Who really wants to hear Christmas music for a month (or more)? Has anybody done a study about the percentage of people who can’t live without hearing those long-dead crooners vs. those who think that two or three days is more than enough? And have there been any Christmas songs written since “I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus?” – Terry Tyler
The yuletide has turned into a tsunami, sweeping over us earlier every year.
It’s called Christmas Creep, when holiday bric-a-brac makes its annual appearance between Halloween and Thanksgiving.
There’s another kind of Christmas Creep.
It’s an older obese man in a red outfit who enters your home late at night and eats a plate of cookies. Now that’s creepy.
Anyway, the reason we see (and hear) so much Christmas Creep is because it works.
In 2002, radio station WLIT in Chicago “went all Christmas” on Nov. 28 and tripled its ratings in two weeks. Guess what happened when all the other broadcasters heard about this?
So now we’re subjected to a nonstop parade of clamorous seasonal ditties.
Even Mrs. Action Line is victimized. Coming home from the rec center early one morning, she heard that cheesy 1980s George Michael tune “Last Christmas, I Gave You My Heart.”
For the rest of the day, it was stuck in her head.
Getting back to your query, hundreds if not thousands of holiday-themed songs have been recorded since “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Charts in December 1952.
A few contemporary songs are winners, such as “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” from 1966.
Hearing about a “three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce” provides a much-needed counterbalance to candy canes and eggnog. However, there are plenty of songs that deserve a bah humbug.
The icky 1953 “Santa Baby” comes to mind, as does the syrupy 1970s Carpenters song “Merry Christmas Darling.”
“The Chipmunk Song” (1958) inspires dreams of small-game hunting among many. Paul McCartney’s 1979 “Wonderful Christmastime” is anything but.
The 1957 Elvis standard “Blue Christmas” is overplayed. Ditto for 1979’s “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.”
But the hands-down dog is “Jingle Bells” sung by barking mutts. This tune tortures our ears – and its roots are in Nazi Germany. Seriously. Here’s the story:
The Nazis perfected magnetic tape recording during World War II and kept it a secret. Thus, they could broadcast prerecorded Hitler propaganda speeches that sounded live all over the Fatherland, confounding Allied spies and would-be assassins.
At the war’s end, American troops seized the sophisticated tape equipment and gave it to scientists. Suddenly, an engineer could cut, splice and alter sound.
Fast forward to post-war Denmark, where an amateur ornithologist named Carl Weismann was recording bird songs with old gear.
He convinced Dutch State Radio to provide him with some decent equipment using the new technology for his outings.
Weismann would frequently go afield on private property, where protective dogs would chase him away and mar his bird recordings with barking.
As an experiment, he painstakingly spliced the dog barks, adjusted the pitches and produced the song – a revolutionary process.
“Jingle Bells” was a hit when released in the United States in 1955 and an even bigger smash upon re-release in 1971. Royalties from “Jingle Bells” then funded Weismann’s far-flung bird recording sessions.
The fascinating story was chronicled last December in The Atlantic magazine, “How ‘Jingle Bells’ by the Singing Dogs Changed Music Forever.”
Well, well. Canine “Jingle Bells” is an important piece of history.
As luck would have it, Robert Stapleton, owner of Southwest Sound in downtown Durango, has this vital étude in stock on “Dr. Demento Presents: The Greatest Christmas Novelty CD of All Time.”
For a conventional approach, Robert recommends the best-selling “Christmas” by crooner Michael Buble. For a Durango touch, check out local musician Lacy Black’s wonderful holiday disc, “A Simple Season.” Both CDs are in stock at Southwest Sound and make great gifts.
Coincidentally, Lacy and Buble each sing nice renditions of “Jingle Bells” on their respective CDs.
Mercifully, both kept dogs out of their recording studios.
Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 80301. You can request anonymity if you knew that the guy who sang ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch’ also was the voice of Tony the Tiger (“They’re grrrreat!”).