Christmas Music

Christmas is the one holiday that a person can sit down and listen to the same music year after year and never get entirely bored with it.

I like to blame “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and Burl Ives for making me nostalgic every time I hear old Christmas tunes. allows you to type in an artist like Burl Ives, and then it selects like-minded music electronically.  Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Sinatra, and all the greats begin to chime in with minimal commercial interruption.

Rankin/Bass, the creators of the unique animation used in Rudolph and many other holiday hits, also made a very haunting Christmas special titled “The Nutcracker.”  That one isn’t as widely known as their others, but along with “The Nightmare Before Christmas” by Tim Burton, they show a darker side of this famous holiday.

Whenever I hear the Rat Packers or classic crooners sing I picture the 1950s.  The “A Christmas Story” time, and how charming everything was during that period.  I wasn’t alive back then, but my father has a knack for putting on old home videos accompanied by Christmas music of the era every time we gather for the holidays.  

When holiday music plays during the weeks before Christmas it can make snow falling look beautiful.  It’s also still early enough in the season where you can say to yourself, “Isn’t it great living in a place where we get such amazing seasonal changes.”

The exception would be a year like this one when we don’t have snow. It makes me wish that Christmas was a bit later in the winter season when we are drowning in it with nothing to rejoice. Imagine if we celebrated Christmas in February and had the lights up for months. Sure a Christmas tree would die after a month or two, but the lights would be nice if they were up all winter.

I mean, what do we have to look forward to through all of these cold months? It gets kind of dreary for the winter with nothing to celebrate except maybe Valentines’ Day.

A friend recently placed Manheim Steamroller as a top band on their Facebook page.  Just as I thought their head needs to be examined, I remembered my old timey tastes and understood. The Office recently did a nice spoof about that music when Dwight put it on and began to slam-dance with his coworkers. 

The music that local radio stations like 101.7 are playing this year is annoying. They love to play the lamest Christmas music ever made… Horrible 1990s singers that aren’t even on the level of Mariah Carey annihilate Christmas hits and make the station unlistenable. There is a certain type of drunken croon that Christmas songs require, but Manheim or Amy Grant don’t have it in their voices. Maybe I am alone, but I wish they played the old crooners instead of the lame baffooners.

The History Channel likes to ruin the spirit of this time of year when we learn how Santa Claus came to be and how the whole notion of a flying reindeer was actually a Macy’s ad campaign.  Santa has come a long way from his small elf beginnings in a poem to his portly present size hanging out at Bentleyville.

Burl Ives and Rudolph created an image of what Christmas was for me as a kid, but that was different from what it turned out to be.

The Beach Boys made some great Christmas tunes, but most bands that have tried to make a themed album have failed.  “Blue Christmas” and “Jingle Bell Rock” are a few exceptions that have staying power.

Duluth legend Bob Dylan released a Christmas album and did his own rendition of “Silent Night” a few years ago.  “Christmas in the Heart was Dylan’s attempt to create something that has worked for some and has seen others fall flat on their face.  In Dylan’s case he seemed to have fallen flat.  Now that a year has passed, “Must Be Santa,” has made me reconsider my first review.

When you list bands that have become famous off of Dylan’s tunes it is who’s who of rock and roll.  The Byrds (Tambourine Man), Jimi Hendrix (All Along The Watchtower), Guns N’ Roses (Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door), Peter, Paul, and Mary (Blowin’ in the Wind), and recently even Jack White’s The Dead Weather (New Pony) to name a few.  Hendrix’s close friends thought he was strange as a blues based performer playing folky Dylan tunes, but they were proven wrong when he became famous.  Even his trademark breakthrough hit, “Hey Joe” is believed to have been written by a folkie from the same brood.  While Dylan is thought of as more “folk” based, it is difficult to not recognize his blues roots as well. Even John Lennon, who was heavily influenced by Dylan in the Rubber Soul years, did a Christmas song of his own, but it was more about wishing war would end than Santa Claus visiting.

“Little Drummer Boy” was one song that bugged me on the Dylan’s Christmas album.  Where is the genius in hearing Dylan say, “Pa rum pum pum pum” over and over again?  Where is the social conscience in singing about playing his drum the best?  Then the background singers come in on the song, creating the most forgettable music you might ever hear.

The only decent tune on the CD was, “Must Be Santa.”  It sounded musically like The White Iron Band, but not really much like a Christmas song.  It has this “Drunk in Duluth” feel, but the looseness being played by the accordion makes it seem like the band was drunk (but unfortunately not up here).  Maybe it is a throwback to Hibbing Polka music and drunken’ Christmas parties of his youth?

The video of “Santa” is even weirder with a long, ironed-hair Dylan stumbling around a raucous Christmas party.  It probably was the most tolerable song on the CD, but is that really saying much?

I see Dylan as the most important songwriter of the past century and someone who changed what music means.  Before his music songs were all pop-ditties about bubblegum, holding hands, and rockin’ and a rollin’.  After he broke through he pushed all music artists to a new level of excellence.

Dylan still remembers us up here, and he said in a recent interview that “you’ll never see another town like Duluth.  It’s not a tourist destination, but it probably should be.  Depends on what season you’re in there, though.  There are only two seasons: damp and cold.  I like the way the hills tumble to the waterfront and the way the wind blows around the grain elevators.  The train yards go on forever too.  It’s old-age industrial, that’s what it is.  You’ll see it from the top of the hill for miles and miles before you get there.  You won’t believe your eyes.  I’ll give you a medal if you get out alive.”

I love the choralaires harmonizing, and if Dylan showed up singing at my door… I’d still let him in too.  Merry Christmas to everyone and don’t forget that my 1960s poster show at the Tweed ends on January 15th.

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