Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas (Let's Try This Again!)

Let's see if Blogger cooperates this time...

For obvious reasons, I'm feeling somewhat ambivalent about Christmas this year. So I thought I'd just talk about some of my likes and dislikes about Christmas, or more specifically, about Christmas music.

Personally, I usually prefer the older, more religious Christmas carols... "We Three Kings" as opposed to "Here Comes Santa Claus," and such. And I generally like these songs better when they're sung by the more established singers of an earlier era -- Crosby, Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, etc. -- as opposed to whatever some modern pop or rock artist has chosen to "gift" us with. But there are exceptions to that ill-defined rule, as you'll see below... if you make it that far.

I wanted to showcase some of my favorite Christmas songs -- in between some characteristic "RantZ" about songs I don't like, or at least, certain details about certain songs that bother me -- and was thwarted in my efforts to find the proper versions.

For example, my absolute favorite version of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" is by Robert Goulet, and it's not on YouTube. So I decided to "settle" for the song as oh-so-ably performed by Bing Crosby.

And hey, speaking of favorites... Can anyone tell me why "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music is now considered a Christmas song? And don't give me any of that crap about how certain lines have "winter imagery," etc., please?

Another favorite song version which I searched for and didn't find was "The First Noël" as sung by Dennis Day. Instead, I'm offering that Christmas classic -- one that "struck" me for no apparent reason when I was still a child -- as performed by Andy Williams.

"The First Noël" does have a line that bothers me now, even more than it did when I was about seven or eight, and first realized that something was "wrong" about the song.

The second verse begins "They looked up and saw a star..." Two notes are devoted to the word "they," so it comes out "they-ey." Those two notes are followed by another two -- "look-ed" -- which force the singer to sing "look" and "ed" as two separate syllables, rather than pronouncing it as "look'd." WTF? I'm hoping that this awkward construction can be blamed on the nuances of 16th century English. Otherwise, it seems like pretty amateurish writing. (Even at seven, I asked "How come they didn't say something like 'They all looked up?' That would've been better!")

In the song "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year," the following lines appear: "There'll be parties for hosting / Marshmallows for toasting / And caroling out in the snow / There'll be scary ghost stories..."

Wait a minute. Time out. "Scary ghost stories?" Excuse me? Who the hell tells ghost stories on Christmas?!?

But now that I think of it, has anyone else ever noticed the similarity between "Carol of the Bells" and "Danse Macabre?"

I've already ranted elsewhere, at length (of course), about how and why the line in "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" which calls Rudolph "the most famous reindeer" bothers me.

Another song with a line that irks me is "I'll Be Home for Christmas," because it begins by saying "I'll be home for Christmas / You can count on me" (emphasis mine), and continues to say "I'll be home for Christmas / If only in my dreams" (again, emphasis mine).

Well, make up your damned mind.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I understand the point of the song itself. This person wishes he/she could be home for Christmas, but knows it won't happen. But why say "count on me" when you know this?

So again, make up your damned mind! I gotta know how many table-settings to put out!

Okay, okay, when I start getting that picky, it's time for more music!

Successfully mixing the traditional songs I've mentioned with a modern treatment, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has been blowing audiences away for years now. However, if you've never heard of them because you've been living under a rock, here's not one, not two, but three songs they've whipped together, featuring such Christmas favorites of mine as "the Nutcracker Suite," "O Holy Night," and "Carol of the Bells."

Yup, there are a lot of Christmas songs I love. Here are some more recent tunes -- "recent" meaning they were written in the last century! -- which I'm just throwing out at random. Some are a bit depressing, which is only fitting. Not everyone is happy this time of year, for whatever reason. Here's a pleasant thought, one which you probably knew already: More people commit suicide at this time of year than any other. Isn't that cheerful?

If I hadn't used up so much room with stuff I liked, I could have filled this space with YouTube videos telling you about Christmas songs I don't like, and why.

Neil Diamond did an ambitious version of "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" which I really can't stand. It has almost a "barbershop" feel to its arrangement, but kinda falls apart in the middle.

I usually love instrumental versions of "Sleigh Ride," but between the "giddy-up" lines and the "comfy cozy" bit, I think the lyrics are sorta lame.

And this ought to tick off more than a few readers: I really dislike the song "Little Drummer Boy." I don't care how popular it is; I think it's stupid. And don't try telling me about how cool you thought the Bing Crosby & David Bowie duet was. It's a dumb song.

