Thursday, December 13, 2012

Remakes Of Novelty Christmas Songs...

So I was driving into school this morning and listening to WASH-FM, which runs Christmas music from the 15th of November through Christmas, and in quick succession, played three straight novelty songs:

1) "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"

2) "Last Christmas"

3) "Jingle Bell Rock"

The issue is that none of these three songs were performed by their original artists; each one of them was a remake/cover the original.

I enjoy the first and third songs.  I have called for Last Christmas to be retired in all of its forms, but if I had to listen to it (as part of a torture session or whatever), I would want to hear it in its original Wham! incarnation.  "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "Jingle Bell Rock" are both fine songs in their original incarnations - iconic in their own way.  Brenda Lee and Bobby Helms, respectively, made those songs theirs and put their stamp on it.

When I hear remakes/covers of novelty songs, I automatically put them into one of two categories, neither of which may be considered fair to the covering artist, but then again, he or she should not be remaking or covering these songs...

1) Stop trying to put your own twist on a song that was written a certain way and sung a certain way.

2) Be your own singer and stop trying to mimic the inflections of the original singer/artist.

When the first one is done, it just makes the newer artist sound foolish, because in our minds, we hear the song a certain way, and that's the way it should always be done.  Listening to Taylor Swift or the cast of Glee do "Last Christmas" just makes it sound whiny and nothing like the way Wham! did it nearly 30 years ago.

When the second category is broached, it is just a reminder that the attempt to be a facsimile of the original is an inherent acknowledgement of inferiority.  LeAnn Rimes does what is perhaps the closest mimic of Brenda Lee's style of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", but it just isn't the same.  And it never will be.  It can't be.  LeAnn Rimes is not Brenda Lee.  

Keep in mind, this isn't the same as many different variations of carols or other traditional songs.  I love listening to different variations of "O Holy Night" - even Eric Cartman's - because those are the types of songs that are open to different arrangements.  Novelty songs, on the other hand, are not.  They were written with particular artists in mind.  "It's the Most Wonderful of the Year" will never be as good with anyone other than Andy Williams singing. "Silent Night" can be beautiful with Boyz II Men, Josh Groban, Celtic Woman, or the local parish choir all singing in different keys and speeds.

If you don't believe there is a difference in the perceptions of traditional and novelty songs, you are fooling yourself.  If some pop artist ever remakes "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer", call me and let me know what you think.

I can already tell you - it will be inherently inferior to Elmo and Patsy.

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