The Importance of All of the Christmas Music

I know. We all probably have a love-hate relationship with Christmas music. When played too early, too often, or long after the holiday, it’s THE WORST. But there’s a sweet spot – I’m gonna say Black Friday through New Year’s Eve, and even that may be too much for some.

It doesn’t help, of course, that the radio stations that convert to Christmas seemingly play the same dozen songs over and over and over and over. Then, just as you leave the car, you head into the mall, where the SAME SONGS are playing.

The majority of Christmas songs are standards and have been around for decades. It’s very rare for a “new” Christmas song performed by a trendy music artist will actually become apart of the pantheon of usuals.

So of course, there are tons of lists out there of Bests and Worsts. Maybe I’ll get into that someday. But I have my own list of songs – Christmas songs that are important to me, whether they’re new, old, well-known or obscure, terribly or awesomely over-played. Because, in that sweet spot, I can’t get enough of these songs.

#1. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town – Bruce Springsteen

For me and my mom, this is our JAM. We rock this song like no one else. Mom loves Bruce’s half-singing, half-growling. I love the super deep “Better be good for goodness sake,” and the “ho ho ho” in the background. Let’s just say, no matter what’s going on in the house, if that song comes on, we drop what we’re doing and belt it. When I go home for Christmas, I just might try to get Mom to do a Dubsmash with me… Stay tuned.

#2. Christmas Eve Sarajevo – Trans-Siberian Orchestra

This song is at least 20 years old now, but every time it plays, I feel the same as I did when I first heard it on the middle school bus. Cory and I have seen TSO several times, and let’s just say if you love rock and pyrotechnics, this is the greatest Christmas concert ever. Cory’s favorite part? When they light the *fire* on fire.

#3. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Frank Sinatra

The Sinatra version is one of the saddest, making it closest to the original and devastating version Judy Garland sang in Meet Me in St. Louis. Why do I love a sad Christmas song? I can’t say, really. Maybe because the pressure to be chipper during the holidays can be too much. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean life stops. It’s nice to be reminded that in spite of everything, you can still have a Merry Christmas, even on a small scale.

#4. Deck the Halls – Sesame Street

This is a VERY SPECIFIC version, from A Muppet Family Christmas, only the greatest Christmas TV special of all time. While it’s an hour full of music, including a religion-free, gift-giving celebration courtesy of the Fraggles (Pass it On!), and a brilliant transition of a humble Jingle Bells (Kermit and Robin) into Jingle Bell Rock (Dr. Teeth & the band), it was tough to pick just one. But the part of the special that fills me with absolute glee is when the Sesame Street gang shows up to Mother Bear’s house, singing their hearts out. They enter singing “Here We Come a-Caroling,” but when they break into “Deck the Halls,” each of the Street stars – Bert, Ernie, Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Grover (THE BEST, btw) – they each have their moment. I just love it.

#5. A Christmas Carol from Scrooge

This may not be my favorite song from the 1979 film (more on that at a later time), but wow does it hold some impact. For example, when searching for the above video, I burst into tears as soon as it began to play. Okay, I might be a little holiday homesick….  Anyway, it’s not a show stopper like Thank You Very Much. In fact, it’s barely featured. It’s played over the opening credits, then sung essentially in the background by school children celebrating Christmas, dressed in costumes (the carrot kid is my favorite) during Scrooge’s venture into his past. The other reason is that in high school, while organizing the chorus instructor’s cabinets full of music, I stumbled upon an arrangement of this song. After my constant insisting, he added it to the line-up for the Christmas concert. What’s more, he asked if I wanted to accompany on the keyboard. A terrifying request, since I had major insecurities playing in public. But I did it. I may have turned the keyboard way down, letting the band director’s keyboard take the lead — but that octave chord at the start of each chorus? All me, baby.

