2015 Musical Advent Calendar (December 1): The Cowboy’s Christmas Ball

(Hey, that’s right, I DO have a blog!)

Man do I love Christmas. I look forward to it from the day after Halloween, to the point where the month of November is just an annoying inconvenience. Although I don’t put up lights or actively turn on stations until after turkey day, I am jazzed the moment I see the first decoration or hear the first song.

I am Pro-Ho-Ho.

The thing is, we suffer from a dearth of new Christmas music. Probably the last great original Christmas song was Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” and it is as festive as a damn reindeer drinking hot chocolate out of a stocking (your definition of “festive” may vary). Let’s listen to it right now.


That’s some good Christmas. But you know when that song came out?

1994.

Twenty-one years ago.

That is a LONG drought.

This got me to thinking: Why have no original songs been added to the Christmas canon this century? Sure, you’ve got covers, but those don’t count – to paraphrase my college English teacher, covers are like wearing someone else’s underwear. And there are the usual perfunctory offerings from the Biebers and Perrys and what have you, but you rarely hear them the following year. I’m talking about the canon, the stuff that comes back again and again, driving into your brain like a sharpened candy cane.

So I decided to look around. And ask some friends. And Google some stuff.

First, some ground rules. Obviously they’ve got to come from the 21st century (you’d be amazed how many people suggested stuff from as far back as the 1970s). In addition, no covers. I don’t care how well you sing somebody else’s stuff, that thing would have existed without you. These conditions MUST be met.

Next, some criteria. These are more subjective – entirely subjective in one case – but they only serve to help quantify the Christmasness of a given song. For inclusion, a song should meet at least one (more is better):

  • Does it mention Christmas by name? It helps to underline the point, and this also helps to clearly identify the author’s intention (although accidental Christmas songs are a possibility)
  • Are there bells in it? The bell is the preferred musical instrument of Christmas, beating out even the tuba-with-a-wreath-on-it. Also this.
  • Is it jolly? Not all Christmas music is jolly. It can also be wistful, sappy, or (and this is a tricky one) festive. Jolliness, however, is the mood that defines a song as Christmassy regardless of the presence of other factors.

To test these factors out, I’ll run them against a newer Christmas song, The Killers’ “The Cowboy’s Christmas Ball” (2011). I didn’t base my list on this song, but it IS one of my favorites, and one of the songs that prompted this exercise, so let’s try it out.

Good stuff, and fits both the 21st century and originality requirements. Let’s check the rubric.

  • Does it mention Christmas by name? Most definitely. It’s right in the name as well as the narrative.
  • Are there bells in it? Sure are!
  • Is it jolly? Jolly as a drunken mall Santa.

So not only does the song make the list, it’s a strong contender, hitting all three marks. That explains, I suppose, why I like it so much this time of year. And yet I’ve never heard it on the radio!

For the next 24 days, I’ll be posting original songs from the 21st century and checking them (twice!) against my list. These aren’t all going to be great, so don’t treat them all as recommendations, but they ARE going to be different. That’s all I can hope for.

Got suggestions? Post ’em as a comment, or you can shout them at me on Twitter: @thebobthe

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