14 December 2006

All We Want for Christmas... Is Her?

A few weeks ago, I talked about Aimee Mann's super-depressing Christmas album, but now I must turn my attention to the opposite end of the Christmas spectrum.

Namely, I must discuss the super-cheery "All I Want Want For Christmas is You," sung by Mariah Carey.

My argument here is not whether the song is good or bad. (However, I love it. It sounds like a spunky girl-group song from Phil Spector's pre-murder days, and it shows off the pretty parts of Carey's voice without resorting to her dog-whistle squeaks or the recent breathy-equals-singing-because-I-blew-out-my-vocal-cords approach she's been taking. Sigh. Someday I'll get into my long, tangled history with this woman's music.)

What I think demands our attention is the fact the Mariah Carey has written and performed the only new Christmas song in twenty years to gain any kind of traction in the public consciousness. At this very moment, it's one of the five best-selling singles on iTunes, and I bet you can hear it three or four times on the radio tomorrow.

And that's a rare achievement. It's really, really hard to make inroads with new holiday music. Every year, artists unleash new tracks that wither away forever, trumped by our ongoing affection for standard carols and holiday rockers from the 50s and 60s.

It makes sense that we got a new batch of "Christmas classics" in the boomer years. Rock music was a brand new form that was nevertheless dominating the culture. We needed new holiday tunes to fit our radical changes in taste. But rock and pop haven't altered so fundamentally in the last fifty years that we need new replacements. "Blue Christmas," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "jingle Bell Rock," and The Chipmunks' "Christmas Song" still suit us just fine. Ditto "You're a Mean One Mister Grinch," "i'm Gettin' Nuttin' for Christmas" and "Happy Xmas (War is Over)." With the big band-era standards (i.e. "White Christmas," "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Winter Wonderland") thrown in the mix, our playlists are full to bursting. A song has to be exceptionally striking to muscle in on the holiday radio turf.

A quick aside: Of course rap music was a radical shift, but the genre has never really tried to embrace the holiday season. Run D.M.C. had the awesome "Christmas in Hollis," but the general ethos of rap has never fit the cozy goodwill of enduring Christmas hits.

Before Carey's, I can only think of a few holiday songs recorded after 1970 that have proven, ahem, evergreen. Obviously, "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer," recorded by Elmo and Patsty in 1979, is on the list. And you could argue for Adam Sandler's "The Chanukah Song" as a successful holiday hit.

But notice that both those songs are parodies. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is straight-ahead pop with a sing-along chorus and sleigh bells providing most of the percussion. It's the kind of song you'd think we'd filled our quota on, yet there it is. It may end up being Carey's most enduring hit, just like "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" has been for Brenda Lee.

Am I forgetting others that should be on this list? Anyone want to argue for their newly minted faves? No matter what, though, I think we have to give Mariah Carey credit--despite her lapses in musical judgment and that unfortunate Christmas Kitten album cover up there--for doing what so few others have accomplished.



At 9:20 PM, Anonymous katy said...

Well, I hate to quibble, but Happy Xmas (War is Over) was actually released in 1971, so it's on that list. Although apparently it never charted.

This morning the deejays on my local top 40 station morning show -- which I swear, I usually do not listen to -- claimed that the Christmas song they were playing had received the most calls of any song this year.

They proceeded to play it, and while I do not know what it is called, it was a novelty song written in a 1950s style and from the perspective of a traumatized angel stuck on top of a Christmas tree with wood and evergreen painfully shoved up her butt. It was supposed to be funny, but mentioned chafing, and I'll admit to being humorless enough that I found it slightly disturbing. Maybe because it drew upon images of real life sexual assault for comedy? I dunno.

However, discounting novelty songs like that and Grandma Got Run Over, I think you're right.

But Mark. What about that New Kids Christmas song? Please tell me you know what I mean.

(Okay. Actually, I LOVE to quibble.)

At 11:10 PM, Blogger Mark Blankenship said...

Quibble away! It makes these posts more interesting.

You raise a fabulous point regarding NKOTB's "This One's for the Children," which reached #7 on the chart.

However, I'll make two arguments against it. For one, even though it was on the New Kids' Christmas album, it's not actually about Christmas. Like so many other charity singles, it's about starving kids.

Secondly, it may have popular in the late 90s, but does anyone remember it now?

BUT, typing this made me remember another recent song that MUST be on the list of recent hits. Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas," which is about both starving kids AND the holidays. That one definitely joins the novelty hits of the 80s as a newer holiday perennial.

At 11:23 AM, Anonymous Brooke said...

My personal fave is NKOTB's "Funky, Funky Christmas". Would you like me to perform the rap interlude?

At 11:30 AM, Blogger N said...

How about Heidi Klum's Wonderland?


I kid.
The song is terrifyingly catchy, though. I can't get the refrain out of my head.

At 11:36 AM, Blogger Mark Blankenship said...

During this and every holiday season to come, I'm certain the video for Heidi Klum's "Wonderland" will be playing in gay bars and clubs across the world.

Thank you, n. That experience was glorious.


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