Thursday, December 06, 2012

Listen to What I Say

It's taken a while, and Saint Nick knows there were a few contenders, but in the end, there is only one Worst Christmas Song:

"Do You Hear What I Hear"

I know, I know. Someone just piped up about that extended whine/lisp about two front teeth; or that voyeur who caught Mommy macking on Santa Claus; or the ghastly Grandmother/Reindeer set-to and yes, those songs are horrible. But those songs started their life as awful songs. They were conceived to make the thought of chewing tinfoil preferable to hearing them twice in a row. Of course, the songwriters called that quality "cute," but as some people call Honey Boo Boo "cute" and some call her a "harbinger of end-times sucking back a Mountain Dew," we mean the same thing. Those songs - deathless as they are - never pretend to be anything with gravitas, meaningful or even in English.

"Do You Hear What I Hear," on the other hand, thinks it's something. It's got a story to tell and, darn it, it's a Jesus-y Story. But, see, it's actually less a story about the Son of God who came to earth for the benefit of all mankind and more the story of a son of a man who came to songwriting for the detriment of similes.

Let us consider:

Said the night wind to the little lamb

Do you see what I see

Way up in the sky little lamb

Do you see what I see

A star, a star

Dancing in the night

With a tail as big as a kite

With a tail as big as a kite

A tail.

As big as a kite.

A kite.

So out in the desert, one Wise Man looked up and said to the other two Wise Men, "Say, it is just me or does that star have a freakishly short tail? That's got to MEAN SOMETHING!"

And these Wise Men. Let's see what the songwriter has to say about them:

Said the shepard boy to the mighty king

Do you know what I know

In your palace wall mighty king

Do you know what I know

A child, a child

Shivers in the cold

Let us bring him silver and gold

Let us bring him silver and gold

Perhaps this is my decade-plus in the parenting trenches talking here but the child shivers in the cold and the Wise Men arrive with metal? Was the songwriter implying they would smelt him into warmth? Sure, the writer had to work with the story as written and needed a rhyme for "Gold," but without even trying, I'm thinking he could have noticed the barn was "OLD," perhaps a bell had "TOLLED," the frozen bedding wouldn't "FOLD." But, no. The infant Jesus is at risk of dying of exposure and we're all going to pray these perhaps inappropriately-named Wise Men will realize that gold not only warms babies if carefully piled on top of them but can also purchase blankets.

But hark! Here comes another clunky and mystifying simile!

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy

Do you hear what I hear

Ringing through the sky shepherd boy

Do you hear what I hear

A song, a song

High above the tree

With a voice as big as the sea

With a voice as big as the sea

The sea isn't completely quiet but there's a reason the sound of waves hitting the beach is used as white noise for nervous people. Barring Superstorms, it's pretty consistent, not too much variation in tone. In fact, one might correctly say that, in the best possible way, the sea drones. Or maybe crashes. Or maybe slaps. Here's something the sea never does: ring. I have friends who sail and if they were out on the water and heard a ring, they're first response would be "EXPLETIVE! We hit a buoy!" Are we to assume by these lyrics that God hit a celestial buoy?

And then the writer brings everything to a group-hug conclusion:
Said the king to the people everywhere

Listen to what I say

Pray for peace people everywhere

Listen to what I say

The child, the child

Sleeping in the night

He will bring us goodness and light

He will bring us goodness and light

Well, that's a lovely thought, but what king do you mean? It's useful to note that the "k" in the lyrics I'm looking at is lowercase. So, do you mean Herod, songwriter-person? Because, if you follow the story -- the one without God stubbing his toe on a skybuoy -- Herod's hope for Jesus was to kill him. Herod was the Voldemort of the Nativity. I know you needed to end on an up note, songwriter, but deciding Herod was kind of like a Jimmy Stewart in sandals strains credulity and makes me punch my steering wheel. I'm nearly a heathen and I know about Herod. Did no one do some Scriptural version of spell-checking this?

Add in a pace best described as "Turtle blood-flow" and the whole thing is like a funeral march for joy. And hope. And rhyming. I'm still staggered this writer worked in the same language as Leonard Cohen, Stephen Sondheim and the person who wrote the Chili's baby-back ribs ad.

And his estate made five times what I did last year. That's what I hate about the song most of all.


Blogger StevenIre said...

*shakes fist* “I’ll show you detriment of similes.”

Wait a minute Quinn. What about the Kuiper Belt. Could a Kuiper Belt Object resolve some of the difficulties if someone has not already mentioned it?

1:02 AM  
Anonymous Amy G. said...

I could not agree more, and now I'll be listening for inane lyrics as I go through the day. There are many more Christmas songs with gratuitous rhymes that need exposé!

5:23 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

I hear you, I do, and I can't say that you're wrong on the clunkiness and general dreckitude of this particular song.

However. I have steadfastly maintained, and will continue to maintain, that the Worst Christmas Song EVER is "The Christmas Shoes" (which, incidentally, meets your criteria above in that it is not meant as a novelty song ala Two Front Teeth or Hippopotamus for Christmas, but rather is an incredibly earnest pile of treacle meant to move the listener to tears).

