It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas by Jay Maxwell

October 29, 2010 by Jay Maxwell

It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas

A MUSICAL REALITY CHECK ABOUT THE VENERABLE “HOLIDAY” PARTY

BY JAY MAXWELL

Several years ago I was scheduled to play a party in December for a state-supported college. It wasn’t the first time that I had played for this particular school, but on this occasion I was told to be sure and not say “Christmas party” any time during the event, but to refer to the celebration as a “holiday party.” There was no doubt that this request was due to the organizers trying to be politically correct. I complied with the request since I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. When it came time for the president of the school to give her welcome though, in her opening statement she warmly greeted everyone to the annual “Christmas party” and never once claimed that it was a holiday party.

This was not an isolated incident. Many companies will call up to schedule us for their “holiday party.” “What holiday?” I want to ask them. “Is it Thanksgiving, Ground Hog Day, President’s Day?” If there’s an evergreen tree in the room with lights and decorations on it, a holly wreath, or decorations consisting primarily of red and green on the table, I’m betting that they are set for a Christmas party.

Even if a company calls a party held in December by a name other than “Christmas,” the majority of the time they will also want some traditional Christmas tunes played to set the mood and get into the (dare I say it) Christmas spirit. Usually the sponsor of the event will want Christmas songs played during the social hour and/or the dinner hour. One thing that should be determined beforehand is whether they want only Christmas tunes during this time (one to two hours at the most) or to mix in Christmas songs with other songs as well. If given a choice, I recommend beginning the event with mostly Christmas songs and begin to mix in other lively, toe-tapping songs as the dinner hour progresses.

KEYS TO CHOOSING CHRISTMAS TUNES

Regardless of the event, I’ve had people tell me that they want a specific genre played. That is, they may come up and simply request “some rock & roll.” That is too broad of a category to know what they want. Do they want The Beatles or do they want Dave Matthews? Sometimes, when they say rock & roll, they actually want an artist that I wouldn’t consider in that category, such as Prince or Michael Jackson. Their definition of rock & roll may be from the early days of the 1950s or what they are hearing on today’s Top 40.

The same is true for Christmas tunes. All Christmas songs are not created equal. The songs listed in this issue’s Top 40 list are all uplifting, well-known, and songs that adults actually want to listen to.

Too much of a good thing is like too many slices of a birthday cake. One piece is delicious, but two pieces will give you a stomach ache. Each year we seem to get bombarded with Christmas songs on the radio and in the malls many weeks before December 25th. Some songs are so beautiful that we don’t mind hearing them several times in the weeks before Christmas and hearing them at the office party would also get people in the festive spirit. Other musical selections, though, are overplayed after only one spin. These are the ones that we would not want to play at the event because they’ve worn out their welcome after only one time per season. For starters, Elmo and Patsy’s “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” “The Chipmunk Song,” (let’s all scream “Alvin”) and “Dominick the Donkey” should be banned from the playlist of any mobile DJ. After typing these song titles, I realized that all three have animals in their title and two of the three are animals that are not even traditionally associated with Christmas.

AVOIDING THE HOLIDAY BLUES

Christmas is about celebrating the good times of family and friends gathered together to share in life’s greatest joys. While many office parties have speeches by the CEO or president and perhaps door prizes to be given away, the real reason for the event should be to celebrate the camaraderie of the work force team. Keeping this in mind, we should steer clear of playing sad and often downright depressing songs as we play our Christmas songs. In Tom Reynolds book, I Hate Myself and Want to Die he lists the top 52 all-time most depressing songs and ranks the number one song as “The Christmas Song” by the group Newsong. This is the one about a boy buying a pair of shoes for his dying mother because he wants her to look good as she enters heaven. Sad, very sad—a sure party killer. Other downers are “Blue Christmas” by Elvis and Wham’s “Last Christmas. Let’s also include The Eagles’ “Please Come Home for Christmas” with the line “my baby’s gone, I have no friends.” Playing that one would have people doubling their dose of Prozac for the night.

People also want to be treated as an adult during the night. Certainly you wouldn’t torture them with “The Chicken Dance” or “The Hokey Pokey,” so don’t tickle their ears with children’s favorites like “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” or “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” You especially would not want to dedicate that last song to anyone there even if requested—the “Grinch” is likely to be the boss. The party should be lively, yet classy at all times.

Each year, we sort through our huge collection of Christmas songs only to find that many of them are not suited for office parties. Some of my favorite songs are sacred favorites like “Away in a Manger,” “Silent Night,” and “The First Noel.” But these tunes should probably be reserved for worship time in a church service and not played at an office event.

CHRISTMAS PARTIES SURVIVE

Many companies have tightened their budgets over the past few years and have slimmed down their elaborate Christmas parties…including the entertainment. Fortunately, though, leaders at many companies, even during hard times, recognize the importance of showing their appreciation for their employees and still throw a grand event towards the year’s end. Some may even still boldly call it a “Christmas party,” while others have caved in to using the term “holiday party.”

But regardless of the label, the mobile DJ still has the opportunity to show his or her craft by playing the right type of positive, uplifting, and age-appropriate music to set the mood. Of course, know when enough is enough of the Christmas melodies and it’s time to transition into traditional party music. The key is to make this transition BEFORE someone comes up while you are playing “White Christmas” and yells, “Play Something We Can Dance To!”

Splendid Sounds of the Season
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU MARIAH CAREY FAST
BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE LADY ANTEBELLUM OR MERCER/WHITING SLOW
CAROL OF THE BELLS LOS LONELY BOYS INSTRUMENTAL
CHRISTMAS IN DIXIE ALABAMA SLOW
CHRISTMAS SONG NAT KING COLE SLOW
CHRISTMAS WRAPPING WAITRESSES FAST
DECK THE HALLS OTTMAR LIEBERT INSTRUMENTAL
DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR WHITNEY HOUSTON SLOW
FELIZ NAVIDAD JOSE FELICIANO FAST
GOD REST YE MERRY GENTLEMEN BELINDA CARLISLE FAST
HAPPY HOLIDAY PEGGY LEE FAST
HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING AMERICA FAST
HAVE A HOLLY JOLLY CHRISTMAS HARRY CONNICK, JR. INSTRUMENTAL
HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS ELVIS PRESLEY FAST
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS PERRY COMO FAST

The rest of this Christmas Top 40 list can be found in the print and online editions of Mobile Beat’s November 2010 issue (#131).

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Jay Maxwell Jay Maxwell (29 Posts)

Mobile Beat’s resident musicologist since 1992 (issue #11), Jay Maxwell runs the multi-talent entertainment company, Jay Maxwell’s Music by Request, LLC, in Charleston, South Carolina. He is also a professor of Business at Charleston Southern University. His passion for detail and continuous research of clients’ requests can be found not only in this column, but also in his annually updated music guide, Play Something We Can Dance To.


Filed Under: Issues from 2010, Music