It is 102 in Austin, Texas, this week, but at Mood, these hot days mean the Music Designers spend a good amount of our time listening to songs about fireplaces and snowflakes, Santa Claus and Frosty. In order for the stores, casinos, restaurants, hotels, and businesses to have festive music through their holiday season, we have to begin our work now. I suppose fashion retailers are planning their holiday displays and preparing to market sweaters and big boots, so at least we have company.
When I tell someone that I’m working on Christmas music, I sometimes get that look of horror and the accusation that I’m one of the reasons the “Christmas creep” has brought signs of Christmas into the stores in October (or sooner?). I can’t control when the music begins, but I do have it ready for my clients when they are ready.
Holiday music is an interesting genre. Each year there is a huge new supply of Christmas albums, yet the artists usually record the same familiar songs. Is there a Christmas album made that doesn’t have “White Christmas” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”? Some artists write a new song and always have the hope that their song will become a “classic” and be played year after year, and possibly be recorded by other artists. Take a look at the list on Wikipedia of Christmas hits and you’ll see songs that have become so ingrained in the repertoire of holiday music, it’s hard to remember when they weren’t part of the sound of the season. I’m surprised to look at that list and see that Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You” turns 19 years old this year. I was in radio the year it was released and remember loving the song, but still didn’t expect it to become a modern classic. Already recorded by dozens of artists, it even became an integral part of the movie Love Actually in 2003 (a movie that has already become a Christmas “must see”).
Picking the Christmas songs to be heard in stores is not an easy task. Some of our favorite holiday songs are incredibly sad, nostalgic, and slow. “White Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Please Come Home for Christmas,” “Merry Christmas Darling,” “Happy Xmas,” “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and on and on… Great songs that are tied inextricably to our Christmas memories, but might send the shoppers to the nearest pub to drink and reminisce instead of getting in the happy holiday frame of mind. And while “Winter Wonderland” and “Merry Christmas Baby” and “Sleigh Ride” may have your up and fun and happy qualifications, like any rare commodity, you have to search hard to find enough quality and quantity to keep the music playing without “Winter Wonderland” being heard every 15 minutes. And, though we have “Winter Wonderland” recorded by over 250 artists, maybe we don’t need to play it by EVERY artist on the list. Will the Donny and Marie version of “Winter Wonderland” be missed? Probably not. “Winter Wonderland” is one of those great songs, though, that doesn’t have a “definitive” version. There have been lots of great interpretations of it. Brad Paisley, Dave Brubeck, and Diana Krall are 3 of my favorite versions. Other songs have a version that is so associated with it, it is hard to even consider another version. “Jingle Bell Rock” belongs to Bobby Helms. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” may have lots of versions, but it’s Gene Autrey’s that makes you a kid again.
I do love Christmas music, though I make a lot of noise about having to listen to it in July. But there are some songs I never ever get tired of. “Please Come Home for Christmas” by the Eagles is my single favorite Christmas song. Partly because of the song, partly because of the memories it invokes. But it never wears thin. In fact, I love most versions of the song: Charles Brown’s original, of course, and Willie Nelson have versions I love and I just don’t get tired of them (I’m listening to it right now!).
I know Christmas always gets here fast, whether you want it to or not, whether anyone rushes it or not. This year, take a moment to notice the music that surrounds you and whether it creates that festive, nostalgic, exciting mood we hope to create. And remember it was forged in a hot Austin summertime by a Christmas-music-loving designer.
– Submitted by Janice Williams, Music Design