Posts Tagged ‘Christmas Music’

Trans-Siberian strives to outdo itself

Last year, the guitarist and singer Greg Lake – of the pioneering prog-rock act Emerson Lake & Palmer – came out to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s visually spectacular Christmas show.

Afterward, Lake had one simple question for TSO founder Paul O’Neill: “How are you going to beat this next year?”

O’Neill, in a late October interview, recalled his not-quite-Christmasy response: “Greg, I have no (expletive) idea.”

O’Neill is beginning to find out whether the 2007 edition of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has topped last year’s model.

As in years past, two full touring companies of the combination rock band and orchestra have hit the road, bringing one of the world’s biggest collections of special effects, lighting and pyrotechnics along for the ride. (The tour stops in Milwaukee on Sunday at the Bradley Center.)

“We just keep building the band every year,’ O’Neill said, noting that several new musicians have been added to both of the touring ensembles. “More special effects, more lighting, more pyro – every year we try to do something no band has done before.”

But he also knows that each year, it gets harder to live up to his own standard.

“It’s getting harder and harder as time goes on to impress not just adults, but even kids,” O’Neill said.

“When I grew up, you had comic books and you had movies and you had black-and-white TV. Kids these days have ‘Halo’ and all these video games, digital TV. Not only kids, but adults demand so much more input per 60 seconds.”

The good news is that technology works in favor of TSO’s stage production, which now spans both a massive main stage and another at the back of the house. Last year, the rear stage rose up high off the arena floor for a pyrotechnics battle with the main stage, a spectacle that had never been done in any rock show before.

“A lot of the things we do now . . . in 1997 we could not have done,” O’Neill said.

“Technology is moving ahead so fast, it’s hard to keep up. And what was mind-blowing two or three years ago is now commonplace. But you’ve just got to keep thinking above and beyond.”

To help achieve that goal, O’Neill has launched a research and development division dedicated to dreaming up new visual effects for TSO.

“We hire these engineering kids right out of college and we say, ‘Look, see these offices? These are your offices and your computers. Your only job is to come up with something, a special effect for the stage show – the flight deck – and we’ll pay the money to develop it, design it, etc.’ And if only one in 20 or one in 10 make it to the stage, I still think we win.

“And they’re told, ‘Don’t think what would be cool a year from now or what would be cool two years from now,’ ” O’Neill said. ” ‘Think what would be cool 20 years from now, and then put it on the fast track so we can have it on the flight deck a year or two from now.’ ”

One thing that won’t be radically different this year is the musical program.

As in 2005 and ’06, the first half of the show will feature the music from the 1996 CD “Christmas Eve & Other Stories,” the first part of a holiday trilogy that also includes 1998’s “The Christmas Attic” and 2004’s “The Lost Christmas Eve.”

As in past years, TSO’s second set will be a full-on rock concert, featuring songs from those two holiday releases, as well as music from its non-holiday rock opera, 2003’s “Beethoven’s Last Night” and a long-delayed new CD, “The Nightcastle,” which O’Neill said he hopes to release this summer.

The programs aim to blend the new (the set, the pyrotechnics) with the band’s familiar Christmas music.

“They get the comfort of the familiar as they’re settling in,” O’Neill said. “Then for the second half of the rock opera, we go into the catalog and mix and match, and do different songs from the other albums.”

The TSO road show employs a crew of more than 150 and a traveling caravan that includes 32 trucks and 16 buses – not to mention the development cost of a set and special effects that have a two-month shelf life.

Still, the popularity of the TSO holiday tours, which date back to 1999, makes the numbers work.

Last year was the most successful tour yet, with more than a million tickets sold and gross earnings of more than $40 million for less than 80 dates.

Indeed, TSO was the top draw in tickets sold for the final six months of 2006 and had the highest number of sold-out shows, according to Billboard magazine.

Even though the group hadn’t had a new CD release since 2004’s “The Lost Christmas Eve,’ TSO still managed to sell nearly 900,000 copies of its four CDs.

“This year our guarantees are substantially large,” O’Neill said. “But the bottom line – and this is driving my accountant crazy – is that with the cost of building the set before we play show No. 1, our budget is millions higher than our guarantees.”

TSO grew out of O’Neill’s work as the longtime producer of the now-defunct progressive metal band Savatage. Since forming the act in 1996, he hasn’t skimped on anything related to TSO.

The recorded music – which many critics have ragged as grandiose and bombastic – can employ upward of 100 musicians.

The production is impeccable and aimed at achieving note-perfect performances throughout the CDs. And in a move that recalls the packaging of vinyl albums, TSO’s CDs have come with elaborate artwork, lyrics and background information to help listeners follow the story lines of each CD.

Whether live in an arena or coming out of your living-room speakers, the goal is to give the audience much more than their money’s worth.

XM starts Xmas channels

Satellite radio network XM has begun transmitting six channels for Christmas music, ready for the festive season. XM’s first station, named Holly, will play contemporary holiday hits till New Years Day. Additional channels will launch later this month..

The extra channels include XM’s Radio Hanukkah, the first-ever national broadcast channel devoted exclusively to Jewish Culture, which will also return for the 2007 holiday season.

Holiday Traditions features traditional holiday recordings from the 1940s through 1960s with classic artists such as Bing Crosby, Nat “King” Cole and more.

Music City Holiday features contemporary and traditional holiday hits from popular country music artists, including Faith Hill, Kenny Rogers, and more.

A Classical Christmas features traditional holiday carols performed by celebrated classical musicians Luciano Pavarotti, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and many others.

And finally, Special X-Mas will features a unique mix of novelty songs, parodies, and retro oddities by a broad range of artists, including Cheech and Chong, Bob Rivers, Weird Al, Tiny Tim, Monty Python, and more.

Most channels are available till midnight Christmas Day.

American Idol’s Mandisa Rings In The Holiday With Christmas EP

After a highly successful label debut with “True Beauty,” American Idol’s own MANDISA will be celebrating the season with her Christmas EP featuring four tracks available digitally today and in stores nationwide November 20th just in time for the holidays. “Christmas Joy EP” will feature classics “Joy to the World” and “O Holy Night” as well as the Stevie Wonder favorite “What Christmas Means to Me” and the newly written “Christmas Makes Me Cry” duet with labelmate Matthew West, which will be serviced to radio as a holiday single. In addition to the “Christmas Joy EP,” Mandisa is a part of the “WOW Gospel Christmas” CD with her song “God Speaking” that is also her second single from her label debut “True Beauty.”

“It seems to me that even the hardest hearts soften during the Christmas season,” expresses Mandisa about recording a Christmas album. “There is a prevalent joy that draws people together and Christmas music is the soundtrack to that season. Reflecting on God’s unconditional love for us is what Christmas means to me.”

This American sweetheart will also be spreading the holiday cheer with her performance for the New York Stock Exchange Christmas Tree lighting, which will take place in New York on December 10th. The NYSE is the second largest Christmas tree lighting in the country, the first being the White House. Over the month of December, fans will be able to catch Mandisa performing live as well as on two televised specials. Mandisa will appear on the Gospel Music Channel where she most recently taped a Christmas concert special along with Idol alum, George Huff. On Christmas Eve, Mandisa will perform live at the Crystal Cathedral, which will be televised worldwide. Mandisa will also perform six tour dates with Huff while in California in addition to dates with Natalie Grant. (see www.mandisaofficial.com for tour dates/cities).

Just over a year ago Mandisa shot to instant fame when millions of TV viewers across the nation were captivated by her winning smile and powerhouse vocals as she sang her way into the final rounds of “American Idol’s” fifth season. Showcasing Mandisa’s stylistic range was the task set before the five sets of producers who lined up to work with her on her debut, “True Beauty.” The end result is a seamless flow of tracks that create a diverse landscape for messages of hope, inspiration and faith. “Only the World” is the album’s funky, energetic first single, and has spent five consecutive weeks on Billboard’s Top Single Sales chart.

