Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas Notes: A to Z


So, I entered this holiday season with 1049 holiday songs, and I decided it only made sense to start out by listening to each and every one of them.

That adds up to about 59 hours, in case you were curious.

I decided to go in alphabetical order by song title (I actually put a lot of thought into this beforehand and came to the conclusion it would actually break up the slow parts more than going by artist or album name).

I had so much "fun" doing this, I decided to share the experience with all of you. What follows is not meant to be comprehensive. It's just a series of notes I compiled highlighting, by letter, the songs that left an impression. Because I was listening while doing other things, I'm sure I glossed over some good and bad songs while I wasn't paying attention. Further, because I was busy, many of these notes were written at the end of the day (or even a few days later), when I got around to it, so I'm sure I'm forgetting things that seemed significant at the time.

It took me about a week and a half to get through everything (I started a few weeks ago). In the interest of full disclosure, this reflects the holiday music I had at the time. In the past few days, I added another hundred songs or so, and I still need to listen to all of those.

A
"All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth" might be the most irritating holiday song ever written, and that's a damned high bar. Even without the Chipmunks, this is squeaky and annoying. Though The Count from Sesame Street does an awesome version, and Dread Zeppelin has a cool spin on it, as well.

I can't remember the last time I heard a traditional version of "Angels We Have Heard on High". I spent all last Christmas listening to Brian Setzer's spin, that I forgot what it was supposed to sound like. I far prefer the swing version.

"Ariel's Christmas Island" from the Disney Princess Christmas Album. It's, ah... actually better than most versions of this song, which is kind of like defending a flu as "mild."

Oh my god, "Around the World Christmas" is worse than "Ariel's Christmas Island." My brain just imploded.

"Away in a Manger". What a weird song. It seriously sounds like a parody of Christmas music, despite the fact it's supposed to be sincere.

B
In this day and age, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is really unpleasant to listen to. I know this is supposed to play out as a skit, and I'm sure it's a fun duet, but come on, man: NO means NO.

Melissa Etheridge's version of Blue Christmas is actually GOOD (Nicole Atkins' is solid, too).

C
I think "Carol of the Bells" is the first song I've come to so far where I wished I had MORE versions.

Christmas in ____: America, Boston, Heaven, Prison, The Ghetto, The Ocean (Disney Princess: Ariel), The Pits (Rainbow Brite), The Stars (from the Star Wars holiday album of the same name). Listening to "Christmas in the Ghetto" transition into "Christmas in the Ocean" has to be one of most surreal experiences I've had listening through this list so far. And believe me, there's some serious competition.

Christmas Island. If there was one Christmas song I could wish away, I think it would be this one.

Apparantly I have something like 14 versions of "The Christmas Song." If it wasn't for iTunes' inability to differentiate Jethro Tull's "A Christmas Song" from "The Christmas Song," I think I'd have dropped into a coma by now.

D
Ah, "Deck the Halls." One version after another. Something about this song brings out the sickeningly cute variations. Chipmunks, Disney, and Rainbow Brite are all on my iPod doing a rendition. So are Muppets, but they get a pass.

E
Short and sweet: just 13 songs starting with 'E'. The standout is "Elf's Lament", by Barenaked Ladies

F
Feliz Navidad, The First Noel, Frosty the Snowman.... and that's about it. If I didn't have a crap-load of gimmicky versions of each, this letter would have been as quick and painless as 'E'.

G
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Good King Wenceslas, and Greensleeves amount to a damn good letter and almost makes up for 'F'. Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer is a black eye on an otherwise fantastic letter, but mercifully I've only got one version here.

H
There are good versions of "Hark the Heralds" and bad versions. The ones that remain true to the song's original sentiment aren't the good versions.

I've heard "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" hundreds of times in my life - haven't we all - but until I sat down and listened to version after version, I don't think I ever paid any attention to it before. Apparently, the lyrics kept getting revised to make it less depressing. The versions closer to the original are incredibly sad and melancholy. I far prefer those.

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas." I love this music. Hey, I guess I've also got a 22 minute track containing the entire special, including narration. When the hell did I get this? Who cares - it's a nice break from all those goddamn songs about angels.

I
This letter starts out right with "I am Santa Claus" by Bob Rivers, one of the best holiday parody songs ever recorded, followed immediately by two versions of "I Believe in Father Christmas." Then, a few songs later, you've got Oscar the Grouch singing "I Hate Christmas." Classic. But then I hit the string of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and it went downhill. I do have a soft spot for "I Saw Three Ships," though, so it did recover.

J
I thought listening to 12 or so versions of Jingle Bells was going to hurt, but it turned out being kind of awesome. Apparently, most are kick ass re-imagined versions. Bela Fleck, Brian Setzer, Diana Krall, Ella Fitzgerald... this is a hell of a line-up. Oh, for fuck's sake: the Chipmunks ruin EVERYTHING.

Joy to the World gets a bit redundant about a third of the way through the first of eight versions....

K
Just seven songs in 'K': three variants of "Kidnap the Sandy Claus" from Nightmare before Christmas (the original was good, but the alternates are incredible), three versions of Sesame Street's "Keep Christmas with You" (er... one would have been plenty), and one "King Holly, King Oak."

L
A decent number of 'L' songs here, including a mixed assortment. Jethro Tull's "Last Man at the Party" is a standout, and there's nothing wrong with "Last Christmas." But, before long, I moved onto "Let it Snow" and eventually "The Little Drummer Boy", both of which would have been fine in moderation. But moderation isn't the game here; I think my ears started to bleed.

