Niagara Gazette

January 19, 2014

SINGER: A fond farewell to Christmas music

By B.B. Singer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Should I be predictably negative about Christmas music we’ve heard repetitively on radio or in malls, and finally gone for another year, after playing on certain stations since well before Thanksgiving? Sorry, but I don’t feel negative about this Niagara of recorded chestnuts many have valued this cozy, white-petalling time of year.

The weather mainly cooperated from at least mid-November, including a lovely, snowy Thanksgiving time, and ski areas opening a month earlier than usual; followed by generous thumps of lake effect, a few days of heavy, wipe-out rain circa Dec. 20 (geese who sold short by staying home briefly vindicated), and the bent, arthritic trees of ice events. But there was a fuller, providential return of winter for Dec. 25 and beyond. All of which made the old song “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” (done by a variety of artists) work from early on this mostly cold season.

When it comes to a melding of rock and Christmas, two of my favorites (both played plentifully) have been Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” and the Eagles’ “Please Come Home for Christmas.” Both are good, vibrant tunes, the former quicker and more pulsing, the latter wham-whamming at you more slowly, but now classically.

Both show how important significant others (along with friends and family) become at this time of year. But as Mr. Hemingway once said, messages ought to be kept to Western Union (nowadays email); and while there are certainly messages in both those songs, the whole renditions are what count, impelling people — at least me — to turn up the volume.

Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree” is obviously classic, too, but it’s been played too often for my taste. However, I still love the Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick,” from their own and rock’s comparative youth — quintessential Brian Wilson, before he devolved into a drug-crippled mess (and was also bypassed by new musical developments), then resurfaced via recovery and nostalgia.

There are many others who contributed to this Christmas music bonanza — Andy and Bing, Vanessa and the Carpenters, you name it. By the way, what do you think of these FM computer read-outs in newer cars, telling you simply that it’s Bruce you’re hearing, or Nat or Dean? My own answer to that technological largesse is both a yes of approval, and a traditionalist’s no ...

Of course there’s more sacred fare much heard this time of year, including at live events. Funny: winter’s a season you think you won’t enjoy when summer’s at its height; then it sneaks up on you with ponderous, timeless, twinkling beauty, and again, with those recordings heard so repetitively mostly enhancing, rather than detracting from the overall effect.

Literally and figuratively, there’s something cold about the season, no question; but just as surely, something very warm, too (fires used to help greatly, except when Scrooges skimped on coal, and now the miracle of good heating systems, along with hot chocolate and sweaters).

Christmas followed by New Years and post-New Years is winter, winter is Christmas and the new year — it works both ways; and those songs — many minted in an older Manhattan — reflect it.

Of course I shouldn’t simply shunt away the contributions of other regions. When you hear Gene Autry singing with a western twang about “Santy Claus,” well, it still works, as does Ms. Lee’s southern lilt on the tune mentioned above, or Bobby Helms’ country sound on “Jingle Bell Rock.”

Certainly those songs bring back memories of where you were when you first heard them, which for most of us was in early childhood. But hey, Christmas time more than other periods of the year is indeed, a time for memories and digesting one’s past; and even post-New Years resolutions kept, then broken give one cause for sober reflection, too. In sum, those songs have been a big part of it all, though new ones with fine arrangements don’t seem so forthcoming. (Plenty of cover versions, however…)  

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.