Christmas on the air: The songs I hated – and loved – to play


In the last post, I talked about working in both retail and in radio.  In both careers I got to deal with people, often at their worst.  I also worked on or around Christmas in both jobs, and it is for that reason that I think I never truly appreciated the holiday like I did as a kid until more recently.  Many times over the years people would make conversation about my radio work and say “That must be great! You get to listen to music all day at work.” While it’s true that I stick to a line I gave writer Rick Kaempfer in 2002 that radio was “better than having to lift boxes all day,” the music wasn’t necessarily the reason why.  In fact, I grew to really, REALLY dislike having to play certain records, especially around the holidays. A few that come to mind:

Mannheim Steamroller, “Deck The Halls.” This might be my least favorite Christmas record ever. At WJTW it was the background for all of the holiday bumpers (the things that went between commercials and music), so it played A LOT. I don’t know what makes it so miserable to hear: the weird minor key, the changing of the melody, the fact that it sounds vaguely like Charlie Brown’s teacher is singing it. To this day I will actually get out of a chair to turn it off. (Now, compared to the awful rendition of “Deck the Halls” in the Acura Christmas commercials – the one that sounds like they’re singing “DAYK! DAYK! D-D-DAYK the halls!”, maybe it’s not so bad after all.)

Elmo and Patsy, “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” This was cute the first couple of times, and then it wore off. I have actually gone through the entire season this year without hearing it once, so maybe the tide is turning.

Gloria Estefan, “Christmas In Your Eyes” and Amy Grant or Kelly Clarkson, “Grown Up Christmas List.” My first rule: Christmas music should make you feel good.  These just… don’t. At all. And don’t even start me on “The Christmas Shoes.”

Elton John, “Step Into Christmas.” I just flat-out burned out on this one. True story: I did once backsell it and say “You’d better watch where you’re walking, or you might step into Christmas.”

Paul McCartney, “Wonderful Christmastime.” Lousy record aside, my indelible memory of this song is from Christmas 1980.  My great Uncle Charlie died right before Christmas that year; in fact, the funeral was on the 23rd. While we were riding in the funeral procession, this came on the radio.  Sometimes the soundtrack of life makes a mistake.

-Songs sung by children, with the exception of the hippo song.  That one, I can do, because it’s at least cute. If it involves tonal yelling (think a community production of “Annie”), I’m out.  You can leave any version of “Nuttin’ For Christmas” (except Stan Freberg, complete with burglar) or “All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)” off the playlist when I am around.  The last verse of John Mellencamp’s “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” wrecks the whole track for this same reason. Let’s not even discuss “Dear Mr. Jesus.”

Madonna, “Santa Baby.” Does anyone really, truly enjoy this?

Barbra Streisand, “Jingle Bells? Perhaps one of the best pranks I ever pulled: For years my wife and I made and shared Christmas mix CDs with close friends and family.  One year, the version of the disc that went to my brother contained nothing but this song fourteen times. He didn’t think to play it until one night when, while hosting a party, he loaded it into his CD changer and hit random.  They couldn’t figure out why the same song came up so many times. The next time I saw him he just looked at me and said “Nice job… ass.”  I won.

Now, lest you think I just hate Christmas music, let me reassure you that this is not the case. Last year I wrote a bit about some songs I love.  Let me add to that list with a few others that I enjoy:

Bruce Springsteen, “Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town.” This is one that I still stop on when I hear it on the radio. Versions of this song by Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Jackson 5 also work.

-Speaking of the Jackson 5, I make exception to the kid-singing rule for Give Love on Christmas Day. What a wonderful record this is.

-Just about anything from A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector. I’ve been seeking an original copy on vinyl for years (I have two copies of the Apple re-release). No matter what format, I’d work in Sleigh Ride” by the Ronettes, because I could.

-Speaking of “Sleigh Ride,” the version by the Ventures is great.  The entire Ventures Christmas Album is wonderful.  I found a copy at a record show in 1989 and still have it. Each song starts as a pop hit and morphs into a Christmas classic. Until you hear “Tequila” become “Frosty the Snowman,” you haven’t lived.

-On the comedy side, we also have Cheech and Chong’s “Santa Claus and His Old Lady (in moderation, of course) and Bob and Doug McKenzie‘s version of “Twelve Days of Christmas” (“a beer… in a tree”).

The Kinks, “Father Christmas.” I like a little attitude in my celebration.

It’s now been five years since I’ve had a regular radio show, and – who knows? Some of these may begin to grow back on me a little. Then again, there are still some oldies and classic rock titles that I just can’t quite sit through again after playing them a few thousand times each (I’m looking at you, “China Grove”).

Feel free to add your likes and dislikes below and see how we line up.  Heck, I’m sure I’ll think of more, probably in mid-March.



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