Saturday, November 15, 2008

Christmas covers they should never have attempted

Our local "lite-music" radio station has already begun playing Christmas songs. In the last 36 hours, I have heard "The Little Drummer Boy" sung by, I think, Jessica Simpson. And, really, once was enough for the entire season--not that I have anything against her personally. That's just not one of my favorite songs to begin with and to have to hear it this many times in such a short span of time? Frankly, it's cruel. It's enough to drive the Christmas spirit out of me in a violent sort of exorcism.

And as much as I love Christmas music, some songs were simply never meant to be sung by anyone except the original recording artist.

Willie Nelson: "Frosty the Snowman"

I love Willie Nelson. Truly. He doesn't have the greatest voice of country western singers. Even at his prime, he always sounded a bit like Katherine Hepburn on steroids. But he's easy to listen to and you just gotta love a guy who hasn't changed a bit in more than 50 years. Marijuana-possession arrests or not, Willie is a true icon. "You Were Always on My Mind" nearly makes me weep, and I think the Pet Shop Boys should have left it alone. (Elvis did it justice as well. But David Hasselhoff? So wrong in so many ways.)

Yet when it comes to Willie singing "Frosty?" I just can't support the man on this one. Although I did do a little looking around, and found this: "In 1972, Walter Rollins admitted in an interview with Life magazine that initially the concept of Frosty the Snowman was written as a cautionary tale pertaining to the scare of "nuclear winter" and initially it was said that nuclear fallout mixed with the snow and children's dreams of a world without war were what brought Frosty to life, but the publishers and Gene Autry thought that the song would have more commercial value as a children's Christmas song" (thank you, Wikipedia). As an activist, perhaps no one is better suited to record this song as originally intended than Willie. So although I'm not crazy about his version, I won't turn the radio off when it comes on.

Barry Manilow: "Let It Snow"

I own this man's greatest hits and love most of them, even the cheesiest and corniest of the bunch. I love the Band-Aid jingle, and the State Farm jingle isn't too bad either. (Although I loathe State Farm itself. But that's a different post entirely.) But "Let It Snow" in Barry's mellow tenor? It's just not terribly authentic. Yet this is also the man who sings "Looks Like We Made It." ANYthing can be forgiven after that song. It makes me ache like no other love song out there. Go ahead and listen to it and tell me you don't want to crawl into a corner with your blankie and relive some college memories.

John Denver: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

There is no singer out there I love and adore more than John Denver. As you may recall, he died around the same time as Princess Di. My little sister called me during the middle of the night when Princess Di died, but I wasn't nearly as upset as she was. But when John Denver died? I cried like a psycho fan. (That's a lower-case psycho, not Psycho the movie, although that's a good one, too--just not terribly reminiscent of Christmas.) Everything about John Denver moves me. He may have sold himself for Grape-Nuts, which are killer on my TMJ, but I love him, his music, his efforts to save the world, and his admission that he was just a country boy who could screw up as efficiently as the next guy. And because I love him so much, I refuse to listen to him sing "Rudolph." It's more depressing than "Follow Me."

Wayne Newton: any of them!

I readily--perhaps too readily--admit I'm a rabid fan of Wayne Newton. The YOUNG Wayne Newton. The Wayne that sang alto and soprano. The Wayne I was SO sure was a woman the first several times I heard him. The Wayne of "Danke Schoen" and "Too Late to Meet" and "Bill Bailey" and "Summer Wind" (which, without apologies, I like way better than the Frank Sinatra version). So when I bought his Christmas cd a couple of years ago, I knew the move was risky. I knew I might end up with the Wayne that "sings" in Vegas today. The Wayne that is overtanned and overstretched. The Wayne that stormed out of an interview with Whoopie Goldberg years ago. (Okay, he was joking, but she didn't know that initially. I'm happy to say the man has a sense of humor about himself.) And, sadly, that's exactly the cd I ended up with. I couldn't even listen to all of the songs it was so awful. Let that be a warning to any of you out there who are also rabid Wayne-Newton fans. I'm sure there are millions.

But if listening to each Christmas song of his meant I could meet him in person some day? Well, I'd be playing it right now instead of writing this. I connect Wayne Newton to some of my best college memories and Barry Manilow to the rest of those best memories. Again, another post entirely.

Happy Caroling!

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