Too Early??

Halloween is barely behind us, and we are just a day or two into November.  Christmas is over 50 days away, however, it is everywhere! Even before Halloween, many stores had their Christmas displays and decorations up!

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For years, people have pondered, discussed, and debated the “how early is too early for Christmas” topic.  In September this cartoon was all over the internet:

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Just before Halloween, Sirius XM radio began adding their holiday channels to their line up.  Countless radio stations across the country flipped to “all Christmas” music yesterday and Facebook and almost every major news outlet had stories about it.  I really don’t know why people were acting so surprised by this, because it happens every year!  Is this the earliest stations have flipped?  No.  I recall a few years where some stations flipped to all Christmas BEFORE Halloween.

There was a time when Christmas music didn’t even start playing on the radio until Thanksgiving weekend.  I recall scheduling 3 to 4 Christmas songs an hour throughout that weekend, and then cutting back to 1 an hour after Thanksgiving weekend.  As Christmas got closer, the number of songs we played increased to 2, 3, and eventually 4 an hour.  We almost always went all Christmas music at 12 noon Christmas Eve and then would continue through 6pm Christmas night.  That’s not the case anymore.

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People inevitably ask me the question – “Why do stations go all Christmas so early?!”  The answer is a simple one – ratings!  Its not always the case, but most of the time, these stations who play all Christmas music do very well in the ratings books – which means more $$ for the station.  Some retail stores do not have the pre-recorded satellite music, so they will pipe the “all Christmas station” throughout the store.   That means more listeners to that particular station.

Is it good or bad?

So this brings me to a Facebook discussion some friends were having (after one person voiced his disgust at the fact that his station flipped to all Christmas) yesterday.  His argument was that “holiday music increases stress and is unhealthy for people.”  I knew exactly what he was referring to.

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A couple years ago, a psychologist named Linda Blair said that listening to Christmas music too early in the holiday season can have a negative effect on people.  She stated that it can affect mental health triggering “feelings of stress.”  She said that hearing holiday music is a reminder of all the things that you have to do to get ready for the holiday.  She said the music will cause you to worry about (and become overwhelmed by) the things on your “to-do” list like travel planning, shopping, and planning for parties.

She also said that people who work in retail, especially those who work at places like shopping malls, face a higher risk of what she called “Christmas music-induced stress”! “Hearing the same songs over and over each day could make workers struggle to ‘tune it out’ and they become ‘unable to focus on anything else,’ she said. “You’re simply spending all of your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing.”

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That story first hit the news in 2017, and has already be reprinted this year on many social media and news pages.  Blair never really cites any concrete evidence, or study results, so how do we know that this is actually the case?  Maybe she is just a Grinch who hates Christmas Music?? Who knows?!

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On the other hand …

In response to Linda Blair’s findings, there is another article (this one citing “scientific studies”) that says the exact opposite!  In those studies, it was proven that listening to “uplifting music”  – like Jingle Bell Rock, Frosty the Snowman and A Holly Jolly Christmas, to name a few – has been known to have a positive effect both physically and psychologically.

According to these studies, the feeling associated when listening to music can be sorted into two categories, perceived emotions (when we appreciate the emotional tone of the piece, but not feel that emotion ourselves) and felt emotions. Felt emotions are when we connect to the feeling behind the piece we are listening to and it can impact our emotional state.”

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As someone who has worked in radio for 30+ years, I know first hand the connection that music has to memories.  Do a google search on “music memory quotes” and there are plenty of them. One quote in particular holds true for the next point – from Michigan’s own, Stevie Wonder:

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“Music has a strong tie to nostalgia.”

This is why hearing a song from your childhood may bring back memories of elementary school, a high school dance, or a major life event like it was yesterday. It’s also why listening to certain Christmas songs can make people feel warm, fuzzy and child-like. Part of the reason why Christmas music is associated with joy is not necessarily the music itself, but the memories that come with it.

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So, listening to Christmas songs may make you feel nostalgic for your childhood or just generally happy, because your brain has already created positive associations with the music. And it’s been proven – research conducted by researchers at McGill University proved that when people listen to happy, upbeat music, they can recall happy memories within a short amount of time.   The entire article can be found here:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170228131027.htm

“In the experiment, the researchers had participants listen to four different genres of original music they had never heard before: happy (positive, high arousal), peaceful (positive, low arousal), scary (negative, high arousal) and sad (negative, low arousal). The researchers found that when the participants listened to happy, upbeat music, it brought about happy memories.”

That being said, there are Christmas songs that can bring about sad memories, too.  So I guess there is that possibility, too.  For the most part, though, Christmas music is happy and upbeat.  That would suggest that listening to Christmas music brings about nostalgic thoughts which brings about happy memories and you being a happier person.

What’s my take on it?

