Journal: News & Comment

Sunday, December 12, 2004
# 1:10:00 PM:

Curse of the sleigh bells

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I like Christmas. The lights, decorations, and hustle-bustle help cheer up a pretty dreary time of year in my part of the world, where it gets dark early and frequently rains for days or weeks at a time. Even a fair bit of Christmas music is pretty good. But a lot of genuinely crappy music gets played this time of year too.

I'd like to single out something in particular: not a specific song, but a sound—the sound of sleigh bells. Over the past week, as the shopping season has ramped up, I've heard rafts of sappy, syrupy, over-produced ballads, sung by everyone from George Michael to anonymous elevator-music singing groups. That sort of material is usually pretty hard for me to tolerate, but the perfunctory shing-shing-shing of sleigh bells ladled on top ("No really! It's a Christmas song! Not just another Smooth Lite Ballad like we play in the summer!") makes it far worse.

Sure, a pleasant or swinging version of "Jingle Bells" or "Sleigh Ride" with that sound in the background is okay, though even then I prefer recordings without them. Too frequently, however, cynical artists or producers in search of airplay generate a generic slop-pop single, add some words about snow, and press a sampler keyboard to track a sleigh bell sound, creating a travesty of a Christmas tune that's really more depressing than anything else.

My proposal: ban the sound of sleigh bells on recordings altogether. Let them be the sound of Salvation Army volunteers asking for donations and (oh my) of actual sleighs for a change.

I don't hold out much hope, though. There's no one to impose or enforce such a ban, and plenty of people seem to like, or at least put up with, the ol' shing-shing-shing. Too bad.


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