Mr. Cope’s Cave: Not Your Everyday Xmas Music


For today’s blogging experience, I want to thank whomever it is that puts together the medleys of canned Christmas music that are, as we speak, filling the air of major retailing outlets like the stench of burning tires. The idea came to me yesterday morning, as I waited my turn at the pharmacy counter of one of those major retailers' Meridian locations. I mention I was there for the pharmacy only so you know that I had to be there—that it wasn’t a merry shopping spree I could have cut short any time I ran into something displeasing or offensive or downright unbearable. Canned Christmas music, for instance.

As I was saying, I was waiting to be summoned by one of the prescription dispensing staff, when “Feliz Navidad” came to an end on the P.A. speaker directly over my head, and “Santa Baby” started. I hate “Santa Baby.” Almost as much as I hate “Feliz Navidad." I have nothing against the singers of either obnoxious, annoying, nauseating tune. Jose Feliciano has never been one of my favorite singers, but he is certainly not one of my least favorite singers. As to Eartha Kitt, I consider her one of the most distinctive vocal stylists of the past 100 years, and why she ever chose to record a piece of shit like “Santa Baby” is beyond me.

Actually, that’s not true. I know exactly why Eartha Kitt sang “Santa Baby,” just as I know why Jose Feliciano did “Feliz Navidad.” For the same reason Bing Crosby did Christmas albums, that’s why. And the same reason Andy Williams (and Tennessee Ernie Ford and Dean Martin and Dinah Shore and Rosemary Clooney and virtually every crooner, songstress, cowboy singer and lounge lizard throughout the 20th century) did Christmas albums. For the money, that’s why. In the great middle-class households of America, circa 1960, if there was one and only one LP by, say, Patti Page or Jerry Vale or Robert Goulet stored away in the old Magnavox cabinet phonograph, it was likely to be an album of their Xmas music. Your Momma took it out once a year to play while she was decorating the tree or baking fruitcake or trying to get the cards sent out so that they would get to the relatives back in Iowa before Valentine’s Day. I suspect those Christmas albums were for pre-Beatles pop performers what Black Friday is for the retail sector of the American economy—everything else just paid the bills; now we start making some money!

Anyway, as I was trying to shut the irritating sonic itch of “Santa Baby” out of my skull, it occurred to me that one of the many, many, many, many, many troubles with Christmas is the music. Of course, I’m not talking about the great anthems by Handel or Tchaikovsky that we associate so heavily with the season. The "Hallelujah Chorus" and "The Nutcracker" would be magnificent music even if they’d been written as, say, a score for an Adam Sandler movie, or the theme song for Duck Dynasty.

No, I’m talking about the stuff we can’t get away from if we’re stupid enough to leave the house at any time from the day after Halloween to the day after New Years. The “Feliz Navidads.” The “Santa Babys.” The “I Saw Momma Kissing Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Blue Christmas” and “Rudolf the Red Nosed Fucking Reindeer” and “The 12 Goddam Days Of You-Know-What!

And need I even mention Bing Crosby and David Bowie doing “The Little Drummer Boy?”

The deal is, there’s some fine Christmas music out there that doesn’t make a person think about converting to Islam, but we never hear it. Agreed, most of these superior selections are daring arrangements or re-arrangements of the same old insipid material we know from church and school programs. But superior composition is always in the arrangement. If you don’t believe me, imagine the same simple melody in the hands of, first, Dolly Parton, then Ella Fitzgerald.

So, as I stood there with “Santa Baby” pouring down on me like I was Carrie and the bullies had just dumped pig blood over my head, I decided to seek out some of this finer music and present it to you, my finer readers. My intention is to include at least one number in every blogoid until the end of the month. And what better day to start than today?… the first day of December.

Today’s offering comes from the Stan Kenton band. Kenton was known for experimenting with expanded configurations of the standard big band and hiring top jazz arrangers and composers to write music for it. In college I played much of that music, as did every school big-bander in the country. Exciting stuff. Lots of brass and percussion. In the midst of his period. Kenton released an album of Xmas music, and I found the whole thing on YouTube.

Unfortunately, I could find no video of the Kenton band playing it—only the audio recording. So there’s nothing to watch. But I suggest that, as you’re decorating the tree or baking the fruitcake or addressing the cards to the Iowa side of the family, put it on and let it run.