Following the no. 1 Single on Billboard’s Hot Single Sales chart, appearances on The Today Show, Live! With Regis & Kelly, The Tom Joyner Show, countless radio and retail visits, vocal powerhouse Mandisa’s debut CD, “True Beauty,” entered at No. 1 on Soundscan’s Christian/Gospel and itunes Christian/Gospel charts. The American Idol alum’s chart entry marked the first debut album by a female solo artist to open at No. 1 since this chart converted to Nielsen SoundScan back in 1995, as well as making Mandisa the only female solo artist to land at No. 1 on the Top Christian Albums chart with a debut album in the 27 years since Billboard began tracking Christian album sales in March 1980.

Mandisa’s desire to live free of society’s expectations sits at the heart of the messages interwoven throughout True Beauty. Issues of self-esteem and self-worth are front-and-center among those that most young women struggle with today, and Mandisa admits she is no different. “More than just a career, I really want to have a ministry that has an impact on people. I just want to follow through with what is in my heart. I never want to look back and wonder, ‘What would have happened if….’”

Mannheim Steamroller breaks out the ‘Christmas Song’

New Age composer Chip Davis has mapped out plans for Mannheim Steamroller [ tickets ]’s 23rd annual holiday tour.

The multi-media concert extravaganza will visit a dozen cities in the West and Midwest beginning Nov. 20 in Boise, ID, and is scheduled to wrap Dec. 26 in Davis’ hometown of Omaha, NE. Details are listed below.

Fans visiting Branson, MO, can also catch “The Christmas Music of Mannheim Steamroller” Nov. 2 through Dec. 8 at The Grand Palace.

The classical rock outfit is supporting its new album, “Christmas Song,” which surfaced earlier this month and landed at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top Independent Albums chart. The set includes 12 holiday classics as well as original compositions, and features guest vocalists Johnny Mathis and Olivia Newton-John.

“Christmas Song” is Mannheim Steamroller’s first new Christmas-themed studio set in six years. The band has recorded six multiplatinum-selling Christmas albums since 1984.

With the holidays also comes a new hardcover gift book, “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas: The Season For Joy,” which includes a bonus CD containing two songs.

The band is the top-selling Christmas act of all time and one of the top 50 best-selling artists of the last two decades, according to its website.

Mannheim Steamroller mastermind Davis started the group more than 30 years ago with his “Fresh Aire” series of albums. With 32 million records sold, he has become one of the most successful independent artists in the music industry.

Novelty Christmas song, zoo linked for 50 years

Certainly in the 100 years of Oklahoma’s past, there have been events in which citizens demonstrated character and heroism that propelled them to a place in history. In other circumstances it was the event itself that mattered, carving a niche into which a prominent Oklahoman slipped. Whether through design or chance, those individuals and those circumstances combined to fashion the inimitable parts of our chronology we treasure as “uniquely Oklahoman.”

Others, are just fun.

Consider the chance that a small 10-year-old girl and a novelty song could forge a near-legendary story. If one chooses to ignore that it, in fact, isn’t true, it’s still a great story. As with so many “legends” of the type, however, there is a kernel of truth, and so therefore remains part of Oklahoma’s history. The byproduct, in this case, is the fun.

According to lore, the song “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” was written as a means to raise funs so that the Oklahoma City Zoo might gather enough funding to acquire one of the quarter-ton African-native mammals for its exhibition. That legend forever ties the song to the Oklahoma City Zoo in the minds of many around the country. Sadly, it’s not quite true, but it’s no less a good story.

Truth be told, the song’s composition had nothing at all to do with the zoo and became a happy coincidence. It was published in 1950 by John Rox and, in 1953, Columbia Records sold over 300,000 copies of the 78-rpm disc. No doubt a portion of the song’s success could be attributed to the attitude-laced voice of its singer. Gayla Peevey, a native of Oklahoma City whose family also resided for a time in Ponca City, had reportedly performed on “Sooner Shindig” and “The Chuckwagon Gang” for WKY-TV, which had sent recordings of her voice to Columbia. Later under contract to the label, she was only 10 years old when she was selected to perform “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”, with no less than the Mitch Miller Orchestra.

The song’s commercial success, it is said, inspired WKY and the Oklahoma City Times to launch a fundraising campaign to purchase a hippo for the facility. Then not quite 50 years old, and lacking a hippo, a program was conceived that would solicit pennies, nickels and dimes from area schoolchildren, to buy a hippo for Gayla, who would then donate it to the zoo. The drive raised between $3,000 and $4,000 and a baby hippo named “Matilda” was soon a resident of the zoo’s third home in the northeast quadrant of the capitol city. While not written specifically for the zoo’s efforts, it did, finally bring the named prize to its new home.

Peevey, as it turns out, left show business with several other recordings to her credit, but the family moved to San Diego where she received an education degree, and later owned her own advertising firm. “Matilda” spent the rest of her life at the zoo and, like many humans, was planning to “retire” to Florida at Walt Disney World. However, before that move could be accomplished, she passed away in March of 1998, having entertained visitors for over half a century.

Still popular at Christmas-time, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” remains one of those songs that can produce either irritability or foolishness in adults. It found a new round of success in 2005 when TELUS, the Canadian telecommunications giant gave it a lot of play. The company, which routinely uses animals in their ad campaigns, paired the song with “Hazina”, a hippo from the Greater Vancouver Zoo, pledging $10,000 to help rebuild the animal’s habitat. The program was so successful, in early 2006 a campaign launched for the “adoption” of plush hippos raised an additional $20,000 for improvements and modifications to the zoo’s hippo enclosures.

So, it seems, notoriety can come from many sources. Or, like so many other circumstances, just the right mixture of time and talent creates success. Take a novelty song of the ‘50s, combined with the talent of an Oklahoma schoolgirl, add the inspiration of thousands of children and the spirit of giving, and you create an odd, quirky tale of Oklahoma history.

Sometimes the legacy of circumstance creates a classic tale of heroism and triumph. Those narratives routinely make their way into books and scholarly lectures. Other times, they are mere footnotes to history. Sometimes, it just creates a little bit of fun and a story to tell the children.

Christ Church Goes Christmas Caroling by Julie Straehle

Last month, Christ Episcopal Church in Garden City revived the custom of neighborhood Christmas caroling. In the late afternoon of Sunday, December 17th, a merry group of 15 parishioners went forth from the church. They sang and strolled along the streets, bringing holiday happiness as they serenaded their parish neighbors in the true spirit of Christmas a gift freely given and freely received.

Sometimes the carolers arrived at a house and found a party in progress, and its revelers would spill out onto the front steps to listen and applaud and sometimes join in the singing. One charming hostess offered Christmas cakes and libations, and invited the carolers inside for a wassail toast: “Was-hael!” (“Good health!” in Gaelic).

The carolers were Carolyn Carter, Judy Dubois, Sharon Francomano, Joan & Alfie Mabey, Nancy & Fred Marquardt, Irene Noda, Dorraine Russin, Lucille & Bill Smith, Julie Straehle, Don Skinner, and Christ Church Rector, The Rev. Debbie Low-Skinner. The parish’s multi-talented choir director, Tim Erbe, led the group in song and accompanied the singing on a 12-string guitar. His spirited playing made a wonderful addition to the festive music-making a cheery sound, an upbeat rhythm, in a comfortable range for singing. Also, several of the carolers brought sleigh bells, which they jingled merrily to add to the joy.

The weather was mild, and the carolers sang for an hour or so. Afterwards, they returned to Christ Church to enjoy hot chocolate, eggnog, cider, and cookies. A good time was had by all carolers and community and the parish looks forward to doing it again next December!

Handbells are ringing when church choir performs

Think of handbells and often Christmas music comes to mind, most likely the popular “Carol of the Bells.”

Emmanuel Lutheran Church, in Murrysville, supports a handbell program that not only performs for Christmas services, but also throughout the year during services. In addition, handbell choir members also like to perform outside the church setting in formats that are more appropriate for some of the more playful pieces they have rehearsed.

