Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas songs and the war

I've been bombarded with Christmas music since the weekend after Thanksgiving. Yes, there are times when I've said that I will be glad when December 26 comes, so I won't have to hear it for another year. But that's largely due to the very limited scope that these piped-in stations have. Why do play four versions of "Baby It's Cold Outside" during an eight-hour period? Louie Prima's "What Will Santa Claus Say" is great - but the same question applies. I realize these stations are limited in their scope, but jeez oh pete.

On the other hand, we've heard a lot more Johnny Mathis this year than last year. Two of my co-workers and I used to regularly get on the store p.a. and dedicate any Johnny song to the other two whenever he came on. Now he comes on so much that the joke would be old and unfunny if we kept up. But hearing him is a good thing. It puts me in a good frame of mind to work and to think of the good things about the holidays.

Since the station that's usually played is limited to big band swing and recent stuff that fits that format, I've yet to hear the Royal Guardsmen's "Snoopy's Christmas." Stop me if I've blogged about this before, but I notice a detectable subtext in that song that elevates it from its status as a cornball bubblegum hit - and the third installment in a set of songs based on a cartoon character.

Observe - in 1914 as World War I was going on, British and German soldiers on the battleground held a ceasefire on Christmas day and celebrated the holiday together with a dinner. In the song by the Royal Guardsmen, the Red Baron has a chance to shoot Snoopy down, but instead he tells him to land and "Snoopy was certain that this was the end/when the Baron cried out, 'Merry Christmas, my friend.'" And they too have dinner together.

Released in 1967 as the Viet Nam war was raging, the song could be considered as a statement about the mood of that era, even though it's about as far from "Eve of Destruction" as you could get. And today as a useless war continues, there's something emotional about this song to me.

Also the pay-off line in "I'll Be Home for Christmas" - "If only in my dreams" - has a little more gravity when thinking about soldiers who can't make it back for the holiday, much like the World War II soldier that was probably meant to be the focus of that song. (The line in "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" that changes depending on the version - about "Come next year we all will be together... until then we'll have to muddle through somehow," - could be about the same thing. But I think it might come from the Judy Garland movie Meet Me in St. Louis, so it has a different meaning.)

Or maybe this steady stream of holiday tunes is just putting this in my head too much.

And another thing, how often does Bobby Vinton really spend "Christmas Eve in My Home Town," aka Canonsburg?

On my homefront, the needle on our turntable got bent and I didn't get to order a new one in time for the holidays. So we can't play any vinyl, which means I probably won't hear the Monterey Brass album (see my oft-spammed Sing a Kris Kringle Jingle entry from a few years ago) outside of my head this year.

But at least I had a chance to turn Donovan onto the Singing Dogs' "Jingle Bells," which also makes me remember my friend Pam fondly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Victors, 1963, Frankie sings "have yourself a merry little xmas" while the dogface witnesses and firing squad march out to complete eddie slovik's execution . . . with eddie slumped at the stake, "Hark the Herald Angels" jumps out of the soundtrack . . . (also xmas gritty: die hard)