This year has been sneaking up on me due to the lateness of Thanksgiving. I feel like I have one less week to get everything I need done at the end of the year. On the plus side, however, it also means one week less of guaranteed musical misery every time I walk into a store. Yes, folks, the Christmas season is not only upon us, we’re ankle deep in it, but this year we get a couple days respite from the soul crushing numbness which is holiday music. Sure, Kelly Clarkson has already foisted an unnecessary holiday collection upon us. Yes, there is such a paucity of viable holiday jams that I’ve already heard “Mamacita, donde esta Santa Claus” pulled out. But hurrah, we get a little bit less of it! For me, that’s a win, even if Christmas carols can inherently remind us of the happy past.
Holiday music is very specific in its sound, and hardly ever good. No less a man than Sir Paul McCartney has written a terrible Christmas song (His compatriot, John Lennon, avoided this mostly by using Christmas as a foil for a bigger social point). While the music is rarely worth hearing, however, one thing you can count on during the Christmas season is schmaltz so heavy it could win a sumo match. That’ll happen when you’re in the midst of a season which revels in sentimentality. It’s a time when you’re with the people you’ve formed the most and best and sometimes hardest memories with. Songwriters know this, and will manipulate you. That’s how we get “The Christmas Shoes.” In real life, we know that shoes don’t prevent death, that dying people really just want their loved ones (or, yknow, not to die) instead of pointless material twaddle, and that not only does Jesus not care what you look like when he comes for you, there’s a good chance he’s not even real. That’s part of what makes Christmas music so hard to swallow… it requires buying into an incredibly sappy mythos, even if you approach it secularly.
If you must cloak yourself in that world, why not approach a mythology so singular as to know it CAN’T be true?
Coming from an obscure 70s kids album, “A Snowman Has a Heart” is a song which, if you told me it was never recorded elsewhere, I’d believe you. There were lots of songs on the album that fit that mold: “A Big Christmas World,” “I Love Snow,” and international songs that don’t even sound real (“Hejom Fejom” for example sounds like they took the nonsensical lyrics of “Fum Fum Fum” and brought it to Norway or something). It’s a big dumb joyful and short album, and it was a huge part of my childhood Christmases. The conceit of the album is that Frosty the Snowman travels the world and meets many people and loves holidays and snow. He introduces each song with a terrible rhyming quatrain, and we are welcomed into an appropriate child’s-Christmas-album recording. That there are songs that sound cobbled together after a gallon of spiked ‘nog and a chaser of peppermint schnapps only adds to the magic.
What sets “Snowman” apart from all these, however, is how ludicrously cheesy it is. It’s performed a-la horrible lounge singer, trying to engineer some sort of emotional connection toward a snowman. “I get lonesome late at night,” Frosty admits as he introduces the tune. Of course, for a kid, this should work more often than you think… it’s their “creation,” so of course they have a connection already. Wouldn’t we cry as a child when one melted, or if someone knocked it down? The old crooner style and heavy handed lyrics don’t do the mythology trying to be created any favors, though, nor does the melodrama of the song. Christmas songs, even at their slowest and saddest sounding (O Little Town of Bethlehem? Silent Night?) are still overall peaceful, positive, and with a bit of beauty. “A Snowman has a Heart” comes across as smarmy and sleazy, with a corncob pipe and a velour tux. This snowman is either performing in those stuffy specials grandma used to watch every year, or else mooning at any single woman across the bar, looking for a snow job. Either way, it is far too desperate and forced for anyone to take the song and say “well damn, Snowman, I do love you even though I’m inside.” It’s more likely to make a child find snowmen boring or creepy. Good thing we start the album with the far jauntier “Frosty” song.
Somehow, all these things combine to make a track that is simply irresistible for its inanity. It’s still the worst of Christmas music: there is the tired trope forced into a song, and the content is built unwaveringly from this nugget of concept, refusing to consider things like “song quality” or “lyrical quality.” It is so aggressively formulaic, however, and done with such an absurd concept, that it actually comes full circle to comically enjoyable. I would be irresponsible to not share it with you. Perhaps knowing that someone thought it was a good idea to write this down for posterity will help you get through the stresses of the next few weeks.
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