It’s too early for Christmas music. I’ve been saying that since the day after Halloween, when one local radio station started its all-Christmas-all-the-time format.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Christmas. I like Christmas music. I like singing along with Christmas music. But for shepherds’ sakes! Eight weeks of chipmunks and two front teeth and hokey harmonies and simply haaAaaving a wonderful Christmastime is more that I can stand.
It’s the middle of November, and I’m already sick of half the songs in the list of The Top 20 Christmas Songs You Never Get Sick Of.
Starting Nov. 1, I eliminated “Mixmas” from my radio rotation during drive time. Mixmas is “Mix Radio,” which normally plays hits “from the ’80s, ’90s and today,” and now streams constant Christmas. If my other stations join the chorus while I’m still making my Pilgrim hat, I’ll steer clear of them, too. Eventually I’ll be ready for Christmas music—like, mid-December.
For years I’ve felt guilty about grumbling over the early onset of Christmas songs. The last thing I want to do is fuel the firebrands who shout about the War on Christmas. I’m not for war, but there’s no peace when the radio is blaring “scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago” on Election Day.
So why the Christmas animus? I’ve asked myself. Why the holiday hate?
Hey, it’s not the holiday. It’s the music: too much, too soon.
I listen to the radio when I drive, and like most radio listeners, I tune into certain genres. For me it’s top 40 and oldies. In terms of frequency, I can tolerate hearing a new song three or four times a day on a top 40 station—because it’s new. When a song saturates listeners’ ears, it gets less and less playtime and eventually becomes an oldie. Oldies don’t get played every day because the station has decades of past hits to choose from. Plus, we reached a sort of saturation point with those songs back when we heard them several times a day.
By listening to top 40 and oldies radio, I get a good balance of freshness, familiarity and variety, all within my general genre. But with Christmas music, it’s the worst of all worlds.
The freshness factor falters because radio playlists for Christmas songs are limited to well-established records, including the songs they say we don’t get sick of. Note: The newest of those is more than 30 years old. If you look at Billboard’s Top 100 tunes from last Christmas season, you’ll find that only 38 were performed by artists younger than me. And I’m an oldie.
Radio’s Christmas music also lacks variety, because there are a limited number of holiday songs that make the mix. And the same artists sing so many of them. On Billboard’s top 100 list, “O Holy Night” shows up four times. Three versions of “Last Christmas” makes the list. And out of the hundred hits, Michael Bublé has eight and Frank Sinatra has five.
Then there’s the collapse of genre. Mix Radio will play current(ish) pop artists most of the year, but “Mixmas” gives me the Vince Guaraldi Trio, Jimmy Durante, and The Harry Simeone Chorale. They all made the most recent Christmas Billboard chart, too, you know. These artists never show up on my regular radio stations. In fact, the reason I listen to those stations is because they are devoid of jazz, ’40s guys, and chorales.
And some of those songs—ugh. Would any of us tolerate a tune as ridiculous as “Dominick the Donkey” any other time of year? (It’s from the album, The Very Best of Lou Monte.) But we obviously tolerate it at Christmas: It’s No. 69 on the Top 100. “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” is No. 35. And we’re OK with that?
Look, I know it’s just me. I know people gush about Christmas music on the radio the day after they haul their jack-o-lantern to the brush pile. I understand that these songs conjure up misty mistletoe memories. They do for me, too, but I can’t sustain the yuletide mood for two months.
If I haven’t lost you already, I will now, because the Christmas song I get most sick of is No. 1 on the list of songs we don’t grow sick of: “White Christmas.” I can’t stand it. By the time those women take over with their 1942 harmonies, I have changed the channel. I know songs like “White Christmas” are standards, but they’re stale.
It’s probably not the arrangement that scrooges me; it’s the accumulated exposure. I’ve heard that song 5,000 times—literally: 50-plus years, 100 times each Christmas season. I’ve reached my saturation point.
My favorite (regular) song of all time is “Dancing in the Moonlight,” from 1974. I hear it maybe once a week, and that’s OK. I’ve heard it enough times in the past 40 years that I need only an occasional reminder of how excellent it is. Play it for me four times a day for two straight months, and it’s no longer a song I want to hear. I’ll be saturated.
You know, if we waited until mid-December to play Christmas music, we could trot the songs out, play them for a couple of weeks, and enjoy them. I really am a Christmas guy:
• I actually liked “White Christmas”—the first 3,000 times.
• I dig me some Vince Guaraldi jazz from Charlie Brown—when Christmas is in sight.
• And I don’t mind hearing “Do You Hear What I Hear?” from Whitney or Carrie—once a day.
But when the same Christmas songs get jammed into my ears over and over beginning two months before December 25, it makes me tired of Christmas before the big day arrives. I don’t want that. I want Christmas to be fresh.
So can we hold off? Can we wait? Can we start playing “Christmastime is Here” when Christmastime, is, you know, here? If we could, it’d be a regular “Holly, Jolly Christmas.” That’s by Burl Ives, you know; No. 10 on Billboard’s list. … Burl Ives—dude must’ve been like Pharrell … back in his day.
Which was, um, 1962.