Lyrics cut and pasted just on the off chance that you have never been subjected to this song in what would therefore be a most lucky life. Of course the lyrics don't do the song full justice, without the plaintive children's choir coming in at just the right moment and the swirling string section....

It was almost Christmas time
There I stood in another line
Trying to buy that last gift or two
Not really in the Christmas mood
Standing right in front of me
Was a little boy waiting anxiously
Pacing around like little boys do
And in his hands he held
A pair of shoes

And his clothes were worn and old
He was dirty from head to toe
And when it came his time to pay
I couldn't believe what I heard him say

Sir I wanna buy these shoes for my Momma please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry Sir?
Daddy says there's not much time
You see, she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes will make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful
If Momma meets Jesus, tonight.

He counted pennies for what seem like years
And cashier says son there's not enough here
He searched his pockets franticly
And he turned and he looked at me
He said Momma made Christmas good at our house
Though most years she just did without
Tell me Sir
What am I gonna do?
Some how I’ve got to buy her these Christmas shoes

So I layed the money down
I just had to help him out
And I'll never forget
The look on his face
When he said Momma's gonna look so great.

Sir I wanna buy these shoes, for my Momma please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry Sir?
Daddy says there's not much time
You see, she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes will make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful,
If Momma meets Jesus tonight.

I knew I caught a glimpse of heavens love as he thanked me and ran out.
I know that God had sent that little boy to remind me
What Christmas is all about

Sir I wanna buy these shoes for my Momma please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry Sir?
Daddy says there's not much time
You see she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes will make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful
If Momma meets Jesus tonight

I want her to look beautiful
If Momma meets Jesus tonight

Gack. That song makes me want to simultaneously hork up a hairball and gouge out my eardrums.


5:55 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

When I was in high school, this was our closing number every year--the "traditional", the director called it. WE all called it, "Do you know what I see" because we always managed to mess up what sense the particular verse was focusing on. It was all very, um, heartwarming and seasonal.

6:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, you make some good points. But the WORST Christmas song is still "Here comes Santa Claus".
I could discuss minor lines like 'Santa Claus Lane' (Is this street at the north pole? Are there streets at the north pole?) but lets go for the central fiasco...

"Santa knows we're all God's children. That makes everything right."

Really? Was the author hoping for church participation as well as radio airplay? The mix of questionable theology with consumer icon makes me stop in my tracks every time I hear it...


7:34 AM  
Anonymous SusannahS said...

Huh. I always thought "tail as big as a kite" meant that it was an abnormally large kite. Then again, the kite I had as a child was a freaking 18-foot long octopus. Yes, an octopus. That may have colored my perspective slightly.

10:10 AM  
Blogger Mark Moran said...

I am shocked, SHOCKED, that more readers haven't weighed in on this. So here's my take:

Most Christmas songs are silly, sappy and/or outdated, but what really roasts my chestnuts is that I can't listen to what is actually one of my favorite songs without adding the words in my head: "Give a give a give a give a Garmin ..."

10:34 AM  
Blogger lisa i said...

This is exactly why I refuse to sing any christmess songs much less celebrate the pagan holiday turned into some warm & fuzzy excuse for over indulging. For the record I am not a heather either.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Lehua said...

Tell it!

8:37 PM  
Blogger StevenIre said...

Family and friends would put the onus on me for my perceptions of someone else’s inanity. If I had said this about this song—they might try to defend it. They would say this song was meant to promote in the general population an acceptance of people with Synesthesia. The Wise Men, suffering from this condition, perceive the cold as a dullness of surface textures and so suggest the brilliant sheen of metals. The fact that the king let this go uncommented upon should serve as an example to us.

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Melodee said...

No. The worst is Feliz Navidad.

By far. No question. The end.

1:18 AM  
Anonymous Robin Raven said...

I totally agree. So funny. I have never cared for that song.

I was laughing at Heather's comment, too. The worst part of "The Christmas Shoes" is that the song's narrator seems to suggest that God killed the little boy's mother to teach him the spirit of Christmas. Say what? haha That song was even made into a movie starring Kimberly Williams, who I love...I don't get it. hah

Also, is it just me, or, the older you get, do you like Santa less? There was a commercial on that showed him beating his reindeer with a whip. I know it's fiction, but really?

2:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's even more moronic when the first verse is skipped, as Whitney Houston did - I don't think a little lamb, as cute as he is, has the capacity to pull that kind of information without a great deal of assistance.

I agree wholeheartedly; in fact I blogged about this same song, for the same reason, several years ago.

Well done.

1:01 PM  
Blogger AndyEM said...

During the Korean War, the Chinese and the North Koreans used "The Twelve Days of Christmas" to break American POWs. When the water torture failed, they repeatedly played that song over loud-speakers. They never had to go beyond three repetitions...even for Marines.

7:41 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

Okay. Okay. You win. I shall now hate this song with you.
I'd always thought the worst song was "I Want a Hippo. for Christmas". It crawls into one's brain and sticks there like a moist candy cane. Now I shall officially move THAT song to second place.
On the bright side, Bing Crosby's "Christmas in Killarney" is my FAVORITE!

7:32 AM  
Anonymous Jen L. said...

Tim Hawkins has a funny bit about this...

9:00 PM  

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