Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I won't say that much about it. My family was fun in that awkward and uncomfortable way that families are. My brother and his girlfriend, while not engaged per se, are talking about choosing engagement rings, and what they might name their firstborn child. This is all well and good, but it led to the inevitable hints that my mother is quite concerned that I haven't found a nice girl to settle down with and raise a family. This is particularly fun around the holidays, as every event becomes a prompt for "Just think, some day you'll be doing this with your own kids." Though this did reveal some confusion my mother seems to have about my future, as she seems to think a professorship at a small midwestern college will involve me owning land, riding a tractor, and planting crops (winter wheat, my father contributed with a wry smirk). I could have disabused her of these notions, but decided it wasn't worth the effort. Instead I fled back to my Madisonian Fortress of Solitude and sought catharsis through blogging.
Anyway, as I said, Thanksgiving is come and gone, and now I am free to revel in my own secret obsession: Christmastime. It's hard to decorate and show it outwardly when you live alone in a pit that isn't appropriate for parties, but inwardly, I'm a Christmas nut. Love it. Adore it. I completely buy in to all the sappy, sentimental drek that I am so content to mock the rest of the year. Part of it, of course, is the extreme hubris that comes when your faith has made the entire world recognize the birth of its savior as a holiday (whether or not they worship it themselves). In fact, I still take great joy that we seized the season from both Haunakkah and the pagan rituals of the Winter Solstice (take that, druids).
But mainly, it's because of Christmas Carols. Those who know me understand my deep affiliation with the musical aspects of life, and carols are the most freakish and unmanly manifestation of that inner connection. Let's face it, most Christmas carols, particularly most modern carols, are overly sentimental, full of cliches, and no self-respecting cynic would ever enjoy them. We all know that the drivel in Christmas songs is stuff and nonsense, pretty words to say or sing once or twice a year, then ignore. Yeah, that may be true. But I say humbug to that claim, all the same. Give me my carols, let me sing along, and I'll be happy for the entire month of December. (My car radio, tuned constantly to 107.3's Festival of Lights, a month of carols. I'm not ashamed.)
And, oddly enough, I enjoy many of the more "contemporary" carols. While I can appreciate the old Bing Crosby-esque era of carols, the more traditional renditions, I heard (and sang in choir) these songs so often, now I gravitate more toward less conventional fare. Of course, this does not excuse the majority of modern renditions, which are simply American Idol-ized versions of older carols, where the singer simply sings the song more slowly and with more warbling in his or her voice. But there are a lot of songs I just adore that are fairly recent. For example, that song from Polar Express, by the guy who sings songs about Jesus but the radio station pretends they aren't about Jesus so they can get prime time air play. It's a really stupid song. Full of stupid cliches about belief and heart's wishes and nonsense. And I'll listen to it every time it's on the radio.
So, to ring in the Christmas season, here's a selection of my prime Christmas playlist, including both favorites and banned songs:
Good, both traditional and more recent:
"God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" by Barenaked Ladies. It's fun and swingy and has Sarah McLachlan in it. How can you go wrong?
"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" by Sixpence None the Richer. Same style as "God Rest Ye," and enjoyable for the same reason. A nice revision (note the word revision, not just slowing down) of a great song.
"O Holy Night" by N'Sync. Yes, everyone and their mother has covered this song. But I choose this arrangement because 1. It isn't American Idol-ized, unlike practically every other version out there. 2. It's got kickass harmonies in it, including a killer tenor track. 3. My college a cappella group sang it when we used to carol in the sorority quads. Gotta love it.
"Where Are You, Christmas?" by Faith Hill, from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This is one of those songs I realize is bunk, overly sentimental clap trap. I don't care. I love it. I'm not too proud to admit it.
"New York Christmas" by Matchbox 20. This song is only ok, but it got me through some tough times. My first Christmas out of college, I was working at RadioShack. My second week there, I spent 8 hours at a time locked in an empty store, tearing things down, as the store had just changed locations. It was my job to take the old store apart and throw it away, all alone. It was just me, a mess, and a radio, and this song was one of the few Christmas carols they would play that was different enough for me to appreciate.
"All I Want for Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey. First off, this song is just fun. I defy you to say otherwise. Second, it has cultural value for the awesome role it played in Love Actually (see my next post, on top Christmas movies, for further elucidation).
"Carol of the Bells". We did a killer arrangement of this song in college, where we transitioned from the end of it into the beginning of an a cappella version of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." Really was quite badass.
"All Alone on Christmas". Not sure who the original artist is, but it's used quite effectively in the Home Alone movies and, again, Love Actually. It's kinda sad but with a driving beat nonetheless, and makes my list because it is unique and fun.
"The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole. Only version of this song I'll listen to (well, except for a brief fascination with the New Kids on the Block version as a youth). A traditional song for the traditionalists out there.
"Happy Christmas (War is Over)" by John Lennon. I never heard this song until I was a senior in college, and loved it. It's different from practically every other carol out there, so props for that. And damn, the man was a Beatle.
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". I love almost any version of this song. It's fairly indicative of my preference for the slower, sentimental carol. Which, again, doesn't give me many points in the manly department, but screw it.
"I'll Be Home For Christmas". See the previous entry. Also, very resonant during the year of RadioShack, when I thought I wouldn't make it home for the holiday. Had to threaten to quit the store entirely before they let me off for the holidays.
There's a lot more I could add to this list, but I'll spare you. Feel free to comment with your own selections, and I'll see if they make the playlist.
"O Holy Night". Practically every other version. Seriously, singing it more slowly and soulfully is not an improvement.
"Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time". I hate this song. God, how I hate this song.
"Little Drummer Boy". Worst. Song. Ever. Pa rum pa pum pum. Smack you upside the head with your lousy drum. Biznitch.
"Santa Baby". No, it isn't cute. It's annoying. Deal.
Can't think of others at the moment, but they're out there.