Thursday, December 8, 2022

Merry Christmas Darling The Carpenters—— The Murfin Winter Holidays Music Festival 2022-‘23

Merry Christmas Darling by The Carpenters was one of the greatest Christmas love songs ever recorded.

We turn today to the sub-genre of Christmas romance songs.  These days they are ubiquitous and probably make up the bulk of new pop and country songs bidding to become lucrative radio perennials.  A slew of new work by artists like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Dolly Parton, the Jonas Brothers, and others cracked the 2020 Billboard Holiday Radio chart with seasonal love songs.  And, of course, Mariah Careys megahit All I Want for Christmas is You, which inspired a stamped of amorous Yuletide tunes was #1 yet again.

But it wasn’t always so.  Traditional carols focused on the Biblical Nativity or general merry making.  As the sentimental Victorians began to transform the holiday to a child-centric family event Christmas trees, Santa, and toys became common.  Then in the post-World War II period songs sentimental for imagined Courier & Ives holidays of yore became popular.  Not much romance at all, unless you count the wooing of Miss Fanny Bright by the reckless young swain driving his one horse open sleigh.

Some blues and jazz songs of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s had romantic and even lustful themes and there were a handful of vaudeville novelty songs.  The World War II separation songs were often about home but just as often about parted lovers.

Meanwhile other cultural trends began to focus on Christmas romance.  Classic holiday movies like The Shop Around the Corner, Its a Wonderful Life, Christmas in Connecticut, and White Christmas had love stories.  More recently Big Screen films from major studios with big stars like Love Actually, The Holiday, and Serendipity have been box office smashes.  

Romance pulp magazines found their Christmas issues the most popular of the year.  That gave birth to Harlequin Romances and imitators who found that Christmas novels flew off of the drugstore paperback racks.  More prestigious publishers and more serious writers took notice and joined the game.

A full schedule of holiday romances on one premium service--Netflix.  And that's on top of full offerings from the Hallmark Channel and Lifetime.  Christmas love is big business.

The Hallmark Channel began churning our Christmas romances movies more than 25 years ago to great success.  Others joined in including Lifetime, which now produces dozens every year.  Now subscription services including Netflix and Hulu have jumped in the market with more expensive production values and bigger stars.  Including endlessly recyclable back catalogs hundreds of films can be found 24 hours a day over the entire season, some even making it to year-round availability.

Pop music has followed the same trends.  There are big bucks under the holiday mistletoeElvis Presley and Blue Christmas was one of the first huge Christmas romance hits, the trend building year after year until holiday romance songs dominate new music.

The sleeve from The Carpenter's original 1970 Merry Christmas Darling single.

But today we are reaching back a few decades to one of the finest of these love songs by one of the greatest female voices of her era—Karen CarpenterMerry Christmas Darling with lyrics by Frank Pooler and music by Richard Carpenter was released as a single on the A&M label in 1970.  The record went to #1 on Billboards Christmas singles chart that year and did so again in ‘71 and ’73.  The Carpenters recorded a new version for their classic LP Christmas Portrait in 1978.  Richard Carpenter considered the original recording his sister’s finest performance.  And in fact, she so owned the song that it has rarely been covered by anyone else.

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