Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Scientifically Proven to Make Your Mind Jingle

On their November 4, 2018 episode, Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, the NPR news quiz, reported on a study that proved Christmas music makes you crazy.

But what is crazy? And for that matter, what is Christmas music and what's not?

This got me thinking about songs that qualify as Christmas songs by the slimmest of margins, but that I have heard the local Christmas radio stations play. I've compiled a full list (not a Top 10, this one's in no particular order) of songs that qualify as Christmas songs by very small margins. Here they are:

"Jingle Bells", "Jingle Bell Rock", "Winter Wonderland", "Let it Snow", "Sleigh Ride", and "Baby, It's Cold Outside" all contain zero mention of Christmas or imagery exclusively connected to Christmas. They are all winter-themed songs that due to a phenomenon called "pop-cultural osmosis" have become heavily associated with Christmas despite never mentioning it. (And, yes, I am aware that some radio stations are refusing to play "Baby, It's Cold Outside", so don't tell me that in the comments.)

"Do You Want to Build a Snowman" and "Let it Go" don't mention Christmas at all, but the songs have loads of winter-related imagery and are from a movie that has loads of winter-related imagery. The movie is also a Sound of Music Effect movie. (See the glossary if you don't know what a Sound of Music Effect movie is.)

"Put One Foot in Front of the Other" doesn't mention Christmas, or winter, at all, and in fact is a song with a message that works year-round. However, it was written for a Christmas television special, and for many stations that's good enough.

Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker score has no words, so it can't mention Christmas - but the score is heard so often around the holidays, and going to see the ballet on stage (or watching it on TV) such a beloved and common Christmas tradition, that the instrumental music qualifies as Christmas music.

"Toyland" by Victor Herbert and Glen McDonough, which they wrote in 1903 for the "stage extravaganza" Babes in Toyland, is oft-played. The song never mentions Christmas, and neither does the stage musical (or, at least, the early versions of it; the musical has been remade so many times over the years to fit new audiences that it is hard to decipher the original work from the 30+ reimaginings I'v seen, and usually these revised takes mention Christmas), but the fact that it's themed around the concept of toys works well enough for many radio stations.

"My Favorite Things" doesn't mention Christmas ever, but a combination of three factors seems to have turned it into a Christmas song: 1) It's from a Sound of Music Effect movie, in fact, from The Sound of Music itself; 2) It contains several instances of winter-related imagery; and 3) The lyrics may evoke a wish list for some.

"When You Wish Upon a Star" doesn't play on the radio as much as others on this list, but I know that Rod Stewart and Idina Menzel both recorded it on their Christmas albums. Its likely qualification as a Christmas song is the fact that it contains the words "wish" and "star" in the title - but Pinocchio is not a Sound of Music Effect movie.

"Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins could not be further in subject matter from a Christmas song at first glance - but if you listen closely, you'll notice that the song has a message themed around generosity and kindness (abstract concepts heavily associated with Christmas, at least in the USA). In addition, Mary Poppins is a Sound of Music Effect movie.

"Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has been played on one local station rather often. I'm guessing it's played as a Christmas song because it is themed around the concepts of imagination and childlike wonder (again, abstract concepts heavily associated with Christmas) and because Willy Wonka is a Sound of....do I even need to say it?

"Shake Me I Rattle (Squeeze Me I Cry)", a 1962 country song, has been played frequently on several stations. The song tells the story of a young girl who spots a doll in a toy store window and seeks to buy it with the money she has, but then spies another young girl in worn clothes who doesn't have the money to purchase the doll but wants it badly, so of course the privileged girl buys the doll and gives it as a gift to the less privileged girl. The song doesn't mention Christmas and doesn't specify at what time of year the action is taking place, but the concepts of toys and generosity in the song have seemed to turn it into a Christmas song.

"Everlasting Light". By The Black Keys. Not kidding. One station played this, and I'm positive it was because of THAT Macy's Christmas ad. I knew that ad had made many people cry (and, for me, inspired a 21-page script and a song), and I knew it had won the Emmy for Best TV Commercial, but did the radio station really think enough people would remember that commercial to accept it as a Christmas song?

Okay, maybe I am going crazy. Are these exceptions to the rules? Does only true Christmas music make you crazy? You tell me. Leave your responses in the comments below.


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Scientifically Proven to Make Your Mind Jingle

On their November 4, 2018 episode, Wait Wait...Don't T ell Me! , the NPR news quiz, reported on a study that proved Christmas music mak...

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