve read a bunch of the best and worst lists concerning this seasonal entertainment. I’ve gotten into heated discussions with friends and acquaintances about various songs merits and faults. It’s amazing how this genre that most claim to be completely annoyed by can conjure up such emotion. I guess it’s just that way this time of year…..

Here is my mix and my justification for each song.

Winter Wonderland, Johnny Mathis: My mother has worn out more copies of the Johnny Mathis Christmas record then I can even imagine. You know the one, he’s on a “snowy” scene with skis and such. I think circa mid- 1960s? It used to drive me nuts. Now it isn’t Christmas until I hear it, this song in particular. I used to think that “Parson Brown” was actually “parched and brown”—I lived in Oklahoma. Oklahoma in winter is parched and brown–on a good day. It’s just a good song….

Santa Baby, Eartha Kitt: First off, I like the Madonna version too. It’s a controversial stance, I know, but I am a child of the 80’s and Madonna is my gal. Eartha Kitt, where to start. I like the sex of this song. I like to imagine her singing it to a hot Santa (is there such a thing) in a sultry outfit and ultimately getting everything she asks for. One drunken evening the conversation turned to all the sexual allusions in the song—chimneys and such, but I won’t put you through all of that here.

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Brenda Lee: Argue with me about this one, I dare ya!

Mele Kalikimaka, Bing Crosby: Try to sing along with this and not smile. If you can do that, well, I don’t know what to say to you—there are some great anti-depressants out there, check ’em out. This song also rocks because you can “croon” to it and there is the bitching girl back up singers.

Last Christmas, Wham!: Did I mention I am a child of the 80’s? This song is so heartbreaking, you HAVE to love it. I had the biggest crush on George Michael when this song came out (shut up! he claims he was straight then) and I vividly remember being pissed at the idea that any woman would just give his heart away. Ahhh youth, before you know that giving your heart to anyone is the most dangerous thing to do ever.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Mindy Smith: This song tears me apart. I know that it came out during WWII and when I learned that, it killed me even more. This song played a pivotal role in an episode of Facts of Life when the girls somehow (the details are fuzzy) end up singing Christmas carols in a prison. Jo, who’s father had been in prison of course…bless her heart, remembers that his favorite song when he was in the joint was “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” This version by Mindy Smith is particularly poignant. Her voice has an intrinsic sadness that so works with this song.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Judy Garland: “Meet Me in St. Louis” is one of my favorite movies of all time. I used to watch it each year with my Grandma and just delight in young Judy Garland and the wonderful, but sad world portrayed in that movie. I SO wish that I had seen it a couple of weeks ago on the big screen at The Belcourt…..but alas, I celebrated my birthday a bit to hard the night before and slept all day. This song is so sincere and sweet and such a simple sentiment that is encompasses my desires for this holiday.

Christmastime is Here, Vince Guaraldi (vocal version): being born three weeks before Christmas, my first Christmas pictures are of a teeny tiny baby. One picture is of me with my first Snoopy doll. I got it from my Aunt Yip Yip…who wasn’t an aunt at all, but had been my mom’s roommate her first year in college. I received a Snoopy doll pretty much every year for MANY years. I carried that thing around with me everywhere so they got worn out pretty quick. The Charlie Brown Christmas special is the best, no comparison. This song is so sweet and sort of sad….like many Peanuts things. It’s gentleness and the young voices singing make for a lovely thing indeed.

Sleigh Ride, Johnny Mathis: see the above Johnny Mathis entry for the general gist of how this made the cut.  This song used to represent what I was sure Christmas time with a boy would be like.  I’ve never been on a sleigh ride, with a boy or not. Boys can be scarce around the holidays, many times it seems like relationships were “on a break” or there was some tragic fight right around Thanksgiving that would all be forgotten about December 29, when the prospect of not having a NYE date seemed horrible. Ahhhhh love.

Christmas Wrapping, The Waitresses:  I SWEAR, I am not scary 80’s obsessed girl!  I swear! This song ROCKS!  It’s silly and sassy. It shows that being a bit on the “bah humbug” side can be cool. It talks about a boy. What more do you want people?

Christmas in Hollis, Run-DMC: “It’s Christmas time in Hollis Queens. Mom’s cooking chicken and collared greens!” This is the penultimate in contemporary classics.  You can take your Josh Grobans and Michael Bubles and stick it….this is what I want from a Christmas song.  Rap when it wasn’t scary. Rhymes that talk nothing about bitches or Benjamins (well, sure Santa brings some dough…but there are no guns discussed in obtaining it)

Carol of the Bells, The Bird and The Bee: This version of this song, by a band that is a darling of influential radio station KCRW, doesn’t exhibit the gothic intensity that many versions do. There is something so cinematic about this song. The frenetic intensity and simple words make for a song that stands out. Please don’t get me started on the Mannheim Steamroller version…I CAN’T STAND IT!!!

Blue Christmas, Elvis: I’m sensing a sort of theme here….lots of sad Christmas songs.  This song is perfect. Elvis sings the hell out of it. The lyrics are simple and to the point. Holiday loneliness as a theme, long before Dr. Phil, etc. got a hold of it.

Baby, it’s Cold Outside, Dean Martin: I used to have a friend who HATED this song. He had no concept of the wonderful flirtation that was going on. He had no patience for how the two folks in the song just wouldn’t part ways. Ahhh, silly boy. This song ROCKS.  I love that point in an evening when you know you should leave but would love for him to ask you to stay and the push and pull of the conversation weakens you until you are looking for any reason to stay.  You always stay and if there is that much discussion about you staying, it is usually a VERY GOOD decision.

All I Want for Christmas is You, Mariah Carey: The cover of the CD this song is on makes me want to vomit. When I worked in a music store I HATED having to deal with it. Mariah before she got slutty and sad, but was trying a little to hard to be sexy…..and failing.  That being said, this song is catchy, fun, flirty and good. I’m not proud of it’s inclusion here, but I stand by it.

The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late), Alvin and the Chipmunks: From year to year, my ideas on this song go between wanting to poke my ear drums out when I hear it and loving it.  This year is a “loving it” year.  It’s SO DAMN cute and silly and I remember my parents hating it, which made me love it even more.

Same Old Lang Syne, Dan Fogelberg: Not really a Christmas song, I know.  Dan Fogelberg passed away the day I made this mix. I have ALWAYS loved this song. Yes, I like soft rock, what of it? This song seemed like a good ending to the mix and I LOVE the idea of running into an old boyfriend randomly…well, not all of them, but you know what I mean.  I also like to drink beer in the car.

So there it is, my mix.  In no way shape or form does this mix make me seem cool.  I could toss in some Ramones or Vandals or Kirsty MacColl & the Pogues…all of which I like. But Christmas to me isn’t about being cool, it’s about the familiar and the soothing and the things that make me happy.


One thought on “Christmas Music: the great debate

  1. All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey is one of my favorites. I think it’s the only song she’s ever done that I like. It’ll get you moving.

    My darling husband HATES Baby It’s Cold Outside – I sing it to get on his nerves. 🙂

    And Mele Kalikimaka is very wonderful and definitely one of my fav’s too.

    I ironically tend to like the religious songs sung by choirs.

    But where is Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire by Nat King Cole?! Huh? Or Christmas in Killarney or Little Drummer Boy??

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