I was sitting at Denny’s this morning eating my short stack of whole grain pancakes, no butter, when Bruce Springsteen’s groaning, straining, herniated “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” erupted over the house stereo system, and I found myself suddenly overcome by an urge to punch somebody, anybody, in the head, until it stopped.

Fortunately, I’m a master of self restraint. But I’m needing to muster that self restraint more often, and earlier, this year than has been the case in the past, as it seems that all elements of the retail and hospitality world are colluding to bludgeon us with forced musical holiday cheer well before it’s necessary or desirable for them to do so. So, yeah, I get it, Evil Retail Greedheads: you want me to buy stuff. But when you make your manipulation so obvious, you bring out the contrarian in me. Not to mention the guy who wants to punch someone in the head every time you make me listen to Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.”

I wouldn’t mind the early over-saturation of Christmas music quite so much if Denny’s and Target and IHOP and Price Chopper were piping in quality renditions of, say, Michael Praetorius’ “Singet und Klinget ihr Kinderlein” or Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s “Hodie Christus Natus Est” or Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols” or Charles Wesley’s “Hark! How All the Welkin Rings.” You know, musical works that have some roots and resonance in the true spiritual traditions of Christmas, with centuries of traction and cultural relevance behind them.

But, no, we don’t get any of that, as retailers tend instead to have three distinct classes of Christmas treacle that they force into our ear holes at this time of year:

  1. Classic rockers or R&B artists mangling holiday standards (see Springsteen) or crafting their own bits of soul-sucking seasonal fluff (see McCartney).
  2. Baby boomer nostalgia trips into the soundtracks of those Rankin-Bass cartoons and stop-action puppet shows of our childhoods (see “Frosty the Snowman” or “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” or “The Little Drummer Boy”).
  3. Kitschy, over-the-top 1940s and 1950s renditions of carols loaded down with syrupy, teeth-rotting string and vocal arrangements (see the Andrews Sisters’ “Winter Wonderland” or Danny Kaye’s “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” or Perry Como’s “Home for the Holidays”).

What do all of these categories of music have in common? They are all bad music, that’s what, which offends my sensibilities on so many levels. It takes garbage to make us buy garbage, I guess. And Retail America wants nothing more than for us to buy more garbage, each and every year.

Bah, humbug. I wish they’d just let me eat my pancakes in peace.

11 thoughts on “Grinching

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  3. I don’t mind covers of classic Christmas songs, but why can’t it at least be the good stuff?

    I’m really hooked on Diamond Rio’s version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” this year. It’s a beautiful song and those guys have a fantastic harmony. I still enjoy Barenaked Ladies rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” I have a perpetual soft spot for Stevie Wonder’s “Someday At Christmas” and have yet to hear a remake that’s worthy of the original. And I go crazy for Chicago’s brassy, funky “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”


  4. Yes I also agree……… we have the same over here, except we had the christmas decorations came out in the shops in october a couple of years ago. thank goodness last year went back to November and this year it’s the same. I know the shop owners are feeling the pinch but if you haven’t got the money to buy all the decorations and Christmas Carols are not going to help.


  5. Eric-

    I’ll match your Ian Anderson with this from Jackson Browne:

    We guard our world with locks and guns
    And we guard our fine possessions
    And once a year when Christmas comes
    We give to our relations
    And perhaps we give a little to the poor
    If the generosity should seize us
    But if any one of us should interfere
    In the business of why there are poor
    They get the same as the rebel Jesus

    Performed with the Chieftains on The Bells Of Dublin. A fine album in my humble opinion.


    • Yeah, that one definitely has teeth, Jeff . . . which I like!!

      Like Roz, I also generally approve of Greg Lake/Peter Sinfield’s “I Believe in Father Christmas,” since it has been embraced as a feel-good holiday song by folks who don’t listen to words, despite being, at its heart, a really, really feel BAD holiday song . . .


  6. I don’t mind Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus” as much as you do, but God knows I’ve heard enough of it already.

    Your point is right on, though… the more “holiday music” I hear the more irritated I feel. Clue for retailers: this does NOT make me want to rush out and buy more stuff.


  7. What would happen if Christmas shoppers suddenly started singing along? Really belting it out in their untrained, awful voices like a twisted real life version of American Idol that just won’t stop.

    When I imagine that happening, Christmas music playing in the background becomes so much more tolerable…I’m almost sorry for voicing a way to make Christmas shopping even more horrible than it already is. Personally, I can’t deal with it this year and I’m choosing the selfish route. No gifts. Don’t give me any, I won’t give you any and instead we’ll just find a way to find happiness in being near each other. i don’t really feel bad about it, except for with the folks that I typically spend a lot of time with.


  8. Outside of liturgical music and hymns, my favorite song of the season is probably Jethro Tull’s “A Christmas Song,” because of its sardonic, dark lyrics. It’s sort of the opposite of “Wonderful Christmastime” . . .

    Once in royal David’s city
    stood a lonely cattle shed,
    Where a mother held her baby.
    You’d do well to remember the things he later said.

    When you’re stuffing yourselves
    at the Christmas parties,
    You’ll just laugh when I tell you
    to take a running jump.

    You’re missing the point
    I’m sure does not need making
    That Christmas spirit is
    not what you drink.

    So how can you laugh
    when your own mother’s hungry,
    And how can you smile
    when the reasons for smiling are wrong?

    And if I just messed up
    your thoughtless pleasures,
    Remember, if you wish,
    this is just a Christmas song.

    (Hey! Santa! Pass us that bottle, will you?)

    Hear it here . . .


  9. I have my own playlist of Christmas favorites. Here are some of the highlights:

    “Father Christmas” – Greg Lake
    “Lt. Kije Suite” – Emerson, Lake & Palmer

    Then it gets a little out there.

    I have some classics, like “The Twelve Days of Xmas” by Bob & Doug MacKenzie, Parts I & II of “The Chanukah Song” by Adam Sandler, and a whole bunch of Christmas and Chanukah songs from the residents of South Park.

    I throw in some heavy metal and punk with a couple of selections from Twisted Sister’s Christmas album and “Auld Lang Syne” from Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. Then I go completely off the rails with Denis Leary’s “Merry @#$&ing Christmas” and that old fave from Red Peters, “Holy $#!† It’s Christmas!”

    Yes, I know… Someone’s getting a big lump of coal in HER stocking!


  10. Dude, if you EVER find a retail establishment that plays Palestrina and Britten during the holiday season, I wanna know of it IMMEDIATELY, as it will for sure be the venue for all of my seasonal shopping.

    As far as that other stuff goes, it was probably the first variety of music that I trained myself to absolutely tune right out. I have been blessed with the ability to walk through malls and stores joyfully oblivious to that which I know is being perpetrated on the ears of others.


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