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Holiday music: a special genre

| Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday for many reasons, last of which is that it officially marks the first day that most rationally-minded folks will allow holiday music to be played. It’s just that for most, the month or so in-between Thanksgiving and Christmas is just about all that can be handled before wanting to explode every time the name “Bing Crosby” is uttered.

In truth, I think holiday music is special. Holiday music is the only true genre that almost uniformly evokes feelings of hope, charity and love in those who celebrate. Even the cynical music critic in me can’t help fondly recalling memories of childhood and family when those sing-along holiday tunes come rolling around every year. Yet, there certainly is something to be said about how annoying the music gets by New Year’s.

While holiday music comes in many shapes and sizes, there is an unfortunately limited collection of songs that get played each year ad infinitum. These mostly-schmaltzy songs have such a chokehold on the holiday music game that it’s become almost impossible for a new and original holiday song to make an impact — and to that I say bah humbug!

While I may not be able to alter the gargantuan holiday music institution, I do know a thing or two about what makes a song a hit. Because of this mostly-unfounded gift, I have decided to provide some unsolicited advice to musical artists everywhere for creating the next big time holiday smash song.

Incorporate bells

Now I wouldn’t say bells are required for a smash holiday hit, but they certainly help to establish a bit of legitimacy — just take the Waitresses’ 1981 original “Christmas Wrapping.” The track’s iconic jingle bell opening provides the perfect context to deviate from. Whether bells are simply used to create an ambiance or they persist throughout the track in conjunction with the percussion (see “Father Christmas”), bells are generally a safe bet — just don’t overdo it.

Take the spiritual route

Evoking the solemnity of holiday classics like “O Holy Night” or “O Come All Ye Faithful” can be an effective route for particular artists. Artists that are openly spiritual and are gifted at conveying the grandeur of such sentiments may likely find success in channeling those feelings into a holiday tune. Take indie rock’s somber guru, Sufjan Stevens, whose 2008 holiday record “Songs for Christmas” is a continually the backbone to all of my more tranquil holiday mixes.

Comedy can be your friend

If somberness is out of the question, adding a healthy dose of lighthearted fun can really work wonders on a holiday track. The fun, jovial nature of the holidays is an easy and potentially effective pastiche for artists to adopt in writing a holiday smash. Songs like the Beach Boy’s “Little Saint Nick” or Lonely Island’s “D— in a Box” often  serve as welcomed respites in the inevitably drab holiday music marathon.

Stick to your style

Maybe this one should have gone first, as it’s probably the most important. While any Kris Kringle can lay down some bells in the studio, at the end of the eve, it takes an artist to make a hit. Some of the most popular and famous holiday originals are more a product of artistry then they are timing or gimmicks. To the prove the point I present Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” and John Lennon’s “Happy X-Mas (War is Over).” These two tracks, both original holiday smash hits, reflect the strengths of their creators so closely that they virtually serve as a case study in the trajectories of both artists’ post-Beatles career. So stick to what you know is what I am saying

This Christmas, instead of a brand new beautiful IPhone X, maybe we can all ask for something wholesome, like a new crop of holiday hits. After all, do you really want to have to sing “All I Want for Christmas is You” 27 times before the new year?

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About Adam Ramos

Adam is studying international economics in the class of 2018. He hails from beautiful New Jersey and says "draw" instead of "drawer."

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