Monday, December 14, 2009

Thoughts on "River" and Christmas

I haven't blogged for a very long time and it seems trivial to make this my first post in a while but I've been listening to a fair amount of Christmas music lately - no big surprise, seeing it's December 14 - but I've noticed more and more artists including Joni Mitchell's beautiful song "River."

Here's the thing - what does that song have to do with Christmas? The first couplet references Christmas:
It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace.
That's it - it's a song about a broken relationship that happens to reference the idea that it's getting close to Christmas when Mitchell is writing the song. It's not a Christmas song! Just because a song has the word Christmas in it doesn't mean it should be included on ALL new Christmas CDs. OK, that's an overstatement but it's being treated like a Christmas standard and it should not be - it's not even a Holiday song (like "White Christmas") or a seasonal song (like "Winter Wonderland.")

It's a beautiful song - I like it a lot and enjoy it when it pops up in my playlist. But there is no reason why it should be on Christmas CDs but it appears on recent Christmas CDs by Rosie Thomas, Sarah McLachlan, Sixpence None the Richer and James Taylor. Enough is enough.


Greg Scheer said...

"River" also appears on Bela Fleck's incredible new Christmas CD. (You want to hear Christmas songs with Mongolian throat singing and banjo? This is the album for you.)

I'm not offended that "River" is appearing on Christmas albums. It's a great song that is more or less seasonal, and a wonderful antidote to all the syrupy sentimentality that clogs the musical and emotional arteries this time of year. However, no one can do it like Joni. What are any of these people going to add to Joni's rendition? Even Bela Fleck has trouble coming up with something unique on this one.

So what should these artists do if they want to include a wistful, world weary song on their Christmas CDs, but don't want to swim the sacred waters of "River"? They should sing the wistful, world weary song of a lesser songwriter:

Ron H said...

Artists singing "River" as some sort of Christmas song is on the rise (I have Joni's original, but also Sarah McLachlan and James Taylor) and makes as much sense to me as the obligatory playing "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes. Everybody does it, but what the heck does it have to do with death and burial? But no one thinks about it; they just do it, unthinkingly. Maybe Joni needs the money, so all the other artists are doing the song so they can send some royalties to her? :-)
It also reminds me of how popular it is to have DJs play "One" at wedding receptions, even though the song is about divorce! Go figure how shallow-thinking the minds of most people are!