Spreading plenty of Christmas jeer

Times Staff Writer

Sure, you can listen to Christmas music all day long on KOST-FM (103.5) -- and plenty of people do: The holiday-themed format rocketed the station to the top of the local ratings last year. But in terms of representing all the Christmas music that exists, its playlist of about 300 songs is the equivalent of hearing just one of the 12 drummers drumming.

Sirius Satellite Radio does better: It offers three channels of holiday fare. One, like KOST's, features a mix of contemporary and vintage Christmas carols. Another offers holiday tunes by country music performers. The third delivers Christmas music in the classical vein.

Then there's Sirius' rival, XM Satellite Radio. It has five Christmas channels (and, as of Friday, added a sixth holiday channel devoted to programming for Hanukkah). XM's lineup includes three channels similar to Sirius'; a fourth features only vintage tunes. And when you've had your fill of sleigh rides, roasting chestnuts, runaway snowmen and heartfelt hallelujahs to the holiday's religious origins, there is the fifth channel, dubbed Special Christmas, unabashedly devoted to the unsentimental: offbeat music and novelty songs.

But "novelty" doesn't begin to describe the content. This isn't simply singing chipmunks, barking dogs or grandmothers getting run over by reindeer. We're talking seriously twisted: "Santa Is a Psycho," "The Night Santa Went Crazy," "Santa's in a Wheelchair," "Christmas When You're Dead."

No wonder the channel's slogan is "Your soundtrack to a dysfunctional family holiday."

"This is not intended to offend," assures Dan Turner, senior vice president of programming operations for XM and the program director for the Special Christmas channel. "It may seem quite the contrary at times, but it's all in good fun."

Now in its fifth year, Special Christmas is aimed at listeners who don't necessarily believe, as Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams sing elsewhere, that this is "the most wonderful time of the year."

"Everybody looks at Christmas in a different way," Turner says. "I don't know about you, but I didn't have a Rockwellian upbringing with beautiful white snow falling every year. That doesn't mean I don't like Christmas any less. I just have a different look at it."

Which would explain Scott Katz's "My Dog Don't Know When It's Christmas" or Linda Hughes' "Elvis Won't Be Here for Christmas."

As much as the peculiarity, though, it's the sheer volume of parodies and novelty songs that is surprising. There are hundreds of them, some dating to the 1930s.

Some are simply meant to be funny, such as Robert Lund's "I Want Some Plastic Surgery for Christmas," Mel Blanc's "The Hat I Got for Christmas Is Too Big" and Homemade Theater's "Santa Jaws," about a great white shark that ate tiny reindeer (get it?).

Others are comical but touch on the holiday's dark side. Songs such as Bob Rivers' "I'll Be Stoned for Christmas" and the Bobs' "Christmas in Jail" acknowledge the role that alcohol often plays in Christmas gatherings. The Hollytones' "Gridlock Christmas" pays homage to holiday traffic snarls.

And then there is the disappointment that sometimes arrives Christmas morning. "Squat" is the title of a song by Shelby Lynne, taking the voice of self-described "poor white trash" about what was under her tree. Similarly, a group called Trailer Trash sings "I Don't Believe in Christmas," explaining why in the chorus: "Cuz I didn't get nothin' last year."

There are limits to what he'll program, Turner says. He's not trying to be politically correct but neither is he trying to be the Grinch. "I won't go in a direction that is nasty and negative just for the sake of it," he explains. "If you are going in that direction, you'd better be intelligent."

Mixed in with the comedy material are Christmas songs that could be played in more traditional holiday formats but generally aren't because they aren't the tried-and-true carols -- tunes such as "Christmas Boogie" by the Davis Sisters, "Disco Santa Claus" by the Sisterhood, "What Will Santa Claus Say? (When He Finds Everybody Swinging)" by Louis Prima, and Ernest Tubb singing "Merry Texas Christmas" ("Merry Christmas to all, y'all").

And there are songs he plays because they are simply laughably bad.

In all, Turner figures he has about 1,200 songs in rotation on Special Christmas. Why does the XM executive think there are so many parodies and novelty songs?

"I think the reason Christmas gets shot at so many times is that as a society, and rightfully so, we've always placed it on this sort of pedestal," Turner says. "And if you put something up there like that, the counterculture is naturally going to gravitate toward lampooning it."



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