Emmanuel’s handbell choirs have performed at community events and festivals, including the Holiday Flower Show at Phipps Conservatory, the Seton Hill Handbell Festival, the Western Pennsylvania Handbell Festival (held at the Church of the Covenant in Washington, Pa.) and various churches and nursing homes in the Murrysville-Export area. In addition, the choirs are members of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers.

This year they are planning to hold their first independent concert, tentatively scheduled for May.

Emmanuel’s handbell choirs director Gary McWilliams noted the long history of bells in cultures across the globe.

“Bells are found in ruins of the earliest cultures known to man on every continent,” he wrote in a recent e-mail. “Their primary purpose was as signaling devices. In medieval Europe, large bells hung in church towers and signaled townsfolk to all major events, including meetings, impending attacks, storms, etc. ”

He added that in England, the tower bells were rung in sequences for entertainment and challenge. “Change ringing” competitions began between neighboring towns and are still practiced in England today.

“To avoid the need to practice change ringing in cold bell towers and to avoid subjecting the townsfolk to practice sessions, small hand-held bells were developed in the 17th century that allowed ringers to practice indoors,” he added. “These bells are the forerunners of modern handbells. Choirs began to be formed specifically for the purpose of ringing music on handbells.”

About 1840, handbell choirs were introduced to the United States by P.T. Barnum, who brought an English choir, but called them the “Swiss Bell Ringers.” Handbell ringing became part of the vaudeville circuit, and grew steadily in the U.S.

In the 1940s, churches began establishing handbell choirs, and handbells began being manufactured in the U.S. in the 1960s. Today, more than 10,000 handbell choirs exist in North America. The AGEHR organization promotes handbell ringing in the U.S.

However, there are a number of organizations that support handbell choirs throughout the year.

McWilliams said Emmanuel Lutheran began its handbell program in February 1997 when the church purchased a three-octave set of Malmark Handbells with memorial donations.

The choir was composed of members with varying degrees of experience, including some who had never played in a handbell choir. McWilliams said he’s been playing handbells since 1969. Many of the members of the handbell program are related to one another and come from very musical families.

Danette Hunter, of Murrysville, is a member of the handbell choir. She plays the D6 and C6 handbells and occasionally the D7 bell. Her parts also include all sharps and flats associated with those notes. At any given time, a player may have four or five notes associated with bells for which they are responsible.

“I started playing in high school in the teen bell choir at my church when I lived in Ohio,” she said. “They didn’t have the (handbell) group at the church when we moved here, but then they got the group together, and I was happy to play again.”

Other members joked that they are considering adopting her because she is one of the few without a family member in the choirs.

Many said they are still getting the hang of the different styles of ringing: rings, plucks, marts and mallets all use different motions to create strikingly different effects. Hunter explained that each piece of music gives directions to the players on how to strike a bell to create the unique sounds that complement the piece’s tone.

Over the years, Emmanuel Lutheran handbell program has expanded to include 30 members who support both a five-octave choir (The Festive Bells) and a three-octave choir (The Rainbow Ringers).

The Festive Bells is an adult choir for members over age 18. The Rainbow Ringers is a youth choir for members in sixth through 12th grades. Both choirs provide music monthly at church services and for special occasions, such as Christmas Eve.

Members of The Festive Bells choir are Sandy Buehner, Kathy Gustafson, Diane McWilliams, Danette Hunter, Karla Gustafson, Denise Sticha, Hattie Rubright, Leslie Hood, Kristi LaVallee, Chrissy Writt, Christine Nicely, Millie Scheiterle, Colleen McWilliams, Leanne Salava, Steve Cehovin, Robert Schlotter, Janet Book, Katie Buehner, Cathy Potter, Mary Whipkey and Gary McWilliams.

Members of The Rainbow Ringers choir are Cara Suni, Emily Hall, Alek Suni, Rachael Smith, Jennifer McWilliams, Samantha Glunt, Allie Neal, Kelly McWilliams, Lexy Dean and Ross Bond.

On Radio: All-Christmas format is a ratings gift for KRWM-FM, boosting it to first

Why do stations resort to stunts like playing nothing but Christmas music from Thanksgiving to the big day?

Because they often work.

Just ask KRWM-FM (106.9), which rode its all-Christmas format to first place in the fall quarter ratings book for Seattle-Tacoma, according to Arbitron Inc. It had been fourth in the summer-quarter book.

Interestingly, the all-Christmas format doesn’t always pay off, as demonstrated by contemporary Christian station KCMS-FM (105.3), the other station in the market to try it. Its fall-quarter ranking and audience-share rating was down from summer.

KRWM was followed by KUBE-FM (93.3) and KIRO-AM (710). Reflecting the stiff competition between the market’s two major country stations, longtime ratings leader KMPS-FM (94.1) and newcomer KKWF-FM (100.7) finished in a tie for fourth.

The ratings reflect listeners 12 and older tuned in 6 a.m. to midnight Monday through Sunday. They do not include non-commercial stations such as KUOW-FM (94.9) and KPLU-FM (88.5), which rank among the market’s top stations. Arbitron had earlier said it planned to merge the commercial and non-commercial stations on one list but has delayed doing so.

Radio managers and advertisers also say they pay more attention to station performance in specific target audience rather than the overall market.

Aside from Christmas music, listeners apparently had a strong appetite for news, with KIRO-AM and KOMO-AM finishing first and second in the 6-10 a.m. weekday segment. KTTH-AM, with Rush Limbaugh and Michael Medved, placed first 10 a.m.-3 p.m., while KUBE-FM was first for 3-7 p.m. and 7 p.m.-midnight weekdays.

Chichon conducts Vienna’s most famous Christmas concert

Local conductor Karel Mark Chichon recently conducted the “Christmas in Vienna” concert to great acclaim, which was held on 22 December 2006 at the 2,500 capacity Vienna Konzerthaus.

“Christmas in Vienna” is considered the most important and famous concert in Vienna during Christmas. In recent past concerts it has featured some of the world’s greatest artists, including Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, Diana Ross, Tony Bennett, Sarah Brightman, Charlotte Church and Vanessa Williams. The 2006 concert featured the Vienna Boys Choir, famous tenor Juan Diego Florez, the legendary mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry and two of Vienna’s favourite singers’ – Adrian Erod (soloist at the Vienna State Opera) and Aneely Peebo (soloist at the Vienna Volksoper). All of these artists were under of the baton of Karel Mark Chichon, conducting the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.

The concert was recorded live by ORF (Austrian National Television and Radio) and by 3Sat TV (German and Austrian Satellite TV network). It was viewed by an approximate half a million viewers across Germany and Austria, and was rated as the most viewed classical music concert during 2006, ahead of the 2006 Salzburg Festival’s new production of Nozze di Figaro which came second in the ratings.

This concert was a personal success for Maestro Chichon and he was immediately re-invited to conduct the 2008 “Christmas in Vienna” concert which is likely to feature tenor Placido Domingo. Such was his impact on the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra that the orchestra has re-invited the Gibraltar Maestro for further concerts in 2007-8 and 2008-9 seasons in their Vienna Konzerhaus subscription series. The new Director of the Vienna Volksoper has also extended an invitation for Karel to conduct a new production of Rossini: Barber of Seville in 2008 at the Volksoper, which he has accepted.

The 2006-7 season has been a very busy but successful time for Karel until now. He very successfully conducted 10 concerts in South Korea with the Seoul Philharmonic during October 2006, where he performed for a total audience of more than 35,000 people and was immediately re-invited to conduct the 2007 tour. This was followed by four concerts in the UK with one of the leading chamber orchestras in the world, the English Chamber Orchestra, where he conducted the prestigious cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and upcoming violinist Nicola Benedetti – these events also led to further re-invitations next season. He then went on to conduct two concerts with the Luebeck Philharmonic in Germany and another four concerts with the Niedderischer Symphony Orchestra in a tour of Germany. Following the “Christmas in Vienna” concert he conducted the New Year Concerts in Riga with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra on 28, 29 and 30 December 2006.

