What's Up With These Songs?

by Mike Patton and Rusty Spell

Latest Entries

  1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Johnny Marks
  2. Wonderful Christmastime: Paul McCartney
  3. The Christmas Shoes: NewSong

The Christmas Shoes: NewSong
(Leonard Ahlstrom / Eddie Carswell)
by Rusty Spell

Patton Oswalt already beat me to this one in a stand-up routine; he had many of the same observations I did.  Apparently people are really touched by this song, but it's really twisted, and it confuses me in a particular way that only Contemporary Christian music manages to do.  (See "Dear Mr. Jesus" for another example.)

The song begins with a man standing in line at the mall or somewhere, in a bad mood, squeezing in some final Christmas shopping.  There's a kid in line in front of him, and his clothes are, of course, "worn and old" and he is "dirty from head to toe," proving that the writers of this song have never actually seen a poor child.  They're simply relying on some Dickensian stereotype of urchins.  The kid says to the store clerk, "Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my mama, please."  He remembers to say "sir" and "please."  "It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size."  Yes, I think the clerk probably knows that it's Christmas Eve.  And one would imagine that the shoes would be her size; why else would you be buying them?  "You see, Mom's been sick for quite a while and I know these shoes would make her smile and I want her to look beautiful if..."

Let me interrupt.  Why is the kid telling him all this?  When I was a small child, I was afraid to simply hand money to the person behind the counter at Dairy Queen, but this kid is freely talking about his ill mother to a stranger?  Okay, back to the story: "I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight."  Pause.  It is very difficult to break down everything wrong with this statement.  First of all, why shoes?  If you're dying, is this really what you want?  Whatever, kids are stupid, but it's an adult writing the song.  So far, of course, we've just got some kind of empty sentimentality based around common heart-string-pullers (children, poverty, mothers, death, Jesus, naivety).  Harmless enough, I guess, if that's what gets you.  But there's more.

After the kid counts pennies (of course) on the counter and the clerk says there isn't enough money (of course), the kid turns to the narrator, proceeds to tell him more of his problems, and then asks, "What am I going to do?"  What the hell is wrong with this kid?  Answer: go home and spend some fucking time with your dying mother, you little bastard.  Give her a hug.  Tell her you love her.  Fold some paper together and maker her a card.  Use your imagination.  I ask again: why shoes?

The narrator (of course) buys the shoes for the kid.  (At this point, Patton Oswalt suspects a Christmas scam.)  The final lines of the song are the really messed-up part: "I knew that God had sent that little boy my way to remind me what Christmas is all about."  Wait.  God gave the mother a terminal disease and sent her kid to the mall because the narrator was "not really in the Christmas mood"?  This is what makes people cry in their cars?  Are people this solipsistic?  Why is this a hit?  Why shoes?

Happy Holiday / It's the Holiday Season: Andy Williams
(Irving Berlin / Kay Thompson)
by Mike Patton

Of course, Andy Williams initially ropes us in here with Irving Berlin's classic "Happy Holiday" from Holiday Inn. But does he keep going? No. Instead, he takes a sharp right at Cheesy Street, and the song quickly shifts to the second tune in the medley, Kay Thompson's "It's the Holiday Season."

"It's the Holiday Season" is very focused on Santa Claus and all the stuff he's bringing to us. At first, Williams tells us that Santa has "a toy" for each girl and boy. One toy. But then he says Santa is bringing "lots of goodies for you and for me." Which is it, Andy? Am I getting one toy or lots of goodies? I kind of need to prepare myself and know what to leave the big guy as a token of thanks.

Speaking of which, I won't be taking Andy's suggestion when he tells me to "leave a peppermint stick for old St. Nick." Sure, Mr. Williams. Sally next door is baking double chocolate chip cookies as we speak and will be leaving Santa a plate full of them along with a tall glass of ice cold milk. And I'm gonna leave him a candy cane I got in a 12-pack at the Dollar Tree? Furthermore, you want me to leave it "hangin' on the Christmas tree"? What kind of Where's Waldo shenanigans am I pulling here? I want to thank Santa, not leave him a puzzle. "Thanks for all the goodies, Santa. Good luck finding the one candy cane I left just for you on my Christmas tree."

