Monday, December 8, 2014

Observations on some Christmas songs II

This second installment of seasonal music criticism has been a long time coming, but it’s finally here just in time for the holidays! (You can see my first post on the topic here.) I understand that not all Christmas music has to be excellent—or even make sense! —I just expect that the music that achieves a degree of popularity does so because it’s actually good. This expectation is met with disappointment time after time.

This year, I take issue with the following songs:

#1. Last Christmas. In addition to being more repetitive—and less creative—than a country song, this whiny George Michael number proves that the only thing a song needs to do to be called a “Christmas song” is include the word Christmas. Nothing else about the content of the song even hints at other things associated with Christmas (Santa, Jesus, snow, presents, December, etc.). If you changed the word Christmas to summer, for example (“Last summer, I gave you my heart…”), you would lose nothing except an annoying song at the end of the year. Can we do this, please?

#2. Anything by the Jackson Five. Here are some comments that I imagine that happened in the creation and production of the Jackson Five Christmas album:

“Picture this, guys: what if we had an album where every song started at full intensity and then later never got less intense?”

“Don’t talk to me about dynamics! This is Christmas! Why would we ever not use every instrument we have at every moment possible?”

“Michael, if you’re not singing at the top of your lungs at every moment, you’re failing.”

These songs exhaust me.

#3. Home for the Holidays. Maybe when the automobile was a fairly new invention, the traffic was terrific from the Atlantic to Pacific. Now it’s a nightmare in all directions for days surrounding any major event or holiday.

#4. Frosty the Snowman. I'm convinced that this song tells a dark story but masquerades as a children's song. Here's what I think really happened (lyrics are at the end if you need to follow along):

Jack Frosty was the leader of a short-lived cult movement referred to as The Children; the movement largely fell apart after Frosty was arrested for multiple accounts of assault and battery. His wintery name along with his dark eyes and his round, flat face earned him the nickname “the Snowman,” further propagated by his eccentric use of a corncob pipe. The Children ascribed supernatural powers to him, including the voluntary ability to "melt away"—or become one with the earth, as all The Children aspire. The Snowman also claimed to receive visions and vitality when he wore a special silk hat.

Reports state that on an uncharacteristically warm winter day, Frosty put on the old silk hat and led The Children into the main square of a nearby village, determined to “thump” the residents—that is, hit them with a broomstick. It is said that as he ran around dealing blows, he dared the villagers to catch him if they were able to. Shortly afterward, Frosty led The Children from the square into the streets of the town.

It’s difficult to say how things might have turned out if the commotion had not drawn the attention of a nearby police officer who was directing street traffic at the time. After only a moment of assessing the situation, the officer commanded Frosty to stop, and an arrest was quickly made to prevent further violence. As he was hurried away in a squad car, Frosty reportedly cried out that he would be back again someday; it is unclear whether the comment was directed to the villagers or to his dispersing followers, since the promise was never fulfilled. Frosty disappeared after posting bail and was never heard from again. Devout Children say he "melted away" and commemorate The Snowman's final known actions in the following song:

Frosty the Snowman was a jolly happy soul
With a corn-cob pipe and a button nose and two eyes made out of coal
Frosty the Snowman is a fairytale they say
He was made of snow, but The Children know how he came to life one day
There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found
For when they placed it on his head, he began to dance around!
Oh, Frosty the Snowman was alive as he could be
And The Children say he could laugh and play just the same as you and me.

Thumpety-thump, thump, thumpety-thump, thump, look at Frosty go.
Thumpety-thump, thump, thumpety-thump, thump, over the hills of snow.

Frosty the Snowman knew the sun was hot that day
So he said, "Let's run, and we'll have some fun now before I melt away."
Down to the village with a broomstick in his hand
Running here and there—all around the square, saying, "Catch me if you can."

He led them down the streets of town, right to the traffic cop
And only paused a moment when he heard him holler, "Stop!"

For Frosty the Snowman had to hurry on his way
But he waved goodbye, saying, "Don't you cry—I'll be back again someday."


#6. The Twelve Days of Christmas. Let's look at the absurdity of the gifts by looking into the imaginary diary of an unfortunate young woman:

Dear diary,

I'm so excited! My true love has told me he will me be sending me gifts for each of the twelve days of Christmas (whatever those are). I will keep a detailed list here as I receive them so I can remember them always:

Day 1: Some kind of pheasant that I had hoped would stay confined in the delightful small potted tree that it came in. It did not. Alas, I have already lost half of the first gift that my true love gave to me! At least there are eleven more coming, each more exciting than the last!

Day 2: Two pigeons. These fortunately came in a cage and did not fly away immediately. I will not lose these gifts that my true love gave to me.

Day 3: This morning I awoke to the sound of clucking in my front yard. There I found three chickens! Sadly, I do not have the means to contain them, since the pigeon cage is too small to place them in. At the moment, they seem content to strut about the yard. My true love must surely love birds!

Day 5: I could not write yesterday on account of having received four more birds! Once I placed them together with the pigeons in their cage, such a ruckus began that I have had little time to think of anything else. I had begun to despair that all my gifts would be avian, but today my true gave me FIVE GOLDEN RINGS! I tried to put them all on one hand, but could not close my fingers! Instead I now have them on alternating fingers. I can't wait to see what else my true love will give to me! I am so glad that he has finished giving me birds!

Day 6: More birds! Six loud, honking ones at that. They hiss hideously at me when I approach them, perhaps because are trying to protect all the eggs they've been laying. I hope tomorrow holds something without feathers. I do love my five golden rings, though.

Day 7: Why? Why? Why would my true love give seven more birds to me? These swans are beautiful, but I now have twenty-two birds of all different varieties clucking, cooing, honking, and tweeting outside my home. I would have twenty-three were it not for the pheasant that flew away last week. I'm beginning to think that he was the lucky one. At least I have my five golden rings.

Day 8: An odd change today–I received a note saying that I would now be employing eight housekeepers. Is this a joke? They were unable to arrive today on account of needing to finish milking some cows. It's probably just as well.

Day 9: Nine professional female dancers knocked on my door today. Apparently I am to be employing them as well. I have no love of dancing. I sent them to clean out the birdcage. One of the pigeons has died from malnutrition. With each new upset to my life, I find myself unable to remember to feed them. What is my true love thinking? Were it not for the FIVE GOLDEN RINGS he gave me, I would be most upset.

Day 10: What are "leapers"? Ten wealthy land-owners came to my home today to inform me that they would be "leaping" for my tenth day of Christmas present. I do not understand.

Day 12: The total count is fifty! Fifty human beings that my true love has "given" to me, and nearly half of them are loud musicians! Between the drumming, the fluting, the leaping, the dancing, the milking—What are they milking? I have no cows—and all the various honkings, tweetings, clucking and what-have-you, I have lost my sanity! If this is what my true love gives to me, I think it best that we part ways. (But I will keep my five golden rings.)

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