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These Are A Few Of My Favorite Songs

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Renee and Jeremy--"Sunny Christmas" (mp3)

How often in your life has someone asked you what your favorite song is? It can get pretty annoying, especially because you're put on the spot and expect to sort through everything you've ever heard and liked a lot and pick the one song (of the moment, I might argue). I can't imagine having a favorite song that transcends more than a week or two. A batch of songs, yes, but not one song.

Mathematically, all top 50 of my favorite songs are Christmas songs.

Think about it. Come December 1st, at my house, we tend to play nothing but Christmas music in the home and in our cars for the next three and a half weeks. We've got the Vince Guaraldi Charlie Brown, the Chieftain's The Bells Of Dublin, all of Sufjan's homemade Christmas songs (the only exciting addition to the ever-growing Christmas song catalog in the last 20 years) and a variety of other jazz, folk, classical, vocal, instrumental offerings. We've got the wacky stuff, too, though we don't tend to play it much.

So why are these tired Christmas tunes my favorites? Do the math. If your favorite songs are the ones you listen to the most, then all of mine are Christmas songs. By far. A new CD that I bought this year that I really liked I probably heard, at most, about six times. A classic CD that I love, I probably heard two or three times. But the songs of Christmas? It's not unreasonable to expect to hear the better-known ones 40 or more times during the month of December, and really even before, during those days in November after Thanksgiving.

They're everywhere! They're in the backs of our consciousnesses as we buy groceries, pump gas, shop in any store, watch television (which seems fixated on variations of that "it's the most wonderful time of the year" song, which I don't own). Last night, I went to listen to student performances of nothing but Christmas music during the annual Candlelight extravaganza.

And that doesn't begin to address my own playing of them. As I write this, I've listened to the last of the Sufjan songs, leftover from the other night, and now I'm listening to New Guitar Ensemble, whom I posted on this site last year (or was it the year before) right now. "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" in my head right now.

This month, I blew all of my eMusic "allowance" on new Christmas stuff. Not new songs, for the most part, but new performances by new people. I bought a kind of low-rent cocktail jazz set of Christmas songs by David Ian; I bought a new batch of solo piano Christmas pieces by . I bought a version of "The Christmas Song" as played by the late, great saxophonist Clarence Clemmons. Along with some other xmas detritus here and there.

Societally, we like to make fun of all of the Christmas music out there, all the cynical commercial decision-making going on behind all of those CDs, but, let's face it, the songs themselves, almost regardless of how they get tarted up, still hold a primal, nostalgic appeal, even in their most schlocky versions. Even artists I don't particularly like can still hit the "sweet spot" on a song or two. Because it's the song even more than the performer. To find versions that feel real, that feel sincere rather than obligatory, is bliss.

The other aspect of their "favoriteness" is that I've been listening to them for 54 years, even before I could walk or talk. Early on, my father indoctrinated us with the Ray Coniff Singers versions of classics that have now faded away like "Jolly Old St. Nicholas." For me, Christmas songs have 7 years on even the Beatles. How many thousands of times have I heard "Silent Night" or "We Three Kings" or "Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful"? How many listenings of Alvin and the Chipmunks have I endured? I couldn't begin to say.

So, yeah, many of my favorite songs tend toward nostalgic rememberances of Christmases that never were. I can't help it. I don't feel a need to try.

And as the years pass, I salute most those artists who try to add to the canon. Sufjan's "That Was The Worst Christmas Ever" (and about 8 more songs) and Shelby Lynne's r+b-ish "Xmas" and Jackson Browne's "The Rebel Jesus" and Shawn Colvin's digging up of "Love Came Down At Christmas" from somewhere all serve to freshen up the more traditional numbers when you're working through the same bunch of songs for an entire month. I also enjoy how different songs have moved to the forefront over the years. "O, Come, O, Come, Emmanuel" was not even in the mix 20 years ago. "Bring A Torch, Jeanette" and "Good King Wencelas" and "In The Bleak Midwinter" weren't either, and are all among my favorites now.

Among the many joys of Christmas is how the songs still transcend everything else. Regardless of their origins, they maintain a kind of purity now.

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