The [Holiday] Road Ahead

It’s been a little over two months since I launched ‘Tis the Soundtrack and accidentally fell into the world of podcasting and YouTube videos. It’s been a fun journey and I’ve met some really fantastic people along the way.

With a few episodes under my belt and a slight investment in some actual recording equipment (so long to my kids’ Razer gaming headset), I’m at the point where I can start charting a path ahead for the remainder of 2024.

I am targeting two episodes per month, with a few additional bits and musing sprinkled in between on the blog. I am also trying to stick to a schedule, with new content being released at the middle and end of each month. This works out to approximately fifteen episodes, not counting this one between now and waking up Christmas morning to see what Santa has brought me.

Crappy AI-generated image of a Chocobo delivering Christmas gifts.
Crappy AI-generated Chocobo Christmas

Fingers crossed it’s that Sony ZV-E10 camera I’ve been eyeing. Or, barring that, if the big guy in red has any pull with the powers-that-be over at Square Enix, getting a Final Fantasy Tactics Remaster released in time for the holidays would be a perfectly acceptable substitute.

So, what are the plans for the next eight months? Well, thanks for asking, I was hoping I’d remember to give myself a lead-in.

Because devoting a blog and show to Christmas music isn’t enough of a niche on its own, with ‘Tis the Soundtrack I’ll be focusing on a couple of my favorite topics under the holiday music umbrella.

First, we’ll be devoting several episodes to the music used in Christmas commercials. Advertising campaigns, Christmas or otherwise, have a unique ability to launch a new artist, propel a song from relative obscurity to cultural mainstay or introduce a fading classic to an entirely new generation. Think of the yearly anticipation that surrounds the release of the John Lewis holiday advert and how it will inevitably send its featured song flying up the UK charts.

Frame from the Hershey's Kisses commercial where the Kisses ring like handbells, playing We Wish You a Merry Christmas
Hershey's Kisses "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"

And in other instances, it’s the music that does the heavy lifting, firmly cementing an advertisement in the social consciousness. Be honest, can you hear handbells at Christmastime without immediately thinking about the iconic Hershey’s Kisses commercial where the chocolates ring out “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”?

What’s even more impressive is when said audio has nothing to do with Christmas, but through skillful sampling, clipping and editing can be shaped and contorted into something that does indeed evoke holiday magic. Take the 2005 JCPenney “Unwrap the Magic” campaign for instance.

A New World album cover, featuring the Electric Light Orchestra's ELO logo over a city skyline at night.
ELO: A New World

It features the Electric Light Orchestra’s song “Livin’ Thing,” but pulls the phrase, “It’s a givin’ thing” from the middle of the chorus to punctuate the commercial’s theme of gift giving. If you find that even remotely interesting, stay tuned. One of the episodes slated for this year will be covering Jeff Lyne’s and ELO’s contributions to holiday advertisements.

This brings us to the next focus of ‘Tis the Soundtrack: non-Christmas music that has, over time become a permanent fixture of the holiday season. And, no, I’m not talking about stuff like how “Deck the Halls” was derived from a Welsh New Year’s Eve carol.

I’m talking about things like “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio, which was used in the 1958 Disney Christmas special From All of Us to All of You. And, while it didn’t register more than a blip here in the States, in Japan and the Scandinavian countries it has been codified as an official sound of Christmas.

Holiday Road album cover, featuring a car driving down a road in the summer.
Lindsey Buckingham: Holiday Road

Another example is Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road,” which has the distinction of being featured in every National Lampoon’s Vacation movie except Christmas Vacation. And, since we’re talking about Christmas Vacation, let me take a moment to mention that I was recently on an episode of the Totally Rad Christmas podcast, where totally rad host, fellow ’80s kid and all-around awesome human Gerry D and I discussed the movie’s bootleg soundtrack.

If you haven’t listened to the episode, or somehow arrived here, but haven’t heard of Totally Rad Christmas, stop reading this right now and go check it out. It’s a much better use of these minutes and an opportunity to listen to Gerry educate me on music theory and composition.

Ok, back to “Holiday Road”. While never intended to be a holiday song and specifically omitted from the sole Christmas movie in the Vacation series it seems to be slowly creeping onto Christmas playlists. Between the internet being the bastion of less-than-accurate information that it is and the song being featured on the aforementioned bootleg copy of the soundtrack, it has been loosely associated with Christmas for some time.

This transition was completed recently when country artist Chris Janson recorded a cover version of the song and then used it to close out last year’s The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration with the tune. It is now firmly part of the Christmas tapestry.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a fun experiment. Fire up your music streaming platform of choice, locate “Holiday Road” and enable autoplay or track radio station or whatever your app calls it where it auto-selects the next song.

Was the next song a Christmas song? Chances are good the answer is yes. I just did this exercise myself and Tidal selected Darlene Love’s “All Alone on Christmas” as the follow-up.

Personally, I don’t consider Holiday Road a bonafide Christmas song. To me, it falls in that Christmas-adjected or maybe Christmas-by-proxy category, but don’t think that means I do not like the song. This grey area happens to be the home of some of my absolute favorite tracks.

See, in my own house, there is a strict Christmas music season: it starts with Thanksgiving and ends with New Year’s, no exceptions, no room for negotiation. And though I disagree wholeheartedly with this decree, I’ve learned that following it results in a far more amicable living situation the other eleven months of the year.

To me, songs that loiter in this dubious grey area are like cheat codes. I can listen to them all day long, any time of year and, because they are not overtly Christmassy or even wintery in theme, no one is the wiser that I’m secretly getting my holiday fix.

Image of Kate Miller-Heidke's Liberty Bell album cover.
Kate Miller-Heidke: Liberty Bell

While playing “Silver Bells” in July would be tantamount to a declaration of war, I can listen to Kate Miller-Keidke’s “Are You Ready?” without as much as an eyebrow raise from my always wonderful, extremely patient, yet somehow-completely-wrong-about-Christmas-music spouse.

For those of you out there in similar life arrangements, who need to keep the peace while also scratching that Christmas music itch, I’ve started a playlist of these Christmas-by-association tunes titled Stealth Christmas. At this time, the playlist is available on both YouTube and Tidal, with new tracks being regularly added to both. You can find it under the Soundtracks button at the top.

And, finally, if you’re unsure whether a song is too Christmassy to be played out of season or you are worried about possibly invoking the wrath of your coworkers or living companions, ‘Tis the Soundtrack has developed the Music Chrismometer, a highly-calibrated, precision scale used to determine just How Christmas a song is.

Image of the 'Tis the Soundtrack Chrismometer. A scale, going from Bing Crosby's White Christmas to Edgar Winter Group's Frankenstein.
Official Chrismometer Scale

At the top of this 5-point scale is Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas,” the epitome of Christmas music. The scale progresses downward through Dean Martin’s “Winter Wonderland,” Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter,” and finally bottoms out with the Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein” at 1.

Going forward, whenever a song is discussed, we’ll make sure to run it through the Music Chrismometer for an official reading. And for those curious, “Holiday Road” is currently reporting in at a steady 1.75 CMUs, or Christmas Melody Units.

Cheers and Merry Christmas!

Posted by Kevin Williams | Monday, May 13, 2024
Stealth Christmas Music John Lewis Disney Christmas Adverts