While I don’t listen to Christmas music 24/7/365, I do have Christmas songs on my iPod.  When I am listening to it and a Christmas song comes on out of season, it depends on my mood as to whether or not I am going to listen to it.  There are some Christmas songs that I can listen to no matter what the season, because (as the latter study suggested) it makes me feel good or happy.

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I remember when I worked at Honey Radio in Detroit, we would throw in “summer songs” when it was summer time.  We’d play “Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summmer”, “Wonderful Summer”, “Summertime”, and others and then cut back on them in the fall and winter.  I have never understood why songs like “Let it Snow”, “Winter Wonderland”, or “Jingle Bells” (which are basically winter time songs that never really mention Christmas) didn’t play throughout the Winter.

Final Thought

There are people who complain just because they like complaining.  Bottom line is this – radio is free.  You have many choices up and down the dial.  There are many other stations that are not playing Christmas music 24/7, so if you don’t want to hear it – DON’T!  Pop in a CD, listen to your Spotify, plug in a USB with your tunes on it, or find the satellite channel that plays the format you enjoy.  Problem solved!

I have always looked forward to the Christmas season.  People tend to be friendlier.  People seem to be kinder.  There is a sense of happiness that comes with the season.  Elvis Presely’s “Why Can’t Everyday Be Like Christmas?” captures that sentiment.  Just because you don’t want to listen to Christmas music, doesn’t mean that others don’t want to.  Christmas music and the holiday season bring about a joy that seems to be lacking today – don’t be a Scrooge!

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Music and my Grandparents

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As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I can take almost any song and connect it to a person in my life, a life event, or a time period in my life. Today, my iPod shuffle focuses on four very special people – my grandparents. What is interesting as I looked at the music, was that the list of songs for Grandpa D is the longest. Why is that interesting? As I stated in a blog entirely about him, he is the grandparent who was in my life for the shortest amount of time.

Grandpa D’s list consists of big band and country music. As stated in the previous blog, Willie Nelson’s Stardust album will forever be connected with him. September Song, Moonlight in Vermont, Stardust, All of Me, and Georgia on My Mind from that album bring back vivid memories of him. Willie Nelson, in general makes me think of him though. Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain, while I don’t think I ever heard him play it, makes me think of him. So does Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground or the amazing duet with Ray Charles, Seven Spanish Angels.

Grandpa died in 1981. In 1982, Willie Nelson released on of his biggest hits – Always On My Mind. I can recall the first time we heard it on the radio. We were driving in the car, the entire family, and it played. My mom started crying immediately. “Maybe I didn’t love you quite as often as I could have. Maybe I didn’t treat you quite as good as I should have. But you were always on my mind.” I remember mom saying that it was like grandpa sending a little message to us. I’ll always remember that.

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Grandpa liked classic country, too. So songs like Behind Closed Doors by Charlie Rich, Amanda by Waylon Jennings, I Believe In You by Don Williams, You Needed Me by Anne Murray, Colorado Cool-Aid by Johnny Paycheck, and Kiss an Angel Good Morning by Charlie Pride make me think of him too.

Grandma D’s list is shortest. I’m not sure why, but I don’t remember much of the stuff she listened to. I remember her clock radio at her house and it always seemed to be on a talk radio station or a news station. I do recall her listening to a few songs, though. Sentimental Journey is a Big Band Classic. I don’t recall if it was in a commercial or on a TV show, but I remember saying that she liked it.

Because we spent a lot of time in Caseville with Grandma, she listened to the same cassettes as everyone else. Johnny Paycheck’s Greatest Hits Volume II included the song Loving You Beats All I’ve Ever Seen, a wonderful ballad about a guy who has seen some of the most beautiful things in the world – but loving his woman beats it all hands down. I recall her liking that song.

The one she loved the most on that album, though, was Rhythm Guitar. As old as the song is, it still paints a picture of people today. “Nobody wants to play Rhythm Guitar behind Jesus. Everybody wants to be the lead singer in the band.” The rhythm guitar player in the group is there to hit the chords and keep the tempo. He is in the background while the lead guitar player has all the solos and such. Nobody wants to be in the background today. In a spiritual sense, Jesus is an example of how we should live our lives. Throughout the Bible, He gives instructions on what to do and not do. However, we as people, often disregard those rules and instructions because we’d rather be the lead singer and live by our rules. I remember that was in a nutshell how grandma explained that song’s meaning to me.

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Here, I would like to include my Aunt Jodi. She is only 4 years older than me. When I think of Grandma and Grandpa D, I think of her. There are songs that make me think of her and some of those great times in Caseville as well. The one that comes to mind immediately is Music Box Dance by Frank Mills. It was one of those instrumentals that you would hear on the radio all the time up there. It was a “current” (as we call it in radio) and it played like every three to four hours. She loved that song and we did too.

