Gird yourself for bad Christmas music

It’s only November 29 and I’m already sick to death of “Jingle Bell Rock” and Burle Ives and “White Christmas” and the Ray Conniff Singers (”let’s all sing in unison everybody!”). Hasn’t anyone realized that there are only so many ways to rearrange “Silent Night” and “We Three Kings” before the songs collapse under their own threadbare weight? The state of Christmas music - Christian and secular - is atrocious. There’s a lot contributing to the dismal repetition of the same handful of exhausted melodies, which passes for Christmas music. First and foremost, the limited shelf life of Christmas projects disincentivizes artists and labels from investing heavily in good, original holiday music. Second, the hyper-commercialization of Christmas relies in large part on the sentimentality and faux nostalgia of traditional Christmas favorites softening the rapacious spending frenzy that’s at the root of most Christmas celebrations (”hey, we’re singing “Deck the Halls” while we elbow our way through Super Walmart, so this must mean Christmas isn’t an obscene orgy of getting and spending”). And since you’ve got only at most a couple of months of serious selling time and airplay for Christmas merchandise (in music), the best way to cash in on the Christmas cash-cow is to play to the saps who can’t get enough of “Rudolph” and “Little Drummer Boy” and Alvin & The Chipmunks. This kind of pandering leaves no air and shelf space for original, unproven tunes (and in turn, of course, recycling the same tripe season after season only reinforces the tendency to repeat “old favorites” next year, which is why, I assume, my local soft rock radio station has been taken over by schlocky Christmas crap … and speaking of radio, kudos to Chuck Peters for resisting the Christmas blinders most programmers put on when the tinsel and mistletoe come out). There are fine Christmas projects out there (B.B. King’s, Michael Buble’s, Linda Eder’s and, ridicule me though you may, Mariah Carey’s), but the profit-imperative behind the Bing-Crosby cliché Christmas (a complete fantasy, mind you) keeps these projects at the back of the rack. And there is original Christmas music being written out there, but it doesn’t get much airplay and little promotion because either it can’t compete with “Holly Jolly Christmas” or it’s a religious tune that’s too explicitly sectarian for pop Christmas radio.The situation in sg is not much better. Though original Christmas music fairs slightly better in Christian markets than others, that’s mainly because churches drive the creation of new Christmas musicals and other church music. Look at your average sg Christmas project and you’ll see the same forces at work here that thwart good Christmas music in secular markets: dashed off recordings geared toward holiday sales more than musical excellence. The few original tunes that may be included on these are often hastily assembled, kitchy affairs that are difficult to take seriously (for instance, EHSSQ’s “A Quartet Christmas”).

It kinda surprises me that this trend has persisted so long, since pretty clearly good holiday music - both Christian and secular - is in high demand when it manages to break through the Christmas-music barricade. Linda Eder’s recording of “Bells of St. Paul” became an instant classic when it came out a few years back, as is Kenny Loggin’s fine “Celebrate Me Home” (and Mariah Carey’s recording of “Miss You Most” is outstanding, though it doesn’t get as much play as Eder and Loggins). And it took only a matter of years for the wonderful “Mary Did You Know” to become sickeningly overdone - evidence, I think, that there is a demand for good, original Christmas music even if labels and vendors prefer to peddle holiday pap for easy profits. Aside from labels and artists investing in solidly built and performed Christmas music (which I don’t expect to see happen any time soon), perhaps part the problem is that the relatively small number of good, original Christmas tunes are too dispersed across and buried in a host of otherwise forgettable individual projects. Maybe someone should create an Alternative Christmas CD, a compilation of the best new Christmas tunes from the last 15 or 20 years … start with “Celebrate Me Home,” “Bells of St. Paul,” “Miss you Most,” “Mary Did you Know,” and, say, something from Alabama’s hugely successful Christmas project, Alabama Christmas (which perfectly balances an appeal to Christian and secular audiences). What else should be on this imaginary project?

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Comments

  1. Jeff wrote:

    I am with you Doug. Miss You Most is a great song from her. My 5 worst/sick of Christmas Music on are Adult Contemporary

    War Is Over - Celine Dion
    Feliz Navidad - whoever
    Winter Wonderland - Annie Lenox
    Silent Night - Stevie Nicks
    Let peace begin with me - Vince Gill

  2. sgnsider wrote:

    #1-

    The most recognized version of “Feliz Navidad” is by Jose Feliciano

  3. Scott wrote:

    I just hate it when you bitch about Ray Conniff–but I must say, this very post says “by god, it’s Christmas.” It’s the yearly rite of passage that I’ve come to adore…

    I depend on the appearance of this diatribe just like I depend on the yearly broadcast of the Sound of Music or the Wizard of Oz.

    :-)

  4. RF wrote:

    Two of the most unnoticed songs ever recorded were Jimmy Webb’s “Whatever Happened to Christmas,” first recorded by Frank Sinatra in the late sixties–just a wonderful song. and Webb’s cantada which he called “The Animal’s Christmas.”

    The first is a basic secular love song about lost love at Christmas and the second an amazing potpouri of old unusual hymns and original songs that only Webb could do (I still say he is the most amazing secular songwriter of the last 40 years) and is simply wonderful.

    Of course, no one even noticed either of these gems which only proves that tradition is Christmas music. Unfortunately.

  5. dmp wrote:

    I bought Fernando Ortega’s Christmas album and love it.

  6. Josh wrote:

    For the right blend of New and Old Christmas material I really enjoy Newsongs latest Christmas CD 2006?(The Christmas Hope)

  7. Jim E. Davis wrote:

    Don’t listen to much secular artists except at Christmas. Funny you mentioned Carey’s ” Miss You Most”, which ranks among the top three songs that I’ve enjoyed lately. The other two are Josh Groban’s “Thankful” and Brad Paisley’s “364 Days to Go”. Never get tired of hearing them.

    Favorite Southern gospel Christmas is still the Martin’s “Light of the World”.
    Good stuff.

  8. E Ammerman wrote:

    If you want to hear a very good Christms project with mostly original Christmas tunes that most of you have never heard check out the Manuel Family Band’s Christmas project. You can find it at www.mikemanuel.com Check it out, it’s the best Christmas project i’ve ever heard.

  9. Dale Steenhoven wrote:

    Does anyone know of a good background track for “Unspeakable Joy?”

  10. Kristen wrote:

    I love Faith Hill’s A Baby Changes Everything, Hope has Hands (Phil Cross Wrote), How Do you Welcome a King (via the Ruppes), and My Son or My Savior (done on a a Daywind recording a few years back). Still love A Strange Way to Save The World (Janet Paschal’s version)

  11. Debbie wrote:

    I like Randy Travis’ Christmas album from 1989 “An Old Time Christmas”. I bought his newer Christmas album from 2007 but the older one is much better. It’s not Christmas until I’ve listened to it at least a hundred times. I can’t get enough! He has original songs mixed with traditional. Of course it helps that Randy is one of my all-time favorite singers.

  12. Bob wrote:

    This Christmas, make sure you don’t miss “Leaving Heaven” by Matthew West, featuring Vince Gill. Wonderful lyrics from a terrific singer/songwriter.

  13. t.j. bryant wrote:

    For a pretty good mix of secular & sacred Christmas music ou might give a listen to the Statler Brothers first Christmas album “Christmas Card.” AND some great male 4 part harmony!

  14. Dale Guyton wrote:

    As much as I love Southern Gospel Music I do not think they do Christmas Music as well as secular artist. For instance Bill Pickney’s version of “White Christmas”

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