#6 Christmas Children – Scrooge

Okay, when I was typing about #5 and eventually stopped crying, this song came to mind and actually laughed out loud for awhile. This is the song that Bob Cratchit sings to his children as they go around the marketplace, buying things for their Christmas dinner. This song cracks me up because my family watched this film every year for decades. And yet my brother and I never, ever knew the lyrics to this bloody song. If forced to sing it, it would go like this:

“Christmas something something in Christmas windows.

Christmas something something something goes.

Christmas la la la.

Christmas la. La la.

Something something something something no one knows.

Something something something young and old.”

…Nailed it.

#7. We Need a Little Christmas – Angela Lansbury

The Angela Lansbury version, right from Mame, is probably my favorite. One nerdy reason is in high school, we did “Hello, Dolly,” and I was thoroughly convinced “It Takes a Woman,” was the same song. The following year, we did “Mame,” and to my delight, I was pretty much right, since both were written by Jerry Herman . Another moment was my long-time friend Annie and I performed this song for our church Christmas show. It was… pretty sad. We choreographed it minutes before. But our priest thought we were just delightful, so…

#8. Twelve Days of Christmas – ALL OF THEM

There are so many freakin’ versions of this song, and I have a place in my heart for all of them, yes even the grating Twelve Pains of Christmas. Twelve Days was a huge hit in the 4th Grade Christmas Show. I auditioned for 9 Ladies Dancing, but got stuck with a solo in Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Whatever.

While some of these songs are so specific, you only know them if you already know them, if you know what I mean… you know…

Others are played ad nauseam for eight straight weeks. And that is a beautiful thing. If Bruce Springsteen didn’t come on every 21 minutes, my mom and I wouldn’t be guaranteed a great sing-off. The many different versions of Twelve Days give me and Cory something to argue about. Every time I hear Burl Ives’ Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, I think of my brother, which makes me think of Scrooge and Christmas Children, and I laugh. In fact, I’d argue that BECAUSE these songs are played so often is why they become important. It wouldn’t be nearly as funny if James and I didn’t get Christmas Children lyrics after one or two viewings. But after twenty? It’s damn hilarious.

And honestly, I could probably add to this list for awhile — Somewhere in my Memory, Feliz Navidad, Hey Santa, Carol of the Bells — but you get it. Christmas music does more than bring in the holiday season. It gives us the chance to create memories and traditions — and that, my friends, is what it’s all about.

What over-played Christmas song means something to you? Let me know in the comments or head over to Share Your Favorites!

Nick at Nite: Preparing Us for Netflix

I know. You’re thinking how is this possible? Netflix is about streaming what you want when you want it. More recently, it’s about new programming. Nick at Nite is about airing old network shows in syndication, and making us feel old for showing The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Full House.

It’s because of one clever little marketing stunt (which Nick was always famous for): Block Party Summer.

Let’s go back —-

Summertime as a kid was the best time. Oh, sure, Christmas was great. But summer had that lasting impact.

Believe it or not, I spent a lot of time outdoors in the summer – swimming, biking, roller-blading, going on adventures with family and friends. But as much time as I spent outside, I spent just as much inside, watching TV. Movies, too. Mostly TV.

Each summer, my brother and I wordlessly developed a schedule of TV viewing. Mornings consisted of Nick Jr., The Price is Right, and Law & Order reruns, with an occasional movie thrown in. Afternoons after swimming would be Stick Stickley in the Afternoon, or another movie. Dinner, when not eating outside, would be Nick game shows or NBC sitcom reruns before the local news. And finally, after a full day of summer activities, we would settle in, hang the beach towels out to dry, and watch Nick at Nite’s Block Party Summer.

In July and August, for several years running, Nick at Nite would designate a day of the week with a marathon, 3 hours-ish, of  a specific show. I’ve always loved Nick at Nite’s promos. They were pretty genius. Each summer usually had it’s own jingle, too. Promos would typically have summery themes, like camp or a BBQ. Here are just a few days I remember:

Munster Mondays

Lucy Tuesdays

Bewitched Be-Wednesdays

Jeannie Thursdays

They changed over the years, though Lucy was a near-constant. Fridays were always oddballs – Welcome Back, Kotter, The Wonder Years, etc.

