Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas music...good and bad...

I'm having a quiet evening in, with the weather expected to turn nasty later this evening, and I started thinking about some of the Christmas music I have loved - and not loved - over the years.  Much of it I have enjoyed hearing year after year, but as a general rule, anything newer than say, 20 years ago, isn't worth the time to listen to.

I know this certifies me as a charter member of the Old Fogey's Club International, but let me explain.  I was watching the Michael Buble Christmas Special (Third Annual!) on CTV earlier this evening, and I got to thinking as good as he and his musical guests were and are, there just seems to be something missing in recordings and live performances today.  I found Mariah Carey especially vexing, as she just doesn't seem to instill any heart into her renditions of timeless classics.  Slickly produced, yes.  Heartwarming, no.

So who ranks up there with some of the best Christmas performers and their respective recordings we likely all grew up with?  Without a doubt, the all-time champ has to be Bing Crosby, whose White Christmas recording originally on Decca has never been out of print, I believe.  Yes, I have a copy in my collection.  Even Sinatra's A Jolly Christmas on Capitol, which I am listening to while I write this, has its moments of archaic pleasure through the arrangements of Gordon Jenkins.

Others we've enjoyed over the years?  Andy Williams and Perry Como, both Christmas icons with their own Christmas TV specials for many years, and unfortunately both passing away in recent years, defined what great Christmas music pop music should be.  Both artists have nice collections available on Real Gone Music now, with the Perry Como set especially nice as it compiles on three discs all of his classic Christmas recordings along with some rare radio broadcast performances.  The Tony Bennett Christmas Album from Sony still sounds great, thanks to the exceptionally smooth and swinging arrangements of ex-Canadian Robert Farnon.

Instrumentally, the Vince Guaraldi Trio's classic recording A Charlie Brown Christmas is another disc that has never been out of print and with good reason.  It just makes you feel good.  New this year, and this I admit might be gilding the lily a little bit, is the fact accompanying the disc is a build-it-yourself Snoopy doghouse!  Even the original Mannheim Steamroller Christmas disc from 1984 has its nicer moments, including a very nice version of Silent Night recreated last weekend with the Niagara Symphony at their Holiday Pops concerts.

Oh, there are plenty of others, too.  Percy Faith's first two Columbia albums of Christmas music are newly-available on a two-disc set from Real Gone Music, with the second disc out of print for years until now.  The Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy, with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir apparently masquerading as the Temple University Concert Choir, recorded in 1962, still sounds great today.  Arthur Harris did the arrangements on this one, and they have always been some of my favourites.  The disc is still in print, and I still have it in stock if you would like it for the holidays.   The second volume, incidentally, has sadly been out of print for years now.

I could go on and on with some of the classic discs of Christmas music I love and have had in my personal collection for years now.  But how about the ones I personally try to avoid?  Oh, the anguish even talking about them!  Some of these may surprise you but in no particular order, here are some of my Christmas recordings I dearly try to avoid at this time of year, and most of which get far too much airplay in order for me to properly avoid them.

Rockin' Round The Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
I used to like this little piece, but really, it is played so often you can't help but be sick of it by the last week of November, when most radio station playlists have run it through the system countless times already.  The only thing worse than Brenda's classic take on this is any other version of it.  I heard a new version this year with a bunch of tenors doing it, and sorry, it just sounds stupid.  The mere thought of a bunch of tenors "rockin' round the Christmas tree" defies logic.

Feliz Navidad - Jose Feliciano
Okay, it sounds rather contemporary, as it dates from about 1971, so radio stations love it, but by about the 50th refrain of "I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas" I just wanna turn the thing off...

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - Jimmy Boyd
This oldie from 1952 just sounds silly; how would you like to be in the chorus on this one singing for scale while this little kid with not much of a voice gets top billing?  And when will be get a song about Daddy Kissing Santa Claus?  Oh wait, we did thanks to comedian Kip Addotta.

Santa Baby - Madonna
The original from Eartha Kitt in 1953 borders on awful, but you know she was having us on back then, singing about the crass commercialism she personified with her stage persona.  But Madonna, you sort of think she believes it all.  In these more austere times, no thanks, Madonna.

Santa Got Run Over By a Reindeer - Elmo & Patsy
Worst Christmas sing-along song...ever.

Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney
Maybe he really needed the money for some reason back then, but really, Sir Paul, you mailed it in with this one.  You should lose your knighthood over this piece of musical tripe.

Sleigh Ride - Leroy Anderson
This one might raise some eyebrows...actually, I love the piece and the virtuoso trumpet "whinny" at the end, but every orchestra (including our own Niagara Symphony) programs this every year at their Christmas concert; it would be nice to hear the Leopold Mozart A Musical Sleigh Ride or even the much more restrained and elegant Sleigh Ride by Frederick Delius for a change.  Besides, I couldn't help but think at the NSO concert last weekend, the fill-in percussionist just looked so "thrilled" to be ringing those sleigh bells for almost 3 minutes straight.  He had a look that suggested he was thinking "I spent how many years taking music in university for this?!"

Jingle Bell Rock - Bobby Helms
Same rule applies here as it does with Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree.  Too much airplay and you get sick of it.  Besides, not much "rockin'"going on with this song anyways...

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas - Gayla Peevey
Like little Jimmy Boyd, the shelf life of Gayla Peevey, who recorded this in 1953, was very short, but not short enough, unfortunately.

Twelve Days of Christmas - Bob & Doug McKenzie
Pretty much any version of this song is annoying, what with financial planners declaring each year how much it would cost to actually pay for the things and people listed in the song, but the Bob & Doug McKenzie version is the worst of the lot for those of us tired of the Great White North stereotype portrayed by these two and their love of beer.  Not all of us love our beer, uh, gentlemen...

So there you go, my Top Ten of songs to avoid this and any holiday season.  If you want any of the good ones (oh, what the heck, any of the bad ones, too!), I am always at your service at, or email me directly at

Happy Holidays!

December 21st, 2013.

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