Everything about me seems to suggest that I shouldn’t be doing this. I’m not religious, and there isn’t much about this particular season that makes me think it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But damn if I don’t love Christmas music.
All the traditional Christmas songs ring like true folk music—handed down from generation to generation. And there’s something beautiful about the earnest simplicity of melody. Take “Jingle Bells” main theme—“Jingle Bells, jingle Bells, jingle all the way”—out of the eleven notes that make it up, eight are the same. From this, a wellspring of interpretation comes forth. Whether it’s “Jingle Bell Rock,” or Joni Mitchell’s “River,” the melody of a Christmas song is supposed to be simple.
Naturally all this changed as the holiday became more and more commercial. Some people found an excuse just to make an extra buck (like how there’s a slew of sale emails every single day and none of them are any different than the one from the day before). Tin Pan Alley got into the mix, which was dominated by Jewish songwriters at the time, and ended up creating a new generation of classics (and a new tradition of Jewish performers with Christmas albums, i.e. Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan). This includes “The Christmas Song,” and as legend has it, was written in the midst of a sweltering heat so songwriters Bob Wells and Mel Tormé could cool down. If the legend is true, the team may have written one of the best songs ever (Christmas or otherwise) in 45 minutes.
The holiday wasn’t completely devoted to Folk and Tin Pan Alley style tunes though, and some of the best music to be connected with the holiday come from soundtracks to movies and TV specials. Cartoons like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman were based on folk stories, but A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas were something else completely. They are thoroughly modern and the music that spawned from the specials would have a lasting effect on Christmas music, and in the case of Charlie Brown, a wider appeal.
Christmas music would endure, but despite dozens of attempts every year, none would quite match the appeal of the old-timey records. None would match that charm of the songs of yore, except one. Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” is a song and a half. There is no simple melody and Mariah sings all over the fucking place. What it lacks in simplicity, it makes up for in earnestness. Because deep down, I think people understand that all they really need for Christmas is to be spending time with their loved ones. And that message is universal. Call December 25th whatever you’d like, Christmas or just Friday, any excuse to spend time with family eating too much and making each other feel special is a good excuse to do anything.
MY FAVORITE CHRISTMAS SONGS
The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole
Christmas Time Is Here – Vince Guaraldi Trio with Chorus
You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch – Burl Ives
Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy – David Bowie/Bing Crosby
All I Want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey
Article: Christopher Gilson