A tough year, and two new songs, for the Holiday Music Hall of Fame

by | Dec 25, 2022 | Arts and Entertainment, Music Hall of Fame | 2 comments

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I won’t mince words, especially for you longtime supporters of the Holiday Music Hall of Fame: It’s been a difficult year.

First, as you might have seen, the plans for the actual Hall of Fame building on the slopes of imposing Mount Crumpit were rejected by the Whoville County Planning Commission — and then the county’s Environmental Department said the structure would impose on the habitat of Gryla, the Yule Lads and the Yule Cat. But my ace team of lawyers and, um, persuaders, is hard at work to help residents of Whoville see the light — my guess is that they’ll welcome cash bribes with the same gusto as they welcome Christmas.

It’s been a difficult year to select this year’s honorees as well, as you will see in just a bit. But first, this reminder:

The Holiday Music Hall of Fame exists to enshrine those recorded performances of holiday songs that are so definitive that it should be illegal for any other artist to record those songs. I know that this is an infringement on the First Amendment — and that it would end, in one stroke, the career of Pentatonix — but as soon as my ace team of lawyers wraps up work in Whoville County, we’re headed to Congress to work out the details. I would allow musicians to perform these songs in concert, but only after announcing their Hall of Fame status.

Over the previous seven years, 15 songs have been named to the Hall of Fame. (Four other songs have earned honorable mention status — those songs are housed in another wing of the Hall of Fame.)

Current events and timely anniversaries helped inspire this year’s selections for the Hall of Fame — but also led to some additional frustration that perhaps the hall’s supporters can help solve.

As you might have heard, 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the first U.S. performance of “Carol of the Bells” — but, of course, it wasn’t “Carol of the Bells” back then. In 1922, the Ukrainian National Chorus took the stage at Carnegie Hall for a 35-piece concert that included works by composers like Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov and a selection of Ukrainian folk songs. The concert was a smash. One of the pieces performed that day was Mykola Leontovych’s arrangement of the Ukrainian folk song “Shchedryk.” In 1936, Peter Wilhousky, a Ukrainian-American, rearranged the melody for orchestra with new lyrics for NBC radio network’s symphony orchestra, and that became the Christmas song that has sold many a bottle of Andre Champagne and accompanied Kevin McAllister”s antics in “Home Alone.”

But there’s a catch: The original Ukrainian folk story is, in fact, a song about the new year. It dates back to pre-Christian Ukraine, when the new year was celebrated with the coming of spring in April. The original title, “Shchedryk,” translates to “the generous one,” and it’s about a swallow flying into a household to proclaim the bountiful year that the family will have. With the introduction of Christianity to Ukraine, and the adoption of the Julian calendar, the celebration of the new year was moved from April to January. Considering current events in Ukraine, the inclusion of “Shchedryk” seems appropriate.

But there’s another catch: I couldn’t find what appears to be a definitive performance of “Shchedryk.” I did, however, find a recent recording by the Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York and the Children’s Choir Moloda Dumka that blends the original with Wilhousky’s lyrics. It’s not perfect, but it will do until I come across a better version and so I accept it, provisionally, into the Hall of Fame .

And from “Shcedryk,” it was an easy jump to another of this year’s honorees: I was listening this year to Neil Diamond’s generally wretched Christmas album (I still can’t remember why I bought it), which includes a cover of John Lennon’s “Merry Xmas (War is Over)” and I found myself thinking: That’s a bad cover of a really good song. So I went back to the original, and I had to conclude: That’s a really good performance of a great song — hopeful, heart-wrenching and challenging. It’s an honor this year to induct John Lennon’s original “Merry Xmas (War is Over)” into the Hall of Fame.

But we’re not done this year with the Hall of Fame. We had many other worthy nominations from readers, and I want to mention them — and I want to open a new branch of the hall. More about that later.

A reader nominated Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas,” which spiritually is a close cousin to “Merry Xmas (War is Over)” — and which I hadn’t heard until I caught a stirring performance of the tune by Louis Cato & the Late Show Band on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” I’m adding the song to the attached playlist and am putting it on the short list for possible Hall of Fame inclusion at a later date.

Two readers nominated a Gordon Lightfoot song I didn’t know, “Song for a Winter’s Night,” and suggested that it could take up the Spotify slot reserved for Canadian singer-songwriters that had been filled by Joni Mitchell’s “River” — at least until Mitchell wraps up her feud with Spotify. An excellent suggestion, so you’ll find that Gord track on the Spotify list.

Another reader said she was fed up with the same old versions of holiday staples, and sent along a half-dozen reasonably new takes on chestnuts. I liked Andrew Bird’s version of Vince Guaraldi’s “Skating” and Willie Nelson’s take on “Please Come Home for Christmas,” although I still have doubts about the latter song. Both of those tunes made the playlist.

But that reader makes a valid point: What are the songs that have a shot at becoming the Christmas staples of the future? In other words, what songs will Pentatonix record beginning in 2030, when it has covered every other possibility? To that end, I’m opening another branch of the Hall of Fame, dedicated to songs written in the last 25 years that I have think have a shot at becoming the holiday staples that our grandchildren will be singing — assuming that the world hasn’t become a flaming hellhole by then.

Here are this year’s additions to this new branch of the Hall of Fame, all of which I’ve added to the Spotify playlist: Many people love Sia’s “Snowman,” from “Everyday is Christmas,” her brave album of original Christmas songs, but I prefer “Santa’s Coming for Us,” which strikes just right balance between holiday cheer and terror — sure, Santa’s coming for us, but what exactly does he have in mind? And why is he holding a chainsaw?

For a sheer rush of holiday sugar, check out “Groovy Xmas,” a new rocker from The Linda Lindas. British crooner Sam Smith takes it slow and soulful in a new song, “Night Before Christmas.” No recent holiday song has given me more pleasure over the last few years than “Hey Skinny Santa,” from roots rocker JD McPherson. (Check out all of McPherson’s holiday album, “Socks.”)

The Spotify playlist is updated with all those songs — the new honorees and the timeless classics that were inducted in previous years. You’ll get 30-second snippets of each song, but need only sign into Spotify to get the full versions. (Just to be clear: The first 17 songs on the Spotify list are actual inductees into the Hall of Fame; the remaining tracks hold honorary mention status.)

In the meantime, of course, if you disagree with these suggestions, feel free to start your own Holiday Music Hall of Fame. Just don’t try to build it in Whoville County — you can’t believe the red tape.

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