Here's a note I wanted to include because I didn't know where else to put it: Often, a person who seems less than enthusiastic about Christmas is asked, "Are you a 'Bah-humbug?' "

"Bah! Humbug!" is not a freakin' noun. It's an exclamation expressing Scrooge's opinion that Christmas was a "humbug," a fraud. The modern-day version of "Bah! Humbug!" would be something like "Ha! Bulls**t!" So calling someone "a Bah-humbug" would be like calling him or her "a bulls**t." Just plain wrong.

Back to the music...

One of my all-time most-loved Christmas songs is "O Holy Night." My favorite version is by Enrico Caruso, recorded in 1916. In my collection of cool stuff I have an original 78 rpm disc of The Great Caruso singing this song in French. Here's a video of it. Caruso's voice still gives me chills, and that's in spite of the poor recording quality of roughly 100 years ago.

Now, lest you think I'm going to let the sarcastic comments or depressing remarks override the theme of this post, my final two songs will be upbeat, I promise.

First, one of the few rock'n'roll Christmas songs that I really love!

And last, but not least, this re-working of a classic really kicks butt! Crank it up to "11," and... Merry Christmas.

Thanks for your time.


  1. Thanks for sharing Christmas music!! Wonderful post lol

    I wish for you to have a great holiday, health and happiness!

    Take care

  2. Understood on the ambivalence, big guy! Candles are still burning here.

    My own preference for Christmas music tends to be toward the traditional carols sung by choirs, Early Music consorts, and such. The only "modern" song and setting I actually like is Mel Tormé's "Christmas Song" sung by Nat Cole. Oh yeah, and Vince Guaraldi's piano trio soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas. The rest of it passes me right by, unless it outright enrages me (yeah, I agree with you on "The Little Drummer Boy"!).

    BTW, the "look-ed" in "The First Noel" and other songs is most definitely due to how the English language was pronounced then. And I'm wondering if the "scary ghost stories" in "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" (a song I actively hate with a passion) refers to Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

    Favorite Christmas song? Now remember, I'm a guy who celebrates the Winter Solstice rather than Christmas, and I like the old carols mostly because they reflect the older, pre-Christian symbolism of the season (even something written as late as "Silent Night" still carries a lot of ancient Germanic Yule imagery). But for a strictly Christian Christmas song, it would have to be Giovanni Gabrieli's "Jubilate Deo" (it's on the playlist on my sidebar if you care to listen). There's something about San Marco's in Venice that inspires composers to extra effort. Gabrieli's music often makes use of the scattered galleries surrounding the nave, posting different choral and instrumental sections all around the church and writing his music to move around the space, as it does in this piece. Antonio Vivaldi, who was music director at San Marco's a century later, did much the same thing. Heh, heh! The space seems to demand it.

    I also like "Stille Nacht", but not with the slow, dreamy tempo at which people usually sing it today. The original tempo was very Tyrolian (where it was written, after all) and goes at a nice brisk Lendler/Waltz pace.

    Oops! Sorry I got long-winded there. I'll step away from the podium now.

  3. Dear Foxy: wow, that's alot of opinions on Christmas songs. I agree with some of them and was intrigued to read in a previous post of yours how traditional the Robt Goulet album was. My mother and I adored him as well. He was so handsome in his youth. We played that album every Christmas. My father took my mother, her aunt and I to the Coconut Grove to see him circa 1963. We had ringside table and it was thrilling. I think I was 11. The most vivid memory of that evening was his singing to a woman @ the table next to ours and her pretending to be indifferent. He finally said, "Oh, you're so blase." My mother, on the other hand, was swooning. He was terribly handsome.

    I don't know why the "favorite things" song is sung @ Christmas but it is. Fogelbrg's "Old Lang Syne" is truly a favorite of mine and reminds me of someone long ago. A poignant song.

    We went to church Christmas eve and sang all my favorite carols from childhood. My sons were with me and I had vivid memories of singing carols at home, playing piano. Mother's favorite was "O, Little Town of Bethlehem". I always liked "Away in a Manger".

    Obviously your post has awakened memories for me. Thank you. I know how hard it is to go through the holidays without your parents.

  4. wow. you put a lot of work into that david! some enjoyable songs here...smiles to you...