Maestro Chichon’s career is managed and represented by the influential Artists’ Agency “Agentur Seitter” in Vienna. Upcoming engagements in January for the Gibraltar Maestro include a Gala Concert with Joseph Calleja (famous tenor and DECCA recording artist) in Prague, his debut in Innsbruck (Austria) in 2 concerts with the Tiroler Philharmonic and his debut in Bolzano (Italy) with the Haydn Orchestra.

Despite his busy schedule Karel is still firmly committed to the Gibraltar Philharmonic Society which he continues to serve as Artistic Director, ensuring that Gibraltar continues to stage concerts of the highest quality, which Karel feels are comparable to the highest standards throughout Europe.

Christmas music fills airwaves

If you’re a fan of the Harry Simeon Chorale, Burl Ives or Bing Crosby – or just a faithful listener of “O Come All Ye Faithful” – you’ve got to be excited about all the Christmas music now available on Peoria radio.

This year we’ve got stations at both ends of the dial that have been playing nothing but holiday tunes since Thanksgiving and will continue to do so through Christmas: WSWT-FM 106.9 and WCIC-FM 91.5.

You also have WBNH-FM 88.5, a religious station playing vast quantities of Christmas music, as well as WOAM 1350, the adult standard station, that’s going with continuous Christmas music for each weekend in December up until the big day.

Starting Dec. 14, WOAM goes into all-holiday music mode, and by Dec. 19, WBNH will do the same, providing the Peoria market with four stations exclusively pumping out sounds of the season during the week prior to Christmas.

Scott Wheeler, part of the WCIC morning broadcast team, said the holiday music makes sense for the Christian station.

“It’s a unique opportunity for WCIC to bring people to this radio station who do not otherwise listen,” he said.

Wheeler noted that the mix of music on WCIC would favor Christian artists but “sprinkle in” secular recordings such as “Jingle Bell Rock” and holiday songs by artists like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

While WCIC favors the traditional approach, WSWT serves up holiday music in a more contemporary vein. Over at WBNH, the Pekin-based religious station, “most of the music we play now will be Christmas music,” said operations manager Kevin Matthewson.

The station also will air holiday specials throughout December, such as Handel’s “Messiah,” heard at 3 p.m. today.

Radio stations that pick up listeners over the holidays tend to earn better audience numbers year-round, said Sean Ross, a radio analyst with New Jersey-based Edison Media Research.

“As was the case in previous years, going all-Christmas was indeed more potent for mainstream and soft adult contemporary stations than any other form,” noted Ross after reviewing past ratings numbers in a variety of markets.

There’s also plenty of Christmas music online. One outlet, AccuHolidays, bills itself as “the world’s leading multichannel all-Christmas music radio station featuring over two dozen channels of traditional and contemporary holiday tunes.”

We’re talking hard-core holiday music such as devoting a channel strictly to Mel Torme’s “Christmas Song” with different versions by Cole, Sinatra and the like.

Other channels single out favorites like “Let it Snow,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Silent Night” with multiple versions.

Drive time

The number of people who listen to broadcast radio in the car is 76 percent, according to Glendale, Calif.-based Bridge Ratings. That’s down from 89 percent just six years ago.

Bridge president Dave Van Dyke said that radio’s mission in 2007 is to get out in front of a changing marketplace.

“Contrary to some belief, traditional radio has not been derailed. It has more competition, which is using technology as its primary weapon,” he said.

McFly set their sights on Christmas Number One

THE boys of McFly are captured above as they film scenes for the video of their new single.

The rock band, which includes Bolton-born Danny Jones, are still celebrating the success of their Top 10 album, Motion In the Ocean, and most recent chart-topping single, Star Girl.

But they are now looking towards the coveted Christmas Number One spot with a double A-side single to be released on December 18.

Sorry’s Not Good Enough will feature alongside Friday Night, the official theme tune from the new movie, Night At The Museum, starring Ben Stiller, Ricky Gervais and Steve Coogan.

The film hits the big screens on December 26.

Rock band has become Christmas tradition

In 1996, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra created the closest thing to a Christmas music phenomenon that the post-baby-boomer generation has ever seen.

Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” a nearly bombastic reworking of “Carol of the Bells” with symphony, synthesizer and heavy-metal guitar, became a hit and has since become a perennial favorite.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra guitarist Al Pitrelli says that one question is common about the group: “What’s with this Russian rock band with the opera?”

Pitrelli laughs.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which comes to Albuquerque’s Tingley Coliseum Dec. 14, sprang from a collaboration between rock producer Paul O’Neill and the heavy-metal rock band Savatage in 1995.

While Savatage had won fame with several albums and was featured on MTV’s “Headbanger’s Ball,” it was the track “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24″ on the group’s album “Dead Winter Dead” that gave the group a new career. Pitrelli, a veteran of Megadeth and Alice Cooper’s band, had been asked to join the group by O’Neill.

“This was during the Nirvana era,” says Pitrelli. “Hair metal was dead and buried.”

However, that was only in the United States.

“In November we went to Europe,” says Pitrelli. “When we came back (to the United States, the track), was the No. 1-requested number in the nation – in nearly all formats.”

The president of Atlantic Records suggested that an entire album be built around the single.

“We all got together and just put all the ideas on the table,” says Pitrelli.

WRRM’s holiday delay pays off

Christmas came four weeks late for WRRM-FM (98.5), but folks there aren’t complaining.

The soft rock station – which held off playing Christmas music until after Thanksgiving, at the listeners’ request – jumped to third place in fall Arbitron ratings released last week.

WVMX-FM (MIX 94.1), which launched holiday tunes on Nov. 7, saw its audience share drop slightly among all listeners ages 12 and older from a year ago. Ho, ho, ho.

“Maybe they should have waited until the pumpkins were off the front porch before going all Christmas,” says T.J. Holland, program director for WARM98, WYGY-FM (country STAR 96.5) and “jammin’ oldies” WMOJ-FM (MOJO 94.9).

“I think it helped that we asked people when they wanted to hear Christmas music. We played Christmas at the right time, when people wanted to hear it. That makes a difference,” Holland says.

The move paid huge dividends with women, the station’s target. WARM98 was No. 1 with women ages 18-34, 18-49, 25-54 and 35-64, according to Arbitron’s September-December report.

Talk-sports WLW-AM (700) and country music WUBE-FM (105.1) were the top two stations with listeners of all ages, and the 25-54 demographic that advertisers want most. WLW-AM has been the region’s top station for six years. B105 was tied for third a year ago, and fourth in the 25-54 money demographic.

WLW-AM again was No. 1 in mornings, midday and weekends. B105’s Duke Hamilton was No. in the afternoon. Rock station WKFS-FM (KISS 107.1) was the most popular station weekday evenings, followed by B105 and WLW-AM.

Other fall winners were country STAR 96.5, which rocketed from 12th a year ago to third place with listeners 18-34, and adult contemporary WKRQ-FM (Q102), which jumped from 13th a year ago to 10th.

Talk stations WSAI-AM (HOMER 1360), WDBZ-AM (BUZZ 1230) and WCKY-AM (1530) also showed fall audience gains.

Losers included talk radio WKRC-AM (550), which fell to sixth from second a year ago during the presidential election, and urban music WIZF-FM (WIZ100.9), which dropped from fifth a year ago to 10th.

Downloads hit Christmas peak

Christmas 2005 saw a new record set for downloaded music – with the last week of the year seeing more than 20m music tracks downloaded and paid for by US customers – three-times higher than the 2004 figure.

This compares to the previous record set the week before Christmas of 9.5m downloads – suggesting a lot of Americans woke up to find new music players in their Christmas stockings.
Click Here

Sales of MP3 players also exceeded sales of personal CD players for the first time. More on the Beeb here.

Meanwhile, punters in the UK were also getting into this download thing. Figures from the BPI show a massive 357 per cent growth to 26.4m single tracks downloaded in 2005. The last week of the year also saw weekly download figures top one million for the first time.

Physical sales also grew, with artist album sales up 1.4 per cent to 126.2m in the year. But the BPI blamed an increase in piracy for falling sales of compilation albums, which were down 15.7 per cent.

