Could we please stop pimping the carols?
Carols are just fine the way they were written — and particularly fine the way Nat King Cole sang them.
They have, often enough, words that fall on the notes. They have recognizable tunes, usually beautiful. They do not need to swing, sway or swagger any more than they have done these past few decades or, in some cases, centuries, because obviously they were catchy enough to become part of the holiday canon.
Yet it seems many singers have a crack-like addiction to froufrouing these famous songs beyond recognition. They’ll sing them to the wrong beat or croon ‘em extracoyly or — the Bernese mountain dog of all my pet peeves — add about 3,779 notes between “ho” and “ly.”
It’s like adding whipped cream, nutmeg, a candy cane, a miniumbrella, a shot of chocolate and a dozen lug nuts to a mug of eggnog.
Half the time you hear “What Child Is This?” the real question is, “What SONG is this? It sort of sounds familiar, but since when did they add maracas? Or, for that matter, a vuvuzela?”
The problem seems to be that with an infinite number of Christmas albums playing a very finite number of Christmas favorites, performers feel their versions must scream, “This is my personal and unique interpretation! I am an artist!”
Yeah. And I am running out of the drugstore because your artistic vision just came on again.
“What kills me is when they over-rewrite the thing. It’s become a contest to see who can leave out the most melody and replace it with vapid vocal riffing,” says Marshall Grantham, a composer who works on commercials and movies.
“I call it ‘American Idol’ singing,” adds Doug Nervik, a New York entertainer. “ You see how many notes you can add.” He assumes artists do this to compensate for whatever they’re lacking — something the greatest singers don’t have to do. “Listen to Frank Sinatra and he’ll do a little bit of interpretation, but for the most part, it’s unornamented,” Nervik says. Frank’s voice is like the perfect gift: simple but spot on.
When singers send a song sleigh-riding further and further from its roots, they are making something that was previously universal now more about themselves. That can be fantastic in the hands of a master — Pablo Picasso painting a guitar. Or it can be annoying.
‘N Sync singing “The Christmas Song.”
“It’s disrespecting the songs, really,” says Bill Dyszel, a professional opera singer turned high-tech guru. “Ornamentation shouldn’t be imposed to add emotion; it should illuminate emotions that are already there.”
One emotion folks feel is frustration. The whole idea is that — unlike Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” and Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” — these are the few songs all the generations know.
“Carols were written for people to sing along with, and when you change the song that everyone thinks they know, then people feel stupid,” sums up Kate Eichelberger, a social media copywriter in Tucson, Ariz.
So here’s a plea to keep “Jingle Bells” just jingling along, and for goodness’ sake, pick up the pace on the whole pack of Santa songs, because otherwise carols could soon find themselves on the same tortured path as that other age-old hit: “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Lenore Skenazy is the author of “Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)” and “Who’s the Blonde That Married What’s-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can’t Remember Right Now.” ©2011 Creators