Monday, November 28, 2016

Okay, you can start playing Christmas music now

Now that Thanksgiving is over and it's no longer August, it's okay for radio stations to start playing Christmas music.  (As if you've been waiting for my permission.)

There are number of stations that have switched to an All-Christmas music format.  They usually do gangbusters in the ratings.   I believe the trend began with a station or two in Phoenix.  KOST in Los Angeles picked it up and it filled their stockings with cash. 

Personally, I can't listen.  When I was in high school my part-time job was in a record store and of course during the Christmas rush I worked twelve hours a day.  And we played nothing but Christmas music.  I still can't hear Johnny Mathis without having Vietnam flashbacks.

But there are some Christmas songs I do like.  And it's always kind of refreshing to hear them again (SPORADICALLY!).  

I know it's schmaltzy but my favorite is "Merry Christmas Darling" by the Carpenters.  Sorry but it gets me every time.   And there's no cover version that even comes close to Karen. 

There's something nostalgic and heart-warming about hearing Nat King Cole's "Christmas Song."  (I love how many of the classic Christmas songs were written by Jews.)

Beyond that, I like a lot of the old early rock Christmas tunes.   The Phil Spector Christmas album (I wonder how he's doing in prison these days), "Little St. Nick" by the Beach Boys, and who doesn't love Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree?"    Of more recent vintage I love Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You."

And when I'm in a more traditional mood, I head right to Linda Eder's Christmas album.   If you're not familiar with her, Linda Eder is a spectacular singer.   Here's an example:

I don't even like that song, but I like her version.

Since I hear the same six Christmas songs over and over on the radio I can't imagine what a 24-hour Christmas music station must sound like.    Whereas news stations have "Traffic on the 4's", do Christmas stations have "Feliz Navidad on the 4's?"  How many times do they play Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" on that format?   Even if you're a fan of those stations, by December 23rd aren't you ready to arbitrarily just punch people?

But like I said, at least we're close to December.   So it doesn't bother me that Christmas music has returned to the airwaves.  It will bother me again however, when they're still being played in April.

38 comments:

LouOCNY said...

I heartily recommend Leon Redbone's CHRISTMAS ISLAND, full of toe tapping standards and non-standards done in Leon's ubiquitous style. And how about an appearance by Mac Rebennack aka Dr John singing Frosty the Snowman?

https://youtu.be/DAtZBE5XXFo?t=16s

Don R said...

Back when I was a radio program director (in the good old 70s and 80s)we had a formula for Christmas music: The Monday after Thanksgiving we'd run one an hour, the next week two, the next week three, until finally we went all Christmas music for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Seems kind of quaint and stupid now, when Christmas decorations are on sale Halloween weekend.

norm said...

Speaking of the Jewish writers:
Not to mention that Barbra Strisand and Neil Diamond made a boat load from Christmas song, albums.

Mike Barer said...

Working in retail, we get a barrage of Christmas music starting the week before Thanksgiving on Warm 106.5 in the Seattle area.

Rick said...

I've always thought that Karen Carpenter had the most melancholy singing voice I've ever heard...I felt that way long before her sad death.

tavm said...

Speaking of Christmas songs, does anyone know if "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" by Elmo and Patsy is playing anywhere on the radio? It seems I only hear that on YouTube now. Maybe the fact that Grandma is really dead in the song has something to do with it...

Heli said...

My wife is the person who hates "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree". I'm not really sure why. I mean, it's not my favorite or anything, but it really grates on her.

For my money, you can't do better than "O Holy Night". Just as long as it's not the Avril Lavigne version.

VP81955 said...

All this is a byproduct of commercial radio being reduced to background music for offices and stores. (Sigh.)

YEKIMI said...

Wow, you'd really hate the guy that has the website that plays Christmas music 24/7 365 days a year. But I'm with you, once the Christmas music starts on the radio stations here [4 stations at last count and they all play the same shitty songs over and over] I turn my radio off and go to my Christmas tunes that I've put together over the years. 80s alternative acts, punk versions, comedy versions, etc. Always looking for something new-ish and different. Once Christmas is over, I turn the radio back on.....and listen to the same shitty regular playlist they play over and over and over, no matter what corporate entities stations I'm listening to.

Kirk said...

Karen Carpenter is very underrated. She was one of the greatest female singers ever.

ScottyB said...

I'm even worse when it comes to Christmas music. Long after I'm dead, my kids will be telling their friends and their kids about Dad's Car Radio Moratorium on all Christmas music until Christmas Eve.

The 24/7/365 moratorium on the Beach Boys, Elvis, 'House of the Rising Sun' and 'Stairway To Heaven' stands forever, however.

Kosmo13 said...

