Christmas in Your Ear
I AM A Lapsed Roman Catholic, but I like Christmas. It means food, fun, and during bygone non-pestilential eras of yore, hanging out with family and friends. It’s nice to have festive holiday music going on behind all the good cheer, but I’ve never bothered to attempt a Holiday Music playlist or deeper still, a mixtape, so I depend on others, in this case the SiriusXM Satellite radio, but not even really the radio device that I own, it’s their website, which has five million channels, and for The Holidays, they roll out a bunch more. I thought there were like, eight special holiday channels, but there’s at least 16, plus the Mannheim Steamroller Channel, which always sounds like Christmas music to me, so let’s call it an even 17. I know, relax, c’mon, here we go, in No Particular Order, let's listen together, it’s Christmas!
70/80s HOLIDAYS is a commercial-free channel, but they fuck up the mood by reminding you all the time about how there aren't any commercials. Since this is "70/80s," as I listen, I am picturing a jolly 1970 nonfat Elvis semi-slurring his way through “Merry Christmas Baby,” and I was surprised by Boney M.’s “Mary’s Boy Child-Oh My Lord,” I never heard that one before. I know Dolly Parton is highly admired, but her holiday duet with Kenny Rogers is a clunker. "Springtime feelings in the middle of December," oy. I have a generational/format issue with this channel because they have Perry Como on here, and mathematically, it might be correct as “70s/80s,” but Perry Como is some dusty shit. Plus they managed to get some Mannheim Steamroller on this channel. Urgh. This is where you will hear “Last Christmas.”
HOLIDAY SOUL is Motown and soul takes on all the Christmas things, and stuff like Bootsy Collins doing “Chestnutz,” and ones I missed, like “Another Lonely Christmas” by Prince. You’re gonna hear many versions of “This Christmas,” and it’s totally fine. Also, Otis Redding erases all other versions of “White Christmas.”
COUNTRY CHRISTMAS is mostly Christmas songs with people twang-singin’ and there's fiddles and stuff. Country music, it's fine. I ain’t gonna lie, pretty much the only Country music I can tolerate is the alt or old-ass stuff, and there’s way too much of Today’s Country up in here. You get all the songs you might already know (Martina McBride, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas), plus some semi-Freudian stuff, lotsa Country for your Christmas. I heard a horrible version—especially for me because I don’t like this song, did I tell you that already—of “Little Drummer Boy” by for KING & COUNTRY (and that’s how they spell the NAME OF their band, annoying) that starts out like "Eye of the Tiger" with the chunky guitar intro, but it never lets up, it’s just chunk-chunka-chunka pa rum pa pum pum, bleah.
The first song I heard on the NOËL INCONTOURNABLE channel was awful (Tea for 20s “Dans nos vieilles maisons”), that terrible sorta cutesy Dixieland Jazz/French le Jazz Hot crap, ugh, and they grafted in a chunk of a Scott Joplin rag, and I enjoy Scott Joplin so I found it highly offensive to my delicate musical sensibilities, but “Dans nos vieilles maisons” might not even be a Christmas song? It's awful, very joyous and peppy. I didn't cheat with Bing Translate, so all I could figure out was maybe "maisons" means "house? I dunno. OK, eventually I Bing’d it and it means "In our old houses," so I still have no clue, but I didn't like it, so I went one more level and looked for a ‘tube, and there’s a Christmas tree in the maison, case closed, urgh. Then, in the depths of my ignorance, I heard a version of "Silent Night" with a violin, and it's a violin, not very French sounding, if that's possible, for a violin to sound French? This next one sounded super French, not like anybody trying to do le Jazz, so I liked it, but it might not be a Christmas song; Pierre Daignault, “Aupres de ma blonde,” which means "apres of my blonde," according to Bing, which is not a lotta help, thanks Bing, (not Crosby). I punched out on Les Breastfeeders, “Noel dans le vent,” which has "Noel" in it and is some sort of generic rock that sounds like the 80s, but "Les Breastfeeders?" I don’t understand France or Quebec, but I know that’s how they like it, so I accept it. Anyway, I surrendered on the NOËL INCONTOURNABLE channel, which, according to Bing translate, means CHRISTMAS INESCAPABLE, and I gotta admit I kept going back to NOEL INCONTOURNABLE for stuff to puzzle over. Les Baronets, “Cet hiver je n'aurai plus froid” it’s a ripoff of The Beach Boys’ "The Man with All the Toys, but it’s OK because it’s a really crappy Christmas song.
