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Al Batt: To each ear his own with Christmas music

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


Bare Naked Ladies.

I wasn’t looking at them. I was listening to them. They weren’t bare, naked ladies. They were Bare Naked Ladies with Sarah McLachlan doing a lovely version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”

I was in my thoughts, attempting to ascertain why I like black licorice more than most people do, when I heard the song. It was before Thanksgiving, so it was the early onset of Christmas music.

I find regular songs by the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton or Van Morrison are Christmassy enough for me before Christmas. I’m not sure the voices of Bing Crosby, Gene Autry and Burl Ives instantly make things Christmassy.

When we hear Christmas music much before Christmas, we either get either a pained look or a sublime feeling. Some people enjoy hearing it anytime while others want that music’s time severely constrained. Is there a date when Christmas music should start? Do we need to hear, “Ladies and gentlemen, start your Christmas songs.”

I love old-time spirituals and gospel songs. I don’t listen to Elvis often, but I enjoy his gospel stuff.

I heard Rudy Vallee sing, “Life is just a bowl of cherries. Don’t take it serious, it’s too mysterious. You work, you save, you worry so. But you can’t take your dough when you go, go, go. So keep repeating it’s the berries. The strongest oak must fall. The sweet things in life, to you were just loaned. So how can you lose what you’ve never owned? Life is just a bowl of cherries. So live and laugh at it all.”

That song hit the charts in 1931. I listened to it because I have an old radio. Vallee was an American singer, actor, bandleader, and one of the first modern pop stars of the teen heartthrob type.

I addressed Christmas cards while listening to Vallee croon what isn’t a Christmas song. I do the cards in fits and starts. One year, I sent them out in July. Relatives asked if the cards were early for next Christmas or late for last Christmas. Others said they thought I was loopy and getting a Christmas card from me in July had convinced them they were right. They thanked me. This was especially true of members of the Batt family. We enjoy being right.

Christmas music played in the background as I rang bells for the Salvation Army. “Little Drummer Boy” might have played too often. A cheerful giver grumped, “How many more ‘Little Drummer Boys’ do I have to hear before it’s Christmas?” He was annoyed, but happy — not the worst state to be in.

Each year, I see top 10 lists of most popular Christmas songs. To each ear its own, but they usually include some of these: “White Christmas,” “Santa Claus is Coming,” “Silent Night,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” “O Holy Night,” “Joy to the World,” “Frosty the Snowman, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Oh Come Emmanuel,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Deck the Halls,” “Jingle Bells,” “Away in a Manger,” and “Do You Hear What I Hear.” “Little Drummer Boy” doesn’t make the lists as it once did. It’s fallen out of favor with many list makers. Perhaps some find its omnipresence vexing.

“Pretty Paper” by Willie Nelson is a dandy and would find a spot on my list. As would “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” I’d add “Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt to my list of favorites. It’s a guilty pleasure.

A friend had an earworm based on “A Holly Jolly Christmas.” An earworm is a song stuck in your head. It’s a sticky tune frequently stubborn enough that it can be removed only by replacing it with an even more irritating song. I suggested he try listening to “The Chipmunk Song,” “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” “The 12 Days of Christmas,” or “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” If none of those helped, he could try a non-Christmas song, “Muskrat Love.” “Muskrat Love” is recommended by nine out of ten people who use songs to wrangle confessions out of evildoers.

I used to be in a group of Christmas carolers who tormented music lovers each year. We weren’t the worst, but we were close.

It could be argued that we each have a Christmas song in us. It could likewise be argued that most songs should remain there.

I don’t believe that. The Good Book says to make a joyful noise.

Be merry. Be noisy and call it singing.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Saturday.