Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of friends who are always out experiencing the best of entertainment. Be it plays, films, concerts, exhibits, or games, they’ve learned that the arts are best when experienced together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. This week, the Girls discuss a classic Christmas chart-topper from 1994…and the rest of the CD it came with. Let’s hear what they had to say…
Gwen was about to give herself the week off. She had been hitting the ground running for the coming year – sending out résumés, booking interviews, trying to nail down the chaotic schedule of a working theatre artist in Chicago. But that break didn’t start until the 20th of December – before then, she was still working hard, writing out cover letters as Christmas music played softly from her speakers.
The relative calm was suddenly broken by a knock at the door.
Dania emerged, wearing a thick winter sweater.
“Hey, were you planning on going to Christkindlmarket with us today?”
“Of course,” Gwen said, turning the music down slightly. “We’re planning to leave at three, right?” She glanced at the clock – 2:24pm.
“Yeah, I just wanted to check,” Dania said. “You haven’t been out of your room all morning.”
“Applications,” Gwen said. “Life of a working artist.”
“Got it,” Dania said, She exited the room, leaving the door ajar.
Gwen adjusted the music and returned to work. After a minute, she heard from the other room:
“Are you listening to Christian Rock?”
Eleanor popped her head into the doorway. Gwen turned the music down again.
“Is it too loud? I can turn it down.”
“What was it?” Eleanor asked. “Bring it back up.”
Gwen adjusted the volume. Backed by a child choir, Mariah Carey’s voice rang out clear:
“Behold the Lamb of God has come…behold the Savior is born…”
Gwen laughed, as Eleanor looked increasingly confused. “I completely tune out the lyrics when I’m working,” Gwen explained.
“But what is it?”
“It’s the Mariah Carey Christmas album,” Gwen said. “The one with this song on it.”
She reversed to the album’s second song. The arpeggiated glockenspiel opening was unmistakable.
“This song?” Eleanor asked, as Carey’s vocals cut in. Gwen laughed again.
“Yes!” She turned it up, singing along: “…don’t want a lot for Christmas…there is just one thing I neeeeeed…”
“I don’t care about the presents,” Eleanor joined in. Both of them threw their heads back on the next line: “UuUHDERNEATH the Christmas Tree…”
They continued to sing along, the many turns in Carey’s voice mimicked perfectly after twenty-three years of exposure to the song. “All I-ah-ah want…for Christma-a-a-as…I-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-is…you-o-oo…”
Dania suddenly jumped through the doorway. “Dananananana-dananananana-dananananana––”
“DUH DUH, DUH DUH, DUH DUH, DUH–I don’t want a lot for Christmas…” sang all three. The singing slowly transitioned to laughter as they reflected on the moment they had just shared.
“Okay, wow,” Dania said. “I literally just ran from my room and barely made it here. That song is a bop.”
“It’s a nearly-perfect song,” Gwen said. “Energetic, well sung and orchestrated. There’s a good reason it’s the only Christmas song written after, I don’t know, 1970 to become a standard.”
“And it comes from a Christian Rock CD?” Eleanor asked again?
“Christian Rock?” Dania wondered. “That’s not Christian Rock, it’s too good.”
“It’s not a Christian Rock CD,” Gwen said. “It’s Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas. The CD that song is from.”
“Then what’s with all the “Jesus is the Lamb of God” stuff on the rest of the CD?”
“You heard one song,” Gwen chided.
“But, like, Christmas is Jesus’s birthday and everything,” Dania said. “Half of the other Christmas carols are all about the manger and the star and the Wise Men and stuff. Makes sense to me.”
“Thank you,” Gwen said. “That’s essentially it.” She pulled up the tab where the music was playing from, and showed the album. “‘Silent Night,’ ‘O Holy Night,’ ‘Jesus Born On This Day,’ ‘Hark The Herald Angels…'”
“This is like half hymnal,” Eleanor said. “It’s only eleven songs and like five of them are secular.”
“It happens,” Gwen said.
“That’s still a crazy ratio,” Dania said. “No ‘Frosty the Snowman,’ no ‘Rudolph…'”
“It has ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town,'” Gwen said, clicking on the song. The opening was a quiet rendition of the Brahms lullaby, accompanied by the choir from the rest of the CD. That quickly segued into…
“Wait a minute,” Dania said.
“Yeah, hold on,” Eleanor added.
They listened to the intro play on, before both of them sang along:
“Duh nuh, duh nuh, duh nuh, duh––”
“This is the exact same opening as the other one!” Dania said, as Carey began singing.
“What the hell!” Eleanor said. “Is every song like that?”
“I hope,” Dania laughed. “Duh nuh, duh nuh, duh nuh, duh––silent night, holy night…”
“It’s even in the same key,” Gwen commented. “I suppose if it works, there’s no rule against reusing it.” They listened to the song, still playing. “Interesting that she uses the Jackson Five version of the song, with the twelve-bar chorus.”
