Holiday Songs You Love... and Loathe Weeks of e-mail from listeners have produced an unofficial list of loved and hated holiday songs. And it turns out they're most passionate — and also most divided — about one song in particular: "The Little Drummer Boy." But Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" remains a favorite.
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Holiday Songs You Love... and Loathe

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Holiday Songs You Love... and Loathe

Holiday Songs You Love... and Loathe

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We asked, and you delivered. For weeks, we've been receiving e-mails about your most loved and most hated holiday songs. There's a lot to talk about, but stepping back, taking in the big picture for a moment, we've discovered that you are most passionate and most divided about one song in particular.

(Soundbite of song, "The Little Drummer Boy")

Unidentified Man (Singer): (Singing) Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum.

SEABROOK: "The Little Drummer Boy." Haans Petruschke in Kirtland, Ohio cringes at the song, because he says it is a confab, made-up, implausible retelling of the nativity tale. I also don't like the ox and lamb keeping time. Keeping time to what? Isn't keeping time what the drummer boy is doing?

Jinny Mason of Whatley, Massachusetts, remembers that her nephews, Asa and Axel, used to have a bedtime music tape and around Christmas would burst into tears, begging not pa-rum-pa-pum-pum.

And then there's Dorothy Burggraaf.

Ms. DOROTHY BURGGRAAF (Listener): My most abhorred and my most adored holiday song is "The Little Drummer Boy." I hate it because I just think it's one of the most simplistic and shallow of the holiday songs, but as it happens, this most abhorred song became part of my most adored holiday music when I heard Bing Crosby and David Bowie in a duet.

(Soundbite of song, "The Little Drummer Boy")

SEABROOK: For Jackie Fleming in Paradise California, this song recalls one of the best times of her life.

Ms. JACKIE FLEMING (Listener): When my son, Casey, was in kindergarten, each night during his bath he'd ask me to sing the song with him so he could remember the words when the class performed it for the Christmas pageant. And on the day of the program, I searched the crowd for Casey but I couldn't find him. Then chorus started chanting broom, broom, broom, and as the curtain slowly parted, Casey, alone on the stage, began singing in solo in a beautiful choir-boy voice that I had never heard before. And now every year when I hear "The Little Drummer Boy," I have my little boy back for a few moments.

(Soundbite of song, "The Little Drummer Boy")

Unidentified Child: (Singing) Come, they told me, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum. A newborn king to see, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum.

Ms. KENDRA ZANZIL(ph) (Listener): My name is Kentra Zanzil. I'm from Reno, Nevada, and my favorite song, I don't know the official title, but everyone calls it "Charlie Brown Christmas."

(Soundbite of song, "Christmas Time is Here")

SEABROOK: This is another favorite we heard a lot about, the Vince Guaraldi Trio's "Christmastime is Here."

(Soundbite of song, "Christmas Time is Here")

Unidentified Children: (Singing) Christmas Time is here, happiness and cheer.

SEABROOK: From New York City, Laurie Blair writes: I grew up in the 1960s and like many people of my age, looked forward to the annual broadcast of "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and as a result will always look at the saddest Christmas tree on the lot with great affection.

Mr. NATHAN LANSING (Listener): My name is Nathan Lansing and I am from Bismarck, North Dakota, and I like it because it has a nice dichotomy between the world weariness and sophistication of the accompaniment that Vince is playing, plus the hope and the wonder of the season expressed by the voices of the children that sing. and so the whole thing together really summarizes the Christmas season.

SEABROOK: Can you sum up a Christmas song you don't like?

Mr. LANSING: "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time" by Paul McCartney.


Mr. LANSING: He is normally a very good melodist and normally really writes a good tune, but that song is meandering. It's got synthesizer leaps everywhere.

(Soundbite of song, "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time")

Ms. AMY BAYLOR-CASEY (Listener): It's the soundtrack to hell.

SEABROOK: This is Amy Baylor-Casey of Meredith, New Hampshire.

Ms. BAYLOR-CASEY: I swear, the devil is standing there to greet you with an '80s keyboard strapped to his chest, playing horrible, echoing notes and singing...

Singing) ...simply having a wonderful Christmas time.

(Soundbite of song, "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time")

Sir PAUL McCARTNEY (Singer): (Singing) Simply having a wonderful Christmas time.

SEABROOK: And then there's the silly stuff.

(Soundbite of song, "Feliz Navidad")

SEABROOK: Only one or two of you wrote in to say you love Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad," its funny, cheesy, repetitive refrain.

(Soundbite of song, "Feliz Navidad")

Mr. JOSE FELICIANO (Singer): (Singing) Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad...

