It’s coming, you know. Love it or hate it, it’s on the way. Some of you may already have had enough of it, while others are waiting for its first REAL appearance. No, not snow: Christmas music.
We at the Book Fair define Christmas music pretty much as the music industry has, lo, these many years. A lot of the songs grouped under that subject are in fact Christmas-neutral: they concern snow or winter. That controversial standard, Winter Wonderland, is just about a couple who meet during a snow holiday and decide to get married. The song you will hear in the background any time producers of a scene want to establish a winter setting, Jingle Bells, doesn’t even mention Christmas until the fourth verse (which some purists claim was not part of the original song.) Still, songs like Let It Snow or Sleighride are very seldom heard on radio after midnight at the end of December 25.
Some people, from Thanksgiving through that midnight, try to wear earmuffs indoors and out, so as not to hear the strains of Little Drummer Boy one more time. I understand that, but you might as well know that your Uncle Blogsy has a Jingle Cats CD and TWO Chipmunks Christmas albums, and PLAYS them. But he is not invulnerable.
Once upon a time, any singer in these United States who was an Established Star had to bring out a Christmas album. And in a lot of cases, each album had to include a new song, something besides the standards, which might become that singer’s signature Christmas tune. There are also endless movies and TV specials which would come up with a theme song that it was hoped would become so much a part of the season that it would continue generating royalties for generations. A lot of these simply didn’t make it.
Which brings us to our latest donations of LPs. One came in from a professional organist (so hymns and Christmas music were a requirement) and one from a person of a specific age who purchased a great number of moderately famous to outright obscure rock bands of the late 70s and early 80s. And the amount of Christmas music I am unfamiliar with has led me to come up with the Newberry’s next billion dollar plan. (The Newberry has not accepted this yet, but they never seem to cotton to my Billion Dollar Plans.)
We will have to secure the rights, but this shouldn’t be expensive, given the obscurity of some of this music. We’re going to present a line of CDs called “Christmas Music You Don’t Hate Yet.”
This will not include parodies and outright strangeness: other people have taken care of The Three Stooges’ version of Wreck the Halls, Peter Sellers’s I’m Walking backward for Christmas, and even, alas, the Gayla Peevey classic I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. Bob Dylan’s rendition of “Must be Santa” will probably be there as well. No, we’ll go for delights which were, in the main, expected to be the next winter classic and then dropped off the sleigh.
We can spend three or four albums just on the friends of Santa Claus, from Earl the Christmas Squirrel to Dominick the Donkey, with side trips to Jingle the Christmas Bell and The Little Fir Tree (whose great dream was to be shopped down and decorated.) At least one album will deal with Christmas Elsewhere: Christmas on Christmas Island, Christmas on the Sea, and How Can Santa Come to Puerto Rico? (Steve Allen explains to the singer that Santa Claus can visit even if there isn’t any snow AND assures the boy that Santa WILL bring him Be-Bop records.)
But I think, however we do this, we must include on the very first album this hit from Brenda Lee’s Christmas LP of 1964. Brenda Lee had a number of Christmas hits, including the perennial and once highly controversial Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and a song found on a number of lists of Great Unheard Christmas Songs, I’m Gonna Lasso Santa Claus. But how have I, how have so many of us, lived so long without hearing Strawberry Snow? If ANY pop Christmas song truly earned its obscurity….
The songwriter, talented and doomed Rockabilly artist Ronnie Self, also wrote Brenda Lee’s signature Number One: I’m Sorry. So he had credentials. But what were they all thinking when they recorded Strawberry Snow?
“Sleep with a spoon in your pillow. Don’t be the witch that bends the willow.” I BEG your pardon? Brenda Lee really sells the song: she puts all the throbbing yearning of her voice behind the lyric, which I THINK urges you to remain young at heart. I did check on strawberry snow, which is a term sometimes used to refer to Watermelon Snow, a pink-tinged snow that falls in some places where the algae have a sense of humor. I don’t believe that’s what the song is all about. Go find it and listen, and tell me what you came up with.
Of course, the problem with my Billion Dollar Plan is that once we release Christmas songs you don’t hear everywhere, you’ll start hearing them everywhere. Strawberry Snow might just BE the next Little Drummer Boy. Makes me kind of proud to think we’d be a part of that.
The rest of you, get out your earmuffs.