Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas

I'm a sucker for those radio stations that change over to an all-Christmas format in December.  This year the Bay Area has two, and since holiday tunes make for kid-safe listening we've been tuning in an awful lot. After a few weeks of carols I noticed some trends and have confirmed a few with a neutral outside party (my mom). I now present my findings on this vital topic.

For stations that play Christmas songs 24 hours a day, they sure lack variety. With decades of favorites to choose from, they seem rely mostly on Jingle Bell Rock, Winter Wonderland and The Christmas Song. And at least 4 out of 10 times that I turn on the radio, Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is playing. This song was was released in 1994, for those wanting to feel time rushing past them.

Christmas 2011 is treating Karen Carpenter very well. In past years I'd hear "No Place Like Home For the Holidays" or maybe "Merry Christmas Darling" but this year the entire Carpenters Christmas Collection getting plenty of airplay. She's got a wonderful voice, and even if the songs all end up sounding the same I usually don't try the other station if Karen is on.

Each year a song seems to be rediscovered and then immediately played to death. A few years back "Baby, It's Cold Outside" received a much-deserved return to the standard holiday rotation. Not so much for this year's apparent darling, a slight creepy 1992 Frank Sinatra/Cyndi Lauper duet of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."  Three weeks ago I'd never heard this song, and now I hear it daily. This "duet" is an unnatural hybrid of the pop-punk diva's vocals slapped alongside Franks' original 1957 recording.  Why now, 19 years later, does this song merit a revival? Ah, but it could be worse. There is an entire album of Elvis Christmas "duets" with 2008's hottest female country stars that mercifully has not caught on, at least not around these parts.

Novelty songs seem to be on the outs. I've only heard "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" once. Nary a Jingle Cat in sight. The wackiest song I've heard is "I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas" which features a 10-year old girl with a nasally twang longing for a hippo hero. I kind of love it.

When it comes to the more traditional carols, "Do You Hear What I Hear" garners more air time than any other. The powerful Whitney Houston rendition certainly contributes, but plenty of other versions have popped up in the Christmas rotation. Why this song, this year? It remains a holiday mystery, like how Santa fits down the chimney and why I'm the only person who seems to love fruitcake. But I'll keep the dial tuned until December 25th. Who knows, maybe I'll hear some Jingle Cats before Christmas Eve arrives.

(For a less traditional holiday soundtrack, check out my 25 Days of Christmas Songs, the gift that keeps on giving, if what you want is funky holiday songs.)