A history of holiday tunes


Each month I receive Rich Appel's electronic 'zine Hz So Good, which is devoted to Top 40 music over the years. This month's edition features a chronological review of the songs that are a part of pop music's annual observance of Christmas.

Rich begins by remembering the outdoor mall, where such tunes could be heard in the weeks before Christmas:

In the ancient days before ‘holiday hits’ was a 6-week radio format, if you wanted to hear bells jingle, chestnuts roast and Chipmunks kvetch – not 24/7 but maybe 12-13/7 - there was one place you could go: shopping. And for full-frost fidelity, your best bet was something called the outdoor mall. Anyone remember these? It may seem strange, but I have fond childhood memories of buying presents while freezing my butt off. In the Massachusetts town of Braintree (a name which is odd unto itself), such an arctic shopper’s paradise, the South Shore Plaza, was located (it still is, but it’s all enclosed now). It was the late 1960s-early 1970s, before indoor mall-mania had begun and ground just been broken for those (or mall-ettes, really) in several towns around Braintree. The SSP was then two floors o’stores arranged rectangularly, with entrances from the inside of that rectangle. And while most of those stores – Jordan Marsh, Kennedy’s, Krey Disc, Singer, Anderson-Little, Tie Town, Fanny Farmer, Hickory Farms – are nothing but memories now, the real memory for me was the walk from store to store in below-32 temps to the tune of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” on the PA system speakers.

Sounds like Tulsa's Southland, long since enclosed and renamed Tulsa Promenade. Wasn't Santa's sleigh in the open area between the two rows of shops?

The musical chronology begins with "Deck the Halls" -- no one seems to know how ancient it is -- moves through the origin of traditional Christmas hymns and old familiar winter songs. A couple of tidbits of trivia from the newsletter:

1857…Even without Kiss-108 to push it, “Jingle Bells” - written in Medford, Massachusetts to commemmorate the Salem sleigh races - takes off. To quote one historian, “Jingle Bells” was not originally a holiday song, but rather “the 19th century equivalent of ‘Little Deuce Coupe.’”

(A tangential reminiscence: In the '80s, Kiss-108 was the Boston-area station for what we now call metrosexuals. Real men (all right, college boys, anyway) listened to 'BCN. Hello, Rangoon! The only place I heard Kiss-108 around the fraternity house was in the kitchen, where our chef Ron cooked while moving his substantial posterior around to the disco beat. UPDATE: Rich Appel writes to explain the significance of the Kiss-108 reference -- the station is licensed to operate out of the Boston suburb of Medford, "or Me-fa, as they call it there". He also mentions that he was a WBCN fan in those days, too.)

1929…In three years, Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians have already racked up a dozen hit songs. So when the band settles in New York, both major radio networks, CBS and NBC, make separate deals with Guy: CBS gets the band’s New Year’s Eve performance before midnight, and NBC picks up the broadcast after. To make the transition easier at 12, Guy plays “Auld Lang Syne,” a song he grew up with, having been raised in a part of Ontario heavily populated by Scots, and which to him just seemed right to end an old year and start a new one. As a result, not only does “Auld Lang Syne” become Lombardo’s theme song, it also becomes the official song of New Year’s Eve.

And one with some local interest:

1953... Oklahoma City-based child star Gayla Peevey records “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” as a fund-raiser to bring one to the OC Zoo. The zoo gets its hippo and Gayla gets a hit when Columbia (not Hip-O Records) releases the single nationally.

And on through "Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer" (25 years old this year!) and Adam Sandler's "Hanukah Song."

This month's issue also includes some thoughts on the diminishing connection between Rolling Stone magazine and popular music.

If you'd like Hz So Good to slide down your e-mail chimney each month, send an e-mail to Rich Appel at audiot.savant@verizon.net

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 23, 2004 12:53 AM.

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