Saturday, December 3, 2011

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Songs

Renee and Jeremy--"Sunny Christmas" (mp3)

How often in your life has someone asked you what your favorite song is? It can get pretty annoying, especially because you're put on the spot and expect to sort through everything you've ever heard and liked a lot and pick the one song (of the moment, I might argue). I can't imagine having a favorite song that transcends more than a week or two. A batch of songs, yes, but not one song.

Mathematically, all top 50 of my favorite songs are Christmas songs.

Think about it. Come December 1st, at my house, we tend to play nothing but Christmas music in the home and in our cars for the next three and a half weeks. We've got the Vince Guaraldi Charlie Brown, the Chieftain's The Bells Of Dublin, all of Sufjan's homemade Christmas songs (the only exciting addition to the ever-growing Christmas song catalog in the last 20 years) and a variety of other jazz, folk, classical, vocal, instrumental offerings. We've got the wacky stuff, too, though we don't tend to play it much.

So why are these tired Christmas tunes my favorites? Do the math. If your favorite songs are the ones you listen to the most, then all of mine are Christmas songs. By far. A new CD that I bought this year that I really liked I probably heard, at most, about six times. A classic CD that I love, I probably heard two or three times. But the songs of Christmas? It's not unreasonable to expect to hear the better-known ones 40 or more times during the month of December, and really even before, during those days in November after Thanksgiving.

They're everywhere! They're in the backs of our consciousnesses as we buy groceries, pump gas, shop in any store, watch television (which seems fixated on variations of that "it's the most wonderful time of the year" song, which I don't own). Last night, I went to listen to student performances of nothing but Christmas music during the annual Candlelight extravaganza.

And that doesn't begin to address my own playing of them. As I write this, I've listened to the last of the Sufjan songs, leftover from the other night, and now I'm listening to New Guitar Ensemble, whom I posted on this site last year (or was it the year before) right now. "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" in my head right now.

This month, I blew all of my eMusic "allowance" on new Christmas stuff. Not new songs, for the most part, but new performances by new people. I bought a kind of low-rent cocktail jazz set of Christmas songs by David Ian; I bought a new batch of solo piano Christmas pieces by . I bought a version of "The Christmas Song" as played by the late, great saxophonist Clarence Clemmons. Along with some other xmas detritus here and there.

Societally, we like to make fun of all of the Christmas music out there, all the cynical commercial decision-making going on behind all of those CDs, but, let's face it, the songs themselves, almost regardless of how they get tarted up, still hold a primal, nostalgic appeal, even in their most schlocky versions. Even artists I don't particularly like can still hit the "sweet spot" on a song or two. Because it's the song even more than the performer. To find versions that feel real, that feel sincere rather than obligatory, is bliss.

The other aspect of their "favoriteness" is that I've been listening to them for 54 years, even before I could walk or talk. Early on, my father indoctrinated us with the Ray Coniff Singers versions of classics that have now faded away like "Jolly Old St. Nicholas." For me, Christmas songs have 7 years on even the Beatles. How many thousands of times have I heard "Silent Night" or "We Three Kings" or "Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful"? How many listenings of Alvin and the Chipmunks have I endured? I couldn't begin to say.

So, yeah, many of my favorite songs tend toward nostalgic rememberances of Christmases that never were. I can't help it. I don't feel a need to try.

And as the years pass, I salute most those artists who try to add to the canon. Sufjan's "That Was The Worst Christmas Ever" (and about 8 more songs) and Shelby Lynne's r+b-ish "Xmas" and Jackson Browne's "The Rebel Jesus" and Shawn Colvin's digging up of "Love Came Down At Christmas" from somewhere all serve to freshen up the more traditional numbers when you're working through the same bunch of songs for an entire month. I also enjoy how different songs have moved to the forefront over the years. "O, Come, O, Come, Emmanuel" was not even in the mix 20 years ago. "Bring A Torch, Jeanette" and "Good King Wencelas" and "In The Bleak Midwinter" weren't either, and are all among my favorites now.

Among the many joys of Christmas is how the songs still transcend everything else. Regardless of their origins, they maintain a kind of purity now.


John said...


So totally agree with this posting. I got nothing besides just saying props. Vince G is the best game in town this month. Nothing compares....

cinderkeys said...

So you're the one who likes Christmas music. The stores pipe it in every year, so I figured someone must, even if I don't know them.

My question to you is, do you like the stuff the stores pipe in? Do you mind when the start three days before Thanksgiving?

Agreed about Vince Guaraldi, though. He can do no wrong.

Billy said...

Realizing we're all hypocritical at times, I find it goofy that you looooove Christmas songs yet loathe -- and I think that's the accurate word -- 99.9% of all (other) Christian songs. You mock contemporary Christian music, yet no matter what you want to call Sufjan singing a Christmas song, it is, in reality, contemporary Christian music... except with an even more-limited topic than usual... which was one of your big complaints about Christian music if I recall: the extreme limit of topical freedom and derivative nature of how their music is basically aping other music.

Meanwhile, just because "Ring Around the Rosie" and "Jesus Loves Me" are the two songs I've most heard most and for the longest during my entire life doesn't make either of them part of my favorite songs.

Personally, any songs I have to hear ad nauseum... well, causes nauseum. You lock me in a room for three weeks with non-stop Vince G, and I'll eventually build up the same opinion of him as I have of Kenny G. Not even "Linus & Lucy" can be loved forever if it's on eternal repeat.

cinderkeys said...

Not all Christmas music is Christian music. If there's no mention of God or Jesus, I consider it secular, or pretty close.

Funnily enough, even though I don't like Christian music (and I'm not a Christian), the Christian Christmas songs tend to be a lot more tolerable.

Bob said...

The Christian music I like is performed by people who don't MARKET themselves as Christian musicians.

troutking said...

A lot of Christmas songs were actually written by Jews. Not to mention Carole King has a new Christmas album out.

A certain Chattanooga wolf claims the Christmas season official starts when you hear "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" by Bruce on the radio, in a store or on iPod shuffle.

Tockstar said...

Bob, you and I are in total agreement on this one. Actually, Christmas music does float onto the "Most Played" list on my iPod. And Christmas music is good, while virtually all contemporary Christian music is total crap.