- The malls and the radio stations are finally letting up on the Christmas music. But I have no right to complain – after years of compiling holiday CDs, I should be immune by now.
I just gave out the last of my Christmas CDs over the weekend. I’m ready to not hear any holiday music for another year. Next year, I’ll have to hear a lot of it: I am planning – indeed, am under pressure to create – a third volume of Chris Molanphy’s Christmas Classics, my periodic collection of holiday tunes. People have been passing me song suggestions for the past month, so many that I think I’ll have enough tracks to full up Volume 3 and start in on Volume 4.
I respect anyone who doesn’t like Christmas music, if only because of its omnipresence each December. A day shopping at the mall during the holiday season is like being in a cocoon of Jolly-ness – a parallel universe in which “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is the biggest hit of all time, all songs include tinkling bells, and all end with a “Jingle Bells” coda. Chart statistics bear this out. The Billboard singles charts move very little in the month of December, because many radio stations have cut back their airplay of current hit material in favor of “White Christmas” or “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”; the Country and Adult Contemporary radio playlists become almost all-Christmas as the 25th approaches. As for CD sales, Billboard had to start a Christmas album chart some years ago to ensure that moldering holiday albums wouldn’t clog up the regular chart every year. Breaking out Christmas CDs on their own list prevents chart-watchers from contemplating the sad truth, that Mannheim Steamroller outsells the likes of U2 and Bruce Springsteen every year. It’s enough to make you swear off “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” for life, or at least the next decade.
Of course, I have no right to complain. I inflict this torture on myself each year. By handing out holiday music CDs, I guarantee myself a month of incessant Jolly Music. For the uninitiated, Christmas Classics is a series of compilations that, for more than a decade, I’ve been giving out to friends, family, coworkers and schoolmates (yes, it’s been that long). It was a little gift idea that blossomed into a full-blown project. It all started my freshman year at college, when I was strapped for cash and wanted a cheap gift to give to my roommates, my folks, my then-girlfriend. Using just two CDs and a dual cassette deck, I compiled a tape and duped about a dozen copies. The packaging was the coup: laser printers were a novelty in 1989, and so when I created a cover for the tape using red paper, smooth laser fonts and (eek) clip art, the result looked awfully polished for a self-made compilation. Each recipient’s name was on the spine of the tape, a personal touch that proved the tape was Chris-produced, not mass-produced.
That first dozen tapes was followed by about a hundred more copies over the next two Decembers, and in later years by Christmas Classics Volume 2 and Volume 3. The advent of cheap recordable CD in the late ’90s prompted me to switch media. “Anniversary” CD editions of Volumes 1 and 2 appeared in 1999 and 2001, respectively, complete with bonus tracks and full-color packaging.
I’m still catching up friends and family with CDs 1 and 2, handing out discs to people I missed over the last three years. There was no point in compiling the “Anniversary Edition” of Volume 3 – not yet, anyway. My Mom’s large family still hadn’t received Volume 2, and so making about two dozen copies for them was enough project for this year. Emily was pretty relieved that I chose not to do a new CD this year. Last year it all but consumed me, rounding up song suggestions, making copies, and – worst of all – assembling the jewel boxes. (It will surprise no one that the heaviest workload in making these CDs is the packaging, not the running off of the discs themselves.) In short, I become rather un-Christmasy when making a new Christmas disc. Last year was especially tough, as Emily and I took a quick trip in the middle of December, and so I came back extra-frantic. Not interested in encouraging Emily to dump my Grinchy ass, I decided to take a break this year.
As good as this is for my lovelife, it does disappoint certain friends, who have come to expect regular holiday music installments. I’m always surprised at how much people enjoy these collections, given the ubiquity of Christmas music every December. Maybe they’re doing all of their shopping online and don’t go to the mall or listen to the radio. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve distilled the Jolly Music genre for them, weeding out all of the excruciating songs and leaving the good, or at least tolerable, stuff. (Well, I have been berated for including “The Chipmunk Song.”) Maybe they really don’t get as sick of these ditties as I do.
Yes, I do weary of these songs. And yet, to a certain segment of the population – well, my few hundred acquaintances – I have become Mr. Christmas. I suppose there are worse things to be. For now, the Phil Spector and Vince Guaraldi CDs have gone back on my shelf, not to return for another 11 months. Eleven months that will allow me to forget – just enough to start my elvish assembly line up again.