Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The 5 Most Disturbing Christmas Songs

It's no secret that Christmas has become primarily a marketing scheme used to push wares that vary from desirable to entirely useless. One need only reach out to the world via a trip to any retailer or just by turning on a television or radio for undeniable proof of this. But beyond the gaudy displays, frenzied shopping, and seasonal sweet aromas, there's an incredibly powerful marketing device employed at this time every year: Christmas music.

We hear it every year, whether Pagan, Christian, or Jew. Christmas songs are broadcast into our ears from Halloween until New Year's Day to help "get you in the spirit of the season" (which translates into "shopping"). Some people truly enjoy it. Some people hate it with extreme malice. One of the main problems is that there's not much variety; in fact, there's only something like 35 Christmas tunes that are played regularly, and not one of them was released recently.

A Christmas song generally fits into one of two categories: Carols (mostly written in the mid-19th century) and radio hits (mostly written in the mid-20th century). These carols are generally what you might consider to be a "traditional" song. Here's a selection of a few of them:

  • Away in a Manger: 1885
  • Deck the Halls: 1881
  • Good King Wenceslas: 1853
  • Silent Night: 1859
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas: 1780
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas: 17th century

These songs are generally focused on being merry, enjoying tradition, and actually recognizing that Jesus guy that the holiday is somehow related to. In the days before the Sears catalog, Christmas wasn't really about buying gifts with a panicked expression on your face, it was mostly a time to recognize the beginning of the harsh Winter months and enjoy the warmth of fires, food, and company.

The radio hits of the 1940s and 50s brought us a completely different spin on things. Tiring of the stuffy atmosphere provided by these traditional tunes, record producers sought to write new Christmas music to accompany shoppers as a new era of the holiday season began to emerge. The trend began in 1934 when "Winter Wonderland" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" simultaneously emerged, kicking off two decades of similar songwriting. By 1970, when "Feliz Navidad" hit the radio, the trend was over.

What we are left with is a curious mix of dusty old tunes left over from a pre-electricity world juxtaposed with upbeat tunes that feature a drumkit-driven backbeat. And the newer tunes, as "cool" as they were when they were released, attempted to jazz up the genre with occasionally ill-conceived subject matter.

Here, then, are the five most disturbing Christmas songs of every holiday season, imposed upon us for half a century of season's greetings.

Winter Wonderland — 1934

Okay, so it's not actually that disturbing to us in these times, but in the 30s this song was considered scandalous. It alludes to a romantic couple who intend to elope:

"In the meadow we can build a snowman, and pretend that he is Parson Brown"

"Parson Brown" is actually a made up character. A parson, at the time, was a protestant minister who would travel to towns performing wedding ceremonies:

"He'll say 'Are You Married?' We'll say 'No man, but you can do the job when you're in town!'"

Then the two intend to deceive their family, bringing shame to generations:

"Later on, we'll conspire as we dream by the fire,
To face unafraid the plans that we've made"

Yeah, I know. Not that disturbing. But consider that elementary school children sing this song every year!

Santa Claus is Coming to Town — 1934

I often unpopularly refer to Santa Claus as "Training God" because children, who have little concept of eternity, can be tricked into acting morally straight if they think Santa is all-knowing and might choose not to bring them workshop-built video game consoles. This is the song that cemented that view of the jolly gift-giver into our minds.

"He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake"

Thinking of God or Jesus watching over us at all times isn't disturbing, and can actually be comforting for many. But there's something about a guy who actually comes into your house watching you while you're sleeping that's just unsettling. Yep, this is when Santa started to become sinister.

"He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!"

Considering the fact that Santa appears to be a real guy you can meet and sit on the lap of at the mall, this is just weird. It's like he's following you around with binoculars, watching you from behind a tree while you shove other kids down a metal slide. As we'll see in the next few songs, Santa might be omniscient, but he's not necessarily omni-benevolent.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer — 1939

This incredibly famous song of adolescent bullying originally appeared as a poem in a coloring book being distributed by retail giant Montgomery Ward as a Christmastime promotion. The song paints a morbid picture of psychological torture perpetrated upon the eponymous reindeer by his peers.

"All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names,
They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games."

Imagine poor Rudolph, discriminated against just for being different. We supposedly learn a lesson about acceptance as his unusual nose becomes the device that saves Christmas, leading the sleigh through especially foggy weather:

"Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say,
'Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?'
Then all the reindeer loved him."

Oh. OH. NOW you love him. If I was Rudolph, I sure as hell wouldn't be their friends. Dicks.

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus — 1952

This holiday classic features a boy's perception of his mother's infidelity, and not just with some strange man. No, in fact, the child's entire moral foundation is shaken as he witnesses his own mother cheating on his dad, while simultaneously witnessing Santa, the gift-giving diety, cheat on his own wife, solidly placing him on the naughty list:

"I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe last night."

Had he been caught spying on them, they might have used the mystical plant hanging over their heads as justification. After all, if two opposite-gendered people notice they are standing underneath it, they have to kiss, right? But that doesn't explain this next part, wherein mommy gets frisky:

"Then, I saw mommy tickle Santa Claus underneath his beard so snowy white."

Presumably, this is where the kid gets the hint and leaves town for a life on the rails with a scabby old dog, eating out of garbage cans and telling everyone he meets the story of how his mother is a whore. But no, the child chooses a more healthy defense mechanism: Laughter.

"Oh, what a laugh it would have been if daddy had only seen mommy kissing Santa Claus."

What a laugh indeed, if by "laugh" you mean "bloodbath."

Santa Baby — 1953

As if these portrayals of Santa as a creepy stalker, irresponsible caretaker, and adulterer weren't bad enough, this song makes him the target of a sultry temptress who intends to arouse him into giving her unreasonable gifts. After all, she's been an "awful good girl," right?

"Think of all the fun I've missed, think of all the fellas I haven't kissed."

That's right, she's well aware that no one, not even Santa, wants to get involved with a girl that gets around. In many later versions (Madonna, Taylor Swift) the vocal tone is replaced by lifeless interpretations relevant to the popular music of the time (New Wave and Pop Country), but in the original Eartha Kitt recording, her clear intent is to seduce Santa. And I don't know about you, but I certainly don't want to think about what's going on in Santa's giant fluffy red pants.

"Santa cutie, and fill my stocking with a duplex and checks."

Now to fully understand why this is the most disturbing Christmas song of all time, picture this for a moment: Santa is standing there in her living room after breaking into her house. She's wearing a sparkly cleavage-exposing cocktail dress with a giant slit up one leg, singing this line to him. His cheeks become rosy as usual, but more because he's a little embarrassed. Is there anything more disturbing than a man in a Santa suit chuckling awkwardly as his giant belly bounces around while a woman performs a sexy routine for him? Maybe if she was also tickling him under his white beard.

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