Christmas music is a dicey affair. The basic problem is one that is shared by the television news broadcast. In half an hour we go from a story of the body count from a storm surge in Bangladesh to a heart-warming community interest story about bikers raising money for breast cancer research to a bank robbery to a centarian who returns a book to the library seventy years overdue. The stories don’t go together. It is a shock to the pallate.
Christmas albums are like that. We start out with a jovial rendition of “Sleigh Ride”:
“Just hear those sleigh bells jing-a-ling, ring-ting-ting a ling too!”
Next, we lurch into the sobering theology of “We Three Kings”:
“Myrrh is mine: Its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”
And then we lurch back to the sensuality of “Baby It’s Cold outside!” Then on to the pious praises of “Joy to the World!” and back to the sultry materialism of “Santa Baby”. What an intolerable admixture!
Ella Fitzgerald dealt wisely with the problem by releasing two Christmas albums. “Christmas” is a collection of traditional hymns while “Ella Wishes you a Swinging Christmas” is her upbeat collection of contemporary secular standards.
Of course the song lists on Christmas albums is merely emblematic of a much deeper problem.