Christmas Carol Curmudgeon

By this point in the year, I’m already pretty sick of Christmas songs as it is. (One our of local radio stations actually starts their all-Christmas format in October.) But I now work at a convenience store where they play 18 different cover versions of the same 12 Christmas songs ad nauseum. If you were trying to think of the best way to torture me, you couldn’t do much better than making me stand in the same spot for eight hours and listen to Christmas music incessantly.

By hearing the same songs over and over, though, I find that some of them have very mixed messages, which I think are worth addressing here.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – I already wrote a detailed blog about this song years ago (which you can read here). I actually adore this song — but only when it is sung by Judy Garland, who seemed to be the only singer who understood the song’s inherently downbeat message. (In the movie Meet Me in St. Louis, she’s trying to lift the spirits of her downhearted younger sister, but you can tell that Garland isn’t very convinced of the song’s encouraging words herself.) Unfortunately, once Frank Sinatra got hold of the song, he used his clout to screw around with a couple of the lyrics in order to make the song more upbeat, thus killing its original point. After that, nobody sang it right. Ella Fitzgerald sings the original lyrics which a wrongheaded jazzy spin, and every other cover version is so saccharine as to be nauseating. Just leave the song alone and let Judy sing it.

“Winter Wonderland” – Ever since I was a kid, I’ve questioned the ambiguity of this song’s lyrics. The premise is that the singer and his or her Significant Other build a snowman in the woods and pretend that the snowman is a parson who can marry them later. Then the song continues, “Later on, we’ll conspire/As we dream by the fire/To face unafraid the plans that we made…” Conspire? Face unafraid? Such hostile words have an inherently male tone, which make me think that the man in the story is getting lured into a shotgun wedding. “Now, c’mon, baby, you know we was just talkin’ to a snowman, right?”

“Snowfall” – I’d never heard this song in my life until just a couple of weeks ago, and it sounded ghastly to me. I did some Internet surfing and discovered that the song is actually a Tony Bennett standard, and Bennett sings the song pretty well. Unfortunately, the cover version I heard is sung by Johnny Mathis, who overdid it the way he overdoes everything; the opening instrumental sounds like the soundtrack to a seance. (You should hear Mathis blast out the already overwrought hit “We Need a Little Christmas.”) If you’re not Tony Bennett, don’t sing this song.

“All I Want for Christmas” – My late wife and my daughter loved this song. Personally, I’m not a fan of Mariah Carey’s vocal gymnastics; every time she sings a song, she feels as though she has to try and hit every note in the vocal register. Compound with the umpteen cover versions of this song, and you end up thinking, “All I want for Christmas is for you to shut up.”

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – I demand two minutes for a rebuttal.

“Last Christmas” – Whenever I hear “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart,” I envision some naive woman on a blind date with Hannibal Lecter.

“Santa Baby” – I know I’m in the minority on this, but I don’t think Eartha Kitt is nearly as sexy as she thinks she is. Ditto Madonna’s cover version.

“White Christmas” – Generally, I like this song. But our store plays a cover version by some unknown woman who thinks she’s Frank Sinatra, singing, “…to hear sleigh bells in the snow, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh.” Then she adds her own lyric to the song: “I’m dreaming of a white snowman,” etc., etc. It takes some brass balls to think you can improve upon Irving Berlin.

And no list of dreaded Christmas songs is complete without:

“Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – Years ago, the humor website Cracked.com did a superb deconstruction of this song (actually of the TV special, but it still fits), pointing out how condescending everyone (including Santa Claus) was to Rudolph just because he had a unique nose. I can’t state my case any better than Cracked.com did, so read their blog about it here.

Oh, and…Merry Christmas, everybody!