As we're deep into the holiday season, you can't help but hear the jingle-jangle Christmas music that is played endlessly at every store and mall in America from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. While some people seem to add a pep in their step and get into the spirit of shopping, pity the millions of retail workers across the country who each morning reach for a bottle of Xanax as they are forced to work their shifts while enduring an endless loop of a couple dozen classics that have been ingrained in our brain forever. Would it hurt to mix it up a little?
I thought I'd throw in a little klezmer music to get us started since you don't usually hear it when you walk into your local Walmart. It also gives me a chance to mention that although it originated in Eastern Europe, klezmer flourished in America when Yiddish-speaking immigrants began to arrive here at the turn of the last century and brought along their music, which morphed into early American jazz.
Back to Christmas ... I'm sure most of you know that thousands of years ago it was the pagans who first sang carols as they danced around stone circles to celebrate the Winter Solstice. But the Christians came along, beat them up, stole the sheet music, came up with new lyrics, and cornered the market. It caught on in such a big way that even Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans couldn't stop it, and so here we are a few centuries later.
God bless the merry little internet, as it offers a seemingly endless annual onslaught of song lists –the weirdest, most obscure, funniest, classic-est, religious-est, strangest, best, worst, oddest, darkest, most offensive, and on and on. You'll find them on websites like BuzzFeed and Mental Floss, Cosmopolitan and Elle, Huffington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Heck, just Google “weird country Christmas songs” like I just did and you get 14,600,000 results.
A couple of years ago Sabrina Rojas Weiss – her name simply exudes holiday diversity – wrote a great article called “Weird But True Facts You Didn't Know About Your Favorite Christmas Carols” for Refinery 29. Here's a couple of them:
Copywriter Robert May wrote the 89 rhyming couplets of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer for a free coloring book given out to kids at Montgomery Ward department stores in 1939. The story was a huge hit, long before May let his brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, set it to music. By the way, May also considered the names Rollo, Reginald, Rodney, and Romeo for his misfit reindeer.
On Christmas Eve 1914 — not even half a year into the war — British troops spotted the very strange sight of Christmas trees on the German side of the fight in northern France. Then they heard soldiers singing "Stille Nacht." They responded by singing the English lyrics. Eventually, the troops emerged from the trenches to meet, exchange gifts, and even play soccer together. Fighting resumed on December 26.
Over on YouTube there's somebody named Fred Hedgecoth, and in five years he's uploaded only four videos. With just 14 subscribers you can imagine that he doesn't get too many people watching his stuff, except for this one, which is up to 15,310 views. This was John Prine's first attempt at a holiday song, and it's a mighty fine one at that.
But wait ... there's more! My all-time favorite. Recorded during the Low Rent Super Heros concert at Saxon Pub in Austin on Dec. 15, 2012. Amilia K. Spicer on vocals, Gurf Morlix on vocals and guitar, Ray Bonneville and Sam Baker each playing harmonica. Now this is a classic.
You can follow me here at No Depression to get notified when I've added something new. Many of my past columns, articles and essays can be accessed at therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate and post daily on my Facebook page The Real Easy Ed: Americana Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed