Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Caroling, caroling

I am a big fan of Christmas music. On my iPod, I have a playlist with 70+ holiday songs on it, from artists as diverse as Judy Garland and Bing Crosby to Mariah Carey and the Muppets. And it occurs to me that pretty much all Christmas songs fit into one of three cateogories: dirty, depressing, and stupid/juvenile.

Dirty Christmas carols, you ask? Whatever do you mean? My stepdad is responsible for pointing this first example out to me. Take a gander at the lyrics to "Santa Claus Got Stuck in my Chimney," which was originally recorded by Ella Fitzgerald in 1960:

Santa Claus got stuck in my chimney
Stuck in my chimney, stuck in my chimney
Santa Claus got stuck in my chimney
When he came last year.

There he was in the middle of my chimney
Roly-poly, fat and round
There he was in the middle of my chimney
Not quite up and not quite down

Santa please come back to my chimney
Back to my chimney, back to my chimney
Santa please come back to my chimney
You can come back here.

Wow, right? The song takes the vagina-as-chimney metaphor really far.

I also think the allegedly innocent "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" is open to myriad interpretations. I know that we're supposed to assume that what the kid sees (and misunderstands) is his dad dressed up as Santa and his mom kissing his dad. But I always think about the other possibility-- that dad is upstairs asleep while mom is playing tonsil hockey with the 19-year-old mall Santa. Or I imagine another verse -- where after Mommy kisses and tickles Santa, things progress to less PG-13-rated events. "Then I saw Mommy fellating Santa Claus..."

"Santa Baby," about a greedy woman who wants the deed to a diamond mine and a new car among other things, also has a naughty feel to it...though I think the song would be awesome
if sampled in a remix of Kanye West's "Gold-Digger." You know, to give it more contemporary

The second category, the Depressing Songs, is where all my favorites are. I like my pop culture super sad, as is evidenced by my love of Richard Yates and Patsy Cline. Songs like "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "White Christmas" play up the more emotionally confusing part of Christmas-- the moments where, after too much spiked eggnog, you start thinking about Christmases past and get nostalgic about ex-lovers and dead relatives.

The mother of all depressing Christmas songs is of course the oft-covered "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The history of the song, which was written for the film Meet Me in St. Louis, is quite fascinating and even has its own Wikipedia page. Now the lyrics seem tame, but the original lyrics? Wrist-slitting material. Check it out:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last
Next year we may all be living in the past

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Pop that champagne cork
Next year we may all be living in New York

No good times like the olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us no more

But at least we all will be together
If the Lord allows
From now on, we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now

See what I mean? Now we sing about hanging stars on shiny boughs and all that bullshit. When really, the song is about "muddling through" life. Pass the schnapps!

Finally, the stupid/juvenile carols. I HATE THESE. Examples include "Grandma Got Run Over by
a Reindeer" and "All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth." These songs really should
just disappear from holiday anthologies.

Now, all of the above examples are fairly old songs -- but contemporary recording artists are

attempting to add to the Christmas canon. A few years ago, Newsong came out with what might be the worst Christmas song of all time: The Christmas Shoes.

I mean, it's so awesomely bad that it's almost good. Almost.

This holiday season, I saw that Aretha Franklin had put out her first album of Christmas songs, so I decided
to buy it for my mom. We listened to it in the car after she picked me up from the airport. And were immediately flabbergasted. The album panders to the most stereotypical images of a down-home Southern Christmas. In between songs, Aretha talks about chittlins. Seriously. I'm not even black and I'm offended.

The final track is Aretha reading a special adaptation of "Twas the Night Before Christmas." Her version makes references to her "bro" and her "diddy" (which prompted my mother to ask, "What's a 'diddy'?") and instead of waiting up for Ol' St. Nick, Aretha is waiting for her new man to arrive. When he does show up, she runs him out of the house for not bringing adequate gifts. As he exits, instead of shouting "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night," he yells, "You'se one hell of a woman, 'Retha!"

Download it if you don't believe me.

Happy holidays, everyone -- I encourage you to sing till you're blue (red? green?) in the face
and try to follow to paradoxical advice offered in "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," namely to dance merrily in "the new old-fashioned way." Good luck with that.

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