I generally don't like Christmas music. That's what I've always maintained. I can tolerate it for one week, maybe two before Christmas, when the holiday spirit flickers briefly within me. Mostly, I blame my late grandfather for this because he subjected us to Christmas albums from The Statler Brothers and The Oak Ridge Boys during my formative years.
I realize these feelings (not the ones about The Statler Brothers and The Oak Ridge Boys) probably put me in a minority. A few of my friends love Christmas music. One of them even likes listening to it at various times throughout the year, like during the summer. Weirdo.
I'm just trying my best to get by in a world where some radio stations go to Christmas music 24 hours a day beginning on Nov. 1. However, it's recently been pointed out to me that there are Christmas songs I enjoy. Several of them, actually. It's true. There are a few tunes I hope to hear when turning to a station that I forget has surrendered their playlists to the holiday season. Maybe I'm not as much of a Scrooge about Christmas music as I thought.
Since writing about a problem often helps me deal with it, I figured I'd jot down five songs I liked and share them with you. The holiday spirit must be doing its thing on me.
What are my criteria? Mostly, I'm thinking of non-traditional Christmas songs, which I define as those I'd hear at church on Christmas Eve. "Silent Night," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing, "Away in a Manger," etc. But that's a narrow definition. Even if you wouldn't hear it at church or from carolers, "Jingle Bells, "Silver Bells" and "White Christmas" are traditional Christmas songs, right? They're more colloquial. I like to skew further from the popular choices.
To my amazement, I came up with more than five Christmas songs I liked. But I didn't really want to embed 10 YouTube videos in this post, and you probably have better things to do with your time (like finish Christmas shopping). So I have some honorable mentions for songs that I like, but don't necessarily need to hear every December. A couple of these surely get some play on the radio, but the others are songs that I likely would've alienated my family with on Christmas.
"I Want an Alien for Christmas" — Fountains of Wayne
"Last Christmas" — Wham!
"Christmas Time (is Here Again)" — The Beatles
"Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" — The Ramones
"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" — U2
OK, here are the Christmas songs I actually want to hear — and might even seek out — during the holiday season.
"Christmas in Hollis" — Run-DMC
I don't know if you're likely to hear this on the radio during the holidays. I certainly haven't, but my research sample size is admittedly very, very small. I just love the lyric, "We bust Christmas carols." That seems like the best way to do it. I believe this is the first time I'd ever heard of collard greens, something I eat frequently now that I live in the South. Maybe Run-DMC was trying to prepare me for that.
"Blue Christmas" — Elvis Presley
I don't sing along with many Christmas songs, but this one is almost guaranteed to get me singing. It's the perfect song for Christmas, suited to playing in the background or turned up louder to appreciate. Elvis' voice just keeps it all cool, like a holiday should be. Also, who can sound bad singing it low like Elvis? I'm sure my sister would disagree, as she had to endure me singing this in the backseat as we drove to Grandma's house each year. I'll bet this song is in her head every year because of it. You're welcome, Lil' Sis.
"Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" — Bruce Springsteen
I can't remember the first time I heard Springsteen's version of this song (I know it was released in 1981), but it blew my young mind when I did. A rock 'n' roll star singing a Christmas tune? You mean these things could be cool?
Eventually, it wasn't just the song that appealed to me, but also the introduction during which Springsteen is interacting with the E Street Band, asking if they've been practicing and what they want for Christmas. Does Clarence Clemons want a new saxophone? Then he puts it to the audience, asking who's been good and not getting many responses. It captures the fun of the holidays, which not enough of these songs do.
"Jingle Bell Rock" — Hall and Oates
Obviously, there are many renditions of this song available for our listening pleasure. But Hall and Oates' version is the one I like the most. It grooves. It's got some soul to it. The song is almost sexy in the way they play it. Yeah, that's right — I said sexy. "Mix and mingle in a jing-a-lin' beat."
Then there's the video, which is like a Norman Rockwell painting that someone may have drawn on with a crayon. It's delightfully cheesy, with Hall, Oates and their bandmates just impossibly happy to be spending their Christmases with each other. The goofy expression on John Oates' face when he's revealed behind a pile of presents makes me smile every time. I'd love to see these guys do a 30-year reunion with Oates' now-weathered, moustache-less face perhaps frightening children.
"Do They Know It's Christmas?" — Band Aid
OK, maybe this is a predictable choice. And the whole idea of musicians and celebrities getting together for a charitable cause has become a pop culture cliché. But when Bob Geldof gathered fellow British musicians and rock stars to record a song and raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia, it really seemed to mean something. What could be more true to the Christmas spirit than helping people in need?
As a bonus, this is a catchy song. You could dance to it, if you so chose. How many Christmas songs can you say that about?
The all-star cast assembled seems to be used perfectly, with each verse suited to the performer singing it. (Nothing like Bob Dylan's part in "We Are the World," for example.) Everyone meshes together. There's no Dan Aykroyd on hand for no explicable reason. However, I love the part about a minute-and-a-half in where Bono decides he's just going to blow Sting and Simon Le Bon away with his voice. "WELL TONIGHT, THANK GOD IT'S THEM INSTEAD OF YOU… !" I'm sure I've repeated that lyric to myself plenty of times to get through the holidays.
Merry Christmas to you. I hope you enjoy these songs too.