Patt Morrison for December 20, 2011

Holiday music at its best – and worst

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Christmas music ... entire stops on the radio dial are devoted to it for at least a month every year. Record stores have entire sections full of it. It inspires delight and sometimes loathing, depending on your faith and musical preferences.

But the thing about Christmas music is that it isn’t really a genre unto itself. In what other category do you find songs of every conceivable style and spanning several hundred years? There songs sacred and secular; there are the time-honored melodies and more recent classics sung by Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and Burl Ives; there are pop novelty songs and countless others. It seems that every artist takes their turn at making a holiday album, sometimes using it as an excuse to foist unforgivable sins of musical bad taste upon the holiday masses. Christmas music even transcends religion – a significant percentage of the most cherished Christmas songs were written by Jewish composers. And what if you have no faith at all? Just try setting foot in a mall after Halloween without hearing sleigh bells.

Noel Murray, contributing writer for The Onion's A.V. club, joked that he's become a connoisseur of the music after working at a Christmas store for three months when he was seventeen. The songs that he can't stand? "I would say personally that the ones that are more like a commercial jingle, and the ones that get repetitive," he said.

Murray said he also strays from Christmas tunes with lyrics that drift into subject lines he'd rather not cross. "Santa Baby" makes that list, a "part of a weird sub genre of people having sexual attractions to Santa Claus," he said.

When Patt asked how bad Christmas songs manage to stay in holiday repertoire, Murray said it comes from the necessity to share songs with the younger generation. "If you remember standing by your Spinet [piano], then you want to do so with your kids. Sometimes you pass along the ones [that are] awful," he said.

After an informal poll, KPCC’s Joe Armstrong found that most popular in the KPCC newsroom is the soundtrack from "A Charlie Brown Christmas," composed and arranged by Jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi. Murray said that perhaps its likeability comes from the undertones of a blue tone. It "avoids the forced jollity that Christmas has," Murray added.

Murray's nice list:

"Silent Night"
"O, Holy Night"
"Last Christmas" by Wham

Murray's naughty list:

"Wonderful Christmas Time" by Paul McCartney
Any Christmas songs sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks
"All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth" (Although his daughter lost her two front teeth this December.)

WEIGH IN:

Which songs get you into the holiday spirit? And which ones make you pine for the end of the season? Does a song have to be vintage to be a Christmas classic?

Guest:

Noel Murray, contributing writer for The Onion’s A.V. Club


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