November 30, 2017
What two things do the following songs have in common?
“Let It Snow.”
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
One answer is obvious: They are all set in winter.
The other may not be not so obvious: They have all been hijacked by the Holiday-Industrial Complex and thereby stripped of their appropriate place in our popular culture.
Back in the Middle Ages, when I was a student at the J. Hampton Moore elementary school in Northeast Philly, we would have twice-weekly assembly programs where all the students in a grade would convene for 20 or 30 minutes.
Announcements would be made, music and plays would be presented by students and, on a regular basis, we’d watch those now-classic--and now-hysterical--instructional short films on an impressively diverse array of topics including dating etiquette, how banking is conducted and what to do in the event of nuclear attack. But the absolute best part of those mostly mind-numbingly dull affairs were the sing-alongs that were a part of every gathering.
Nuclear attack civil defense film
The teacher in charge would type up and mimeograph (Google it!) lyric sheets for then-current and classic, non-rock pop songs (show tunes were especially big). We, the pupils, would subsequently cut out and Elmer-glue the lyrics onto pages of our black-and-white-covered Composition Books. The same teacher (I assume) would play the piano during the assembly, as we belted out such tunes as “Food, Glorious Food” (from “Oliver”), “Sunrise, Sunset” (from “Fiddler on the Roof”) and old standards like “Side by Side” and “You’re A Grand Old Flag” (one of things I am most proud of today is that I still remember all the lyrics to the song about Betsy Ross, which was sung to the melody of “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean”).
Anyway, between Thanksgiving and mid-March, our repertoire would also include a handful of songs--among them, the aforementioned “Sleigh Ride,” “Jingle Bells” and “Winter Wonderland”—that were entirely appropriate because they were all winter-inspired. And then, this happened:
Somewhere in the past, oh, 25 years, these songs were declared—by person or persons unknown—to be “Christmas songs.” As such, they were allowed, by some mystically devised covenant, to be heard via public transmission roughly from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day. Then, they simply disappear like a Dickens ghost, locked away until the next Black Friday Eve.
In the spirit of the season, I say “Bah, humbug!” to that. It is totally inane that such an admittedly small, yet culturally significant batch of songs be yanked from our ears for reasons that are absolutely ridiculous (or, they would be if they were known). Nowhere in “Sleigh Ride” and the others is there a mention of the birth of Jesus Christ or a nod to Santa Claus. They are no more “Christmas songs” than are “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “99 Problems.”
Instead, they celebrate snow, frosty air and other things (natural and otherwise, to borrow a line from “The Godfather II’"s Johnny Alo) that are the hallmark of a season which, officially, anyway, terminates in late-March, not late-December. So why can’t we hear them, at least until pitchers and catchers report to spring training?
So, Santa, if you’re reading this, the only thing I want this year is for the canon of winter songs to regain their rightful place in the order of all things musical.
To put it another way, I wanna take a “Sleigh Ride” in January!
Chuck Darrow is a veteran entertainment columnist and critic. Listen to “That’s Show Biz with Chuck Darrow” 3 p.m. Tuesdays on WWDB-AM (860), WWDBAM.com, iTunes, IHeartRadio, and TuneInRadio.
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