25 December 2010

Christmas Memories: Music

When I was a kid we didn't have a cassette deck in the car Mom drove, so we carried a portable cassette player.  For the most part, we just played whatever tapes she had.  I remember singing along with a tape of Frankie Valli hits, and since her cousin was married to Les Taylor at the time we had some Exile around.  Mom recalls being big into Tammy Wynette around that time, but I'd be lying if I said I remembered her music.  The first cassette I personally owned was the soundtrack to The Transformers: The Movie.  A couple years later, my brother and I were given Randy Travis's first two albums on cassette (to share; we didn't each get our own copies of both albums).  None of these were Christmas gifts, though.  Music wasn't a gift idea when we were young.  It wasn't really until 1990 that I really cared about owning and listening to my own music.

The first CD I ever owned.  Really.
To this day, I look back with triumph over effectively forcing my racist dad to buy me MC Hammer's Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em on cassette for Christmas that year.  The next year, Mom got me my first CD player (a Sony model, though I couldn't tell you now which one) and my first CD was, as I recall, the soundtrack to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.  That was the same year I saw This Is Garth Brooks! on TV and I got back into country music, but by then I was largely buying my own music and no one wanted to give me any for Christmas.

A couple of years ago, one of my friends gave several of us Dwight Sings Buck on CD, which was cool because 1) there was a group of us that got the same album and 2) I had planned on buying it anyway and just hadn't gotten around to it.  Another friend surprised me one year with William Shatner's Has Been one year and Johnny Cash's Personal File another.  He knows my taste quite well.  My wife got me Vince Gill's These Days box set for Christmas in '06 (hard to believe it's that old!), which was a surprise.  I'm sure I've received other music gifts over the years, but I honestly can't recall them.  My family has shied away from giving me music, because by the time I was old enough to decide what I wanted, I was old enough to pay for it myself and I built quite a library in a short amount of time in my teens.  (I was always willing to buy used CDs and rummaged through the clearance bins with nary a shred of shame.)

As for Christmas music itself, I've spent years cultivating that segment of my library.  I went through a period about a decade ago where I bought Christmas albums from artists I didn't even regularly listen to, because I felt that whether their normal fare might not appeal to me, their Christmas recordings were a different subject entirely.  I may not care for a regular release by Lonestar, but I bought their Christmas album.  It was fun, and I always appreciated that they sang the "circus clown" second verse in "Winter Wonderland" instead of repeating the "Parson Brown" first verse like so many artists have done.

I need a turntable so I can play this on vinyl.
I have Willie Nelson's Pretty Paper on vinyl, and wish I had a functioning turntable so I could play it this year.  Another favorite of mine is George Strait's Merry Christmas Strait to You, the first of his three Christmas album.  I prefer it because it's done in the western swing vain of his 1980s output.  Deana Carter's Father Christmas is another favorite; it's as close to having her sit on your couch with a guitar as you can get without breaking the law.  Alan Jackson's Let It Be Christmas, Brooks & Dunn's It Won't Be Christmas Without You and Brad Paisley's Brad Paisley Christmas are three recent favorites.  Paisley's includes the hilarious "Kung Pao Buckaroo Holiday," which hasn't worn thin yet.

For most of the last decade, I've found my interest and enthusiasm for Christmas dwindling with only my enjoyment of the music remaining.  Last night and this morning I played the six George Jones Christmas songs in my library (can anyone explain how it is that he has never recorded a full Christmas album in his lengthy career?) and 2008's posthumous Elvis Presley Christmas Duets collection (a mixed bag, but the lengthy recording of "Merry Christmas Baby" is absolutely killer).  It turns out that neither the Possum nor the King could evoke any Christmas spirit for me.  "Maybe Next Christmas," as Jones sings.  Maybe.