The Greatest Christmas Songs of All Time

During this holiday season many of you will be attending gatherings or shopping at malls where in the background will be the continuous drone of holiday music. I myself recently attended a Christmas party where everyone was subjected to the continuous repeat of a holiday compilation album being played in the stereo (that is until I snuck off to the garage with a few friends to enjoy a mix CD of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins hits – a 90’s smorgasbord).

I’ve never fussed over Christmas music since it’s only played for a short time (though the holiday season seems to be getting longer each year starting up as soon as the Halloween decorations come down). Like elevator music, Christmas music is supposed to provide a calming reassuring background noise for shoppers and partygoers, though watching the pushing match between some shoppers you would guess Bolt Thrower was playing on mall intercoms.

After experiencing the onslaught of Christmas music these past few weeks I got to thinking what were the best holiday themed songs ever recorded (well not necessarily the best but my own personal favourites). Excluding older artists like Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Burl Ives, Gene Autry and all those other pre-rock and roll performers, I’ve come up with the top five greatest Christmas songs ever sung by contemporary artists – meaning from the rock, pop and hip hop community

5. Santa Claus is Coming to Town – Bruce Springsteen

A holiday classic written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” was originally recorded way back in 1935 by Joe Harris with Benny Goodman & His Orchestra. It’s been re-recorded numerous times over the decades but it was the Boss’ version that surpassed all other renditions being released as a B-side on his 1985 “My Hometown” single.

4. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – U2

Irish rockers U2 took this sixties classic and made it their own contributing it to the first edition of the popular Very Special Christmas series. Written by Phil Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich and originally sung by Darlene Love, the song, like most Christmas songs has been redone countless times over the years but U2’s 1987 version still remains the best rendition.

3. Christmas In Hollis – Run-DMC

Run-DMC bring a little hip hop flavour to Christmas with their 1987 hit “Christmas In Hollis.” Released off the first Very Special Christmas compilation, the song and its accompanying video have become fixtures on radio and video stations come every holiday season. The song also closed the group’s 2002 greatest hits compilation, which was released a month before the tragic murder of DJ Jam Master Jay.

2. Do they Know it’s Christmas – Band Aid

Released in 1984, this massive Bob Geldof-Midge Ure penned single from U.K. supergroup Band Aid hit number one in the U.K, sold millions of copies around the world (the proceeds went to the Ethiopian Famine relief) and subsequently returned to the top of the U.K charts on two other separate occasions; in 1989 when a new line-up called Band Aid II recorded it after a second Ethiopian famine hit and in 2004 for the 20th anniversary of the project.

1. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon and Yoko Ono

This is the only song out of any Christmas themed song that I can listen to at any time of the year. The ex-Beatles’ Vietnam protest song is still relevant thirty plus years after it’s release maybe even more so this year as this December 8th marks the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder. Melissa Etheridge recorded a live version of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” a few years ago that is widely recognized as the best cover version of the song.

Bonus: Worst Christmas song ever

It wouldn’t be a complete list unless the worst Christmas song wasn’t included. I came up with a short list that included such forgettable performances from the likes of The Darkness (“Christmas time, Don’t Let the Bells End”), Rosie O’Donnell & Elmo (“Do You Hear What I Hear”), Kathie Lee Gifford (“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”) and a host of others.

I narrowed the list down to two songs; the first being “Silent Night” from 80’s glam rockers Winger, the other Paul McCartney’s 1979 solo hit “Wonderful Christmastime.” Winger’s interpretation of “Silent Night,” is arguably the funniest and worst version of that song that has ever been recorded. The only thing missing in this crappy rendition was a guest appearance from Slaughter namesake Mark Slaughter, though Winger singer Kip Winger does a fine job of embarrassing himself on his own.

But after much deliberation the worst Christmas song ever is Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” which actually made the top ten in the U.K, reaching number six. This overproduced diddy is really not any worse than any of McCartney’s other schmaltzy hits of that era but takes the cake at being the worst Christmas song ever solely for its incessant chorus – “Simply having a wonderful Christmas time.” It will stick in your head well into the new year.

Turn a deaf ear to those auditory assaults

It’s a couple of weeks after Christmas, but the auditory assault, courtesy of Britney Spears, is still fresh in Emily Marchino ‘s mind.

Marchino, who works at clothing store New York & Company at Merle Hay Mall, had to listen to one music tape (sent from headquarters) during every eight-hour shift she worked — for about a month. The Britster sang three of the songs piped throughout the store for the holiday season.

“I was like, ‘Can other artists make Christmas music?’ ” recalled an irked Marchino, 19.

Thankfully, yuletide Britney has since been banished. On a recent morning, Marchino was enjoying a mixed tape with renditions from Maroon 5 and Jason Mraz .

But the novelty of the fresh set of tunes, too, will probably wear thin soon, Marchino said.

“I like this music, but when I hear it repeated in the car, the last thing I want to hear is ‘work music.’ ”

Marchino has company among those nettled by a Britney-fest.

Proud new mama Federline tops the list as the most annoying musician that British retail workers have to endure while at work, according to online recruitment site Retailchoice. The company polled about 1,400 employees and assembled a Top 10 list of auditory offenders that included Usher and Kylie Minogue.

A third of the respondents said they too had been abused by the same CD played up to 20 times a week, according to the press release.

For some workers like Marchino, being subjected daily to a loop of mind-numbing music (or even worse, Muzak) is just part of the job. But it’s easy to see how listening on the radio to Mariah Carey’s “Don’t Forget About Us” for the 23rd time would send anyone screaming from her work station.

There’s a conflict of interests when specific music is piped into businesses, said Paul Lasley, an Iowa State professor and chairman of the sociology department. At issue is finding a balance between the ambience a business wants to create, and the varied musical tastes of workers and customers.

“You might find the perfect set of music to create exactly the kind of mood you want to create,” Lasley said. But “perfection” played several times over often spells monotony for employees. Monotony can breed unhappiness.

A deeper issue is choice, he said. Employees subjected to specific music at work don’t have a say in the tunes they listen to. That lack of choice could inevitably impact productivity.

Lasley pointed to workplace studies done in the early 1900s. The “Hawthorne studies,” conducted at the Western Electric Hawthorne Works in Chicago, analyzed how a variety of working conditions (i.e. lighting, group size, etc.) affected productivity.

The result? “They found . . . essentially. . . . that whatever you did that demonstrated to the employees that you were paying attention to them increased the productivity,” Lasley said. “Which is somewhat commonsensical — that if you have happy employees, then they’ll be more productive than unhappy employees.”

Variety is one solution, Lasley added.

Some workers at Merle Hay Mall say it’s just a matter of tuning the music out.

PacSun sales associate Travis Ramsey, 18, listens to satellite radio piped into the store. The catch: It’s set to one station.

“It’s good music, but after a while you learn to block it out,” Ramsey said.

Marchino concurred. She said after three weeks of the same music, you “space it all off.”

Roger Stanley, who works at the Global Cellular kiosk in the mall, sits at a musical crossroads — in the center of a cacophony of sounds coming from the radio at the nearby Merle Norman shop, mall music emanating from speakers, plus the techno music from the Personalized Gifts kiosk adjacent to Stanley’s.

“Sometimes, I’ll get two or three different music sources here,” said Stanley, 35, who, personally, is a rock ‘n’ roll kind of guy.

At Personalized Gifts, Thomas Thammavong was quietly enjoying some mellow Korean music. Thammavong said he likes to start off his day by playing slow music to stay relaxed and “thinking straight.”

In the evening, he shifts to R&B and techno music. The beats reflect his clienteles’ taste and also energize Thammavong, 25, to create his custom T-shirts and picture-engraved dog tags.

“The music makes you happy. And when you’re happy, you can do more stuff — you can sell, work on your projects,” Thammavong said.

Holiday tunes set mood

My mother is one of those mothers who begins playing Christmas music on Thanks giving and that is all she will let enter the stereo for the next month. Buy a new CD on Dec. 6 and want to listen to it in her car? Forgettaboutit.

