Monday, April 13, 2009

Moribund blog?

This blog ain't seen much action lately, so I'll try to revive with a question for any readers it has left.

So you all know about Pandora, right? The whole Music Genome Project? I find it moderately fascinating. I love putting in an artist and seeing who the "similar artists" are. I also adore the bizarrely opinionated artist descriptions: "Definitely the most talented and arguably the all-around best jazz vocal group of all time, the Boswell Sisters..."

Really? The Boswell Sisters!?

Obviously, since I get artists like the Boswell Sisters, I'm not using Pandora the way its creators may have expected. I listen to "The Andrews Sisters Radio." And in exploring the complicated constellation of artists-my-grandmother-sings-along-with-on-the-car-radio-in-her-blue-Buick-with-the-padded-steering-wheel (do a Google Image search for grandma car, and the first hit is exactly the car she drives), I've noticed something odd.

Christmas carols. Tons of Christmas carols. Buckets and buckets of them. Every fourth or fifth song, some days. Pandora's hipper cousin, Last.FM, does the same thing, but even more so!

Does this confluence of "oldies" and "Christmas" point to a nostalgia that automatically associates nuclear (white) family, holidays, the forties, the "Good War," and similar It's a Wonderful Lifeiana? Or is there something else? Were Christmas recordings simply more popular in the Bing Crosby era, before all those dangerous non-Christians and evil secularists attacked America?

I really want to know what this all means. I have a suspicion that the nostalgia surrounding Christmas has allowed songs in styles otherwise considered quite dated to remain in the public consciousness. I mean, who the hell listens to "Drinking Rum & Coca Cola" anymore? But everybody knows "Winter Wonderland!"

Okay, I still listen to "Drinking Rum & Coca Cola." I find its blatant colonialism problematic and fascinating.

Now, if you're still out there, discuss!


Anonymous said...

You need to get a better understanding of music history. Bing Crosby and the Boswell sisters, for instance, were among the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Read Will Friedwald's book : Jazz Singing

KG said...

A few years ago, Tom Porcello presented a paper about Pandora at SEM in Hawaii. Fascinating stuff (and a possible alternative career for music scholars).

What I think is even more fascinating about the emerging world of internet radio are the underlying assumptions that each service's methods betray. For example, Pandora is based on algorithms that somehow quantify musical qualities. is based on tag clouds and social networking and relationships. is/was a twitter version of where you could subscribe to different DJs's musical feeds.

So what's more important? Music's social relationships or "quantifiable" musical qualities? It sounds kind of like the debates that have rocked the fields of musical scholarship since the 1950s. I'm just sayin'...

Dan B. said...

I think it may be because the time the mainstream hauls out all those old singers is around Christmas, given the lack of more modern Christmas fare. Maybe that explains it, but leaves open the question of why there aren't more modern covers of Christmas music since the Phil Spector days.

What's even stranger for me is how this music is totally 100% off limits any other time of year (same goes for movies). Me, I like Christmas music even at nonChristmas times of year, and will happily watch The Bishop's Wife or It's a Wonderful Life with the same glee any time.

PMG said...

The one exception to the paucity of contemporary Christmas music is the "Very Special Christmas" series, which single-handedly puts out most post-1990 Christmas music played on the radio.

But you're right, Christmas is the one time of year one does hear pop singers of that earlier generation. I think CelloShots is right in that it plays into a nostalgia for ye simple olden days. And also a nostalgia for the type of sincerity being affected in those tunes. It's pretty hard to sing Christmas songs these days without being ironic.

Oh, and snide anonymous commentator #1: nobody said the Boswell Sisters weren't influential, there was just a quibble with their labeling as the greatest jazz vocal group of all time. And nobody said anything about Bing Crosby really at all, so I'm not sure where you got that from. Let's try to keep up, shall we?