If I found a radio station that refused to ever play any Christmas music ever no matter how close it was to Christmas, that would be the one I'd listen to. Especially if they had jingles and announcements boasting about being a Christmas-free zone and guaranteeing safe haven from all thing Christmas.

DwWashburn said...

One of the best and most fun Xmas albums was from a Beatles tribute band called the Fab Four. They play traditional Xmas songs, but in the style of Beatles' songs. You can still hear the traditional tune so it's not just taking a Beatles' song and replacing their words with holiday words. An example.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZCHmDyd5ho

Also I like the Royal Guardsmen's "Snoopy's Christmas", Ray Stevens "Santa Claus is Watching You", Leon Redbone's "Christmas Ball Blues", and just because of its weirdness Tiny Tim's "Santa Claus Has Got the AIDS This Year."

Michael Hagerty said...

Ken: It was KOSI ("Cozy") in Denver that started the all-Christmas rush with the "Cozy Christmas Caravan" back in the late 80s or early 90s. South Park had some fun with it a while back:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVM2wtL_CdQ

Anonymous said...

Clarence Carter's Back Door Santa is outstanding. The Black Crowes really do a nice cover as well (should be on youtube)
-Sammy

Diane said...

My favorite Christmas music is contained in albums titled Christmas in the Northwest. Local Northwest artists recorded these albums of some standard and some original Christmas music and I never get tired of listening to them.

Fred from Scarborough said...

Hate malls but even more with Christmas music. Absolute worst is when someone butchers a song by "making it their own." Want to shoot myself when I'm near the entrance to a department store when the store music and mall music are duelling. Merry effing Christmas!

Scott said...

The only time I like to listen to Christmas music is during the middle of the summer. And since that's when Mel Tormé and Robert Wells wrote "The Christmas Song," it's only appropriate. Mel's Christmas album is my go-to Christmas music.

Jahn Ghalt said...

I first noticed "Christmas stuff" this season at Costco before Halloween - maybe as early as October 15th.

Local FM station (98.9) started with the music the weekend after the General Election (at T minus 43 days). The ex theorized that it was to mitigate Trump Shock. She had a streaming thing going on at Thanksgiving dinner - which worked for me much better than the narrow playlist 98.9 broadcasts.

Given the very deep catalog of Christmas songs, it seems odd to go such a narrow list. Ratings?

Brian said...

Thanks for the Karen Carpenter video - beautiful.

Anonymous said...


Perhaps someone could clarify one of the great mysteries of the universe:
how did two of the greatest songwriters in the history of popular music write two of the absolutely worst, most horrid Christmas tunes ever?
And which is worse?
John Lennon: Happy Christmas/War is Over
Paul McCartney: Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time

Unknown said...

I'm with you Ken about X-mas music. Already sick of it.
Chicago has a radio station that started 2 weeks before thanksgiving, and stops on the 26th of December. Never listen to it, but gets big ratings.
One song I do enjoy, in moderation, Sarah McLachlan and Bare Naked Ladies doing "God Rest ye merry gentlemen/we three kings".
But did enjoy the top 15 count down of X-mas music on Dr. Demento.

Mr. Hollywood said...

It's not Christmas music on the radio, but I, for one, miss David Letterman's annual Christmas show, with Darlene Love and Jay Thomas and his Lone Ranger story and knocking the meatball off the top of the Christmas tree with a football. Call me crazy, but I loved that show!

VP81955 said...

Two of my favorites that Ken didn't mention are Chuck Berry's "Run, Rudolph, Run" ("Got to make him hurry / Tell him he can take the freeway down") and perhaps the closest Frank Sinatra ever came to his own holiday standard, "The Christmas Waltz." (He recorded it twice at Capitol, each a bit different from the other. Both are fine.)

kent said...

Last Christmas I was on a cruise ship that introduced me to the song, There is a Star that Shines Tonight, by Sheryl Crow. It has since become one of my favorite New Era Christmas songs.

Johnny said...

Love Karen's voice, fantastic! Jazz singer Jackie Ryan has a similar sound, a pleasure to hear and quite a talent.

Garry said...

Given the very deep catalog of Christmas songs, it seems odd to go such a narrow list. Ratings?

The majority of people out there don't really want to hear anything other than hits and old favorites. That applies whether you're talking about pop songs or Christmas music. When I was in college and got a job at a local record store, at first I used to bug the store manager about why, for so many artists, he rarely stocked anything other than "greatest hits" collections or "best of" compilations. Turned out he did that for a very practical reason. No matter who the artist was or what the genre of music was, the vast majority of people who came in looking for an album really only wanted what was familiat to them. The big hits and the old favorites. That's true for Christmas music, too. For all the people who complain because the same damn narrow playlist of "holiday classics" gets repeated over and over again, there are a lot more people who don't want to hear anything BUT that same damn narrow playlist

LouOCNY said...

