I’m one of those people who will go to bat for Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”. That will not be happening here, however. As enjoyable as that song is, there is still something far greater in the tradition of synth-tastic holiday songs.
A Very Special Christmas
Most of the other ways in which Christmas songs sound are about emulating the emitted warmth of a fireplace, a sweater, a cup of hot cocoa, things like that. Few ever aesthetically deal with the winter weather directly. That’s the trick behind the synthesizers in Paul McCartney’s tune: They conjure the cold of the freezing snowy outdoors better than most instruments—especially standard holiday song arrangements like lounge bands or orchestras—ever could, and build the song around that atmosphere.
The Eurythmics—they of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” fame—and their cover of “Winter Wonderland” takes the synths-equals-cold-weather conceit, and does a few things even better. Thematic appropriate-ness, for one! The best complement for a song all about the good times to be had in the snowy outdoors, after all, might arguably be a soundscape that matches the temperature.
Going farther, rather than the minimalism of “Wonderful Christmastime”, the Eurythmics’ treatment is a full electronic band teeming with 80’s-artificial wintry gorgeousness; all those electric pianos especially, yo. This especially helps sell the scene-setting love-knows-no-season introduction and its proclamation that the song will be transporting the listener to the titular place.
I also love how they opt out of using the more obvious “swing” rhythm that always gets used for versions of “Winter Wonderland” and instead go for the kind of shuffle rhythm characterizing songs like Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” or, more recently, Tame Impala’s “The Moment”. It often leads to the song sounding more dreamlike and surreal, especially when paired with a bunch of synthesizers, and that makes it perfect when depicting the snowy environment.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention Annie Lennox’s fantastic vocals. Awash in the sounds of the cold though it may be, the song does not totally lack warmth. It just so happens, in this case, to all come entirely from the melodies and self-harmonies of her voice. In this way, there is more of a sonic intermingling of cold and heat than in almost all other holiday songs.
P.S. Shout-out to my college, who seven years ago provided the chance to take the picture forming today’s thumbnail.
RedStripe Loved Trax—originally from days of Tumblr past—is usually a series about the music Justin adores, with special emphasis on songs from (or introduced by) video games and anime. This week, however, running from Sunday December 3 to Saturday December 9, is a daily rundown of favorite songs related to the holiday season.