James and I loved these.

And on an Inception-y level, Nick at Nite prepared us for the Netflix binges of today. That’s why it’s not weird to watch 6 episodes in a row of one series — we’ve been doing it our whole lives, thanks to these and other Nick at Nite/TV Land marathons. And check out this promo:

“It’s Nick at Nite’s modern programming miracle! Instead of one ‘Mary,’ you get six in a row — ”

They knew the whole time this would be the future. Thank you, Nick at Nite. Thank you.

Why Are You the Way That You Are?

A valid question, indeed. After all, when people first discover my extensive knowledge of NBC’s schedule from 1985-1990, my passion for Nickelodeon’s meteoric rise, and my ability to ruin “reality” shows by calling winners based on editing cuts, they seem very, very surprised.

I guess it’s surprising. I’m quiet and have an air of serious intelligence, I make no secret of my high standards.

So… where did this obsession with the god-forsaken entertainment industry come from?

As with most grown-up issues, my childhood home life is to blame. It really started with my dad:

Right around the time I was 2, my dad found a new hobby – recording movies off TV onto VHS tapes. Being the OCD personality he is, he quickly devised the most efficient system, recording 3 full-length features per VHS tape. Each tape was the numbered and tallied into a green binder. This green binder was my dad’s holy grail. He had covered the front of it with those tiny stamps from movie club mailers. Films were broken down by genre, as determined by my father. (Drama encompassed almost everything, but he had a whole section for The Beatles…?) He registered what network he recorded it from (so he knew if it was a desperate move, recording off a broadcast network with…. COMMERCIALS), what year it was made, and what number tape it was on.

Those hundreds of tapes were all over the house – in cubbies under the living room end table, stacked behind the sound system speakers, squirreled away in cabinets in my brother James’s room. It would be a few years before he had massive bookshelves built, which eventually housed most of the collection, albeit temporarily.

While James and I had our own store-bought video collection of Disney movies, in their squeaky plastic cases, most of our favorite movies were found on one of Dad’s tapes.  He made it a point to record great films he thought we should see; he just happened to record them between Dirty Harry and Scarface.  By 6, I was an expert at fast-forwarding  – trucking through one movie to land perfectly on the the middle one, coasting through commercials. Because, of course, we had to stop the tape and fast-forward blindly. “It was better for the tape” than hitting play THEN fast-forward. And it was all about the health of the tape. I also became an expert  at tracking — you know, when you watched a tape too much and it began to get those gray lines. We called it “flippy.” “Daaaaaad, The Wizard of Oz is getting flippy!!!!” I remember sitting in front of the VCR while a movie played, slowly twisting the tiny knob hidden beneath a panel on the front of the VCR, making the flippiness stop as best as I could.

Speaking of lecturing, we were also taught the rules of recording — if the red light was on, we could not use the VCR. Don’t touch it. Don’t look at it. Don’t put the silverware in it. (Funny story: James once put a spoon in the VCR. He couldn’t have been more than 3. I’ll never forget my dad, who is not particularly great at taking things apart or putting them together, hovered over the VCR inards, muttering to himself. But James’s reasoning was sound – he wanted to know if whatever you put in the VCR would show up on the TV.)

The whole point is, from birth, I was surrounded by a library of cinematic history. My dad’s collection was the prize of the household. I was 12 when I finally grasped the concept of “renting” movies. It was an additional activity, along with puzzles, coloring, and imaginary games. We watched movies after a day of swimming, on sick days and rainy days, before we went to bed.

I know this isn’t necessarily about TV, but it definitely set the tone for how and why we consumed media. My dad’s hobby, his passion, was instilled into me and my brother. It’s a family thing.