From my earliest vinyl Christmas memories through my early MTV teens, my parents did not update their collection of Christmas albums: most of them were compilations featuring old lounge singers like Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme or Boston Pops.
They were randomly acquired in the 1960s, when there was a decent chance that a gas station might give one away with the purchase of a full tank.
None of this had much impact on my own taste in Christmas music. My parents didn't own any Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald Christmas albums, which I consider the gold standard, and I built my collection of holiday music based on three distinct tracks: the Sinatra tradition, the go-to classics of my childhood and new music by singers well outside the “American Idol” aesthetic.
Only Run-DMC's “Christmas in Hollis,” the Waitresses' “Christmas Wrapping,” and the original version of Band Aid's “Do They Know It's Christmas” will do from the early '80s category — hearing the botched remakes of “Do They Know It's Christmas” makes me want to climb up the chimney and stay there.
Since last year, I've essentially moved my Christmas collection into a snow-filled cloud. I created a still-evolving 13-hour playlist on Spotify, which means I can stream it through my phone, my iPad, Apple TV and my work computer.
Christmas is everywhere, and it's my Christmas — there is no Elmo and Patsy, no Michael Bolton, no Wham. Harry Connick Jr.'s three albums are all represented, except for that George Jones duet on “Harry for the Holidays.” It's not bad, but it twangs excessively for my household. The tinselly New Wave stuff is there, but the Mannheim Steamroller is garaged.
What I've noticed is that the number of Christmas songs being recorded is relatively finite.
This means there are eight versions of “White Christmas” in my mix, ranging from the George Shearing Quintet to Cee Lo Green. Even with a vigorous shuffle, there's a good chance you will get She & Him's “Christmas Waltz” next to Connick's version, then another and another.
Spotify and its competitors such as Mog, Rdio and Rhapsody have created a great environment for discovering new music and a great way of accessing music with limited everyday or year-round appeal.
But once you hit this kind of repetition, the “more of everything” appeal of these services can point out the value of judicious editing.
So now I'm starting to pare down my playlist, checking it twice. Having everything available is wonderful, but 13 hours is unnecessary.
So as I stare down my Spotify playlist, I'm thinking that Dean Martin should be part of every collection.
But that reverse-engineered duet with Scarlett Johansson on “I'll Be Home For Christmas” belongs on the Island of Misfit Toys.