In fairness, there was an interlude before those, including a couple versions of "Linus and Lucy" from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Sometimes I think that special exists to protect the world from Christmas, and that its holiday elements are there so it could infiltrate the season and take it down from the inside. But then I remember I've been listening to nothing but Christmas music for about a week, and I start to question any conclusions my mind reaches.

I could have done without some of those versions of "Little Saint Nick." A Little Saint Nick, after all, goes a long way.

M
Masses, Medleys, and Messiahs: I don't think there's much more to say.

N
There are a handful of assorted songs here, some of which are quite good. But it all gets overshadowed by a complete version of The Nutcracker Suite, which I'm already sick of. I've got another coming up that filed under 'T' for Tchaikovsky, too.

O
It's time for another fill-in-the-blank. O ______. If you said "Christmas Tree", "Come All Ye Faithful", "Come Emanuel", "Holy Night", "Little Town of Bethlehem", and "Tannenbaum", then you're a third right. Because you're forgetting that all those songs are ALSO classified under O' and Oh, so the six versions of each I just sat through were only the beginning.

O Come, O Come Emanuel - It's weird. I have no associations with this song at all from my childhood. I'm sure I heard it growing up, but I can't actually remember having any feelings about it at all. That changes now, because I'm in the middle of a half dozen versions. And, actually, I'm really digging most of them, especially the traditional ones. This is a really pretty song, even after hearing it ad infinitum.

Can't really say the same for the rest of the songs in the above list...

"Oi the World" by No Doubt is one of the best Christmas songs ever recorded. I can't believe I didn't have this last year.

P
Only 17 songs appearing under 'P' with not a "classic" in sight.

Q
Just two songs starting with the letter 'Q': "Quant je voi la noif remise (When I see the white snow)" by Stevie Wishar and "Queen of the Winter Night," by The Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

R
I've only got six versions of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, seven if you count the kick-ass Mambo by Alvin Stoller. I'm pleasantly surprised how painless this was. Most of these were different enough from each other to prevent fatigue.

S
Oh, here we go. Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Nine versions, most all but identical to each other.

24 versions of Silent Night, the largest number of any song on my list. Apparently, every damn singer who puts out an album feels compelled to record a version of this song, and very few of them feel the need to try a non-traditional take. Look. I've got nothing against Silent Night. It's a pretty song... once. But I was ready to pound my head against a brick wall after the third or fourth version. And it kept going. And going. And going. Making matters worse, one of the few outliers, Bela Fleck, was the first on my list. I'd have loved to get this halfway through to break up the tedium, but no such luck.

After Silent Night, it jumps almost immediately to "Silver Bells". I like this song more than most people, but it certainly isn't picking up the pace as much as I'd like. And, once again, there's not a huge amount of variation going on here.

Thanks God for "Sleigh Ride". Ten tracks of uptempo holiday music, most of them are fairly unique approaches.

There are a bunch of assorted tunes, then I'm on to the "Sweet Baby Jesus" and similar tracks. Fortunately, I've only got a handful of these, but they're pretty awful. Some of these sound like they should be parodies. These lyrics are atrocious.

In total, more than 100 songs starting with 'S' alone. By the time I get to 'T', I'm pretty happy. That is, of course, until I realize....

T
Pretty much the first thing in 'T' is the other complete version of The Nutcracker Suite. Nothing wrong with the music, but it's getting extremely old.

"This Christmas" is a really stupid song.

I'm pretty sure I could have gone my entire life without having to listen to ten versions of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" back-to-back. God, this is getting painful.

U
Two versions of "Up on the Rooftop", and I'm through this letter.

V
One parody called "Violent Night" and that's it.

W
A lot of songs starting with 'W'. After a decent assortment, I get to four versions of "We Three Kings". I like this song, so no complaints.

Eight versions of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" is a bit much, even with a handful of Sesame Street/Muppet versions mixed in.

Ah, the "Wexford Carol": very pretty.

Four versions of "What are You Doing New Years Eve". Once again, a fine song in moderation, but I don't think I need to hear more than one version in a row. Honestly, half of one version is probably plenty.

Eight versions of "What Child is This": I love Greensleeves whatever you call it.

Fifteen singers dreaming of a "White Christmas" and eleven "Winter Wonderlands". This is almost as bad as 'S'.

X
Just two songs starting with an 'X', both mash-ups starting with X-Mas.

Y
Just five songs starting with 'Y', and they're all pretty good.

Z
The only letter of the alphabet without a single track. This didn't mean the end, however: I still had to get through 46 songs starting with numbers. These were a mix - some were bizarrely labeled tunes starting with the track listing. Other than that, you can bet I discovered I had a few more versions of "12 Days of Christmas" than I'd originally thought.

5 comments :

  1. She and Him do a version of "Baby It's Cold Outside" where Zooey Deschanel sings the pursuer and M. Ward is the guy trying to leave. It puts a fun spin on the gender roles in that song.

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  2. I wound up picking up that album, after all: Amazon briefly decreased the price to $1.99 a few days ago, and I'm no fool.

    Reversing genders on that song is a clever ploy: I'm surprised I've never heard it done before.

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  3. Silly Erin, you have heard it done before, and done in WAY more of an entertaining fashion than the anemic singing on that album.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARUM0-jtjIg

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  4. Do you kids know the very special Xmas albums? All of which are great, one of which includes the 2 classic holiday songs by Run DMC- one which includes the chorus "give up your dough for christmas, yo" and the other which mentioned collard greens.

    Also- if you hate Grandma got run over by a reindeer, Elmo and Patsy also do Percy the Puny Poinsettia

    Oh yeah.

    -Marci

    ReplyDelete