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The Modern Christmas Songs You’ve Been Looking For



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Because you probably need a respite from gloomy Obamacare news . . . 

Putting Together My Christmas-Party Mix Tape

Over in the Corner, Shannen Coffin offers his worst Christmas songs.

To end the week on a cheerier note, let’s try to find some of the good modern Christmas songs. In response to the Jolt section on the post-war boom in good Christmas carols, some folks argued that there were no good modern Christmas songs or carols, and I’d pretty adamantly disagree. Given all the musicians, singers, and bands that have existed since, say, 1960, some of them were inevitably destined to write, compose, or perform a memorably good song for the season.

High atop my list would be Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack to the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Since it dates from 1965, I can see some folks might dispute whether this is “modern.” I’d nominate the instrumental version of “Christmastime Is Here” as the best of the album, catching the mood of watching the first snowfall of the year through a window.

Ottmar Leibert’s “Christmas + Santa Fe” album: Because you find all of your best flamenco guitarists in Germany, right? Each song on this album begins with a bit of modern original melody, shifts into a classic Christmas song, and then shifts back again. Here’s “Deck the Halls.”

Has “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” ever irked you a bit? I don’t mean the melody so much the story, depicted in both song and the stop-motion-animation special. The other reindeer are a bunch of jerks; after being ostracized for his appearance, Rudolph proves himself not merely some sort of genetic mutant but in fact a uniquely gifted creature single-handedly capable of saving Christmas; and “then all the reindeer loved him.” Well, no kidding. They had better love him.

So I like the verse Jack Johnson added:

Well Rudolph he didn’t go for that
He said, “I see through your silly games
How could you look me in the face
When only yesterday you called me names?”
Well all of the other reindeers man,
Well they sure did feel ashamed,
“Rudolph you know we’re sorry,
We’re truly gonna try to change.”

Rob Thomas’s “Merry New York Christmas” isn’t the greatest Christmas song of all time, but it ranks as an enjoyable original song, from a modern pop star, that isn’t syrupy or overdone to show off vocal range. (Mariah Carey, we’re looking in your direction.) It’s one of those songs you find yourself humming hours later.

Since this morning’s Jolt, some readers have submitted their own modern favorites. Kurt Schlichter submits “Fairytale of New York,” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl:

Continuing the “New York” theme, Scot submits “New York is a Christmas Kind of Town”:

Moving up the coast a bit to Boston, both Matt and Neil offer the Dropkick Murphys’ “The Season’s Upon Us”. I like the theme of loving an extended family, nuttiness, aggravation and all, and it’s a funny video, with a few moments of off-color humor:

Juanito Carbone offers Anton Barbeau’s “Xmas Song”:

Finally, one I can’t believe I forgot: “Baby Please Come Home for Christmas,” an increasingly ubiquitous tune as the years go by. Here’s U2’s version:

Tags: Something Lighter , Christmas

Christmas Season: When the 1940s and 1950s Suddenly Return with a Vengeance



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I can’t hold an eggnog-scented candle to NR’s resident Christmas-carol crooner and musical-history expert, Mark Steyn, but quite a few readers liked this section of today’s Jolt:

Christmas Season: When the 1940s and 1950s Suddenly Return with a Vengeance

After yesterday’s tart rebuke of those who pooh-pooh complaints about a ‘War on Christmas,’ time for something a bit softer.

Americans live in a culture that is youth-obsessed, relentlessly excited and hyping what’s new and different, touting the latest and greatest. Hang around too long, and you’ve jumped the shark.

And yet, sometime in December, suddenly we embrace tradition as if to make up for the preceding eleven months. Go to a coffee shop or your local department store, suddenly the air is filled with the voices of the pop stars your parents and grandparents listened to: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Judy Garland, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Burl Ives, Glen Campbell, Mel Tormé.

Every era contributes at least a few songs to the ever-growing Christmas canon, but World War II and the postwar years were an amazing span of creativity for carol-writers and performers. It’s probably close to impossible to find a Christmas album that doesn’t include at least one song from this era: “White Christmas,” 1942; “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” 1943; The Christmas Song” (better known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”), 1944; “Let It Snow,” 1945; “Sleigh Ride,” 1948; “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” 1948; “Frosty the Snowman,” 1950; “Silver Bells,” 1951; “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” 1951; “Little Drummer Boy,” 1957.

A large chunk of VH1’s list of “Best Modern Day Christmas Songs” is in fact modern singers’ versions of tunes from this era.

It’s not that surprising that some of the most classic Christmas songs, specials, etc. came out of the post–World War II era. Nothing like a national near-death experience to make you appreciate everything you have, and how lucky you are if you have your friends and family with you.

I think one of the most wonderfully jarring lyrics of all time comes in “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” with its brief acknowledgement of our mortality, and the sheer unpredictability of life, and the possibility of losing someone:

Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Will be near to us once more
Someday soon, we all will be together
If the Fates allow
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Wikipedia’s entry for the song says the lyric was originally, “through the years, we all will be together if the Lord allows.”

A lot of our big Christmas traditions started in this era. NORAD’s tracking of Santa began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs newspaper ad encouraged kids to call Santa — but then accidentally printed a number at NORAD. How the Grinch Stole Christmas was published in 1957 and turned into a television special in 1966. The stop-motion animation Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first aired in 1964. The Peanuts Christmas special came along in 1965. Two of the all-time Christmas classics came out right after the war: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and Miracle on 34th Street (1947).

There are personal near-death experiences and national ones, and if you survive one, hopefully it makes you cherish all the joys in life — to not take anything or anyone for granted, and not to get too wrapped up in any of the things that don’t matter quite so much — even finding that perfect gift or getting everything just right for the party.

Here we are, fifty years later, and we’re still singing songs from that era, because that sentiment of appreciating what matters most still resonates when the year comes to a close.

The cartoonist XKCD suggests the popularity of songs from the 1940s and 1950s represents Baby Boomer nostalgia, and undoubtedly that’s a factor. But the fact that post-Boomer modern artists keep using these songs on their own Christmas albums suggests they have timeless quality. They’re just good songs, and the theme of appreciation and gratitude probably resonates with many as they take stock of their lives as the year ends.

Tags: Something Lighter , Christmas

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