To keep our spirit levels at an all-time high, I’m here to bring you Part II of my trek through the musical magic of the season. In Part I (yesterday), I detailed the 3 Types of Christmas Songs and gave special attention to Type 1: Religious. Onto the largest and most versatile grouping: The Secular.
(Once again, I’m using this site as my database. Click and enjoy the recorder-laden renditions of your favorite holiday tunes.)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:
Growing up, I liked the story of Rudolph as much as anyone–mutant deer uses his difference to his advantage and, in doing so, brings children toys–it’s a time-honored tale. But, with age comes wisdom, and I get the feeling that Blitzen and the gang were less-than-pleased with Rudolph’s antics. My new favorite reindeer is Donder, mostly because that’s a bizarre name and I think he was tight with Blitzen.
Best version: The Temptations
I Saw Three Ships:
Oft forgotten, but not by me. If bells are involved, this song brings it.
The Holly and the Ivy:
My brother loves this song, which means it has exactly one fan. Let me get this straight: the song is about foliage? How about NO.
Little Drummer Boy:
Now this is a song. Points for: cool percussion, pa-rumps, non-traditional melody, no foliage to be found, and interesting lyrical slant on the whole nativity scene. Points deducted for: Bob Seger’s version.
The Christmas Song:
Chestnuts. Open fire. You had me at hello, Christmas Song. (Side note: Where is it a tradition to “dress up like Eskimos” during Christmas? And why? We may never know.)
I’ll Be Home for Christmas:
Dare I say….wistful? I dare.
Frosty the Snowman:
I never jumped on the Frosty bandwagon. While Rudolph was cool because he was a forgotten reindeer who used his handicap as a gift, Frosty was nothing more than an intrusive, mutant snow-creature who likely got what was coming to him. Seriously, who wants their snowman to come alive? Let’s move on.
Points for sheer ubiquity. Points deducted for unrelenting lameness.
Jingle Bell Rock:
Now we’re talking jingles and bells. This song will always get nostalgia points for its inclusion in my kindergarten Christmas play, where the choreography involved “kissing” a girl. Who doesn’t like the “What a bright time/it’s the right time…” break-down section, with the altnernative parts for the female and male singers? That was a rhetorical question, but I’ll answer it anyway: not me.
Grade: B+ (with a bullet)
We Wish You a Merry Christmas:
I don’t know what figgy pudding is, but I think I want to be a part of it.
12 Days of Christmas:
I don’t think there’s another Christmas song that frustrates me this much. Good premise, but, my God, does it have to be thirty minutes long?
Best part: Watching little kids sing along, mumbling through parts 12-6 (“Seven priests a-snorkling…”) only to explode on the “FIIIIIVE GOLDEN RIIIIINGS.” Actually, adults do this, too.
O Christmas Tree:
Did you know that the Christmas tree was a tactic used by the Roman empire to bring tree-worshipping pagans into the Christmas holiday? “Hey, we got this holiday and, uh, I hear you people really like trees, which we don’t think is weird at all. Check this out.”
Best version: The all-instrumental piano cut on the Peanuts Christmas. Nothing else is even close.
Deck the Halls:
On paper, I should hate this song. Dumb fa-las, mindless lyrics, a derivative melody. And yet I don’t…go figure.
Two good things about this:
1) When someone sings, “Walking in my winter underwear.” Thank you, third grade.
2) Phantom Planet’s version. I’m serious, check it out.
Let It Snow:
Sure, it’s a staple. Sure, the Rat Pack versions are enjoyable. I think I would like this song a lot more if I’ve ever actually seen snow.
Jolly Ole Saint Nicholas:
Let me get this straight: this kid has waited in line for days, is finally on Santa’s lap, has his undivided attention, and tells him, essentially, “figure it out.” What a failure.
Arguably the most underrated of the secular lot. What we have here, finally, is something I can relate to: good imagery, an unconventionally pretty melody, a pitch-perfect atmosphere and tone. It’s Christmastime in the city and, darnit, I’m in the city. Well done there.
And my favorite…Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas:
And I’ll tell you why: the melody is gorgeous and the lyrics expand the warmth and cheer of typical Christmas themes to the optimism of the approaching New Year as well. Everything about the song feels sincere and appropriate, and something indefinable immediately puts me in the Christmas spirit.
Best part: When, like in O Holy Night, the melody finally rises to its highest point. Only this time, rather than resolving on an affirmative note, the underlying chord is palpably sad (“…troubles will be miles away…”). That dichotomy of a hopeful lyric overtop a troubled musical backdrop gives the song a beautiful tension and something few holiday tunes contain: multi-dimensionality.
Best version: Frank Sinatra’s.