Why we don’t need superstar Christmas albums
Every year around this time, music fans are confronted with an onslaught of Christmas albums, both old and new. Just last week, Destiny’s Child’s ”8 Days of Christmas” and MTV’s ”TRL Christmas” hit record stores. Right around the corner are yuletide releases from Toni Braxton, B.B. King, and a host of others. I, for one, view this trend — which shows no signs of abating — with more than a measure of disgust.
Call me a grinch, but there’s something that really turns me off about pop stars using the holiday season to turn a buck. Sure, it’s a cliché to say that Christmas has become too commercialized, but the record industry continues to reinforce the sentiment with these releases. Hey, I’m certainly not opposed to listening to some seasonal tunes as Dec. 25 draws near, but I’d rather hear ol’ Bing Crosby warbling ”White Christmas” than, say, Beyoncé Knowles attempting the same tune.
For my money, the only way for any self-respecting artist to deal with the Christmas thing — if deal with it they must — is to record one-off novelty tunes. Back in the day, one could hear Bruce Springsteen’s jokey ”Santa Claus is Coming to Town” or the Kinks’ subversive ”Father Christmas” on hip FM rock stations as the big day approached. Those two songs sounded pretty good, as long as you got to hear them for free over the airwaves once a year or so. But the idea that Springsteen or Ray Davies would ever record an entire album of Christmas tunes seemed as absurd as an anti-drug public service announcement from Keith Richards.
Sadly, not every musician sees things this way, which explains why record shoppers are once again being offered holiday perennial CDs from the likes of Garth Brooks, Kenny G, and Jewel. Oh, I admit that my viewpoint is tinged by a modicum of standard rock-critic elitism. I see the sappy, sentiment-soaked discs just mentioned as the provenance of sappy, sentiment-soaked artists whose own music panders to a certain lowest common denominator audience, anyway. Christmas albums from such types smack of show biz calculation, pure and simple, and seems to have zilch to do with the spirit of the season.
Of course, many listeners no doubt get a great deal of pleasure from hearing their fave stars singing about glad tidings and mistletoe. I suppose if one is a rabid Braxton fan, it’s a gas to hear her exhorting you to ”have yourself a merry little Christmas.” Fine — but don’t ask me to like it. Cynic that I am, I can’t believe that this snowstorm of ever-proliferating Christmas albums springs from anything more spiritual than some record label bean counter’s marketing plan. I may be wrong, but I always thought Christmas was supposed to be about something more than marketing.
What’s your favorite holiday album?