“Is that the Jackson Five?” asked Dania. “I thought Bruce Springsteen did that.”
“A lot of people change it,” Eleanor said. “I don’t know who started it.”
“Let me check,” Dania said, pulling her phone out. “Hey, Siri…”
“What about the next one?” Eleanor asked, switching to the next song.
“Religious, certainly, but ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ is an accepted Christmas song,” Gwen said, though Eleanor cut in.
“There’s the church organ,” she interrupted. “And there’s the church choir,” she added a moment later.
“It’s – Christmas music comes from hymns, Eleanor,” Gwen grumbled. “Of course it’s going to have some religiosity to it.”
“I understand that,’ Eleanor said. “But you have to admit, this is a little more than normal.”
“Not necessarily, the Rod Stewart and Josh Groban CDs have choirs and the like. It’s not absurd to have that. Even Mannheim Steamroller uses organ.”
“Mannheim Steamroller uses everything.”
“It’s the Crystals,” Dania said. “They invented the longer chorus. Listen.”
Gwen paused Mariah for a moment to listen to The Crystals recording of “Santa Claus is Coming To Town.”
“Oh, they have the Brahms Lullaby at the beginning too,” Gwen commented. “That has to be a callback by Carey in her version. What a strange throwback.”
“Hm,” Eleanor said. “Okay, so those two, what’s after that?”
Eleanor clicked ahead. The next song began with a crisp organ part before swinging into a gospel rock. Gwen glanced, nervously, towards Eleanor’s judgemental eye as the lyrics began:
“Jesus / Jesus / O what a wonderful child / Jesus / Jesus / So lonely meek and mild”
The first chorus had barely finished when Eleanor said: “This is barely a Christmas song.”
“Okay, yes, there are some more Jesus-centric songs on the album!” Gwen admitted. “It happens. Mariah Carey is an active Episcopalian. It’s his birthday.”
“Is she really Episcopalian?”
“Yes, actually,” Gwen added. “I looked that up when I had the same questions about the album when I listened to it.”
“So you admit…” Eleanor began.
“Yes, there are fewer secular songs on the album than you’d expect,” Gwen said. “Doesn’t make it a bad album.”
“I just don’t know what that one song is doing on this album, then,” Dania said. “The famous one. It’s a bop, it’s got no mention of Jesus, it’s one that she wrote…right, she wrote that?”
“‘All I Want For Christmas?'” Eleanor asked. “Yeah, she wrote it. Unless it got ghost-written.”
“No, she wrote it,” Gwen said. “She wrote two. This is the other one.”
She played the song “Miss You Most (At Christmas Time).” The Girls listened as Carey crooned for her lost love, whose absence kept her from enjoying the holiday. A moody, languid song, Dania and Eleanor seemed to get more confused as it went on.
“This is…basically just any love song,” Dania said. “Like, it barely has to do with Christmas – it just takes place then.”
“Then again,” Gwen mentioned, “even ‘All I Want For Christmas’ is mostly about the same thing: I am alone, there is another person I want, it’s a holiday.”
“There’s more of the holiday there, though,” Eleanor said. “I mean, listen to it again.”
She clicked back and listened to the song once again. The lyrics referenced the Christmas tree, stockings, mistletoe, the North Pole, reindeer, Christmas lights, sleigh bells, and the red man in the suit – name-dropped as both “Santa Claus” and “Saint Nick.”
“See, this one is just imbued with holiday cheer,” Eleanor said. “It’s all the Christmas songs in one, and it’s upbeat and Mariah Carey can sing. Like really well.”
“Yeah, it’s obvious why this is the famous one,” Dania said. “It’s absolutely the best on a CD full of bad Christian rock…”
“It’s not Christian Rock!”
“…and kinda-average other songs. It’s so good, she had to mod ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ to sound more like this song.”
“It’s still very strange in context,” Gwen said. “Perhaps it was intended to sell the album. This was 1994, right, so singles were a thing but CDs remained the medium of choice. You didn’t really have the option to get only the good songs without the fluff.”
“Are you saying…” Eleanor began. “Although even if you’re not saying, I’m saying – that Mariah Carey secretly engineered the best Christmas song ever in order to sell people her CD about the Lamb of God?”
“I’m not saying that,” Gwen said. “All holiday CDs exist on a sliding scale of secular to religious. This one is closer to one end than the other. But it’s still a fine CD.”
“With one absolutely glorious secular exception,” Eleanor reminded.
The three of them listened as Mariah Carey’s most famous Christmas song played. For much of the song, no one said anything, listening intently. But eventually, the silence was broken when Dania, refraining from singing along for nearly three and a half minutes, suddenly exclaimed:
Image Credit: Cosmopolitan