The CHRISTMAS SPIRIT Christmas channel was unsurprising because Christmas is pretty full of Christ and stuff, so some market segments are going to focused on putting even more Christ into the occasion, and I don’t wanna be mean or not in the Spirit of Christmas or anything but my theory is a lotta marginal acts get over on this channel because of the slot they are in, formatwise. The thing about this channel is some breaks where DJs proselytize, and like, OK, it's the Christian Christmas channel, our God is here, I get it, not harshing on anyone’s Freedom of Religion, but how about less talk and more music, this is Christmas.
HOLIDAY POPS is all Classical-classy with stuff that makes me feel kinda dumb, it’s great, but, I mean, there was even one act (is that OK, to call it an "act," is it not show biz?) called Tallis Scholars, and they have this joint called “W. Byrd: Gloria, from Mass for 4 voices,” jeez. I might not even have the title correct. Scholars! Plus, Josquin des Prez, “Praeter rerum seriem,” put this one on and you’re gonna require a roaring fire and a large glass of mulled wine or a brandy snifter or a goblet of mulled brandycorn snifterwine to glower into as you Reflect Upon The World, Darkly, through a glass. Which might be very satisfying! Unfortunately this channel also has annoying jams like The King's Singers doing jingle-jingle-jingle “Jingle Bells” all barbershop quartet-style, or whatever was invented before that, when barbershops were for bloodletting instead of singing, bleargh. However, if you dig classical, this is a fun channel for you, genius.
HOLIDAY TRADITIONS has the old-ass rock-solid cliche Christmas songs done by everybody and anybody. I heard these and then bailed: “White Christmas,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and “Silent Night, Holy Night. Also “Winter Wonderland.” It’s enough.
ROCKIN’ XMAS is also whole buncha songs I've heard a kabillion times, growing up listening to Album Oriented Rock radio, so I am more forgiving, but I gotta be in a really specific mood (alcohol) to hear Bruce Springsteen do the Santa Claus tune AGAIN. You can play a fun Xmas Roulette game and put it on until there's a dealbreaker. Here’s my spin: Billy Squier “Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You,” Gary Hoey “Let It Snow Let It Snow Let It Snow,” Weezer “O Come All Ye Faithful,” George Thorogood “Rock And Roll Christmas,” Keith Richards “Run Rudolph Run,” Trans-Siberian Orchestra—Ugh! Trans-Siberian Orchestra is where I punched out, it's car dealer/jewlery store/beer jingle noise, bleah. Plus I always confuse it with Mannheim Steamroller, and for this, I do not apologize. If you want to hear The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping, ’tis the channel.
HOLLY is all the stuff by all the "contemporary" bands like Fifth Harmony (“All I Want For Christmas Is You”) and it's super-slick and did we really need another version of this monster hit that makes Mariah Carey kabillions dollars a year and it just is a weak version? So it’s like all the other channels, pretty much. Why do these bands do Xmas albums? Har! I know why, you don’t have to tell me. Also you can hear Christina Aguilera do her own uhouhhouhuhuhuh thing all over “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” and it kicks the shit out of stupid Fifth Harmony. Who did the original? Was it better? Is it Christmastina Aguilera? If the fates alowwwwuwowowowowowwwww, ooh, etc. Also there are the ur-HOLLY songs, Paul McCartney's “Wonderful Christmastime,” and John Lennon's “Happy Christmas (War Is Over),” Thurl Ravenscroft's “You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” so you’re all over the snowglobe here. Also, HOLLY, in the Spirit of Xmas, has this shit I truly hate, Pentatonix, “Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy,” which gets me changing the channel right away, doobahdoobah doo ba-doops, ANNOYING. On a positive note, on the HOLLY channel, I learned that the name of the Charlie Brown Christmas piano song is “Linus and Lucy.” If you want to hear The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping,” ‘tis also the channel.
