Greeley's Rancho Arcana
Part 5 of 6
Christmas Pop: The Sounds of the Season
When I was growing up, trees, toys and turkey were only part of the Christmas equation.
Music was also an important part of the holiday. Major recording artists had been releasing seasonal Christmas compilations since at least WWII.
However, beginning in the mid-1960s, a significant cultural divide was coming into play, one with its own dynamics that defied conventional wisdom.
Despite gaining scads of media attention and becoming icons for a generation coming of age in this era, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison & the Doors, the Airplane, the Dead, Cream, and others of the same genre, did not release renditions of Christmas carols just in time for the holiday shopping season.
However, Jim Nabors, Andy Williams, Burl Ives, and a host of other crooners did, and did so with much success, year after year.
Looking back, this may seem puzzling to those of you who weren't there.
How is it these guys could have such strong record sales in an musical era remembered primarily for being so totally anti-whatever-it-was-these-guys-represented?
"... Ah. Your question is like the sun rising in the east. There is a simple explanation, grasshopper."
Our guest essayist, Master Po, explains:
"Christmas, as a commercial enterprise, is essentially a child's holiday. If children are involved, then you also have adults playing some role. In this case, adults are the wise masters who deliver the Christmas experience. Adults are also the ones with the money, and, unless persuaded otherwise, tend to spend their money in ways that reflect their tastes and values. This great wisdom is called 'clout.' Some of you will learn more about this 'clout' when your inheritance is read to you."
The older pop artists provided comfortable sounds that adults approved of and that seemed compatible with their own childhood experience of Christmas. Children of the era were too young to have formulated strong musical preferences, and most members of the counter-culture were largely MIA on Christmas.
Since adults had all the 'clout,' holiday music marketing and TV programming came to reflect these preferences. Consequently, these are the sounds most of us of that age now remember the old holidays by.
The measurable effects were this: We--or even our parents--might have listened to AM "Boss Radio" in Los Angeles (or your local equivalent) 11 months of the year, but come December, our ears were tuned to an earlier time.
Top ten rotation is being supplemented with things like "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas." Johnny Mathis is back. The Strawberry Alarm Clock is on ice. The sound systems of JC Penney and Sears are filled with this stuff, 24 hours a day. The Little Drummer Boy is now as prevalent as Bob's Big Boy.
It was as if we had suddenly fallen into a black hole the day after Thanksgiving and came out the other end in a world run by the goyishe producers of "The Lawrence Welk Show."
Accordions. Organ music. Sleigh Bells. Church Bells. Dinner Bells. BellsBellsBells. A visitor from another planet might be forgiven for thinking that the word 'Christmas' meant "Dingdong." Women chirping "The Twelve Days of Christmas," all smiles and glitter. The sounds of strong strapping men standing twelve abreast shouting out "Deck the Halls" like a sailor crew.
The same thing occurred on television. Eleven months out of the year, you're watching Laugh-In, Gilligan's Island, Hogan's Heroes, or some other old crap, but come December, someone has taken control of the TV and the next thing you know everyone is sitting in the same room watching this briarpipe fireplace cardigan sweater sleepy eyed baritone troubadour pitching orange juice TV special brought to you by Downey fabric softener sort-of-thing.
And despite all the contrivance, maybe you secretly liked it.
If you couldn't spell "contrivance," (keep your shirt on buddy--I'm speaking of children here) you probably loved it, or at least were not shy about your affection.
And if you could spell "contrivance," but genuinely loved it anyway, you're exactly the kind of person we need more of around here.
The truth is, there was little harm in enjoying such music. It wasn't really any better or worse than what was on radio the other 11 months of the year, presuming that you got to listen to what you wanted to listen to rest of the year, whether Sinatra or Steppenwolf. Holiday music is a confection, to be served after the main course, and best enjoyed in moderation. Almost everyone has a sweet tooth.
On a personal note, I must admit that though I'm still a sucker for the older pop artists belting out "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," today's artists leave me cold. Destiny's Child singing "White Christmas" doesn't work for me conceptually; I guess I have a hard time associating the bare midriff and navel thing with the yuletide. The new ways seem, well...what's the word? Chazerai?
There was a downside to this noisy season. If you didn't like Christmas entertainment then it could be a form of exquisite torture because THERE WAS ABSOLUTELY NO ESCAPE from 'The Sounds of Christmas.' Unless you joined the counter-culture. Dingdong.
Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!
Yes. Dash it all. Our story's almost over. On to Part 6 of 6.
Now it's time for your reward.
Watch out, though! Naughty language ahead!