Nothing enters her CD player save Reader’s Digest Christmas, Mannheim Steamroller, Muppets Christmas Carol, Celine Dion Christmas and, the ever popular, NOW Christmas album. No matter the artist, no matter if there is not even singing, as long as it is Christmas, it’s all anyone in my family hears. However, when I compare myself to most of my friends, I am the only one who really likes to listen to the music.

It’s as if my generation doesn’t really care much for Yuletide music. Sure, on Christmas Eve and Day, they are usually down for a little “Jingle Bell Rock,” but for the whole month of December? Nah. And if you do, and you’re my tender age of 23, boy do you get chastised for it.

The other day, my boyfriend, Mike, my friend, Brenda, and I were Christmas shopping and over the stereo system in the store, Celine Dion started cooing her rendition of “O Holy Night.”

“Who listens to this?” Brenda retorted disdainfully.

“Courtney does,” Mike said, motioning to me, as I softly sang the song with a smile.

Any other day of the year you can find me listening to rap or R&B, but for December, it’s Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, and a little Mormon Tabernacle Choir rocking out “The First Noel.” December just doesn’t seem right without Christmas music dancing in the background.

Though I like pretty much all Christmas songs, my favorite is the same as my father’s: “O Holy Night.” To this day, I cannot listen to the haunting notes or powerful lyrics without literally crying. At the finale, when the singer belts out “fall on your knees,” with an orchestra swelling up behind them, I can’t see why it doesn’t have the same emotional effect on others as it does me.

The song takes me back to a pew in church many years ago, with my father sitting beside me, softly singing the lyrics along with a choir at the front of the church and his eyes slightly misting over.

I know it might seem “lame” or “cheesy” but this coming month, I suggest listening to Christmas music. And not just A South Park Christmas. But real, genuine Christmas classics, even childhood favorites like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Frosty the Snowman.”

Listening to Christmas music, whether in the car or in the comfort of your own house, brings home the realization that Christmas is near and it really does only come once a year.

So put away your Jason Mraz CD for a couple of weeks and pop in a CD of Christmas tunes or flip to a radio station which only plays Christmas tunes for December.

And when the radio plays “O Holy Night,” listen to it. Really listen to it. And maybe you’ll find yourself wiping away a few stray tears by the end of it.

The greatest Christmas songs of all time

During this holiday season many of you will be attending gatherings or shopping at malls where in the background will be the continuous drone of holiday music. I myself recently attended a Christmas party where everyone was subjected to the continuous repeat of a holiday compilation album being played in the stereo (that is until I snuck off to the garage with a few friends to enjoy a mix CD of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins hits – a 90’s smorgasbord).

I’ve never fussed over Christmas music since it’s only played for a short time (though the holiday season seems to be getting longer each year starting up as soon as the Halloween decorations come down). Like elevator music, Christmas music is supposed to provide a calming reassuring background noise for shoppers and partygoers, though watching the pushing match between some shoppers you would guess Bolt Thrower was playing on mall intercoms

Could you imagine hearing 50 Cent rapping about a white Christmas or System of A Down crafting a thrash version of “We Three Kings”? It’s unlikely but after experiencing the onslaught of Christmas music these past few weeks I got to thinking what were the best holiday themed songs ever recorded (well not necessarily the best but my own personal favourites).

Excluding older artists like Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Burl Ives, Gene Autry and all those other pre-rock and roll performers, I’ve come up with the top five greatest Christmas songs ever sung by contemporary artists – meaning from the rock, pop and hip hop community.

5. Santa Clause is Coming to Town – Bruce Springsteen

A holiday classic written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” was originally recorded way back in 1935 by Joe Harris with Benny Goodman & His Orchestra. It’s been re-recorded numerous times over the decades but it was the Boss’ version that surpassed all other renditions being released as a B-side on his 1985 “My Hometown” single.

4. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – U2

Irish rockers U2 took this sixties classic and made it their own contributing it to the first edition of the popular Very Special Christmas series. Written by Phil Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich and originally sung by Darlene Love, the song, like most Christmas songs has been redone countless times over the years but U2’s 1987 version still remains the best rendition.

3. Christmas In Hollis – Run-DMC

Run-DMC bring a little hip hop flavour to Christmas with their 1987 hit “Christmas In Hollis.” Released off the first Very Special Christmas compilation, the song and its accompanying video have become fixtures on radio and video stations come every holiday season. The song also closed the group’s 2002 greatest hits compilation, which was released a month before the tragic murder of DJ Jam Master Jay.

2. Do they Know it’s Christmas – Band Aid

Released in 1984, this massive Bob Geldof-Midge Ure penned single from U.K. supergroup Band Aid hit number one in the U.K, sold millions of copies around the world (the proceeds went to the Ethiopian Famine relief) and subsequently returned to the top of the U.K charts on two other separate occasions; in 1989 when a new line-up called Band Aid II recorded it after a
second Ethiopian famine hit and in 2004 for the 20th anniversary of the project.

1. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon and Yoko Ono

This is the only song out of any Christmas themed song that I can listen to at any time of the year. The ex-Beatles’ Vietnam protest song is still relevant thirty plus years after it’s release maybe even more so this year as this December 8th marks the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder. Melissa Etheridge recorded a live version of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” a few years ago that is widely recognized as the best cover version of the song.

Bonus: Worst Christmas song ever

It wouldn’t be a complete list unless the worst Christmas song wasn’t included. I came up with a short list that included such forgettable performances from the likes of The Darkness (“Christmas time, Don’t Let the Bells End”), Rosie O’Donnell & Elmo (“Do You Hear What I Hear”), Kathie Lee Gifford (“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”) and a host of others.

I narrowed the list down to two songs; the first being “Silent Night” from 80’s glam rockers Winger, the other Paul McCartney’s 1979 solo hit “Wonderful Christmastime.” Winger’s interpretation of “Silent Night,” is arguably the funniest and worst version of that song that has ever been recorded. The only thing missing in this crappy rendition was a guest appearance from Slaughter namesake Mark Slaughter, though Winger singer Kip Winger does a fine job of embarrassing himself on his own.

But after much deliberation the worst Christmas song ever is Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” which actually made the top ten in the U.K, reaching number six. This overproduced diddy is really not any worse than any of McCartney’s other schmaltzy hits of that era but takes the cake at being the worst Christmas song ever solely for its incessant chorus – “Simply having a wonderful Christmas time.” It will stick in your head well into the new year.

Setzer rocks this town, Christmas style

New Christmas tradition: Buy tree before all the ones on the lot have turned to mulch. Second new tradition: See Brian Setzer’s annual holiday show and revel in ensuing joyful spirit.

What an awesome way to usher in the holidays. Last night’s Brian Setzer Orchestra Christmas show at the House of Blues would have annihilated anyone’s Scrooge. In holiday plaid jacket and cheery green vest, Setzer made lights twinkle and bells jingle. (He may even have had rosy cheeks.)

Yes, it was a little weird singing “White Christmas” and “Jingle Bells” along with hundreds of other people in a concert hall that hosts bands like Unwritten Law and Bad Religion. So? We weren’t the only ones who dug Setzer’s Christmas-color guitars, the red-and-green-outfitted 16-piece orchestra and two backup “Vixens” in fur-trimmed emerald velvet dresses. Christmas, people.

Did we mention the shower of fake snow? Or the Santa tossing candy from his gift sack?

Setzer didn’t totally cheese out, though. His trademark blond pompadour was in full coif, his tatts peered out from his rolled-up sleeves and his bass player’s ruby-red upright was emblazoned with flames. He even threw in some Stray Cats sweetness and “Jump, Jive An’ Wail” amid tunes from his latest, “Dig That Crazy Christmas.”

HOB was packed, too. Beefy guys in Chargers jerseys stood alongside Gwen-coiffed rockabilly girls in leopard print, while average moms, dads and grandparents dotted the crowd’s outskirts.

A very rock ‘n’ roller Christmas it was — and all set to a backdrop of a cartoon Setzer Santa at the wheel of a true “lead sled” befitting the ’68 Comeback singer.

The most annoying Christmas music of all time

Holiday music of the past few decades generally falls into two categories: remakes of classics and novelty tunes. The latter of which, played in proper sequence by CIA interrogators, would in all likelihood end the war on terror.

