Monday, December 17, 2018
"Christmas" music controversies: They aren't Christmas songs!
by Bobby Chang
“Baby, It's Cold Outside” is a 1944 song by Frank Loesser for year-end parties in Los Angeles as a duet with his wife. His daughter noted it was the song of the family, and gave licencing rights to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for usage in the 1949 film Neptune's Daughter, where it is used twice in duets, once between Esther Williams, a legendary swimmer whose career was destroyed by World War II when the Tokyo Olympics were initially moved to Helsinki but later cancelled by the war (the United States was not in battle at the time), and Ricardo Montalbán (an actor whose career was well-known; I remember him as Mr. Rourke and we may remember the old Chrysler Corporation commercials regarding “Corinthian Leather”), and then by Betty Garrett and Red Skelton, which the roles were reversed.
The song won an Academy Award for Best Song in a movie for the 1950 Oscars.
And in a similar vain, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which we've referenced in the past after learning a minister exposed the truth of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer censoring the song against Hugh Martin's request, was used for Meet Me in St. Louis, a 1944 film inspired by the eponymous book that was based around a year in the life of a family towards the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (now retroactively recognised as Expo 1904 by the Bureau of International Expositions). In its usage, a family was concerned as the father planned to move to New York for his job, leaving St. Louis just before the exposition. In a scene on Christmas Eve, Esther (Judy Garland) sings it to encourage her sister Tootie, played by Margaret O'Brien.
Add to that numerous songs such as “Rudolph, the Red Nose Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman,” which were designed as television specials that can only work in the Northern Hemisphere, it has now spread to fad songs from Mariah Carey (see 2004 column, “Sing We Joyously Noel” for reference) and Kathryn Hudson (please see the 2008 “Cultural Rot: MTV Video Music Awards” for historical reference) that it seems have been overplayed and are not even Christmas tunes. Note too the trend in the Grinch and other characters, none of which even observe the moment we celebrate on 25 December. There are plenty of Grinches, Rockette wannabes, and others, but if you try to find the Baby in a Manger, it is long lost and unable to be found.
These songs, as I've learned over time, are not anywhere near Christmas when you're sitting in a bed of Part I with Händel's Messiah with the annual singalong coming Monday, Bach's Christmas Oratorio (which took place a few weeks ago with Dr. LaRoche as soprano, I skipped it because she was added as a last-minute substitution for an event 150 miles away), and numerous Christmas sacred masterpieces (Es Ist Ein Ros) that I have learned as a singer and also one who has gained an appreciation of sacred standards (“Still, Still, Still” and “Gesu Bambino”), along with the real “What Child Is This?” and “Stille Nacht,” that are polar opposites to what is being pushed as “Christmas” tunes. Even churches today have bastardised church Christmas music to the point churches buying a Warner Music kids musical that replaced studying the Bible on Sunday morning were inspired by a dirty movie and dirty song, and the evening service was the adult choir singing with the karaoke machine the latest tunes off the radio that were not Christmas but instead regular songs performed by the fad Life Enhancement Centres in Australia (Hillsong) and Redding, Californina (Bethel) known for their heresies.
What gives? Has this world of “real Christmas and the Christ Child” given way to overt commercialism where the real material is being covered up, while we glorify every winter song? When I think of it, these winter songs are appropriate to sing in Australia during June, July, and August. Why no discussion of that?