Music for Decorating the Tree

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I tend to go in for really arcane Christmas music like Bruce Cockburn covering a 17th century Huron Indian carol or The Fleshtones doing up the holiday garage-rock style. But my wife and daughters like the traditional schlock, including Johnny Mathis singing “It’s a Marshmallow World in December,” perhaps the most revolting holiday recording ever. So we’ve (okay, I’ve) had to compromise, which is exactly what I’ve done the past few years. Faced with familial revolt and the prospect of decorating the Christmas tree by myself, something had to give.

Here are some suggestions on what does not (and does) work that may come in handy in the near future.

First, I tried Elvis. Everybody likes Elvis, right?

Got no sleigh with reindeer
No sack on my back
You’re gonna see me comin’ in a big black Caddilac
Oh, it’s Christmas time pretty baby
And the snow is falling on the ground
Well you be a real good little baby
Santa Claus is back in town

Nope, they weren’t buying it. Too lascivious. Nobody likes a slimy, jive come-on while attaching barbed hooks to ornaments. “How about something more traditional?,” my wife suggested. Strongly.

Then I tried the King’s College Choir. The pre-pubescent kids sang these lovely, ancient carols in their soprano voices, but even I had to admit that it got weird about three songs in. “I Saw Three Ships” — have you ever listened to that song? Jesus and Mary as members of the Palestinian navy, sailing into Bethlehem (which, last time I checked, is landlocked)? It’s very strange.

Then we tried George Winston’s December. “It’s pretty,” I suggested. “It’s instrumental. There’s no bizarre nautical language.” Okay, the family was game for George Winston. For a while. Eventually my youngest daughter started complaining about Pachelbel’s Canon. “Everybody plays Pachelbel’s Canon,” she said. “It’s boring. Besides, it isn’t even Christmas music.” This from the young woman who loves “It’s a Marshmallow World in December.”

The fourth time was the charm. Tony Bennett. Thank God for Tony Bennett. He’s stodgy and traditional enough to appeal to the Johnny Mathis/Nat King Cole set. But the man can sing. And swing. He’s got several Christmas albums, but the best is the recently released A Swingin’ Christmas, his new set with the Count Basie Orchestra. There are the familiar Christmas favorites. There are great arrangements from the Basie band. And there are multiple examples of why Tony Bennett is simply one of the greatest singers ever, and his phrasing is a wondrous and holy thing. Everybody will be happy.

So that’s my suggestion: Tony Bennett. You’ll have help decorating the tree. Your loved ones who don’t necessarily go in for Tuvan throat singing will be very satisfied. It’s a win/win proposition.

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