Seyram A. Butame

You see the Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys/ They ain't gonna fight no wars.

This Christmas!

18 December 2022

Holiday Card

Born at Christmas - Christmas birthday (Juliescribbles).

The holiday season is upon us, and I am listening to the variations on all the Christmas music. When it comes to this time of year, I love all the music; the good, the ingenious, the lazy, the repetitive, I mean all of it. Well, that’s not wholly true. I do love holiday music as a genre and enjoy the efforts many talented pop stars and musicians from all genres put into capitalizing on the season. Truly whoever designed this particular holiday could not have been aware of what they were unleashing on the world. There is just so much out there, and every year, musicians, new and old, take a stab at remaking the music in their image. I suspect this is in part because it is relatively easy money. But also because if you grew up in any western country (and any country colonized by a western country), you were blasted with the season’s music, for days on end.

Moreover, your audience, who were also inundated with the music as they grew up, now demand it of you. For example, if you are the latest pop sensation, having a Christmas album means you will get consistent radio play for at least two months. And who knows, you’ll be lucky, and your version of “Silent Night” or “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” will win the day. Or even better, the one song that is on your Christmas album will become a holiday standard, an earworm for our collective minds, in the stylings of Mariah Carey (“All I want for Christmas is You”), Jose Feliciano (“I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas”), Brenda Lee (“Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”), The Pogues (“Fairytale of New York”), or the Trans-Siberian (Christmas in Sarajevo).

Sometimes, it works, and artists create music that wriggles its way into people’s minds. Other times, the sheer demand for holiday music from a particular musician or artist and the artist’s reputation will brute force the music into the cultural zeitgeist, no matter how lazy, uninspired, and cheap the effort; I am looking at you, Paul McCartney (“Simply Having Wonderful Christmas Time”), and the writers of that racist drivel, “Do They Know It’s Christmas”? (i.e., Geldof and Ure).

Below are a few of the tunes that always make it to my non-classical holiday playlist.

  • Brenda Lee — Papa Noel

Many know Brenda Lee’s Rocking Around the Christmas Tree. It is a staple embedded in the American zeitgeist because of its catchy nature and because it is featured in another American holiday staple, the Home Alone film franchise. However, her exploration of South Louisiana Christmas culture produced the song Papa Noel an immensely danceable tune that deserves as much airplay as some of her other holiday hits. I can’t speak on her accent work–she employs a cajun accent for all the song verses, or her embrace of South Louisiana culture. However, I am always impressed by the effort and passion she puts into it. The song also introduces Christmas traditions other than sleigh bells, snow, and holly/ivy. The first time I heard this song, I was in a Starbucks in Tallahassee, drinking an adequate coffee. But hearing this song made everything so much brighter and jolly.

  • The Temptations - Give Love at Christmas

When artists, old and new, put forward a Christmas project, they will cover many standards. The Temptations did the same with their 1980 holiday album. But rather than lazily rehash holiday favorites, they gave it some added stank, layering it with their unique brand soul and R&B grooves. I could listen to the album repeatedly throughout the day, just have it on as background music. It’s pleasant, smooth, joyous, catchy, and creative, I run out of descriptors. I love it.

  • Sia - Everyday Is Christmas

Another entry into my holiday song playlist is Sia’s Everyday Is Christmas. Specifically, I am talking about the lead singles, Santa’s Coming For Us, and Ho, Ho, Ho. You can tell from my ramblings that I think many holiday songs are cheap imitations of holiday standards and are often tired and lazy. However, with the album and its two lead singles, I feel as if Sia really challenged herself and us, the audience. We got an album with a celebratory flare that is reminiscent of carnivals, complete with big tents and MCs in ostentatious stovetop hats. With Ho, Ho,Ho, you are encouraged to bring a bottle of rum or a friend and bring them all to their knees [with joy I imagine]. We are told it is a party where all are welcome, especially the misfits, because it’s Christmas. And with Santa’s Coming For Us, Sia seems to be playing with the somewhat sinister notion of an omniscient entity that rewards good behavior (Santa Clause is Coming To Town). I am a bit late to this album, but boy, what a jamming good time.

  • Stevie Nicks and Whitney Houston - A Very Special Christmas (Individual contributions, not the whole album)

Lastly, I wish to highlight Stevie Nicks’ cover of Silent Night and Whitney Houston’s rendition of Do You Hear What I hear. Many years ago, I was a child who stumbled on some of my father’s old records. And I came across Bella Donna, Nick’s debut solo album 1981. I was not only enchanted by the alluring cover art (Nicks in a a nightgown like outfit with a parrot perched on her fingers), but her voice just spoke to me. And her contribution to the album, A Very Special Christmas, has been no less meaningful over the years. Whenever, it comes, I find myself wowed by her voice, and the reflection it evokes in me. It’s such a great way to close out what is a rather scatter shot album.

Then there is Whitney Houston’s contribution, Do You Hear What I Hear*.

A song, a song high above the trees

With a voice as big as the sea

You get a sense for the hallowed voice “above the trees” and the voice being as big as the sea when Houston belts out those lyrics. As she sings, I listen to what Houston has to say. Indeed, I feel as if an actual mythical child will bring us goodness and light. By the way, I am not religious by any measure, but when Houston sings it, I am almost tempted to believe. Absolutely love that take. The song was written by Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne, supposedly responding to the Cuban Missile crisis and the threat of nuclear annihilation. It is a song, in my view, that does a better job of advocating for peace and an end to war than some other holiday favorite written by a bespectacled rocker, but what do I know.

So the above are some of my holiday favorites. I am currently jamming to them, and I hope you will too.

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