HOLIDAY INSTRUMENTALS is a fave-rave of mine because I enjoy not hearing voices in my Xmas music. I don’t know what that means about me, but it’s My Christmas, OK? Even corn-ass shit like The London Sound 70 Orchestra’s “Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town” works, with a nice string arrangement and a xylophone and a tuba, I think? Plus, Jack Jezzro/Sam Levine’s cheesy sax version of “Rockin Around The Christmas Tree”, OK, it's not going to start any arguments in the house. and like, Vitamin String Quartet’s ”Underneath The Tree” I don't even really remember this song in any other famous version and I bet I've heard it a buncha times but it's Xmas-y, it's fine, it goes into the background wallpaper, unless you hate fiddles and stuff, then you’re gonna be grumpy. Mostly though, good times. I like this channel, except when they have Kenny G and his sleazy The Weather Channel music. Super-corny.
JAZZ HOLIDAYS is also good for instrumentals. Don Patterson's “Jingle Bells” is very mellow and inspires me to get into some Egg Nog (regular or unleaded) and wear a sweater while the organ player gets way into it and ties that shit up in deep knots of jingle to where you forget what song it is, you are way down in the jingle-hole, most excellent.
I didn’t understand why Willie Nelson was on the ACOUSTIC CHRISTMAS channel, but he is well-suited to the melancholy classic “Please Come Home for Christmas.” Then they played Tracey Thorn's “Hard Candy Christmas,” with what purists will note is clearly electric guitar, and what I noted was singing, when I'd convinced myself "acoustic" should be instrumentals. There's people singing all the time. No offense to Dido, but I wanted instrumentals. I stopped checking in, because this channel is malfunctioning for Christmas, but it’s me doing the malfunctioning, ho ho!
NAVIDAD has straight-up stuff like Carla Morrison “Noche de Paz” but they also play Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters doing “Here Comes Santa Claus, so it's a real general channel. Also, “general” means you’re not gonna avoid grating novelty songs, to wit: Elmo & Patsy, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” I don’t know enough Spanish to parse Adrienne Houghton featuring Freddy Bailon, Claudette Bailon, Beau Harper & Jet Marie’s “Mi Burrito Sabanero,” but I'm gonna guess it's about the Christmas donkey, "If they see me, if they see me, I'm on my way to Bethlehem." I enjoyed El Gran Combo, “Fiesta De Pilito,” that shit will get you out of a Mood.
HOLIDAY CHILL-OUT is wallpaper, such as Chill Out Angels' “The First Noël.” Personally, I can't stand that Bing Crosby/David Bowie video that gets dragged out every year, but I was fine with the Bing Crosby/Beef Wellington “Happy Holidays Remix.” Members Only's “Christmas Eve” was a teensy-bit too uptempo for me to personally consider Chill, a good example of the "Laid-back takes on Christmas classics" vibe, overall not my cuppa chill, the chill-out channel.
JOLLY CHRISTMAS is if you, as a professional music recording artist, ever recorded anything, ever, and were then compelled to participate in a Christmas album, for any reason. This channel dips into that vast stock for peppy upbeat stuff like Debbie Gibson on “Sleigh Ride,” Brian Setzer Orchestra, oldies like Frosty The Snowman by the Ronettes, self-cannibalization of one’s catalog such as Randy Bachman of classic rock’s Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s goofy “Takin’ Care of Christmas,” the mashup weirdness of “Funkytown Christmas” from Steven P. Greenberg Of Lipps Inc., and Stevie Mackey and Jennifer Lopez’s Cadillac commercial “It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.”
Much like the holiday itself, the HALLMARK CHANNEL set me up for disappointment. Right off the rip we get the very perfect Ella Fitzgerald doing "Sleigh Ride," which yeah, it's not technically a Christmas Song the way Die Hard is technically a Christmas movie, fuck you. What a voice, Ella Fitzgerald. Another outstanding voice, Mary J. Blige, bummed me out with "My Favorite Things," I don’t know why this song makes me sad, but it does, the way "Little Drummer Boy" bums me out. What is Christmas? I mean, it's the Baby Jesus, but he's doomed, you know? I think I had too many Egg Nog. Anyway, actors drop in to hype their Hallmark Xmas movies. Barf. A crummy commercial.
OK, have yourself a Merry one! I think the best Christmas song is Darlene Love's "Christmas, Baby Please Come Home," and yeah, it's a little sad.
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