Another instrumental that makes me think of her is from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (who will be mentioned again in a second). We had their Greatest Hits album and they did a song called Zorba the Greek. It was a fun song that started out fast … then the song slowed WAY down……and gradually sped up to the original speed and finished. It was a fun song and I can remember dancing around the living room to it. When it was fast – we were crazy kids running and laughing. When it was slow – we were glad, because we caught our breath from running around at the beginning of the song.

Other songs that remind me of Jodi are Urgent by Foreigner and Ebony and Ivory by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. Those songs were on vinyl albums that she had. My grandpa had this big console record player. It was the one that had the lid that flipped up and the turntable was inside. I recall her listening to those as well as David or Shaun Cassidy on there. I am sure she had some other albums, but there is one more I recall….

The last song that makes me think of her is called “Soupy Wails”. Another instrumental from an album called “The Soupy Sales Show”. It’s basically the Soupy Sales TV show on record. All the characters are there with songs they wrote – White Fang, Black Tooth, Hippy, and Pookie. This song is played because the neighbor tells Soupy to cut out the singing so they play an instrumental. Great stuff!

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Grandma P’s list is a short one, but the songs on it generate powerful memories. A Taste of Honey was a song that was popular and recorded by a few artists. The version I am talking about was done by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Why does this make me think of her? Because Grandma loved the Detroit Tigers. I remember many Sundays going over and watching the game on TV after eating dinner. Most of the time, she had it on the radio. The voices of the great Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey called the games while we sat in the sun porch or outside. One of the sponsors of the game was the Honey Baked Ham Company. They always used that song in their commercials. Yeah, a long stretch….but it always reminds me of those ball games and Grandma.

Grandma loved Dean Martin. He was her favorite singer. One day we got into a discussion about other Italian singers and she mentions that she she never liked Tony Bennett. Can you imagine?! Here is a guy who is STILL making music today! He’s 90 and a musical ICON. His style was very different from Dean or Sinatra. She said once that she couldn’t stand “that pimple faced, no talent, wanna be”! It still makes me laugh to think about it. One day I went to a record store and bought a few Tony albums. The funnest part of our visits became hiding them in places where she might find them (on her pillow, in the fridge, on the kitchen lighting, in the bread box….). Sometimes we were there to catch her reaction, and sometimes it was a phone call saying she found it. Fun times.

The last song that reminds me of her is Lazy Mary by Lou Monte. Lou was an Italian singer and it is a tarantella type song that has some “risque” lyrics. It is a song that many singers have sung, but Lou had a hit with it. When I got married, I wanted a dance with my grandma. I chose Lazy Mary. I am sure that I wore her out dancing to such a fast song, but I can still remember the smile on her face during it. Priceless memory.

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Grandpa P’s list is mostly big band music. I remember him telling me that his favorite song was String of Pearls by Glenn Miller. While many people remember Glenn for In The Mood, I feel String of Pearls is one of his best. A couple other Glenn Miller songs that remind me of him are the classics Sunrise Serenade and the counterpart, Moonlight Serenade. Begin the Beguine by Artie Shaw, Ciribiribin by Harry James, and many other big band songs remind me of him, too.

The odd song on this list is one he never heard. It makes me think of him because a friend of mine, Allyson, bought me a CD for Christmas the year my grandpa died. She knew that I was close to him and said there was a song on there that I had to hear. She said to listen to the lyrics and think about him while listening. That song was If I Had Only Known by Reba McEntire.

If I had only known
It was the last walk in the rain
I’d keep you out for hours in the storm
I would hold your hand
Like a life line to my heart
Underneath the thunder we’d be warm
If I had only known
It was our last walk in the rain

If I had only known
I’d never hear your voice again
I’d memorize each thing you ever said
And on those lonely nights
I could think of them once more
Keep your words alive inside my head
If I had only known
I’d never hear your voice again

You were the treasure in my hand
You were the one who always stood beside me
So unaware I foolishly believed
That you would always be there
But then there came a day
And I turned my head and you slipped away

If I had only known
It was my last night by your side
I’d pray a miracle would stop the dawn
And when you’d smile at me
I would look into your eyes
And make sure you know my love
For you goes on and on
If I had only known
If I had only known
The love I would’ve shown
If I had only known

POWERFUL! Typing those lyrics bring tears to my eyes instantly! In truth, you could think about any loved one who has passed away when you hear this song. I do. The message is clear – treat every encounter with your loved ones as if it might be your last because you never know.

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Our band director, Mr. Shaner, used to write announcements on a grease board every day. At the end of them, he’d always have some quote to think about. One of them, in particular, I have NEVER forgotten. It plays in to what I just said:

“Live every day as if it were your last – someday, you’ll be right”.

Make every day count. Always tell someone you love them. Treasure ever moment you have with family. Life is too short. Make memories that will last long after those special people in your life are gone!