Ah! Christmas Eve at Daily Kos! Three diaries on the Christmas truce of 1914. No music involved. zenbassoon has his traditional Christmas Eve diary up, which shares some but not all of the content of my Thursday/Friday Classical Music diary about the Christmas music my Jewish ears have really enjoyed. In that diary, I said I would address two issues this holiday season:
First, the more aesthetic consideration of Christmas music I've liked (that's the linked diary above), and second, the more, well, commercial consideration of how much of what we think of as Christmas music here at the beginning of the 21st Century has been written by Jews like Irving Berlin. Since this really strays outside the bounds of what we generally consider "classical" music, look for coverage of the second subject in my Christmas Eve Top Comments diary, where I'll go WAY outside my preferred genres to make a point or two.And this is indeed my Christmas Eve Top Comments diary. So, in the tradition of Linda Cohn and Steve Levy anchoring SportsCenter on Christmas Eve in years past, come with me below the -- there really should be mistletoe hanging from the great orange divider symbol, and see what I've found.
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I should probably say "holiday music" because even in the songs which are about Christmas this body of music really stays away from attaching any religious significance to the celebration of the Winter Solstice, and it all has to do with the economics of how music has been produced in this great country we live in. So that I don't end up telling you how to make a watch when all you did was ask me what time it was, let's just establish that songwriting is a business insofar as the songwriter has always needed someone, initially a music publisher, later a record company in addition, to disseminate his or her product. Before the emergence of television as a major provider of content in the 1950s, many songwriters worked in the offices of their publishers in a district in New York City (directly east of the flower district, in fact) that became known as Tin Pan Alley (this links to a big multi-page exhibit from the Songwriters Hall of Fame, if you want to know more about this).
What all that is supposed to lead up to is the idea that a lot of holiday music was written on spec, by quite a few Jewish songwriters. My job here was made WONDERFULLY easy by Nate Bloom, who writes about Jewish celebrities for a number of weekly newspapers directed to the Jewish community, and by a list ASCAP (American Society of Composers and Publishers) publishes every year of the most popular holiday songs as measured by radio airplay. Bloom has been doing this since 2006.
First, let's look at the classic example of this sort of song. It was composed by a famous songwriter (yes, Irving Berlin) for a movie, Holiday Inn (1942), and it's associated with a specific singer of the era (Bing Crosby), so here goes:
Holiday music. Not a shred of anything religious. From the Yahoo! Voices story about the composition of the song:
[Irving Berlin] found writing about Christmas, however, to be particularly challenging, and this highlights a great irony of the song: that an Eastern European Jewish immigrant wrote one of the biggest selling Christmas classics of all time. In any event, Berlin was clearly up to the task, and, in addition to becoming a standard, the song won the Academy Award for best original song.Classic or not, it isn't getting a lot of airplay any more. Let's look at the 2012 list (boldface = Jewish):
"Sleigh Ride"Six of the ten songs were written or co-written by somebody Jewish, and five of the six are relentlessly secular (as are ALL of the four with no Jews involved). And now comes the challenge. Outside my regular genres? WAY outside. Trust me, these were VERY carefully curated.
Written by Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish
Written by Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith
"Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!"
Written by Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
Written by Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin
"Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"
Written by Fred Coots, Haven Gillespie
"Do You Hear What I Hear?"
Written by Gloria Shayne Baker, Noël Regney
"The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)"
Written by Mel Tormé, Robert Wells
"Jingle Bell Rock"
Written by Joseph Carleton Beal, James Ross Boothe
"Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"
Written by Johnny Marks
"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas"
Written by Meredith Willson
Because if you're unfamiliar with Ella Fitzgerald you shouldn't be! The Ronettes do it serviceably, but Ella!
Here, I thought Annie Lennox did a good job with this. EVERYBODY has sung this, but, well, Vanessa Huggins? Jason Mraz? Andy Williams? Um, no.
Sinatra, because everyone else who sings this is sort of frightening.
This one isn't secular, and the songwriter is Jewish. I'm thinking popular culture is the source, because it's really a sketch. I'm giving you this version because Karen Carpenter can sing even this and make it sound reasonable (I doubt that I'll ever address the significance of the Carpenters in a diary, but somebody might want to). Oddly, the floodgates opened for this one, and I just couldn't stop crying. It's an odd process, grieving.
You might as well get the composer for this. There's a way overly mannered version by Nat King Cole and Justin Bieber has had at this one too. No.
The original. There's a SUPREMELY weird 15 minute film that the rock group Chicago made of this with Joe Mantegna and Kyle Mooney; the song begins at about 8:30 in. I KNOW you didn't want to hear Miley Cyrus singing this.
So Merry Christmas for all of you who are celebrating, and I"m glad I could provide this for you.
And now for the real reasons you come here: