Post-Thanksgiving and post-Black Friday, the holiday season is officially in full swing. Hardly for better and most assuredly for worse, that means a daily over-saturation of Christmas music everywhere, too much even for someone like me who genuinely likes the holiday and the music. Well, some of the music, at least.
Thus, now that it is December, and hopefully early enough in the month that at last a third of people might not be totally sick of hearing all these tunes all the time, the Loved Trax series will diverge from the usual routine a little for the sake of sharing holiday cheer. For each day from today to Saturday December 9, I will highlight a favorite song of mine from the season, a slice of the hypothetical creme de la creme that rises above most of the glut.
With that all established, time to dive in.
Bobby Helms feat. the Anita Kerr Quartet
“Jingle Bell Rock”
This leisurely and shuffling slice of late-50's rock/country has always been one of my favorite songs of the holidays ever since I was a little kid. It had enough of an immediate impact to spawn a spiritual sequel of sorts a year later—the bigger, faster, more explicitly Christmas-themed “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee—but in this case, the original is the better tune.
What sticks out the most, hearing it these days after knowing it for more than twenty years, is how economical everything about “Jingle Bell Rock” is. For one, the instrumentation is simple. There’s just a guitar, a bass, some drums, the titular jingle bells, Bobby Helms’ singing, and the background vocals provided by the Anita Kerr Quartet, which are the thing most likely described to be ornate. Even then, they are still positively tiny in the context of a holiday song catalog where full-on choir sections are a regular occurrence. By being relatively bare-bones, there’s a single-room intimacy here that makes the easygoing upbeat vibe that much more infectious.
The composition is just as economical to excellent effect. “Jingle Bell Rock” is chock full of great musical ideas, but all of them run on exactly as long as they need to and not a moment more, ensuring they never overstay their welcome. Interpolating the melody of “Jingle Bells” into a guitar riff? It sets the stage brilliantly as an introduction and caps everything off as an outro, but never needs to show up in the middle. The lyrics all boil down to a single repeated verse, but any more lyrics would have been overlong bloat. The harmony-filled midsection, handled by the Anita Kerr Quartet, goes on for only half of the first third of the verse, yet that is the precise amount of time where they have the greatest impact.
The proceedings may wrap up in a mere two minutes, but it’s a tightly wound two minutes of holiday near-perfection.
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.