On Christmas Songs

So this is Christmas, and what have you done? No, really, what have you done, hypothetical audience? Anyway, now that’s out the way, I thought I’d use the last blog of 2014 to talk about Christmas Songs, or more specifically Christmas Pop Song, since I don’t want to get into the tangled mess that is carols. Yes, every year from around about halfway through November until about Early January every publicly tuned audio system up to and including radio stations in the UK are saturated with pop songs that came out at, are about or even just loosely associate with the festival of Christmas. There is literally no escape, no matter how hard you try, so best hope you enjoy that kind of crap. I, as you can probably predict from the tone here, don’t (with a few caveats) and thought I’d go into why.

Like so many elements of our traditional christmas goings on in the UK, the christmas song is an idea that works on paper, namely popular artists trying to get into the spirit of things and trying to make a quick buck whilst doing so. Given the consumerist overtones of the holiday, it’s very appropriate. But as is typical of human behaviour, we really do take it to the obnoxious extreme. It’s practically a requirement, apparently, that any radio station that hasn’t got a genre or era attached will play at least 4 songs an hour stripped straight from a compilation of “Now! That’s What I Call Christmas” caliber or worse. Combined with this, it’s also tradition for the retail sector, especially large chains and supermarkets, to blast similar level music out over their PA systems, or even in the case of a local supermarket to me, a dinky CD player behind the tills, near constantly. Near total saturation occurs within a few days of christmas song season.

And I wish that was hyperbole, literally I can’t walk down the street without hearing the distinctive sounds in the town I live in. Usually the same songs, too, which is another of my issues. When I said “ripped straight from a compilation” I really mean it, the vast majority played are usually from the same handful of numbers, most of which are at least a decade old. While each year there are loads of songs that come out near christmas day that try their hardest to be festive classics, the vast majority you hear being played are the same damn songs they’ve been for as long as I can remember. Or, as is often the case, new variations on older songs. Often it’s a new version of a “classic” or “traditional” song brought kicking and screaming into the modern age by contemporary artists, however a recent trend has been doing cover versions of tracks that came out relatively recently. Either way it usually doesn’t improve matters for that song. The lack of variety is probably the worst thing about the christmas music season, the constant repetition of the same songs quickly becomes tedious for me, and is primarily why I dislike the whole concept.

Even without the endless repetition, the general quality of the music is at best variable and at worst either outright poor or annoyingly twee. Much of the lyrics often embody the most saccharine elements of christmas tradition, and even when performed competently that can get annoying really fast. And while I’m not a fan of the current crop of pop music, I can at least identify when something is technically good, if not to my tastes, but it always seems the vast majority of songs brought out as christmas hits are usually poor novelty numbers that are likely rushed out in a hurry to cash in on things. I’m not entirely sure how some people find that listenable, yet clearly some do or else we wouldn’t have the saturation we do.

This is not to say that there is no such thing as a good christmas song. Personally I don’t mind some of the classic and “traditional” pop numbers all that much, especially the earlier recorded versions as opposed to modern artists’ versions. Even with the more recent songs I do have some I don’t mind so much for various reasons. The three that I normally list as “Christmas Songs That Don’t Suck” are The Pogue’s A Fairy Tale of New York, Jona Lewie’s Stop the Cavalry and The Darkness’ Christmas Time (Don’t let the Bells End). The first two are probably notably in the fact they aren’t actually christmas songs by definition (being a sort of depressing rant on a relationship collapsing and protest song respectively), just both mention- and have become associated with- christmas, and the latter is something a really well put together love letter/pastiche of the kind of songs certain rock bands put out in the ‘70s and ‘80s, which the video that accompanies it enhances wonderfully. More songs like those would improve matters greatly.

Since christmas has turned into something of a celebration of excess and consumerism, perhaps it’s appropriate that the music habits around it reflect that, but I honestly would wish for a moratorium on the damn stuff. Next year can we please at least try to cut down on the same old crap repeated over and over? Please? If that happens the season may be much more bearable for a whole lot of people.

And that’s your lot for 2014! My thanks to you, the great hypothetical audience, for at least reading a few of my odd ramblings I’ve decided to throw out there on the interwebs. When we reconvene on the twelfth of January we can start the whole cycle over again. Aren’t we all lucky?
Until then, folks,
—Do they know it’s christmas time at all?
—Also Bah Humbug Day Minus Three!

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