  5. Ha! I canNOT stand the Little Drummer Boy with all his rump-a-pum-pumming. He says "shall I play for you?" and when I say "NO!" he just starts in with that damned rump-a-pum-pumming every single time. I want to take his drumsticks away from him and poke his little head off with them. :)

    Also do not like "Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" because it is so syrupy sweet.

    When I was young I love-love-loved Elvis Presley. But now that I have some sense I just really can't stand "Blue Christmas" with all its whistling up and down the scales every time he sings a line. BAH! HUMBUG!

    Do kinda like "Chestnuts Roasting" and "Walking in Winter Wonderland". I like the ones with snow and sleigh-bells.

    And I really REALLY enjoyed your post.

  6. I guess it's all over now for your Foxy. I did spare you a thought on Christmas day as we were enjoying ours. I hope it wasn't too sad.

    I love a good Christmas Carol which is odd because I'm not in the least bit religious but somehow know all the tunes and words.

    As for your 'Look-ed', think of the language of the time, there's a load of it. Pronouncing it as a single syllable word is relatively modern . . remember 'banish-ed'? Poor Ed, don't know what he did to receive such attention. Charles Dickens wrote a Christmas ghost story? As for using bah-humbug as a noun I totally agree (although technically a humbug is a red and white striped candy). Oops just read Roy's comment. He's already nailed it.

  7. I know Robert Goulet's christmas album well. My mother played Christmas music from early November through December. Johnny Mathis was another of her favorites.

  8. I think it might be against the law for me to listen to any of this now that Christmas is over...

  9. @Ishat, Roy, and Baino:

    Being a huge Dickens fan, the ghosts in "A Christmas Carol" occurred to me, but if that was the songwriter's intent, they should have consulted me about how to phrase that line, ya think? ;-)

    @Roy and Baino:

    I've actually found a few people who definitely aren't Christian, yet like a lot of the more traditional Christmas music. I guess good music is good music no matter the subject.

    Also, I suspected as much about the "look-ed" line once I discovered it was a 16th-century English song. (Like a lot of people, I had assumed it was originally French due to the use of "Noel.") Too bad no one had the guts to change that line in the years since. Chickens.

    @Roy and AngelMay:

    YES! There are others who don't like that freakin' drummer boy! ("I want to take his drumsticks away from him and poke his little head off with them." was a classic line!)

    Since you're both a fan of Mel Torme's "Christmas Song," check out this great anecdote:

    @Roy (solo!):

    It's never necessary to apologize for a long comment on my blog!

    My church choir -- including me, when my mom was the church's organist and choir director -- sang "Jubilate Deo." A lovely song indeed.

    Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy" has always been a favorite of mine, but I tend to think of it as more than "just" a Christmas song, since -- IIRC -- it was used on several Peanuts specials.

    And speaking of "Stille Nacht," did you see the Simpson/Lynch Christmas video?

    @California Girl and Ronda:

    Glad I'm not the only one around here who appreciates Robert Goulet!

    @California Girl:

    I often say that "Same Old Lang Syne" becomes more depressing as the listener gets older.


    Yeah, a lot of work indeed... and I had to insert all the videos twice!!!


    I'm still a big-time Elvis fan, although I can take or leave "Blue Christmas."


    I'm a fan of Johnny Mathis, as well. If Caruso's "O Holy Night" hadn't been available, I would have used the Mathis version.


    Ahh, go ahead. I won't tel!

  10. Well, Mr. Fox, you and I would get along splendidly at Christmas time...well, at least in our music choices! ;)

  11. @Betsy: And in other ways, too, I presume?

  12. Oops! I attempted to address everyone's comments, but I regretfully omitted the very first comment, by Marianna! A thousand apologies, and thanks for your good wishes!

  13. Hi! Silver Fox,
    Thanks, for sharing the sounds of Christmas with your readers.
    I hope that the upcoming year is a good one!
    Take care!
    DeeDee ;-D

  14. Dear Silver Fox (maybe from Hopkins's hair)

    I have just found out so many new things, about Xmas songs (still discovering them, and this English pps keep on playing same songs every year) and more importantly about you..

    I should visit this page more often..You ddnt "advertise" it properly to me..:-) Only to the Asian Spammers!



  15. I'm loving the Enrico Caruso! :)


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