Holiday Cheer is Great but Christmas Albums are Awful

This man, dressed in black, wants to sing you a Christmas song or two.
This man, dressed in black, wants to sing you a Christmas song or two. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Few headlines make me shiver the way “Billy Corgan wants to make a Smashing Pumpkins Christmas album” did. This is not to say that I’m not somewhat interested, on a conceptual level at least, at what a Smashing Pumpkins Christmas song might sound like. I’m not even opposed to them doing a Christmas cover; Billy Corgan could probably croon his way through a decent version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” if he put his heart in it. But a full album? Hard pass.

The idea that one might indulge in a bit of holiday songwriting isn’t particularly strange. For many, we’re entering the best part of the year, and wanting to embrace all the cheer that comes with it, on a surface level at least, isn’t inherently bad. I’m sure every songwriter has at least one holiday song in them, be it somber or silly. Whether you’re doing it for charity, putting it on a compilation record or just want to spice up your December setlists, follow your heart for that one magic song.

But a whole album of Christmas songs just screams “scraping the bottom of the barrel.” It is the least interesting, most unessential type of album one can put out; it ranks below live albums, remix albums, cover albums, acoustic albums and “we owe the label a record so here are all the songs that weren’t good enough for our proper albums” albums. They even rank lower than that quiet trend of bands re-recording their own material because they’ll never own their masters. Christmas albums are where you go when you’re looking for something safe of you’re stuck in a rut.

Yes, there is a dedicated core of people out there that love holiday music, the people that count down the day until Christmas radio returns to the airwaves (if they don’t already have dedicated holiday playlists on their phone or through YouTube). And yes, those people are looking for new songs, just to spice things up every year. But look deep into your heart and be honest with yourself: when was the last time you were truly excited for an artist you liked to release a Christmas record?
The answer, for most, is never. Sure, fandoms want more from their artists than ever (notable exception: Tool fans, who mostly accept that no matter how much they want they have no say in the matter when it comes to new music), and are happy to eat up every scrap that they can get their hands on, but short of A Taylor Swift Christmas, it’s unlikely anyone is popular enough to move the needle that much with a Christmas record. Fans want new content, not repurposed songs that they already have 50 versions of a few taps away.

If you’re going to write a holiday record, at least pick a more interesting holiday that’ll at least give you a challenge. Write a New Year's album. Write a Veterans Day album. Create some tracks so we can get beyond “The Monster Mash.” Give yourself the ultimate challenge and write about Arbor Day. Tackle anything other than Santa Claus, snow and twinkling lights.

This isn’t to single out Billy Corgan personally, even though it does seem like a weird angle to risk all the goodwill of the reunion tour and new album with the threat of a holiday album. Even our most idiosyncratic rock stars have a soft spot for the holidays. But a little goes a long way when it comes to Christmas. Write your song, get it out of your system and move along. Besides, you can’t buy anyone a Christmas album for Christmas because they only get to enjoy it for one day at most.
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Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia