If there’s any Christmas song out there that comes close to being universally-loved, it surely must be Darlene Love’s version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” With all the holiday music think pieces being written every season it’s a bit surprising there isn’t something of a backlash against it (and every other song from A Christmas Gift to You from Phil Spector) given the producer and co-writer of the tune was later convicted of murder. But when the performance is good I guess it’s not hard to overlook some things. A few singers have covered it since, but what’s the point? No way they do it better. (The last track on the album, “Silent Night,” is unlistenable, but would be even without the knowledge that Spector is a creep.)

44 years or so later, Love would finally cut her own Christmas album, It’s Christmas, Of Course. There are a couple of misses sprinkled about, but Love is still in fine voice. Some of the power may be gone, but her phrasing and instincts are better than ever. One of the standout tracks is a cover of The Pretenders’ “2000 Miles.” To say her performance is an improvement over the rather indifferent sounding original is a huge understatement. A good performance makes the song better – Who knew? It was her version of “What Christmas Means to Me” that came on while I was sitting alone on Christmas night, watching the clock approach midnight…

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The King at Christmas

Judging by the plethora of Elvis Christmas albums one would be tempted to think The King had recorded a steady stream of holiday music during his career. This is merely an illusion however. In total he only recorded twenty Christmas songs, mostly in two sessions (1957 and 1971). These songs have been re-released, repackaged, and combined with other material countless times, giving the impression of a larger body of work. All part of the cash grab surrounding Elvis, of course. Everyone, from record companies on down to the lowliest hanger-on, wants their piece. Unnecessary and redundant compilations are just a small part of it.

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Almost Christmas

In my last entry I briefly mentioned some non-Christmas songs that have nevertheless made it into the standard Christmas music repertoire. It got me thinking about another group of tunes: songs that mention or take place during the holiday but don’t seem to fit under the label of “Christmas music.” They can allude to the season, be set during the holiday, or use it to add more depth to the content of the song, but aren’t necessarily “about” Christmas.

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Santa gets stoned

Why not Rotary Connection? That’s a question I ask myself more often than, well, everybody. But it often comes up around mid-November, when radio stations (at least 2 of them where I live) switch to 24/7 Christmas music. The playlists – even between rival stations – are so similar, so repetitive and limited, and are sprinkled with songs that have no Christmas content (“Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Let It Snow,” “Jingle Bells,” “Sleigh Ride,” etc.), that I wonder, why not throw something else into the mix? Why not Rotary Connection?

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I Heard the Bells

When it’s going well, the act of listening to unfamiliar music can bring pleasant surprises. That is the point, after all, to find music that exceeds or challenges our expectations. And it can be interesting to examine where those expectations come from. In the same way a teacher might be impressed by his student (“I didn’t know you could play that well.”), a listener might come to a place where they reexamine what they thought they knew about a composer, genre, or performer (“I used to think I hated Brahms’ music until I heard his Haydn Variations.”).

Of course, there has to be something more there than merely “better than I thought it would be,” otherwise, it’s just novelty. And if that’s all it is, it doesn’t really warrant a second listen. Anyway, this is just a roundabout way to say that I really enjoy the Harry Belafonte Christmas album.

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Christmas, belatedly

Dear Ollie,

A few weeks ago I heard the biggest turd of a Christmas song. Something about how great things were back in Mayberry. I don’t think it was a joke. I suppose calling it a song was a bit of a misnomer, it was actually spoken word nonsense, which just made it worse. The gist of it was: some old guy thinks The Andy Griffith Show is a documentary and goes on a rant about how Christmas is ruined now and we should do everything like Andy and Opie and people put up Christmas decorations too early and did I mention this guy treats The Andy Griffith Show like it’s real and things were better back in the day and there’s probably more but I’m not listening to it again.

If I had to guess I’d say that all of his complaints have been around since we first had the spare time to bitch about such things. One thing I’ve always found strange is, I bet there is a lot of overlap between the “Christmas comes too early” crowd and those who are fervently pro-capitalism. I wonder how they reconcile that. If greed is our god-given right, and if it’s our obligation as Americans to chase after every dollar we can, wouldn’t it make baby Jesus happy that Walmart is trying to squeeze a few more pennies out of us this year? Using Christ to boost the economy sounds about as American as it gets, so what’s their problem?

It’s not unique to Christmas, but imagine the ignorance of the “things were better back in the day” folks. Let’s say The Andy Griffith Show takes place in the 30s and 40s. Imagine how fucking awful it would be, for most people, to live back then. Imagine the more »

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