So don’t say we didn’t warn you. If you don’t want these “Oh Holy Nightmares” dancing around in your head for days, read no more. Run! Slam your shins in a car door. Collect canned goods … and swallow the cans. Anything. But whatever you do, do not turn on your radio!

1. ‘GRANDMA GOT RUN OVER BY A REINDEER’

Have yourself a Waffle House Christmas. Around since 1977, the song goes where few yule classics dare tread. But, hey, nothing says wholesome holidays like a tipsy granny and a hit-and-run driver. If he were a little younger, Jeff Foxworthy would probably have been conceived to this ditty. It’s just that, after you hear the thing once or twice (or on your average country station 162 jillion times), you start hoping you’ll get run over by a Greyhound.

2. ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS SINGING ANYTHING

Helium for the holidays. This stuff was cute along about 1971. Their hits add new meaning to the after-Christmas phrase “bring one for the chipper.”

3. MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER PLAYING ANYTHING

This elevator (music) must go all the way up … to the North Pole. Why do you think Santa leaves every Christmas? Sure, the synthesized schtick sounds cool at first. After that it gets older than one of those aluminum Christmas trees. Referring to the group’s version of “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” a reviewer on Amazon.com writes, “No, I don’t.”

4. ‘I WANT A HIPPOPOTAMUS FOR CHRISTMAS’

And we want a hippo-strength tranquilizer dart. If we hadn’t read somewhere that this beaut came out in the mid-’50s, we’d swear its lyrics – No crocodiles or rhinoceroseses; I only like hippopotamuseses – were written by a hippie on hallucinogens. One of our staffers says hearing the song “makes you want to hit the kid singing it in the face with a sledgehammer.”

5. THE DOGS BARKING ‘JINGLE BELLS’

Christmas in a kennel. (Not to be confused with a Kathie Lee Gifford Christmas special.) One round of this number and you’ll be down on all fours all right – trying to bury yourself alive.

6. ‘I’M GETTIN’ NOTHIN’ FOR CHRISTMAS’

Mommy and Daddy aren’t mad – they’re cracker-jack-loony beside themselves because their offspring sounds like a chipmunk.

7. ‘THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS’ (AND EVERY SPOOF OF IT EVER MADE)

Twelve days? We’d swear this song lasts 12 weeks. The thing lasts longer than you believed in Santa Claus. After you hear and a partri-idge in a pear tree about three times you’re ready to dive through plate glass. And why are there so many birds in this thing? The only time anybody gave us a bird at Christmas was in a Wal-Mart traffic jam.

8. ‘THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY’

In the unlikely event some kid had wandered into Bethlehem with a drum and vocal accompaniment that included the over-and-over lyrics pa-rump-pa-pum-pum, there not only would have been room at the inn, there would’ve been no one left in town. One of our staffers says, “After the rump-pa-pum-pums come in I start to lose it.”

9. ‘ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS MY TWO FRONT TEETH’

Yeah, but if you’d quit singing the song sooner no one would have knocked them out. The song bites. The thing has been out since the mid-1940s, and here some 60 years later we have yet to meet the kid whose Christmas list begins and ends at “two front teeth.”

10. ‘SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN’ BY BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

Even though the Boss reassures us that this is so by repeating the “Santa Claus is coming to town” line over and over, we’re still not buying it that any town in Jersey is on Santa’s itinerary. Springsteen’s version turns a piece of holiday pep into something along the lines of, oh, hydraulics on a garbage truck. Christmas tunes aren’t meant to screamed, belted or howled. Unless, of course, you’ve already reached your wit’s end and taken it upon yourself to swallow a canned good.

Snowball effect for Christmas music, radio stations

Ears and cash registers are ringing non-stop to Silver Bells, Jingle Bells and other sounds of the season now that the annual flurry of Christmas albums has grown into a blizzard.

One reason is the expanding trend of radio-format flips to all-Christmas music. As of Friday, 275 stations nationwide had made the swap, according to 1000watts.com, a site run by Inside Radio that tracks the conversions. At least one or two stations pop up in every market, and there are four each in Omaha; Milwaukee; Columbus, Ohio; and the Norfolk area, among others.

Some artists, particularly veterans shunned at most formats, see the Christmas release “as a chance to get back on radio for a month,” says Sean Ross of Edison Media Research. “Beyond that, there’s just more stunt casting. Veteran artists seem to need new marketing hooks, whether it’s a Christmas album or standards.”

While new entries don’t dominate playlists, the best of each season graduates to the next year’s repertoire.

“The playlist is not identical from city to city, but there’s a common body of records at the center,” Ross says. “The more traditional stuff, the ’60s and ’70s music, drives the format.”

Only a fraction of Christmas records reach platinum status, so obviously many artists are driven by reasons other than profits or exposure.

Marah was drawn to the holiday’s quaint charms, as the rock band notes in its 11 reasons to make a Christmas record: “Hip, cool, cutting edge, eyeliner, fashion, celebrity, after-parties, dope, auto-tuners, groupies, MTV2 … all have nothing to lend to Christmas music, (which) should be played on pianos, banjos, acoustic guitars, sleigh bells and small cheap drum kits. We love AC/DC, but Mistress for Christmas is just a tad less seasonal than Silver Bells.”

And the Christmas No 1 is … a part-time Mansfield girls’ choir?

They are up against multi-million pound campaigns from world-famous acts including Robbie Williams, Crazy Frog and the eventual winner of ITV’s talent show The X Factor.

On the face of it, a part-time girls’ choir from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, should stand no chance of snatching the coveted Christmas No. 1 slot in two weeks’ time.

But Cantamus – Latin for “we are singing” – a 44-piece ensemble of girls aged between 13 and 19, whose cover of the classic, “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime” by The Korgis, is released next week, are quietly sneaking up on the inside track.

Some critics have dismissed the single as a novelty with its “seasonal karaoke choral treatment”, but the track is picking up heavy airplay and the influential Johnnie Walker on BBC Radio 2 is a big fan. Walker has raved about the choir’s CD, also called Cantamus, which includes a version of “Fix You” by Coldplay and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2.

If they are successful, it would be the first time a choir has beaten off rivals to become the Christmas No. 1 since the St Winifred’s School Choir scaled the charts with “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma” more than 25 years ago.

The girls are trying to raise £100,000 to fund a trip to Xiamen in China to defend the gold medal they won in 2004 at the World Choir Olympics. They have won numerous other awards including the European Youth Music Festival in Belgium and the Choir of the World at the Llangollen Eisteddfod.

Pamela Cook, 68, musical director and founder of the choir, said: “We are not professional, but we do have professional standards. This is a departure from opera and classical music – our usual work. We have widened our scope and it is very exciting.”

Almost all of the singers are from within a five-mile radius of Mansfield, a former mining town, and from what Mrs Cook describes as “decimated mining stock”. Despite the impoverished background and the constant need to raise funds, more than half of the girls in the choir go on to become professional musicians. Since the choir was formed in 1968, about 60 girls have entered music college.

Mrs Cook, who was made an MBE in 1984, said: “Their work ethic and commitment is wonderful. This is like an extended family. The single has been very exciting and it would be so nice if it did well.”

However, the single does not have an accompanying video and it will have to work hard against the marketing muscle of the likes of Westlife.

The bookmaker William Hill gives odds of 25-1 on Cantamus being the Christmas No. 1. The favourite is the winner of The X Factor at 4-9, in second place is Warwickshire duo Nizlopi at 7-4 and third favourite is Westlife and Diana Ross’s collaboration.

Deck the halls this season with new holiday music

THE BIG, new holiday releases from stars such as Diana Krall, Brian Wilson, Anita Baker and Regis Philbin have been getting a lot of attention lately. But there are some smaller, more interesting new holiday albums that might have escaped your notice.

