Jingle All The Day
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Every year, there are certain inevitable signifiers that Christmas is coming: the sight of dorms decked out in lights and other Christmas finery, a massive barrage of Christmas commercials and showings of It’s A Wonderful Life on TV, and, especially relevant for college students, sleep-deprived nights preparing for the grind of finals before the much-needed winter break. But above all, this is the season of Christmas music, a reality that is truly impossible to avoid. No matter where you are, Christmas music will find you: on the radio, emanating from dorm rooms, in supermarkets, even playing in the dining halls on campus. Good luck to anyone who wouldn’t mind going a day without hearing Mariah Carey belt “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” for it is truly a losing battle.
Christmas music is indeed so ubiquitous that it’s easy to overlook what a strange cultural phenomenon it is. No other holiday imposes itself on our ears with anything close to the same intensity. When Easter, Halloween, or even Thanksgiving roll around, the music industry keeps on doing its thing. But as soon as Black Friday hits, it seems that all of American society bends to the will of Christmas music.
The other strange thing about the popularity of Christmas music is how old-fashioned so much of it is. It’s safe to say that most college students aren’t likely to jam out to ’50s-era crooners like Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby on a regular basis, but as soon as December arrives, it seems that everyone starts pulling out these old chestnuts. A decidedly old-fashioned musical style surges in popularity for a few weeks and is then forgotten again.
Before anyone reading this column dismisses me as a hopeless Grinch, I hasten to add that I don’t necessarily object to Christmas music on principle—far be it from me to deny the nostalgic seasonal pleasure of hearing “White Christmas” or “Feliz Navidad” every once in a while. But, there comes a point when the stuff becomes so incessant that it starts to feel like an aural assault rather than pleasant mood-setting ambiance.
The season also inevitably produces a new stream of Christmas albums and singles by popular artists, many of whom are very strange candidates for the material. It’s one thing if you’re Michael Buble, who successfully carries on the crooner tradition and is thus a natural fit for the genre. It’s another thing if you’re CeeLo Green, whose Yule-tide offering, CeeLo’s Magic Moment, dropped in October. I prefer my CeeLo telling off gold-diggers rather than covering tired Christmas songs, thank you very much.
An even more extreme example is Bob Dylan’s 2009 Christmas in the Heart, which is probably the height of Christmas music absurdity. Was anyone asking for the then 68 year-old, whose never pretty voice has been severely ravaged by years of drug abuse and his Never-Ending Tour, to croak his way through traditional hymns and Christmas pop songs? (No.) Even as a die-hard Dylan obsessive, I find the move inscrutable—though also undeniably hilarious. I like to imagine that Dylan got giddily drunk at a holiday party, stumbled into a recording studio with his band, emerged with an impromptu Christmas jam session, and decided to release it for the hell of it. Judging by his hilariously silly music video for “Must Be Santa,” such an occurrence is not entirely outside the realm of plausibility.
Even as the Christmas music machine produces such absurd entries, though, there’s always the rare artist who manages to pull off a truly successful Christmas song. Coldplay did just that in 2010 with “Christmas Lights,” merging their rich soft-rock sound with a Christmas theme. The Killers have done the same for the past seven years with their annual holiday singles. Rather than succumbing to the maudlin sentimentality of so much Christmas music, songs like “Don’t Shoot Me Santa” have a playfully subversive edge while adhering to The Killers’ brand of lively, dense pop-rock. Such tunes also find The Killers experimenting with new sound textures (including jingle bells, yes) and collaborating with artists ranging from Elton John to Mariachi El Bronx.
So, if you’re tired of the usual assortment of Christmas tunes, try giving these a spin. And always remember to save a place for Bruce Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”—anyone immune to its pleasures surely has a heart two sizes too small.