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SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – This has always been my favorite time of the year, what with summer’s heat long gone, snow flurries in the air, Jack Frost nipping at my nose, and people bustling to and fro while buying gifts in gaily decorated stores while kids sit on St. Nicks lap and tell him what presents they want to receive. Having grown up in New York City, the festive atmosphere was always enhanced by the sidewalk Santas ringing their bells, the Salvation Army band discordantly playing out of tune, the aroma of roasting chestnuts being sold by street vendors though no one ever appeared to buy them, and folks in general just seeming to smile and be a little nicer to each other.
Since I now live in a Massachusetts suburb the malls have replaced those big department stores of my youth, but the feeling is basically the same with the familiar Christmas songs and carols being played continuously on the radio. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your faith, the holiday season is infectious. But speaking of holiday music, a rendition of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer that I heard a few days ago put me in anything but a festive mood, having the most corrupted melody while being raucously sung by someone who sounded as though he was high on drugs. Where was Gene Autry’s version I wondered, the one we’ve been hearing for the past 50 years?
It suddenly dawned on me that not only have we been listening to that same recording for over five decades but Autry himself died a long time ago, and still no one has ever sung it any better or even as well. Additionally, so many of our other favorite holiday tunes were also recorded around that same time and sung by entertainers long gone, the wonderfully distinctive voices of personalities such as Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Jimmy Durante, and even Elvis. A few new melodies have been written more recently but by and large the songs we hear during the Christmas season, year after year, are the ones we’ve grown up with, vocalized by the very same now-deceased singers.
Of course the reason for this is obvious as demonstrated by the recording of Rudolph that I mentioned above which provoked this article in the first place. The screeching and rapping that passes for music nowadays is surely to blame, but there still are singers around with pleasing voices so I have to wonder why they aren’t approached to make new recordings, unless it’s considered passé or beneath their dignity to sing songs that can be enjoyed by people whose puberty is no longer even a memory.
Perhaps in the not too distant future the pendulum of public opinion will swing back to the side of good taste, but in the meantime I’ll just have to content myself with listening to a bunch of dead guys still entertaining me from the grave. They still sound good.