– Kate & Anna McGarrigle, “The McGarrigle Christmas Hour” (Nonesuch) — The best of the bunch is this homey gathering of familiar and quirky tunes from the McGarrigle family, which includes sisters Kate and Anna as well as Kate’s singing children Rufus and Martha Wainwright and family friend Emmylou Harris. Highlights include Harris’ “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and Rufus’ sexy “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” Only the spoken-word “Counting Stars” is a drag. Otherwise, this folksy, sincere and occasionally ethereal collection of voices is what you wish your family sounded like when you finish your sumptuous Christmas feast and are sitting around the fire singing a carol or two.

– Various artists, “Elton John’s Christmas Party” (Hear) — Sir Elton recorded “Step Into Christmas” in 1973, and until now, that has been his only Yuletide contribution. Now he gathers 21 of his favorite holiday tracks (including “Step Into Christmas,” naturally) into an eclectic, lively compilation. There are some modern standards (Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town,” The Ronettes’ “Frosty the Snowman”) and some wonderful surprises, including The Flaming Lips’ “A

Change at Christmas (Say It Isn’t So),” the Pet Shop Boys’ “It Doesn’t Often Snow at Christmas” and Outkast’s “Playa’s Ball.” John’s new song, “Calling It Christmas,” a duet with Joss Stone, is a worthy addition to the Christmas catalogue.

– Aaron Neville, “Christmas Prayer” (EMI Gospel) — A little of Neville’s airy falsetto goes a long way, and his ’50s-tinged “White Christmas” is a good example of that. But on the whole, this holiday outing is best when Neville sticks to the sacred standards like “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy to the World,” a marvelous duet with the Blind Boys of Alabama.

– Various Artists, “Broadway’s Greatest Gifts, Vol. 7: Carols for a Cure” (Rock-It Science) — This double-disc set, a fund-raiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, continues the tradition of Broadway companies recording a holiday tune. Some of the companies, like “Movin’ Out” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” make the songs sound like a part of their show. Other companies take the assignment very seriously and deliver gorgeous choral work, like the cast of “The Producers” on “In the Bleak Midwinter” or “The Lion King” on “What Child Is This?” Generally speaking, the classic tunes such as “O Come All Ye Faithful” by the cast of the now-closed “All Shook Up,” are better than the originals like the “Rent” company’s “This Is Christmas” or the abysmal take on “Joy to the World”

by cast members of “Sweet Charity.”

– Various Artists, “The Hanukkah Lounge: Instrumental Jew Age Music” (Craig N Co.) — This sounds like such a kitschy idea: lounge-y versions of traditional Hanukkah music. The results of producer Craig Taubman’s efforts are disappointing if only because this really does sound like a slightly funky electronica New Age album rather than a lively holiday collection. The vibe is “chill,” and with only a smattering of Hebrew or traditional instrumentation, you wouldn’t know “Drey Dreydele” or “Haneyrot Halalu” from your average after-hours club mix.

– Jennifer Muhawi, “A Christmas Angel” (www.jenniferhmuhawi.com) — Local soprano Muhawi takes a simple, lovely approach to Christmas music. Her crystalline voice is set against James Ramsey’s solo piano, and while an entire album of piano and voice grows taxing, individual tracks such as “The First Noel” and “O Come, O Come Immanuel” are enchanting.

Corner Gas star Butt releases Christmas tune

First he conquered Canadian TV prime time, now comic Brent Butt is taking aim at the music industry.

Butt, the star of CTV’s sitcom hit Corner Gas, is releasing a record single to the nation’s radio stations called “Christmas in Dog River”.

It’s not so much a carol, or even a song, but basically Butt, in a recording studio, trying to convince the audio engineers that his riffing on some classic holiday tunes is an original composition and not just a plug for his show’s upcoming Christmas special episode, Merry Gasmas.

The three-minute track was written by Craig Northey who is also heard on the recording as Butt tries to disguise his version of Jingle Bells and other familiar seasonal tunes.

No end to choices for modern Christmas music

As winter rolls around, houses are lighting up with decorations, the weather finally is cooling off and Santa Claus impersonators are popping up on every street corner. And no matter where you go, you can’t escape the Christmas music.

If you so much as step out your front door or turn on the radio, you’re bound to hear classic carols and traditional favorites. But if you’re looking for something new to break up the merry melody monotony, there is hope.

There’s no end to the choices when it comes to modern Christmas music. So to help you pick the album that’s right for you, here’s a guide to some notable holiday releases.

‘Christmas Extraordinaire’ – Mannheim Steamroller

Mannheim Steamroller has been cranking out classically influenced new age music since the mid-1980s, and listeners continue to rely on their mellow sound to provide a backdrop for the holiday season.

Artfully blending guitars, woodwinds, drums and a heavy dose of synthesizers, Chip Davis and his band have created a distinctive style. If you’re looking for a retro take on the classics, this album has it all.

The opening track, Handel’s “Hallelujah,” sets the tone with masterful synth programming and an upbeat, almost danceable beat. “Faeries,” a remix of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” features a borderline-techno/rave sound and a funky bass riff.

Other highlights include the quietly introspective “The First Noel,” which features beautifully orchestrated violins and a jazzy rendition of “White Christmas.” A word of warning, though: This is not a rock album.

Don’t expect a wailing guitar solo halfway through “Silver Bells” – this is strictly classical/electronic music.

This is the perfect CD to calm frayed nerves as you fight the traffic on the way to the mall the week before Christmas.

‘Happy Christmas Volume Four’ – Various Artists

What happens when you take 14 up-and-coming alternative rock acts – including Relient K, Underoath, and Anberlin – and tell them to record some Christmas music? As it turns out, it makes for a very happy Christmas.

The album, which mainly features artists from the Seattle-based Tooth & Nail record label, opens with a quiet Switchfoot tune titled “Evergreen.” Longtime fans will appreciate the song’s musical and lyrical similarity to the band’s earlier work.

Emery, a melodic post-hard-core group hailing from South Carolina, contributes “A Way for Santa’s Sleigh,” possibly the most haunting Santa Claus song ever written.

Aaron Gillespie (of Underoath) and Kenny Vasoli (of The Starting Line) perform “Yule Be Sorry,” by far the edgiest track. It’s relatively tame compared with most of Gillespie’s work, but it’s loud enough to get even the most hardened hard-core hearts into the holiday spirit.

Of course, there are plenty of remakes of winter classics, including Mae’s jazzy-yet-rocking take on “Carol of the Bells” and Hawk Nelson’s obnoxiously catchy redo of George Michael’s “Last Christmas.”

But the real high point of the compilation is “I Celebrate the Day,” a musically stunning, lyrically profound song by Relient K. This track alone is worth the full price of the album; it cuts to the core of what Christmas is really about.

So whether you want to hear your favorite rock bands calm down and sing some Christmas carols, or you’re just looking for a fresh alternative to your parents’ ancient yuletide yawn-makers, this album is a great pick.

“The Perfect Christmas” – Various Artists

Here’s a Christmas album with something to satisfy almost every palate. With artists ranging from Jessica Simpson to the Barenaked Ladies, this two-CD set (“Sparkle” and “Shine”) covers a spectrum of styles.

Alicia Keys opens up the “Shine” disc with “Little Drummer Girl,” a poignant Gospel/R&B song that showcases her silky smooth voice. Pete Droge’s “On Christmas Day” is a simple, country-tinged song that brings to mind images of Christmastime in a small Southern town.

Liz Phair manages to take the normally irritating “Winter Wonderland” and re-create it as an enjoyable acoustic guitar-driven song.

Rachael Yamagata’s “River,” a simple song with delicately plinking piano and soft vocals, brings the tempo down a notch and focuses on the sadder moments of the season.

But for many (especially older listeners), the beauty of this album lies in the contributions from aging or late artists. Dean Martin’s rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is happenin’ enough to put a swagger in Grandpa’s step, and James Brown’s funky-fresh “Soulful Christmas” is unintentionally hilarious. Also, Stevie Wonder delivers the joyous “What Christmas Means to Me,” once again proving that the classics never die.

This album is at Bath & Body Works – last year’s version went platinum and was the year’s top-selling holiday CD.

A portion of the proceeds from its sale will go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.