SEABROOK: But if you want fun and funny, nothing beats Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song."

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of song, "Hanukkah Song")

Mr. ADAM SANDLER (Actor): (Singing) Hanukkah is a festival of lights.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. SANDLER: (Singing) Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights...

SEABROOK: Here's another song that's supposed to be funny.

(Soundbite of song, "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer")

Unidentified Man (Singer): (Singing) Grandma got run over by a reindeer, walking home from our house Christmas Eve...

SEABROOK: But almost nobody thinks it is funny. Mary Fitzgerald in Keswick, Virginia describes herself as a young and fairly new grandmother who is deeply offended by "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." She says: What point is there during this happy and uplifting season to a song that talks about an innocent person being trampled by an animal?

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of dogs barking)

SEABROOK: Speaking of animals, many of you have fond memories of this recording by the Animal Quackers.

(Soundbite of song, "Jingle Bells")

SEABROOK: But can't stand this one by The Jingle Cats.

(Soundbite of song, "Jingle Bells")

SEABROOK: Lisa Newkirk of Land-o-Lakes, Florida put that song to great use. She started getting calls from a telemarketer in November of last year. Every single day.

Ms. LISA NEWKIRK (Listener): And I knew approximately what time the telemarketer was going to call, and I cued up the sample, and when the machine connected me to the real person, I clicked on play.

(Soundbite of song, "Jingle Bells")

SEABROOK: She says the calls stopped shortly thereafter.

So much for the funny stuff. How about some soul?

Ms. EMMA FREEMAN (NPR Listener): My name is Emma Freeman.

Ms. BECCA FREEMAN (NPR Listener): And I'm Becca Freeman.

Ms. EMMA FREEMAN: And we live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and we are twins, and our favorite holiday song, without a doubt, is Otis Redding's version of "White Christmas." I could listen to that song every day of the year.


Ms. EMMA FREEMAN: And it just satisfies my soul.

SEABROOK: Now you guys must hear the Bing Crosby version an awful lot more often than the Otis Redding version.

Ms. FREEMAN: Uh-huh, yes.

Ms. FREEMAN: Well...

SEABROOK: Now can you sing the Otis Redding version for me? How does it go?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FREEMAN: Oh, good question. I don't know. I don't know if I have the soul that he has.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FREEMAN: I mean, we can approximate it, but it will be kind of embarrassing.

SEABROOK: Do it for me.

Ms. BECCA FREEMAN: Okay. Ready, Emma?

Ms. EMMA FREEMAN: Yeah. I can't even remember how it goes.

Ms. BECCA FREEMAN: Oh gosh, okay. How about, I'll start in the middle.

Ms. BECCA FREEMAN: (Singing) Where the trees...

(Soundbite of song, "White Christmas")

Mr. OTIS REDDING (Singer): (Singing) It's where the treetops, treetops glisten, little-bitty (unintelligible), they're trying to listen to hear if all the sleigh bells that are ringing in the snow...

SEABROOK: There are many versions of this Irving Berlin song, over 500, in fact, in dozens of languages, according to ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. But the most famous by far is this one, by Bing Crosby.

(Soundbite of song, "White Christmas")

Mr. BING CROSBY (Singer): (Singing) I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know...

SEABROOK: This 1947 recording is the best-selling single of all time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, selling 50 million copies. This and other great songs are on Bing Crosby's album "Merry Christmas," now titled under the title "White Christmas."

In my family, we have it on 78, regular or 33 r.p.m., cassette tape, CD and now on iPod. It brings memories of my grandparents' house, presents wrapped in newspaper, the unlimited Cokes in the fridge, the wet kiss of my grandpa. He'd fought in World War II, as had my other grandpa, while the women, the grandmothers, kept the family and the country running.

Bing Crosby's Christmas recording is a lasting archive of that greatest generation.

(Soundbite of song, "White Christmas")

Mr. CROSBY: (Singing) May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.

SEABROOK: The '40s was also the height of the golden age of radio.

(Soundbite of song, "Silver Bells")

Mr. CROSBY: (Singing) City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday...

SEABROOK: This recording of "Silver Bells" is from Bing Crosby's 1940's radio show. It's a duet with none other than Ella Fitzgerald.

(Soundbite of song, "Silver Bells")

Ms. ELLA FITZGERALD (Singer): (Singing) Hear the snow crush, see the kids rush, this is Santa's big day, and above all this bustle, you hear...

SEABROOK: This smooth, perfect recording was live, and it reminds me of how great musicians were in those days - no retakes, no pickups - and also how important radio was to bringing this country together with the simple, meaningful sentiments of the holidays.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook. Happy Holidays.

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