Is it too early to play Holiday music?  By the time you read this, the answer is likely to be “no”.  I go by the Thanksgiving rule–you can play Holiday music anytime starting on Thanksgiving.  When I grew up, I don’t remember ever hearing Holiday music on the radio until well into December, perhaps any time after December 10.  I started working on this column on Veteran’s Day, and it forced me to start playing Holiday music on my Spotify account so I could make a Holiday party playlist for you all.  Of course, that meant that anyone connected to my feed could see what I was listening to.  I started my research when I found a Christmas 2021 Christmas Party playlist on Spotify, and clicked on a song before I had to step away.  When I came back to my laptop, at least fifteen holiday songs had played, mostly generic commercial pieces of trivial music that might work more to turn you off to the holidays.  I was not happy that all of my friends could see these songs, it was embarrassing.  “What the hell is wrong with Chase?” they were probably asking, “what is he listening to, and why so early?”  Oh well, I turned the music off and moved away from that particular playlist, never to be referred to again.  I began digging deep to find an assortment of songs from different genres that I like and more importantly, what I think my guests would like while hopefully expanding their musical horizons.

What makes a good Holiday party playlist?  If you have been following this column, you probably know that I like complex, longform music, where songs might go on for  ten or fifteen minutes.  My wife Karen, a music professional for more than four decades, reminds me often that my musical taste is “out there” and beyond many people’s likes or tastes.  She’s right, but I still go by Duke Ellington’s statement, “if it sounds good, it is good”.  Karen’s advice did help me build a quality Holiday party playlist.  Nobody wants to hear Zappa’s The Purple Lagoon or Umphrey’s McGee’s Wizard Burial Ground at a holiday party.  What party guests want is a good mix of generally upbeat, easy to listen to holiday tunes, played by artists that they recognize.  Mixing genres is fine–bluegrass, big band, crooner, jazz trio, rock and roll; but the order must be done with care to bind the whole list together.  I like to target about 40 songs for my playlists, which will keep your soundtrack going for two and a half or three hours.  

While I tend to stay away from clichés, and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas certainly is in that category, I suck it up and allow some of these overplayed songs into my Holiday party mixes–people like them.  To stay a bit rebellious, I always stick a few tunes into the mix that people have never heard–the great NRBQ once released a Christmas album, and their rendition of Christmas Time is Here, while a bit eccentric, is just fantastic.  The same goes for the great LA Santa played live by Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger; Kung Fu Christmas, the only Christmas tune ever sung on the National Lampoon Radio Hour; and Ring Out, Solstice Bells,  the one Christmas tune that Jethro Tull released.  I was bummed to see that one of my favorite holiday albums, David Grisman’s Acoustic Christmas, is not available right now on Spotify.  The balance of the playlist tunes are performed by folks that most of your partygoers will know–Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Der Bingle, Vince Guaraldi, John Prine…you get the idea.

If you don’t want to bother making your own playlist, you can create your own using a handy online tool at playlists.christmasmusic.com .  This webpage gives you three playlist categories to choose from, including Christmas Morning, Christmas Party, and Under the Mistletoe.  Click on one of these and then choose from eight artists, old time to current popular.  I clicked Christmas Party and then checked off Dean Martin and Willie Nelson as my artists and clicked “Create playlist now”.  In less than two seconds, a somewhat custom playlist popped up on screen with a few dozen holiday songs, not a bad list.  You can then export your list to Spotify or Apple Music–instant party soundtrack.

If you want to work on your own playlist, beware of using canned albums with names like “Acoustic Christmas” or “Holiday Soft Jazz” that are all over the music streaming sites.  These are typically low budget efforts using studio musicians (they have to eat too), and are best used if you own an elevator company.  These collections of holiday Pablum will provide no value to your party whatsoever, unless you are looking for ways of getting those last friends to leave at 1AM after they have drunk most of your Pappy and have been parked on your sofa for the last six hours.

Whatever way you approach it, having a soundtrack for your gatherings with family and friends is a must.  Take a minute and check out my Spotify playlist at https://tinyurl.com/te6cwuxc .  Just refrain playing it until the holiday spirit strikes you.

Steve Chase is hanging lights and playing Christmas music in Unison.   

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