An excellent collection is CHRISTMAS A GO GO from (Little) Steven Van Zandt and the folks at his Underground Garage station on Sirius/XM...REAL rock n roll Christmas songs...

VP81955 said...

Garry, you just explained KRTH in a nutshell. What an awful excuse for an oldies station, particularly one in Los Angeles. (And one I have to put up with when I do laundry in West LA, because it has wi-fi and I can use my laptop there.)

And "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time" is far than Lennon's song. John sings as if he really means it, whereas Paul is simply too glib for his own good. Not the McCartney of "Band On the Run."

Anonymous said...

I still say Phil Spector's Christmas album is the best. Too bad no one has the guts to play any of it. Guess they don't want him collecting ASCAP or BMI credits....

bruce said...

Three years ago, I was in Singapore for a math conference and went into a mall downtown. I was dumbfounded to hear on the mall soundtrack Burl Ives' "Have a holly, jolly Christmas". They really go into the "winter wonderland" style of Christmas observance there; not so many people there follow it as a religious holiday, and of course it's practically on the Equator. The all time record low there is 67.

Chris said...

My coffeeshop put out two tip jars today, one labeled "More Christmas Songs", the other labelled "NO MORE CHRISTMAS SONGS!!!" Needless to say, the former was empty and I did my part, putting my change in the latter.

That said, there are Christmas songs that stay on my iPhone year long because I like having them crop up on random: a cappella mashups, Vince Guaraldi, some silly holiday but not Christmas songs and whatnot. Some of my friends think I'm loopy, but it's precisely because they're songs I like and love on my terms. A couple random holiday tunes in July? Sure, why not. Rudolph on repeat in Decemer? Call the NRA, they've got a new member!

Pat Reeder said...

Not a big fan of Christmas music, but my wife and I like just enough of it to make a soundtrack that lasts about half a day. We play Leon Redbone's "Christmas Island" every year while opening gifts. Other than that, we have albums by Ella, Peggy Lee, the Carpenters and Nancy LaMott; a few songs each by Frank, Nat and Dean; John Fahey's "The New Possibility;" and some random oddities like "Christmas In Jail" or SNL's "Christmastime For The Jews." And despite all the Seth MacFarlane hate around here, I really like his "Holiday For Swing" album. But I don't see the point in every pop and country singer recording identical arrangements of the same handful of tunes ("Frosty the Snowman," etc.) for the 20,000th time.

I bought a Linda Eder CD on Ken's recommendation, but she's just not my cup of java. I'm not big on belting. I prefer smooth, rich, pitch-perfect altos like Karen Carpenter or my wife. She's a retro jazz singer whose voice has been compared to Karen's. But one of her hard and fast rules is that she will NEVER record a Christmas song, so I guess we'll be playing Leon Redbone for eternity.

Tip: if you can't stand any more Christmas music during long holiday drives, download or stream old Christmas radio shows off the Internet. There are a ton of Jack Benny's, etc., you can listen to for free.

Pat Reeder said...

Oh, and one I forgot: Vince Guaraldi's "Charlie Brown Christmas" soundtrack.

Myles W said...

Here in the U.K, Fairytale of New York is regularly voted the best Christmas song of all time.

https://youtu.be/j9jbdgZidu8

Which is quite something considering a) how unsentimental it is and b) it has a failrly offensive lyric about halfway through.

John the Red said...

"Father Christmas" by The Kinks!!! A great, comical, if somehwat skewed take on the "joyous" season. "Christmas Must Be Tonight" by The Band. Such a beautiful song. And someone mentioned Back Door Santa: The Black Crowes' version is amazing. Ahhh, The Black Crowes. One of the finest bands of the last 26 years, and few even seem to know of them these days. Maybe because a great treasure trove of unreleased material is what shows them for the true gem of a band they were - trust me, I have a lot of it. But I digress....

Someone else mentioned Run, Rudolph, Run by Chuck Berry. Right on! One of the great joys of playing shows during the holiday season is when we can play that song instead of The Promised Land or Johnny B. Goode. "Rudolph" always seems to get 'em on their feet.

And, Ken: who wrote "God Save The Kinks" on Cheers' men's room wall? I've always loved that scene for that.

Kim A Tenhor said...

I discovered this gem, Robert Goulet's Hurry Home for Christmas, a few years ago and love the cheesiness. I chuckle every time I hear it and love it at the same time too...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzgC_MZKYOM



suek2001 said...

The Kingston Trio put out several great traditional Christmas albums...starting with "Last Month of the Year" in 1960...and more recently "Glad Tidings" in 2012..no Rudolph or Chestnuts...traditional, folky songs played well...RCA released a GREAT live Christmas album by John Denver..recorded three years before his death..sings with a children's choir too..it can be schmaltzy to some but Christmas has always been about heart...