Still, at least all of those lines contain actual lyrics. But what about the line where Andy says, "It's the holiday season / so whoop-de-doo and dickory-dock"? I think Thompson honestly forgot to finish the song. She knew she wanted to remind us to hang up our socks, and she also knew that she wanted to pinpoint the time of Santa's arrival as "just exactly at 12 o'clock." (I do have to add that it seems physically impossible for him to appear at every single residence in the world at midnight. Plus, I've tracked him on NORAD.) Look, I have no problem with using gibberish as a lyric placeholder in a rough draft. But come on. At some point in the process someone had to think, "Hey wait. What about the missing lyrics in that one line where we're just babbling nonsense and plagiarizing nursery rhymes?"

Don't get me wrong. It's a catchy song, and my kids seem to like it. But I'm definitely happy when we return to Berlin's part of the medley.

I'll Be Home for Christmas: Bring Crosby
(Walter Kent / James "Kim" Gannon)
by Rusty Spell

"I'll be home for Christmas.  You can plan on me."  So far, so good.  Great news.  I'll be happy to see you.  "Please have snow and mistletoe and presents on the tree."  Hold on a second.  I can handle the mistletoe, no problem.  But you don't expect me to provide the snow, do you?  I'm not God.  It will either snow or it won't.  Also, presents on the tree?  You've been away so long that you've forgotten that, in our house, we traditionally put the presents under the tree.  But, if you insist, I'll see what I can do.  "Christmas Eve will find me where the lovelight gleams."  Lovely.  You've redeemed yourself and you've got me all psyched to see you.  It's going to be quite romantic.  Can't wait.  "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams."  What?  You said I could count on you, buddy!  I held up my end of the bargain.  I put up the mistletoe, I stuck your stupid presents on the tree, and -- guess what -- it's even snowing.  So where the hell are you?  Dreaming about it?  Thanks.  Guess I'll go join the growing number of seasonal suicides.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
(Johnny Marks)
by Rusty Spell

The song begins with a list of the reindeer from " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas," and then it asks, "But do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?"  Of course we recall it: it's the most famous reindeer of all.  The lyric should have been either (a) "But do you recall the most important reindeer of all?" (which assumes that Rudolph is important but, unlike the other reindeer, forgotten) or (b) "And of course you recall the most famous reindeer of all" (which assumes that he's already famous for his important deed).  Instead, the writer (brother-in-law of the guy who wrote the Rudolph coloring book as a promotion for Montgomery Ward) originally intended to do the first choice but switched to the second, sloppily.  Why does no one ever bring this up?

Also, the song apparently relies on our knowledge of the book, because the story leaves many blanks unfilled.  Rudolph has a shiny, glowing nose, but is it red?  The song doesn't say.  When Santa asks Rudolph to guide the sleigh, does Rudolph accept?  The song doesn't say.  Yes, the other reindeer cheer and say he'll go down in history, but this may simply be encouragement, not a post-answer celebration.

Wonderful Christmastime: Paul McCartney
(Paul McCartney)
by Rusty Spell

I like this song a lot; it's one of the best contemporary Christmas songs.  But one line bugs me: "The choir of children sing their song.  They practiced all year long."  I hope this means that they practiced, as a choir singing various songs, all year long and now they happen to be singing a Christmas song.  But the implication of the lyric is that they practiced this one Christmas song ("their song") all year long.  We have to imagine miserable eight-year-olds singing "Silent Night" in the middle of summer and every other time of the year, just so that Paul can have his wonderful Christmastime.

Copyright Apr 2008 - Nov 2014 We Like Media.
You may email Mike Patton and Rusty W. Spell.