Radio, television, office parties, stores. Wherever we are it seems we cannot escape the repeated theme tune to the holidays.
Every year the same songs, over and over, everywhere you go. Jingling of bells, references to sleighs and glowing-nosed reindeer; but of all the songs we hear year after year, which is the best, or more exactly which is most tolerable on the nth playing of it?
To be a successful Christmas song, the tune has to have a balance of some of these key elements. It obviously has to have a reference to Christmas but without being too holy. The song should mention some of the kitsch values of the holidays (advent, snow, mistletoe, etc.) without going crazy. The melody has to be catchy enough to remember but not so mind-numbingly repetitive that it makes you want to rip off your own ears as blessed relief. A warm rich voice, telling the story, and finally that little bit of twinkle dust that makes it playable year after year without becoming too dated. Therefore too many current references are out. Samples, modern instruments and modern approaches to “singing” must be avoided; and in all honesty, any contemporary (flavor of the month, flash in the pan) pop singer should be dodged at all costs.
OK, so let’s look at some contenders.
Happy Christmas (War is Over) – John Lennon. This is a great tune, but the real story is about peace and love, which although rings true for Christmas, should really apply all year round. Plus it features Yoko Ono’s vocals, thus it’s not for me.
Let it Snow – Dean Martin. A classic. One for the ages. A true top contender. It does, however, feature in the Die Hard soundtrack (and as an awesome a Christmas movie as it is, it doesn’t really say Happy Holidays, does it?) and correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think it actually references Christmas. Nice try Deano, but no this time.
Winter Wonderland – Darlene Love. (This is the version I listen too, anyway) Brilliant. It has a great tempo and a real Christmassy feel, but as it will be played to death it does get a little tiresome. So it’s a no.
Baby It’s Cold Outside – (My version) Tom Jones & Cerys Matthews. A great Christmas party classic. It has the Holiday feel, and you can also swing or do a little “under the mistletoe” dance to it. Tom’s voice is also amazing, but again it is more about winter than Christmas. Close but no cigar.
So who has won? Which song ticks all the boxes? Which is a classic Christmas tune for all generations?
Little Drummer Boy – Bing Crosby and David Bowie. Christmas past and future combine. Contemporary and classic sit comfortably together with neither taking from the other. The tune is easy to hear and memorable without becoming nauseating and the blend of Bing’s rich tone and Bowie’s modern vocals combine so well. There is personal investment from both (Bowie references this being a family favorite, and after all it is Bing’s song). The lyrics are not too preachy nor too sugar cane and a story is told (which surely is what Christmas is all about.) This is it, your Christmas song. Enjoy.